Sunday Morning Sermon: Exodus 17:8-16, Looking to God for Victory

15 Oct

Exodus
Exodus 17:8-16
Looking to God for Victory

Exodus 17:8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 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.” 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. 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 miraculously saved Israel from slavery in Egypt but ever since they had been saved they faced one hardship after another. The wilderness was not an easy place. Bitter water, lack of food, lack of water, all of these trials faced Israel on their exit from Egypt. But now, they face a different kind of challenge. The Amalekites come out to meet them not in friendship but to attack them without mercy.
The wilderness of our lives is difficult as well.  Cancer. The death of a loved one. Battles with depression. Nagging illnesses. The struggle of growing older. The pain of children departing from the Lord. The challenges of marriage. Yes, most of us have enough food and water and for that we are grateful, but it doesn’t mean we are free from very real problems. Jesus told us in this world we would have trouble. Our lives in the wilderness of this world are difficult. But we have One in our midst who is willing and able to lead us through hardship. He is with us. He is for us. And in Him there is victory. Not victory that delivers us from bad circumstances but victory that delivers us through bad circumstances. Look with me at verse 8 as we see how God works in all things for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

Exodus 17:8  Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.
The Amalekites initiated this conflict. We aren’t told here why they did. But we do know that they knew something about the Israelites, because they were related to them. Amalek was a grandson of Esau, Jacob’s brother. And Jacob, as we remember from Genesis, was the one who became the father of the twelve sons who would become the twelve tribes of Israel. This place Rephidim, which means “resting place,” had been anything but for
the Israelites, who were first without water and then, when God had taken care of that need, they were attacked by the Amalekites.
And we find from the book of Deuteronomy that the attack of the Amalekites was pretty much despicable. In Deuteronomy 25:17, God tells Moses, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, 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.”
So we see here a description of the Amalekites that puts them in a very bad light. They were attacking Israel at their weakest time and at their weakest point. Like one of those nature shows where the lion attacks the slowest antelope, the Amalekites attacked the weakest of the Israelites. And we find here the reason for their attack: they did not fear God. Like their forefather Esau, they had a low view of God and because of that low
view of God they put themselves under His curse, just as Esau had done.

Exodus 17:9 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.”
For the first time in the Bible, we meet Joshua, who will become the leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses. Here he is Moses’ assistant, charged with putting together a fighting force to deal with the Amalekites. Now a fighting force of slaves was not going to be very impressive, but we see here an interesting interaction between God’s
sovereignty and man’s responsibility. God’s staff, the symbol of His power, is going to be on top of the hill, but the people are still called to take up arms to fight Amalek. At the Red Sea, when God saved His people, He said to them specifically, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord. And God parted the Red Sea and led the Israelites through all the way. But now, on the other side of their salvation, the Israelites must take an active role in walking in the blessings of God. And I just think this is a clear picture
of what salvation is like for us.
We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. This is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God. It is not by works. We didn’t contribute anything to our salvation. We couldn’t save ourselves and without the grace of God, we wouldn’t even turn to Him. We are dead in our transgressions and sins apart from Christ. Dead men don’t make themselves alive. But God can raise them from the dead. And that is what He did with
us. He made us alive. He awakened faith in us so that we trusted Jesus and were saved.
So in being saved we didn’t do anything but trust in what Jesus has done and even that trust was God’s gift to us. But after we are saved, we are called to walk in the blessings God has given us. We are called to take an active part in our spiritual growth. We are called to do things when we face challenges in life. There are calls all over the New Testament for us to trust in God, to pray without ceasing, to fix our hearts on the promises of God and to follow the commands of God in light of His love for us in Christ. There is a battle in the life of a Christian and we are called to take up arms in that fight. Yet we are not alone. The Lord is with us. His power is at work. And we are called to trust in His power to work even as we walk in everyday life.
I am so excited to see this in the pages of the first books of the Bible: salvation is all of grace but growth in grace is about walking in the power of God. We must depend on God, we must trust the Lord. Without this trust we will live defeated lives. But we must also walk in the ways of life He has given us. We must live and make decisions and do the things God calls us to do.
So, on the one hand, I don’t think you can square the message of the Bible with a totally passive approach to our growth in grace. “Let go and let God” just doesn’t work. But neither does it work to say, “God saved me, now I’ve got to figure out the rest of my life.” Rather, our lives should reflect what Paul says in His letters. “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared for us beforehand, that we should walk in them.” And “I work with all my might, according to His power that works within me.” And “Work out you own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to do according to His good pleasure.” I like to say not “Let go and let God” but “Grab hold and let God.” Take up those things God calls you to do and then trust Him to work in and through you for His glory and your joy.

Exodus 17:10  So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
So Israel puts together their rag-tag troops, and Moses, Aaron and Hur head to the top of the hill. No training, former slaves, heading into combat. These guys would make Gomer Pyle look like a Navy Seal. So here go these guys who’d been in the wilderness for months, getting ready to enter battle with their leader not on the front lines but up on a hill holding a stick. And I think this too is a good picture, for while our efforts are a necessary part of our growth in grace, in comparison to our need our efforts and abilities are very weak. Our needs are always outrunning the resources we have in ourselves. And this is all God’s plan. He has called you to take steps of faith, to do real things, but He is really bringing you into all these things so that you will see that it is really His power that counts. This is what he was doing with the Israelites. I will be with you when you lack water, I will supply you when you lack bread, and I will even be with you when people are out to destroy you. I am your God and you are my people.
I won’t leave you. I won’t forsake you. I’ll bring you all the way to the finish line of this wilderness. And I will bring you through the battle of this day too. This is what we see in verse 11.

Exodus 17:11  Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.
When the rod is raised, Israel is winning but when Moses’ hands are lowered, the Amalekites begin to win. This rod, this staff, we have seen all the way through Exodus was given to Moses by God as an instrument of God’s power. Moses used it when he first encountered Pharaoh. Moses stretched it out when the Nile was turned to blood and it was stretched out to the sky when the great hailstorm came. And then when Israel crossed the
Red Sea, Moses raised his staff and the waters parted. And even in the beginning of chapter 17, Moses struck the rock at Rephidim with the staff and water flowed for the people. The rod is the embodiment of the power of God. So when the rod is lifted up, when God’s power is the focus, there is victory, but when the rod is lowered, defeat is near.  In the rod, God is saying to Israel, “Yes, you are down there fighting, you are struggling, wrestling with these Amalekites, but I am with you and I will give you
victory when I am exalted.” The Israelites needed to act, but even more they needed to trust in the God who could bring victory against the odds. Verse 12 shows us even more about the sufficiency of God and our place in His plan.

Exodus 17:12  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.
There are two things that verse 12 makes really clear: first, Moses, the great leader, is not the reason for the victory. He can’t keep his hands up. God is the one who brings victory, not Moses, who in his own strength lacks so much, as we have seen throughout the book of Exodus. It’s not his eloquence, or his energy, or his wisdom, or even his track record of morality that makes him a mighty man of God. It is his humility and faith, his utter dependence on God in the midst of incredibly challenging circumstances. God brings the victory and Moses knows this.
The second truth we see here is that we need each other. This is not the major focus of the passage, but I think it is mentioned for a reason. The reason is that even in the part God calls us to, we cannot do it without one another. This is one of the reasons God has given us the church. We are called to encourage each other in the faith, as our year verse Hebrews 10:24 and 25 says. The things God calls us to walk in are not natural to us. We need the encouragement and help other believers can give to us. Moses needed his brothers in the Lord to hold up his arms and we need to hold each other up, so that when we are weary in faith, we have the encouragement of brothers and sisters in the Lord who love us enough to encourage us to keep going.
What we see in verse 13 is a great summary of what happens when we are walking in obedience to God, trusting in His power and helping one another. Look at verse 13 . . .

Exodus 17:13   And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
Look at this total victory, an overwhelming victory against all odds. Why? Because God was with them.  Because they were walking in obedience to Him.  Because they were supporting one another. This is where God calls us to live. And these times of victory are what God calls us to remember.

Exodus 17:14   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.”
What a shame it is that we often remember and dwell on the defeats and forget the victories. Often when we think of other people, we focus on their failures or what they have not provided for us. When we think about church life, we don’t think about the great things God has done, we think about past conflicts or troubles. But God would have us not focus our hearts on what we are not but on what He is. This victory would be written down
and spoken to Joshua. The Amalekites were going to be totally defeated. And many years later, they would be defeated completely.
How important it is for us to note the goodness of God. We need to write things down. We need to remember. We need to recall the great works of God.

Exodus 17:15  And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD is my banner,
In celebration of this victory, not only is there a writing down but there is worship, the building of an altar. And there is the recognition in the name of the altar that God is the One who gives the victory. In the last story we looked at in chapter 17, when Israel grumbled, the place was renamed for their grumbling, a recognition of their failure. But here there is only praise for God and true worship. No leaving with regret, no leaving behind the rubble of rebellion. Instead, they leave behind an altar of praise. When we look to God, we leave a legacy of praise. When we don’t, our legacy is one of regret.
    
Exodus 17:16  saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
Verse 16 tells us that God will keep fighting for His people. He will protect His people. Victory only comes through the power of God. But the power of God is unchanging. He does not weaken, He does not become tired, He is always fully engaged. And this is all the more important for us as we remember that the heart of our struggle is not physical but spiritual. As we read in Ephesians 6: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

We’re in the wilderness. But God is with us. And He will win. So let’s take up those spiritual weapons and walk in Him. And let’s lean on each other. The battle is too big for us but the battle belongs to the Lord. In Him there is life. In Him there is victory. He gets the glory and we get the joy.

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