4.7 Moses And Amalek
I'd suggest that close study will lead to the conclusion that the events
of Ex. 17 are the basis for Ps. 95. This is largely a Psalm of praise
for what God did for Israel in the wilderness, whilst also commenting
on the way they tragically put God to the test, and complained about His
care for them. Now the words of Ps. 95:7- 11 are directly quoted
in Heb.3:7- 11 concerning the experience of the new Israel. The
simple conclusion from this is that we are really intended to see the
events of Ex.17 as directly relevant for us.
So here were Israel, finding the way tough in Ex. 17, stumbling through
the wilderness, like we are coughing and hacking our way through our 70
years or whatever. Verse 8: " And then came Amalek, and fought with
Israel in Rephidim" . Dt. 25:18 fills us in with some more details:
" (Amalek) smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble
behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary" . So Israel were "
faint and weary" , some of them had fallen by the wayside, others
were being picked off almost daily by the bands of aggressive Amalekites.
There are sure similarities with the weak state of our own community at
the moment. As we read at the beginning of Ex. 17, Israel were living
through the aftermath of their rebellion against Moses; they had been
chronically thirsty, and perhaps their spiritual tiredness was matched
by the mental and physical faintness of clinical dehydration. The effects
of this can last quite some time after liquid is received. So they were
at low ebb. In spiritual (if not physical) terms, this, I sense, is the
position of many of us here this morning. Any brother or sister who is
truly striving to imitate the spirit of Christ will go through this sense
of exhaustion and spiritual depression at times, this sense that we must
keep on going, but feeling ineffably tired, weary of the two steps backward
and three forward which characterizes our spiritual growth.
Well, here were Israel, desperately summoning what physical and spiritual
strength they had left to fight this battle with Amalek. It may be that
this is the spirit of some here this morning. Surely each of us have an
element of it in us. But there was a source of dynamism which led to their
victory, a glorious victory, in the end. Moses began to pray, standing
up, with his hands above his head. Let's look at the scene from a macro
perspective. There were weary Israel, weary both spiritually and physically,
fighting the strong, powerful Amalekites. The battle swayed to and fro,
sometimes Amalek had the upper hand, sometimes Israel. This was no walk
over for either side (v.11). There was Moses, with his hands lifted above
his head, praying intensely, " until the going down of the sun"
(v.12). On account of the intensity of his prayers, Israel prevailed.
Now I sense that you are all starting to see the point. You can guess
where our thoughts will go. A righteous man, Moses the superb and detailed
type of Christ, with his hands above his head, fellowshiping Israel's
sufferings, battling with intense spiritual, mental and physical weariness,
praying intensely, until sundown. Of course this is pointing forward to
our Lord's crucifixion- on account of which our weariness can really
be overcome, we really can find the victory over sin which we fain would
So now, in more positive spirit, let's eagerly get down to analyzing
this incident from this viewpoint. Let's believe our prayer at the beginning
of this meeting, that God will truly open our eyes to the spirit of Christ
as it is in these Old Testament records. Because this is how we can more
deeply enter into the mind of our Lord as he hung upon the cross.
Uplifted hands are something consistently- and frequently associated
with intense prayer, often for the forgiveness of God's people Israel
(Lam. 2:19; 2 Chron. 6:12,13; Ezra 9:5; Ps. 28:2; 141:2; 1 Tim. 2:8).
The only time we read of Moses lifting up his hands elsewhere is in Ex.
9:2#8,29, where his spreading out of his hands is made parallel with his
intreating of God to lift the plagues on Egypt. In passing, let's not
read those records as implying that Moses simply uttered a few words to
God, and then each of the plagues was lifted. There was an element of
real fervency in Moses' prayers- which may well be lacking in ours.
This is surely an example of genuinely praying for our enemies (perhaps
it is the Old Testament source of Christ's words in Mt.5:44?). It must
be significant that uplifted hands is also related to a confirmation of
God's covenant (see especially Ez. 20:5,6,15,23,28.42; 36:7; 47:14); for
this is exactly what Christ did on the cross. And in a sense, this is
what was happening in Ex.17; Israel had sinned, God had forgiven them,
and was reconfirming the covenant through Moses (notice that one of the
terms of the covenant was that God would save Israel from their enemies,
has many references to Moses, as catalogued elsewhere. When John
records the death of the Lord with two men either side of Him, he
seems to do so with his mind on the record of Moses praying with
Aaron and Hur on each side of him (Ex. 17:12). John’s account in
English reads: “They crucified him, and with him two others, on
either side one” (Jn. 19:18). Karl Delitzsch translated the Greek
New Testament into Hebrew, and the Hebrew phrase he chose to use
here is identical with that in Ex. 17:12. Perhaps this explains why
John alone of the Gospel writers doesn’t mention that the two men on
either side of the Lord were in fact criminals- he calls them “two
others” (Jn. 19:18) and “…the legs of the first and of the other”
(Jn. 19:32). Thus John may’ve chosen to highlight simply how there
were two men on either side of the Lord, in order to bring out the
connection with the Moses scene.
I'd like us to think through Gen.49:22- 24. This speaks (v.22) of the
descendant of Joseph as a fruitful vine (N.I.V.), with branches.
The Lord Jesus seems to have quarried his description of himself
as a vine with branches from this very passage (Jn.15:5). Verse
23 continues: " The archers have sorely grieved him, and shot
at him, and hated him: but his bow abode in strength, and (note
this bit) the arms of his hands were made strong by the hands of
the mighty God of Jacob; from thence is the shepherd, the stone
(more Messianic allusions here) of Israel" . The upholding
of Moses' arms is being unmistakably prophesied here; in a Messianic
prophecy. The " God of Jacob" in Gen.48:15,16 refers to
God manifest in Angels; Jacob there defines his God as " the
Angel that redeemed me" . There are plenty of other reasons
for thinking that " the God of Jacob" is Angelic language;
but that's another story.(1) So Messiah's
arms were to be upheld with Angelic strength. But we have seen that
Christ's uplifted hands on the cross refer to the way in which he
was intensely praying at the time. The hymnwriter put two and two
together and came to the right conclusion: '...and Angels there
/ sustained the Son of God in prayer'. This was one of the ways
in which " God was in Christ" in his sufferings; He gave
him special Angelic encouragement to keep on praying, to keep on
asking for help, without forcing Christ in any way to be righteous.
Surely in this we get some light on the mystery of the atonement; the
mystery of the degree to which the Father helped the Son to overcome without
in any way affecting Christ's freewill. It is perhaps significant that
there were two men (Aaron and Hur) upholding Moses' arms, in enacted prophecy
of how the Angels would strengthen Christ in prayer. Does this point forward
to the two Angels especially associated with Christ, Gabriel and Michael?
Physically, of course, it was the nails which kept Christ's hands uplifted
above his head; yet are we to infer that the Angels even overruled that
for a purpose?
Moses began to pray standing up, with his hands above his head, with
the blazing midday sun beating down upon him (so is implied by the fact
that he kept his hands steady until the sun went down. The battle would
surely have lasted a few hours; perhaps eight, which was the length of
time Christ hung on the cross?) But he just couldn't maintain this intensity
of mental and spiritual concentration; he let down his hands. But from
his high viewpoint, he could see (and hear?) the panic of Israel as they
started to flee before their enemies. So he returned to his mental battle.
No doubt when he let down his hands, he continued praying, but not so
intensely. Yet he came to realize, perhaps after a few cycles of Israel
starting to flee before Amalek, that his prayer was absolutely essential
for Israel's survival and victory. But he knew that he just couldn't physically
go on. His knees were weak, he was going to have to abandon his favourite
prayer posture of standing (cp. the earlier records of his prayers in
Exodus). His mind must have desperately raced as to how he could go on.
At the back of his mind, he would have thrown his predicament upon the
Lord. And a way was made. " They took a stone, and put it under him,
and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands" (v.12).
Note how Moses did not waste his energy in getting the stone for himself;
we get the picture of total mental devotion to Israel's cause, a man all
consumed with his prayer, being humanly helped by lesser men. Israel's
salvation depended on his totally voluntary intercession. The type is
powerful. Peter reasons that Christ's attitude in prayer should be ours
(1 Pet. 4:1). His prayers then, and ours now, were a struggle, after the
pattern of Jacob.
The importance of Christ's prayers for us on the cross does not come
out directly from the Gospel records. The fact Moses prayed until the
sun went down perhaps indicates how Christ prayed constantly right up
to his death. The way in which he constantly quotes the Psalms has lead
some to suggest that he actually recited Psalms, e.g. 22, as he hung there.
This suggestion appeals to me as being quite likely. But we must realize
that those Psalms were fundamentally prayers of Messiah to God. This helps
us build up a likely picture of Christ's mental state on the cross: merging
prayer with Scripture quotation, desperately battling to maintain the
necessary intensity, rather than taking any kind of mental break (cp.
Moses realizing that he mustn't drop his hands for a break). Yet the prayers
of Christ on the cross, as prophesied in the Psalms, were repeatedly for
his own personal salvation and resurrection. There is some mention of
the salvation of " the great congregation" , but fundamentally
those prayers are for himself. But it was only through his own salvation
that ours was possible. This is in itself an indication of the peerless
selflessness which Christ achieved as he hung there; to pray for his own
salvation, 100% motivated by a desire for our salvation. Whenever we pray
for ourselves rather than others, what is our motive? Are we praying (e.g.)
for our own deliverance from danger or illness so that we can live and
help others, to the glory of God? Or are we just exercising our own selfish,
animal self-preservation instinct under a spiritual guise? Now
that really is something to ponder. That is one of the many challenges
of the cross.
It can be Biblically demonstrated that as Christ prayed on the
cross, so we should arm ourselves with the same attitude of mind
in prayer (cp. 1 Pet.4:1). Now I want to underline that. We have
been entering into the intensity of Christ's praying for us on the
cross, patterned on the intensity of Moses in Ex.17. And now we
are going to see that this intensity really is an example for us.
Let's have a look over at the Messianic Ps.69:13. In the context,
these are the thoughts of Christ on the cross: " My prayer
is unto thee, O Lord, in an acceptable time...in the truth of Thy
salvation" . These words are alluded to in 2 Cor.6:2, where
we are told to draw near to God (and encourage others to do so),
because now is the accepted time and the day of salvation. Let's
make the point even clearer. Please flick on to Heb.12:12: "
Lift up the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees" .
Now if Scripture interprets Scripture at all, this just has to be
an allusion back to feeble-kneed Moses, with his hanging-down hands
being held up. And the apostle says: 'You are the one with feeble
knees and hands, represented by Moses in Ex.17!' - when we have
figured out that Moses is representing Christ praying for us on
the cross. So the Spirit is teaching us that with the intensity
that Moses prayed for Israel's (and therefore his own) salvation
on that hill in Ex.17, with the intensity that Christ prayed on
the hill of Golgotha - so we should be praying for each other's
salvation, and our own. We must sustain each other in prayer, perhaps
we can see it in terms of allowing the Angels to work through us
to strengthen others in the ecclesia in their prayer life.
How often do we even speak to each other about prayer? Prayer ought to
be a major feature of our spiritual life. Our spiritual life ought to
be the main feature of our conversation the one with the other. But is
it? I mean, what are we going to be talking about after the meeting this
morning? Please, see the urgency of what I'm saying. Time is so short.
And now is the accepted time, now is the day of God's grace. If
we really believe this, we ought to at least be talking to one another
about it! To spur us down this road, just consider the effort which Christ
puts into his mediation for us. We've begun to enter into the intensity
of his praying for us on the cross. Heb.5:7 comments on this that
Christ prayed " with strong crying and tears" . These words
are certainly to be connected with Rom.8:26, which speaks of Christ making
intercession for us now with " groanings which cannot be uttered"
. One might think from Heb.5:7 that the Lord Jesus made quite a noise
whilst hanging on the cross. But Rom.8:26 says that his groaning is so
intense that it cannot be audibly uttered; the physicality of sound would
not do justice to the intensity of mental striving. No doubt the Lord
Jesus was praying silently, or at best quietly, as he hung there. The
point is that the same agonizing depth of prayer which the Lord achieved
on the cross for us is what he now goes through as he intercedes for us
with the Father. Brethren and sisters, what is our response? To fall asleep
as we pray, all too late at night. To rush through our prayers before
food, resume our worldly conversations the moment we say (or hear) the
'Amen'.... ? Am I really exaggerating? I trust I am. But I'm exaggerating
to make a point.
The battle which swayed to and fro between Israel and Amalek clearly
points forward to our battle with the flesh. Moses/Jesus is away
above us, earnestly praying for our victory. Yet in the same way
as Israel had Joshua actually with them in the field (v.10), so
Joshua- Jesus is not only some remote Heavenly helper. He
is with us, leading us in the practical business of fighting this
war. The personal effort which the Israelites had to make to follow
Joshua is surely implied by the fact the victory was no walk-over.
The weak among Israel were killed by the Amalekites (Dt.25:17,18);
despite the incredible level of Christ's mediation for us, such
is the power of sin and the apathy of human nature that we can still
lose the battle. Thanks to Moses' hard mental work (cp. Christ's
work on the cross), God issued a statement of intent after the battle:
" I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek" (v.14).
This points forward to God's purpose to obliterate the memory of
the " former things" - i.e. Amalek, the things of
our moral weakness (Rev.21:4); note how the " former things"
in several Old Testament passages refer to the things of Israel's
sad spiritual past). The forgetting of the former things therefore
refers to the lack of awareness of the things with which we battled
in this life. In the same way as God can 'forget' our sins, so one
of the Kingdom joys will be the lack of memory of anything sinful.
Such fullness of righteousness is hard for us to imagine in our
present weakness. Yet the typology we have been studying lifts our
minds into the possibility of at least considering these things.
The work of Moses led to the declaration that God will be perpetually
at war with Amalek; in prospect, Amalek was destroyed when the sun
went down. The same happened with our sinfulness on the cross. In
a sense Amalek was destroyed for good, in another sense a long warfare
was started; " the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation
to generation" . Within our natures, as well as in our dealings
with the world, we are experiencing this warfare. There is no respite
from it. Yet we have this marvellous assurance: God is at war with
sin, He is truly on our side in these struggles, these wrestlings
with our very natures, which we all go through. This is the comfort,
the massive, huge encouragement as we strive onwards. The spiritual
aspect of the warfare is the only really important problem we have
to face. Yet God is with us, He has openly declared His aggression
against the very things which we struggle against, our selfishness,
our impatience, our bitterness, our frustration...And so much did
God want Israel to be aware of this attitude of His towards Amalek
that He told them to write all this down " for a memorial "
of the fact that the memorial of Amalek ultimately was going to
be destroyed. There is a slight play on words here, which makes
a powerful point. Israel were to ever remember that ultimately
Amalek would no more be remembered. And this brings us to the way
in which Christ's victory against the Amalek of sin has been memorialized
in bread and wine, as a reminder that the day is coming when there
will be no more remembrance even of the things against which we
now spiritually struggle.(2)
So let's be motivated to keep up the struggle, to drive home and
make good the victory which Christ achieved. You may recall that
later, Saul failed to defeat the Amalekites completely; he failed
to fully realize the extent of God's help in fighting Amalek/sin
(1 Sam.15:3); whilst by contrast, David did completely destroy the
Amalekites (1 Sam.30:1,17). So then, let's not let our hands down,
let's fix our minds on the intensity which Moses and above all our
Lord Jesus achieved and maintained in prayer, let's hold up each
others' hands as we live out this life under the sun- until the
sun goes down, as it were, and the very concept and possibility
of our personal sinfulness is finally forgotten, and death shall
be swallowed up in Christ's victory.
(1) A story told in Angels,
(2) That memorial was physically
symbolized by the building of the altar called Jehovah- Nissi (v.15).
This literally means 'Jehovah is my pole'; this is a word used indirectly
in prophecies about the cross of Christ.