Hand-Raisers

In church circles, hand-raisers are those who often express their worship by raising their hands. There are a large variety of hand-raisers, and others have covered those varieties much better than I could; e.g. this Tim Hawkins video gives you a quick rundown. (Hawkins is a comedian who happens to be a Christian, which is an entirely different, and much funnier, thing than a Christian comedian. See also Micheal Jr.)

Moses had some hand-raising friends, too, but of a completely different kind. In Exodus 17, Israel has only been free from Egypt for a little while. They’ve just experienced manna for the first time, and they’re slowly making their way to Canaan. In the first part of the chapter, there’s a bit of a dust-up over water1, and as our story starts, Amalek has attacked Israel. In response, Moses tells Joshua to take some men and go fight them, and “Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”

Joshua goes out to fight, and Moses goes up the hill with Aaron (Moses’ brother) and Hur (not Ben). Verse 11 tells us that whenever Moses raised his hands, Joshua and the Israelites prevailed, but whenever Moses rested his hands, the Amalekites prevailed. In other words, so goes Moses’ hands, so goes the battle.

Now, if you’ve ever tried to stand with a big stick in your hands for any amount of time,2 you can see where this is headed. It’s not looking good for Israel, because Moses is eighty years old, and raising that staff over the Nile for a few seconds is not the same as standing on a hill with it raised for several hours.

Sure enough, in verse 12, we’re told Moses’ hands got “heavy”. The word for “heavy” there is the same word used a few chapters earlier of Pharaoh’s heart during the plagues, but in those chapters it was translated “hardened.” Just as Pharaoh’s “heavy” heart prevented Israel from going free (without intervention), so Moses’ “heavy” hands were going to prevent Israel from winning this battle (without intervention).

In this case, the intervention was from Aaron and Hur. They found a big stone for Moses to sit on, so he didn’t have to stand the whole time, and then they held his hands up, one for each of them. Moses was not only not having to stand up, he wasn’t forced to hold his hands up by himself, either. As a result, his hands were no longer “heavy” but instead were “steady”, and stayed steady until the sun went down. And thus Joshua defeated the Amalekites.

As with any Bible passage, there are many things we could discuss here. For today, let’s look at the people involved in this story, and the parts they play.

  • Moses — the leader, the head guy in charge, the buck-stopper.
  • Aaron — Moses’ brother, and official mouthpiece (see Ex. 3–4).
  • Hur — unknown; we haven’t heard of him before, and we won’t hear of him again (we possibly hear of a descendent later in Exodus, but it might not be the same Hur).
  • Joshua — we haven’t heard of him before, either, but we’re going to hear a lot about him going forward; he will eventually succeed Moses and be the one to actually lead Israel into Canaan.

The leader set the agenda. He recognized the threat the Amalekites were when they attacked. He put everyone in position, including himself.

The battle-leader did the actual fighting.

The family member held up the leader’s hand so the battle-leader could win the battle. In the vernacular, he took some of the weight off.

The friend (we’re going to call Hur a friend; he was clearly someone Moses trusted) also held up the leader’s hand.

The leader, although ultimately responsible for the fledgling nation, did not do any of the actual fighting, nor did he, in the end, even hold his own hands up. He needed others to do those things, and was ultimately only successful because he allowed others to do those things. He needed both family and friend to help him, and he needed someone else to lead the actual fighting.

And so it is with all of us. We can’t do it alone. We all need help in our battles (also known as struggles or difficulties or crises), and we all need the same kind of help. We need family to help take the weight off, and we need friends to help take the weight off. We need both, not one to the exclusion of the other.

Now, I know, some of our families are the cause of the battles, not the help. For when that’s really true, we still need both, we just need to mentally divide our friends into the kind of friends that are more like family (Prov 18:24), and the kind that are just friends, good friends though they might be.

Today’s question is this: whose hand are you raising?

One of the common things we do when someone we know is in a struggle or crisis is to tell them, “Call me if you need anything.” If I had a nickel for every time I’d heard and/or said that, I wouldn’t be looking for work. But if we look at what happened in this story, we see that “When Moses’ hands grew heavy” is immediately followed by “they took a stone and …”. Aaron and Hur didn’t wait for a call. They took action when they saw action was needed. (And, it should be noted, they only took the action that was needed; they didn’t take over leadership or try to change Moses’ mind about how to wage the battle.)

I didn’t forget the battle-leader. His name is Joshua, except that, as I’ve mentioned recently, there aren’t any J’s in the Biblical languages. As I said there, anywhere you see a J in the Bible it should be a Y. Joshua’s name was thus Yeshua. The above-mentioned post was about someone else named Yeshua; we here in the U.S. know him as Jesus.

Now, one of the great mysteries of life is how we ended up with two entirely different names out of the same name in the Bible, but that’s a subject for another post. The point here is we have the same battle-leader that Moses had. We lose battles, are defeated or crippled by struggles/difficulties, for three reasons:

  • We don’t have/let family help us.
  • We don’t have/let friends help us.
  • We don’t have/let Jesus do the fighting.

As great a lesson as that is, there’s an even better follow-up to this story. In the very next chapter, Exodus 18, Moses’ father-in-law Jethro comes for a visit. He brings Moses’ wife and two kids who have been staying with him, Moses tells him all about what’s been happening, they have a big meal to celebrate. Then Jethro decides to spend the day with Moses. He sees that there are people lined up to see Moses “from morning to evening.” When he asks why, Moses tells him they look to him (Moses) to make decisions. Jethro has a curt but accurate response: “What you’re doing is not good!

What Jethro tells Moses is obvious (get others to help you with the lesser decisions), especially considering Moses just came out of a situation where he needed help. I love this story because it gives me hope. If I miss an obvious application today of something I learned yesterday, I can take comfort in knowing that someone as great as Moses did, too. And the lesson here is that we need people to re-teach us lessons we’ve already learned. We usually think that learning a lesson once is enough; we don’t help from that point forward. Many of us would need far less counseling if we just had someone to re-teach us some already learned lessons.

Today’s second question is this: who do you keep on hand to re-teach you things you already know?

  1. See what I did there?
  2. And if you haven’t, try it now. Get a broom or a rake or something and go outside and raise your hands while holding it. See how long you last. I’ll wait.

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