Exodus 17 tells the mystifying story of Moses raising his hands all day long until the Israelites won the famous battle against the Amalekites. As long as Moses’ hands were held heavenward, the Israelites prevailed, but whenever his arms dropped from fatigue, they began to lose. This was definitely not an ordinary battle. The story’s message appears to be about trusting God and living that trust, but I am most intrigued by how Aaron and Hur stood alongside Moses when his arms grew tired, supporting him by holding his hands “steady” (Exodus 17:10–13).
I remember learning years ago that the word “steady” in this text is the Bible’s first use of the word for faith (emunah; Exodus 17:12). The definition of emunah includes steadiness, firmness, stability, and support. It does not reflect faith in a particular set of beliefs, nor does it suggest that God rejects our committed efforts, desiring only faith without action. It’s also not about receiving support from an omnipotent God who solves all our problems but about what we can do to support God. In other words, it was not Moses’ steadfastness but the support of Aaron and Hur that kept his hands steady. This story presents a picture of divine-human cooperation, a faith that involves a relationship between divine strength and human action.
I do not intend to imply that faith is an action we undertake with our own power. Faith derived only from human determination and strength is too heavy a burden to sustain. The fallacy in this kind of faith is that it places the focus on us. The Israelites in the Exodus story were unable to generate victory through their own strength alone. As in the miracle of the parted Red Sea, Moses’ raised hand is a symbol of divine redemption (Exodus 14:16, 17:15). Moses brings the power of God to the scene, allowing the Israelites to take hold of something more dependable than themselves. It also describes God’s faithfulness (Deuteronomy 7:9). It ultimately reflects what God does because He is the epitome of faithfulness.
After their battle with the Amalekites, Moses declared that God would would have a perpetual war with Amalek (Exodus 17:16). It seems to me that this war reflected a much greater conflict (2 Corinthians 10:3). Though we may clearly see the attacking enemy—whether secular or religious—that persists in today’s world, it is more difficult to detect the spirit of Amalek that exists in ourselves and our theologies about God. Instead of sharing God’s character of love, we may promote supersessionism and intolerance while claiming to share the gospel. We may tell stories that portray God as having a threatening and violent posture, even as we profess to believe in Jesus. In each such case, we disregard God’s steadfast faithfulness and way of “working through love” (Galatians 5:6). Faithfulness involves transforming our concept of God and living by His faithfulness as revealed by Jesus. This is the message that must take ahold of us!
What strikes me as most significant in this picture of faith is not believing that God exists but rather trusting and supporting Him. We don’t typically think of faith as an act of supporting God but as mere belief in God and that Jesus died for our sins. We tend to envision God as acting to solve all our problems, as an omnipotent being who will support us in meeting our every need. Poor God, He likewise needs us in times like these. He needs us to be faithful witnesses who support His character of love and justice in the world.
So, I consider how I can support God today in gaining victories and putting enemies to flight. It’s not about believing more strongly because it is the faithfulness of Jesus that defeats evil and saves God’s “embattled reputation” (Sigve Tonstad, Saving God’s Reputation, 2006, p. 22). If I choose to live by the faithfulness of Jesus and persistently act accordingly, however, I will be working alongside God and giving Him the support He wants. “Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and the faithfulness of Jesus” (Revelation 14:12)
So, I ask myself: What can I do to support God today, tomorrow, next week, next month—consistently and persistently throughout the year? I pray that by God’s grace, I will provide Him the support He wants and will bring Him honor.
Craig Ashton Jr.