The Battle with Amalek

A sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. (EXO 17:11-12)

A common idea that has been frequently heard in the church is that “the Lord doesn’t give anyone a greater burden than they can carry.” If one thinks at all critically, it becomes immediately obvious that this can’t be true because, first and most important, the Lord doesn’t give us burdens. Every effort of His Divine Providence is to guide us away from troubles, It is His good pleasure to carry all our burdens for us, if we will allow Him to. As we read in the third lesson, after discovering a sin within one’s self during self examination, we are to “implore the Lord’s help” in shunning that sin, because we cannot do it without His help.

It is true that sometimes it may appear that He is testing us by sending one financial or personal disaster after another our way. The Word is written according to appearances, and it sometimes appears that God is angry, or punishes. But that cannot be so, because it is against His very nature, and against His laws of Divine Providence.

It is also true that if troubles cannot be avoided without compromising our freedom of choice in spiritual things, He is able to turn them so that some good can come from them, somewhere – but not necessarily to the one who suffers the trouble. It could be our children, our extended family, or complete strangers who benefit by looking at was happened to us and thereby avoiding making the same mistake.

In the work the Divine Providence, paragraph 320 reminds us that it is our tendency as human beings to believe that anything that happens inside our head has it’s source there; that good, charitable ideas come from our own inherent goodness and did not flow in from the Lord through heaven. We also take credit for the evil thoughts that flow in from hell, and make them our own too! It would be so much easier to flee from evils if we could see the devil’s face as he whispered those thoughts into our head – but that would be an external reformation only, like the temporary burst of faith that comes with seeing a miracle, not the internal reformation which is what we need to prepare properly for the life of heaven.

This passage from Divine Providence (and the others like it) are not given to make us feel bad about our failures, but to help us have a healthier, more successful approach to the troubles that confront us in our lives. Let’s reflect on this as we think about Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt, struggling to find their way across the wilderness of Sin in the Sinai peninsula, when they are attacked by the Amalekites.

The situation is this: As soon as the children of Israel had fled Egypt and crossed over into the Sinai peninsula, they marched south as quickly as they could – partly to get a lot of distance between themselves and the Egyptians (both to prevent the Egyptians from attacking them again, and to prevent the cowardly among them from running back to the “flesh pots” – plentiful food – of Egypt). Along the way they complained about being hungry, and were provided with manna and quails to eat. They also complained about the lack of water. At Marah the bitter water was made sweet, and then at Rephidim the Lord commanded Moses to strike the rock and water gushed forth. Still at Rephidim, well in the south of the wilderness, getting close to Mt. Sinai, they are attacked by the Amalekites.

Thinking purely from the natural sense, we can have some sympathy for the people in the land. Exodus tells us that there were “six hundred thousand” fighting men in the group that left Egypt. Add in women and children and you have about the same number of people that are presently in Toronto – more than two million people. Imagine being a resident of the land and looking over the wall of your little fortified city and seeing a mob of two million people heading your way. You would be justified in thinking that it was not a good thing; that they would consume the land itself as they passed over it like a plague of locusts. Anything you could do to turn them aside would be justified. The Amalekites could see this hoard of invaders heading their way. They armed themselves to try and turn the human tide, to save themselves and their towns.

As Amalek’s army comes to meet the Hebrews, we are introduced to Joshua. Joshua must be a relatively young man at this point because he will be Moses’s assistant and commander in chief for the Forty years the Hebrews are in the wilderness, and still be able to lead them during their conquest of Canaan. For such a young man to be given such responsibility, his talents and ability to lead must have been remarkable and immediately seen. And, Moses’s choice was no doubt Divinely inspired!

In studying the passages in the Heavenly Doctrines that relate to this story, what emerges is the importance of the rod in the hand of Moses as a symbol of the Lord’s power, and His presence with them. The “rod” or “staff” is an important image in the Old Testament. One cannot think of many pictures of people of that time without seeing some kind of walking stick or staff in their hand. In such cultures, little boys are sent out to care for the flocks and their only tools are the sticks they pick up along the way. Shepherd boys are also known to while away the hours play fighting each other with sticks. The result is that they become quite good at it, and they carry some kind of stick with them for the rest of their lives as a very effective means of self protection.

In the book of Revelation, we are given the image of the son born to the Woman clothed with the Sun, who will rule the nations with a “rod of iron.” The leading idea here is that a person’s hand represent their power, their ability to perform uses of all kinds. A rod or staff extends the reach of the hand, it has the effect of multiplying the power of the hand many times. It’s why a king carries a scepter. So, to put a rod or staff in the hand of Moses – who represents the Prophetic Word and the Law of the Lord – is to be seen as a symbol of the great power of the Lord’s truth to fight against, overcome, and defeat the falsity represented by the army of Amalek.

AC 8605. Israel prevailed. That this signifies that then the fighting truth conquered, is evident from the signification of “prevailing,” as being to conquer; and from the representation of Israel, as being those who are of the spiritual church, here those who fight from truths against the falsities from interior evil.

It sounds so easy. The enemy is coming. All you have to do is go stand on that hill and hold your rod up in the air. As long as you do, our side will win. Easy.

If only it were that easy to defeat falsity. Isn’t it true that we start our spiritual battles full of energy and good intentions? But it doesn’t take long before our arms become heavy, it doesn’t take long before we find ourselves struggling to maintain headway.

When Moses looked out on the field of battle as his arms became leaden and began to drop, he saw the people that he was charged to protect began to die at the hands of the Amalekites – and even with that driving his motivation, still he could not do it by himself.

It wasn’t as if he was a boy facing a giant.

It wasn’t as if he was facing a huge enemy army armed with just a pitcher and a trumpet.

All he had to do to win the battle and protect his people was to stand there holding a stick in the air.

And he couldn’t do it.

Have we ever felt like Moses? Have we ever faced a burden that the hells told us we ought to be able to manage by ourselves and stubbornly refused to ask for help? Have we seen our friends and family hurt by our stubbornness. Many of us allow ourselves to fall into this trap. That’s why the Lord gave us this story about Moses. The burden was too heavy for him to manage by himself, so Moses asked for help.

EXO 17:12 But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. {13} So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

And what happened to Moses? Was the Lord angry with him for his failure? No. Emphatically not, because in asking for help he didn’t fail, he succeeded. By asking for help he set in motion the process that brought the other things that were still needed into the picture.

The Lord wants us to act “as of self” – that means as if we have the power ourselves, but yet knowing that we do not. It’s like the guy driving a bulldozer. All he has to do is move a couple lever forward and he can literally move mountains. The power to accomplish regeneration is the Lord’s, the decision is ours.

Truth, even Divine Truth, does not have power in the abstract, it needs ultimation, to rest in and be supported by the things of the world, the vessels that receive it.

AC 8609. And they took a stone. That this signifies truth Divine in the ultimate of order, … here truth in the ultimate of order, because it was put under him and he sat upon it….

AC 8610. And put it under him, and he sat upon it. That this signifies correspondence with truth in the first of order, can be seen from the fact that this stone supported Moses, and by Moses is represented truth in the first of order, or the truth Divine which proceeds immediately from the Lord….

AC 8611. And Aaron and Hur. That this signifies truths in order, is evident from the representation of Aaron and Hur, as being lower truths in successive order relatively to the truth that is in the first of order which is represented by Moses….

AC 8612. Held up his hands. That this signifies the upholding of the power of the fighting truth, is evident from the signification of “hands,” as being power, here the power of the fighting truth which is represented by Joshua. That the upholding of the fighting truth is what is signified by “Aaron and Hur holding up the hands of Moses,” is because Joshua prevailed through the uplifting of the hands of Moses.

Moses was unable to hold his arms up long enough to defeat Amalek. He did not realize that he needed help until he saw Amalek’s soldiers killing his own people. Then he accepted help. The truth, represented by Moses, was unable to defeat the falsity represented by Amalek by itself; it required the assistance of the staff, the rock, Aaron, and Hur.

Remember Divine Providence 278 from the third lesson? Here’s a shorter passage that delivers the same message:

Apocalypse Revealed 531: Actual repentance is to examine oneself, to recognize and acknowledge one’s own sins, to take the responsibility, to confess them before the Lord, to beg for help and power to resist them, and in this way to give them up and lead a new life, and to do all these things as from yourselves.

The man of the church is not able to defeat interior falsity simply with his own intellect, by his own effort. He needs to know this – which he learns by seeing his arguments destroyed – that the purpose of the battle is to teach him that he needs the Lord’s help, that he does not live by himself, or through his own power.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. The Lord is there, offering His Divine assistance, but we have to be smart enough to ask for His help. The wise among us will do it sooner, rather than later. Amen.

First Lesson: EXO 17:8-16

Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. {9} And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” {10} So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. {11} And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. {12} But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. {13} So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. {14} Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” {15} And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; {16} for he said, “Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” Amen.

Second Lesson: Rev 3:14-22

“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: {15} “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. {16} “So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. {17} “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’; and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked; {18} “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. {19} “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. {20} “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. {21} “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. {22} “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”’ “ Amen.

Third Lesson: DP 278

… In order that man may examine himself an understanding has been given him, and this separate from the will, that he may know, understand and acknowledge what is good and what is evil; and also that he may see the quality of his will, or what it is he loves and desires. In order that he may see this his understanding has been furnished with higher and lower thought, or interior and exterior thought, to enable him to see from higher or interior thought what his will is doing in the lower or exterior thought. This he sees as a man sees his face in a mirror; and when he sees it and knows what sin is, he is able, if he implores the help of the Lord, not to will it, but to shun it and afterwards to act against it; if not wholeheartedly, still he can exercise constraint upon it by combat, and at length turn away from it and hate it. Now, and not before, he first perceives and also feels that evil is evil and that good is good. This then is what is involved in examining oneself, seeing one’s evils and recognizing them, confessing them and afterwards desisting from them (emphasis added). Amen.

Copyright © 1982 – 2006 General Church of the New Jerusalem.
Page constructed by James P. Cooper
Page last modified September 27, 2009

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