Sermon: Fight and Pray

Exodus 17:8-16

Levi Durfey

20141030FBCTH & 20141102FBCPM




In our study of Exodus, we’ve seen the Israelites face the Egyptians, hunger, and thirst. They faced the Egyptians by having the faith that the Lord would fight for them and then doing what he said, namely, walking through the parted Red Sea


Hunger was faced by trusting the Lord to bring manna each day and then going out each morning and gathering it. 


Thirst was faced on two occasions by trusting the Lord, but Moses also threw a stick into the water at Marah and struck a rock at Rephidim. 


In each case, faith was accompanied by human involvement and action. We’ll find the same balance of faith and works (of Divine and human involvement) in the next account given to us in Exodus.


Exodus 17:8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. 


Amalek (or Amalekites) were nomadic people descended from Esau (they were not the same Amalekites found in Genesis 14:7, who were wiped out):


12 And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau’s son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek: these were the sons of Adah Esau’s wife. (Genesis 36:12)


These Amalekites would be trouble to Israel all the way through the time of king David. Being nomads, they wandered over a large territory from southern Canaan to deep into the Sinai Peninsula. They were raiders, dashing in, killing and capturing, and then leaving. We see an example of their work in 1 Samuel 30:1-2 (roughly 400 years later)—


1 …the Amalekites had invaded the south, and Ziklag [a Philistine city given to David], and smitten Ziklag, and burned it with fire; 2 And had taken the women captives, that were therein: they slew not any, either great or small, but carried them away, and went on their way. (1 Samuel 30:1–2)


They probably never had more than a few thousand men (if that) in their raiding parties, moving and striking quickly, then leaving. This seems to have been their strategy against the Israelites in the wilderness. We aren’t told much in Exodus, but in Deuteronomy we learn what they did:


17 Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; 18 How he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God. (Deuteronomy 25:17–18)


According to Moses, it’s the lowest form of warfare to attack civilians, but they probably did so because they were far fewer in numbers than the Israelites. However, they would have had camels and weapons, so it was easiest to strike from the rear and pick off the Israelites piecemeal.


Moses knew that he had to do something, and at 80 years old, his fighting days were over. That was okay, however, because he knew that, to defeat the enemy, it would require both fighting and praying.




To do the fighting, Moses had in mind a younger man. This man would become famous in Israelite history, and we get our first glimpse here:


Exodus 17:9a And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek:


“Joshua” was a faithful and bold man. Later, he and Caleb would be the only ones of the twelve spies to advocate going in and taking the land the Lord had promised them (Numbers 14:6-9). 


It’s not clear how old he was at this point, later in Exodus 33:11, he is called a “young man,” so we can assume he was thirty or forty at this point—old enough to be a commander, but young enough to be called young. 


Although the events of the book named after him would not happen for another forty years, the book of Joshua shows that Joshua was an able commander of the Israelite army. 


Here we can assume that, while lacking the experience that he would later have, he would still be a gifted commander. At any rate, it’s Joshua that Moses turns to to lead the fighting against the Amalekites.


Moses tells Joshua to “Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek:” Not everyone could fight—the old men and the women and the children were certainly excluded, but many of the young fighting age men would have had no weapons or training. 


Only those who had something to fight with and knew something of how to use it would have been chosen.


The fact that they needed to fight should strike the reader as unusual. Just a few chapters ago, Moses said to the frightened Israelites trapped by the Egyptian army—


13 And Moses said unto the people, Fear ye not, stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will shew to you to day: for the Egyptians whom ye have seen to day, ye shall see them again no more for ever. (Exodus 14:13)


Why now, just weeks later, are the Israelites going to fight? Spurgeon makes a wonderful comparison that also applies the situation to us today.


Israel never fought with Egypt. God fought for them, and they held their peace. When we are in our natural state under the bondage of sin, it is of very little use for us to fight against it; the only way of escape from the reigning power of sin is through the precious blood and the working of divine grace. 


But this was a different case. The children of Israel were not under the power of Amalek—they were free men; and so we are not under the power of sin any longer. The yoke of sin has been broken by God’s grace from off our necks, and now we have to fight not as slaves against a master, but as freemen against a foe.[1]


Do you see what he’s saying? We cannot work for our salvation—we cannot strive to be saved (Ephesians 2:8-9). That is a battle that the Lord has to fight for us.


As saved sinners, we’ve got victory over sin—it no longer enslaves us. Jesus has defeated the forces of evil—


15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. (Colossians 2:15)


Now, with God’s help, we can strive against sin and spiritual evil. And we most for, while we are not enslaved to sin any longer, we are tempted to walk back into it’s prison. Like Israel needed to fight the Amalekites, we need to fight sin and Satan in our lives. In the words of Ephesians 6—


12 For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. 13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. (Ephesians 6:12–13)


Spurgeon went on to say,


Do not many Christians act as if the sin would be driven out of them through their sleeping soundly? Let them be sure that a slumbering spirit is the best friend that sin can find.[2]


So, just as Israel, being saved from Egypt, now had to face her other enemies in battle, so every Christian must also take our armor and sword and fight the battle against sin and Satan.


Do not lay down in this battle. The Lord will help you. You must depend on him and wear his armor, but you must fight. 


The battle, however, was not to be won without help from the Lord. Joshua would fight, but…




A. Was He Praying?


Exodus 17:9 And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. 

Exodus 17:10 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. 

Exodus 17:11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 


A problem we encounter here is what was Moses doing “on top of the hill with the rod of God” in his hand? We assume it is praying, but the text never directly says that he was praying.


Other scholars have suggested that maybe Moses was doing something else. One suggestion was that, by holding the “rod of God” high above his head, Moses was signaling to the Israelites that God was on their side. 


So when he lowered it due to tiredness, the confidence of the Israelites was also lowered (one scholar even suggested that by lowering his hands that Moses was signaling a retreat!). 


It’s the equivalent of how a army might fight fiercely when they know that their beloved king and general was with them and how their confidence would be shattered if their king fell in battle.


However, there is good reason to believe that Moses was indeed praying to God and not merely representing him to the people. One reason is that Moses was in a posture for prayer. 


True, we Baptists don’t think of standing with our arms raised as a posture for prayer, but throughout scripture we see that to be the case.


29 And Moses said unto him, As soon as I am gone out of the city, I will spread abroad my hands unto the LORD; and the thunder shall cease, neither shall there be any more hail; that thou mayest know how that the earth is the LORD’s. (Exodus 9:29)


8 I will therefore that men pray every where, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (1 Timothy 2:8)


So Moses was praying here, and his example gives us an important lesson for our own prayer lives…


B. Be Not Weary Of Prayer


Exodus 17:12 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 17:13 And Joshua discomfited [defeated, overwhelmed] Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.


So Moses is helped by “Aaron and Hur,” to keep praying even when he was tired. His posture probably did reassure the Israelites—they knew he was calling on God’s help. 


As a preacher, I can try to convince myself that someone with their head bowed during a sermon is indeed praying fervently—but more than likely, they’re sleeping!


But it was also a help for Moses to pray like that. Certain postures for us may help us to concentrate more on praying to God and not drifting off to somewhere else.


Prayer is often discounted by people, even Christians—“don’t just pray about it, do something!” But here we see the importance of prayer. 


Moses, who certainly could have found something else to do that day, perhaps coaching Joshua from the sidelines, spent the entire day with arms raised to God, praying.


We find that sort of commitment to prayer in our Lord Jesus also. When he chose the disciples:


12 And it came to pass in those days, that he went out into a mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. 13 And when it was day, he called unto him his disciples: and of them he chose twelve, whom also he named apostles; (Luke 6:12–13)


When he was about to suffer on the cross:


44 And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:44)


So there’s no question that we ought to pray more and pray harder. But why don’t we? Is it because we haven’t found the right system? Is it because we don’t feel guilty enough for not praying?


One reason is that…


1. We Lack Faith


Is it because we just don’t think it will really do much good? Is it really just a faith issue for us? 


When I read about the great praying Christians, like A.W. Tozer, George Mueller, or John Wesley, they seemed to have considered prayer to be so important and relevant that they couldn’t wait to get to pray.


We can’t be guilted into praying more. I’ve tried that to myself, and it might work for awhile, but eventually you give up. We have to make sure that we believe in the power of prayer.


Paul believed in the power and importance of prayer. After describing the armor of God, he added…


18 Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints; (Ephesians 6:18)


We are to be praying “always.” And the word “watching” can have a military connotation—to be like a sentry on duty. 


Perhaps you do have a good faith in the power of prayer, but still it is hard to pray for you. What then? A lesson from Moses and Aaron and Hur that we learn is the importance of helping one another to pray. 


2. We Are Weary


Prayer can be wearisome, as it was with Moses. His rod grew heavy and it was hard to hold. Our burdens can also grow heavy and keep us from praying. 


Jesus confirms this with what he said to the disciples that fell asleep while praying with him in the garden.


40 And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them asleep, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. (Matthew 26:40–41)


He says that the disciples were willing, but they were physically exhausted. Emotional exhaustion can also keep us from prayer.


It’s good at those times to find a prayer partner. Someone to help you stay on track with prayer, to support you and hold you up in prayer and to pray with you.


It may be your spouse or a close friend who does this. But if you find yourself often weary in prayer, then you should find someone to pray with.


After the battle, the Lord commands Moses to make a memorial.




A. A Memorial


Exodus 17:14 And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. 


First, Moses writes “a memorial in a book.” We can assume that this would later become part of the book of Exodus. 


The Lord knows that we humans need memorials, reminders, of his work in our lives. That is why we have the Lord’s Supper—“this do in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). Our faith is bolstered by remembrance.


It’s interesting that Moses was to “rehearse it in the ears of Joshua.” This appears to be a hint that Joshua would one day take the reins of leadership from Moses. 


Perhaps Joshua remembered this victory when he and the other eleven spies saw the enemies that they would face in conquering the Promised Land (which, incidentally, included the Amalekites, Numbers 13:29). 


B. An Altar


Exodus 17:15 And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi: 

Exodus 17:16 For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.


This “altar” that Moses builds here is not an altar of sacrifice or atonement, but an altar of thanksgiving. He calls it “Jehovah-nissi (NIS-EYE), meaning “the LORD is my banner (or refuge).”


What does it mean to have the Lord as your banner? A banner, in military terms, is a standard up on a pole. 


It’s purpose was to give the soldiers a sense of where they were, as they could look and see where the banner was. The soldiers would know if they were with their division or if they had wandered too far away.


Another purpose for a banner was to give the soldiers confidence when they looked up and saw that their banner was still flying. 


So banners give soldiers confidence and security in the midst of battle. Banners help the soldiers keep fighting.


Moses was saying that their banner was not him with his uplifted rod in his hands, it was the Lord himself.


As Christians, we also have a banner. Do you know what it is? Look at John 3—


14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15 That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:14–15)


The lifted up banner for the Christian is Jesus Christ. He is to be our source of spiritual security and spiritual confidence. 


Is he for you? Where do you look in times of battle? Of times of trial and tribulation? Is it to Jesus? Or is it to someone or something else?


Those other banners that you look to will, at one time or another. fall and be trampled on. Only Jesus can give you lasting confidence and security. Jesus is the only banner that will remain high and lifted up.


When we really look to the banner of Jesus, we will keep fighting sin, and we will keep praying.



[1] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1866), 12:534.

[2] C. H. Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1866), 12:534.

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