“And Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hands.'” — Exodus 17:9 (NKJV)
Among the many gifts God gave Moses, his rod was a tangible object that he could use any way he chose in order to release God’s power. He usually used it wisely and with great effect. Sometimes he did not use it wisely, and it got him in trouble.
His best-known mistake came when God told him to speak to a rock so that water would come from it. In anger he struck it with his rod instead. As a result of that direct disobedience, God forbade him to enter the promised land.
An earlier misjudgment, which happened immediately after an earlier water-from-the-rock miracle in which God told him to strike the rock with his rod, occurred when the Amalekites decided to attack and fight the Israelites.
This time, instead of disobeying God, Moses made a decision without consulting God. We all do that every day of our lives. Sometimes we choose something similar to what God may have told us if we had asked.
In this case, an enemy had attacked Moses’ people, and Moses had a duty to protect them. He delegated to Joshua the task of recruiting and army and leading them in the fight. I don’t presume to know if that’s what God would have told him, but it worked.
But in the same breath, he said that he would stand at the top of the hill and hold up the rod of God. He had not just made an ordinary, earthly decision. He had decided how he would bring God’s power to bear on the battle. God had not decided any such thing. Moses acted in presumption. He couldn’t follow through.
As long as he could hold his hand up, Joshua and his troops prevailed in the fight, but Moses had no strength to hold up his hands long enough for Joshua to finish it off–with or without the extra weight of the rod.
Some time, try to hold your hand up, with your arm stretched out in front of you. When that hand gets tired, it’s fair to change hands. How long do you think you can last? Certainly not for a few hours. But whenever he let down his hands to rest, the Amalekites began to win the battle.
Moses had presumptuously planned to use the power of God with the strength of his own flesh, and he did not have enough strength. Fortunately, he had also decided to take Aaron and Hur with him to the hilltop. They found a stone he could sit on, stood one on each side of him, and held his hands up until Joshua finally defeated the enemy.
It could have been much worse. Generations later, two ungodly priests named Hophni and Phinehas took the ark of the covenant into battle against the Philistines. They lost not only their lives, but also the ark itself.
God gives believers access to his power, but it’s still his power. Shouldn’t we continuously ask him how to use it?