<< Exodus 17: The Battle with Amalek >>
But Moses hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. Exodus xvii. 12.
IN considering the separate stages of this divine history, we have ever borne in mind that it is the divinely arranged program of the stages through which the soul prepares for heaven.
In the letter it is the account of how the Israelites exchanged their slavery for freedom in their God-given land. In its spirit it is the history of how every man exchanges the slavery of sin for the liberty of truth and heaven. Hence, this divine account has a double charm, and a double worth.
In relation to the literal sense, it is of importance that we should understand it truly, and that we should be clearly convinced of its divine and veracious character, in order that it may be the base of the still more important spiritual history of our mental progress. It will then tell of the assaults we shall have to sustain, and of the victories we may hope to achieve.
And, in considering the subject in this light, you will remember, that in our discourse in relation to the gift of Manna, we endeavored to point out the futility of some objections that had been urged against the divine history, under the supposition that the Wilderness through which the Israelites had to pass was an entirely uninhabitable desert, with food neither for man nor beast. We endeavored to point out from the Sacred Scripture that it was a Wilderness containing parts most inhospitable, but where generally there was an abundance of pasture. There was a divine gift of food for man. The pastures of the Wilderness were enough for the cattle. The portion of the divine history before us tells us there was a great, powerful, and war-like nation there, which implies that ordinarily there were food, water, and fuel in the Wilderness even for a considerable population.
The Israelites had passed more than two months on their journey forward. They had arrived at a region where there were mines--copper mines, which we know from Egyptian history had been worked for hundreds of years by that people.
Probably, they employed the inhabitants of the district, the Amalekites. The rocks thereabout are covered with inscriptions to the present day, written in hieroglyphics. The Israelites coming up this dreary pass distressed for water, and weary, were confronted by the allies of their taskmasters.
The Amalekites, the friends of the Egyptians, in their pay, engaged by them in the production of copper out of these mines, and enraged at what they had heard of the disasters which had occurred in Egypt, would stand ready to give Israel battle; and as the divine history informs us, to crush, if possible, this crowd of fugitives.
In this way then we find that although a superficial notice of the divine scriptures may lead us to doubts and difficulties in connection with the letter, yet Lord Bacons aphorism is verified, He who by a little learning is led to doubt, but who will give himself to a thorough research into the matters of divine truth comes round to full belief again.
In studying the spiritual history, which we do by penetrating through the letter, we will ask you first to adore that jut and providential care which always tempers its proceedings to the strength of every one. When a person has begun to cast off the fetters of sin, when he has determined to live for heaven, when he will no longer be a bond-slave to error, and to evil, but will burst asunder the fetters that would hold him down to wrong and misery, although he seems to himself to make a great change, a tremendous change, yet the alteration can only be gradual.
We are not strong enough to fight at first against the subtler sins of the heart and soul, and therefore, for a time, the Lord takes care that we should have no enemies that would give us fierce battle, or that would be too strong for our spiritual efforts. It was to represent this that Israel proceeded without opposition from the Red Sea to this comparatively advanced post in the Wilderness. They had accomplished about 120 miles. They had been journeying and resting for about two months, and as far as distance was concerned they might have been more than half-way to the land of Canaan at this period, but they would have had to pass through the land of the Philistines, a fierce, obstinate, skillful and valiant people. They were unprepared, feeble in spirit, untrained, and must have turned back and died.
Precisely so is it with every soul that enters upon its spiritual pilgrimage.
We have resolved to live for ever in goodness, a pure, a holy Christian life. We feel as ii we were already made for heaven. There is much joy and pleasure; we seem to have made an immense change, and feel as if all that is essential to our happiness had already been done. Our small progress seems a great progress to us; though but little in the sight of God, to us it seems all in all. The time comes, however, for severer conflict. We have been maintained and strengthened in goodness. We have been fed a few times with the heavenly manna; the dew of divine truth has come over the soul. When all this has comforted and cheered us, and caused us to know that we are making sure progress, that we are not uncared for, but are children of the King of kings, that God our Father is our Savior, our friend that sticketh closer than a brother when we have thus been strengthened and confirmed, we are permitted to come into spiritual struggles of a deeper nature. In other words, Amalek stands in the way.
Amalek was an old nation, and one that had occupied very considerable portions of the Wilderness, almost from the Red Sea to the land of Canaan.
You will find as the divine history proceeds, that, at different passages relating to the various incidents of the history of Israel, sometimes Amalek is spoken of as in one place, and sometimes as in another, shewing that they were an extensive nation, having settlements all the way along the portion of the Wilderness through which the Israelites had to pass, along the south of the land of Canaan, and even quite close to Jordan.
We have said that Amalek was an ancient nation. When Balaam is speaking of the circumstances that threatened Israel, he speaks of Amalek as being the chief of the nations (Num. xxiv. 20). You will find in the 14th chapter of the Book of Genesis, that in the struggle of Chedorlaomer and the kings that were with him, in which they carried off Lot, and were afterwards pursued by Abram, it is said they smote all the country of the Amalekites. Afterwards a portion of the family of Esau likewise took the name of Amalek, perhaps from settling in the very same district that had been occupied by the Amalekites of old.
But these people were more noticeable for their peculiar method of warfare. They came upon Israel when they thought they were in especial distress. When the people were weary and way-worn, and feeble, they assailed them with their whole force.
You will find references to this habit in some other parts, but perhaps one of the most striking is that which is given in the 25th chapter of Deuteronomy, where it is said in the 17th and following verses, Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou mast faint and weary; and he feared not God. Therefore it shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies round about, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to Possess it, that thou shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shall not forget it. In the 17th chapter of Exodus and 16th verse, it is said, that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to Generation.
The subtle and insidious character of this people is likewise referred to in some of the incidents that occur in other parts of the Israelitish history. It appears from the account of the death of Saul, which, you will recollect, is recorded as having taken place in two ways. In the last chapter of the first Book of Samuel we are told that Saul called upon his armor-bearer to thrust him through. But afterwards in the first chapter of the succeeding hook we are told that an Amalekite came and asked David to reward him because he had killed Saul. A knowledge of this insidious and murderous peculiarity of Amaleks mode of warfare, will assist us to harmonize both the letter and the spirit of these two accounts. It was to hang about, and when they met with the weary and wounded, when their victims were almost helpless, then to set about slaughtering them, and carrying out their malignant and fiendish purposes.
Now to recollect this peculiarity is especially important, when we come to think of the principles they spiritually represent, for you are quite aware that all the outward battles of the sacred history are the; symbols of the spiritual struggles of the human soul. Blessed, says the Psalmist, be the Lord my Strength, who teacheth my hands to war, and my fingers to fight. Equally so He who spoke as never man spoke, said, I am come not to send peace, but a sword,--the sword of divine truth, which is put into the hands of every one of us, that we may do battle against self end sin in all their varied forms. The warfare of a Christian is not outward warfare, but inward warfare against selfishness and sin. We have to extirpate all those lusts and passions which degrade the fallen heart of man, and which the Lord Jesus inspires us to fight against, and promises to give us power to overcome, when He says,
I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy--Luke x. 13.
The spiritual Amalek is that inward subtle selfishness which coils itself up like a snake in the human heart; that which is meant by the adder in the words of the 91st Psalm, Thou shalt tread upon the lion and adder; the young lion and the dragon shalt thou trample under feet.--v. 13. For even when a person has really begun to live the life of heaven, there is an inward selfishness, an inward faithlessness, an inward impurity and evil, which coils itself out of the way, which does not show itself openly, but remains hidden, as It were, in a secret place, and comes out when the soul is weal; and weary. When we are faint and in trouble, that subtle spirit would lead us to despair end to sin. This hidden wickedness, like some malignant fiend, would lead us when we are in a, state of spiritual weakness to give up God, to give up heaven. This is what is meant by Amalek. This inward demon which whispers we can have no hope, no trust in God, no heaven-derived faith. It is this abhorrent selfishness, and the mode to overcome it that is represented in the Divine Word before us.
The Divine Word says, I will have war with Amalek from generation to generation. No such hidden evil is to be spared for a moment. You remember how it happened with Saul; he spared Agag the Amalekite. He was commanded to go out and destroy Amalek root and branch. Instead of doing what the Lord told him, he spared the Amalekites, and especially the king, the representative of the inward rooted evil, the very pith and backbone, as it were, of the sin; and the result was that the Amalekites destroyed him. And this is precisely the condition of all war with Amalek. At all times man must kill his inward evil, or that inward evil will kill him. There can be no half work, a man must not compromise with sin, but he must carry the war right into his heart and mind, and destroy the very essence of it. He must do nothing in the sight of man that he would not do in the sight of God. This is carrying on unsparingly the war with Amalek.
The Divine Word tells us how to accomplish this.
First of all, Moses says unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur, went up to the top of the hill. Moses in the spiritual sense, as we have oftentimes explained in this divine history, is representative of the LAW OF GOD in the soul; the confession that we ought to obey the divine will as the Lord commands. This becomes a conscience for the real Christian; a living law of God. He says to himself at all times, What does the Word say about this? and what he feels the Word says, is to him the law that is, Moses with the rod in his hand. But he went up to the top of the hill. Now this is an exceedingly interesting and graphic description of what must take place in our spiritual warfare, for the hill is representative of a holy state of heart, a loving state, lifted up towards the Divine Being. You will find a hill thus representative everywhere in the Word of God. Instance the first verse of the 121st Psalm, I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. In the 7th verse of the 30th Psalm we find, Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong. Not that the Lord has made some outward mass of earth to stand strong, but He makes our exalted love for Him to stand strong. It is of this the Word says again, The mountains shall drop down new wine, and the hills shall flow with milk--Joel iii. 18. That is to say when our hearts are lifted up with love to the Lord, and charity towards our neighbor, the new wine and milk of heaven will flow down and give us courage, and the desire to instruct and bless others.
The Lord says to us in this divine history, You must go up the hill, you must not think of fighting simply from mere knowledge, or from yourselves, you must enter into the love of the Lord and of divine things. You must be united with the Lord Jesus Christ, and come up into a state of loving trust in Him, a loving confidence that He will not forsake you. When that is the case you will not only have Moses, but he will be on the top of the hill, and with the rod of God in his hand.
Aaron and Hur supporting the hands of Moses represent truths on each side supporting the soul; truths of faith and truths of love.
We are told that as the contest continued Moses hands sometimes became weak, and began to fall down, and that at other times they rose up, representative of the alternate feeling of rising towards the Lord, and weakness from human frailty. In the early stages of our religious life we cannot remain persistently in a state of faith and confirmation. Sometimes we are weak, weary, and almost dying, the hands go down. At other times we rise up in affection towards the Lord, we are then courageous and strong.
Thus, when Moses held up his Band, it is said, Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Israel prevailed.
And so it is written in our text, But Moses hands were heavy--our bands are heavy when we have little affection. Just as we find that warmth makes things ascend, so the warmth of inward love makes the soul rise up with joy. When we have but little affection, the hands become weak and unsteady; when supported by love and faith, they rise.
The hands of Moses, it is said, were heavy; and they took a stone and put it under him. A STONE is spiritually symbolic of foundation truth--such truth as is in the letter of the Sacred Scriptures. In the letter, the Word forms foundation lessons, resting-places, as it were, for the soul. A person may have an idea, but while it remains an idea only, it is fleeting, and will pass away, but if his idea is in accordance with Divine Truth and he finds a text for it in the letter of the Word, the idea becomes steady, it rests upon a Thus saith the Lord, as a foundation. There is then a steady rock on which his soul can repose. Hence, our Lord Jesus in the closing of His divine Sermon on the Mount says, Therefore, whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise men which built his house upon a ROCK: and the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not, for it was founded upon a rock. Now, in putting the stone under Moses, and letting him sit upon it, there was figured to us the necessity for supplying the mind with the divine instruction contained in the letter of the Word. We should not feel, but know, on the sure declaration of Holy Writ abundantly supplied, that, It is not the will of our Father, who is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. The suffering waverer, who scarcely knows whether the Lord cares for him or not, should often have his soul strengthened with passages which assure him that God is Love. The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works. Passages like this form the stone upon which Moses can sit. These promises of love can be seen to be so plain, that the novitiate, the earliest thinker of divine things, can see and understand them. When we think we are lost and hope begins to fail, let us read the truths of redemption and learn that the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. And the Father of Heaven will then say of us, My son was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.
Moses hands will sometimes become heavy, but put this stone under him, with Aaron on one side, and Hur on the other. With love and faith lifting up his hands Israel will defeat Amalek down to the very setting of the sun. The soul will completely triumph over this fatal evil. And, now, finally, whenever you are harassed by discouragement and despair, take this course, go up to the top of the hill, look to the Savior for strength, take Aaron and Hur with you. Let them take a stone from the Divine Word and do you sit upon it. Say, Here I rest, this is from the eternal God. This is the rock of my salvation, nothing can shake me. Here, I will put my trust. My Friend, my Savior, my Redeemer--He has the love that will save me. He has the power that will prevail over the evil. He shall reign for ever and ever. In such case Amalek will perish and die away until the going down of the sun. So the soul will have rest. You can then lie down in peace and confidence and say, All is right. He giveth his beloved sleep; my troubles are passed. Bless the Lord, O my soul! and all that is within me, bless his Holy Name.
Author: Jonathan Bayley --- From Egypt to Canaan (1869)