ASSISTED LIFTING (Rephidim – Part 2)

When Moses’ father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he asked, “What are you really accomplishing here? Why are you trying to do all this alone while everyone stands around you from morning till evening?” [Exodus 18:14 (NLT)]

Back when I did weight training, I’d often find myself struggling with my last few reps. When I thought I couldn’t get the dumbbell up another inch and was about to give up, my trainer often gave me a little help so I could finish the rep. Disappointed that I couldn’t do it on my own, he’d remind me, “There’s nothing wrong with a little assisted lifting!”

Earlier this week, when writing about Israel’s victory against the army of Amalek at Rephidim, I didn’t tell the whole story. While Joshua and his men fought in the valley, Moses, Aaron, and Hur observed from a hilltop. Standing tall, Moses raised his arms and extended his staff for all to see. That staff was Israel’s banner and, as long as Moses kept the staff raised high in the air, the Israelites advanced. But, as the day wore on, the eighty-year-old began to tire. His arms grew heavy and, most likely, his back began aching and his legs started cramping. Whenever Moses’ fatigued arms started to fall, the Amalekites began to succeed. As the battle ebbed and flowed, its outcome seemed to depend as much on Moses and that raised staff as it did on the men’s skill with swords. Aaron and Hur, however, found a rock on which Moses could sit. Then the two men stood beside Moses and did some “assisted lifting” of their own by holding up his arms until Israel claimed victory at sunset.

Later, while still camped at Rephidim, Moses got another lesson in assisted lifting. From sunrise to sunset, he dealt with both the spiritual and interpersonal concerns of Israel. Scripture tells us there were 600,000 Israelite men. When we add women, children, and the “mixed multitude” that joined them in their escape from Egypt, more than two million people were traveling together. With those many people (described by Moses as “stiff-necked”), imagine the number of questions, concerns, grievances, and quarrels that came to his attention every day. When Jethro (Moses’ father-in-law) visited the Israelite camp, he observed his son-in-law’s demanding routine. Seeing how overwhelmed Moses was by his enormous responsibilities while others did nothing, Jethro warned Moses that working that way was unsustainable. He sagely advised him to delegate some of his duties among Israel’s leaders.

Jethro suggested that Moses continue to act as the people’s representative before God and as God’s voice to the people. As an intermediary between God and Israel, Moses would intercede for Israel and pass along God’s words to them. But, when it came to mediating people’s everyday (often petty) disputes with one another, Jethro suggested that Moses chose qualified men and subdivide the work of judging among them. Only the most difficult cases would come to Moses. After getting divine approval, Moses heeded his father-in-law’s advice and got some much-needed assisted lifting!

God doesn’t expect us to bear every burden alone. Moses couldn’t do it all by himself and, even though we often think we can, neither can we. Although God will provide assistance, his provision often comes in the advice and help we receive from others. Whether we take that help, however, is entirely up to us. Fortunately, Moses didn’t think himself too strong to be helped with his staff, too wise to be counseled by his father-in-law, or too indispensable to delegate work to others!

Rather than a barbell or even a shepherd’s staff, the heavy weight we’re asked to lift consists of the responsibilities, complications, predicaments, and challenges of life. At some time or another, like Moses, we all will need some assisted lifting. May we never be too proud to accept it.

Thank you, Lord, for the many ways you provide us with the assisted lifting that gives us the strength and ability to succeed.

Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help. But someone who falls alone is in real trouble. Likewise, two people lying close together can keep each other warm. But how can one be warm alone? A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken. [Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (NLT)]

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JEHOVAH-NISSI (Rephidim – Part 1)

But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack. Now rescue your beloved people. Answer and save us by your power. [Psalm 60:4-5 (NLT)]

May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. [Psalm 20:4-5 (NLT)]

The Amalekites were a warlike nomadic tribe who frequently raided settlements to carry off plundered goods. About six weeks into the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, these marauders made an unprovoked attack on the weary refugees while they camped at Rephidim. Moses commissioned Joshua to lead an army against their enemies the following morning. Joshua’s army, however, wasn’t made up of soldiers! Facing the veteran warriors of Amalek were men who less than two months earlier had been enslaved brick makers and field laborers! Worse, this unseasoned army was led by a general as inexperienced as were they. Nevertheless, Israel’s men set out to battle while Moses, his brother Aaron, and a man named Hur (who Jewish tradition believes was married to Miriam and brother-in-law to Moses) climbed to the top of a nearby hill to watch. As Israel fought their powerful foes, Moses extended his arms and held out his staff for all to see.

When going into battle, opposing armies would carry banners or standards that served as rallying points before battle, encouraged the warriors as they fought, and announced when the battle was won. Representing their tribe or leader, the banners usually depicted animals, birds, or pagan gods. Made of fabric, wood, or metal, they were fastened onto a long pole or staff so they could be seen from a distance. Marauders like the Amalekites probably had such a banner. The Israelites, however, weren’t an experienced army and had no flag or standard under which to rally.

Moses’ staff was the closest thing Israel had to a banner. Although it looked like an ordinary shepherd’s tool, to the Israelites it symbolized God’s intervention. Through God’s power, it had transformed into a snake, turned water into blood, produced hail, and infested Egypt with frogs, gnats, flies, and locusts. When Moses raised it over the Red Sea, the waters parted and, when Moses struck a rock with it, water gushed out. That staff, associated with God’s miracles, became Israel’s banner. As long it remained in sight, Israel’s novice army believed God was with them and victory was possible. That symbol of God’s faithfulness, presence, and power remained in the men’s sight on the hilltop until Israel was victorious over the army of Amalek.

After their victory, Moses built a memorial altar and called it Yahweh-Nissi (Jehovah-Nissi), which meant “The Lord is Our Banner.” By not calling it “The Staff is Our Banner” or “Our Banner Brought Us Victory,” it was clear that Moses knew it wasn’t the staff, Joshua’s battle strategy, or Israel’s military might that defeated the Amalekites. The name Yahweh-Nissi acknowledged that it was God’s presence and power that gave them their triumph. God, and God alone, was the author of their victory.

Indeed, the Lord is our banner. Unlike the Israelites, we’re not being attacked by an army of marauding warriors but, like them, the enemy attacks us every day with desire, discontent, despair, anger, and guilt. We face our battles under God’s banner—one of encouragement, courage, hope, love, faith, power, and might. If we keep our eyes focused on the Lord, victory is ours. Because of Yahweh-Nissi, we don’t have to fight our battles on our own strength – we have His!

In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place. [Isaiah 11:10 (NLT)]

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One day Jesus told his disciples a story to show that they should always pray and never give up. [Luke 18:1 (NLT)]

mourning doveIt is in the Talmud (a compilation of ancient Jewish teachings and history) that we find the legend of Honi ha-Ma’agel (the Circle Maker). After three years of drought in the land, the man prayed for rain. When none came, Honi drew a circle in the dirt and vowed not to leave it until God had pity on his people and sent rain. When God sent a light rain, the circle maker informed God that wasn’t the kind of rain for which he prayed and stated his desire for rain enough to fill the cisterns. When God answered with torrents of rain, Honi again complained that, “Not for such a rain I prayed.” After the circle maker informed God he wanted a “rain of goodwill, blessing, and graciousness,” God provided a rain that satisfied Honi. In fact, it rained so much that the people finally asked Honi to pray the rain away! While Honi’s behavior is a great example of chutzpah (audacity and impudence), I’m not sure it’s a good example of proper prayer.

Every week since Russia invaded Ukraine nearly a year ago, the pastor has opened her Saturday evening worship service with a prayer for peace in Ukraine (as well as in our hearts). Regardless of how long it takes, until there is a peaceful settlement or God instructs her to stop praying for Ukraine, she will continue starting every service this way. What she is not doing, however, is drawing a circle in the chancel area, placing a bed and porta-potti in it, arranging for Uber Eats and Grub Hub deliveries, and moving into that circle until God brings peace to the war-torn nation!

While I join in the pastor’s persistent prayers for peace, like her, I don’t draw a circle and refuse to leave it until God answers my prayers on my terms and time line. Rather than an example of perseverance in prayer, the demanding Honi seems a bit like a spoiled child who refuses to leave the store until his parents buy the toy he wants. In fact, the Talmud says the rabbis compared Honi to a son who “importunes” (pesters, annoys, plagues, or harasses) his father to do his will. They even considered excommunicating the circle maker for dishonoring God in such an impertinent way.

No matter how persistently we pray, drawing a circle and challenging God to produce results on demand seems dangerously close to testing the Lord. Requiring something of God to prove Himself is the very thing Satan tempted Jesus to do in the wilderness. By challenging Jesus to jump off the Temple, the enemy wanted to manipulate a situation that would oblige God to intervene. Satan wanted Jesus to prove the truth of God’s word by forcing God’s hand. Honi’s actions weren’t that much different.

Nevertheless, finding Honi’s story similar to Jesus’ parable about the persistent widow and dishonest judge, there are some who think we should follow the circle maker’s example. The widow in the parable tenaciously pestered the corrupt judge for justice against the man who harmed her. Worn down by her persistent pleas to right the wrong, the beleaguered judge eventually granted her request. Jesus, however, wasn’t comparing the unjust judge to God; He was contrasting them! The corrupt judge had no fear of God or concern for people. Since he was more likely to be persuaded by a bribe than compassion or a desire for justice, the widow’s only recourse was to relentlessly hound him until she received what she deserved. In contrast, rather than corrupt, cruel, or hardhearted, God is righteous, merciful, and loving. Jesus explained that God “will surely give justice to his chosen people who cry out to him day and night.”

Presenting ultimatums or harassing, beleaguering, and nagging the Lord is unnecessary because our just and compassionate God always hears and answers our prayers. While Jesus calls for persistence in prayers and perseverance in faith until His return, there is a fine line between boldly praying with perseverance and impertinently praying with cheek, impudence, stipulations, or a sense of entitlement.

The story of Honi is not Biblical and, if praying the way Honi did were important, we’d find such an example in Scripture. After all, Elijah didn’t have to make a circle before God answered his prayers for both drought and rain. The power of our prayers does not come from standing in a circle or making brazen demands—it comes from the God who hears our prayers and answers them according to His will and timing. In the meantime, until peace comes to Ukraine or God tells us to stop, please join the pastor and me as we persevere in our prayers for peace.

The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results. Elijah was as human as we are, and yet when he prayed earnestly that no rain would fall, none fell for three and a half years! Then, when he prayed again, the sky sent down rain and the earth began to yield its crops. [James 5:16b-18 (NLT)]

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Then Jesus turned to the crowd and said, “When you see clouds beginning to form in the west, you say, ‘Here comes a shower.’ And you are right. When the south wind blows, you say, ‘Today will be a scorcher.’ And it is. You fools! You know how to interpret the weather signs of the earth and sky, but you don’t know how to interpret the present times.” [Luke 12:54-59 (NLT)]

After admonishing the crowd surrounding Him for being able to predict the weather but being oblivious to the signs of the arrival of God’s Kingdom, Jesus told a parable about getting right with God before judgment. As He was speaking, he was told about a recent incident in which Pontius Pilate ordered his soldiers to murder some Galileans while they offered their Temple sacrifices. On Monday, in “The Man from Galilee,” I wrote about the stereotypes Judeans had of Galileans; along with thinking them to be uneducated peasants, many Judeans regarded Galileans as trouble-making rebels against Rome. Indeed, Galileans had revolted after Herod the Great was named King, and, in 6 AD, another rebellion was led by Judas of Galilee. Indicating Rome’s expectation of armed resistance from Jesus and his Galilean disciples, a contingent (around 500) of heavily armed soldiers were sent to arrest Him in Gethsemane. Jesus even asked if they thought him a dangerous revolutionary. While turning the other cheek and loving one’s enemies was a revolutionary concept, that was not the kind of revolution people expected from a Galilean.

Understanding the crowd’s bias makes it likely that their specific mention of the murdered men being Galilean indicates their suspicion that the men may have been trouble-makers who deserved their deaths. Perceiving the crowd’s smug viewpoint, Jesus asked whether those Galileans deserved their brutal deaths more than any other Galilean and immediately answered His own question with a firm, “Not at all!” Turning the tables on his questioners, He mentioned a recent disaster that had horrified the nation when eighteen men were crushed to death after a tower they’d been building collapsed on them. He then asked, “Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem?” before repeating His caution to repent lest His listeners perish as well.

As long as life goes smoothly for us, it’s easy to self-righteously think that those who suffer deserve God’s judgment. After all, that’s what Job’s friends mistakenly thought about his afflictions. When life takes a turn for the worse and we’re on the receiving end of tragedy as it did for Job, that reasoning flies out the window. None of those laborers were any more deserving of their deaths than were the “Galileans.” By the same token, none of them were less deserving of their suffering, even if they all were truly evil people.

Whether the devastation and loss of life from events like Hurricane Ian or the unbearable horror of a school shooting like Uvalde, experiencing tragedy has nothing to do with one’s righteousness. The Book of Job makes it clear that even the most righteous among us have no right to question God. Suffering, disease, and death originate from God’s curse because of that first sin. Even terms like “innocent child” and “good person” are relative terms since we all are sinners and deserving of God’s righteous judgment.

Tragedies show us that life is fragile and that we must get right with God before we die and face judgment. If nothing else, catastrophe and misfortune should drive us to repentance and Jesus warned the crowd to do just that: “Repent of your sins and turn to God.” It is repentance that keeps us from perishing—not from suffering and certainly not from dying—but from perishing!

“Do you think those Galileans were worse sinners than all the other people from Galilee?” Jesus asked. “Is that why they suffered? Not at all! And you will perish, too, unless you repent of your sins and turn to God. And what about the eighteen people who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them? Were they the worst sinners in Jerusalem? No, and I tell you again that unless you repent, you will perish, too.” [Luke 13:2-5 (NLT)]

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Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4:31-32 (NLT)]

If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins. [Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)]

mourning doves
The husband quietly arranged for a week’s vacation from work and the wife also arranged for a week off from her job before they joined one another on a romantic getaway. Unfortunately, they weren’t married to one another and their respective spouses were blindsided by their heartless and public betrayal. Since the man was finance director of the school district, unfounded rumors abounded in our small town that he’d absconded with funds along with someone else’s wife. Even though this occurred decades ago, I still remember my shock a week later when, having found the forbidden fruit wasn’t near as tasty as they’d expected, the two adulterers returned to town and their respective homes.

I don’t know how the betrayed husband welcomed his wife or what became of their marriage but, since the betrayed wife lived three doors down and our children played together, I do know what happened to hers. Amazingly, the deceived wife forgave her repentant husband and welcomed him home. While forgiveness doesn’t necessarily end in reconciliation, in this case it did. “How could she forgive him?” asked a shocked (and very gossipy) neighbor. “After all,” she added, “There’s just no excuse for his shameful behavior.” Her question gave me pause since I wondered the very same thing—how could she forgive such an indefensible act?

Rather than look to gossipy neighbors, however, I turned to Scripture. Does God only forgive my “excusable” sins—when I accidentally fall into the mud—and not forgive the ones in which I deliberately go play in the muck? There was no acceptable excuse for the man’s abysmal behavior and nothing could justify the way he so publicly wounded and humiliated his wife but isn’t that the point of forgiveness? Regardless of the circumstances or how we choose to justify our actions, there never is an excuse for sin! If something was excusable—if extenuating circumstances justified a transgression or if there were a valid reason behind an offense, there really would be no need for forgiveness! Forgiveness is what God does because there is absolutely no excuse for our offenses, no defense for our sinful behavior, and no exception to the rules broken by our transgressions.

There was no excuse for that adulterous couple’s behavior but one woman let her faith guide her. Choosing love over hate, hope over despair, and mercy over retaliation, she quietly forgave her repentant husband and continued their marriage. There was no excuse for Gomer’s betrayal of Hosea and yet the loving prophet redeemed her from slavery, forgave her, and welcomed her back into their home. David had no excuse for dallying with Bathsheba and Peter had none for denying Jesus yet both were forgiven. There was absolutely no excuse for the first sin and yet God loved us enough to redeem mankind with the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ.

There is no way we ever can justify any of our sins and yet, when we confess with repentant hearts, we are forgiven. It is precisely when there is no possible excuse that forgiveness is necessary. Let us never forget—if we want to be forgiven of all our sins, we are expected to do the same—even when there is no excuse!

Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. [Colossians 3:13-14 (NLT)]

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For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.” So we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” [Hebrews 13:5-6 (NLT)]


While 21st century Christians might not recognize the source of the two verses quoted in Hebrews 13:5-6, the recipients of that epistle certainly did. As Jews who converted to Christianity, they were familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. The first verse (found in Deuteronomy 1:6 and 8), were relayed by Moses to all of Israel and then specifically to Joshua. After Moses’ death, God personally made the same promise to Joshua in Joshua 1:9.

The second verse cited can be found in Psalms 118:6 and 56:4 and 11. While we don’t know who authored Psalm 118, we know that Psalm 56 was penned by David and was about running from Saul and being seized by Philistines in Gath. Any Hebrew in Paul’s time would know these quotes and the full context in which they were used.

Rather than facing battle with the Canaanites, fleeing from Saul’s army, or being in the hands of the enemy, the original readers of this epistle were new believers who faced persecution from both Rome and their fellow Jews. Having already endured public ridicule, beatings, imprisonment, excommunication from their synagogues, confiscation of their property, and flight from their homes, yet another wave of persecution loomed on the horizon at the time this epistle was written. Discouraged and disheartened, these new Christians were losing heart. Fearful, many contemplated abandoning their belief in Jesus and returning to Judaism.

Wanting to prevent them from apostasy, the epistle’s author encouraged these Jewish converts to remain steadfast in their new faith. Rather than disparaging Judaism, he fortified their faith by showing how Hebrew Scripture pointed the way to the Messiah and how Jesus fulfilled its Messianic promises. He explained that Jesus was superior to the Levitical priesthood, that His sacrifice was better than any required by the Law, and that the new covenant was better than the old. It is when encouraging his readers to stay strong in the faith that the letter’s author refers to these two Old Testament verses.

The last part of the second quote asks, “What can mere people do to me?” Clearly, people had done a great deal of harm to those Hebrew Christians in the past and worse soon would follow. Moreover, just as Christians were persecuted in the 1st century, they continue to be persecuted in parts of the world today. The epistle’s author, however, wasn’t delusional; he knew the people to whom he wrote were not safe from harm at the hands of their fellow man! A closer look at the full verse never says Christ’s followers won’t suffer. Hebrews’ author was telling those new Christians not to be afraid because God was beside them; his words are as relevant today as they were 2,000 years ago. His confidence came from knowing that our lives and future are in the hands of a God who loves us and has pledged Himself to us.

No matter how dire the circumstances, we aren’t alone. While our adversaries are mere mortals, standing beside us is God and His love for us outweighs the hatred of men. In the end, all of the adversities and suffering of this world pale in comparison to the resurrection blessings that await us. The worst thing people can do is kill our bodies. No person, however, can touch our souls!

Don’t be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot touch your soul. Fear only God? But not a single sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows. [Matthew 10:28-31 (NLT)]

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