Staff/Banner of God

Have you ever thought about God having “enemies” among His human creatures? Sure, Satan/Devil/Accuser, we think of that creature being the enemy of God. But what about people? Have you thought about entire people-groups being considered enemies of God? For some reason, it seems beneath God to have human enemies, and yet, He does:

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and named it The Lord is My Banner; and he said, “ The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”

Exodus 17:14-16

A lot happens in this short paragraph: God makes a solemn oath, Moses writes it down to be remembered, builds an altar named for God, and God declares war against a particular people. Amalek is a nomadic people roaming the desert looking for pasture land, and there’s Israel in a spot normally bereft of water, but suddenly with water streaming from a rock. Perfect! A great place to pasture flocks, but there’s not enough for both, and so Amalek wants his territory back. This isn’t the promised land, this is Sinai Peninsula, far south of the land promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why so vehement? Why is God so angry?

Amalek descends from Esau, like Edom. But while Edom settled into cities, Amalek remained nomadic. Even so, that’s not what irritates their Creator. It’s possible, while not stated, that Amalek came looking for the people who just escaped from Egypt. They’re moving about slowly, from watering hole to watering hole, until Rephidim. Now they have them, waterless means powerless! Except they’re not. Essentially they’re beaten by an old guy raising a stick in the air. It’s humiliating. But it serves them right for chasing down and attacking God’s chosen people, their relatives.

It’s very possible that God is angry with Amalek because they should have known better. Later on, in Malachi, God declares that He chose between Edom and Israel, another of Esau’s children. It is important to know why God has made this people His enemy. In a way, those following Jesus as His disciples are also the people of God, just not exactly like Israel. We have been redeemed from the world forming a “third thing”, a distinct people, grafted into the promises of God to Israel. So, in a way, we might more easily see ourselves as the people attacked by those who should know better.

That can happen. Our culture is antithetical to the purpose of our Creator and Savior. There are places within our nation where it is considered illegal to worship. Any such stance is at odds with the intent and wording of the first amendment to our US Constitution. Yet, the popular voice shouts us down and seeks to destroy our faith. And yet, our Savior is also our Banner. Jesus will refer to the serpent Moses raises for the healing of the people, and that is, in a sense, a banner. Jesus is our Banner as we are attacked by this culture. His ways, His teaching, and most importantly, His Spirit are ours, meaning we cannot be defeated as long as we raise Him up.

The difficulty of striving with our society, culture, what is popular, and what is acceptable is made possible through Jesus, His Spirit, and His power of resurrection at work in us. We stand, raising the Banner, Jesus is Yah! It is He who saved Israel from Egypt, and He who saves all a remnant of all people for Himself. We are redeemed and we hold Him up, declaring boldly that Jesus is King. In that we win, even in losing this world. As Paul reminds us, this world is passing away, so let it go, raise our banner, and gain the world to come, the new heaven and new earth, the city not made by human hands. How will you raise your Banner today?


What’s With The Staff?

Have you ever thought about a passage of Scripture, that it seemed…weird? If not, then have you been reading the Scripture? There’s a lot of weirdness in it. If you don’t agree, well, you may have problems deeper than can be addressed here. If we’re agreed that there’s a lot of weirdness in Scripture than, let’s look at one in Exodus.

The setting is that Amalek attacks the sons of Israel. Moses has a day’s warning of what’s coming, so he makes a plan with Joshua. Here’s the plan:

Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”

Exodus 17:8-9

In theory, or if you stopped reading right there, it’s already weird. But it’s also dramatic. This is the staff that brought forth water from a rock, turned the Nile to blood, and parted the Red Sea when Moses waved it over the waters. Now, we’re left wondering, “What will Moses do with it now?” And then it’s kind of an underwhelming tactic.

Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.

Exodus 17:10-11

So, the staff, held high by Moses Israel is stronger than Amalek, but when Moses’ arms grow tired, and he lowers the staff, Amalek is stronger. That’s just weird. Why would that be the thing that makes the difference, the strength of Moses’ arms?

Do you ever feel like that, like it’s all up to you? Have you felt that God took His hands off the tiller, and suddenly you are sailing solo through the storm? Moses had to feel pretty confused about this, doing as He was instructed (who would think of that on their own?), and Amalek prevails whenever the stupid stick gets too heavy. Well, how could it not?

Try this, get a walking stick, of any type, carbon-fiber if you like, it doesn’t matter. Now hold it out in front of you with your arms straight, and see how long you can do it. That’s the longest Moses could, in his own strength, enable Israel to prevail. If you want the short answer, it’s not long enough.

But, part of the instruction included Hur and Aaron. It wasn’t just Moses and the staff of God. And the reason that’s so important is this:

But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Exodus 17:12-13

Now, remember the previous question, “Have you ever felt that it was all up to you?” It never is. It does feel that way though, we even try to make it work with just us. But, think it through, why would our Creator and Savior create and save you only to make it all about you? What would that accomplish? It’s never about you, me, or even our favorite people. It’s about our Creator and Savior, and it’s about Him because He’s not done creating and saving! There are others out there who need Him, and you have been created and saved to be used to bring those into relationship with the Creator.

So, it isn’t always easy to spot the Aaron and Hur in our life. We find it way too easy to focus on ourselves and our perspectives, desires, and theories. The truth is much more interesting. Our Creator and Savior has created and saved us to be a part of a multitude no one can count. A multitude He redeems from every people-group that has ever existed. So, look around you. Where is your “Aaron”? Who is your “Hur”? Don’t try to raise the banner of our Savior on your own. We overcome together, raising the banner of our King.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. Copyright by The Lockman Foundation

Prepositional Combat

One of the difficulties in translating Hebrew into English are the wide range of usage of Hebrew prepositions. Understanding what a particular preposition means is very dependent upon the context. Just in the first few verses of Israel’s combat with Amalek, we excellent examples.

Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”

Exodus 17:8-9 NASB

The Hebrew prepositions are as follows:

  1. …Amalek came and fought with Israel…
  2. Moses said toward Joshua
  3. “Select for us men…”
  4. “Go, fight in Amalek…”
  5. “I will stand on the top of the hill…”

The problems aren’t obvious until you read most translations, and see only about half of these prepositions. For instance, the NASB uses “against” for “with” in number 1, and almost all have “against” instead of “in” for number 4. This more explains the difficulty in translating Hebrew prepositions than it does what actually happened.

But why one preposition in one place, and another where you would expect what was used earlier? For instance, why didn’t Moses say “fight with Amalek” instead of “in Amalek”? The preposition, with, was used to introduce Amalek showing up to fight Israel in verse 8, why not use it again in verse 9?

My concern is perhaps unfounded, because there may not be much, if any, significance in using with versus in when speaking of engaging in combat. On the other hand, in Greek for instance, there is much difference. The preposition para in Greek, means “beside” or “alongside”, and this roughly corresponds to the Hebrew preposition “with”. But there are a couple of Greek words for “in”, one of which means, “inside”, as opposed to “among”. In Hebrew, there’s not much differentiation, in is in. So, perhaps Amalek was more tentative (“alongside” for combat), where Israel rushed in among them for combat (or Moses instructed Joshua to fight that way).

It’s hard to make definitive assertions one way or the other. The elasticity of Hebrew prepositions truly makes it difficult to know for sure. But knowing the various choices that were made may help at least expand the visualization of the event. What did it look like? What did the people see? What was it like to be there, standing among those Joshua tested in choosing for battle? What did the people feel when Amalek showed up? Was it over the sudden presence of water at Rephadim?

We don’t know for sure, but perhaps exploring the event through the additional lenses provided by these prepositions may help us bring a dusty ancient event into more vibrant focus.

That’s my view through the knothole this morning, what’s it look like from yours?

Striking Similarities

Why can’t our Creator be consistent? Wouldn’t it be nice if He followed his own rules, worked the same way with everyone every time, and didn’t change His mind? And yet, what works for His people in one place doesn’t in another. For instance, in Exodus 17, Moses can strike the rock to bring forth water, but, later, in Numbers 20, striking the rock is the sin that keeps Moses from entering the promised land. What’s the difference?

So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?”

Exodus 17:4-7 NASB

In Exodus 17, Yahweh tells Moses to strike the rock (v.6). Yahweh gave different instructions in Numbers 20:

Then Moses and Aaron came in from the presence of the assembly to the doorway of the tent of meeting and afell on their faces. Then the glory of the LORD appeared to them; and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take athe rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.”

Numbers 20:6-8 NASB

In this passage, Yahweh instructed Moses to speak to the rock. It’s a similar situation, with a different set of instructions. Moses, on the other hand, sees this as a similar situation, and chooses to use the instructions from last time:

So Moses took the rod from before the LORD, just as He had commanded him; and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank.

Numbers 20:9-11 NASB

Instead of speaking to the rock, Moses strikes the rock twice with the staff, much like last time. Bad idea. For Yahweh, this is sufficient to keep Moses from entering the promised land. That may sound harsh, but look at Yahweh’s reasoning:

But the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”

Numbers 20:12 NASB

The methods our Creator uses differ. He decides to do one thing one way at one time, in one place. And then, does the same thing a different way at a different time in a different place. It’s the same thing? Why not use the same technique? Jesus doesn’t heal everyone one of the same disease the same way. He doesn’t use the same stories with everyone. Why not? Why is our Savior so inconsistent?

Moses didn’t believe Yahweh. This Savior changes His methods so we will focus on Him, not the methods. It’s not about how we can get what we want/need, it’s about the Creator providing for us what we need/want. Jesus didn’t want His disciples following His methods of healing, He wanted them to heal in His name, which is a very different thing.

Moses didn’t treat Yahweh as holy before the people. Yahweh had given Moses specific instructions, and Moses decided to do something else, as if whatever Yahweh said was optional, not imperative. This is disobedient, but also treats Yahweh as common, and not as separate, or holy. Jesus’ disciples healed, but in the name of Jesus. They treated Him as holy. The point here is the focus.

Yahweh-Jesus wants us, His people, to reserve Him as separate from all other relationships. He wants us to acknowledge that the source for everything we have is Him. He reserves to Himself a place above all of our other relationships, and this is how it should be. Jesus claims that unless we hate every other earthly relationship, including with ourselves, we cannot be His disciple. Yahweh says as much here in these passages. But He also says something else, in fact, He shouts it.

Yahweh brought forth water anyway. The people were disobedient, and then Moses was disobedient, and Yahweh remained faithful. Our obedience is not the basis for our Savior’s faithfulness. It’s weird to think about it that way, but it’s clear throughout Scripture. As the writer of Hebrews says, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.” It’s not obedience, it’s belief and reserving Jesus as holy. That’s the substance of faith. And then faith leads us to be obedient.

So, what will you do today to believe your Savior, Jesus? What will you do today to treat Him as holy among His people? Will you stand courageously even though you’re afraid? Will you refuse to bow to the whims of our culture, and declare Jesus as Lord? What would that look like for you?

As for me, it means doing the thing I’d rather not do around the house. It means not playing, but washing dishes, mowing the lawn, and being about cherishing my wife.

What is your view through this knothole?

God Causes Thirst

God is good, all the time; and all the time, God is good. But, I wonder if too often we don’t truly understand what “good” means. Could it be possible that our loving heavenly Father would lead us somewhere where our needs cannot be met? Would He truly bring us to a place where there is no water, no food, and no way to provide for them?

Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”

(Exodus 17:1-3 NASB)

Notice that the people moved along, from place to place, at the command of the LORD. Literally, they pulled up stakes and encamped as the mouth of Yahweh. Either way, clearly, Yahweh, their Deliverer, Redeemer, and Savior led them to a place without water. Sure, they were being fed with manna, and quail. Yet, without water all that food is pointless.

On the other hand, there is no natural explanation for the manna. They called it “manna” because that means, “what is it?” in Hebrew. There was nothing like it before, or since. Yahweh did something that enforced their dependence upon Him for their food. Why, then, would they assume that the powerful Yahweh could produce miracle food, but not water?

The answer lies in verse 3, “But the people thirsted there for water…” Yahweh, the provider of food, led them to a place without water, and let them go without until they were thirsty. He didn’t immediately meet their need. Think through that for a second. We assume we know what it means for God to be “good”, yet does your definition of “good” include Him leading you to where there is no way to meet your need, and letting you go without for a while?

That’s the problem with reading this passage so quickly. It sounds so familiar. Of course the sons of Israel would test Yahweh. They were obstinate and rebellious. But wouldn’t you be rebellious if you were led to a waterless wasteland, and were left thirsty? We are so quick to point fingers at the people of Israel, and criticize them for how they behaved with the miracle-working Yahweh. Yet, do we learn from them? Do we see ourselves in these people, so much a part of the world? How well do we do when we can’t see the provision of our Savior for our daily bread?

In order to learn the lesson of Exodus, we must be willing to see ourselves as the people of Israel. We have to stop criticizing them for their sin, and repent of our own. God has a point He was making back when this book was penned. He had a point He was making when the events actually happened. And He has a point for us today. We miss that point when we see these passages as ancient and having no value to us today.

The truth is, we also see our circumstances and question God. We test our God to see if He is truly with us. We quarrel, we murmur, we push back at those our King has placed over us, questioning whether they are valid, whether the message they carry is true, in effect, whether Yahweh is with us. As it was true then, so remains: Yahweh leads us to places without water, and allows us to thirst. We may test Him, or we may allow Him to test us. We can choose to believe that the Savior who allows us to thirst remains good, all the time.

Are you thirsty? Are you lacking a need? Is there something you expected your Savior to provide, but which He has allowed you to go without? How will you respond? How will you choose to either test your Savior, or permit Him to test you? What will it mean for you to allow your King to test you? And what will you do to “pass” His test?