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The Gospel According to Exodus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  48:50
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On their journey through the desert, the people of Israel have had their share of issues. They’ve been thirsty and hungry, they’ve been surrounded by the enemy.
Exodus 14:9 NIV
9 The Egyptians—all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots, horsemen and troops—pursued the Israelites and overtook them as they camped by the sea near Pi Hahiroth, opposite Baal Zephon.
Exodus 15:24 NIV
24 So the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What are we to drink?”
Exodus 16:2–3 NIV
2 In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.”
Exodus 17:3 NIV
3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Exodus 17:7 NIV
7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Things have not necessarily gone well for them. The most significant issue being the people of the Lord struggling to trust the Lord. They have, over and over, again and again, questioned the Lord’s provision and protection and presence.
That is, they question the very foundation of who the Lord is. So now, the Lord is going to show them once more that He is their Provider, their Protector, their ever-Present God.
>If you have your Bible (and I hope you do), please turn with me to Exodus Chapter 17. The text is on Page #113 of the red pew Bible in front of you. If you are able and willing, please stand for the reading of God’s Holy Word. Exodus 17, beginning with verse 8:
Exodus 17:8–16 NIV
8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 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.” 10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 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. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. 14 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.” 15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 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.”
May God add His blessing to the reading of His Holy Word!
I’ve heard this story told/preached a few times and each time it’s a little different, though every telling ends up in the same place. The sermons and devotionals I’ve heard all make prayer the focus of this passage. And honestly, it’d be pretty easy to preach a sermon on prayer from this text.
However, here’s the issue: prayer is not mentioned in these verses. Anywhere. I see where people get the idea, but they have to stretch a little to make this about prayer.
Maybe Moses was praying there on that hill. Certainly some of the Israelites were praying, or at least I hope they were praying. I’d like to think my good friend Joshua was praying as he led the Israelites in battle. But there’s never a mention of prayer, not even a hint of it like there is throughout the rest of the Exodus story.
Several times in what we’ve read in the first 17 chapters of this book, we’ve seen Moses and/or the people of the Lord cry out to the Lord. That’s prayer. We saw this in the verses that precede these today: Exodus 17:4 is Moses praying to the Lord, crying out to Him for help.
But here, in these verses, there’s none of that. We see some principles and postures that can be applied to prayer (which is why, I think, so many people are tempted to make this about prayer when it’s really not).
So, as tempted as I was to preach a really cool sermon on prayer—with visual aids and everything—I think I’d better preach the text for what it is, don’t you?
Good news is, if I can get three young people to help me, I can still preach a sermon with some pretty good visual aids. And—even more good news—what the text is actually about is absolutely magnificent and maybe even life-changing.
Okay, I need three young people to help me out (boys and girls, please; at least one of each).
One of you gets to be Moses. Take this staff in your in hand and lift up your hands. You other two, ‘Aaron’ and ‘Hur’ just stand there for now. But as soon as ‘Moses’ gets tired, you two hold his hands up. When ‘Moses’ gets tired, you can grab that chair and let him sit down.
The important thing is that ‘Moses’ there keeps his hands raised. You help keep his hands steady till sunset. Okay? Okay, good.
>Kind of out of nowhere, the Amalekites come and attack the Israelites at Rephidim.
Why? The Israelites were just minding their own business, you know, railing against God, accusing God of abandoning them in the desert. Just another Tuesday in the wilderness for the Israelites. And now they’re getting attacked by the people of Amalek who lived in the northern Sinai peninsula.
We don’t know much about the Amalekites other than that “Amalekites” is fun to say. We know that they are the descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau. And we can deduce that the Amalekites are militarily superior; if the Israelites were on their own, the Amalekites would win no problem (as we see happening in the passage):
Exodus 17:11 NIV
11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
>In the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites, there is one factor that’s greater than all the others. There is one variable in the equation that effects the whole. There is something, rather someONE who affects the results of the battle: it’s the Lord Yahweh, the One true and only God.

The Lord is in the battle.

The Israelites are being attacked. Moses, their leader, enlists the help of a fellow named Joshua. I’ve never met a Joshua I didn’t like, and I figure when I meet this Joshua one day, I’ll very much like him, too.
This is the first time we meet Joshua, the first mention of Joshua in the Bible. He acts as an assistant to Moses. He’s one of the few who are faithful in the wilderness. He will take over for Moses and will lead Israel into the land of Canaan.
Joshua here gets tasked with taking the men of Israel into battle. Moses tells him: “Hey, you go fight. I’m going to stand on that hill over there.”
Moses goes up on the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur. Most importantly and most significantly, though, Moses is standing on top of the hill with the staff of God in his hand.
The staff of God is the very visible representation of God’s power and presence. With the staff of God in his hand, Moses was able to perform all sorts of signs and wonders before Pharaoh; the sea opened up for the people to walk through on dry ground and it closed up, drowning Pharaoh and his army—all this, conducted by Moses with the staff of God in his hand. Most recently, God told Moses to take the staff and strike the rock. Moses did and water came forth for the people to drink.
So then, Moses climbing the hill with the staff of God in his hand is Moses making clear that the Lord is in this battle.
The staff of God is a clear indication of the Lord’s involvement. It’s as if Moses is saying, “Here! Here! Here is the staff of God—the staff that brought the plagues upon the Egyptians, the staff that parted the sea, the staff that brings forth water from the rock—Here’s the staff of God! The presence and power of the Lord.”
The Lord is involved in this battle—there is no doubt.
Even Joshua’s name makes this clear; ‘Joshua” means “the Lord is salvation”.
Moses lifts his hands up as Joshua and the Israelites are fighting the Amalekites. This is not prayer so much as it is a symbol of the Lord’s presence with His people and His wrath against the enemy.
Verse 16 gives us some understanding, though verse 16 can be understood in a couple of ways.
Exodus 17:16 NIV
16 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.”
This translation of a tricky sentence seems to highlight the fact that the Amalekites were fighting against God, and as such, God promises vengeance against them.
Exodus 17:16 ESV
16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
What Moses says (in this translation) is: “My hand was at/on [touching] Yahweh’s throne,” a way of saying, “When I held up that staff, I was symbolizing the presence of the Lord with us, ruling over the battle; Him victorious for us.”
The Lord is lifted up over the people and the people are secure. God has stepped in. He has intervened. The Lord is on the scene.
As an illustration of the power and presence of God, as long as Moses was able to keep his hands raised, the Israelites were winning.
It was like a divine “Red Light, Green Light” game, really. Hands up, Israelites win. Hands down, Israelites lose.
To quote my friend, Maty: “Easy-peasy, guacamole.”
The Lord is involved in the battle. God is sovereign in the consequences of the battle. God is superior over all other forces involved in the battle.
Notice verse 13:
Exodus 17:13 NIV
13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
SO Joshua overcame.
Joshua won because the Lord was present.
We have all that detail about Moses raising his hands, holding the staff of God; Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ hands for him, steadying his hands until the sun set.
That detail isn’t there to draw attention to Moses. Our attention isn’t supposed to be drawn to Joshua.
Our attention is to be drawn to the Lord. It’s because the Lord was present that the Israelites were victorious. It’s only because the Lord was involved and was fighting for them, make no mistake. This is God’s war—the only reason the Israelites could win against the Amalekites was that God was fighting.
“The God of Israel won their salvation all by Himself, as He always does.” —P.G. Ryken
The Lord is in the battle. More accurately, the battle belongs to the Lord.
Please know this, friends:

You are utterly dependent upon the Lord.

This is something the Israelites are learning, bit-by-bit, day-by-day. They are coming to understand that the Lord is the One who provides for them and keeps them, safe and secure from all alarms.
This something I’m learning each day—how badly I need Him. I’m learning how utterly and completely dependent upon Him I really am, even though I love to think myself independent and self-sufficient.
Truth is, I am completely, utterly, wholly dependent upon Him—for everything, for life and breath. In Him, we live and move and have our being.
This is true…for me, for you, for the Israelites here battling the Amalekites.
Without the Lord’s presence and power (as displayed by Moses holding the staff of God) they would have failed, they would have lost. In fact, they did start to lose each time Moses lowered His hands.
There’s no mistaking it.
After Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword, the Lord gave Moses some instructions—instructions that would help the people to remember their dependence upon the Lord.
Exodus 17:14 NIV
14 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 jots down a memorial inscription, a record of God’s victory in battle.
This was important for at least two reasons. We’ll discuss the first reason now, and the second reason later on. (I know, I know. You’re sitting on the edge of your seat, exactly where I want you).
The Lord tells Moses to write this down because the Israelites would meet the Amalekites again.
When they did, they would need to remember that these people were their mortal enemies, and that God had promised to destroy them for attacking His people. They need to remember that the Lord is fighting for them and that they are utterly dependent upon Him.
Unfortunately, just two years from this point, when the people of Israel first reach the border of the Promised Land, they encounter the Amalekites again. Instead of remembering what the Lord had done for them here, instead of praying for victory to the Lord on whom they could depend, they become afraid. And, as a result, they spend the next 38 years wandering in the wilderness.
When we don’t realize how utterly dependent we are upon the Lord, we find ourselves in a similar situation. We delude ourselves into thinking that we can do it ourselves, that we did it ourselves once, so, naturally we can do it ourselves again.
Wrong. Wrong. Dead wrong.
Moses does something in addition to writing the events of the day on a scroll as something to be remembered.
Moses follows in the pattern of those who went before him:
Exodus 17:15 NIV
15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner.
Moses builds an altar to the Lord—a practice of the faithful. Faithful men— upon realizing that the Lord had done something for them that they never, ever could have imagined for themselves or accomplished by themselves—built an altar to the Lord.
Those altars became places of remembrance, places of worship, places to mark their dependence upon the Lord.
The Lord protected Noah and his family from the flood, so Noah builds an altar (Genesis 8:20). The Lord calls Abraham and promises to bless him—all of this out of nowhere—so Abraham builds an altar (Genesis 12:7-8). The Lord appeared to both Isaac (Genesis 26:25) and Jacob (Genesis 35:7) and promised to be with them, so Isaac and Jacob each build an altar to the Lord.

You are utterly dependent upon the Lord.

The Lord fought for the Amalekites and brought the Israelites victory, so Moses builds an altar.
No doubt Moses and Aaron and Hur worshipped the Lord after seeing the Lord work. And I’m sure at least a portion of the Israelites worshipped at that moment.
The altar Moses built was an expression of how dependent they all were upon the Lord at that moment and beyond.
This passage isn’t about prayer as such. There’s no explicit mention of prayer here. However, insomuch as prayer is an act of dependence upon God, then this passage is about prayer.
We pray because we are utterly dependent upon God.
We worship because we are utterly dependent upon God.
We do whatever we have to do to remind ourselves that we are utterly dependent upon God.
You are utterly dependent upon the Lord, so

Look to the Lord for salvation.

The Lord instructed Moses to write down everything on a scroll as a reminder (1) that the Amalekites were some bad mamma-jammas, they were an enemy of the Israelites,
But more importantly this was a reminder:
(2) Of what the Lord did for them, so that whenever they came under attack, they would look to Him for their salvation. Israel’s warfare is not over; they will fight many battles—spiritual and otherwise—before they reach the Promised Land. And then they’ll have to fight their way through the land.
But if they remembered what happened here, at Rephidim, it would help them to look to God for help.
The Lord wants His people to look to Him—and Him alone—for salvation.
This seems pretty basic, but we know it’s not. We know it’s not, because we are very much like the Israelites, thinking our salvation is due, in part, to someone or something other than the Lord.
We’re tempted to think our salvation is some sort of combined effort: 90% what God has done, 10% church attendance, good deeds, religious observance.
The Israelites might have been tempted to think that their salvation was partially from the Lord and a little from Joshua or their own military prowess. They’d be as wrong as we are.
The Lord wants His people to look to Him—and Him alone—for salvation.
So Moses builds and altar:
Exodus 17:15 NIV
15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner.
A banner is a military standard, a piece of cloth bearing an army insignia and raised on a pole. Soldiers always look to their banner. It establishes their identity; it helps them know who they are. On the battlefield, the banner helps the soldiers keep their bearings and gives them courage and hope.
The Israelites had some practical experience with this. From time to time, during the battle, they would look up on the hillside. There they would see Moses holding up the staff that symbolized God’s power and presence.
It was their banner, their military standard. By holding the staff of God high, Moses was pointing them to the real source of their courage and strength—not simply the staff of God, but God Himself.
This was their rallying cry: “The Lord is my Banner!”
Everyone has something they look to for identity and security. If you think you don’t, trust me, you do.
Where do you look for security, for hope? Where do you turn in times of difficulty and despair? In what, or in whom, do you find your contentedness, your peace, your happiness.
Moses had the best answer. He said, “The Lord is my Banner. Whenever I am under attack, I rally to His side.”

The Lord is our Banner.

The Lord is our Banner, too, but in a way that Moses could have hardly imagined.
Isaiah promised a day when:
Isaiah 11:10 NIV
10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
Isaiah’s promise is fulfilled in Jesus Christ. He is the Root of Jesse—the son of David and the Son of God.
And now He stands as a banner for God’s people, those who rally to Him from every nation, tribe, language, race, and tongue.
The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus has a banner; it says that He is the banner.
It’s by looking to Jesus that we are saved—specifically by looking to His cross.
John 3:14–15 NIV
14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.”
Jesus was lifted up on a cross to die for our sins, to win for us eternal life.
Today (Palm Sunday) commemorates the beginning of the final week of Jesus’ life before His death on the cross.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the Hosanna-shouts of the people “Save! Save!”, shout the people. “See the long-awaited king come to set His people free, Hosanna! Save!
And save He would. Jesus came to His death willingly. He gave up His life to save His people, to set them free from the curse of sin and death. He—our Lord and Savior—took our sin and exchanged it with His perfect, spotless righteousness.
By looking to the crucified and risen Christ, we live! Our banner is the cross where He bled and died for our sins.

“Jesus is our Banner!”

God is with us, sitting on His throne, ruling over the battle, winning for us.
We look to Jesus—Our Banner—and we are saved. We fix our eyes on Him as those utterly dependent upon Him.
Look to Him and be saved.
“Jesus is my Banner.” He has won the battle. On the cross, Jesus was victorious; this we know because 3 days later He rose from the dead! He is my life and my salvation. He is interceding for me, praying for me at this very moment (Romans 8:34). He is dependable—I can trust Him with my life. I belong to Him by faith through grace.
“Jesus is my Banner.”
Is Jesus your Banner?
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