Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and 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’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne[c] of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” (Exodus 17:8-16)
As Israel leaves Egypt, God has brought them to one test after another. The lack of food and water that they previously experienced may have seemed like a light test and a much more preferable one to this battle with Amalek. More intense than simply fleeing the Egyptian army through Red Sea and awaiting God’s miraculous deliverance, they are called to turn and fight, hand to hand, a most fierce opponent. Lest we forget, remember, that this Israelite army, has essentially zero experience at this point in combat and warfare. A slave people who were not trained in battle, now has to fight, in their first battle, against an opponent who has come out to fight them, an opponent who is looking for the fight and wants the fight.
Not only in experience of war, but as we have seen in the last several passages, the Israelites are also babes in trusting God. Now, with their lives, and the lives of their households on the line, they are called to trust God, trust His servant Moses, and trust their new captain Joshua, and fight like men, or else die. There is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and no one else to protect them. On a practical level, they are beginning to be taught that freedom from slavery requires the responsibility of self-defense.
But it is clear that this is not just any old battle of antiquity. This is not just any old war or skirmish. By the end of this sermon I will have sought to show you that this is also a spiritual war, a theological war, a prophetic war, and a typological war. This is a battle that rings down through redemptive history with such significance that God said, “write this down in Scripture.”
One of the first clues that shows us this more than just any old war is the fact of the miraculous power of God at work in battle. It is clear that in the midst of their very real fighting and shedding of blood, that God is in the midst of them, and in a very real sense fighting for them. As Moses’ hands are raised up with the staff, Israel prevails, as his hands fail, the Amelakites prevail. The raised staff of God which has been the emblem of God’s authority through Moses, also His power and of righteous judgments, is the key to victory. Clearly, the miraculous power of God is amidst His people in connection with this emblem of authority and righteous power – the staff of Moses – just as God worked through Moses’ staff to afford victories, successes, judgments, and provisions up to this point. Even as good Christian men have gone to righteous wars throughout history, the miraculous power of God was not with them in this same palpable and obvious way, though indeed God gives the victory to each in every war. The success tied to the raised staff, shows us the reality that is true in every way, it is God who gives the victory, not necessarily the strength of the army.
Truly this was an impossible battle for the Israelites, untrained, little faith, lots of doubts, a great and fierce opponent – it was an impossible fight. But God showed His people that in impossible fights, God does the fighting for His people.
In like ways, we are reminded that in all our battles against sin, the flesh, or in our laboring in the ministry of the gospel, it is God who fights for us to give us success. Success in these fights are not won by the arm of the flesh, but by God’s right hand. Though we truly fight, battle, and give it everything we have, it is God who gives success, and thus who is worthy of all the glory. So let us not fall to thinking that we can build the house without the Lord, lest we labor in vain. In all our endeavors, let us ever depend upon the strength of the Lord like our lives depended on it, for they do.
Who was Amalek?
Now, as we consider the significance of this battle with Amalek, we might ask, why did they come after Israel? And who were they? As to why they came after Israel, there could be a number of reasons. Some believe that once they heard of the downfall of Egypt, they took Egypt, and then went after the Israelites, since they were a slave population who had taken off with riches and possessions from Egypt. They thought they would be easy pickings. It is also possible they heard of the water that flowed from the rock, and wanted to secure a water source in the wilderness, as was coveted in those times and places. All of those things could be true, but there is another reason that is most fundamental, and that we see in Scripture, and that is that they are explicitly the enemies of Yahweh, and as such, they are enemies of His people. Deuteronomy 25:17ff says this, “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God.”
But who were the Amalekites? There are a few different possibilities. One is that they were descendants of Esau. In Genesis 36:12, one of the descendents of Esau through a concubine is a man named Amalek. It is possible that they rose to be strong and fierce fighters, and antagonists to the Israelites. However, there are passages prior to Esau that mention the Amalekites. Some would say that those passages are anachronisms, others would say it shows a people group prior to Esau called the Amalekites. A third option, which doesn’t necessarily exclude one of the first two, is that the Amalekites were one of the Canaanite races that had cannibalistic giants. We see this in Numbers 13, when the 12 spies go to spy out the land of Canaan, and 10 of them come back afraid because there were giants in the land who devoured people. And among the peoples listed, are the Amalekites. Numbers 13:27-29 says this, “And they told him, ‘We came to the land to which you sent us. It flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. However, the people who dwell in the land are strong, and the cities are fortified and very large. And besides, we saw the descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negeb. The Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country. And the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the jordan.’” And a few verses down it says, “So they brought to the people of Israel a bad report of the land that they had spied out, saying, ‘The land, through which we have gone to spy it out, is a land that devours its inhabitants, and all the people that we saw in it are of great height…there we saw the Nephilim… and we seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them.’” So it is possible that the Amalekites were descendants of Esau, or it is possible they were another race that had giants, among them, and possibly cannibalistic giants. And that’s where I lean on the question, but we don’t know for certain, and that is because God promised to utterly blot out their memory from under heaven. So we need not truly know those details. Whatever the case may be, the Amalekites have no fear of God, they reach up and grasp at his throne, as we’ll see in verse 16, and so God fights against them. Thus we have a spiritual battle.
I would next like you to see that this is a typological battle that is significant in the biblical history of redemption, so we’ll spend most of our time here. This passage is so much more rich than we may realize upon a first reading.
Joshua and His Army
First, Moses selects Joshua to gather an army of which he will be the captain. Think of the impossibility of this task. You are told by Moses to go and field an army to go fight this fierce opponent who is attacking you. You have no time to train or anything like that, yet you have to do whatever you can do to muster an army together and fight. And Joshua does just that, and by God’s favor, he is given success. So Joshua becomes the captain of the hosts of Israel just as the angel of the LORD is captain of the hosts of heaven. And that analogy is important, because Joshua becomes here, as he is throughout the Bible, a type of Christ.
In fact, you may or may not know this, but Joshua and Jesus are the same name. Jesus is the Greek version of Joshua. So when you read the Septuiguent, which is the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which is what the apostles and early church used, when you read of Joshua in Exodus, or elsewhere in the Old Testament, you literally read the name Jesus. The name means “Yahweh is salvation” or “Jehovah saves.” Now there are those who could make way too much out of that, but there are others who could toss it out as meaningless, and I don’t think we should do either. God certainly intended a connection be made between Joshua and Jesus.
Make of this what you will, but one church father said this, “Moses, foreseeing the future, ordered that he [referring to the captain of the army] should be called Jesus, that since he had been chosen as the leader of the warfare against Amalek who was the enemy of the children of Israel he might both subdue the adversary by the emblem of the name and lead them to the promised land.” So in other words, Joshua does in type, what Jesus does in fullness, and Moses, being a prophet, and foreseeing Christ, made sure that the captain of the hosts of Israel shared the same name as a sign of what was to come. Now maybe you think that is inferring way too much, but whether Moses intended that or not, that’s what God had happen. God made it to be that the Old Testament type would share the same name as the Christ, as Joshua prefigured the conquering work of Christ, and led his people into the promised land.
So Joshua is chosen to field an army for battle, while Moses goes up on top of a hill with his staff, where as long as he holds up his arms and staff, the army of Israel will prevail. Now this is a lot like old tales you hear of wizards or druid type priests who go up on a mountain and cast their spells or magic to cause one side to win or lose in battle down below. Obviously that is not what Moses is doing, He is an instrument of Almighty God, who gives success in battle. Moses is a biblical prophet, not a Merlin type wizard. I bring that up, just to point out that I hope you see all those other stories are imitations of the true story.
So Moses is on this hill, and hills are a huge biblical theme, as well as the staff. We possibly get images of Psalm 2 here. You have the nations raging down below, while God in heaven laughs. And God sits His King on Zion, His holy hill. And His king breaks the nations with a rod of iron and dashes them in pieces like a potter’s vessel. We get a bit of prefiguring of that played out here. Or also of Psalm 110, where the Son sends forth His scepter from Zion, ruling in the midst of His enemies, and on the day of His wrath He will shatter the enemy kings, and execute judgment among the nations, shattering the chiefs of the earth. So just this image here could be a pre-figuring of what is to come in Christ.
Stone of Help
So Moses is up on this hill, raising up his arms with the staff in hand, so that Israel may prevail down below and shatter Amalek. But Moses is not Jesus. Moses is human. And he’s an old man, so he gets tired. If his arms fail, Amalek prevails. So the first thing is that Aaron and Hur gather a stone for which to put under Moses, for him to sit upon. Now you should know that stones are also very important in the Bible. We talked about some of it last week with water from the Rock. So Moses here has a stone to rest upon, to sit upon, to help him. Moses has an eben “ezer.” Eben is the Hebrew word for stone, “ezer” is help. This is a stone of help. Which we would point to as a sign of Jesus Christ who is our “eben ezer.” He is the cornerstone, the chief cornerstone of our salvation, our rock upon which we stand and rest, for we cannot stand ourselves. We need Christ to uphold us in the day of testing, just as Moses did. We need Christ to uphold us in the day of battle. We cannot fight sin and temptation on our own. We cannot do the work of the ministry in our own flesh. We need a stone of help.
Aaron and Hur
Moses finds rest upon this stone, but his hands still grow weary, and it’s as if Moses knew he would grow weary, so he brought Aaron and Hur with him, who hold up his hands, one on one side, the other on the other side. Now something interesting here is what these three men represent. Aaron is a priest. Hur is from the tribe of Judah as we see in Exodus 31, which is the royal kingly tribe. And Moses is a prophet. So we have these three offices represented here, as the instruments through which victory and success comes to Israel. Prophet, priest, and king, all of which are fulfilled in Christ.
So with this help, Moses’ hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. The sun went down on Amalek. So the instrument of the sword was very real in battle, as Amalek was put to the sword, and turned Joshua’s sword to red. The fight was very real, and the very real fight was upheld by the power of God through the instrument of the staff held up by Moses, helped by Aaron, Hur, and the stone.
Then in verse 14 the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” This is where I want you to see that this is a prophetic war. God wants this prophecy, this promise to be remembered, written down, and recited to Joshua. And Moses wrote it down in the Scripture, that God would blot out the memory of Amalek. While Joshua defeated Amalek and his people that day, this is not the last we see of the Amalekites. I mentioned Numbers 13 earlier, and there we saw that there were still Amalekites in the promised land that 10 of the spies were afraid of. So this was a promise that was not fulfilled in this one battle. It was a prophecy that God would fulfill in the future.
In fact, we see the people of Israel fighting against the Amalekites all throughout the Old Testament. The judges Ehud and Gideon fought against the Amalekites. In 1 Samuel 15 Saul was instructed to destroy the Amalekites but he didn’t obey, and did not completely destroy them, so Samuel hacks Agag, the king of the Amalekites to pieces whom Saul had captured and left alive. Later on we see David fighting against the Amalekites. Later in the days of King Hezekiah the Simeonites were said to have destroyed the Amalekites. But yet they keep popping back up. In the story of Esther, the villain, Haman was said to be an Agagite, a descendant of the king Agag, who was an Amalekite that Samuel hacked to pieces. So where does this really end?
There is a masterful insight that I learned from Reformed Baptist Pastor, Douglas Van Dorn that I think really brings it all together. If you take the prophecy of verse 14 together with Moses’ prophetic statement in verse 16, we can begin to see the answer. Moses builds an altar in verse 15 saying The LORD is my Banner, saying, in verse 16, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” A hand upon the throne of the LORD! What is that an image of? God’s throne is above, on high, over all, none above it, the hand then is reaching, grasping, and grabbing at the throne. This is essentially another way of speaking about the Genesis 3:15 promise, where Satan, the serpent, will bite at the heel, and the seed of the woman will crush the serpent. Satan grabs up at the throne, and here, it is through Amalek, and so the LORD promises crushing obliteration of Amalek, and chiefly, the serpent working through Amalek. War with Amalek from generation to generation is the war of the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent from generation to generation. And where does that war end? It ends in Jesus Christ. Amalek is an enemy all throughout the Old Testament, but nowhere in the New. You see, Jesus, the Greater Joshua, fulfilled this prophecy, He fulfilled this conquering of Amalek, this conquering of Satan, because when Christ came, He bound the strong man, He cast out demons, He vanquished all of His foes at the cross, human and angelic, and cried, “It is finished!” The Amalekites are no longer enemies of God. They are no more.
Think about Jesus as He was reading the Scriptures, and understanding who He was and the work given to Him from the Father. Think of Jesus reading the Greek Septuigent, and reading Exodus 17, as it would’ve said, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Jesus, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” After all, Joshua defeated the Amalekites in the battle that he was given to fight them. Jesus, the greater Joshua, was to hear these words in His ears and know to finish the job – that serpent behind Amalek still needed destroying, and that’s what He came to do.
But there is yet more proof of this connection to Christ. And that is in the emblem of the cross through which Amalek is defeated. So many of the Church Fathers saw the outstretched arms of Moses, with a man on both sides of him, as a sign of the cross, and through this sign being upheld, Amalek is defeated, which prophesies Satan’s defeat at the cross. While some of the Church Fathers were guilty of over allegorizing the Bible, virtually all of them saw this as a sign of the cross. Even guys like Jerome, who were big proponents of the grammatical historical method of interpretation against guys like Origen, saw this as a sign of the cross. The reason is that seeing this as a sign of the cross is not over-allegorizing, it is typology derived from the Bible. So let me show you.
The LORD is my Banner
Moses builds an altar and calls the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, or Jehovah Nissi. The word for banner, which Nissi is derived from, is the word “nes.” This word is not used much in the Bible, but one of the other few places it is used is in Numbers where Moses puts up the bronze serpent on a pole, for Israel to look at and be healed from the bite of the serpent that came upon them. And in fact, the Septugient, in that passage calls the pole a staff, which should make us think of Moses’ staff held up as a banner. And in John chapter 3, Jesus refers to the serpent on the pole, as a sign of His being lifted up on the cross. John 3:14, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up…” Then, Isaiah 11:10 says, “In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal (or a sign) for the peoples…” or other translations say, “On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a banner for the peoples…” So Jesus being a banner lifted up, is an emblem of the cross.
It is there at the cross, where Jesus was lifted up for the people, it was there that His heel was bruised, but where He bruised the serpent’s head. One Church Father, Cyprian says, “By the sign of the cross Amalek was conquered by Jesus through Moses.” Chrysostom said, “Moses prevailed over Amalek when he displayed the figure of the cross…in anticipation of it.” Jerome said, “Amalek has been destroyed and the trophy of the cross has been set upon the hill at Rephidim.” Another Church father said, “Moses conquered Amalek by the spreading out of his hands, Jesus conquered satan by the sign of the cross.”
Now, a lot of people will also combine the symbol of the cross with prayer in interpreting this passage, saying that Moses interceded for Joshua and the people with uplifted hands. Certainly, that could be true, as we see uplifted hands and prayer together throughout the Bible. The Psalmist lifts up his hands in prayer to God in various Psalms. And 1 Timothy 2 talks about lifting holy hands in prayer.
So it was that Christ, in His great Fight, was praying to the Father on the cross, with out-stretched hands, and the end of His fight left the land dark, just as Joshua fought to sundown.
So it was there, in prayer, with outstretched arms that Jesus conquered the enemy.
So for you, this is your salvation, your redemption. Jesus is the greater Moses. His arms did not grow weary for you, and His prayers did not, and do not grow faint, even now as He continues interceding for you above. Jesus is above praying for you while you are fighting in the valley. And as long as He is praying for you above, you will not ultimately be destroyed. His prayers for you will be effectual. And that ought to be strength for us to fight all the more, knowing that Christ is above, praying for us.
And Jesus is also your greater Joshua, your captain, who fought for you, and won the battle against satan, principalities, and powers, and conquered your sin at the cross. He is the conqueror with His Sword, which comes forth from His mouth, the powerful and effective, two-edged Word of God.
And while you work out what is being worked in you, and you fight the good fight of faith, and battle in spiritual warfare, it is only by the power of the cross that you will be victorious. For you were crucified with Christ. Your sins were nailed to the cross. So it is no longer you who live, but Christ in you. So as you fight sin in your life, and fight you must, you fight by the cross, where those sins were nailed. And as you take dominion, and make disciples of all people in all places, you must do so by the power of the cross, the Word of the Cross, for that is the power. If you strive to do those things by any other means you will fail. But through the cross, we are in a winning fight. The Word of the cross is the power of God to us who are being saved.
And let us always be fervent in prayer, praying without ceasing. As Moses on the mount, as Jesus on the cross, we should do nothing without prayer. As a pastor, it is one of my duties to be devoted to prayer, and to pray for each one of you, that God would uphold you and sanctify you, and to pray for you as you do the work of ministry. This is one reason why the local church is vitally important, you need others upholding you in prayer. How can you fight without it? In turn, I would ask each one of you, to pray for me, and for Brandon, and do not forget us in your prayers, even for your own sake, that we may be upheld by your prayers. We cannot do without them.
I think of the ministry of Charles Spurgeon which bore much fruit. Even to this day, as his sermons continue to be read, his ministry still bears fruit. But Spurgeon would address his congregation, and one time, in preaching on this very passage, he told them that their ministry would be far less than it was if it were not for their faithful and fervent prayers, if it were not for their upholding of his arms in prayer, as it were. There was even a man of high status visiting with Spurgeon one time, who asked Him where the power of His preaching came from. Spurgeon told him that it was due to the prayers of his faithful church members.
So I would ask that of you. Like Moses on the mount, like Aaron and Hur holding up his arms, pray for your brothers in the fight. Pray for me, pray for Brandon, pray for the ministry of this Church. Pray for one another. And do so often, for we cannot do without it.