Sermon on Exodus 17:8-16 – “On the Undefeated Team”

Sermon for Sunday, July 18th, 2021 at First Presbyterian Church at Unionville, NY (BPC)

Old Testament reading:

[Exo 17:1-7 ESV] 1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried to the LORD, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the LORD by saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

New Testament reading:

[1Co 15:50-58 ESV] 50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” 55 “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

Gospel reading:

[Luk 4:31-37 ESV] 31 And he went down to Capernaum, a city of Galilee. And he was teaching them on the Sabbath, 32 and they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority. 33 And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, 34 “Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are–the Holy One of God.” 35 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent and come out of him!” And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. 36 And they were all amazed and said to one another, “What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!” 37 And reports about him went out into every place in the surrounding region.

Sermon Text:
[Exo 17:8-16 ESV] 8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. 14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

 

Introduction

Have you ever known an undefeated team; or an undefeated season. Something wonderful is in the air.

When I was a freshman in High School the Varsity Football team was something special. I actually kept track of their game scores all season and watched every game I could. Why? They were good. And in the end they actually went to play for the state championship at the Detroit Lion’s stadium at the time, the Silverdome.

They won every game that season, all of the playoff games as well, and then they won in the final game. An undefeated season.

And whenever you have a special team like this, you certainly also have key players. While football is a team sport, there is always a few players who really make the difference. They are notable in the literal sense that they are noted in the papers and in our memories years later.

In our account from Exodus 17 we have the notables, the important players, in the war of the Israelites against the Amalekites.

There are five figures mentioned: Moses, Aaron, Joshua, Hur, and Amalek.

I. Five figures

A. Moses

B. Aaron

Moses and Aaron we will know at this point. They are the brothers that the Lord has chosen to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and towards the promised land. Moses, though three years younger, is chosen to be the main leader, and Aaron is like an assistant.

And this isn’t unusual on special teams to have a pair of brothers. It helps with the unity of a team. And coaches might like this too, so long as the brothers get along.

My twin brother and I incidentally were on an almost undefeated team. In little league. We lost the first game of the season, which I believe was my fault to some extent. But then we won every other game, the playoffs, and the final of our league. And us brothers worked well together, not as the very best players on the team, but in important roles nonetheless.

C. Joshua

Now in the text, for the first time — in fact, for the first time in the whole Bible — we have mention of another figure on Team Israel. He is Joshua. And, as you might imagine, he is quite important. Even a whole book of the Bible is named after him.

Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek.”

Joshua is the leader chosen to direct the army. In baseball terms, he bats cleanup, the 4th to come to the plate.

D. Hur

And then we have in our text another notable, Hur.

This is the first time Hur is mentioned as well.

His job is to help Aaron hold up Moses’ hands. He’s second assistant.

And we can see something of a good application in the story of Aaron and Hur holding up Moses’ arms. We can see that there is much need for you to hold up your pastor (myself), your elders and deacon, and others in leadership; to hold us up in prayer. And to support us in our work.

One way to do that is of course prayer. Another is to visit people in the hospital. Visitation is not limited to the pastor or the deacon; it is for everyone in the church. Ask yourself, when was the last time I visited someone who need a visit; whether they are sick in the hospital or lonely at home. And ask yourself, who can I visit? I’m sure all of us know someone who would be encouraged by a visit, a call, or a card.

Support your missionaries as well. Not just with money. But with prayer and encouragement. As a missionary myself, I wonder who actually reads my newsletter! It goes out to something like 350 people a few times a year. And how many responses do you think I get? On average, maybe 2 emails. Something like that. So I imagine other missionaries are in a similar spot and would be gladly encouraged to know of your care and support.

Be like Aaron and Hur, holding up those hands of Moses who is called by God to the task he has been given.

E. Amalek

And then, no account would be complete without an opponent.

We’ve had the Egyptians already; they are defeated.

Now there is “Amalek” or the Amalekites.

Amalek is the name of their progenitor; their father some generations removed. He was a grandson of Esau, brother of Jacob.

And Moses refers to the whole enemy as Amalek, though that man himself is long dead and now we are dealing with the tribe of his descendants, the Amalekites.

The Amalekites are not looked upon favorably. They are deceitful.

It is said “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.” The Israelites did not seek out this battle. It came to them.

And Amalek becomes notorious for that action.

Moses later says in Deuteronomy:

[Deu 25:17 ESV] 17 “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt,

And even God himself says in 1 Samuel:

[1Sa 15:2 KJV] 2 “I remember [that] which Amalek did to Israel, how he laid [wait] for him in the way, when he came up from Egypt.”

See, as Israel was just starting off as a nation, Amalek struck when they were weak. This is not honorable warfare, but a treacherous tactic.

Yet, Israel will not be defeated by this ploy. Why? Well, there is one more in this story who I’ve not yet been mentioned. That is, God himself.

This is why the Israelites are undefeated. And we see throughout the Exodus that each victory in this undefeated season is God’s victory.

II. God’s Victory

Joshua (and other men) fought the battle, Moses intervened, and Aaron and Hur supported him (literally). But Yawheh won the victory.

God had victory over the Egyptians.

He had victory over hunger.

He had victory over thirst.

Now he has victory over Amalek.

And this is what the Israelites recognize as they build an altar and call the name of it “The Lord is my Banner.” He is the victor who is celebrated as on a banner for all to see.

And it is God’s strength that Moses reaches out to.

So the Israelites do not name the altar, “Moses is my banner” or “Aaron is my banner” or “Joshua” or “Hur” or anyone else. But, THE LORD IS MY BANNER. He is my salvation!

And the people of God march under the battle flag of Yawheh; no one else.

III. On the Undefeated Team

What does this mean? It means that WE are on the undefeated team. The Lord has always brought us victory and always will bring us victory. There are indeed setbacks along the way, but His love for us endures.

There were multiple battles Israel had against Amalek. And though these are now past, our spiritual battles continue. But we are promised to be on the winning team. Not that we contribute to the victory, but that the victory is promises in Christ.

What does the old song say:

Victory in Jesus.

But I must let you know that the lyrics of this song have some theological flaws.

It says:

“I heard an old, old story, how a Savior came from glory”
“How He gave His life on Calvary to save a wretch like me”
“I heard about His groaning, of His precious blood’s atoning”

(And this is all good so far. But then it says:)

“Then I repented of my sins and won the victory”

It is better to say that He, Christ, won the victory, for us! And He calls us to repent of our sins.

And the song writers surely know this as the song is called “Victory in Jesus.” It is Christ’s victory for us; over death, with his death on the cross.

The chorus is much better on this point:

Oh victory in Jesus, my Savior forever
He sought me and bought me with His redeeming blood
He loved me ‘ere I knew Him and all my love is due Him
He plunged me to victory beneath the cleansing flood

In the early church there was a theory of the atonement called “Christus Victor.” And this, in part, is a good theory. Christ was the victor over sin and death and satan. But there is a problem with some who have held to this theory. The problem is that they’ve denied the Biblical doctrine of the atonement called “Substitutionary atonement.” This is that all-important doctrine, that not only was Christ the victor over death but that he was the substitute for the death that we deserved and in so doing was the propitiation for our sins. He not only conquered evil, he redeemed us, and made us right with God.

But the importance of Substitutionary Atonement doesn’t take away from the theme of Victory.

Conclusion

What this means for us, being on the victorious team, redeemed of Christ, is that WE SHALL FOREVERMORE BE VICTORIOUS. And so we need not worry, we need not fret, neither about little things nor about big things. Our salvation is already won. Our enemies — death, sin and the devil — are already defeated.

Thus we should attack our sin, knowing that in the end we are assured victory. Sin will not have dominion over us. This is what our confession calls “the mortification of sin.” We are to put sin to death. And in the end it is sin that dies and we who live.

We have victory in Christ and will, each and everyone one of us who believes in Him, we will have victory for all time. We are blessed to be on the undefeated team.

On this subject, and to conclude, perhaps even better than the song “Victory in Jesus” are the words of Martin Luther (translated into English) in the 2nd verse of A Mighty Fortress is Our God

Did we in our own strength confide,
our striving would be losing,
were not the right Man on our side,
the Man of God’s own choosing.
You ask who that may be?
Christ Jesus, it is he;
Lord Sabaoth his name,
from age to age the same;
and HE MUST WIN THE BATTLE.