The sprawling mass of emancipated Hebrew slaves, including their infirmed and elderly, their pregnant mommas, their toddlers and newborns, along with their sheep, goats, and cattle, were slowly trudging through the desert wasteland. With them, they carried the silver and gold treasures of Egypt. It was inevitable - sooner or later the Jews would face an armed adversary. They were a target, ripe for the picking, and the barbaric and marauding Amalekites were watching.
Descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12), they inhabited the desolate wasteland of the Sinai Peninsula. Like Indians in a black-and-white-western, the Amalekites, a nomadic tribe of warriors, ruthlessly and stealthfully, attacked the Israelite “stragglers from behind when (they) were tired and weary” (Deuteronomy 25:18).
To defend against the assaults, Moses needed a general to lead his military troops, so he chose Joshua. This is the first time in Scripture that we read about Joshua, the one whose name meant “Jehovah saves” or “Yahweh delivers.” Joshua, like all his Jewish contemporaries, had lived his entire life as a slave. He hadn’t graduated from West Point or Annapolis. He hadn’t earned his Sargent’s stripes. He was a brick-maker, but “Moses said to Joshua, ‘Select some men for us and go fight against Amalek’ ” (Exodus 17:9). Faithfully, Joshua stepped out of anonymity and into a leading role as the commanding officer of Israel’s armies.
With Joshua in the valley below, “Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill” (Exodus 17:10). From the lookout, high above the raging battle, Moses held “God’s staff in (his) hand” (Exodus 17:9). This was the same shepherd’s staff that had been miraculously transformed into a snake and then back into a staff (Exodus 4:2-4). Moses had obediently lifted this walking stick over the Red Sea, and God had opened a wide thoroughfare for the escaping Israelites (Exodus 14:16). It was just a staff, but it was “God’s staff.”
At Rephidim, with the Amalekites waging war, Moses looked down upon the battle. “While Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, but whenever he put his hand down, Amalek prevailed” (Exodus 17:11).
Try this: Get a broom stick and hold in over your head. Hold it. Don’t let it down. Stand there with the broom stick over your head. How long did you hold it before your arms began to tremble? I’ll bet you didn’t hold it up long enough for an army to win a battle. Neither did Moses.
When Moses’s weary hands dropped, the Amalekites became victorious over Joshua and his ragtag army. But when Moses held the staff aloft, Joshua pushed back the much superior enemy. When it became obvious that Moses needed help, “Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other so that his hands remained steady until the sun went down” (Exodus 17:12).
God calls us into battle too. Like Joshua, we battle a fierce enemy, and we don’t battle alone! God goes with us and fights for us. “Don’t be afraid of them, for the Lord your God fights for you” (Deuteronomy 3:22).