Most of the folks I know either served in the military or have a relative who did. The Bible discusses several interesting military men and one often overlooked woman. Let’s consider a battle whose tide turned with the efforts of one man and the two who came alongside him.
Go to Exodus 17:8-13. Israel is wandering around in the desert and comes under attack from Amalek. Moses tells Joshua to pick out his force and meet the Amalekites in war the next day while Moses has the rod of God in his hand on the nearby hill. An interesting thing happens. As long as Moses holds up the staff of God, Israel kicks butt and takes names, but when he wearies and puts the staff down, Israel gets their backsides handed to them. When Moses gets too tired to hold up the staff any longer, Aaron and Hur bring over a rock for Moses to perch on and hold up his arms until Joshua’s forces win the day.
There are five key things to learn from this event. The first is that you can’t fight the tempest alone. Often when our world goes berserk, we try too hard to fly solo. Foolish mortal, you can’t, and you weren’t meant to. Sure, there are times when you can handle the matter without involving others, but when you get in over your head, seek and accept. Moses had Aaron and Hur to first bring him a somewhat makeshift chair and then help him hold his arms up long enough for Joshua to win the day. Learn from the example. If you see someone struggling with a load, offer a hand. If someone asks for help, secure the help the person needs, whether that’s you or someone else in a better position or with the requisite skills. We are commanded to bear one another’s burdens1.
Second, notice that Moses’ helpers didn’t take the burden from him. So often, when we see people suffering, we want to lift them out of the crisis and fix things. That’s not our job and might be deleterious to their development. How many times has God used some tragedy to teach us some valuable lesson? I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve learned something important about God through the most incredible disasters I’ve been up against. Ruth came to know God’s plan for her only after becoming a widow2. Nebuchadnezzer found his faith in God after going insane for a time3. Paul had to be blinded by the light before he could go out and do his job4. Helping people means lending a hand through the crisis, not preventing them from going through the mess in the first place, especially if their particular train wreck is self-inflicted.
There is a corollary to that. Moses didn’t try to hand the staff off to someone else so he could go take a nap. He hung on to his staff. After all, it was given to him to bear. He did, however, accept the help the others offered. He didn’t shrug them off and insist with some vehemence that he could do the job himself. So often, many of us have a very well practiced, “No, thanks. I’ve got it,” when in truth we could really use the assistance and we know it. In the most severe form of this malady, we instead try to pass the staff on to someone else to carry. We cheat ourselves when we do that.
We can also see that God uses people to lead others and get the work done. Joshua didn’t go into battle against Amalek by himself. He took his warriors with him and had Moses on the hilltop providing moral support and calling in the divine heavy artillery. Could God have won the battle for Israel with just Joshua? You bet. God didn’t even really need Joshua or Moses, but God very often chooses to use us to do his work in the world. He has work for us to do, too. These jobs were planned for us from long before our birth5.
Notice, too, that all the jobs were important. Joshua had to provide good leadership. The soldiers under his command had to follow his orders. Moses had a staff to hold up. Aaron and Hur had Moses to support. The text doesn’t mention them, but the non-combatants back at the camp were busy doing the work that would support the exhausted troops when they came back from the battlefield. We are all the Body of Christ6. Your job may be spectacular and out in the open where everyone can see and recognize you, or your job may be behind the scenes and no one would ever know you were there until you weren’t there. Then the gap would be evident.
Finally, avoid the pitfall of thinking it was the staff that held the power. There’s a danger in confusing the power of God with the symbol of that power. That happened a time or two in Israel. First, the sons of Eli tried to treat the Ark of the Covenant as if it were some sort of lucky talisman. The Ark was not to go into battle because it was carried only by a certain group of the Levites, and Levites were excused from military service7. God, however, was not with them because of their disobedience. Both were killed and the Philistines took the Ark8.
Another artifact that became confused for the power source was the brass serpent. In the wilderness, Israel grouched about the journey, and God afflicted them with a plague. To halt the plague, the people repented and God had Moses make a brass serpent. Anyone who looked at it was healed9. Many, many moons later, Hezekiah had to break the thing because the people were treating it as an idol10. Be careful that you don’t treat an object as if it were God. Those objects can be as real as the Ark or the brass serpent or as intangible as an ideal. There’s only one God, and he is very jealous of that distinction11.
We are all coming into, coming out of, or in between the storms of our life. So are all the people around us. Don’t try to weather yours alone, and don’t hesitate to help or secure help for someone who needs it.
1 Galatians 6:2
2 Ruth 1-4
3 Daniel 4
4 Acts 9:1-22
5 Ephesians 2:10
6 1 Corinthians 12:12-27
7 Deuteronomy 31:25, Numbers 1:47
8 1 Samuel 4:11
9 Numbers 21:4-9
10 2 Kings 18:4
11 Exodus 34:14