Disciple Hour: Exodus 17:8–16

Today we are going to see yet another challenge Israel faces.  They have faced trials already.  The Red Sea, thirst, hunger, and others have shown their lack of faith and shown that Moses knew exactly how to handle the various situations…Moses prayed.

They grumbled against God and Moses prayed to God.

The text today we will see another act of God whereby He will teach the Israelites.  Today’s text we will see that Israel is attacked by the Amalekites.  

1.  The Amalekites Attack Israel (17:8-9)

Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 

In verse 8 we’re told that Amalek or the Amalekites attack Israel. You will remember perhaps that the Amalekites were of Edomite origin. That is, that they were descendants of Esau in Genesis 36, Amalek is listed as the thirteenth descendant of Esau. He was born of Esau’s first son Eliphaz and Eliphaz’s concubine Timna.

There is that ongoing battle between Jacob and Esau.  Esau’s descendants constantly fighting against the Israelites.  The Bible really does not tell us why they attacked Israel.  Perhaps when Israel drank and watered their flock at Rephidim, Israel drank their water.

We do have more information about the attack. 

Deuteronomy 25:17–19 (ESV) 

17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 18 how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God. 19 Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget. 

What Moses tells us in Deuteronomy is that while some of the Israelites were struggling perhaps weak and some were lagging toward the back of the group, the Amalekites attacked the weak ones and some of the women and children as well.  God took this personal.  Moses tells us that the Amalekites did not fear God in this attack.  

In this passage in verse 9, Joshua first appears. Moses appoints Joshua to respond to this attack on the part of the Amalekites. We know nothing else about Joshua at this point. Later we’ll find out that he is the son of Nun, that he is the grandson of Elishama, that he’s a tribal chieftain, that he’s Moses right hand man, his junior assistant, that he’s his designated successor, and that he is the chief captain of Israel’s army. But right now we know nothing of that about Joshua. He’s a man that Moses chooses to appoint who will attack or defend Israel against the Amalekites.

I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.

What is Moses getting ready to do?  

2.  The Staff: A Visible Symbol of Divine Intervention

10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. 

There is a vast number of reliable biblical scholarship that really has no definitive clue as to what is really taking place up on the hilltop.  Some of the better theologians tell us that when Moses went to the top of the hill he was praying to God with his arms lifted.  As he prayed with lifted arms God would move and the Israelites would succeed. 

The problem is prayer is not mentioned.  Every other time Moses prays to God for water or food etc the Bible tells us he prayed.  I’m sure Moses did pray at some point but the focus here is the staff.  

I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.

Joshua and his fighting men engage with the Amalekites while Moses, Aaron and Hur go up to the top of the hill with the staff in Moses’ hand. 

The staff is a visible sign of God’s presence.  It was with the staff that the Red Sea was parted.  We must be clear, it was not Moses or the staff that parted the Red Sea but God who did it.  They were clear on this issue.

Exodus 15:1–3 (ESV) 

15 Then Moses and the people of Israel sang this song to the Lord, saying, 

“I will sing to the Lord, for he has triumphed gloriously; 

the horse and his rider he has thrown into the sea. 

The Lord is my strength and my song, 

and he has become my salvation; 

this is my God, and I will praise him, 

my father’s God, and I will exalt him. 

The Lord is a man of war; 

the Lord is his name. 

They did not sing to Moses or to the staff as if it contained magic.  It was the thing they saw that represented God’s presence and God’s power.

We know who Moses is and Aaron but who is Hur?  No one really knows for sure.  He has proven himself reliable.  He’s only mentioned a couple of places in the Bible.  A Jewish tradition says he was Miriam’s husband but we simply don’t know.

Getting back to the staff.  

The staff was the symbol that God was there and that He would give them strength.  When the staff was lifted up or literally stretched out Israel’s army would prevail.  When it was lowered they were fighting the enemy themselves. 

Exodus 9:22–24 (ESV) 

22 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, so that there may be hail in all the land of Egypt, on man and beast and every plant of the field, in the land of Egypt.” 23 Then Moses stretched out his staff toward heaven, and the Lord sent thunder and hail, and fire ran down to the earth. And the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt. 24 There was hail and fire flashing continually in the midst of the hail, very heavy hail, such as had never been in all the land of Egypt since it became a nation.

Exodus 10:12–13 (ESV) 

12 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the land of Egypt for the locusts, so that they may come upon the land of Egypt and eat every plant in the land, all that the hail has left.” 13 So Moses stretched out his staff over the land of Egypt, and the Lord brought an east wind upon the land all that day and all that night. When it was morning, the east wind had brought the locusts. 

Exodus 14:16 (ESV) 

16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground. 

So, the consensus then is…Moses stretch out your hand that is holding the staff and God said that He will act.  This was an appeal to God and a symbol of God’s presence and power. 

The God they have been grumbling against and Moses who they had quarreled with continually meant more for their safety than all their weaponry and all their army. 

Before we move on, is there a clear lesson for us here? 

On whom should we depend?

3.  The Book: A Reminder to Joshua and Us

14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” 

God told Moses to write down these events so that Joshua could read them and have them recited to him to encourage him when other battles come. 

There have been certain liberal scholars who have said that this cannot be because, they say, Moses didn’t know how to write.  They say that writing didn’t start until after Moses’ day.  It has since been discovered that Moses could write and that people had been writing for at least 1000 years before Moses. 

We have Moses’ writing at God’s command. 

God wanted His people to remember this battle but to forget the Amalekites.  They are not to be considered a threat any longer.  

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