To the Church in Exile,
Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s meditation is from Jeff Van Duzer:
The peace of Christ be with you. Here is one of our lectionary readings of the day from Exodus:
8Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. 9Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some men for us and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. 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 sun set. 13And Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the sword.
14Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. 16He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
Israel is under attack for the first time since leaving Egypt. And it is not a head on attack, but rather a series of raids from the rear – like a pack of wild dogs might come after the weakest in the herd separating them from the rest and attacking en masse. “17 Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt.18 When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and attacked all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God.” Deuteronomy 25:17-18. The elderly, the infirm, the worn out were in danger.
So Moses commissions Joshua to gather some men and do battle. And in the end, Joshua defeats the Amalekites “with the sword.” But as the story is told, it is clear that the victory belongs to the LORD. “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered … I [the LORD] will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” (It is interesting to note that God wants to make sure that Joshua, in particular, knows this – “make sure Joshua hears it” – perhaps because it might have been easy for Joshua to assume that it was his military prowess that had carried the day.)
But God’s involvement appears to have been mediated through the efforts of Moses. When Moses raises what he refers to as “the staff of God” (and what God refers to elsewhere as “the staff of Moses”), the Israelites prevail. When he wearies and lowers the staff, the Amalekites prevail. So Aaron, his brother, and Hur, according to Rabbinic tradition, his nephew or brother in law, come along side and hold Moses up when he is too weary to carry on on his own.
The staff that Moses holds up plays an interesting role in the Exodus story. God turns Moses’ staff into a snake to convince Moses that God will be with him when he goes before Pharaoh. God brings the plagues on the Egyptians by using Moses’ staff. Moses holds the staff over the Red Sea and God parts the water. The Israelites grumble in their thirst and Moses is directed to strike a rock with his staff and God brings forth water. And now this same staff is outstretched to God. In Moses’ words, his “hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD.” What are we to make of this?
We might think of the staff as a “mobile thin place.” The notion of a “thin place” comes from Celtic spirituality. It was a geographical place where God’s presence and power were thought to be particularly close to this world, where the space between heaven and earth grew thin. While these have tended to be set locations, there are also examples of mobile thin places – think of the tabernacle traveling with the Israelites as they wandered in the wilderness. And Moses’ staff seems to also be a place where the power and presence of God had regularly intersected the events of our world.
If this is the right way to think about the staff, then Moses raising the staff on the top of the mountain should be seen as an act of prayer. On the one hand, it is a bold affirmation of the power of God. It is an expression of confidence. It is an act of praise. But it is also an act of supplication. Please, God, send out your power and defeat those who war against us.
So all of this sets me to wondering.
I wonder if this passage has something to teach us. We too are in a battle. Fighting against an oft unseen enemy that is targeting the elderly, the weak, and the worn out.
I wonder how we might be called, like Joshua, to “take up our swords” and engage the enemy. For some this is obvious. Our heroic front-line workers – health care providers, grocery store employees, medical researchers, delivery persons – are face to face with the enemy. And in the end, the disease will be defeated by their “sword.” But I wonder where I am being called to take action? Reaching out to neighbors? Volunteering at food banks? Donating to agencies engaged in the fight?
I wonder how to pray. I wonder where my “thin places” are. Where have I seen God draw near time after time? And I wonder if I have brought the tenacity of Moses to my prayers in opposition to this virus. I wonder if my prayers reflect not only a cry for help but also a conviction that God is powerful and sufficient for the moment.
And I wonder what it means for me to support the prayers of others? How am I being called like Aaron and Hur to hold up the arms of those praying for us? What would that look like?
Lord, we know that you hold all things in your hands and that our social isolation, the economic collapse, the coronavirus, and even death itself is no match for you. Show us where you would call us to action. And teach us to pray. Give us the deep confidence that allows us to simultaneously declare that you are the victor and beg your grace in these troubled times. Amen
Peace in Christ,
Jeff Van Duzer