20 Mar. Exodus 17:8-16

20 Mar. God helps the Israelites to defeat the Amalekites

“At Rephidim the Amalekites came and fought the Israelites. So Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some men and go and fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill, holding the walking stick of God in my hands.’”

“Joshua obeyed Moses and went to fight the Amalekites, while Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held his hands up, the Israelites were winning the fight, but when Moses put his hands down, the Amalekites were winning.”

“Later, when Moses’ arms became tired, the men put a large rock under him, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands – Aaron on one side and Hur on the other. They kept his hands steady until the sun went down. So Joshua defeated the Amalekites in this battle.”

“Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write about this battle in a book so people will remember. And be sure to tell Joshua, because I will completely destroy the Amalekites from the earth.”

“Then Moses built an altar and named it The LORD is my Banner. Moses said, ‘I lifted my hands towards the LORD’s throne. The LORD will fight against the Amalekites for ever.’”

          (Exodus 17:8-16)


The Battle of Rephidim was the first time the Israelites had to defend themselves in an armed conflict. (They had escaped a direct confrontation with the Egyptian army by crossing the marshy land of the Reed Sea where the pharaoh’s chariots had become bogged down while attempting to attack the Israelites.)

So when the Amalekites attacked, the Israelites faced the real possibility of extinction even before they reached the ‘promised land’ of Canaan.

It’s important to remember that the Amalekites attacked in an arid desert landscape where there was no chance of escape for the Israelites; nowhere to hide, and no woodland from which to mount a surprise attack. And the Israelites were not a trained fighting force. They had managed to capture some weapons from the Egyptian soldiers who were overwhelmed by the rising waters of the Reed Sea, but they had no military training or experience of fighting a determined enemy.

The situation was desperate. Faced with wholesale slaughter and destruction by the Amalekites, Moses did the only sensible thing possible; he prayed to God for help.

It may seem odd to us that Moses stood holding up his hands all day long, with Aaron and Hur supporting his arms as the day progressed; but this was the traditional Jewish way of praying – holding up holy hands to the LORD (see 1 Timothy 2:8) – and we fail to see the point if we don’t recognise the power of prayer which was essential to a successful outcome for the Israelites.

The Bible is telling us here that Moses held up his hands in prayer to the LORD, and while he prayed, the Israelites prevailed; but when he stopped praying, the Amalekites were the stronger side (see Exodus 17:11).

The same is true for us when we face a huge crisis, or even the chance of widespread death and destruction. If we try to manage the situation purely in our own power, we may well fail; but if we pray and ask God to intervene and to keep us safe, then we are likely to experience God’s saving power and to emerge safely at the end of the dire circumstances.

The photo shows a painting by John Everett Millais (1871) of Moses holding up his arms during the Battle of Rephidim, assisted by Hur and Aaron (Manchester Art Gallery).

You can read more about the outcome of the battle @ https://www.thebiblejourney.org/biblejourney2/25-the-israelites-journey-from-egypt-to-mt-sinai/the-israelites-cross-the-sea-of-reeds

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