The Sword and The Staff

Battles in our lives take different shapes and sizes. James encouraged us to consider the vast spectrum of fights throughout this life in light of God's joy. Over the course of this year, I've been in the middle of incredible family tensions, wrestled with financial crises, prayed for friends in the hospital, watched faith filled individuals believe for healing without the results they wanted, and the list goes on. Jesus promised trouble. He also promised His presence. We take heart, not because it's a feel good saying, but because a walk with God is far from a neutral stroll.

In Exodus 17, God had recently rescued His people through his servant Moses. God said to Moses, “I’ve seen the misery of My people and heard their cries in Egypt, so now I’ve come down to deliver them.” God says He’s coming down, but He sends a human being. When God says He’s going to do something, His heart is to do that something through those He created.

Without us, He won’t. Without Him, we can’t.

The Israelites, two million strong leave Egypt led by Moses and they're running to the Red Sea, where God says Be still, the Lord will fight your battle. They don’t have any weapons, they don’t have the training, they’re not an organized people, and they’re currently united by fear. They don’t trust their leader and they don't trust God. Still, God in His mercy steps in. That’s in essence a picture of our story. They cross the Red Sea after God splits the body of water, drowns their enemies, and perhaps this is speculation, but provides them with weapons and equipment for the future as the dead Egyptian soldiers wash up on the shore. When God moves in ours lives, when there was absolutely nothing we could’ve done to win on our own, it’s to reveal who He is, and to equip us, so we transition from being a spectator to a partner in our next battles.

"Look what God did," can become, "Look what God did through us!"

Exodus 17:1 At the Lord’s command, the whole community of Israel left the wilderness of Sin and moved from place to place. Eventually they camped at Rephidim, but there was no water there for the people to drink. 

God led His people to a dry place. The thirst and need for provision, provided the space for God to display His power and grace. It's on the heels of the miraculous, the breakthrough, the moment where God steps in, that an enemy steps in. This narrative shows this enemy arriving after Israel. So enemies are always the last to show up if God's leading.

8 While the people of Israel were still at Rephidim the warriors of Amalek attacked them.  

If we're not looking for a fight, a fight is looking for us, so expect opposition. 

Deuteronomy 25:17–19 describes the enemy saying: “Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind [typically women and children]: they had no fear of God.

These Amalekites, distant cousins of Israel, are much like our fights. They seem to come out of nowhere and they couldn’t come at a worse time. They're often deeply personal and seem custom tailored to wound us where it really hurts. Also, it’s one thing for a challenge to come against us personally, but when they damage our deepest relationships; a spouse, children, family, those we love, it’s then we need to realize, our battles are much bigger than ourselves because their purpose is to dismantle our families, our legacy, our future, and they may be bigger than us, but they’re not bigger than God's purpose for us.

9 Moses commanded Joshua, “Choose some men to go out and fight the army of Amalek for us. Tomorrow, I will stand at the top of the hill, holding the staff of God in my hand.”

I love this. One of the marks of a follower of Jesus is decisiveness. Someone who knows when to take immediate action. Moses doesn't call everyone together for their opinions. He doesn't start passing out ballots for voting on what should be done. There's no time for that. Moses has a relationship with God that's so tight, he immediately knows, "If you touch our wives and children, the first response is intervention. He commands Joshua to rally up men to respond. Moses takes up his staff. Joshua takes up his sword. 

Moses doesn't make the false division of whether it's time to seek God's help or whether it's time to go into battle. It's both.

 

10 So Joshua did what Moses had commanded and fought the army of Amalek. Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of a nearby hill. 11 As long as Moses held up the staff in his hand, the Israelites had the advantage. But whenever he dropped his hand, the Amalekites gained the advantage.

1. Maintain the posture of dependency on God. 

Jesus communicates true dependency on God in gardening terms, teaching that the branches need to stay connected to their source. He says, "apart from me, you can do nothing." For Moses, the posture of dependency is holding his hands up with his shepherd’s staff. For us, it looks like praying - talking to God and hearing from His voice. It looks like searching His word for the trusted pathways wisdom. It looks like fasting - pushing away the plate and hungering for righteousness. Dependency has a pattern. When Moses' hands go up, the Israelites are winning. Down, Amalek is winning. 

Now I'm no expert in war, but if the enemy is winning that means we're losing, and losing means dying. God's people in battle are at risk of dying based on Moses' hands staying raised. We don't live in a bubble that is disconnected from each other. God wired the family of God to be intertwined and co-dependent on one another.

When we abandon the posture of dependency, people under us die. 

 

I understand that God is ultimately in control, but I am not disillusioned, and I am convinced that if I don't partner with God, the people who should've heard the good news about Jesus, who should've received healing, who should've been encouraged, who should've been raised back to life, who should have won the battle that they were in, will lose. And I think one day, God in His grace is going to show us all the people we could've loved, and could've prayed for, and could've been part of their breakthrough, and I don’t want to live in the space of "we could’ve, should’ve, or would’ve." We've got to be a people who emphasize dependency on God and join those who,“by faith overthrew kingdoms, ruled with justice, and received what God had promised them. They shut the mouths of lions, quenched the flames of fire, and escaped death by the edge of the sword. Their weakness was turned to strength. They became strong in battle and put whole armies to flight.”  Moses, the mediator between God and the people is a picture of Jesus our mediator. He's also a picture of us when we partner with God by standing in the gap, lifting our hands. But Moses is still a man. Like him, we are still finite and even the strongest hands get tired. 

12 Moses’ arms soon became so tired he could no longer hold them up. So Aaron and Hur found a stone for him to sit on. Then they stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands. So his hands held steady until sunset. 

Moses is not weak. Moses will die at 120 and not because of health issues. Moses is climbing mountains when he is in his 80s and fasts without food and water for 40 days and nights. Moses is far from undisciplined, but even Moses' hands get tired. God doesn’t paint His leaders as robots, as if they don't get tired or worn out. Moses could no longer hold them up and it wasn’t even a matter of choice. 

Sometimes your exhaustion has nothing to do with your relationship with God. 

Granted, some are just lazy and pretend they’re doing so much to keep people impressed with them, but we can't pretend forever when we’re walking in real relationships with covenant brothers and sisters. Here God gives us a picture of His heartbeat, the church as family. You don’t need to surround ourselves with negative people who complain a lot, are always critical, and always have advice but never actually stand with you. You need two brothers or two sisters born for adversity to show up to the battle with you, who like Aaron and Hur make the effort to go up the hill. When you're exhausted, you don't need someone standing on the sidelines, staring at you pushing for breakthrough by yourself.  Rather surround yourselves with those who will say "you know what, we're in this with you, and you are exhausted, so you don't have to stand on your own, you can sit down, and we're going to hold your hands up and see this battle through to the end until God gives us the victory." 

I thank God for giving me brothers like Aaron and Hur. We're are always holding each other's arms up, seeing victories in our lives over addictions, over perversions, over alcoholism, over loveless relationships that lead to cheap sex and empty intimacies, and more. We keep seeings bonds built and bridges constructed to people who need to know that God is the establisher of our identity in Christ and the most powerful place we can find ourselves is in absolute dependency on God. 

13 As a result, Joshua overwhelmed the army of Amalek in battle with the sword.

2. God can do the impossible by Himself. But He wants to do the impossible through us.

Steven Furtick says, “See what God can do through you.” Let’s zoom in on Joshua, the man with the sword in hand. The man who will replace Moses and take God's people to a place Moses will not. The first record we have of him is obeying his orders and submitting to authority.

Joshua did what Moses ordered in order to fight Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of the hill. 

You've got to love Joshua because you never hear, "you want me go to go down into battle, while you go up to the top of the hill where there's no enemies? You want me to get cut and possibly lose my life while you take your brothers to go to where it's safe? No. How about you grab the sword and fight with us?" Not a hint of that. 

Joshua simply obeys. Joshua doesn't know that he was going to be the future Commander-in-chief of this army. He doesn't know the future, he doesn’t know that Moses' anger issues would eventually cause Moses to not enter into God’s best on this side of eternity. He doesn't realize that God is using these battles on the ground to mold him into a leader who was both as close to presence of God as Moses, but could relate to the people as someone who saw the bloody mess and pain on the battlefield. 

The staff without the sword is not enough. The power of God without the proactivity of His people is only half the picture. There's a reason why Moses commands Joshua to accomplish an incredible task of leadership and administration. It's because they really knew God! They really understood that God wasn’t just a matter of mystical principles and vague spiritualities, that God wasn’t so caught up in the sky with galactic energies, but that God was right in the thick of the battle with them. Anyone who fought next to Joshua understood his name meant "Salvation", and that the God who saves was with them. They understood, “We can go up here and pray, but if there's not a Joshua, a leader with warriors on the ground with swords in their hand, we're going to be praying until our faces are red while our people are dying." 

Without the staff, without God's power we cannot. But without the sword, without the actual work, we're not going to see anything happen. God can and does miracles, but what I see Moses doing is so key in life. He knows that they need the power of God to ever enter in to all that God has for them, but he also knows they need an army with a leader on the ground. It's both and, not either or. 

I love Real Life NYC and trust God knew what he was doing when he put our team together. None of us are pastors or got professional training for this thing. No one on this team went to a bible college and I've got nothing against that. But, I think this way so that those who come in could never say, "well they're pastors. They preach for a living. They get paid to be spiritual. I'm not called to anything deep like that." He's ripping up the disconnect between those of us who serve in ministry and those of us who live real life. We pray, we fast, we give and we work hard. So God continues to lead us and do above all we could ever ask or imagine. That's living in the fullness of wielding both staff and sword.

We trust and apply God’s word for every battle we face, because we will be fighting again and past victories do not guarantee future victories. Past and present experiences help build our trust, but our hope isn’t in experiences, it’s in the eternal word. As we follow God, we wield both the staff and sword, His word has the final say.

14 After the victory, the Lord instructed Moses, “Write this down on a scroll as a permanent reminder, and read it aloud to Joshua: I will erase the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 Moses built an altar there and named it Yahweh-Nissi (which means “the Lord is my banner”). 16 He said, “They have raised their fist against the Lord’s throne, so now[c] the Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.”

The Amalekites don’t just disappear.

Some wars are won in increments over a period of generations, so we’re fighting for much more than our own lifetime.

Amalek shows up later in Numbers 14:45 and joined with the Canaanites, they crush the men for Israel who did not trust God and rejected His word. In Judges, they team up with Moabites and the Midianites, destroying Israel’s provisions. In 1 Samuel, King Saul is rejected because He didn’t apply the word with regard to Amalek. Again they're wreaking havoc in 1 Chronicles and attempt to commit genocide against Israel in the book of Esther.

Like God's people, we have our battles and enemies to face. They may not be titled Amalek, but they're ruthless the same. Still, God gave a word, “I will erase Amalek, and Lord will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.” So whatever the fight, pick up your staff. Depend on God. Trust His word. Pick up your sword. Fight. Develop a strategy. Follow through. Watch God move and move through you.