Battle Under the Banner

 

And so it begins again, Moses thought.

Above him towered the pillar of cloud that symbolized Jehovah’s presence. It was stationary but not motionless, swirling but not dissipating. This place, Rephidim, was where God had chosen for them to camp, though for the life of him, Moses couldn’t understand why.

Half the nation was still marching, stretching in a dusty line to the distant horizon. Meanwhile, all around him the Levites were assembling the tabernacle, and the first tribes to have arrived were pitching their tents. Moses walked among them offering encouragement and greetings. How he loved these people even with all their faults and foibles!

But even as he moved between the long rows of tents, men and women began to return his greetings with one incessant demand. “Moses, give us water, that we may drink!” Time after time he heard the same words repeated.

And that was why Moses could not understand God’s choice. Rephidim had no water, that most essential feature of any camp. Finally, he turned on one muttering crowd in frustration. “Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the Lord?” he demanded. Lord, why did you choose a resting place without water?

The angry murmurs rose in volume. “We’re thirsty!” “We need water!” “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” The noise was drawing more people to swell the crowd. Tension rose along with the shouts. Some people were stooping to pick up stones. As yet no one was throwing them, but the threat was clear.

What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me! Moses cried out to the Lord.

Amid the hubbub, Jehovah’s still, small voice spoke within him. “Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.”

And if it does not they will surely stone me for promising and then failing to provide, Moses thought. But when has Jehovah ever failed in His word? He squared his shoulders and looked around the angry circle.

“Gather the elders!” he called. “Then follow me.”

Turning, he lifted his eyes above the twisted faces and raised stones and focused on the rock of Horeb. He walked straight toward the wall of people. For one knife-edged moment he thought they would refuse to let him pass. Then they parted and fell in behind him.

As he led the elders of Israel up the rocky path, Moses looked down at the mass of his people gathering below. In spite of everything, he sympathized with their plight. Yes, they needed water. But Jehovah knew that when he chose this spot, and He had shown himself time and again to be Jehovah Jirah – God Is My Provider. Would they ever learn to trust Him?

Water from the Rock - Painting

The rock, when he saw it, was no different than any other boulder littering the mountainside, but the Lord pointed it out as the one. Without a word, he lifted the rod of God, and brought it down against the face of the rock with a crack that echoed off the cliff face.

The stone split before his widening eyes. A rushing, roaring sound issued from the chasm, and then water burst forth in a shower of rainbows and diamonds to cascade down the mountain. A shout of pure joy arose from the assembled crowd, and they rushed forward, laughing and dancing under the shower of water.

Moses lifted his eyes and hands to the heavens in thanks. Once again the Lord had provided for them.

Yet even as he lowered his gaze, a distant sight made his chest tighten around his heart. Far off in the distance, where the last and weakest of the tribes still straggled toward them, he saw flashing metal and figures charging on horseback. Distant war cries and panicked shouts carried to him on the evening breeze.

He turned to Joshua, gripping his arm fiercely. “Our people are under attack!” He pointed to the churning cloud of dust in the distance.

Joshua shielded his eyes with a hand hardened by years of slavery, then clenched his fist. “I will lead out the men.”

“Night falls,” Moses said, shaking his head. “We must secure the camp for the present.”

As the setting sun painted the mountain crimson, the survivors poured into camp bearing their tale.

“They came out of the desert without warning,” Joshua reported to Moses. “Our people, the weakest of them, had no chance.” His jaw muscles bunched and twitched. “Many have been taken captive.”

“Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek tomorrow,” Moses said. “I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.”

“If Jehovah give strength to my arm, I will recover our captives.”

 

***

 

God Is My Banner

But it was not the strength of Joshua’s arm upon which the battle hung, Moses realized as he stood on Mt. Horeb the next day. As the conflict seethed below, he could discern a definite pattern to the ebb and flow of the battle. Whenever he raised the rod of God, Israel’s warriors surged forward, driving back the desert horsemen. But when his arms grew weary and began to fall Amalek would countercharge, smashing into Israel’s ranks and threatening rout.

Again Moses forced his arms heavenward, determined to keep them aloft until his people had victory. Sweat beaded on his forehead. The rod seemed to take on incredible weight. His arms were shaking. Burning. Dropping. He shot an agonized look at his two companions, Aaron and Hur. His arms were falling once again, and so were his people. He locked his shoulders, but still his arms felt like lead weights.

“How, I know not,” he said to Aaron and Hur, “but when my hands are high we prevail, and when they fall we fall.”

In a moment, his brother and Hur were wrestling a stone close to the cliff’s edge and urging him to sit. Then they took up station, one on his right, the other on his left, and interlaced their fingers beneath his elbows.

Moses nearly wept with the relief to his screaming muscles, but all the more to his troubled mind. No longer would he have to bear the burden alone.

As the sun reached its zenith and then began to fall, the three men – two standing, one sitting with arms raised – created a dramatic tableau on the mountainside. Through the dust of battle in the valley, the warriors of Israel lifted their eyes from time to time to the sight above and fought all the harder for their brothers beside them and the God whose rod Moses held, and whose streams still cascaded in a waterfall to pool below. Slowly, inexorably, they pushed back the Amalekites, and as the sun fell below the horizon, the raiders turned and fled into the desert.

On the mountainside, Moses rose stiffly. His arms ached as he, Aaron, and Hur gathered more stones, adding them to the stone on which he had sat throughout the battle. An altar rose. When it was finished, Moses lifted his arms one last time and proclaimed its name, his shout reverberating down to the victors below.

“Jehovah-Nissi! God Is My Banner!”


Battle Debrief

God will never lead you to a place where He can’t provide for you.

God may lead you to place of testing, testing your trust and faith in Him. Instead, Israel tested God!

Surrounded by enemies, lift up your eyes to the Rock.

God brought them water out of the Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. He is our source of sustenance.  If you need refreshing, look no further than Him!  If there was another water supply they would have looked to that, but with no other recourse they had to look to God.

Water from the Rock - Cross

Don’t be surprised if the site of your greatest blessing becomes the sight of your greatest battle.

This was Israel’s first battle where they had to fight themselves. Somewhere between the Red Sea and Rephidim this nation of ex-slaves had forged themselves some swords! God will fight for you, but He sometimes expect you to take up the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.

The Devil attacks the weakest and tries to drag them away. We have to go to war for them on our knees, and go out to win them back.

We need to lift up the hands of your leaders. No one can bear this burden alone.

We need to stand together to win the victory!

The battle was the Lord’s. With man is an arm of flesh, but with God is an arm of power. He is Jehovah-Nissi, God our banner.

Isaiah 59:19  So shall they fear the name of the Lord from the west, and His glory from the rising of the sun; when the enemy comes in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord will lift up a standard against him.

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