By: Michael Peebles
Date: January 1, 2013
Exodus 17:8-16 (the battle of Israel with Amalek)
Matthew 15:29-32 (the feeding of the four thousand)
Hebrews 12:12-14 (resonant with Isaiah 35:3)
Shortly after the newly born nation of Israel had observed the destruction of the Egyptian army by YHVH, the Amelekites arrived to fight with them. Joshua and a chosen band went out against Amalek. Moses went up the hill with the staff, or “rod of God”, as it is called in the KJV, in his hand. The expression in the text is umatteh ha’Elohim beyadi, “with the rod of God in my hand”. As you may be aware, the word matteh can refer both to a staff and a tribe.
Cognitively the word origin is connected with the idea of extending. The tribe is a branch of the family tree, extending its reach. The shepherd’s staff extends his reach. In Psalm 110:1-2 we read, “The Lord said unto my Lord, sit thou at my right hand until I make thine enemies thy footstool. The Lord shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thy enemies.” The word matteh is used here, and seems to be drawn from the same connection with extending. (But note that “scepter” is translated from a separate word, which also is associated with the rod of correction.)
A fourth facet of the word matteh has to do with the support of a staff. This is the basis for the expression “staff of bread” first used in Leviticus 26:26, and many times elsewhere. A fifth is seen in Isaiah 9:4, where the power of the enemy is prophesied to be broken by Messiah; matteh is a rod, a stick that had been used to strike the shoulder of one who is oppressed and downtrodden.
I notice that all five of these main ideas or associations are in view as we read through these portions that have to do with the exodus from Egypt and life in the wilderness. A great family has become a nation of people, divided into tribes. God himself is their guide and shepherd, and he is their king. He is also their support, and their provider of bread, and the one who overthrew their oppressors.
Let’s consider the early history of this particular staff. Moses brought it with him when he came to the burning bush, and when asked what he had in his hand he replied, “matteh.” Simply, “a staff.” Not “my staff”. He was instructed to throw it on the ground, where it became a snake, which he ran from. He was told to catch it by the tail, and when he did so, it became a staff again in his hand. When he returned to Egypt, the expression matteh ha’Elohim, “the staff of God” is first used. Whatever notions of ownership of the staff Moses had before he came to the burning bush, it is clear from that time it belonged to God.
Here is the first question of this devotional meditation. Do you have anything, or perhaps any area of your life, that has been touched by God in a way that made it his?
Selah — pause and reflect.
We know from Deuteronomy 25:18 that this attack by the Amalekites began when they made what evidently was a guerrilla style raid, killing the stragglers at the rear of the group. They made a prey of the weakest among the people of Israel.
This issue of weakness and frailty is reinforced by another aspect of the story. In the battle with Amalek, as long as Moses held up his hands the Israelites prevailed. Since the rod was in his hand, it is evident that he was holding up the rod of God. It became a kind of banner or ensign, representing the idea that as long as God was exalted in Israel, they would prevail. Moses had the best intentions and a strong motive for keeping his hands up, but he got tired. That is where Aaron and Hur came in. They supported Moses, and with their help, Moses’ hands were steady until sunset, when Joshua and the Israelites had prevailed.
Yeshua, on the other hand, made the weakest and most frail members of society a major focal point of his ministry. His heart went out to them, and he healed them and fed them. So much was left over that seven huge spurida baskets (the kind used to lower the Apostle Paul) were left over. One for each loaf that was started with. This represents an increase on the order of 50 to 1.*
Yeshua, son of David, was doing the work of a loving shepherd. He was tender, kind, and compassionate. He was a thoughtful and effective support to the weak. The same elements are present in this one little story that were present in the situation with Amalek in the desert.
Gospel stories like these make it so clear how Yeshua acted to help those who were weak and straggling physically and morally. Those who were being pursued by the destroyer. He was caring for his family, extending the rule of God, leading people out of the bondage of the enemy, being a Great Shepherd, a strong support, and literally even a provider of bread.
All this seems to me to have two significant applications. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that we are not running the race alone. We should be helping others who have become weak or weary in the race, and improving the path so that others can use it with less difficulty. We should live toward God, as he is toward us. The compassion of God moves him to experience pain and sorrow on our behalf, as well as joy. This will naturally incline us to do the same for others around us.
In coming to the second application, consider the help that Yeshua got. The disciples learned as they went, but they were slow and inconsistent. They ministered to others, but they got more of his heart as time went on. He wanted them to pray with him in the garden, and they were willing, but they were weak themselves.
Even though Yeshua is now at the right hand of the Heavenly Father, his work is ongoing. All that are reborn in Messiah are his Body, engaged in the same work he took up long ago. In this sense he is YHVH-Nissi. Yahweh our banner. While he is lifted up, the enemy is driven back, yielding ground (souls) that may bear fruit for God. When he is not, the enemy comes in like a flood tide.
Like Moses, let’s not insist on having everything to please ourselves; let’s be willing to yield to God whatever he chooses to use and bless. Let’s let him have ownership.
Are you an extension of Yeshua, in the work of caring for those who are weak, or do you leave them defenseless and look after yourself? Are you consistent in this, or is it a principle that is only at work in some areas of your life? Are you careful to pray for those who are not appealing to you? Are you careful to pray for those who are able to influence you for good (though this may at times make you uncomfortable?)
Let’s look to Yeshua, the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross.
Note that the baskets left over from the feeding of the 5,000 were kophinoi, a small arm basket used like we might use a satchel or small backpack.