The time was around 1500 BC. The place was in the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land of Canaan. After nearly 400 years of bondage, the LORD raised up Moses to be the leader who would take the people of Abraham out of slavery. Pharaoh, head of the most powerful nation in the world at the time, didn’t let God’s people go without a fight. He rejected numerous calls from Moses for emancipation and, as a result, he and his countrymen were devastated by 10 powerful plagues brought upon them by the hand of the one true and living God! Finally, after the judgment of the death of the firstborn, Pharaoh acquiesced and released the Hebrews. Even then, on their way out, the foolish Egyptian ruler again rebelled against the LORD by ultimately deciding to go after the people of God. That fatal decision resulted in the miraculous occurring again where waters of the Red Sea were parted, allowing the Israelites to cross on dry ground, but then subsequently reconvened to drown the entire pursuing Egyptian army. This Exodus of God’s people out of slavery is seen as the primary salvific event of the Old Testament and, in light of the New Testament, is the paramount type and shadow of the salvation that we have in Christ. Notice that the Israelites fought no battle with the Egyptians to earn their deliverance, for God alone did the work. They did have to “receive” the instructions of the Lord and follow Moses to go out, but they did not raise a hand against Pharaoh and his army. God fought all the battles that won their freedom! The Israelites who had grumbled against and doubted God and Moses, their ordained leader, on the “front side” of the Red Sea while being chased by enemy soldiers; now praised the LORD with great vigor on the back side of the waters as they saw “the horse and the rider thrown into the sea.” However, it didn’t take long before they began to murmur again, complaining that they had no food or water in the desert. God graciously provided both manna from the sky and water from the rock to meet their needs. Both of these being pictures of Christ as well for Jesus is the Bread that comes from Heaven (John 6:35) and is the Rock that was smitten (1 Cor. 10:4) to provide living water for His people.
The above paragraph basically outlines for us the events of the first sixteen and a half chapters of Exodus. Now we come to Exodus 17:8-16. The Israelites have begun their 40-year wilderness wonderings and have just drank the water from the rock. Then, something occurs that had not happened before this in the book of Exodus, they are confronted by a foreign power and they themselves have to fight. The Amalekites, descendants of Esau who would cause great trouble for the people of God throughout the Old Testament, attacked from the rear while the Israelites were faint and weary (see description given in Deut. 25:17-19). Joshua is commissioned by Moses to select men who will go out and battle the Amalekites. While Joshua and his forces were fighting down below, Moses would stand on a hill with the staff of God in his hand. The battle ensued and when Moses lifted up his hands, the tide turned in favor of the Israelites. However, when Moses’ hands grew heavy and fell down, the momentum shifted to the Amalekites. Seeing the weariness of their leader, the people of God sat Moses upon a stone and summoned two men to hold up his arms. Aaron, Moses’ brother, supported one side and Hur, Caleb’s son, buttressed the other. Together, they steadied Moses’ hands until sunset and consequently Joshua and his forces overwhelmed the Amalekites. Moses orders the account written down so that generations at large, and Joshua in particular, can hear of it over and over again. He also builds an altar and names it “The LORD Is My Banner” (Yahweh Nissi or Jehovah Nissi) signifying that God is the One who gives the victory. Now that we’ve given the outline of the texts, we turn to some of the salient points we can derive.
First, Salvation Is A Gift That Must Be Received, Not A Work That Must Be Achieved…As noted above, the Israelites did not have to battle for deliverance from Egypt. They did have to trust in God and the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb to keep from having their firstborn killed, and they did have to walk away from Egypt and towards the Promised Land. However, the LORD supernaturally defeated the false Egyptian gods through the 10 plagues and the LORD parted the Red Sea bringing salvation to the people; the LORD fighting for them while they stayed silent (Exodus 14:13-14). Perhaps the clearest and most succinct of many New Testament passages declaring that salvation is a gift comes from Ephesians 2:8-9, “for by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Now that gift of salvation must be received by faith in Christ and repentance from sin, but there is nothing that any of us can do to earn salvation. Indeed, Jesus’ work on the cross paid the full price for our sin and truly “the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 6:23b).”
Second, Sanctification Is The Spirit Empowered, Lifelong Work In Progress, Indeed A Lifelong Battle, Where Believers Become More Who God Would Have Us To Be…As discussed earlier, the first of the battles that the Israelites had to fight came after their exodus from Egypt. This struggle came when the Amalekites attacked. There are some in our day who seem to say that after we are saved, we never have any more problems or issues. That is simply not the case. Before being in Christ we are slaves to sin (John 8:34), but after being born again we have the indwelling Holy Spirit who convicts us of sin and longs to produce the fruit of the Spirit in our lives (Gal. 5:22-23). Bearing this fruit is indeed to be attributed to the power of God, however, unlike the gift of salvation (or justification), sanctification is described as fighting the good fight, pressing toward the mark of the high calling of God, running the race, etc. (1 Tim. 6:12; Phil. 3:14; 2 Tim. 4:7). Christians have an enemy in the devil who is like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Pet. 5:8). Satan may lay off for a while, but he is always seeking for a more opportune time (Luke 4:13). Christians, though not of the world, live in a fallen world that descends deeper and deeper into corruption and ungodliness with each day that passes by (John 17:14-16). Christians, though always having a way of escape provided by the Lord (1 Cor. 10:13), are ever tempted by the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life (1 John 2:16).
Third, Part Of Prayer Is A Battle With Unseen Forces With Seen Results…Certainly there are many aspects that I would place under the category of prayer; such as adoration, confession, testimony, and supplication. However, intercession, and even spiritual warfare, are “labels” that could be listed as genuine parts of prayer as well. In a manner of speaking, though Moses lifted his hands, he never lifted a finger against the Amalekites. He did not engage in any hand to hand battle with the descendants of Esau, he did not swing a sword or hurl a spear in the fight. And yet, the success of Joshua in the battle below against forces you could see depended upon the success of Moses in the battle above against forces you could not see. In today’s “civilized” world and in some cases even in today’s “civilized” church, the existence of the devil and of demons and of spiritual warfare is downplayed and even denied. Now, I don’t believe we should be looking for a demon behind every bush, and I don’t think Scripture supports us ranting and railing against the devil (see Jude 1:8-10 where such a practice is condemned and where believers are instead encouraged to pray saying “”The Lord rebuke you!” in response to demons); but Satan is real and demonic activity is real. The devil could not literally be seen in the delay of Daniel’s answer to prayer but his influence was real. The devils influencing the Gerasene demoniac could not literally be seen by the naked eye, but their influence over him was real as was the impact of their presence upon the pigs that Jesus allowed them to go into (Mark 5:1-20). Prayer to God is certainly a part of the weapons of our warfare which, though not of the flesh, are mighty to the pulling down of strongholds (2 Cor. 10:3-5). Many people say there is power in prayer. I think it more truthful to say that for those who are genuinely in Christ, there is power in prayer because there is power in the One to Whom we pray!
Fourth, Prayer Can Take It Out Of You…Moses was 80 years old when he began leading the people of God and he lived to be 120. Yet, scripture records that this seasoned citizen’s eyes never grew dim and his strength never diminished (Deut. 34:7). However, while praying during the battle with the Amalekites, Moses grew weary. Ministry is a joy and a source of strength, yet Paul also spoke of ministry as hard work, literally exhausting work (2 Tim. 2:6; Col. 1:29). Prayer is a joy and a source of strength to be sure, but it can also be hard work (note: Luke 22:39-46). Setting aside time for prayer, staying focused during prayer, searching motives in prayer, being Scriptural in our prayers, and other facets of prayer truly require spiritual strength and endurance.
Fifth, We Need Others and Others Need Us and Most Of All We All Need Jesus…It’s easy to see how the people of God needed Moses. He was the one the LORD used to deliver them from Egyptian bondage and the one used in our focus passage from Exodus 17 to intercede and bring the victory. Yet, Moses also needed others. Without Aaron and Hur, his arms would have sunk as would the prospects for victory for the congregation of Israel. Of course, the LORD was the One that they all needed most. In vain does someone look throughout Scripture for instruction to or justification for being in isolation from others of the like-same faith. For every genuine believer in Christ, we can say of other true believers that You Need Me, I Need You, and We All Need Jesus!
FINALLY, The Scene Of Exodus 17 Points Us To Christ…Jesus said in John 5:39 that “you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these (the Scriptures) that testify about Me.” Exodus 17:8-16 certainly points us to Christ and to His ministry that would come some 1,500 years after Moses. All of us face a danger far more serious than that of a foreign power such as the Amalekites. Apart from Christ all of us would be doomed and destined for eternal hell where the fire is not quenched and the worm does not die, for all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 3:23; Rom. 6:23). Yet, there came One from Heaven who on Mt. Calvary was crucified with one on His left hand and one on His right hand. His arms were stretched out on the cross, paying the price and making the way for sinners who would repent and put faith in Him to be redeemed and ransomed, to be forgiven and free, to have victory over death, hell, and the grave! And now Jesus, the Savior, has risen and is seated at the right hand of God where He ever lives to make tireless and effectual intercession for all those who have been born again (Heb. 7:25)!