Scripture: Exodus 17:8-16
8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out; 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’s hands grew heavy, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on either side, so his hands were steady until the sun set. 13 And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a remembrance in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called it, The Lord is my banner. 16 He said, “A hand upon the banner of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
Theme- God’s provision is always present
- What does Moses raising his hands symbolize and why is it important to Israel’s victory?
- Why does the passage focus on Moses and almost completely ignore the battle?
- What was Moses supposed to write in the book and why is it important that Joshua specifically hears the words that Moses writes down?
- How are we meant to understand the violence in this passage and the idea that God will be at war will the Amalekites from generation to generation?
Related Texts: Deuteronomy 25:17-19, Romans 8:31-39
We are never told why Moses’ hands being elevated was effective or why he raised his hands. Theories have included that he was praying for the people and this was a sign of supplication or that it was a sign of strength and resistance.
The staff of God seems to be the same staff used in each of the previous miraculous events.
Hur is not identified in this passage but Ex. 24 lists him as a public official of some importance.
The term “steady” (v 12) translates a term that usually refers to one’s moral character rather than physical stability, giving the impression that Moses’ hands somehow represent Israel’s character.
The term translated “defeated” (v 13) does not indicate that Joshua had victory over Amalek but that he weakened (inflicted heavy casualties on) Amalek so they were forced to withdraw.
There is no background or identifying information given for Joshua despite the fact that this is his first appearance in the text. It is likely that the author understood most people would be familiar with the stories of his exploits and so he would not need an introduction.
The altar Moses builds is not one used for sacrifice, it is meant to serve as a memorial to the battle and the defeat of the Amalekites.
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Since Israel has crossed the Sea of Reeds in Exodus 14 every story has focused on God’s provision for the people, and that provision culminates in this story. The Amalekites are presented as a ruthless band who attack Israel without provocation; we are not even told of a motivation for this assault. The fact the Amalekites appear out of nowhere ready for battle helps heighten the stress of the situation and cast them as motivated by evil. The story uses this group to represent evil, Amalek ceases to be a real tribe and represents the malicious and sinful antagonists who attack God’s people. Further evidence of this fact is that there is no mention of the battle, Joshua is told to gather an army but there is no description of what that army does. Moses, not Joshua, is the focal point of this story and it is Moses, not the army, that is credited with winning the victory for Israel.
The first important aspect of this story is that Israel did not seek to fight Amalek, they are attacked and are only attempting to prevent slaughter. God’s people are not seeking violence but violence is brought to their camp and now the question becomes how they will engage the evil thrust upon them. But this is not simply true of Israel, God is also thrust into the same situation, because God has become intertwined with the affairs of this people. When God’s people are presented with conflict God is forced to act. God has been present with Israel throughout their journey and has provided for the community on that journey, the question is, “how will God remain present with Israel and continue to provide?” At one level we do not see God’s presence until after the battle when Moses is told to write a remembrance. Some take this to mean that God did not approve of Israel’s actions and was not present in this event, but I do not think that is accurate. Yes, later when Israel attacks other groups God is not present in the battle, but in this case when evil is attacking Israel we should expect God to be with Israel. And it does seem God is present in the staff Moses holds. The staff is not meant to represent a magic wand that when it is waved the enemies scatter, but it symbolizes God’s presence with Israel in the time of need. When Moses raises the staff we are to recognize that God is present with the people, whether Moses’ action is a sign of prayer or power. It is through Moses’ actions that Israel wins a victory, Joshua and the army are inconsequential to the victory, Alamek’s defeat comes through Moses. This is an important point in the scripture, because we tend to think that violence and military prowess are what win the day, humanity’s temptation is to trust our own power represented in our military might. Yet here we see that Israel would have been lost trusting in their military ability. Even today our temptation in reading this passage is to assume that it was a combination of Moses’ raising his hands and Joshua’s military ability, but that is not what the text says. Moses is told to write down a remembrance of the battle specifically for Joshua who commanded the troops. The fact is Joshua is to remember that the victory over Amalek had nothing to do with the military. Israel chose to engage with military force but the victory came through God and God’s provision was there no matter what Israel chose.
The reminder for Israel was that their peace came through God and not through their own strength, even when it appeared that their military won the day, this appearance was deceptive. The victory came through the leadership standing on the hilltop, a place of visibility, relying on God’s power to protect the people. Victory came when Israel’s leadership wore themselves out trusting in God’s providential power to save them. This is the last story of provision before the covenant at Sinai and in it we see the people in Moses, their representative, calling out to God and relying on God’s power to save them. This story becomes a wonderful precursor to the covenant because we see a people willing to trust God. God has promised to be with the people and provide for them and the people are committed to relying on God to fulfill this promise.
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