Psalters: 306, 121, 353, 87
Preached in Edgerton
The children of Israel, beloved, faced many, many hardships as they traveled through the wilderness. They were at first pursued by the Egyptians. They were then troubled time and again by lack of food and water. They faced daily the difficulties of living in and traveling through a hot and dry desert, and doing so as families, with children, women, and the elderly. Many, many hardships – and all of them sent by God and used by Him to teach and to strengthen His people.
All of those trials that Israel faced are typical of the struggles and difficulties that we, the New Testament church, must face and must learn from. God sends them upon us, too. We, like Israel, live in the midst of a wilderness, surrounded by an evil and hostile world. As I Corinthians 10 reminds us, all these things happened to them and are written down in Scripture for our admonition and instruction, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
Israel’s most recent hardship, as pointed out in the first 7 verses of this chapter, was thirst. They come to Rephidim and have no water to drink. As usual, they murmured and complained. But God is gracious and, through Moses, provided for them. Moses is commanded to smite the rock. Miraculously water comes forth and the people’s thirst is quenched.
Immediately, however, they face another hardship and trial. This time it is warfare. They are at Rephidim, a name which means “resting place.” But Israel cannot rest here – at least not yet. They face another danger in the great and terrible wilderness, and this time it is the attack by the armies of Amalek. Instead of taking it easy, Israel is called to active duty. They must take up their swords and they must fight the battle of Jehovah against His and their enemy.
The significance of all of this for us is that it teaches us and shows us that we, too, are at war. We, too, are called to fight. And we, too, are taught here in the Word of God how to fight the enemy.
Let us consider then: ISRAEL’S WAR WITH AMALEK
1. The Attack
2. The Fighting
3. The Memorial
4. THE ATTACK
The first question that needs answering is this, “Who is Amalek?” Amalek is referred to in Genesis 36:12. There the descendants of Esau are listed. And we are told there that Amalek was the son of Eliphaz, who was a son of Esau. Amalek is a grandson of Esau. That means that Amalek is a relative to the children of Israel.
But although they are relatives, the Amalekites are an enemy. As descendants of Esau, they are those of whom God said, “I hate him!” They are reprobates. As such, they are a very clearly marked and very well known enemy of God and His people. And here they come in hatred of God and His cause with the desire to destroy God’s people.
Their attack, you understand, was a very wicked attack. It was a wicked attack first of all because they came against Israel without cause. That they did so is clear when you consider the fact that the children of Israel at this time are heading toward Mount Sinai. The Israelites are a long ways south of the land of Canaan, and heading away from that land. And yet the Amalekites come all the way from Canaan, where they lived, to attack Israel. They put together their army and take a long journey south specifically to find the children of Israel and specifically to attack them. They did not just happen upon them. But as is usually the case with the enemies of God’s church, they go out of their way to find God’s people in order to attack and destroy them.
As we said, they weren’t provoked. Oh, they know about Israel. They have heard of all that has happened to the Egyptians. They have heard of how the Egyptians were destroyed in their own land as well as at the Red Sea. And they have heard that it is God’s purpose and promise to give the Israelites the land of Canaan. And that’s what irritates them. Why should God give to Israel the land where they lived? What right did Israel have to the land of Canaan? None, in their judgment! They figure, therefore, that it’s best to attack Israel now before Israel gets to Canaan and attacks them. “Let’s not wait for them to attack us,” they say, “but let’s prevent them from even getting to our land, Canaan.”
And why do they do that? They do that because they do not fear God. That’s what we’re told in Deuteronomy 25. There Moses, at the end of his life, recounts for the children of Israel their history. In the course of doing so he reminds them of the Amalekites and what they did. Thus we read in Deuteronomy 25:17, 18: “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; How he met thee by the way and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee when thou wast faint and weary.” And then notice this: “And he feared not God.” He feared not God. He hated God. That is always true of the enemies of the church and people of God. They hate God. And in their hatred of God they hate the people of God. That’s why Amalek attacked.
What we see in this attack, therefore, is what the Scriptures tell us of in Genesis 3:15 – that there is enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. That enmity was there in the lives of Jacob and Esau, the grandparents of these tribes. And now that enmity is still there between the two seeds. Amalek’s attack is an attack instigated by the Devil himself against the seed of the woman, the church.
What is Satan’s purpose? Wickedly he is trying to prevent God’s people from ever getting to Canaan, the land of promise. He knows that that’s God’s purpose. He understands too that God, by bringing Israel to Canaan, is bringing them typically to heaven and to fellowship with Jehovah their God. And Satan says, “I’m going to stop that!” So he uses Amalek for that purpose. He stirs up that nation against the people of God and seeks to prevent God’s people from ever reaching the promised land.
Satan does that because he realizes that if can succeed in that, he can succeed in destroying God’s purpose in all of history. For if he can destroy Israel here through Amalek, he can prevent the birth of Christ, the birth of The Seed of the Woman. And so under Satan, this is a very wicked attack against Israel.
Deuteronomy 25 shows us that this attack is wicked also because it is cowardly. Amalek does not send messengers to Israel and say, “Let’s have warfare. Let’s see who’s strongest. Let’s see who can win.” But his plan is to take them by surprise. And though Exodus 17 does not make that clear, Deuteronomy 25 does. For how does Amalek attack? He attacks the Israelites when they are feeble, when they are weak, when they are faint. And he attacks them from behind. That’s what we read in Deuteronomy 25:18 – “How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary.”
You see, beloved, Amalek’s attack against the children of Israel did not happen some time after the children of Israel had arrived in Rephidim, had all taken a drink, and had all been revived. But it is happening right as they are arriving at Rephidim. This multitude of some 2 million people are on their way to Rephidim, and the ones who are at the front of the multitude arrive and discover there is no water. God then tells Moses to go ahead of them and to provide water for them out of the rock. But while that’s happening, the hindmost, the people that are at the back of this great multitude, have not arrived yet. They are still faint and weary, thirsty and weak. And Amalek sees that and says, “Now’s the time to get them.” It is a cowardly attack!
We see in this that the devil is smart. He knows when to attack. He attacks Israel when they are totally unprepared.
They are unprepared first of all on account of their being faint and weary. But they were also unprepared for various other reasons.
They are unprepared because they have not arrived at Sinai yet. It was at Sinai that God organized them as a nation, telling them how they should travel. There he organized them into tribes that were positioned around the tabernacle and that also had a specific order in which they would travel through the wilderness. But that had not happened yet. They are just a haphazard mass of people moving along through the desert.
And they are not prepared either because they do not even have an army yet. They do not know how to fight. That’s one of the reasons why God gives them this battle to fight – to teach them how to do so. But they had not learned that yet. They did not have an army. They did not know how to attack. They did not know how to defend. They were untrained. And what emphasizes this fact is that up to this point God had fought for them. It was by His almighty hand, and by His outstretched arm that Egypt was destroyed. They didn’t destroy Egypt – in fact, they didn’t even have to lift a finger! The same was true at the Red Sea – they simply stood still and watched the mighty work of God for them. And so, from a human point of view, they are not prepared for battle. From a human point of view, therefore, there was no hope for them. Humanly speaking, they were doomed.
But as far as being unprepared is concerned, the main way in which that was so was that they were not ready spiritually. That’s evident from the fact that they have just sinned grievously against God. They had arrived at Rephidim. They discover that there is no water there. And what do they do? Immediately they get angry – angry at Moses, and angry at God. They didn’t get their way and, instead of praying, they cry out against Moses and against God. They chide with Moses. They said, “Have you brought us out here to kill us all with thirst?” And then that terrible question at the end of verse 7 – “Is the Lord among us, or not?” That question was really a statement on their part. They were saying, “God isn’t among us. He isn’t here. He has abandoned us. He doesn’t care for us anymore. We’re on our own now!” That’s what they were saying. Spiritually, they are far from being ready for battle.
That all shows us again how crafty the devil is. He is no fool when it comes to knowing when to attack the people of God. You can well imagine the devil saying, “Now’s the time, the best time. Look at how unprepared they are. They’re not prepared with an army. They’re not prepared with organization. And especially they’re not prepared spiritually. Look at how they have just sinned against God. God won’t be with them now – surely not. He won’t help them now. Now’s my chance to get them and to succeed at destroying them.”
And isn’t that exactly how the devil works still today? He’s very crafty. He attacks the church as a whole when she has drifted into worldliness and away from God. He attacks the individual child of God when his faith is weak, or at the times in his life when he fails to be prayerful. He gets us when we are at our lowest, when we are vulnerable. So watch out, beloved. Be on your guard!
5. THE FIGHTING
God calls the children of Israel to fight. That in itself is rather striking because, as we noted already, up to this point Israel had been passive. God had done all the fighting for them. It was by His almighty hand that the Egyptians were destroyed. It was by His almighty hand that Israel was delivered at the Red Sea. It was by His almighty hand that He miraculously protected them and provided for them in the wilderness. Israel did not have to do a thing. They simply watched the mighty works of God for them. They were simply observers. Really what Moses says to them at the Red Sea sums it all up: “Stand still, and see the salvation of God.” That is how it had been. They simply stood back, as it were, and observed the mighty works of God for them.
But now God says to them, through Moses, “Take up swords and fight! Confront the enemy! Fight!” We realize, of course, that God could have fought for them. He could have commanded fire to come down from heaven and destroy the Amalekites. But He doesn’t. The Israelites themselves must fight the battle against the enemy. They must stand up and they must defend themselves against a hostile, wicked, and hateful foe.
That does not mean that God is out of the picture here. It does not mean they are fighting on their own. As we will see shortly, God will still fight for them. They will have a victory only because God is fighting for them. But God will fight through them – yes, through them. This is God’s war against the Amalekites, against the seed of the serpent, against the haters of His people and against the haters of Himself. And He will fight. He will. But He will fight through His people. And therefore He calls them to take up swords and to go to war.
And so must we, beloved. The children of Israel are a picture of us. We are the church in the wilderness facing the enemy. God has put us in the midst of a hostile world. We are surrounded by the devil and his army. I wonder if we think about that enough. The devil is out there, people of God. And not only is he out there, but he is battling hard in our own hearts. He is constantly pestering the people of God. He is constantly tempting them. The Devil is going about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he can devour.
He attacks us, as he did the children of Israel, when we are at our lowest – when our faith is perhaps weakest.
He is busy. He is hard at work. He tempts with the lusts of the flesh and eyes. He tempts some with alcohol. He tempts others with money. He tempts others with worldly honor and success. He tempts others to gossip. And he uses all kinds of methods to do this. Sometimes he uses friends to tempt us – other times, enemies. He uses the television to tempt us, and the music and literature of the world, and hundreds (or even thousands) of other things.
He is a powerful enemy. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but we wrestle against spiritual wickedness in high places. We are fighting the evil and crafty devil.
God calls us, as He did Israel, to fight. He calls us to be what we are, namely, the church militant on earth – the fighting church. We may not give in to the devil. We may not let down our defenses. We may not put down the sword, which is the Word of God. We may never put down or put aside the Bible. If we do, we are giving in. Nor may we ever sit back, relax, take it easy, and say, “God will do it. God will fight for me. I don’t have to. He’ll do it!” Yes, He will. He does. And He gives the victory. But He calls you to fight. He fights through you. Therefore you must fight.
The text not only points out that they are to fight – they are also told how to fight. What they are taught is this – they have to fight by faith. The passage teaches this through what Moses did. We are told that Moses stood on the hill, and he stood on the hill with the rod of Jehovah in his hand.
Why did he stand on the hill? He did not do that so he could oversee the warfare. He did not stand on the hill so he could keep an eye on how things were going. He did not stand on the hill so he could watch Amalek from that vantage point and if necessary, send a message down to Joshua concerning the enemy’s position or strategy. That is not why he stood on the hill.
Moses was up on the hill because he had with him the rod of Jehovah. And he was up on the hill holding that rod up high so that it could be observed and seen by the Israelites as they went to battle and as they fought.
To understand the significance of that we have to understand what that rod was, what it represented. We learn from the book of Exodus that that rod was the rod which Moses used to bring the plagues upon Egypt. And it was the rod which Moses used to strike the waters of the Red Sea so there would be a dry path for the children of Israel through that sea. And it was the rod which Moses stretched over the waters so that they would return and drown the Egyptians. And it was the rod which Moses had just used to smite the rock.
And what was that rod? That rod represented this, beloved. It represented the hand of Jehovah. It represented the mighty arm of their covenant God – the arm that destroyed Egypt, the arm that delivered Israel from Egypt, and the arm that now had smitten the rock. And so that rod represented the fact that God was with them. God was amongst them. He was fighting for them with His almighty hand and outstretched arm.
That’s why Moses must hold that rod up high. He must hold it up high so that the Israelites can see it, and so that they can fight by faith, looking to that rod, looking to the mighty arm of Jehovah fighting for them.
That is evident from the text. We are told that at times the rod was lowered, for the arms of Moses (understandably) became heavy. And when that rod was lowered and was thus out of view, the Amalekites prevailed. That’s why Aaron and Hur must assist Moses. They hold up his arms so that the rod can remain visible. And while ever it was visible, the Israelites prevailed.
So how were they fighting? How were they taught here to fight? Yes, they had to take up swords in order to fight. But they must never take their eyes off Jehovah. Never! They must fight by looking to the rod. They must look to God to fight for them, remembering they were God’s soldiers fighting under His arm and in His strength. They may not trust in themselves, but must look to Jehovah for their strength. And believing in Him, and believing that He was amongst them and that He was fighting for them, they knew their victory was sure.
They win this battle. With the rod of Jehovah up in the air and with them looking to it, this untrained band of soldiers prevailed against Amalek. They defeated the armies of the enemy of God. God gave to them, His people, the victory of faith.
That is how we must fight, beloved. We must fight by doing what Israel did. There are as you know other passages in Scripture that teach us concerning the spiritual battle that we are called to fight. There is that passage in Ephesians that speaks of the spiritual warfare, and the spiritual weapons that God gives us; the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and so on. But here in Exodus 17 we are taught this – to fight by looking in faith to the rod, that is, to the arm of Jehovah. We do not fight our spiritual enemies in our own strength, but by exercising our God-given faith in Christ. We fight by looking to Jehovah. We fight by seeking our strength from Him. We fight by praying to Him. We fight in faith by believing that He will give the victory over sin, because this is God’s battle. Our enemy is His enemy. Our enemy is hated by Him. The victory is sure.
The text, in a very striking way, points out the certainty of this victory. That is evident in the confidence that Moses has in giving the command to Joshua and to the nation of Israel. He is confident of victory. He simply says to Joshua, “Joshua go out. Choose men and fight. I’ll stand on the top of the hill with God’s rod in my hand.” The tone throughout is this, “We’ll win. Don’t be afraid of losing. Fight and win!”
That confidence of Moses arises out of what just happened here at Rephidim. The people had murmured. They had rebelled. They had shown themselves to be unworthy sinners. And yet God had instructed Moses, “Moses, take that rod, and smite the rock with the rod.” In other words He was saying to Moses, “Moses, instead of taking that rod and striking this rebellious, sinful people, strike the rock. They deserve to be hit by that rod, but don’t hit them. Hit the rock instead!”
That’s significant. For the Scriptures tell us in I Corinthians 10 that that rock from which they drank, and that rock that followed them, was Christ. In other words, God was saying to Moses, “Moses, take that rod and strike Christ for the sins of these people, and not them. Christ is their substitute. Christ is to be punished for their sins, and they are to be forgiven.”
God was making an important revelation to Moses and to the people. And Moses by faith saw and understood it. Yes, these people were sinners. These people deserved (as we do as well) to be hit and hit hard by that rod, which represented the mighty hand of God. And the devil thought so too. He thought that God would still be angry with this wicked and rebellious people, and would therefore let Amalek destroy them. But Moses in faith knew that God had forgiven His people. He was gracious. His favor rested on them. Although they had just sinned grievously against Him, He was still with them. He had removed their sin. He had stricken His Son for their sin. He was Jehovah, their covenant God. He was on their side. He was favorable to His people. Victory was sure. Israel may fight in that confidence.
The same is true for us. In our fighting against Satan and all his hosts, we may be rest assured that God’s favor rests upon us as His people. For our God has taken His almighty hand and He has smitten His Son for us. He did that during the three hours of darkness while Christ hung on the cross. There God hit the Rock for our sins and punished Him in our place. We can know, therefore, that God’s favor is upon us and He is on our side.
So let us fight – fight in faith and fight with confidence of victory. That’s how we must fight against all our enemies – against those recurring sins in our lives, against those temptations that come up again and again, against worldliness, against lusts, against the love of money, against our pride, against our selfishness. In all those battles we have to fight by faith, looking to Jehovah. For faith, beloved, faith, is the victory that overcomes the world!
6. THE MEMORIAL
After that victory Moses, according to verse 15, built an altar. And he called the name of it “Jehovah-nissi.”
This was an altar, first of all, where they could sacrifice. Here they would offer sacrifices of thanksgiving to God for the victory that He had given them. And what a victory it was, for they suffered no loss at all. They had much to be thankful for.
But it was also an altar that would serve as a memorial. The altar was built by Moses to be a constant reminder to the Israelites of this victory. That’s what is expressed in the name, Jehovah-nissi. That name means this – “Jehovah, my banner.”
A banner was, as you know, an important thing in warfare then. The banner was a flag placed upon a tall pole. It was lifted up high for all the soldiers to see – similar to what Moses did with the rod. And that banner stood above the leader of the army.
When the soldiers went out to battle, they went out looking for that banner and following that banner, for that was where their leader was. They would rally around him. When they did so, they were strong, they were united, they were safe against the enemy. However, if ever a soldier was separated from the banner, that is, from his leader, he would be in danger and would most likely be taken and destroyed by the enemy.
Thus Israel confessed through this altar, and through the name that Moses gave it, what they had learned from this battle: “Jehovah-nissi – Jehovah is my banner.” They confessed, “Jehovah is our leader. We are His soldiers, but He is the One that leads us into battle. We gather around Him when we fight. He is our strength. Without Him we are doomed. If ever we are separated from Him, the enemy will take us and the battle will be lost. But He is with us and over us. Our victory is sure because of Him.”
Is that your confession, too, beloved? Do you say it: “Jehovah-nissi – Jehovah is my banner!”? That means this. It means that as you fight all your spiritual battles, Jehovah leads you. You do not follow and put your trust in men. You do not lead yourself into battle and trust in yourself. You trust in Jehovah. He leads you when you must fight against the devil. He leads you when you must fight against the world. He leads you when you must fight against your own sinful lusts. He leads you when you must fight against your besetting sins – against doubts, against pride, against an evil tongue, against worldliness, against neglecting the things of God. You fight under the banner of Jehovah. You fight under Jehovah Himself. Thus victory is certain.
Remember that, beloved. You are at war. But you do not have to fear. Confess this as you fight, “Jehovah-nissi – Jehovah is my banner!” AMEN.
- Passage: Exodus 17:8-16
Rev. Daniel Kleyn (Wife: Sharon)
Ordained: Sept. 1998
Pastorates: Edgerton, MN - 1998; First, Holland, MI - 2005; Missionary to the Philippines - 2009Website: kleynsphilippines.blogspot.com/
AddressP.O. Box 1173, Antipolo City Post Office
CityAntipolo City, Rizal