Summary: The Hebrews pair up the practical human effort with the practical Godly effort to address the dire circumstances they find themselves in.
In February of 1945 Joe Rosenthal pulled out his camera and clicked a photo that would later become the most reproduced photograph in the history of photography: Five young Marines planting the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima. The photo of these young men raising the flag was splashed across the front page of every paper in the country, and for months papers republished the photo. Newspapers were saved, posters were purchased, the photo appeared everywhere, people could not get enough of the photo.
Why is that? Why did people become so emotionally connected to this image of the flag? Why is it that even today, we as Americans are taken back every time we see the photo of these men struggling with the stars and strips? Our flag, though it is a piece of fabric, our flag, though it has no power on its own, our flag, though it is only a material object, even though our flag is only a flag, our flag, the banner of the United State of America IS one of the most powerful symbols in the world today.
It represents freedom. It represents the removal of tyranny from our lives. It represents hope. We see our flag and we know what a blessing we have been given to be citizens of this country. Others look at our flag and dream of a better life, they dream of a freedom that might one day be theirs.
Throughout our history, men and women have willingly laid down their lives defending it. Today men and women are deployed around the globe with the pledge to defend and preserve our flag. Even our children start their school day with a pledge of allegiance to our flag.
Let us not forget that our national anthem also pays honor to our flag. There is not a day that goes by that somewhere in our nation the Star Spangled Banner is sung and many times, by the last line, there is not a dry eye in the crowed. We stand together, our hands over our hearts and we sing about a raging battle where finally in the dawns early light, our flag, high above the fray, was still there….the impossible happened, we held out, we fought the fight, we persevered and our hope is assured. Surely God had preserved us.
Our flag is just a flag, but it is so much more is it not? Here in our passage Moses’ staff is just a staff, but it is so much more – and let us be clear at the outset: The staff of Moses is not just a symbol, it is a representation that God is with His people, He will be with them and even in the most dire circumstances, they will prevail.
Starting with verse 15, we see that after the battle is won, Moses builds an alter to the Lord and proclaims: - Shemu Adoni Nesee. Which is literally, “His name Yahweh is a banner over me”. When Moses says this, he means that the banner of God – is a rallying point, everyone can rally around the banner of God, look here, we will prevail – it also means it is a sign from God, that it is not man who will prevail, but God is the one who will prevail.
The Hebrew people had all lived a hard life in slavery and now, though they are free, they are in the middle of dire circumstances. The provisions they had brought with them from Egypt are gone, and the land they are in cannot possibly support this group of two million, for even one day. But, they have seen God provide, manna, a bread like substance, that miraculously appears every morning without fail and God has produced water out of a rock to quench their thirst, truly an impossible feat.
So now we see that God, by His provision has calmed their internal fears. God brings them to the brink of distress, and then, He pulls them through, again and again. The Hebrews have had to wrestle with the desires of great hunger and great thirst. They have had to come to terms that their great wealth, given to them as they departed Egypt, will not save them. They have had to come to terms with their dream of a quick trip to the easy life in the Promise Land, will have to wait and they have come to terms with the fact that their daily needs will be met by God. They now are starting to understand that God is always present in their camp and He will not leave them.
So internally, the Hebrews have had to wrestle with many things and internally, their fears are somewhat diminished. God has lead them out of slavery into this dry place. This desert is not where they want to be, but they are no longer afraid that they will starve to death or die of thirst. They know God is with them. I think in some ways they are ready to settle in and wait things out. They are in this dry desert now, and there in this desert God will sustain them – And they know now, that it is just a matter of time and distance, and they will be in the Promise Land.