Summary: A look at the need for and ways to practice encouraging one another
Intro – I’ve told the story before, but it’s real significant to me. We were living in OH. I’ll never forget the day that Brian came into my office. He said he needed to talk to me, and closed the door. That’s sometimes not a good sign. Then, he sat down, and proceeded to shower me with words of encouragement. He was aware that it had been a challenging season at the church, and he just wanted me to know that he appreciated me. He went on for a few minutes doing this. After I got off the floor and came to, I thanked him. I told him that he probably didn’t realize just how much he had done with that visit. I’ll never forget it, because I was a person who needed an encouraging word, and he delivered it.
As it turns out, I’m not the only person who sometimes needs a word of encouragement, so I figured it makes sense to look the story of Exodus 17 in that light today.
Israel is free – and out in the desert. They faced challenges there, as anyone would. They whined for water, they whined for food. God took care of their needs. And now, right after God gives them water out of a rock, there’s a new problem:
V8: Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.
The Amalekites. They’ll be a problem for Israel for many more years. But this time they’re especially a problem. Remember, Israel had no army. So…
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.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
He didn’t say, send out the army. There is no army! Joshua is going to lead their first military action. It’s going to be with “some of” their men that Joshua would choose. And, oh yeah, it’s tomorrow!
But did you notice that Israel has a secret weapon? What is it – armies of angels inside a secret box? Fire from heaven? The earth, opening up and swallowing the enemy? What is the secret weapon that Israel is counting on? A stick.
Moses’ staff, a rod, was just a piece of wood when we first saw it in ch 4. God asked Moses, “What’s that in your hand?” A rod. A staff. A piece of wood. But, in v20 it becomes more: “The staff of God.” Aaron threw it on the ground, and it turned into a snake. Aaron stretched it out over the Nile, and the water turned to blood. He stretched it out over Egypt, and the frogs came. He struck the ground with it, and the dust of Egypt turned into gnats. Moses stretched it toward the sky, and it started the plague of hail. He stretched it out over Egypt, and the plague of locusts came. He raised it at the Red Sea, and God parted the sea so that Israel could cross. He struck the rock at Rephidim, and water gushed out.
That stick was more than just a stick, because God used it to do significant things. I really doubt Moses would have chosen a stick to be the center of so much attention. But, by now, it doesn’t matter. God wants to use it, so Moses won’t fight it.
How many of us hear God calling us to do something for Him, and we look at what we have, and it doesn’t really look like much. “What’s that in your hand?” Or maybe you look at the mirror and think the same thing: not much here to work with. You have to consider the history of this stick in Moses’ hand. It’s the very center of some major work that God does. God doesn’t need a lot to work with. He can take a very simple thing and do a lot with it – even a stick can go from being just a shepherd’s staff to being “The Staff of God!” When God’s at work, even the simplest tool can be used for big things!
(OK, hold up your hands now!)
So, there’s a battle going on. Moses, Aaron, and Hur are up on the top of a hill watching. God has obviously given some direction to Moses, so that
v11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.
Is this raised hands thing a big deal? It looks like the outcome of the battle is going to depend on it! That’s a big deal. In fact, Israel is going to win, and when it’s all said and done, Moses is going to build an altar, name it “Jehovah is my banner” and then say, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD.”