The Rod and the Amalek
Now circumstances were about to get worse. The Israelites were about to face a new enemy, the Amaleks. Whatever the Israelites were, they weren’t warriors. And how do you go to war with women and children as part of the company?
Just who were the Amaleks, besides a pain in the neck? These people were descendants of Esau, and therefore would have been cousins of the Israelites.
“The sons of Eliphaz were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, and Kenaz. (Timna was a concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.) These are the sons of Adah, Esau’s wife.” (Genesis 36:11-12 ESV).
The Amaleks were an aggressive people. From their center at Kadesh, they sent raiding parties beyond their own borders and in this case, they chose to attack the Hebrews. Bush notes: it is implied …
“ … that they came from some distance for this purpose, and consequently that Israel was not at this time encroaching upon their territories, and thus giving occasion for the attack.” 2
The reasons for the attack may have tied to a historic hatred of the Hebrews, because of Jacob taking Esau’s birthright and the fact God’s promises were being fulfilled. It may also be they heard of all the wealth the people took from Egypt, and simply wanted to get their hands on it.
Now think how the people must have felt at this point. They were not warriors. Remember, the Lord had sent them this way to avoid a battle earlier, with the Philistines.
“When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near. For God said, “Lest the people change their minds when they see war, and return to Egypt.”(Exodus 13:17 ESV).
But now, the time had come to fight. Why the situation was different is not explained. I don’t even want to speculate. One thing is clear, though: The Hebrews certainly wouldn’t be able to win any battle on their own. The source of their strength was the Lord.
Here we are introduced to Joshua. Moses put him in charge of enlisting an army. Moses was the physical representative of God. By his actions, the people would be able to recognize God’s involvement. Moses took the rod, and as he held it up, the battle went for Israel. As it fell, so went the people’s fate.
As one depends on the Lord, victory comes. As one depends on oneself, defeat comes. Moses, being only human and an old example of one at that, couldn’t support the rod for long. So Aaron and Hur sat him down and each held up one of his arms, supporting the rod.
Jewish tradition says as Moses' hands were lifted up in prayer, Israel prevailed and as they fell, so the battle went against the people. I think it is safe to say Moses was supporting the Hebrews with prayer, since it is obvious there was no intrinsic power in the rod. It should be noted that both prayer and action were needed. It was the prayers of Moses and the sword of Joshua that the Lord used, to bring victory.
Too often, Christians act as if they simply have to pray and sit back, waiting for the Lord to work.
Application:Can you think of any examples of situations where clearly both prayer and action are called for, to see the Lord work in your life?
As one might expect, Joshua and the armies of Israel prevail, and God’s power is vindicated. And the victory was complete. Why was God so harsh? Maybe the answer is found here …
“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. Therefore when the LORD your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget” (Deut. 25:17–19 ESV).
It should also be noted that Joshua was already being groomed as Moses’ successor. He would lead the people, not through the wilderness, but into battle. Here he was learning God was the one who wins wars. The battle was fought up on the hill by Moses, with prayer and dependency on God. The battle wasn’t won by the army down on the field. This was something that would be absolutely necessary for Joshua to understand, when he became God’s representative over the people.
Dr. McGee draws a parallel here with a problem we face as believers. Esau is often used as a picture of the flesh, and just as Israel could not defeat his descendants, the Amaleks, on their own, but depended on the Lord, so we cannot overcome our own flesh without the strength of the Lord. 3
“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:17 ESV).
Finally, God instructed Moses to write down the account of the battle on a scroll, for posterity. He was specifically commanded to read the account to Joshua for his benefit, as he would be the future leader. There is also the prediction that the day will come when the Amalek would be utterly destroyed. (See above.)
Moses built an altar that was named “The Lord is My banner.” This may refer to the fact that as the rod was lifted, it showed the Lord was in control, because the people depended on Him. Moses then announced the ongoing battle between the Lord and the Amalek. The reason for this, I suspect. was that the attack on Israel was an attack on God, and so He would not let them go unpunished - but would finally wipe them out.
- Bush, George, Notes on Exodus, Klock & Klock Christian Publishers, Inc., Minneapolis, MN, 1981, p. 218.
- McGee, J. Vernon, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Volume 1, “Genesis - Deuteronomy,” Thomas Nel- son Inc., Nashville, TN 1981, adapted from p. 258.
- McGee, J. Vernon, IBID