Sword or staff?

A military historian exploring the story of Amalek’s attack on Israel at Rephidim (Exodus 17) may be a little disappointed. The narrator omits most of the military detail. We don’t know how many soldiers were involved on either side, we don’t know how many of them were injured, and we don’t know much about the details of either side’s strategy, although there is a note in Deuteronomy that throws some light on the opportunistic nature of Amalek’s attack – attacking when Israel was weary and focusing on those who were lagging behind.

Exodus is more interested in drawing attention away from the battlefield, where Joshua is operating (and will eventually triumph) with the sword, to the top of a newly hill where an 80 year old Moses is holding out a shepherd’s staff. Remarkably the outcome of the battle is connected to the fact that he was able to hold out the staff until sunset. Not that he was able to manage on his own: it took the support of Aaron and Hur to keep his weary hands steady.

What appears to be no more than an ordinary staff is actually ‘the staff of God’. God has transformed something ordinary and made it extraordinary, the means by which his power is mediated. It’s the same staff that invoked the power of God to divide the Red Sea, and the same staff that produced water from the rock.

Because of what it represents, the staff is more significant than the sword. To translate that into our day to day, what we invite God to do is more significant than what we do.

Could it be that we spend more time than we ought on tools and tactics, and less time than we should on seeking God?

Joshua only accomplished what he did because of what Moses was doing. And Moses was only able to do what he did because of the support of Aaron and Hur, and – more importantly, because God had transformed the ordinary into something extraordinary, a vehicle for his power.

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