In Exodus 17:8-16, we find the wonderful story of Israel’s defeat of the Amalekites, a nomadic tribe who were descendants of Esau. The trouble began when the Amalekites launched a sneak attack against the Israelites. 1 Samuel 15:2 calls it an ambush, and Deuteronomy 25:17-19 elaborates by saying the Amalekites attacked the stragglers at the rear of Israel’s ranks. Apparently, it was a get-in-and-get-out attack in which the Amalekites killed some of the stragglers at the end of Israel’s long processional line and then quickly retreated to safety.
That night, Moses, in order to create a defense against further attacks by the Amalekites, instructed Joshua to put together an army literally overnight. It’s the first time that Joshua is mentioned in the Bible. Exodus 17:8-9 says:
Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek…”
Now, you’ve got to understand that this battle was Israel’s first military endeavor following their exodus from Egypt. (No, I’m not giving them credit for defeating Pharaoh and the Egyptian army at the Red Sea because God handled that one Himself). So, my point is that logically speaking the Israelites shouldn’t have been able to defeat the Amalekites. The people of Israel had spent the last four centuries as slaves in Egypt, which meant that no living Israelite had ever had one second’s worth of military training. Even going all the way back to the beginning of Israel’s history, its patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) certainly hadn’t been great men of war who had built, trained, and maintained armies. Genesis 14:1-24 does record the story of how Abraham had once led a group of his servants in the defeat of an alliance army from the East, but that was just a singular story from Israel’s lengthy history.
Since Exodus 17:13 says that Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword, obviously the Israelites did have some swords. Where did they get them? Our best answer is, they were part of the plunder the Israelites took from the Egyptians on their way out of Egypt (Exodus 3:21-22; 11:2-3; 12:35-36). Still, though, even if they did have swords, it’s not like Israel’s men were experts in using them. Again, we’re talking about people who had been menial servants all their lives.
And so how do we account for Israel defeating the Amalekites in this battle? Well, the passage itself couldn’t be clearer. Even more than what Joshua and his fellow soldiers were doing down on the battlefield, the key to the victory was what Moses was doing up on the hill. He was standing up there with “the rod of God” in his hand. As long as Moses kept that rod held up, Israel prevailed in the battle. But whenever his hands became heavy and he was forced to lower the rod for a while, Amalek prevailed.
Finally, things got to a point where Moses was so physically exhausted that measures had to be taken to help him. Aaron and Hur placed a large stone under him, which allowed him to sit down. Then, as he sat there on that rock, they literally held his hands up for him. They did this until the sun set that evening and the battle was over.
For good reason, this story serves to symbolize the power of intercessory prayer. Just as Moses was on the hill interceding with God for Joshua and his soldiers, Aaron and Hur were up there interceding for Moses. Both parts of the equation are beautiful. The story also teaches us the importance of going into battle with God as opposed to going into battle without him. As David wrote in Psalm 20:7:
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
But the thing I really want to point out about the story is the physical toll that Moses’ ministering took upon him. Putting it bluntly, the man got tired, even to the point of exhaustion. Sure, he was eighty years old at the time, but that doesn’t fully explain why he got tired. After all, he would live another forty years before dying. No, there’s another element at work here, one that Charles Spurgeon described in this way:
The more spiritual an exercise, the more difficult it is for flesh and blood to maintain it.
I think that every Christian has experienced this. Tell me, Christian, have you ever sat down to have a really good time of prayer only to have your mind start wandering just a few minutes into the prayer? Or have you ever felt a wave of fatigue come over you shortly after you began a work for the Lord? I know that I have certainly had what I’ll call my “Moses moments.”
All this reminds me of the night of Christ’s arrest. As He entered into the garden of Gethsemane for a time of intense prayer, He left eight of the remaining eleven disciples (post Judas’ betrayal) at the garden’s entrance. Then He took Peter, James, and John further on into the garden with Him. Just before He left them at a certain point and went even further into the garden to pray, He gave them the instructions, “Stay here and watch.” But what did He find when He returned to them after a while? All three had fallen asleep. That’s when He said to Peter, “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:40-41).
You see, Jesus knew that the intentions of Peter, James, and John were good, but He also knew how weak and frail the human body can be. And so my advice to you, Christian, is to enlist the aid of your fellow Christians to help you in your spiritual endeavors and battles. Every Joshua needs a Moses and every Moses needs an Aaron and Hur. You say you aren’t seeing the Amalekites defeated in your life? Well, maybe it’s time for a new battle plan. Perhaps the key to your victory lies not in yourself but in the aid and intercession that others can give you.