Holy War

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God desires His people to rely on Him for the victory.

Exodus(40) (Part of the Rescued(39) series)
by Marc Webb(80) on July 7, 2024 (Sunday Morning(348))

God's glory(8), God's Presence(8), God's Timing(3), Intercession(3), Perseverance(2), Remember(2)

Holy War

In Deuteronomy 20, we see the concept of Holy War and the phrase is used to describe Israel’s conquest of the land of Canaan. It is called Yahweh’s Holy War because he is the​​ one who directed and empowered his people to military action. In Exodus 15:3, God is described as a “warrior.” In Deuteronomy 20:4, he is described as the “one who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” In Psalms 24:8, he is “mighty in battle” and in 1 Samuel 17:45, he is without question “the God of the armies of Israel.” God promised Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to give them a land for their inheritance by His divine right. But they wouldn’t possess it right away. In Genesis 15:13, God told Abraham that his descendants would be strangers in a land that was not theirs, where they would be enslaved for four hundred years. Then they would return to the Promised Land to conquer it. The Canaanites, who possessed the land, were a wicked​​ and depraved people who were filling their cup with sin. God showed the Canaanites grace and mercy by giving them another four hundred years to repent and when the cup reached its full, judgment would come.

This idea of Holy War might be difficult for us to understand but there are several things to consider. First, the command was from the Lord. He is all-knowing and perfectly righteous, so his command was just and fair. Second, the Canaanites were hostile to God and his people and the most depraved culture of the time. They engaged in sexual immorality, the occult, idolatry and child sacrifices. Third, when Moses encountered the Amorites for the first time, he offered grace to them if they would allow them to pass by. They refused and brought judgment upon​​ themselves. The Amorites could have left the land and avoided conflict with the God of Israel who they knew was powerful. Four, God could have removed them himself, but it was his will that the Israelites conquer them as a test of their obedience to Him.​​ Fifth, there were some, like Rahab, who repented and were spared by God’s mercy and grace. Sixth, the killing of Canaanite children spared them from growing up in​​ that depraved culture. Seventh, the destruction of the Canaanites was to be a one-time event​​ not to be repeated by future generations. Israel was specifically called to destroy only the Canaanites that illegitimately occupied the Promised Land and to offer peace to other nations if they would have it. This shows that the judgment of God was precise and planned, not careless and haphazard. Lastly, destroying the Canaanites would prevent them from becoming a corrupting influence upon God’s people who were called to holiness. We know that the Israelites historically failed to obey the Lord and they began to practice the evil things that the Lord hated. Because they became corrupt, God destroyed and expelled them from the Promised Land by the same military means that they used to conquer it in the first place.

God is holy and just and gracious and merciful and so is Yahweh’s Holy War against those that oppose him and his people. This includes Satan and his demons today. The awesome thing is that the Lord has already fought and won the war with Satan and the forces of darkness on the cross. The battle belongs to the Lord. This morning, we are going to see the first battle of Yahweh’s Holy War. As the Lord is leading his people in the wilderness to the Promised Land they are attacked by the Amalekites. They weren’t Canaanites but their attack on God’s chosen people brought out his holy justice and he commanded the Israelites to fight. He was still testing and teaching them about who he was and what he expected from them as His people. He wanted them to trust in Him, rely on Him and be obedient to Him. He has​​ been testing and teaching them to rely on him for provision, protection and presence. Today, we are going to see that he will test them to see if they will rely on him for the victory. That brings us to our big idea which is​​ God desires His people to rely​​ on Him for the victory.

Let’s pray: Lord, as we open your word today pour out your Holy Spirit on us. Teach us, guide us, rebuke us and correct us through your Spirit so that we may learn more about who you are and how you want us to live. In Jesus’ name,​​ Amen.

Our first point is​​ Battle Stations​​ found in Exodus 17:8-9. This is what God’s Word says, “The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will​​ stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”

We have seen the Lord’s continued provision for his people in the desert. He has provided for their basic necessities of water and food and has proven to them time and time again that they can trust in him and rely on him for provision, for protection, and for his presence with them. He has been testing them to see if they would be obedient to him and this morning the testing and teaching continues as the Israelites are attacked by the Amalekites.​​ So far, the Israelites have been attacked from within as they’ve grumbled, complained and quarreled with Moses, Aaron and the Lord. This is the first time that they have been attacked from the outside. We notice that the Israelites are still in Rephidim.​​ If you remember last week, God led them to a place of “rest” where there was no water and they quarreled against Moses and God putting them on trial for attempted murder. God lovingly and graciously supplied them with water from the rock at Horeb. According to Paul in 1 Corinthians this wasn’t just any water, but spiritual water given to them from Christ. It was the special presence of the Lord to his people.

We notice a few things in these couple of verses. First, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites not​​ vice versa. The Israelites, who are being led by God to the Promised Land, weren’t trying to conquer the land. We don’t know why they attacked Israel, but it may have been a territorial conflict over water rights in the desert which would have been common. The Amalekites descended from Amalek, who was one of the chiefs whose line came from Eliphaz, Esau’s eldest son. If you remember, Esau and Jacob were twin brothers, and Jacob stole the birthright from Esau and went on to become Israel, God’s chosen people. No wonder there were hostilities between the two nations. We get more insight about this battle from Deuteronomy 25:17-19, where we learn that the Amalekites​​ attacked the rear of the Israelite ranks where the old, the infirm and the slower people were.​​ They cowardly attacked the weakest and the slowest. We are also told they had no “fear of the Lord.” These things might explain why the Lord treats them so harshly later on.

Second, Joshua was to put an army together, get to their battle stations, and be ready to fight the Amalekites. We are introduced to Joshua for the first time in the Bible and are literally told nothing about him. Normally they would have mentioned his father’s name or the tribe he was from. We can conclude that he was well known among​​ the first readers and that he was a talented and trusted fighting man. Later, we find out that it was Joshua who led the Israelite army that conquered the Promised Land. Third, the battle would start the next day with Moses standing on top of the hill. His​​ battle station would be a suitable vantage point where he could take a position of authority and control. “Tomorrow” represents the time the Lord will act to punish Israel’s enemies. In Exodus 9:22 and 10:12, Pharaoh was given a day’s warning before the plagues came. This is a last warning before we see another redemptive act by the Lord to save his people. Moses would be on a hill overlooking the battle where the army and the rest of Israel could see him. Seeing the staff of God would give the army and the Israelite people confidence in the Lord’s power and presence with them to overcome the enemy. Mackay says, “It (the staff) symbolized the presence of God in power, and it would be by that power that the outcome of the battle would be decided.” This is the same staff that last week struck the rock at Horeb bringing lifesaving water to the people and the same staff Moses used in the plagues. It signified God’s power and presence among his people.

Now that Joshua, the army, and Moses had taken up their battle stations, we come to our second point called​​ Battle Testing, found in Exodus 17:10-13. This is what God’s Word says, “So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his​​ hands, the Israelites​​ were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So, Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.”

The battle with the Amalekites was the next stage of testing for the Israelites. Would they rely on the Lord for the victory? (Big Idea)​​ We learn something else about Joshua here: he was obedient which will make him a suitable successor to Moses. We also see that Moses, Aaron and Hur go to the top of the hill overlooking the battle. Aaron of course is Moses’ brother, but Hur is introduced abruptly without family or tribal identification. The historian, Josephus, says he was Miriam’s husband, which would make him Moses and Aaron’s brother-in-law. He may have also been the grandfather of Bezalel, who was one of the builders of the Tabernacle. Later on, we see​​ that Hur was one of the elders of Israel appointed by Moses.

It is important that all we are told about this battle was that Joshua fought the Amalekites and what the result was. This tells us that the battle itself is not the focus.​​ The focus is what Moses was going to be doing while the battle was raging below him.​​ Moses must have received some instructions from the Lord that we aren’t privy to. Moses was to hold his hands and the staff up during the battle. As long as his hands were raised, the Israelites were winning the battle, but if he lowered his hands, they would be losing. The Hebrew here has the meaning of a continuous raising and lowering of Moses’ hands over a period of time. There was no doubt that there was a connection between what Moses was​​ doing and what was happening on the battlefield. The battle would be won totally through the sovereign will of the Lord. Commentators are split as to what exactly Moses was doing. Was he just holding up the staff of God or was he also praying and interceding with God for the victory? For the Jews lifted hands was the posture of prayer. No matter what he was doing he knew where the power for the victory would come​​ from. It would come from Yahweh. And, in some manner he was interceding with God for the victory whether or not it was just by holding up the staff or also by praying.

I think what’s also important is what happened next. Moses grew tired of holding his hands and the staff up. This wasn’t because of any weakness on Moses’ part but because holding his​​ arms and hands up for a days’ time couldn’t be done in his own strength. So, we see the support, teamwork and connectedness between Moses, Aaron and Hur. They sat Moses down on a stone and helped to hold his hands and staff up, one of each side of him. In​​ this way they bore the burden together. They were able to hold his hands steady till sunset. Through obedience, perseverance, teamwork and a reliance on the Lord, the result was victory for Joshua and the Israelite army. Joshua overcame the Amalekites by​​ the sword, meaning​​ that he mercilessly and totally defeated them, even though casualties were inflicted on both sides.​​ Joshua is given the credit for the victory but it was the power and presence of the Lord that won the battle. The Israelites trusted in,​​ relied on and obeyed the Lord and he gave them the victory. Stuart says, “It was important that the Israelites understand unmistakably that the only reason they could win against the Amalekites was that God was fighting for them, giving them the victory” (Big Idea).

As Christians, we are in a daily spiritual battle with the forces of darkness, the world and Satan. We can’t even begin to win the daily skirmishes without the Lord. It takes obedience, perseverance, teamwork, intercessory prayer and total reliance on the Lord. But the most awesome and glorious thing is the Lord has already won the battle. By the death, burial and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, the battle has already been won. We can rejoice in and praise the Lord that the battle belongs​​ to him which brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to​​ Praise and glorify the Lord and rejoice that the battle against Satan has already been won.​​ We see the Lord testing and teaching the Israelites here. Would they be faithful​​ to fight? They didn’t have to fight the Egyptians at the Red Sea but now the Lord was calling upon them to fight. But Moses, Aaron and Hur also had a part to play in the battle, interceding with the Lord and trusting in him for the victory. Also, would the rest of the Israelites be faithful in believing in the power of the Lord represented by the staff of God held up in Moses’ hand. The Lord was testing and teaching them who he was and how he expected them to act as his chosen people and they​​ had passed this test.

Now that they had been​​ Battle Tested, the Lord wanted the​​ Battle​​ to be​​ Remembered​​ which brings us to our final point found in Exodus 17:14-16. This is what God’s Word says, “Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, “Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the​​ Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”

The Lord wanted this first battle to be remembered and commemorated for a couple of reasons. First, he wanted it to be remembered because he had fought for his people and​​ given them victory. Second, he wanted them to know that he promised to “blot out” the name of Amalek from under heaven. Why the harshness of this judgment from the Lord. We just need to look back to the Egyptians. They enslaved God’s chosen people and wouldn’t let them go. They were systematically trying to exterminate the Israelites and the Lord destroyed them at the Red Sea. The Amalekites were also trying to exterminate the Israelites (and in cowardly fashion) and keep them from arriving in the Promised​​ Land. They were trying to thwart the purposes of God for his chosen people which is why they were included in Yahweh’s Holy War. The battle and God’s promise to “blot out” the Amalekites would be remembered in two ways. First, it would be written down. This probably refers to the Torah, the first five books of the Bible written by Moses. The second​​ way it was to be remembered was by telling Joshua. Joshua would need to be told of the Lord’s promise to “blot out” the name of Amalek from under heaven because​​ it would be his responsibility as the military leader of the Israelites. This would not be a quick “blotting out” as it would take many generations until Haman the Agagite was hanged in Esther 7:10, about 1300 years after this first battle.

Next, we see Moses commemorating God’s victory over the Amalekites in another way. He built an altar. This is the first altar recorded being built since Jacob built an altar at Bethel in Genesis 35. Moses built this altar to honor and glorify the Lord and memorialize what the Lord had done for them in defeating the Amalekites. He called the altar, “The Lord is My Banner” referring to the military custom of using a pole as a rallying point for the troops. The Lord is the banner that we must look to and turn to in prayer for his power and presence in defeating our enemies. The Lord once again proved that his provision, protection and presence was with his people. This proof again comes after the Israelites had questioned his presence with them. The presence of the Lord with​​ his people and his power was also proven to their enemies and the other nations in the area and in the Promised Land. The Lord’s testing and teaching of his people in the wilderness was a convincing testimony to the world about who Yahweh was. Through the​​ defeat of the Amalekites, the Israelites grew in their faith and God’s name was glorified. ​​ 

There is some disagreement between scholars in interpreting whose hand is being referred to in verse 16. Is it the Lord’s hand, the hand of the Amalekites or Moses’ hand? The NIV which I read from seems to imply it was the hand of the Amalekites lifted “against” the throne of the Lord. The NASB says, “Because the Lord has sworn, the Lord will wage war against Amalek from generation to generation.” This implies it is​​ the Lord’s hand in swearing an oath. The result is the same whether it is the hand of the Amalekites or the hand of the Lord. The Lord will be at war with the Amalekites from generation to generation. This is a holy war​​ that would be fought between the Lord and the Amalekites because of their cowardly attack on God’s people, trying to keep them from fulfilling His purposes for them and getting in the way of his redemptive plan.

One winter’s day in a little fishing village on the New England coast a storm came up suddenly while the boats were out to sea. The men rowed desperately to reach the safety of the harbor. Everybody made it except for one old man named John. He had almost reached the mouth of the harbor when a great wave came along and dashed his tiny boat up against the rock. He managed to pull himself up on the tiny ledge and hang there for dear life. His friends saw what happened but there wasn’t anything they could do about it. It was growing dark, and the seas were high. All they could do was wait. They built a bonfire on the shore and kept it burning all night. Every once in a while, someone would throw his cap up in the air, hoping that the old man would see it. At last dawn began to break, and the winds began to die down. They put out their boats and were able to get close enough so they could bring him safely back to shore.

When the old man had been warmed by the fire and had been given something to eat, they asked what it was like out there. “Well,” he said, “it was the longest night of my life. I made out pretty well at first, but then a big wave came along and flattened me out and I felt myself slipping. I was worn out. I was ready to give up. My old father went down at sea, and I had decided my time had come. ​​ But just as I was ready to let​​ go, I looked through the darkness and saw somebody’s cap going up in the air. I said to myself, “If there’s somebody who cares enough about old John to stay out on a night like this, I guess I’m not going to quit yet. Just then the winds seemed to ease up,​​ and I got a fresh hold, and well, here I am.”

Connect that picture with Aaron and Hur holding up the hands of Moses and know that that’s a picture of being interconnected with the Lord’s​​ people. ​​ We hold their hands up in our prayers, in the kindness that​​ we show by simply being with them, by joining them sympathetically when they enter the dark night of their soul, and we pray, and we pray, and we keep on praying. We’re being the Lord’s intercessors and we’re connected with the Lord’s people. This bearing​​ of one another’s burdens and being connected together is important to us as Christians and the Church. Which brings us to our second next step: My next step is to​​ “Hold up the hands” of my Church family with my prayers and in being connected with each other for the glory of the Lord.

As the ushers prepare to collect the tithes and offerings and as Gene and Roxey come to lead us in a final hymn, let’s pray: Heavenly Father, it is good to be in the House of the Lord with fellow believers. Thank you for this​​ time that we could spend in your Word. I pray that we will be faithful to spread your Word to those we come in contact with this week. May we remember that you have already won the battle with Satan and help us to live out that fact daily as we live as your children. Help us to also “hold up the hands” of our Church family with our prayers and in being connected with one another. And help us to do this to honor and glory you and your holy name. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Opening: Yahweh’s Holy War – Dr. Stephen​​ R. Cook thinkingonscripture.com

Closing: Maxie Dunnam – Commentary on Exodus (“Story of the Iron Gate,” Clarence J. Forsberg)