Scripture Reference: Exodus 17:8-16, Deuteronomy 25:17-18
Fighting To WinDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | June 6, 1993
Selected highlights from this sermon
Everyone is fighting some kind of battle, and we need to be in it to win it. But how do we do that?
By looking at the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites, Pastor Lutzer shows us that Joshua’s victory in the valley was determined by Moses’s victory on the hilltop—our hilltop prayers can influence all kinds of outcomes down in the valley.
On April 19, 1951, General MacArthur was speaking to the United States Congress and said, “In war there is no substitute for victory.” When you are in a battle, you need to be in that battle to win, not just to gain territory, but to win over the enemy. And it has been said, and I think correctly, that everyone is fighting some battle. Everyone is fighting some battle. For many of you it may be a battle of relationships, perhaps within your family or among your friends, among your colleagues at work. And there are some battles that are very uncomfortable that are very difficult, and you’re involved in that conflict.
And then also for others it may be a battle of circumstances, your health or finances, and it’s a battle. It’s a discouraging battle. For others it may be temptations or failures. Some of you are struggling because you are victimized by other people’s faults and sins. But everybody has some battle, and one of the things that is important in fighting is to realize that we need to make some small decisions that are right. And sometimes some of those larger ones then become easier. And small victories lead to big victories. And small defeats eventually lead to big huge defeats.
Well, today we’re going to talk about a strategy for winning, and it’s taken from the 17th chapter of the book of Exodus. Exodus, chapter 17! Many of you will know that we are looking at the life of Moses. The 17th chapter opens with him receiving some water from a rock, another miracle that God did. But when we pick it up at verse 8 we find out that there is a battle.
How do we go about winning battles? Well, first of all we need to know our enemy. Notice it says in verse 8: “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.” We have to know our enemy. Now here the Israelites are on their way to the Promised Land, and there is a warring tribe that wants to stop them. The tribe’s name is Amalek. Israel had many enemies. In Egypt they had enemies because Egypt was a land that was monotonous. It did not have hills and valleys. It was a land of deserts, but also it was a land in which they were enslaved. It was a land of broken promises. Pharaoh was there, and God won those battles in a very significant way.
And now we come to another battle and that is with Amalek. And who in the world were the Amalekites? Genesis 25 tells us the story of Jacob and Esau, who were twins you remember, and Esau was the older of the two, and eventually Esau was willing to sell his birthright, you see, because God had made some promises to Abraham, and those promises were given to the oldest child all the way down from generation to generation. And Esau came in from hunting one day and said to Jacob, his younger brother, “I want something to eat.” And Jacob says, “I’ll give you something to eat if you sell me your birthright.” And Esau sold Jacob his birthright for a bowl of porridge with some red stuff that his brother, Jacob, had made. And Esau, therefore, became symbolic of the man who says, “I’m going to live my life without God. All of this is Sunday school stuff, this business of the particular responsibility of the firstborn. The birthright is unimportant to me.”
It’s like William Henley who wrote:
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
So after you have Esau in his rebellion against God, his descendants became Amalekites.
Now let us notice carefully that this warring tribe used a very special strategy, and for this you’re going to have to turn to Deuteronomy, chapter 25, where we have a divine commentary on how the Amalekites fought, and how they sought to overcome Israel. They did not succeed but they tried.
Deuteronomy 25:17-18 says: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way when you were faint and weary, and cut off your tail, those who were lagging behind you, and he did not fear God.”
A couple of characteristics now of how the enemy fought Israel. First of all, the Amalekites attacked suddenly. There was no warning. They didn’t say, “We’re coming.” They came at the time when they were least expected to come, and isn’t that the way in which temptation comes to us? It comes without announcement, and that’s why we need a ready answer for temptation, like the young man who struggled with pornography and I suggested that he memorize five verses of Scripture and made sure he quoted all five, five times each before he touched one of those magazines. And then one day he had a tremendous temptation when by accident, by mistake, a pornographic magazine was delivered to his door, and he had to go through that exercise that I had encouraged him to take. And after going through all those verses he was able to throw it away without looking at it because he had a ready answer because when temptation comes, it comes suddenly.
Notice also that they attacked defiantly. We’re back now in Exodus 17, but notice that they came just at a time when Israel had been particularly blessed of God. We noticed last time that the Lord gave them manna, and then he gave them quail to eat. And in this chapter he also gave them water from the rock. In the midst of all of this provision the enemy comes to defy God and to hinder the people of God from going on their way to Canaan that very time.
You’ve probably notice that great battles often come after great blessings. This was true in the life of Abraham because he had gone into the land in obedience to God, and there in obedience to the Lord, a famine came, and he went down into Egypt and ended up being disobedient to the Almighty and telling a lie in Egypt.
And then we think of Jesus Christ. He had that experience in the Jordan River where the voice from heaven came and said, “Thou are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” It was a dramatic moment of Jesus Christ’s initiation into ministry, and it says immediately afterwards the Holy Spirit drove Christ into the wilderness and there Satan came and brought Him the most difficult temptation He had ever faced.
You say, “Well, today, Pastor Lutzer, I am not fighting any battles. The money is flowing. My friends are glowing. My influence is growing. I’ve got everything going for me.”
Well, I want you to know that one of either two things is true. Either A, Satan doesn’t consider you to be worthy of even bothering with, or else B, expect a great trial tomorrow. Expect that battle to come because Satan likes to attack defiantly. At the very moment of blessing when we have self-confidence he moves in and wants to destroy us.
Notice also that the enemy attacked strategically. We read it a moment ago in Deuteronomy 25. Do you remember what it says? “Amalek came to the rear and attacked your weak ones.” He didn’t immediately come and attack the strong men of Israel. What he tried to do was to wreak havoc through the weakness of the people, and if that were to take place he would exploit it. And after exploiting it then, of course, he would try to drive a wedge among the Israelites, and gain as much territory as he possibly could.
You know, that’s the way the enemy is. You see, God comes and tests us in our strengths that we might be encouraged and that our strength might increase. Satan attacks our weaknesses with the intention of making us even weaker and eventually bringing us down, and so he attacks strategically.
Jesus, you remember, in the Garden of Gethsemane, said to the disciples, “Watch and pray that you enter not into temptation.” The idea there is, “Make sure you know the enemy, and watch for the enemy, and then pray that you would not enter into temptation, because the flesh is weak. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” We must know our enemy.
Let me ask you a question today: Do you know where you are most vulnerable? Do you know your weakness? You know, I’ve often thought to myself that if you lived in a city and there was one place in that wall that had a hole, and the enemy constantly kept coming through the same place in the hole, wouldn’t the city council eventually say to itself, “It is time for us to make sure that that hole is repaired because that’s the vulnerable place where the enemy comes?” Yet there are so many people who have exactly such a place like that in their lives. The wall of their soul has been broken down. The enemy moves in in the same place day after day after day, and they do not have a strategy by which he may be combatted. Scripture would teach us, “Know your enemy.”
But secondly, use your weapons. For this we continue on in the text. It says in verses 9 through 13: “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.’ So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 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.” And what difference did that make? Verse 13: “And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.” Notice that carefully.
What was the strategy that Moses used? First of all, he said, “Joshua, I want to use you.” Now, why did he use Joshua? Here interestingly is the first time that Joshua appears on the pages of Scripture. Here Joshua is a soldier. Later Joshua will become a spy, and eventually Joshua will become the leader that succeeds Moses. Moses chose Joshua because he knew he was a man of integrity and a man who could be trusted. And so Joshua was chosen to lead the people in the valley. And Moses says, “Choose young men. Make sure that you have swords, and be prepared to fight in the valley.”
Now might Moses have avoided conflict with the Amalekites? Could he have simply said, “Well, we don’t want to get into a conflict; if we ignore them they’ll go away?” That’s the way some people are when it comes to Satan. They think to themselves, “If I leave Satan alone, he will leave me alone.” What they don’t realize is that they are already engaged in a battle, and with an attitude like that, Satan has you where he wants you to be, because one of the things that the enemy wants to do is to intimidate us and to pretend that he is so strong that there is no use that we should even begin to fight him. Well, I want you to know today that Satan is strong and mighty, but he is not as strong as God. And one of the things that we must guard against in society is not only that we might know much about the devil but that we must be concerned lest we paint such a picture of Satan’s strength and power that we think he is too strong even for God.
There was no way that they could avoid Amalek. Here is an oasis. Here is a certain geographical territory, and there are two tribes who want to occupy the same space. The battle is inevitable. Don’t you ever think that you will be able to get by in life by somehow avoiding conflict with the devil. You cannot do it. So the Lord says, “Joshua, I want you to take a sword and I want you to fight.” The Apostle Paul says that we have the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
But notice also, and this is very intriguing, Moses says, “While you are fighting there, tomorrow I will station myself on top of a hill with the rod of God.” Now remember that this was the same staff that he had picked up while he was doing time in the desert because of his killing of an Egyptian. And it was when he was there that he got this staff, and the Lord said, “I’m going to bless this staff. You can throw it upon the ground, and it will become a serpent.”
Later on it is that staff that he used to point it over the Red Sea, and the sea parted. He used it to smite the rock. That very rod of Moses has become the rod of God. And God says, “Moses, what I would like you to do is to stand on the hill.” And notice it says in verse 11, “It came about when Moses held his hand up that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed.”
What’s going on here in the text? Well, there are many explanations for Moses’ raised hand. Some people say that it was a sign of advancement, and he was giving Joshua, in effect, orders to advance. But we know that that can’t be the case because Joshua knew that the order was always to advance. Some folks think that when Moses put his hand up he was making some kind of an oath before the Lord. But the best explanation is that Moses’ raised hand was a symbol of prayer.
The Scripture says in Psalm 63, verse 4: “I will raise my hands in praise unto thy name.” And in 1 Timothy the Apostle Paul says: “I request that prayer be made for men everywhere with raised hands, without wrath and doubting.”
Now you just think this through. The Bible says that when Moses held his hand up that Amalek was defeated and Joshua prevailed, and when he put his hand down, because he became weary, the Israelites began to lose the battle.
You know, I can imagine if there were television cameras there trying to photograph the battle there would be an analysis going on. The photographers would notice that sometimes it seemed as if Amalek prevailed. And then Joshua would suddenly score a tremendous victory in this battle. And as the analysts would be looking at it they wouldn’t know what the cause was of this strange phenomenon. And then off in the distance they’d see an old man, actually three men. And they’d notice that when the man held his hand up, then the Israelites prevailed, and when his hand was down it was then that Amalek prevailed.
And so the discussion that night was this. What possible connection could there between a raised hand on a mountaintop and victory or defeat in the valley? It simply does not make sense scientifically. It does not make sense militarily. What connection can there be between these two events? But, of course, God made a connection, because God says, “Moses, as long as you are in intercessory prayer, as long as symbolically you are raising your hand, it is then that I will be winning the victory in the valley.”
So what was Moses’ strategy? First of all, you have the sword in the valley, and secondly, you have the rod on the hilltop. And both of those work together. And then thirdly, another part of his strategy was the banner. It was the banner that really encompassed all of those strategies. It says in verse 14: “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua.’” Moses was into journaling. The Lord told him to write it down, and actually what he wrote down is the book of Exodus. He is the author of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
And so the Lord says, “Moses, write this down, and recite it to Joshua that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” And Moses built an altar and named it The Lord Is My Banner. What does this banner represent? It represents the fact that Moses and Joshua were actually fighting under the direction, the leadership and the strength and the name of the Lord God. They were under the flag of the Lord of Hosts.
This past fall, when we were in Europe we were in a little country called Lichtenstein. Most people don’t even know that it exists. I didn’t even know it. In fact, this little country is so small it is only four miles wide and sixteen miles long. But it’s incredibly beautiful, right next to Switzerland. And when we stopped in Lichtenstein they showed us a huge castle on a hill that goes back to the twelfth century. And the prince of Lichtenstein, the king and the prince, live there in that castle. And you can’t find a way up to the castle, at least very easily. And certainly if you got up there you wouldn’t be let into it.
But they said to us, “Whenever the flag is flying, the flag of Lichtenstein, you know that the prince is at home.” Well, isn’t that interesting? You see, the flag represents identification. And it should be that when the world looks at us and when they see us and when they see our lives, and they see Christ in our lives, that they should say, “These people belong to the King of kings. The prince is home.” There is evidence within our lives that God is among us.
Years ago the older people used to say that one of the true marks of the church is (quote) “the manifest presence of the living God.” You read the book of Acts and you find that that is on every single page. God dwelt with His people, and it was the presence of God that either attracted or repelled the world. Their flag was cleared. It was a mark of identification. It was also a mark of protection.
By the way, when we were looking at that flag in Lichtenstein, we could scarcely see the flag, and even if we had had binoculars and could see it more clearly, we would not have been able to see its insignia. And there’s a reason for that. You couldn’t see the design and that is because it was so incredibly calm. You see, in order for you to know what is on a flag, you need a storm. It is the wind that causes that flag to fly. And then you can see its colors and then you can see its design. And that’s why God sends storms because, you see, everybody claims to have a flag hanging on the doorpost of his life, and the question is what is on that flag? It cannot be seen until the wind begins to blow, and then it becomes clear.
So a flag is a sign of identification. It is also a sign of protection. As Joshua and Moses marched under the banner of the Lord, figuratively speaking, they had all of the resources of deity. They had all of the might of God, of the Lord of Hosts, at their disposal to win against Amalek, to win against the flesh and this enemy that wanted to keep them from entering the Promised Land.
How then do we win? Well, we win, of course, first of all, with the sword in the valley. But my dear friend, today, we cannot win with the sword in the valley until we know something about the rod on the hilltop. The sword is beneath the rod, and the rod is beneath the banner. And in this way we win battles for Christ.
Let me just take now all of these concepts and boil them down so that we can apply them specifically and understand them. First of all, I want to remind you that the battle that we are talking about, the battle with the world, the flesh and the devil, the conflict within the soul and the conflict within our culture, is a battle that is for keeps. It’s a battle that is for keeps!
Amalek was not in this battle to simply wound Israel. Amalek was in this battle to exterminate Israel. And Israel, therefore, had to take the position of exterminating Amalek, because there is no such thing as compromise. In the very same way, we cannot compromise with Satan. Every single compromise we make with sin is done with the recognition that eventually Satan is willing to give us an inch in order that he might take a foot.
Interestingly, the Lord God, many centuries later, told King Saul that he was supposed to exterminate also the Amalekites, and he didn’t do it because he said there were some people among them that we should not have killed. He kept the king, and then he kept some of their animals, and he disobeyed the voice of the Lord. And then when Saul tried to commit suicide, and couldn’t quite pull it off, here’s an Amalekite running along, and that boy ends up finishing King Saul off.
As a reminder of the fact that sins that we do not conquer will eventually conquer us, all the opportunities that we have in life that we sometimes use to compromise actually turn against us and end up defeating us, and we must never forget that. Oh I know that even if we are believers, we must realize that the flesh can overcome us. Eventually we will be saved, yes, because those who trust Christ as Savior are not lost eternally. But in the meantime, we may be overcome by the flesh. We may be put on the shelf that God might not be able to use us. The battle is for keeps.
Secondly, the battle is continuous. Notice it says, “I will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” That’s the last part of verse 16. God says, “This conference is going to continue.” And I want you to know today that the conflict that you and I face, spiritually speaking, is a conflict that we will have until we die. The flesh fights against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, and they are contrary, the one to the other, so that we can’t do what we will. And all of us know something of the conflict that is within our souls.
But finally, and most importantly, the lesson to be learned from this passage is that the victory in the valley is really determined by the victory on the hilltop. There’s a beautiful blend in this passage of Scripture between human agency and also the divine intervention. When you stop to think of it, a mystic would have said, “All that we need to do is to go to the hilltop to pray.” That’s what the mystic would have done. The humanist would have said, “All that we need to do is to fight in the valley, because what possible connection can there be between some man praying with a rod in his hand on this hilltop and winning this battle?” But interestingly, both would have been wrong. The Lord says, “I want Joshua to fight in the valley, and I want Moses to pray on the hilltop.” And both of those were necessary in winning this war.
You say, “Well, if I begin to pray on the hilltop, if I begin to intercede on the hilltop, how much responsibility or what great area might my prayers cover? Is it something like a cellular phone that has a certain amount of limited access or a limited range?” The answer to that is, of course, no. You see, when you and I are there on the hilltop praying, when we are there, we can influence all kinds of outcomes within the valley. Praying on the hilltop we can cross the ocean and we can stand with missionaries in Bosnia, in Romania, in Central American and any other place in the world. We can be with them.
Praying there on the hilltop we can get into apartment complexes, and we can pray for children who are being abused, and situations that otherwise we have no control about. What we do there on the hilltop will influence all kinds of victories or defeats in the valley.
Some of you, bless your hearts, some of you women have given up your children for adoption. I remember a woman saying to me, “I would give ten years of my life if I could take my boy who would be about six years old now and just spend one hour with him. But I will never see him again.” And you think to yourself, “All of my influence in his life is over. There’s no way that I can affect him.” My dear friend, with the rod of God in your hand, standing on the mountaintop, God knows where he is in the valley. You don’t but he knows his name and he knows where he is. You can influence the outcome of his life through prayer because God says that the victory on the hilltop turns out to be the victory in the valley. And when we become weary on the hilltop, we become weak in the valley.
I don’t need to tell you today that the evangelical church is filled with all kinds of conflicts in the valley. We are grateful for Christian activism. We are grateful for all that is being done to be able hold the line morally and spiritually as our culture begins to collapse. But we have not seen all of the victories that we would like to see accomplished, and sometimes all of our activity has been very disappointing. But what is true of us as churches is true of us as a church. It is also true of us as individuals.
My friend, this might explain why you had such a tough time in the valley this week. It may explain why it is that this week you lost. It may be that this is why you gave into that temptation, why you felt that the powers of evil were so overwhelming, why it is that you cried up to God, and there seemed to be no help, and in your desperation you did not know where to turn. Do you know what your need is, and my need is, and the need of Moody Church is? It is to learn the secret of praying on the hilltop.
When the Apostle Paul lists the armor in Ephesians 6, he gets to the end and then he says, “With all praying at all times in the Spirit…” And that’s what we need. I hope that we have a lot of people here at The Moody Church, a lot more who pray at home consistently than we see Wednesday evening at prayer meeting. I hope that you understand that those of us who are leaders within the Christian community need people like Moses and Hur to come up and to hold our hands. We need those who will hold up the hands of our elders, and our pastoral staff, and our Sunday school teachers, and those who are going through the valley of defeat. What we need to do is to understand that it is the rod on the hilltop that will eventually transform the battle in the valley. You know, God loves to make connections where human beings see none. He makes those invisible ones.
There’s another story, actually in the book of Numbers, about the disease that came among the Israelites. And they were so sick, and many of them died, and God said to Moses, “Moses, put a serpent on a pole of brass, and everybody who looks at the serpent is going to be healed.” I can imagine many people said, you know, “What possible connection could there be between the disease that is in my body and the serpent that is on a pole? How can looking to that serpent change something within my soul and body?” yet the Bible says that those who looked lived, and those who refused to look died.
I mention that because there are some of you here today who need to look to Christ. You know, the Bible says that as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so shall the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.
You say today, “Pastor Lutzer, I am so weary. I don’t know where I am at in my relationship with God.” I want you to see Jesus Christ today on that cross as your Savior, as your Redeemer, as the one who takes the initiative to reach down into your heart, and to save you through faith. Would you reach out to Him, and remember that it is the victory of Christ on the cross, and the victory of His ascension, that makes life in the valley tolerable? You can endure tomorrow. You can take Tuesday, and take the rest of the week no matter what, because the victory is being won at higher levels.
Let’s pray together.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for the courage of Joshua, and for the faithfulness of Moses. And we think, Lord, of the need that there is in this day and age for us to fight successfully on the hilltop. Help us to understand, Lord Jesus, that through prayer, and through faith, we can effect victories that we don’t even know about if we believe.
And then I pray for those who may be here who have never received Christ as Savior. They’ve never trusted Him. I pray that at this moment they may reach out and say, “Lord Jesus, I look at You, I look at the cross, and I look at Your victory, and I believe.”
Before I close this prayer I want you to talk to God. What is it that you need to give Him? If you’ve never received Him as Savior, at this moment you can look to Him and be saved. Or what battle are you losing, and how much time have you spent on the hilltop? You talk to the Lord.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for Your faithfulness. We thank You that we march under the banner of the Lord God. Help us to go in His name with the flag clear and our commitment undebatable. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.