Before my first mission trip to Uganda about ten years ago, I’d been cautioned that spiritual warfare over there might be intense. I could expect hostile push-back to gospel preaching, demonic forces, black magic, and other unpleasant particulars.
Instead, I stepped off the plane and ran into all kinds of smiling, enthusiastic people. Even non-Christians told me, “I have Christian friends who are praying for me, and I hope to be born again.” Far from some kind of cosmic battle of light and darkness, it all seemed to be ministry Disneyland.
Maybe the stuff about spiritual warfare had been overblown.
But a few days later, in the midst of all this “cake,” I awoke, and my roommate, an evangelist I’ll call Herb, had decided he didn’t like the couple leading our mission team. No reason.
I figured he’d get over it, but he didn’t. It was as though a buzzard had flown into the guy’s head and built a nest.
He started giving the couple the silent treatment, or one word responses when they asked him things. He wouldn’t eat with them at the same table in restaurants. When we finally collected data to follow up on all our gospel contacts, rather than place them in our collection pool, he put his in his pocket.
The very atmosphere seemed charged with low-level tension.
Thinking back on the whole thing, I’ve come to realize that was the spiritual warfare. Not some sensational event like an angry Muslim mob coming at us with clubs, or child soldiers threatening us with AK-47’s. Much less, demonically possessed folks harassing us.
Satan had used my roommate’s spiritual immaturity to hamper our effectiveness as a team. Although he couldn’t derail our mission, he at least made it difficult—like a car driving cross-country with one flat tire.
Many times Christians find themselves in similar circumstances. A group might be doing well, or be on the cusp of some major breakthrough. Then something surfaces so incredibly illogical that it can’t be reasoned with. The people in the church (including the leaders), are left wringing their hands over it, wondering why nothing can be done to fix it. What’s going on?
It’s the same frustration we often feel within our larger society as people increasingly embrace every form of sexual deviance. Recently the media took a poor, lost, confused soul who had made a bizarre decision for his life and then held him up as an example of courage and heroism. Naturally the celebrity elite weighed in with enthusiastic applause. Then the whole thing went viral, even drawing in so-called Christians who admired the man’s “courage.” How did we ever get to such reversals of common sense and normalcy?
A conflict is occurring behind the visible stage of human events, and there are real casualties. What, if anything, can we do to help, without making the situation worse? Without getting mad or becoming discouraged?
Exodus chapter 17 supplies important insights. Israel was doing fine, having been redeemed by the blood of the Passover lamb, delivered through the waters of the Red Sea, and had been fed with manna and watered from a rock. They were on a nice straightaway.
Then, “Amalek came” (v.8). The Amalekites were marauders that preyed upon merchant trains. They’d no doubt heard that Israel, a rag-tag bunch of ex-slaves, had wandered far from any people center and were probably easy pickings.
They came and “fought with Israel.”
We see a lot of such wars waged on God’s people in the Old Testament. But before you think these battles were simply local skirmishes, you should also know that God sometimes pulled the curtains aside to show what was really going on.
For instance, during a battle between Syria and Israel, Elisha the prophet prayed for his young servant who had grown afraid: “O Lord, please open his eyes” (2 Ki. 6:17) God did so, and revealed flaming chariots and angels fighting for God’s people. At another time, God disclosed to Daniel that the fate of entire nations hung on cosmic conflicts between the angels of God and devilish fallen angels (Dan. 10).
This was Israel’s first experience in battle. Even though most of them didn’t know it, somewhere above and beyond what was happening on the ground, spiritual warfare was occurring as well.
Here was how it panned out: Moses told Joshua to choose men and “go out and fight Amalek” (v. 9). The command was not for them to go hide and to let God fight for them. God had certainly do so prior in Egypt.
But this time, He planned for cooperation between Himself and His people. He called for their participation in the warfare, which was a brand new development. We’re supposed to be involved.
You’d think the most critical factor at this point would be Joshua’s ability to assemble a dream team of Rambo types—that is, load up the ranks with human talent. We often think this is the ultimate winning strategy in churches as well—gather a veritable who’s who of musical talent and powerful preaching. But that’s wrong.
Moses introduced the strategic key to victory when he said, “I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” (v. 9). This was the staff he had used in facing down Pharaoh and parting the Red Sea. It represented the power, authority, and glory of God.
So Joshua went and fought, while Moses went to the top of the hill. When he held his hand up (with the staff in it), “Israel prevailed; whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed” (v. 11).
The secret of victory was the position of that staff. We all must learn this lesson. When we elevate the lordship of Christ and the authority of His Word in our lives and in the church—when we hold it high and celebrate it—we prevail.
Alternately, when that authority and power and glory is held in low esteem, we lose—like when we see prayer as something to do when we’ve tried everything else. Or when the Bible is a book of suggestions.
Yet even knowing this critical secret is not necessarily enough. Moses still got tired of holding that staff up, and lowered his arms. The most powerful people can’t keep their hands over their heads for long.
Both spiritually and physically, weariness sets in for us. We wonder if we’re missing out on all the “fun” of sin. The endless social media trail of wild posts certainly seems to say as much. And there we are year by year, going against the flow of living for self. That staff might as well be a complete barbel set.
Aaron and Hur grabbed Moses’ arms and held them up. Their teamwork enabled Him to hold the authority of God high and stable until the end of the day. The result was “Joshua overwhelmed Amalek” (v. 13).
We only win as a people. We need one another to encourage, to comfort, and if necessary, to confront one another. That’s why it’s a shame and a defeat when we choose isolation, not wanting other believers to know us. They have no way of detecting when your arms get tired, no personal connection that allows them to reach out and help you.
When a church is composed of isolated individuals that all happen to show up in the same place each Sunday morning, even if it is a gigantic congregation, most of the people in attendance may have not only lowered the staff, but laid it on the ground. What else could happen except for Amalek to win the battle? We need not only to show up in the same place, but actively participate in upholding one another’s faith.
Following the victory over Amalek, the Lord instructed Moses to “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will literally blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (v. 14).
This was the first time God told anyone to write anything—no doubt it was an early fragment of the book of Exodus and a promise of God’s complete and utter victory. The instruction was to “recite it”— read it aloud over and over.
Like Joshua, all of us who want to fight for the faith of Christ and the salvation of our friends, need to consider what we’re feeding our minds. We are constantly in need of encouragement.
A steady diet of news programs and media spin (both liberal and conservative), only succeeds in making us angry, or discouraging us. Media manipulation is alive and well, seeking to shape values through cherry-picked stories and edited “truth.” Get off the juice. Get whatever news is necessary, but shut it off as soon as you feel the discouragement and negative emotions threatening to set in.
Ramp up your Bible reading and pay special attention to the promises of God. Regardless of Supreme Court decisions, protests, and outrageous attitudes, the Bible ends on the same note—God wins!
It doesn’t matter what happens along the way. Evil will be punished. The saints will be rewarded. The very memory of the shameful, dark things of this time period will be blotted out.
Toward the end of the chapter, Moses closes with a description of what it meant for him to lift up that staff: “A hand on the throne of the Lord!” (v. 16).
It was through Joshua that the people had had their hand on the enemy, but through Moses they simultaneously had their other hand on the throne of God. This linkage brought the authority of God down to ground level.
It’s an important principle to remember because spiritual warfare will continue to break out repeatedly until the end of this age—“The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
As a Christian, never fight with both hands. Sometimes leaders grow weary of the spiritual component of leadership. It’s easier to let go of the throne and use both hands to administrate God’s people with business principles and force of personality.
Sometimes those involved in ministry decide that double handfuls of skill and talent are sufficient to carry out kingdom work with no divine power needed. Even worse, moments will come when we’ll be sorely tempted to deal with outsiders by using two angry, frustrated hands. But power for victory doesn’t flow horizontally here below. It must come down from above.
That’s why the real fight involves a recited Bible and a hand on the throne of God.
Anything less, is, like they say, “Bringing a knife to a gun fight.”