Exodus 17:8-16 - The Fight
June 1, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 17:8–17:16
[Exodus 17:8-16 – “The Fight”]
I've seen fights last seconds. A war in 1967 lasted only six days. But, then, some fights last longer. England and France saw a 100 year war. And the fight we're talking about today lasts from the day you come to faith in Christ until the day you die.
[Pray - O God, our God, we heard in the song of Moses that you are a Man of War. It was you in the Garden who promised to do battle with the dark power of evil; to defeat the serpent and feed it dust. Through Christ, you have triumphed; your victory is assured by his death and resurrection! And yet you now call your people into the fight. Help us now, Father, to hear and to trust that this fight is the good fight and the victory is yours. Through Christ our Lord and in the Spirit we pray. Amen.]
When I was in middle school, I saw fights over all kinds of stuff. Scuffed shoes, stolen girlfriends, slanderous insults. But now I see a fight of a different sort in my life and all the believers around me. I see us fighting to save marriages, fighting our own weakness, fighting habitual sins. I see us fighting to be faithful, and fighting back against the brokenness in our families and in this world.
So, if we're in a fight, then why are we fighting?
Israel wasn't looking for a fight. But a fight comes looking for them. War comes with Amalek; a warring people descend on Israel. Some say it's because of the new fountain of water YHWH just provided for Israel. And it was common for war to break out over something as precious in the desert as water. But there is more to it than water rights. As Joshua and the fighters of Israel take up swords, they're fighting against their own flesh and blood. You see, Amalek and his people were part of Israel's own family.
Amalek was the grandson of Esau, brother of Israel (Genesis 36:12). These were his people coming with battle cries against Israel - their own flesh and blood and yet they were separated by two powerful things. First, time had kept them apart for centuries. But time alone doesn't fuel this kind of hostility. These peoples were separated by the Covenant - YHWH has chosen this family of Israel and rejected the family of Esau. So, to Israel alone belonged YHWH and all his promises. To Israel alone YHWH had promised the land of Canaan.
And as you might imagine, that was a problem for Amalek. Because Canaan was their territory. And now with Israel coming out of Egypt, heading toward the Promised Land, Israel's very existence was a threat to Amalek. So, Amalek was ready to get in a fight.
When Jesus came, he came, as he says, "to proclaim liberty to captives" (Luke 4:18). He came to plunder the strong man's house and take away his goods (Matthew 12:29) - by "goods" he means us. From eternity past, even before our rebellion threw us into slavery to sin and death, God the Father made a covenant of redemption with God the Son to rescue his people from the kingdom of darkness and death. And in the fulness of time Jesus came - God in the flesh - to set us free from the ruler of this fallen world and to bring us under his own gracious rule.
And, as you can imagine, that is a problem for Satan. Because he had claimed us as his territory. And even though he knows his days are numbered - I mean, who can defeat this God? - he is not willing to give up without a fight.
If we ask the question “why are we fighting,” then we have to deal with one whom the Scriptures present as a reality. We're fighting because we have an enemy who means to harm us if he is able. Peter warns us to be on guard. "Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world." (1 Peter 5:8-9)
Satan has been plundered. Our Lord has rescued his people and no one can snatch us from his hand (John 10:28). But Satan is still a fighter. And so we are called to war. But where Joshua's fight with Amalek was open and violent, the evil one may come with open hostility or seductive alluring. Our fight with Satan may be seen in persecution or enticements to take what you want.
When the fight comes in the form of persecution, we can be tempted to see the wrong person as the enemy. We can see people - the flesh and blood persecutor - as the enemy. And so, we fight government officials or militant atheists or our own family, thinking we are defending the faith. But the same Scriptures that call us to make a defense for the hope that is in us (gently and respectfully, it says in 1 Peter 3:15-16) - the same Scriptures teach us that "we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." (Ephesians 6:12)
So, in your families and in your relationships, remember who you're fighting. Does your fight really lie with the person in front of you? If they are not a believer, should you be fighting Satan's slave or Satan himself? Not the slave. Rather, in love and mercy, remember that you, too, at one time were blinded by sin and enslaved by Satan. Pray for them. Speak gently and respectfully of your hope to them at all times. And stand firm in your faith in Christ. He was strong enough to rescue you. Pray that he would rescue them from the true enemy of the people of God.
In open war, recognizing our enemy is easier than when Satan fights with subtlety. But when he comes crouching behind pleasure, he often finds Christians with our guard down. Because if he will not devour us in open war, then he will fight us with more pleasant seductions. This is an enemy who knows how to take the good things of God and twist them into weapons.
A demon called Screwtape writes to a junior devil, Wormwood, in C.S. Lewis' work, The Screwtape Letters. Speaking of the fight against Wormwood's human, Screwtape advises,
“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage the humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees, which He has forbidden.” (C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters)
When having a "perfect" family becomes your dominant thought, when sex leaves the beautiful protection of marriage and ventures into the realm of self-fulfillment, when we are no longer thankful for food and wine but consumed by it, when we can't bear the idea of comfort diminishing or being thought of as less than perfect - when we see these realities in our lives then we are looking upon the ravaging work of the enemy. It is against all this that our God has called us in Christ to fight - we may not settle for less than Christ as our identity, Christ our satisfaction, Christ our nourishment, Christ our perfection. To surrender to the counterfeits is to give ground to Satan; to be wounded by him in our heads and in our hearts. So, we are called to fight this enemy.
When Israel fought against Amalek, they fought against an enemy outside of themselves, against one outside the covenant and opposed to God himself. But it still stands that Israel was fighting against their own flesh and blood. They were fighting against who they would be if it weren't for the redeeming work of God in Israel's story. This helps us see that Satan is not our only problem. Because he has an ally - our own flesh. Because God has redeemed us in Christ - body and soul. We are new creations, indeed. And yet within us there still lives the remnant of our old selves - who we were before the redeeming work of God broke into our story. So, we fight because we have a second enemy - our own flesh.
"Why did I say that to her?"
"How could I do that again?"
"Why do I do the things I hate?"
"Why don't I do the things I love?"
These are the questions we ask ourselves. Some people ask them and blame Satan only as a master tempter. But I find that if I'm looking for someone to blame, then I don't need to look past myself. Because, yes, Satan may tempt me, but he only tempts me with what my own sinful flesh desires.
I want you to know that if you're asking the questions, "Why do I do the things I hate? Why don't I do the things I know are good and beautiful?" then you are not alone. I'm asking them, too. And so was Paul.
The apostle Paul understood; in every Christian there are two natures at war - one sinless and one sinful; one desires to please the Lord and one desires to please only self. The two natures are at enmity, at odds and incompatible. And so, they fight. He writes, "...the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do." (Galatians 5:17)
Why do I do the things I hate? Why don't I do the good things I want to do? Because the sin within me is alive and fighting. When a Christian lies or lusts, gossips or gorges on food or wine; when a Christian obeys only for the praise of men or does deeds of great darkness, we need to see that we are the one to blame. And the Lord calls us to repent because we have failed to fight the enemy within.
Paul understood - we fight in this life because we have powerful enemies. And one of them is in us. The battle is raging around us and within us. The problem is - sometimes we're afraid we're losing. Why do we so often feel like we're losing?
Look at vv.10-12. "...Joshua did as Moses told him and fought with Amalek" while Moses went up the hill with Aaron and Hur (Moses carrying the staff of God in his hand). "Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses' hands grew weary...."
Israel couldn't win without Joshua fighting. But Joshua couldn't win without Moses lifting up his hands constantly in prayer. Israel was dependent on God in this fight. And without constant prayer, the enemy would beat them back. If prayer failed, the people of God would suffer in the fight.
When I feel like I'm losing the fight, what I should examine is my prayer. Am I living out my dependence on God through prayer? Probably not. But by God's design, the fight against Satan and the flesh is supported by constant prayer, because only he is strong enough to win. So, we must pray without ceasing in this fight (1 Thessalonians 5:17), approaching the throne through Christ to find grace to help in time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
And Israel needed help because their fight wasn't a quick one. If you've ever tried painting a ceiling with your hand over your head, then you'll understand how Moses felt during the fight. I get tired of holding a tiny paint brush over my head in ten minutes or less. And Moses, in prayer, held that heavy staff over his head. Moses grew weary while the fight below endured. In his fight to pray, he got tired.
What about you? Are you weary? In your struggle against sin and Satan, are you tired and prayerless and weak? Or have you fallen into prayerless pride, being deceived into thinking you are above the fight? We are afraid we are losing, brothers and sisters, because we fail to take hold of the support God gives us in prayer. We are afraid we are losing because we fail to listen to the hope we hear in His Word.
So, let's lift up our hands again and strengthen our weak knees again for the long, good fight (Hebrews 12:12; 1 Timothy 6:12). But where we often believe at this point that we're supposed to go out and "do better, fight harder," the Lord has good news for us. Because only redeemed people are called to fight. And if you are redeemed by Christ, then victory is already assured. In Christ, you can't lose.
Why can't we lose?
Weary Moses was steadied in his prayer by priestly Aaron and Hur. And supported by Moses' prayer, Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. But it wasn't because of Moses and Joshua that Israel couldn't ultimately lose.
Because from YHWH himself comes a word meant to bolster the strength of Joshua and all Israel in the years to come. Because Amalek and his kind would bring war again later in Israel's story. This fight was not yet finished. But no matter what the enemy did, they would not snatch victory from YHWH. He said, "I will blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." (v.14). Like his promise in Eden so long ago (Genesis 3:14-15), YHWH promised his victory over the dark power that fought against him. Dust would be the serpent's food and defeat is all the enemies of God should expect. So, Moses built an altar and worshiped YHWH, giving Israel a permanent reminder that YHWH "will have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (v.16).
YHWH had already redeemed Israel. Through blood and in power, he had led them from slavery into the wilderness. He was still leading them toward Sinai and into life with him. He wasn't about to let anyone conquer his people. No enemy was going to snatch them from his hand. Against Amalek, although he seemed to prevail for a moment, Israel couldn't lose. YHWH had redeemed them. And YHWH was faithful to support them in the fight, even fighting for them!
The same hope that we hear in Moses is the hope that you and I have in Christ. So, in our fight against Satan and against our own flesh, why can't we lose?
First, because we are already redeemed. Second, because we have the support of a faithful Savior.
First, we can't lose because we're already redeemed. Through his death and resurrection, Jesus has already defeated Satan. The war is already won and the serpent's head has been crushed. We captives have already been rescued and delivered into the Kingdom of the Son and no one can snatch us from his hand (John 10). But Christ did not only redeem you from the power of Satan. He has already redeemed you from the enemy within.
Paul writes, "We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. We know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies..." (Romans 6:6-12).
By faith in Christ, you have died with him. Trusting in Christ, you have already passed from death into life. Relying on Christ alone, you are alive to God even in this mortal body. Our sinful flesh cannot win this fight in the end because Christ has already killed us and made us alive with him. By faith in Christ, we have already entered into his victory.
So, we can't lose because we are already a redeemed people. That gives us hope for tomorrow and the age to come. And secondly, we can't lose because we have the support of a faithful Savior. That gives us strength to fight today.
We can step back into the fight today because for battle-tired believers, the Gospel of Jesus offers new strength. Because Moses grew weary. And Joshua couldn't finish the fight against all the enemies of God. But God came in the flesh in the person of Jesus. And he is our greater Moses who never wearies of praying for us. He is praying for you as you fight. He is our great high priest who keeps his nail-pierced hands raised before the throne in prayer for you! And he is our greater Joshua who knows the fight because he was in it himself. Our Savior is sympathetic to our struggle with sin because he endured it himself. But where you and I fight and fail constantly, Christ endured perfectly, without sin. So, he knows how to help strugglers and will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you can endure with eyes fixed on him (see 1 Cor. 10:13 and Hebrews 12:1-3).
So, as you fight, look up to the heavens where your perfect Mediator prays for you. And when you don't know how to pray, when the fight is too strong and you're soul-tired, know that the Holy Spirit he's put inside you is praying for you when you don't know how (Romans 8:26-27). The Spirit prays and Christ answers, "YES! I will keep this weak one in the fight. YES! I will strengthen this one so that when they are beaten down they will stand up again. YES! This one will overcome because I bled and died and have conquered. And no one will snatch them from my hand."
If you hear this Savior and want to fight; if you hear of your faithful Savior and want to want to fight, then take heart, Christian. Because only a redeemed sinner wants to fight against Satan and the flesh. So, step back into the fight today and tomorrow, repent of sin and pursue new obedience trusting that you will overcome not by your strength but by the power of God in Christ. Fight because Christ died. Fight because he loves you and takes care of you. Don't fight to earn his love. Fight because you already have it!
And, for Christ's sake, don't fight alone. Did Joshua fight alone against Amalek’s army? Did Moses go to the top of the hill alone? Those who think they can fight alone against Satan and the flesh believe a lie and are losing. Take your brothers and sisters with you in the fight. And you will find they need your help, too.
But in this fight take heart, Christian, because just as YHWH led Israel through Moses and Joshua, promising to blot out the memory of Amalek from the earth, so he is still leading us through Christ. And there will come a day when our memory of sin will be as faint and dreamlike as the new heavens and earth are real.
There will come a day when the victory of God in Christ is complete. And even though I don't really know what this means, The Lord says there will come a day when the fight comes to an end, when "He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4) I don't know what that will look like, but through Isaiah, the Lord says, "...the former things shall not be remembered or come into mind." That alone gives me strength to fight again.
[Transition to the Lord's Supper]
But there is more. For the God who says in Christ, "Behold, I am making all things new" (Rev. 21:5) has given you this meal. Like Moses' altar in the wilderness, here in front of you is the altar, your permanent reminder that the victory of Christ has come. He conquered death by death and has mortally wounded both Satan and our flesh in his crucifixion.
So, come and eat, Christian. Take the body and blood of Christ, feeding on him by faith. Lift up your hands in thanksgiving to God for your Greater Moses. Step back into the fight, first by believing in him. That itself is an act of war against Satan and your flesh – your faith in Christ stands as a sign of their defeat. You will overcome in this fight by the blood of the Christ, the lamb of God who died to take away our sin (Revelation 12:11; John 1:29).
[Pray – Father, we give you thanks as our Great God and King. You are a Man of War and there is none who can stand against you nor take what you claim as your own in Christ. For your mercy and grace toward us, claiming sinners like us for Christ, we praise you. And as your people, we would fight. Help us, O God, to love what you love and hate what you hate, despising the lies of Satan and the sinful desires we still cling to. Keep creating clean hearts in us. Keep renewing a right spirit within us. Keep subduing our wills to the will of Christ. And may we find our lives flourishing as we die to self and live to you, O God. In the name of Christ, our Champion, we pray. Amen.]
Christ died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again!
[Benediction – from Number 6]
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.