A Reflection on Exodus 17:8-13
By: Larry T
This Sunday we read about a furious battle between the Amalekites and the Israelites.
8At Rephidim, Amalek came and waged war against Israel.
9Moses, therefore, said to Joshua, “Pick out certain men, and tomorrow go out and engage Amalek in battle. I will be standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”
10So Joshua did as Moses told him: he engaged Amalek in battle after Moses had climbed to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur.
11As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight.
12Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so they put a rock in place for him to sit on. Meanwhile Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other, so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
13And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
- Exodus 17:8-13 N.A.B.
The barbarous Amalekites had been scheming to annihilate the Israelites for some time. They waited patiently until Moses and his people were camped at Rephidim before launching their attack. Who were the Amalekites? Josephus, the first century Jewish historian described them as:
They were called the Amalekites, and were the most warlike of the nations that lived around there; and whose kings exhorted one another, and their neighbors, to go to this war against the Hebrews; telling them that an army of strangers, and such a one as had run away from slavery under the Egyptians, lay in wait to ruin them; which army they were not, in common sense and regard to their own safety, to overlook, but to crush them before they gather strength, and come to prosperity, and perhaps attack them first in a hostile manner, (Josephus, Antiq. 3.2.1)
Moses, Aaron, and Hur scrambled to the top of the highest hill at Rephidim; from that vantage point they could watch the battle. Standing erect Moses raised the staff of God heavenward in one hand while reaching out to heaven with the other hand as he gazed intently at the battlefield. As long as he was able to point the staff heavenward, the Israelites dominated the Amalekites, but when his arms became too tired to hold the staff upward and he lowered his arms to rest, the Amalekites gained the upper hand. It didn’t take Aaron and Hur long to analyze the problem and devise a solution– if the Israelites were to survive; they had to help Moses hold up the staff. Wait! Wasn’t this the same staff Moses used to part the Red Sea? Wasn’t it the same staff he used to strike the rock at Horeb to get water for the people? Why did he have to hold it heavenward continually?
The Jewish Encyclopedia offers the following insight into this incident:
Evidently the colors for this picture are drawn from the palette of later experience. Accordingly, in rabbinical literature stress is rather laid on the moral lesson of the episode. Amalek was but the scourge in the hand of God to punish the people of Israel, who had become "faint and weary" in the observance of God's commands and "feared not God." They lacked the power of faith (play on the name "Rephidim" = rafu yadayim, "the hands became weak"), and therefore said: "Is the Lord among us or not?" (Ex. xvii. 7, 8). Like a wayward child that runs back to its father when a dog comes snarling along, the Israelites were unmindful of God's doings until like a dog Amalek came to bite them. Then Moses fasted and prayed, saying: "O Lord, who will in the future spread Thy Law, if Amalek succeeds in destroying this nation?" And with uplifted arms, holding the staff and pointing heavenward, he inspired Joshua and the people with his faith until the victory was won (Mek.ib.).
– The Jewish Encyclopedia
– The Jewish Encyclopedia
The image of Moses with the wooden staff raised heavenward convinced the Israelite warriors that God was with them in their battle against the Amalekites, and they prevailed. Similarly the image of Jesus nailed to the heavenward raised wooden cross on top of the hill has inspired Christians since His resurrection.
Like the Israelites at Rephidim have we become faint and weary in observing God’s commands? Is there a worldwide loss of faith among believers? If we took a trip on the faith roads and highways of our country would there be too many potholes to avoid, and not enough construction in progress? Does God see His children losing their devotion to Him, or does He see their faith increasing? Do we need an occasional time out to mentally picture the battered, bloody, tortured body of Jesus nailed to the wooden cross? Does this mental image, and what it represents, fortify our faith in the same way that the image of Moses at the top of the hill gave hope to the Israelite warriors at Rephidim? Or does our secular world with its dizzying array of distractions surreptitiously disconnect us from the image?