From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. The people quarrelled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarrelled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose some men for us and go out; 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. 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 sun set. And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.
Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this as a reminder in a book and recite it in the hearing of Joshua: I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’ And Moses built an altar and called it, The Lord is my banner. He said, ‘A hand upon the banner of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’ -- Exodus 17:1-16
The Israelites were out of Egypt and on their way to ---- where? The reality of the trip was finally getting through to them and, what was worse, here they were, tired and thirsty, but there wasn't any water!
"Moses, you idiot! What are we doing here in this desert with no water and no real idea where we're going or when we're going to get there? DO SOMETHING! And do it NOW!"
I have a feeling that after this, Moses probably would have welcomed another round or two with Pharaoh. As before, many times, God had the answer. "Just go over here, take your staff of elders and your staff of wood and strike the rock. They'll get their water." It happened, just as God said it would. Another crisis averted.
And then here came the Amalekites, bent on eliminating these interlopers. Joshua got the command to take some guys out to meet and fight with him while Moses, Aaron and Hur would go watch from the top of a nearby hill. It didn't sound too promising except that Moses promised that as long as he held his staff in the air, Joshua's team would win. All was well for a bit, but holding a wooden staff in the air for a long time gets to be pretty painful, so Moses would have to lower his hand and the Amalekites would start their surge. It was almost like watching a conductor of a large group of singers who burst into song the moment the conductor raised his hands but if those hands dropped the sound stopped completely. I can imagine the conductor having fun raising and lowering his hand quickly just to listen to the disjointed music, but for Moses it wasn't that much fun.
Aaron and Hur had a solution. While Moses was still able to hold up the staff, they dragged a rock over to the place where he was standing and watching the battle. Finally Moses could sit down but holding the staff was more and more painful. Aaron and Hur each took an arm and held it up until sunset when Joshua finally routed the Amalekites. I can imagine how relieved Moses was to finally be able to lower his arms and take the strain off his back and shoulders, not to mention have his band of dependents safe.
That part of the story made me think of the times I've felt like I've had to hold up a rod of heavy wood and not put it down lest the world, my world, anyway, fall apart totally. The life I figuratively held in my hands was my own, and the Amalekites were various people, things and events that came crashing like storm waves over a sea wall. Many times I've felt I've faced the Amalekites totally alone, and the struggle was exhausting physically, mentally, emotionally and, often, spiritually. There have been many times, though, when someone saw my need, pulled up a rock for me and held my hands up until I could breathe again and move ahead. Even if the fight with the Amalekites wasn't totally over, I had the help that gave me time to figure out what to do next.
Moses built an altar to commemorate the event, naming it the "The Lord is My Banner," signifying the victory God had given them. I'm not much good at building things, much less altars, but what I have built is a support network of people who have held up my arms when I didn't have the strength to do it, and for whom I would do the same. It wasn't just me who built it though; it was the people who showed up when they were needed most and, most fortunately for me, many have stuck around. They have been not just supporters but friends, and true friends like them are truly signs of God's care for me. It’s hard to think that any thing or anyone but God could have put them where and when they were most needed. Some have come and gone when the battle was over, some are still there after years and years.
I know the relief that Moses felt when he had friends (ok, and a relative) to do what was needed when he hadn't the strength to do it himself. His testimony was indeed written down in a book while mine will be written in a blog. Still, whether saving one life or a hundred thousand or more, I have a feeling that God is, if not directly pulling the strings, at least laying a trail of breadcrumbs or the hint of an oasis nearby, with a rock and a good friend or two waiting to be discovered.
For M, JJ, S, HH, HL, MC, J, B, and my cast of thousands. Thank you all.
Originally published at Speaking to the Soul on Episcopal Café Saturday, April 21, 2012.