8 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 of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” – Exodus 17:8-16 ESV
After miraculously providing water for His disgruntled and dissatisfied people at Rephidim, God followed that gracious act with a much more dangerous and deadly demonstration of His power that also served to validate Moses’ role as His chosen leader. To quench their thirst and assuage their anger, God ordered Moses to use his staff to strike “the rock” so that it gushed forth water. This blatant demonstration of divine authority, accomplished through God’s official spokesman, was intended to bolster Moses’ credibility and credentials among the people.
“Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” – Exodus 17:5-6 ESV
God allowed Moses to play a significant role in meeting the people’s need for water. It would have been just as easy for God to cause water to spring up from the dry ground, but He chose to deliver this miracle through Moses. And one of the lessons God wanted the Israelites to learn was that Moses was His personal representative. Moses spoke and acted on behalf of God. And by questioning the quality of Moses’ leadership, they were actually raising doubts about the reliability of Yahweh Himself. In a sense, their anger-filled rants against Moses were really a vocalization of their lack of faith in God.
…the people of Israel argued with Moses and tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord here with us or not?” – Exodus 17:7 NLT
So, with the people’s thirst temporarily satisfied, God brought a new and even more demanding trial for the people to endure. This time, the problem wouldn’t be a lack of water or meat, but it would be an overabundance of enemies.
While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim, the warriors of Amalek attacked them. – Exodus 17:8 NLT
The timing of this attack is impeccable and thoroughly ordained by God. The people had just satisfied their thirst with water from the rock when suddenly and as if out of nowhere, a force of Amalckite warriors descended upon them.
The Amalekites were a nomadic people who had descended from Esau, the son of Isaac and the twin brother of Jacob.
These are the descendants of Esau who became the leaders of various clans:
The descendants of Esau’s oldest son, Eliphaz, became the leaders of the clans of Teman, Omar, Zepho, Kenaz, Korah, Gatam, and Amalek. – Genesis 36:15-16 NLT
These descendants of Esau were close relatives of Israelites who had settled in the southern region of Canaan, between the border of Egypt and Mount Sinai. During the Israelites’ 400-year sojourn in Egypt, the Amalekites had grown in number and considered the wilderness of Sin as their homeland. The scene of millions of Hebrew refugees setting up camp on their home turf must have alarmed the Amalekites. Water rights and pasture land would have been of great value in that arid part of the world. So, the Amalekites decided to give the Israelites ample reason to move on. But rather than ordering the Israelites to run, Moses put together a battle plan, formed a makeshift army, and assigned a young man named Joshua to serve as commander. Then he gave this new general his strange-sounding strategy for achieving victory.
“Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.” – Exodus 17:9 NLT
The Israelites were shepherds, not warriors. None of them had any military training or battle experience. Yet, Moses was ordering them to go up against an Amalekite force comprised of seasoned and well-equipped warriors.
So, the next day, as Joshua led his rag-tag group of citizen soldiers into battle, Moses ascended a nearby hill in the company of Aaron and Hur. There on the mountaintop, Moses took the very same staff he had used to strike the rock and raised it above his head with both arms. The text states that, as long as he held the staff aloft, the Israelites were able to get the upper hand in the battle taking place in the valley below. But as time wore on, Moses’ arms grew weary, and as he lowered them to rest, the battle went in favor of the Amalekites. The key to victory over the Amalekites was directly tied to God’s chosen leader raising his staff over the enemies of Israel.
In the heat of the battle taking place in the valley, Joshua had no way of knowing what was happening on the mountaintop. One minute his forces gained the advantage, only to find themselves retreating in apparent defeat. It was a touch-and-go affair that could go either way.
But Moses’ two companions could see exactly what was going on and knew that they were going to have to intervene or the battle would end in tragedy. Moses was insufficient for the task. He had the heart and possessed the staff through which the power of God was displayed, but he lacked the stamina necessary to stay the course.
Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. – Exodus 17:12 NLT
The power of God was more than sufficient to meet the need. What was lacking was Moses’ ability to serve as the unwavering conduit through whom God’s power could flow unchecked. God’s chosen leader was well into his 80s when this battle took place and the physical demands on his elderly body proved to be too much. He understood that victory hinged on his ability to keep the staff aloft but he lacked the personal strength to do his part. That’s when Aaron and Hur stepped in. These two men immediately understood the role they were there to play.
First, they provided a stone on which Moses could rest. The exhausted octogenarian was completely worn out from the physical exertion and the emotional toll he suffered every time he lowered his arms and watched the battle turn against Joshua and his troops.
Next, they each stood alongside Moses, lifting his arms into the air and using their combined strength to serve as conduits of the power of God. The staff remained aloft, the power of God flowed, and the army of Israel won the day.
Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle. – Exodus 17:13 NLT
In the aftermath of this great victory, God ordered Moses to make a permanent record of this victory, along with a promise regarding the eventual destruction of the Amalekites.
“Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” – Exodus 17:14 NLT
God specifically told Moses to deliver this divine promise to Joshua. It was as if God was letting Joshua know that this battle was far from over. They had not destroyed the Amalekites but had simply defeated them in battle. That meant they would live to fight another day. But God wanted Joshua to know that he would lead one more battle against these enemies of Israel and, when that day came, Joshua would have the pleasure of wiping them off the face of the earth.
This promise would not take place until long after the Israelites had entered the land of Canaan and made it their own. Some forty years later, Moses would pull out his written record of God’s promise and read it to Joshua again.
Therefore, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies in the land he is giving you as a special possession, you must destroy the Amalekites and erase their memory from under heaven. Never forget this! – Deuteronomy 25:19 NLT
And at the scene of the battle, Moses erected another record of their decisive victory. He erected an altar and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”). This memorial or tribute to God’s faithfulness celebrated His sovereign role in Israel’s victory. Moses, Aaron, and Hur were simply instruments in God’s hands. Joshua and the men who fought alongside him, each served under the banner of the King of kings. They were the army of God Almighty. But the victory was God’s alone.
And Moses recognized that the Amalekites would pay dearly for their decision to stand against the God of the universe. Their assault on the Israelites was a direct attack on the sovereignty of Yahweh, the ruler of heaven and earth. And God would hold the Amalekites accountable for their actions.
“They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.” – Exodus 17:16 NLT
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.