Friday, October 20, 2006

Exodus 17:8-16

1. Fightings Without
Israel has been delivered from the terrors of Egypt and has begun to self-destruct in the wilderness. It is often the case that when the heat is off in one direction, trouble looms in another. But they really have no time for grumbling and accusing Moses and testing the Lord - other battles await them and, in this scene, assault them. The Amalekties take the place of Pharaoh and come out to attack Israel at Rephidim.

Although it is early days for Israel, a pattern is being set here. The problem is not just Egypt; it is that "the whole world is under the control of the evil one" (1 John 5:19). The battles that Israel face are spiritual in nature; they arise from Satan's opposition to the Lord and his plans to reconcile all things to himself and to heal his fractured creation.

Here is the Christian's life and the life of the church - a life of battle; serious, costly and intense. Israel needs to awake to that reality; they are to engage in a true holy war, a war that will ultimately not be fought with worldly weapons but with the weapons of righteousness and prayer and the word of God.

We must be alert to the reality of our own situation - every day is another day of battle, of warfare. We must do all that we can to avoid internal divisions that inflict wounds within the body and take our place on the true field of battle.

2. Deliverance through human effort and God's help

When Israel was rescued from Egypt and brought through the Red Sea, they stood still and saw the salvation of the LORD. Now, they need to put to use the armour and weapons they left Egypt with. They need to join the Lord in fighting the battles of faith, the battle for the salvation of the cosmos.

And so Moses tells Joshua to take men and to fight the Amalekites on the plain; for his part, he will go and stand on the hill with "the staff of God" raised.

That action on Moses' part has been the subject of quite a lot of debate over the years. Is it a symbol of prayer? Or is Moses symbolising the Lord as he stands over the battle? Certainly, raised arms are often used in the OT as a posture that signifies prayer. And there can be little doubt but that the whole battle is bathed in prayer and is fought in dependence upon the Lord.

But the clearest aspect of this scene is the sheer effort expended by Moses in keeping his arms aloft and the connection between his raised arms and the progress of the battle. The Lord chooses to involve his people in his battles and that involvement takes courage and effort.

If it is right to see Moses' raised arms as signifying prayer, our own experience would no doubt bear out how tough that can be. How demanding it can be to wrestle in prayer! But this is our calling; we are enlisted as the Lord's servants and must engage in the battle with all our heart, with all our energies, for his glory.

3. Supporting leadership

But however we understand the raising of Moses' arms and the holding aloft of the staff, it is clear that he needs help to do so and Aaron and Hur step forward to give that help. In a sense, this is almost a preview of what transpires in the next chapter where Moses takes Jethro's advice and delegates some of the work to others.

I want to say two things in the light of what we see here.

i) Seeing Moses as a type of Christ - The NT is not shy to make connections between Jesus and Moses, seeing Moses as a shadow and Jesus as the reality. Moses here is seen to be a man of flesh, one who needs the support of others if Israel is to win the day.

In some ways, that picture is replicated in the life of Jesus - he grew tired and needed to sleep; he was hungry and thirsty; and, in the garden of Gethsemane, he asked 3 of his disciples to stay with him in his hour of need and he benefited from the ministry of angels at that time too. Jesus was a real man in all those ways and we should not be afraid to say so.

But, having said that, the NT emphasis is that Jesus won the battle alone; he is the great leader and champion of his people. He is all we need to know victory over sin and death. Moses was faithful as a servant in God's household; Jesus was faithful as a son set over that household (Heb. 3:5,6). Whilst we remember the lives of men like Moses and learn from them, it is Jesus we honour, it is Jesus we worship, it is Jesus we lean all our hopes on. And he will not fail us.

ii) Moses as a leader in need of support - The second thing I want to say about Moses and the help of Aaron and Hur is that it demonstrates to us the very real need of leaders in the church to be supported. All leaders are weak and fragile; however blessed a man's ministry might be, he remains fallen and fragile. Ben is a man called and equipped by God; that is clear and that is crucial. But he will need your support. How can you best give that to him?

• pray for him, but also pray with him - make the prayer meeting a time when he knows that the church is at one in the great gospel battle.
• support by showing that you are seriously engaging with the word he ministers week by week. Talk to him about it; ask him to help you to apply it. Tell him how God's Word has helped you, how it has been relevant in your daily walk. He won't be looking for compliments at the door; it's real engagement with God's Word that truly encourages those whose responsibility is to minister that word.
• encourage him by bearing with one another in love;
• encourage him by being active witnesses to the grace of God in whatever way the Lord opens for you.

In all those ways and so many more you can show your support for Ben - and in showing that support, you demonstrate that your heart is for God and his glory.

4. The LORD is our banner
So the battle is fought and arms are raised to the Lord and the battle is won - the Lord delivers his people. And, just as much as a time of failure such as occurred at Massah and Meribah, a victory of this nature demands to be memorialised. Notice two things:

i) The Lord tells Moses to record this event on a scroll and to make sure that Joshua hears it "because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven" (v.14). That isn't a vindictive gesture but rather the Lord's determination to rid this world of all that oppose his plans to rescue and to restore.

ii) An altar is constructed by Moses and called "The LORD is my Banner". The people of Israel are under his banner and therefore under his care.

The church belongs to the Lord and is his responsibility. He will give the victory and has done so in Jesus. That is to be the source of all our confidence and hope as we do battle in his name. We go out into the daily battles with the Lord as our banner – the God who enlists us into his army to do battle for righteousness, to hold out the word of life, the demonstrate the value and the power of redeeming love.

God grant us grace ever to do so. Amen.

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