Exodus 17

Exodus 17: Onward Christian Soldiers

“ Onward Christian Soldiers, marching as to war. With the cross of Jesus going on before; Christ, the Royal Master, leads against the foe. Forward into battle see His Banners go!” That hymn was sung in March 1969 in the National Cathedral in Washington at the funeral of Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Notice in the first verse of this chapter, we are told the Israelites are traveling from place to place as ‘the Lord commanded.’  With this being the case, then where they find themselves encamped at Rephidim with no water is exactly where the Lord has led them. When there is no water, the Israelites quarreled with Moses and said; ‘ give us water!’

Why has God led them to such a place as this? Well, having previously failed the test of trusting God to supply them with water- God test them again to see if they have learned their lesson. We see once again they have failed to learn their lesson and quarrel with Moses. Again their unbelief causes them to not believe the Lord who has proved Himself over and over to them.

Why do they continue to fail the test?  Their hearts are still in Egypt. They are out of fellowship with the Lord and the result is:  anger, bitterness and stress which are the recipe for doing something unreasonable- such as stoning Moses.

Sometimes a person can become so angry, bitter and emotional they will hit a wall with their fist.  Several years ago, a tragedy occurred in Humboldt, when a young man upset and angry  over the loss of a football game ran headlong into a brick wall with his helmet on. The result was a broken neck, paralysis and death not long after. Everyone who read or heard the story reacted with great sorrow that such an impulsive,  irrational act committed in a moment had such a devastating effect.  Oh- that we would view sin as that devastating!

You know what people want when trouble or tests come into their lives?  Someone to blame; a scapegoat.  The Israelites once again blame Moses as the one who is the reason for their difficulties. “ Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and our livestock die of thirst?”

Can you see the expression on Moses’ face as he cries out to God: “ What am I to do with THESE PEOPLE?   It is no longer my people or the Lord’s people- it is ‘ these people.’   Moses has had it with this ungrateful, unbelieving people.

Moses will name this place in the Desert of Sin- Massah and Meribah.  Massah means to test; and Meribah means to quarrel or rebel.    A place of testing and rebellion.

If these things were written for us as examples as Paul tells us what does it mean to us?  It means that God can test us in the everyday experiences of life. The tests and trials are for one purpose- to strengthen our faith and mature our character. James learned this and as a result counted tests and trials as a joy- for he knew the outcome was the development of patience which matures our faith.

The Bible is a story of how God interacts with His people. We read their accounts, their stories and we see ourselves in these stories.  You and I  are creating and living our own story of how God has interacted with us. And like the Israelites, we can draw a map of our lives and we can see the Massah’s and Meribah’s in our lives.  Places of testing; places of rebellion. Places where we quarreled with God and blamed everyone else for our problems.

Every difficulty God permits us to encounter will become either a test that make us better or a temptation that can make us worse, and it is our attitude that determines which it will be.  Scary , isn’t it? If in unbelief we start complaining, quarreling and blaming God, temptation stands at the door ready to pounce upon us like a roaring lion and rob us of an opportunity to grow. We will fail the test and we will have to go through the course again. But that is not the worst part- when we failed the test, we missed an opportunity for growth and maturity.

We must renounce the flesh and resist the devil. Give them not one inch. Do not concede anything to them.

I was in the optical laboratory business for over 20 years. We  fabricated prescription lenses, and from the time I first entered the business, it was accepted there would be breakage. Quality becomes a sliding scale. Until finally one accepts 10% breakage as normal and from their things get worse. It starts with an attitude, a mindset that  Zero defects is impossible to achieve. Bringing in quality team to re-engineer our lab was a major undertaking. The first thing they did was put in a system of checks and balances. Steps of preparation and calibration we made each day to make sure our equipment was accurate. They then explained that breakage of one pair of lenses did not cost us double as we assumed. They told us it costs triple, because when we ran the same job for the second time, we could have been running another job for the first time. But the greatest illustration was when we ran our payroll checks on payday and deliberately  had  them average between 8 and 10% less than their normal pay. When everyone began to complain- we said- hey – no one is perfect. You allow for 8-10% error- so why not give us the same room for error in your paychecks.  They got the point. It is not just having to do it again- it is missing the opportunity for profitable growth that impacts you personally.

Let’s think about a  couple of verses most of you know for a moment:  “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose. For Whom He did foreknow, He did also predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son…” ( Romans 8: 28,29a)

Now do you begin to see what this is about?  God wants to conform us to the image of His Son. How does the Potter shape the clay into a vessel of use- he puts it on a wheel and through pressure both inside and outside the vessel by his hands, the potter shapes the vessel for his purpose. God in same way shapes our lives by the tests and difficulties He allows us to encounter. By trusting God and His promises in these encounters our minds are transformed and our behavior changes. In this way-we are being conformed( shaped) to the image of His Son.

But in each encounter, the enemy of our soul, the devil in alliance with our old nature , the flesh and the world wants to conform us to the world, of which the devil is the prince of power.

We are in this world physically, but not of the world spiritually. The Lord Jesus gave Himself  for our sins that we might be delivered from this present evil world, according to the will of God our Father.( Galatians 1)  And Jesus in John 17 in his prayer to his Father on our behalf tells us: ‘w e are not of this world , as He is not of this world. Jesus prays to His Father in the Garden- not to take us out of this world but keep us from evil.

This is why Paul admonishes us in Romans 12- to ‘ present ourselves a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God which is our reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is that good and acceptable, perfect will of God.’ See the formula:  presentation plus transformation equal the revealed will of God.

Watch how God provides them with water. Moses is instructed to take some of the elders and to take the rod and smites ( strikes) the rock. From the rock comes water. Now I do not have to interpret this- for the Word of God has interpreted it for us.  Water is a picture of the Holy Spirit. (John 4 &7) The rock is a picture of Christ. ( I Corinthians 10 tells us this).  The smitten rock is a picture of Christ crucified. For the Holy Spirit could not come until Christ was crucified, ( smitten) resurrected and ascended into heaven.

When we sin- we quench the Spirit; so when we confess our sins, the Lord is faithful to cleanse us and restore us. In Numbers 20, when once again water is needed, God tells Moses to speak to the Rock, but Moses strikes it again. And for his disobedience, he will not enter into the Promised Land. The rock had been smitten before; Christ died once and forever for all our sins. All that is necessary is to confess our sins, to speak to Him for cleansing and filling- not smite Him again

Then came the Amalekites…..

Who are these people?  Enemies of God and Gods’ people.  Descendants of Esau, Amalek was the grandson of Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. They are a picture of the flesh. For once we have been delivered out of our Egypt, this present evil world, we now have an enemy. For the flesh wars against the Spirit. They are contrary to one another. The enemy, the Amalekites come up against the people to keep them from entering the promised land. The land given to us represents the fullness of God that is available to us – the redeemed. We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing.

The descendants of Esau are called Edomites and include : King Herod, who killed the male babies under age 2 in Bethlehem in attempt to kill the Messiah,the Christ child. They include such evil, plotting men as Haman in the book of Esther who would have all Jews killed.

Now for the first time we are introduced to another important person in the history of Israel and the exodus- Joshua. Joshua is instructed by Moses to choose some of his men and go out and fight the Amalekites.  Moses will go up on the mountaintop with staff of God in his hands. Accompanying Moses will be Aaron and Hur.

Now as the physical battle is waged Moses will hold the rod up to God. As long as Moses held his hands up, the Israelites were winning; and likewise, when he lowered his hands and the rod, the Amalekites were winning.  When he tired, Aaron and Hur took a stone for Moses to sit on. Aaron and Hur stood on each side and held his hands up and Joshua and his men overcame the Amalekites.

God tells Moses to write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure Joshua hears it again and again. The Amalekites must be destroyed. No compromise. The flesh must be destroyed, no compromise.

Moses built an altar and called it: The Lord is My Banner;  Jehovah Nissi.  For hands were lifted up to the throne of the Lord . The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites ( think flesh, old nature)from generation to generation.

Do you see what happens when we trust God?  We learn something about Him, we receive a new revelation regarding Him.  He is our Banner, Jehovah Nissi. He leads us in battle, He fights for us, He is our Victory. Whenever you succeed in trusting God with all your heart, the greatest outcome is not just that you passed the test. The greatest outcome is you experience God in a way you have not before. You have personally learned a new name for Him. It will bring a change in your life and also a new responsibility. This new knowledge reveals another facet of God that will allow you to trust Him all the more.

Notice God allowed Moses, Hur, Aaron, Joshua and the men of Israel to be actively involved in the battle. He could have destroyed the enemy with the blink of His eye, an army of mighty angels or with a breath from His nostril God could have destroyed them as He did the Egyptian army in the Red Sea. But God chose to use imperfect human beings to accomplish His purposes. Jesus seemed to go out of His way to select 12 men( of which one was a traitor) who had no obvious talents, education or skills besides being fishermen, tax collectors and such. Surely many of the Pharisees thought when the Messiah came, if he came in their lifetime, would involve them in his reign, since they were so accomplished and learned.  But God  has chosen the weak, the foolish and the base to confound the wise and the mighty.

Joshua and his army would learn to trust God and fight; Moses and his associates would learn to trust God and intercede in prayer; and God would do the rest. In this way, using this method God’s people would grow in faith and God’s name would be glorified.

Moses held his rod up to the throne of the Lord. The rod represented the power of God. Moses in holding it up in intercessory prayer was confessing total dependence upon the power and authority of Almighty God.

It was not Moses or Joshua or the army of Israelites who defeated the Amalekites- it was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who prevailed. It was the Lord of Hosts.

Now we might not be Joshua or Moses but everyone one of us can be like Aaron and Hur. We can pray, we can intercede and continue steadfast in prayer.

This also reminds us this is exactly what our Lord Jesus Christ does in heaven today. He ever lives to make intercession for us as we fight the battles of life, and His strength never fails. (Hebrews 7:25) In addition to that we also have the Holy Spirit within us who intercedes and prays for us and guides us in our praying when we do not know how to pray. ( Romans 8)

Now as I mentioned earlier when our lab went through this program of re-engineering our lab, an important part of our success and reduction of breakage was in our preparation each morning.  A careful checking of our equipments, calibrating our machinery and making sure everything was in place.

How do we start our day as Christians, realizing an attack from the enemy can come at any moment?  We make sure our equipment is in place.  We gird our loins with the belt of truth. This is the first step, as the Word of God is engrafted into our souls. The belt that Paul referred to was the belt which the Roman soldier hung his sword from, attached his breastplate to and tucked his robe into so as not to be tripped up in the battle. Second we make sure the breastplate of His righteousness is in place.  The enemy would accuse you of not being deserving of God’s favor, but we must remember it is His righteousness that was given to me at salvation.  Feet must be shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. Footwear was and is always important to a soldier in battle. It gives us traction and enables us to stand firm. The helmet of salvation protects our head, our mind from the blows of the enemy. And the shield of faith is what quenches the fiery arrows. Without faith it is impossible to please God and those who come to Him must believe He is who He says He is.  Do you see by trusting Him, Moses and the Israelites have learned and experienced God as their Banner.  And we then take up the Sword of the Spirit ,which is the Word of God. Notice all of this is preparatory to enter the battle- which is waged in prayer.

May I say when our lab went through this re-engineering program, our quality improved immensely.  We had faith in the system and for a while we were faithful to do everything we were taught to do.  But after time, we begin to compromise and our standards begin to erode and our practices began to revert to old behavior and we would find ourselves in a crisis mode once again.

The same is true of our walk with the Lord. We will sometimes find ourselves compromising- giving in to our old nature. You realize your old nature wants to be in charge, don’t you?  But you and I cannot serve two masters.

When we got saved, God did not re-engineer our old lives did He?  He regenerated us- that is we became new creatures- we were re-gened.

First God reveals our need for Him. He shows us how apart from Him we can do nothing, but we can do all things through Christ in us. God shows us who we really are- depraved beings with deceitful hearts and desperately wicked. This is part of the lesson of learning to trust God.

When we come as Christians to believe we can operate independent of God, we will find ourselves in the wilderness, complaining and quarreling about the unfair circumstances in our lives.

The Lord told us in this world we would have trouble, but that He had overcome the world. And how do we overcome the world- by faith. By believing God is who He says He is and can do what He says He can do. Believing we are who God says we are- a royal priesthood, a peculiar people. And making sure everything is in place by having the Word of God active and alive in our lives.

So how are we to live in troubling times? “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed: we are perplexed, but not in despair. Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.  We look not at things which are seen but at the things which are not seen; for the things seen are temporal; but the things not seen are eternal. ‘ ( 2 Cor. 4)

We are in a battle. Things are not what they seem. And we each have a role to play. Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war. Christ the Royal Master leads against the foe, forward into battle – see His Banners go!