More Than the Sum of Our Parts
(Image courtesy of James Best, (C) 2019. To see more of James' art, go to behance.net/JamesBest.)
Please read Exodus 17:8-16.
Just in time for Mother’s Day, we’ve had the birth of a royal baby in England. I heard Prince Harry’s remarks after the blessed event, and he sounded pretty giddy about it.
As many of you have experienced, however, childbirth isn’t all cigars and flowers. It can cause problems in family relationships. I read an article published a year ago by Terra Marquette, citing a study in Evolutionary Psychological Science. The article is titled, “Study Finds Spats With Your In-Laws Increase When Children Enter The Picture.”
“What many of us have long suspected is true: Becoming a parent really does alter family dynamics, especially with in-laws. Researchers at the Academy of Finland found people with children experience more tension with their spouse’s parents than couples who have yet to enter parenthood.
“It seems that when children are added to a family, the in-laws begin to feel more of a direct kinship to the other side of the family. The ties that bind bring help to young parents, but also new conflicts.
“The biggest source of conflict comes when grandparents provide childcare, the authors say. Although very helpful, the degree of interaction involved is almost bound to lead to areas of disagreement.
“Researchers say the conflicts arise because grandparents begin to see themselves in an expanded role, sort of like investment bankers. In this case, though, the investment is in the future of the offspring.”
https://www.studyfinds.org/couples-children-in-laws-conflicts/ Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Grandparents Day are all days created to celebrate relationships. So the Lord lead me to this passage that demonstrates in a plain way how cooperative relationships can win the day. When we cooperate with God and compromise with one another, we will see our homes, our communities, and our nation become more peaceful and productive places. Let’s study up on how Moses accomplished it.
Compromise and cooperation create peace.
1. The problem: Moses’ arms got tired. (8-11)
Verse eight sets the event in its context. This is a passage that is very dependent on its context for us to understand it properly. The freed Hebrew slaves had just got out of Egypt by miraculously crossing the Red Sea. They have not yet got to Mr. Sinai, where they’d receive the 10 Commandments.
They had been fed with manna for the first time and were miraculously given water to drink at Meribah. However, these gracious acts had come in God’s gracious response to their sinful bellyaching. It was providence - not coincidence - that this military emergency comes immediately after two bouts of bellyaching. The Israelites have been testing God’s patience and are now going to be tested by God’s discipline.
The Amalekites were descendents of Jacob’s brother Esau. Their attack at Rephidim, is a large-scale family feud. The reason for the attack is not stated in the text, so we are free to speculate. One reason is to continue the family feud between Jacob and Esau.
Of more immediate importance, the Amalekites would have known the ancient promises that Jacob’s offspring would inhabit Canaan. So they knew where this group was headed and that they’d go right through their territory to get there. The Amalekites wanted no part of that.
The Israelites were still a long way south of Amalek. There was no immediate need for a direct assault. To go out of their way like this implies the leaders of the Amalekites were intimidated and they didn’t want to suffer the same fate as Egypt.
Finally, there are limited resources in the desert. The Amalekites were clearly in no mood to share.
That’s on the human side. On the divine side, why would God allow an attack to take place? I can imagine at least two Providential purposes. One, God sent the Amalekites to test His people. This experience would be an opportunity to prove they were ready to trust Him in battle. They would have to trust Him fully when they got to Canaan.
Two, the Amalekites had chosen to do evil to God’s people before they launched the attack. Deuteronomy 25:17-19 tells us Amalekite soldiers had begun hostilities by attacking the stragglers among the Israelites. They picked off the sick, aged, and disabled people who lagged behind the main group.
The text does not give any divine directive, so we can assume Moses came up with this unusual battle plan on his own (9+10). Moses decided it would be a good idea to stand on a hill overlooking the battle site with his shepherd’s crook - now known as the STAFF OF GOD - upraised. As this is the same staff and the same gesture that preceded their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, perhaps Moses assumed it would have a similar effect in that battle. Also, standing with hands upraised to heaven was a typical posture of prayer for Jewish men.
Moses chose Joshua as his general and selected his brother Aaron and brother-in-law Hur (Miriam’s husband), to go up the mountain with him. In retrospect, that part of the plan turned out to be a stroke of genius. Moses would need both of them later.
From their vantage point on the high ground, Moses, Aaron and Hur could see the battlefront and easily tell how the tide of battle was going. They saw that when Moses held the staff aloft, the Israelites turned back the Amalekites. But when Moses lowered his hands for any reason, the battle went the other way. The problem became how to keep those 80 year-old arms up in the air long enough to win the battle (11). I suspect Moses did not foresee having to keep his hands in the air any length of time, certainly not all day. Anyone’s arms would tire of being kept in that position.
2. The solution: a support group. (12-13)
Moses may have bit off more than he could chew, physically speaking. Try holding a staff over your head from sunup to sundown sometime; see how you do. When it became clear that they would win the battle only if Moses’ arms were aloft, these three guys devised a plan where Moses was seated on a rock so Aaron and Hur - while standing - could take the burden off Moses’ arms (12).
Their plan succeeded. As the sun set on the battlefield, the Amalekites were defeated (13). This outcome does not prove there was something magical about Moses’ staff. As is always the case in the Bible, the object used is merely a symbol of God’s power.
There are two clues in verse thirteen that this was Moses’ plan, not God’s. The first: JOSHUA OVERCAME THE AMALEKITE ARMY. Normally, God got the credit for military success (for example, see Deuteronomy 20:1-4. Here in verse thirteen, Joshua is credited. How did Joshua do it? WITH THE SWORD; a phrase implying this was a victory achieved by strength of arms. There is no acknowledgement of God delivering the victory.
This will be the first time Moses would learn a lesson on the value of partners in ministry. In the very next chapter, his father-in-law gave him sound advice about the folly of trying to lead what may have been 2-3 million people by himself. Elders were appointed to help Moses administrate the immense group of people.
3. The command: write this down. (14-16)
For the first time in this passage, we hear the Lord’s voice. He commanded the event be recorded as He would otherwise blot out the memory of the treacherous Amalekites (14). This is the first time in the Bible that there is a reference to writing things down. These things will eventually become the Bible.
History tells us the Israelites did not obey God in destroying the Amalekites, because they become a problem again during the reigns of Kings Saul and David. Hundreds of years later, while the people of God were in exile in Babylon, an Amalekite named Haman very nearly eliminated the Jews! (See Esther.)
Moses apparently learned his lesson (15-16). He gave glory to God by building an altar as a memorial to the event. He called the altar THE LORD IS MY BANNER, signifying that the LORD needed to be lifted up, not any staff. Moses’ new motto should’ve been “The power is in God, not the rod.” (As if to underline this point, God commanded that Aaron’s staff be preserved in the Ark of the Covenant, not Moses’.) And, as previously noted, the lifting of his hands TO THE THRONE OF GOD describes the posture of prayer. In prayer, Moses gave all future battles with the Amalekites to the LORD.
Compromise and cooperation create peace.
Whether Moses acted on his own initiative or not, the chief lesson of this passage is recognizing that God and His people must work together to achieve His will. It is an interesting illustration of the power of good relationships. The Israelites won a victory in their first battle because God, their leaders, and the people all cooperated.
This is not going to happen if we allow our sinful or selfish impulses rule our emotions and decisions. Peace comes to our situations when we all work at it. The work of peace is sacrifice and love; we love and obey God, we love and cooperate with each other.