Exodus 17:8-16
The Lord Our Banner

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. The night before Jesus was crucified he had a meal with his disciples and after he had spoken many things, he said this to them, "The reason I said these things is so you will have peace through me. You will have many trials in this world. But, have courage. I have already overcome the world," (John 16:33).

2. If the reason you came to church is just to get away from your trials and tribulations, I'm sorry but, the church cannot meet your expectations. Because Jesus clearly said, "you will have trials in this world." The Bible teaches us something more important than escapism from our worldly problems. It teaches we are to live with Him, the one who already has overcome the world. As long as we listen to this message from him of "have courage," we will thrive with him.

You Will Have Tests In The World

3. The stories of the Israelites in the Old Testament already made clear that believing in God and living with him was not a means in any way for escaping trials. They were led by God out of Egypt. They had traveled along while led by the signs of God's presence in the pillar of the cloud and the pillar of fire. There was no doubt that they were with God. However, the path upon which God had let them walk was not a smooth short cut that easily led to the promised land. Rather, it was a path full of detours. What's more, it was a wilderness path short on food and water. And what does it say in the text that we read today? They had come at last to be attacked by enemies from another country. The very existence of the people had now been exposed to a crisis. This is the walk of God's people we see in the Old Testament. It is a believer's walk. That's how it is when we live under God's leading. Thus then, you might say that the words of "You will have many trials in this world" were not only for the disciples of Christ, but already even among the people of the Old Testament they were applicable.

4. Let's look at today's passage of scripture. The people who had attacked the Israelites were called the people of Amalek. They were nomads migrating through the Sinai peninsula. Living in a harsh wilderness environment, in order to maintain water and food sources which were so scarce, they would often times have no recourse but to seize them from others. (Also, the circumstances of some other nomads called the Midianites looting and robbing up to Palestine is found later in The Book Of Judges.) Here in the text it is written in particular that "Amalek came to Rephidim and battled with Israel." By the way it is written here we might surmise that these Amalek people had come to seize the water source that Israel was given by God (verse six).

5. Any way, the reason they came to do battle with Israel was that they supposed that Israel was probably weakened from journeying in the wilderness; because later Moses had this to say in Deuteronomy, "When you came out of Egypt, remember what Amalek did on the journey. When he met you on the road and you were tired, they attacked all the stragglers who were in the rear and they had no fear of God," (Deuteronomy 25:18). Under these circumstances, the Israelites organized a sudden muster for war and because of the threat to their future they could not avoid battle with Amalek.

6. Moses commanded Joshua, "Choose the men, and go out to the front lines for battle with Amalek," (verse nine). This was a very severe situation. The Israelites had by nature never been a people trained for battle. Hardly two months ago they were slaves. It looks like there weren't even enough weapons to be had. However, as far as we see in this passage, the people seemed to respond to Joshua's roll call. They stood up to do battle with Amalek.

7. This is surprising. The way they were in the first half of chapter seventeen is quite different. Back there we saw the people the way they were in complaining to Moses. They said, "Why did you lead us up from Egypt? Was it to kill [us], our children and our cattle from thirst?," (verse three), and then they tried to stone Moses to death. But then, the grounds for them to complain wasn't yet over. Amalek had raided them, and still more yet, those who had been weak had already come under his hand and were steadily being destroyed at that very moment. It became clear to them at that time that even if they complained and stoned Moses to death it wouldn't resolve anything though. You might say they had no other choice but to get their strength up and stand up for battle. I'd say there will be times like that for us too. There will be times when the situation for complaining will be over and done with and no one else can be held responsible anymore but ourselves. The time does come when we have no choice but to stand up to our tests.

I Have Already Overcome The World

8. But then, weird as it is, this story does not focus on the fighting of Joshua and the soldiers he leads. Instead of onto the place of battle, we are made to turn our eyes onto the top of a hill far away from it. That is where Moses, Aaron and Hur are. Then the story gets weirder. It tells that, "While Moses lifted his hands Israel would be superior, but when he lowered his hands, Amalek would be superior," (verse eleven).

9. Doesn't this sound a little silly? Who could take this comic book kind of story with a straight face I wonder! But inserted within this description that appears quite foolish at first is a major assertion which the scriptures do have in them. It is the emphatic assertion that the outcome of anything is never decided by just the place you're in. In the scripture you may be in a different place that seems completely unrelated to the matter at issue, but you have an influence over the situation.

10. There are many other such examples of the influence of people found [in the Bible]. The Bible says that in a later time period the Israelites who won at Jericho were defeated at the little town of Ai because of the sin of one person named Achan, (Joshua chapter seven). The Bible says that the reason the kingdom of Solomon was divided in a later time was not just political but because of Solomon's infidelity to the Lord, (First Kings chapter eleven). In the time of Hezekiah it was because he went up to the temple and prayed that Jerusalem was saved when it had been besieged by Assyria, (Second Kings chapter nineteen). Of course, the cross of Jesus is the most fundamental occasion of this. The Bible says that our eternal destiny is tied back to what happened on Golgotha!

11. Why is there a connection between the Israelites fighting at the battle zone and Moses on the hill side? It is because the Israelites and Moses were not there alone. There among them was God actively at work and living right there with them. As long as God is present, the outcome of the battle is not settled by the relationship of power between Israel and Amalek.

12. Let's focus on the hands of Moses as he stood on the hill. What was being held in his hands? In his hands the rod of God was being held. This rod was the [same] rod held in Moses' hands when the Sea of Reeds was split in two. The Lord said to Moses, "Lift the rod up high, reach out and turn your hand towards the sea and divide it in half. Thus, the Israelites will be able to pass through the dry place in the midst of the sea," (14:16). And it happened just as he said it would. Then when they were thirsty at Rephidim, the Lord said to Moses, "Look, I will stand before you on the rock of Horeb. You will strike that rock. Water will come out of it, the people will be able to drink," (verse six). When Moses struck the rock with that rod, it happened just as God said it would. Later on now, Moses is standing on the hill side carrying the rod of God high in the air.

13. "You will have trials in the world." That's certainly the truth. It was for the Israelites when God lead them. Yet, even in trials, Israel had always experienced the blessings of the living Lord. They had certainly experienced a pathway opened up to them that pierced through the hopelessness and a water that gushed forth from a dry desert rock. And now even in a battle with Amalek, the living Lord was there too. In the reality of that battle God was intervening. The rod of God that was held in Moses' hands pointed to that very fact of reality.

14. It is precisely because God does intervene like that that there was meaning in Moses' standing on the hill and his lifting his hands. From ancient times, in both the Jewish and Christian traditions, people have seen the likes of praying people like Moses did in lifting his hands high in the air. In this passage it doesn't out right specifically state that Moses had been in prayer. However, this scene clearly shows the essence of what prayer is.

15. Even though the place was far away, Moses and Joshua were both in the battle together. A praying person participates in the battle with those doing the fighting on the actual field. Therefore, no matter how heavy his hands became, Moses had to keep them up. That's why Aaron and Hur had to assist Moses. As Moses sat on a stone, Aaron and Hur stood by his sides and supported his hands. They gave it all they had on the hill to keep those hands up in the air; they desperately supported his hands up. As far as the way humans look at things, what they did seemed comical. It looked completely unrelated to the fighting on the front. Prayer often times appears that way to the human eye. But, it is not. Those on the hill and Joshua in the battle zone were all with the living Lord in unison.

16. Therefore, when the battle was over, Moses didn't do anything like praise Joshua for his achievements or set up a monument to the triumph of war. That's not what he did; instead, he constructed an altar and named it "The Lord Our Banner." That banner was equivalent to "a victory flag." The Lord was the real victory banner. The hill of prayer and the scene of the actual battle were one and the same and when the victory was obtained it must have been clear to every eye who was the real victor over it all. It was none other than the living Lord God Himself.

17. Jesus said, "You will have trials in the world." Of course, being a Christian doesn't mean an escape from trials. But, as our prayer and agonizing in the stage of the world become one and the same, we too are allowed like the Israelites to experience that we are with the Christ who has already been victorious over the world. We too are granted the privilege of living a life loudly declaring that "The Lord is our [victory] banner."

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