Morning Sermon: Exodus 17:8-16, The LORD Is Our Banner

New Testament Reading: 1 Timothy 2:1–6

“First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:1–6, ESV)

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 17:8-16

“Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.’ So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword. Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.’ And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, ‘A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’” (Exodus 17:8–16, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


There are three points to the sermon today. One, Christian sojourners must engage in spiritual warfare. Two, Christians will find victory in warfare through persistent prayer. And three, the victory is ours because Jesus Christ has won it! We must be found trusting in him. 

Now, you may be thinking to yourself, Pastor, you really had to stretch and strain to draw these conclusions from this simple little text which tells us of a battle between Israel and Amalek at a place called Rephidim. 

Well, if that is your opinion, I would have to disagree with you. In fact, I do believe this is the proper interpretation and application of this passage for the people of God living under the New Covenant. What can we learn from this text? Not only are we to learn a history lesson regarding the battle between the Israelites and Amalek. No, we must remember that these things happened to Israel as an example for us upon whom the end of the ages has come (1 Corinthians 10:6). And when we consider this little story in light of what happened before and what happened afterward in the history of redemption, it is clear that it has reference to Jesus Christ and to the victory that he has won over the spiritual powers of darkness. This spiritual interpretation – this typological interpretation – is in perfect harmony with the example set forth in the New Testament. You’ve seen it throughout our study of the book of Exodus. The New Testament scriptures consistently look back upon the Old Testament scriptures in general, and the Exodus story in particular, and they see Christ pictured there. The New Testament also sees in these historical events an example for the Christian life.

So, when I deliver these three points to you from Exodus 17:8-16 – “Christian sojourners must engage in spiritual warfare, we will find victory through persistent prayer, and the victory is ours only because Jesus Christ has won it! We must be found trusting in him” – it is not at all a stretch. Here we are simply being sensitive to the way in which Christ and the Christian life are prefigured in the Old Testament, and of the progression that has been made in the accomplishment of our redemption from the days of Moses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the grave.


Christian Sojourners Must Engage In Spiritual Warfare

As we consider our passage for today we are indeed reminded that Christian sojourners must engage in spiritual warfare. 

Granted, the warfare that Israel engaged in was physical warfare. It was fought with swords and spears. Flesh was pierced. Blood was spilled. Many perished. But behind this physical war between Amalek and Israel, there was a spiritual war, and we must not forget that. 

We likely will forget the spiritual war if we read this story with our noses pressed against the page. But if we back up a bit to gain perspective we will remember that a spiritual conflict lies behind all physical conflict, especially the conflict between God’s chosen people and those who belong to the Evil One. 

Consider this: When Satan tempted Adam he did so in the physical realm and with physical things, but the temptation was really spiritual. It had to do with the question, would the man be loyal to God, or would he rebel and transfer his allegiance to another? We know that Adam rejected God’s word when he listened to the voice of another. The temptation and the fall took place in the physical realm, but the battle was really spiritual.  

As you know, God was merciful to this rebel. He promised to provide salvation for mankind. And when he spoke of the coming Savior he directed the announcement at Satan, saying, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15, ESV). This little announcement of good news was like a small seed of hope, but in the course of time, it would sprout up and grow into a great and mighty tree, a tree in which the birds of the air could find rest (see Matthew 13:32). 

And as we consider the scriptures from this first promise of the gospel in Genesis 3 on through the Exodus, what do we notice about the fulfillment of this promise regarding the conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent? It does not take long to see that these words were not about the hostility between men and snakes! No, the promise was about the hostility that would exist between those aligned with the Evil One against those who belong to the LORD, by his grace. Remember how the wicked man Cain rose up and killed his righteous brother Able. Remember how Noah was a righteous man tormented by the wicked around him. Of Noah’s three sons, Shem was blessed of the LORD, Japheth would take refuge in him, but Ham was cursed. From these men, all the peoples of the earth would descend. Abraham was a descendent of the blessed one, Shem. And of Abraham’s two sons, Isaac was chosen. And of Isaac’s two sons, Jacob was loved, but Esau was hated.  And you know that the two were at enmity with each other from the womb. My point is this: When God promised that there would be enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, this is what he meant. In the world, there would be those who belonged to the Evil One, and these would strike continuously those who belonged to God in the world. 

Brothers and sisters, this man Amalek, who is introduced to us so abruptly in Exodus 17:8, was a direct descendent of Esau. The Hebrews were descendants of Jacob, who was chosen of the Lord. Think about that for a moment. 

Friends, we cannot lose touch with the storyline of Genesis and Exodus if we hope to understand the meaning of these small individual texts. Yes, the battle that was fought between Israel and the clan of Amalek was physical – flesh was pierced, and blood was spilled. But when all is considered we see that battle raging in the background was spiritual. This is yet another fulfillment of what was said by God in Genesis 3:15. In the course of history, the seed of Satan would strike repeatedly at the heel of God’s people. This time it was Amalek. But in due time one would arise from the offspring of the women who would crush the serpent’s head, bringing ultimate victory to God and his people. This was the work of Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One of God.    

Israel’s battle with Amalek was physical, but it was also spiritual. This is clear, not only from the context of Genesis, but from the text itself. Israel experienced victory, not because they were militarily superior, but only when Moses, the man of God, interceded for them. Clearly, this was no ordinary battle. The battle belonged to the LORD. And this is what is emphasized at the conclusion of our text where Moses builds an altar to give thanks to God for the victory, and he calls it, “the LORD is my Banner”.  Israel trusted in the LORD, and it was the LORD who won the battle for Israel.  

I suppose this is true of all battles. It is the LORD who brings victory and defeat according to his will. But it is especially true of the wars of Israel, for God’s purpose was to accomplish our redemption through them. This little battle with Amalek would be the first of many battles fought by the people of Israel. And as I have said, all of Israel’s divinely sanctioned wars under the Old Covenant were special, for God was accomplishing our redemption through them. His will was to free this people from Egypt, to give them Canaan, to bless them with kings, to preserve them in the land, until the Christ was brought into the world through them. They would fight many wars according to the command of God – real wars – physical wars where blood was shed – but do not forget the spiritual battle, friends. These wars of Israel, though fought on earth, had to do with that promise of the gospel that was made to Adam and to Eve in God’s curse of the serpent. 

Now that the Christ has come into the world through the nation of Israel, God’s people are no longer called to fight for the advancement of God’s kingdom with the sword. Those days are long gone. They passed away with the Old Covenant. When Old Covenant Israel fought with the sword they did, in a sense, further God’s kingdom. God’s kingdom was, under the Old Covenant, manifest on earth through them. As Israel fought in the wilderness, at the time of the conquest of Canaan, and in the days of the judges and kings, they, in a way, fought for the advancement of God’s kingdom on earth. I have said, “in a way”, and “in a sense”, for we know that the kingdom of God was not present in power until the time of Christ, for it was Christ and his forerunner who said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:2, ESV). Nevertheless, the Kingdom of God was prefigured in Israel. And it would be through Israel that the Messiah would emerge to bring in the kingdom of God with power. And this is why I have said, when Old Covenant Israel fought with the sword they did, in a sense, further God’s kingdom. These wars were holy wars. God commanded them. They were fought, not for personal enrichment, nor for the expansion of borders, but for the advancement of God’s plan of redemption. They were governed by special rules, therefore. No other nation on earth has fought wars such as these. They were unique to Old Covenant Israel. And this is why I have said that God’s people are no longer called to fight for the advancement of God’s kingdom with the sword. Those days are long gone, for the Christ has come.

This is why Jesus spoke to the Roman ruler, Pilate, saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36, ESV). That statement from Jesus is very significant. 

The kingdom of Old Covenant Israel was of this world, friends. It was physical. It was earthly. And its wars were fought with physical weapons. But when Christ came to inaugurate his kingdom he said,  in so many words, those days are over. Yes, the kingdom of God was prefigured in Old Covenant Israel. And yes, God’s kingdom purposes were advanced in and through them. But it was Christ who brought the kingdom of God in with power. And what did he say about it? “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36, ESV). This is why he told Peter to put his sword back in its shielth when he began to fight against those who came to take Jesus captive to crucify him. Peter had to learn the lesson that the days of fighting for the advancement of God’s kingdom with the sword were over. They concluded with the passing away of the Old Covenant and with the inauguration of the New. Perhaps an argument could even be made that they ended in the days of King David, for in his reign the kingdom of Israel was made secure. Future kings would be responsible, not to advance or to expand, but to defend Israel’s borders. Certainly, the tie between the kingdom of God on earth and the nation of Israel was severed when Christ died and rose again and inaugurated the New Covenant in his shed blood. 

Here’s my question: if it is true that the days of advancing God’s kingdom with the sword are over, does that mean God’s people may rest from all warfare? The answer is certainly, no. A battle still rages. Though it is often invisible, it is as fierce as ever. Christian sojourners must engage in warfare, but ours is spiritual. 

As Paul says, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds… (2 Corinthians 10:3–6, ESV).

In another place, he says, “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints…” (Ephesians 6:10–18, ESV).

Christ’s kingdom is in not earthly. Yes, his kingdom is manifest on earth. It is visible wherever Christians assemble in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to hear his word and to keep his ordinances. In other words, Christ’s kingdom is manifest on earth in the church. But his kingdom is of heaven, not earth. It is spiritual, not physical. It is advanced, not by the sword, but by the word of God as the Spirit works. It is preserved and protected, not with earth warfare, but spiritual. 

Are you fighting, brothers and sisters? Or have you forgotten that there is a battle raging? 

Are you dressed from the battle, brothers and sisters? Have you prepared yourself with the armor of God, or have you let your guard down? 

In the age to come, there will be no warfare, only rest. But this age is characterized by spiritual battle and worldly tribulation. Rest in the Lord, but do not grow complacent. Know for certain that if you are going to stand in Christ, and if you will be used for the advancement and preservation of his kingdom, you will have to wage spiritual warfare. 

Daily you must “take up the whole armor of God”. You must fasten on the belt of truth. You must put on the breastplate of righteousness, and have as shoes for your feet the readiness given by the gospel of peace. You must take up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And how do clothe ourselves with this armor from God? It is through prayer. The Christian must pray “at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”  


Christians Will Find Victory In Warfare Through Persistent Prayer

That brings us now to the second point of the sermon for today, which is this: Christians will find victory through persistent prayer.

As we return to the text of Exodus 17 I want you to notice that Joshua is introduced to us out of the blue. Joshua will play a very important role in Israel’s history. From other texts, we know that he was much younger than Moses. He was Moses’ right-hand man. He was a mighty warrior and a skilled military commander. He was one of the two spies who kept the faith when the twelve were sent to spy out the land of Canaan. He would eventually succeed Moses as the leader of Israel and would, after forty years of wilderness wandering, lead them into the promised land. Joshua is a very important figure, and he is introduced to us very abruptly in verse 8 where he is set forth as a contrast to the evil one,  Amalek. 

So it is Jacob versus Esau, Joshua versus Amalek, and all of this does anticipate the conflict that would day come to a head between Jesus, the blessed seed of the woman, and Satan, that serpent of old. 

We know from other texts that Amalek was a descendent of Esau. He was the head of this tribe. His descendants would become the Amalekites. They would be mortal enemies of Israel from this day forward. And as such, they were devoted to destruction. 

Other texts like Deuteronomy 25:17 and 1 Samuel 15:2 help us to understand that Amalek was ruthless when he attacked Israel. He attacked them when they were weak and struggling in the wilderness. He attacked them from behind, meaning that he targeted, not the military, but the women and children along with those who were lagging behind. We know that the Amalekites were raiders who were strong militarily. Israel, by contrast, was at this time weak, poorly armed, and inexperienced. All of that becomes evident as the story unfolds. 

Joshua had one day to summon his troops. It is likely that some training had taken place before this. Perhaps the Hebrews left Egypt with some weapons, or perhaps they fashioned some for themselves while in the wilderness. But clearly, they were outmatched. The natural result would have been a defeat for Israel. Left to themselves, apart from the intervention of God, Israel would have been annihilated, blotted out from the face of the earth by Amalek and his mighty men. 

How then did Israel experience victory? The story is very clear. It was by the power of God worked through the faithful intercession of Moses.  

Verse 9: “So Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek.’” That was the natural response. But here is the spiritual and faithful response: “Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” (Exodus 17:9, ESV). Moses was a servant of the LORD; God’s prophet and priest. This staff of his had been used by God to work miracles. It came to signify God’s presence and power. So when Moses said, “Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand”, the meaning was clear. Joshua would go down and fight with the sword, while Moses would go up to fight through intercessory prayer. 

Now, I am well aware of the fact that the text does not say that Moses prayed, nor is any prayer of Moses recorded for us here. Some might criticize me then for drawing this application from the text, saying, “Christians will find victory through persistent prayer.” But I think the application is valid.

Granted, the text does not explicitly say that Moses prayed, but it seems quite clear that this is what he was doing. Joshua went down to fight, and Moses went up to intercede. He took the staff with him, which signified God’s power and presence he lifted up his arms to heaven, which is a common posture for prayer, and there he remained all the day long. When his arms fell, Israel was defeated. When his arms were lifted up, Israel was victorious. In other words, Moses ascended the mountain to come into God’s presence to maintain a posture of dependence upon God on behalf of Israel. Did Moses utter anything with his lips? And if he uttered something, what did he say? The scriptures are silent about this. But his actions spoke volumes. By his actions and by his posture Moses said, LORD, have mercy upon Israel. Strengthen Joshua. Strengthen the men who fight with him, so that they might have the victory over the evil one, for the sake of the advancement of your kingdom, and for the glory of your name. 

What is prayer? Prayer is an offering up of our desires to God, by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, for things agreeable to His will, in the name of Christ, believing, with confession of our sins, and thankful acknowledgment of His mercies (Baptist Catechism 105). To pray is to take a posture of dependence before God.  That is what Moses did. As he maintained that posture, Israel experienced victory. And I am saying that the same is true in a spiritual battle. The war is fought and won through prayer. 

Pay careful attention to how Paul speaks of prayer in that passage that I read not long ago about the spiritual armor of God. Prayer is not listed as a piece of spiritual armor as if it sits alongside the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, the breastplate of righteousness, etc. No, prayer is presented as the means by which all of this armor is taken up, put on, and wielded. Paul lists our spiritual armor and then says, “praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” In other words, we are to take up and wield the sword of Spirit in prayer.  We are to put on the helmet of salvation in prayer, etc. 

Christian sojourners must engage in spiritual warfare, and they must fight as Moses and Joshua did, by maintaining a posture of perpetual dependence upon the LORD. This posture of dependence must come from the heart, and it is expressed through prayer. 

I do love the symbolism of this story. The truths that are communicated in the narrative are obvious and they are powerful. To get at this I will ask you the same question I have asked before regarding the water and the manna in the wilderness: why this way? Why did God choose to meet the needs of his people in this way? He could have done so in other ways – in much more natural ways. But he determined to satisfy Israel’s thirst by turning bitter waters sweet and by causing a rock to gush water like a spring. He fed Israel with manna from heaven. And concerning the threat of extinction by military defeat, God could have turned Amalek away, or provided Israel with strong allies, or strengthened them more quickly to be competent at war in a natural way. But instead, the LORD determined to bring victory to Israel through Moses’ uplifted hands. Why this way? I say it was to send the same message as with the provision of water and manna. It was to prove that the LORD was present with Israel, that he was committed to provide for them, and that he has the power to save. In this way Israel would learn to trust the LORD even more. And in this way God would get the glory. 

Notice a few things about this story.

One, Moses went up on the mountain and lifted the staff of God towards the throne of the God in heaven. Clearly, Moses was petitioning the LORD for assistance in this time of great need. Brothers and sisters, we must learn to run to the LORD in faithful prayer always, but especially in times of trouble. Natural men and women will run only to the battle. Spiritual men and women will run to the battle covered in prayer. 

Two, it is emphasized that Moses’ arms soon grew weak and tired. Anyone’s would. But in this we see clearly that Israel got the victory, not because Moses was strong, but because the LORD God of heaven is strong. Brothers and sisters, our trust must not be in weak and fallible men, but in God. As great as Moses was, the victory was not found in him, but in the LORD. 

Three, others recognized that the battle belonged to the LORD, and so they joined with Moses to support him in his work of intercession. A rock was placed under Moses so that he could sit, while Aaron the priest (who was Moses’ brother), and Hur (who was perhaps the husband of Miriam, and thus Moses’ brother-in-law) supported the arms of Moses’ so that they would not fall. Here is an application for the people of God today: we must pray together, brothers and sisters. Do not neglect private prayer, and do not neglect corporate prayer either. Indeed, all of Israel was taught to trust the LORD in this episode, for they witnessed their leaders labor in prayer. Certainly, they themselves did also lift their eyes and their hearts to the God of heaven with them. Do not neglect corporate prayer, brothers and sisters. Pray with the congregation on the Lord’s Day morning and evening, pray in small groups, pray as families. 

Four, when Moses’ arms drooped with fatigue, the battle was lost, and when they were raised up again, the battle was won. This was to show that it was truly the LORD who fought for Israel. Moses was weak, but the LORD is strong. Joshua was weak, but the LORD is strong. The army of Israel was weak, but the LORD is strong. Brothers and sisters, I wonder if LORD does not sometimes allow us to experience setbacks and defeats when we rely, not on him, but in ourselves. And it seems to me that he sometimes blesses us with answered prayer to show us that he hears us and that he is a present and powerful provider and protector.  

Five, Moses, with the support of Aaron and Hur, was persistent in his intercession for Israels. He sat and lifted his arms to heaven all the day long. Brothers and sisters, will you be persistent in prayer? Or will you cease from prayer when you grow weary or when it seems as if the battle has been lost. “[P]ray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17, ESV), the scriptures say. This does not mean that we are to nothing but pray. No, it means that we are to pray continuously throughout the day, from day to day, and from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day. The Christian sojourner must be clothed with prayer, for it is through persistent and faithful prayer that the battle will be won.


 The Victory Is Ours Because Jesus Christ Has Won It;  We Must Be Found Trusting In Him

The last point of the sermon is this: The victory is ours because Jesus Christ has won it; we must be found trusting in him.

The conclusion of our passage today says, “And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The LORD Is My Banner, saying, ‘A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation’” (Exodus 17:8–16, ESV). 

I’ve already said that the Amalekites would be enemies of Israel from this day forward. Here we see that they were devoted by the Lord to utter destruction. A vow was taken concerning this: “A hand upon the throne of the LORD! The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

The portion of the text that I wish to draw your attention to is the memorial that Moses constructed to celebrate the victory. He built an altar. Altars were for worship. And it was only right that the LORD be praised for the victory he had worked for the Hebrews on that day. But notice the name of the alter. Moses named it,  “The LORD Is My Banner”. What a beautiful name. What a beautiful memorial to the LORD faithfulness.

Armies in those days would raise tall banners into the air to signal where the soldiers should rally for safety and for planning as the battles developed. To raise a banner was to rally the troops to a particular place and to a particular person. With the construction and naming of this alter Moses declared on behalf of Israel that the LORD was their banner, for the people had rallied, not to Joshua or Moses, but to the LORD. They ran to him and trusted him for protection and provision in the fight, and he was faithful to give them the victory. 

As it pertains to the spiritual battle that rages around us continuously, the LORD has raised a banner for us, Christ the Lord. 

Listen to the way that Christ spoke of his crucifixion. He said, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:30–32, ESV). 

The LORD is our banner, brothers and sisters. And what is the banner that has been raise except the Son of man of the cross, crucified, not for his own sins, but for the sin of his people. He was lifted up unto death. He was buried in the grave. On the third day he rose in victory. And what was the victory that he won? He did not conquer Amalek as the first Joshua did. No, the second Joshua conquered the Evil One himself, through whom the plague of sin was brought into this world.  

When we say, “The LORD Is My Banner”, this is what mean. Jesus Christ  – the second Adam, the second Joshua, the one greater than Moses – is our banner, for he is the LORD incarnate who was lifted up from the earth for us. He has won the victory. We must run to him and be found in him by faith. 

Friends, have you run to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins? Have you placed your faith in him, for this is the only way to be saved. Listen to the words of Jesus: “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (John 3:13–18, ESV)



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