God's protection (Ex 17.8-16)
God protects (Ex 17:8-16)
Following three stories illustrating God's provision where Israel must learn to rely on God alone this story underlines another area of life where Israel must learn to trust God
Full of sudden and short facts
Must have been well known to the original hearers
Probably a series of raids rather than an all out battle
Who are the Amalekites?
Descendents of Amalek
Israel's first military enemy after Egypt
A continuing problem throughout the desert wanderings (see Num 13 and 14)
Partially defeated by Saul and finally by David
What did the Israelites do?
Unlike the release from Egypt, Israel has an active part to play in overcoming Amalek
First mention - no introduction - must be well known
Leads a raiding party against Amalekites
Wins the battle
Attention is focused on Moses, not the battle
Did Moses 'pray'? undoubtedly, but this may not be the meaning of Moses' action.
Although many lessons on prayer have been drawn from this passage the centre of the story is not prayer but God's protection.
Although Joshua fights, Moses provides the lead and the symbol of God's presence (the Staff). The battle does not belong to Joshua (the man of action) or even to Moses (the man of prayer) it belongs to the LORD.
Understanding this story
A puzzling story, difficult to interpret.
The danger of superficiality - reducing Exodus (and other books) to a series of moral tales.
Not that these morals are 'wrong', but if we make this story a simple 'God helps those who put their trust in him' what are we to say about the stories and times when God does not come to the rescue of his faithful servants?
There is something deeper happening and it has to do with the way we understand the Bible.
I see the whole Bible as part of an ongoing story that culminates in salvation through Christ alone. That is I read the Old Testament with a conviction that my union with Christ should make a difference to my understanding what I read. But this is not just a matter of trying to spot Jesus in Old Testament stories like a Biblical game of 'Where's Wally'.
So what is a Christian understanding of this story?
This is not easy, and requires that we engage with the story. And by that I don't just mean that we read it. The plain reading of the Scripture is clear enough, but like the God who inspired it, it is deep and unfathomable. We do not all find the same thing, even when we are all looking in the same place, and this passage is a good example.
Asking our questions
Rather than asking how Jesus fulfils this passage let's ask what it teaches about the nature of God. eg:
Why would God behave in such a way?
Why do raised hands have such an effect on the battle?
What do we learn about God, who promises the complete destruction of a desert people for an act that could easily have been punished some other way?
What can we learn from the scroll and the alter about what God expects from his people?
These questions may not give us neat answers about how Jesus fulfils Scripture, but I suspect they will lead us to a deeper understanding of a closer relationship to God, which will help us to know Christ in new and unexpected ways.
Moses, a staff and a hill
Showing God's power, as with the Egyptian plagues
The Amalekites and the wrath of God
One of the most difficult questions raised about God's wrath
Amalekite raiding parties harass Israel (Deut 25:17-18) for which the entire nation is condemned to destruction. Is this just? Can this 'Old Testament God of Wrath' be reconciled with the 'New Testament God of Grace'?
This last question, heard often, even in church, arises from a superficial understanding of God and a sad lack of knowledge of the Bible. There is no difference, or extremes that need to be reconciled.
But this still leaves us with the problem of the Amalekites.
The Amalekites are a recurring problem throughout the Old Testament, and even into the New. They threaten to destroy Israel here at its birth, cause trouble in the following centuries, have another go at total destruction in the story of Esther (Haman was a Amalekite) and attempt to bring God's purposes to nothing at the birth of Jesus (Herod was of the same national stock).
God shows his anger because this people are not just persecuting a minority, they are standing in the way of his plan of salvation. There is no 'plan B' - through this tiny nation God intends to redeem all creation so he jealously guards his people. This does not answer all the questions but it does give a different framework in which to ask them.
Memorials to the LORD
Lots of memorials in the Old Testament.
Crease in the New Testament
Memorials keep the memory of God's saving deeds alive, but now the heart of stone is removed and God's writes on our heart of flesh.
God has left his final 'memorial' in the empty tomb.
Living under God's protection
This battle against the Amalekites is a forerunner of all the spiritual battles we still fight today.
Israel's salvation (deliverance from Egypt), like our salvation (deliverance from sin), is all God's doing. All we need do is 'stand, and see the salvation of the LORD'.
Fighting Amalek is a joint effort in which the people have to strap on their armour and go into battle. To be sure, the battle is won, not in the valley with Joshua, but on the hilltop with Moses, but nevertheless commitment from God's people is required. Today we to must put on our armour, but we still remember that the battle does not belong to the strong, or the race to the swift.
Did Israel learn anything from their encounter with Amalek?
Not a lot would appear to be the correct answer. Even though a battle was won, with God's direct help, a memorial was built and a record of the event was made, two years latter, as Israel stood on the brink of the promised land they turned back because the Amalekites were there.
We do not fair much better at times, and trusting God for both protection and provision is a fresh battle every day, but then again, so are God's mercies.