15:22-24 From the Red Sea, Israel traveled three days in the wilderness (15:22). Don’t miss that the only way they could reach their destination was by going through the wilderness. This is a strong indicator that although you may sometimes experience “wilderness” moments in your life, you are not necessarily outside of God’s will. Sometimes modern believers, too, must pass “through the wilderness” to get where God wants us to be.
Later, the author of Psalm 95 would warn God’s people not to test the Lord like the Israelites of Moses’s day (see Ps 95:7-11). Still later, the author of Hebrews warned Christians about the same thing, pointing to Psalm 95 (see Heb 3:7-19). It’s important to remember that all these things “were written for our instruction” (1 Cor 10:11).
17:8 With the water crisis solved, another crisis arose. The people of Amalek arrived to attack Israel (17:8). Amalek was a grandson of Esau, brother of Jacob, who was a patriarch of the Israelites (see Gen 36:12). Both the Israelites and the Amalekites, then, could trace their ancestries back to Isaac and to Abraham. But that family connection didn’t matter: Amalek wanted war.
17:9 Moses recognized that Israel had no option but to stand her ground. So he commanded Joshua to select some men for battle. What would Moses do while Joshua led the troops? He would stand on the hilltop with God’s staff in [his] hand. Moses had a simple shepherd’s staff. But he knew God had sanctified it; previously he had used it to perform the miraculous (see 14:16, 21-22, 26-28). And once again God was going to work through the natural to perform the supernatural.
17:10-11 As the battle raged in the field below him, Moses held up his hand, holding his staff high. As long as he did this, Israel prevailed. But whenever he lowered his tired hands for a rest, Amalek prevailed (17:11). What was happening down below, then, was inextricably tied to what Moses was doing on the mountain. Moses was engaging in spiritual intercession while the people were fighting. This tells us that both military force and spiritual commitment were needed. This is a reminder that we must avoid the extremes of thinking that either we’ll simply pray and let God take care of the life battles we face or that we must assume all responsibility and solve each problem in our human capacities alone. To prevail against enemy attack, you must both make contact with heaven and take responsibility for your actions.
17:12-13 Eventually, Moses grew tired. So they gave him a stone to sit on. Then Aaron and Hur stood on either side of their leader and supported his hands (17:12). By doing so, they helped keep God’s staff held high, and Joshua was able to defeat Amalek (17:13). Moses was a godly leader and servant of the Lord. But he couldn’t do the work he’d been assigned alone. Just as sure as Joshua couldn’t fight the Amalekites by himself, Moses couldn’t engage in spiritual warfare by himself.
You, too, need others in your life—brothers and sisters in the Lord—who will be there to help you spiritually when times get heavy. So put aside your pride, and let others “lift up your hands” when you’re overwhelmed by the trials of life.
17:14 God promised Moses that he would blot out the memory of Amalek under heaven. Because of the Amalekites’ wicked hostility toward their kin Israel, the Lord planned to eradicate them. He would later command King Saul to accomplish their demise. But because of Saul’s disobedience, the prophet Samuel would have to finish the job (see 1 Sam 15:1-3, 32-33). The Amalekites’ story reminds us that while God is patient in bringing his wrathful judgment, he never forgets to mete it out.
17:15-16 Then Moses built an altar and named it, “The Lord Is My Banner” (17:15). A banner is a sign or a flag. People hold or display these as a visible testament to their commitment. Spectators at sporting events, for instance, often hold or wave banners to indicate which team they’re pulling for—that is, where their allegiance lies. Moses wanted to remind Israel to give the Lord their allegiance, for he alone could defeat their crises and give them victory.
18:1-12 During the journey, the Israelites passed near the home of Moses’s father-in-law Jethro (18:1). Moses’s wife and sons had been staying with him—probably as a means of protection during Moses’s confrontation with Pharaoh (18:2-3). So they came to meet with Moses (18:5-7). Moses explained to Jeth-ro all that the Lord had done on behalf of his people, and Jethro declared, Blessed be the Lord . . . who rescued you (18:8-10). Jethro was the priest of Midian (18:1). We know he had become a follower of the true God because he brought a burnt offering and sacrifices to God (18:12). Jethro was a Kenite (see Judg 1:16), part of the Canaanite tribes (see Gen 15:19) who descended from Ham of African descent. At that time, the Kenites had settled in the land of Midian.
18:13-16 Jethro observed how Moses was handling the daunting task of judging the people. From morning until evening, they would stand waiting to bring their disputes before Moses, so that he could judge them, render a decision, and teach them God’s statutes (18:13-16). But remember: When Israel left Egypt, there were six-hundred thousand men (12:37)—and that didn’t include the women and children! This job we see outlined here, then, was hardly an easy task for Moses to do by himself. And Jethro recognized it.
Even at a large church, with multiple staff members, it can be difficult to schedule a counseling appointment with one of the pastoral staff. Church members might have to wait days or weeks. So imagine what Moses was dealing with. And be patient with your leaders who work hard to shepherd the hearts of the people.
18:17-18 Jethro made a wise observation: What you’re doing is not good. . . . You will certainly wear out both yourself and these people . . . because the task is too heavy for you. You can’t do it alone. In other words, this man said to his son-in-law, “Have you lost your cotton-pickin’ mind? This job’s too big for one guy!”
People were standing in line all day to wait for a chance for one man to hear their cases and render verdicts. And Moses rightly wanted to help the people because they came to him “to inquire of God” (18:15). This tells us that his heart was right, but his plan in this case was bad. Moses was a good and capable man, but he wasn’t God. Both he and the people were going to “wear out” physiologically and psychologically if he didn’t get some help, because Moses couldn’t do it all—and the people couldn’t wait forever for justice.
18:19-20 Jethro offered Moses some helpful advice (18:19). He encouraged Moses to be the mediator—to represent the people before God and teach them the way to live (18:19-20). In other words, he counseled Moses to pray to God for the people and to teach God’s laws. But he warned him that he could not be the sole person responsible for helping each and every person to apply God’s laws to their specific situations. While Moses could provide the people with a spiritual framework, they would need more than Moses alone to help them fill in the details of how to apply it.
18:21 Jethro encouraged Moses to select men who were God-fearing, trustworthy, and [who hated] dishonest profit. This strongly suggests that the priority in enlisting spiritual leadership should be identifying those who are living in a godly manner and are biblically focused in their dealings. When Paul listed qualifications for church leaders, in fact, the lists consisted primarily of character qualities (see 1 Tim 3:1-12; Titus 1:6-9). Moses needed to identify leaders who loved God, knew his law, and submitted to it in their own lives. Such men could then lead groups of people, tackling their issues in bite-sized chunks, and teaching them how to apply the Word of God to their lives.
18:22-23 Such a team of leaders could judge the people at all times. Moses could continue to judge every major case, but the leaders could judge every minor case (18:22) in his stead. That translated to no more waiting in line all day for the people and no more heavy burden of playing judge and teacher having to be carried by Moses alone. This way, Moses could endure, and the people could go home satisfied (18:23).
Here I see a reminder to the church that pastors cannot bear the burdens of the church alone. Wise, Word-centered church lay leaders must share the load. By dividing the work in this way, more Christians can be trained to think biblically about life, and they in turn can help their brothers and sisters in Christ to think and live biblically. This is how the body of Christ is built up. It was never intended to be a one-man job.
18:24-27 Moses listened to his father-in-law’s advice and chose leaders to serve in the young nation’s new judicial system (18:25-26). Then Jethro returned to his home (18:27). In this story God used a Gentile man to provide wise counsel for the effective administration of the entire Jewish nation.