A Look Ahead this Week:
Monday: “The Lord is My Banner”
Homework: Read Exodus 18
Wednesday: ”A Visit from Jethro”
Homework: Read Read Exodus 19-20:21
Friday: “Giving of the Law”
Homework: Read Exodus 23:20-33
Exodus 17: The Lord is My Banner
And so God’s children have arrived at their first fight. God never says there won’t be opposition. In fact, He says that we can count on facing it; for the same world that you and I live in today, is the same world that hated and crucified Jesus (John 15:18). If they were against Him, then they will of course be against us as well. Without doubt, the Israelites were going to face times of persecution; and just like all of their other experiences we have studied, God is still teaching and training us from these ancient events. Let’s recall Romans 15:4 as we prepare for today’s lesson: “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of Scriptures we might have hope.” God has some serious hope to offer us today as He reveals Himself as Jehovah-nissi: The Lord is my Banner.
As we learned from last weeks’ readings, the Israelites are within days of having just miraculously passed through the Red Sea. Not only did God provide salvation to His defenseless children, but He has also proven Himself capable of providing for them with food and water. But now as they march forward with the glimmering paradise of their Promised Land ahead in the distance, the enemy has come to prey on God’s people. Exodus 17:8 tells us that the Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. This is the first battle that God’s children are facing as free people. Let’s briefly look at who these people were, before we look at how God will eventually deal with them.
The Amalekites were descendants of Amalek, a grandson of Esau. If you remember back to Genesis, Esau was the twin brother to Jacob. Esau should have been the heir to Isaac’s inheritance; but this inheritance meant nothing to Esau, and so he sold his birthright to his brother Jacob for nothing more than a dinner (Genesis 25:27-34). These Amalek descendants (the Amalekites) eventually become a constant enemy to God’s people for many generations. They were a tribe of people that survived by raiding and plundering other settlements. Basically, they were pirates. But instead of traveling the seas, they roamed the deserts preying on the weak. If ever there was a group of people that appeared weak and vulnerable, it was the Israelites…and so the Amalekites attacked.
After the Amalekites attack the Israelites, we are introduced to Joshua for the first time in scripture, as he is the one that Moses calls to rally together men to go and fight the enemy. For our remaining time today, we are going to look at two battles the Israelites fought against God’s enemies: the Amalekites. The first is our scripture reading for today (Exodus 17), and the second battle is a look ahead to Numbers 14:40-45.
The battle between God and the Amalekites (Exodus 17:8-16):
We learn in these verses that Moses took the staff of God to the top of the hill overlooking the battle below. This was the same staff that God used to demonstrate his power over Pharaoh’s magicians, the same staff that brought the plagues on Egypt, the same staff that turned water into blood, and the staff that parted the Red Sea. Now, this same staff was held high in the air over the battle, it was a banner over the children of God. As long as the banner remained raised over the battle, the Israelites were winning, but when the banner fell in Moses’ tired grip, the Amalekites were winning (v. 11). The staff of Moses (aka: The Banner of God) eventually stays lifted in the air, and Joshua subsequently overcomes the Amalekites. The Lord fought the battle, so victory was certain.
The battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites (Numbers 14:40-45):
This next battle takes place the morning after Moses tells the Israelites that they will not enter the Promise Land because of their disbelief. The Israelites see the error of their ways and decide to go in and take their Promise Land anyways. Moses warns them that their God will not be going with them, but they advance anyways and are struck down by the Amalekites. No banner was lifted high over this battle, and no victory was won. God’s children fought and labored in their own flesh, in vain, and defeat was therefore certain.
I realize that the difference in these two battles is obvious; there is nothing too profound or mysterious here. When the Lord is fighting in the first battle, His children see victory. In the second battle, the Lord does not go with them and they are defeated. On the surface this concept seems easy to understand; but I would like to suggest that though it is easy to comprehend, it is often difficult to apply in our lives. As I examined my typical course of action when opposition comes my way, I started recognizing how many battles I try fighting on my own. How often do I walk into opposition armed with nothing more than the armor of my own flesh? John 15:5 tells us that apart from God, we can do nothing…so why do I so often try? How about you? What battle might you currently be struggling in that perhaps you are trying to fight in your own strength? Maybe it’s time to surrender it to the One that says He will fight it for you? The Lord is your banner, and if He is fighting your fight, then victory is right around the corner my friend. He wants you to hide in the shadow of His banner.
Your Homework for next time is to read Exodus 18.
Much of what I learned in researching this lesson came from a bible study I did years ago by Kay Arthur. My general theme aligns with hers, and you should read her thoughts directly for a much more detailed, concise walk through of these verses:
Arthur, K. (1992) Lord I Want to Know You. Colorado Springs, Colorado: Waterbrook Press. p. 105 – 115.
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