Throughout their journey to the Promised Land, God tested the people of Israel. In Exodus 17:8–16, they faced the first military test of their sojourn. A group of Bedouin raiders, the Amalekites, came and attacked the Hebrews. When that attack came, rather than complaining and grumbling like they typically did, Moses and all of Israel responded in faith.
At the end of the battle, Moses set up an altar as a memorial. It wasn’t what we normally think about when we imagine an altar. I think of large stones built together to make a grill for burning sacrifices. Bible scholars believe this memorial was more like a tall obelisk or flagpole. There may have even been a flag flying at the top of it, because Moses called it, “The Lord is my Banner” (Exodus 17:15).
As an American, that picture surprised me. When I think about flying a flag, I think about how we celebrate and declare our independence. This Bible story, however, shows us our need to do exactly the opposite. The banner memorial is a declaration of dependence. The battle it commemorated teaches us to depend on God as our rescuer and on our covenant community, his people.
1. We can’t win without our Rescuer.
When the Amalekites attacked Israel, Moses spoke to his field general, Joshua: “Choose some men to go and fight the Amalekites” (Exodus 17:8a). Then Moses said, “Tomorrow, I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands” (17:8b). Moses didn’t hang back because he was an old man. He went to the top of the hill to intercede for the battle. By attacking Israel, the Amalekites had “lifted their hands against the throne of the Lord” (Exodus 17:16). They had called into question God’s plan to give the promised land to his people. Moses lifted up his hands as an appeal for the Lord to remember his promise and fight for his people. And while Moses cried out in desperation on the hilltop, Joshua, whose name means “God saves” fought in the valley.
The scene is a picture of the gospel. Sin and Satan wage war against our souls. Sometimes we think we can fight in our own strength. If we know enough gospel truth or sin-fighting technique, we think we’ll have victory. But we can’t beat sin without God’s intervention. Like Moses, we must cry out for help to the Rescuer. God gives us the new Joshua, Jesus, to fight for us in the valley. Israel couldn’t win without God, and we can’t either. Like Moses, we’re most victorious when we cry out in brokenness and appeal to his promises.
2. We can’t win without each other.
The Hebrews only experienced victory to the degree that Moses expressed his dependence. “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Exodus 17:11). But, lest Israel be tempted to place their faith in Moses, God used the battle to show the leader’s weakness. Before the battle was over, the energy in his arms and the strength of his prayer ran out. Moses needed other men to support him. He needed Aaron and Hur. “When Moses hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it” (Exodus 17:12a). Then, “Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset” (17:12b).
The scene is a beautiful picture of the church. In the church, God has given us a band of brothers and sisters to hold up our arms. We strengthen one another. But, incredibly, strength and victory only come as our friends and fellow sojourners help us to courageously declare our weakness.
After the battle, God gave Moses a final instruction. God said, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered.” In other words, God said, the next generation needs to hear this message.
So put a flag in the ground and ask yourself today . . .
- Do my kids see me declaring my dependence on God or my own independence and freedom?
- Do they see me embracing weakness or relentlessly projecting strength?
- Do they see me leaning on the church for help when I’m attacked?
- Would they describe me as someone who lives a life characterized by trust?
God keeps his promises in amazing and often surprising ways. The Bible stories in God Rescues show how God watched over his people and used Moses to save the Israelites from trouble.