Holding Up the Hands of the Pastor
February 8th, 1959 @ 8:15 AM
HOLDING UP THE HANDS OF THE PASTOR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-8-59 8:15 a.m.
You are listening to the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message from Exodus, the seventeenth chapter, beginning at the eighth and reading through the thirteenth verses. Exodus chapter 17:
Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.
So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
But Moses hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.
And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword—which is his way of saying that God gave to Joshua and Joshua’s people a victory in prayer; through prayer, by prayer, holding up the hands of God’s servant Moses.
Now that is a passage that carries in it and with it a sermon on the very face of it. Just to read it is to fill our own hearts and minds with a flood and a multitude of spiritual things.
God constantly—and all through the Scriptures you will find it repeated—God constantly sought to impress upon His people that they were not to lean unto their own understanding or upon their own strength, but they were to lean upon the Lord; the victory was not in their hands or by their power, it lay in the ableness of God. And so many things that God did, He did seeking to impress that upon His people.
For example, Gideon, in his first call, had by his side thirty-two thousand men [Judges 7:3]. And the Lord God said to Gideon, “It is too many” [Judges 7:4]. Now God says it is too many when Gideon has thirty-two thousand and the hosts of the Midianites maybe number one hundred thousand or two hundred thousand. The Bible says they numbered like the dust of the ground [Judges 7:12]. Gideon’s little tiny army numbered but thirty-two thousand. But God said, “It is too big. For the people will say, ‘Mine own hand hath gotten this victory.’ It is too large, too many soldiers.” So Gideon sent back those that were afraid. And they numbered twenty-two thousand [Judges 7:3]. Can you imagine that? Anytime you think that these were saints back there in the Bible and we are different from them today, you just ought to read the Book. They were just like we are, only worse. Twenty-two thousand of them went home. They were afraid.
And that left him ten thousand [Judges 7:3]. And God said to Gideon, “It is still too large, too large.” And when God got through parting out, culling out those soldiers of Gideon, he never had but three hundred left [Judges 7:4-7]. And the lesson is obvious: the Lord God did that because He was seeking to impress upon His people that the victory pertains to heaven and not to the strength or ingenuity of men [Judges 7:7-9].
Now you find the same thing in the story of David and Goliath [1 Samuel 17:1-54]. That unshaven, ruddy faced, teenage lad came [1 Samuel 16:12], against the greatest champion of the armies of Philistia, and he said, “Thou comest to me with a shield and with a sword: but I come to you in the name of the Lord God of hosts whom thou has defied” [1 Samuel 17:45]. And the little unshaven, ruddy faced teenage boy, that day overwhelmed the giant champion of warlike Philistia [1 Samuel 17:48-51].
You have the same thing—and with this I will cease illustrating, because it goes all through the Book—you have the same thing in the story of Isaiah and Hezekiah. Hezekiah and little Jerusalem is surrounded by the fierce, triumphing, marching, conquesting, ever-victorious armies of Assyria under the great Sennacherib [Isaiah 36:1]. And what could Hezekiah and his little band of people do in the face of so great a victorious army, the greatest the world had ever seen. And Isaiah sent word to Hezekiah, when Hezekiah prayed [Isaiah 37:14-20]. And Isaiah said, “Thus saith the Lord, thus saith the Lord, In returning and in rest shall you be saved; in quietness and in confidence [shall] be your strength” [Isaiah 30:15].
And that night an angel of the Lord passed over the vast encompassing, surrounding armies of Sennacherib. And in the morning, one hundred eighty-five thousand of the choicest soldiers of the Assyrian army lay corpses around Jerusalem [Isaiah 37:36]: just that same thing, that the victory lies in the hands of God. May I parenthesize to say this: the imponderables of war have always been in the hands of Almighty God. It is not by the might of armies that victories are won. It is by the elective choices and purposes of God.
Now this thing that I have been trying to delineate, how God seeks to impress upon His people that they are to lean upon Him, they are to look unto Him, I could not think of a more poignant illustration, more poignant, more clearly presented than here in this story that we are reading this morning. For God makes the victory of Israel to depend, not on the bravery of the soldiers and not on the skill of the commanding general, but upon a man who stands on the top of the hill with his hands lifted up to God in prayer and intercession [Exodus 17:11-13].
Now all of these things, according to Paul, all of these things that happen in the pilgrimage of these people is a type, a picture of our pilgrimage in this earth [1 Corinthians 10:6, 11]. So we take this story and, according to the Word of the Lord, it is a type and a picture of our life and of our pilgrimage in this wilderness of the world. So to begin with, I am told here, in this type and in this example, that in my pilgrimage and in your pilgrimage there will be conflict; there will be attack; there will be defiance and blasphemy and interdiction, and challenge. That’s what God speaks to us through the example and type of the children of Israel going through the wilderness [1 Corinthians 10:6, 11].
Now you look at that conflict and attack. How long had they been out of Egypt? They hadn’t been out of Egypt but a few days, a very, very few weeks; and having just come out of Egypt, then this. They came to Rephidim, and Amalek fought with Israel [Exodus 17:8]. They had just experienced the deliverance at the Red Sea [Exodus 14:21-31], and on the other side of the Red Sea from Egypt, they were fed with manna from heaven [Exodus 16:12-17], and they were given to drink water out of the flinty rock [Exodus 17:5-6].
And I can just imagine those people with a sea between them and [Egypt], and eating manna from heaven, and drinking water from the rock; I can just imagine their reclining in ease and peace and security. “We’ve got it made now. There’s a sea between us and our enemies, and God is feeding us with bread of heaven and giving us a fountain of the water of life, security, peace, ease.” And immediately came Amalek and attacked Israel at Rephidim [Exodus 17:8].
Another thing about that: they were following the pillar of the cloud and of the fire [Exodus 13:21-22]. Isn’t that a strange thing how God does? Being in the providence of the Lord, the pillar would not lead them directly to the land of Palestine because it went through Philistia that way. And God said if they see war they will turn back [Exodus 13:17]. So the cloud did not lead through Philistia. It led across the Dead Sea and down south in the opposite direction.
And yet, and yet—after the providence of God had protected them from so very much—and yet the Lord God led them into the snare and the battle against Amalek [Exodus 17:8]. And another thing, this attack from Amalek came from no provocation on their part at all. They had not done anything, they had not said anything, they were just on their way to the Promised Land. They were in the pilgrimage. And without provocation they are attacked by Amalek [Exodus 17:8]. You are that way, and this is a type of our lives. You are going to be assailed; you’re going to be challenged. You’re going to find yourself in a battle and in a continuing war. For one thing, Satan will see to that. We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, and powers, and kingdoms, and the darkness of our souls and our hearts, and the depravity of our lives, and the world in which we live [Ephesians 6:12].
Don’t you ever think, “My little part is on a smooth, sailing sea.” Man, if you are a Christian and a child of God and in this pilgrimage, you are in for conflict and for war. It will be on the inside of you. It will be on the outside of you. It will be all around you. It will be where you work. It will be in the friends that you know. It will be everywhere. This vile world is no friend to grace, to carry us on to God. “Through much tribulation shall he enter into the kingdom of God” [Acts 14:22]. “In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer: I have overcome the world” [John 16:33]. It’s a pilgrimage of conflict. You shall meet Amalek. You shall be attacked.
Now, what did God say for Moses to do in the war and in the battle and in the conflict of that pilgrimage? He put Moses on top of the hill, and there, lifting up his hands in prayer, his armies under Joshua prevailed, as long as Moses lifted up his arms in prayer [Exodus 17:11-13].
So I take it that God would teach us that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. They’re not mundane. They’re not worldly. They are spiritual. I take it that God would teach us that the victory that comes to these who are in this pilgrimage are spiritual weapons and spiritual victories. They come on our knees. They come in the quiet place. They come behind a closed door. They come when nobody is seeing and nobody is listening. They come in the strange providences of the arrangements of God, “Not by might and not by force, but by My Spirit, saith the Lord” [Zechariah 4:6], “In returning and in rest, in quietness and in confidence” [Isaiah 30:15]. These victories are won by leaning on God. They are won by looking to heaven. They are won by trusting in the Lord.
Now instead of telling this illustration, I want you to follow it in your Bible. There’s not a better thing in the world that can happen to your mind than, when you pilgrimage through this life, things come to your mind from the Word of God. Now this is one. I want all of us to turn to 2 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, chapter 20, 2 Chronicles chapter 20, the twentieth chapter of 2 Chronicles; just a little to the left of the middle of your Bible, 2 Chronicles chapter 20. Now we’re to follow through this story. We’re going to find out where the Valley of Berachah got its name, the Valley of Berachah; 2 Chronicles chapter 20. Now let’s follow it. First verse, 2 Chronicles 20:
It came to pass that the children of Moab, and the children of Ammon, and with them other beside the Ammonites, came against Jehoshaphat—King of Judah—came against Jehoshaphat to battle.
Then there came some that told Jehoshaphat, saying, There cometh a great multitude against thee from beyond the sea on this side Syria. . .
And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself—
And Jehoshaphat feared, and set himself to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast—
praying without even eating—
and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.
And Judah gathered themselves together, to ask help of the Lord. . .
And Jehoshaphat stood in the congregation of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the Lord, before the new court,
And said, O Lord God of our fathers, art not Thou God in heaven? and rulest not Thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in Thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand Thee?
[2 Chronicles 20:1-6]
Now look at the twelfth verse:
O our God… we have no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon Thee.
And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.
[2 Chronicles 20:12-13]
Now that’s a prayer meeting; that’s a prayer meeting.
And all Judah stood before the Lord, with their little ones, their wives, and their children.
[2 Chronicles 20:13]
I don’t suppose they even had a nursery, did they? They didn’t say anything about it. They all were there. They all were there, and while they were praying:
Upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah. . . the Spirit of the Lord came in the midst of the congregation—
while they were praying—
And Jahaziel said . . . Hearken ye, all Judah, and ye inhabitants of Jerusalem, and thou King Jehoshaphat, Thus saith the Lord, Be not afraid nor dismayed by reason of this great multitude; for the battle is not yours; it is God’s.
[2 Chronicles 20:14-15]
Look at the seventeenth verse:
O Judah and Jerusalem: fear not, nor be dismayed …
And Jehoshaphat bowed his head and his face to the ground: and all of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell before the Lord, worshiping the Lord.
[2 Chronicles 20:17-18]
And when he had consulted with the people, he appointed singers unto the Lord, that they should praise the beauty of holiness, as they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the Lord—or when it is not translated, Hallelujah!—for His mercy endureth for ever.
[2 Chronicles 20:21]
What a sight! Out there in the vanguard of the army—not the motorcycle brigade, not the tanks, not the artillery, not the bombing softening up—but out there in front of the army, the singers, the choir, singing “Hallelujah, Praise the Lord, for His mercy endureth for ever” [2 Chronicles 20:21]. My, my. Well:
And when they began to sing and to praise, the Lord caused that multitude of Ammonites and Moabites and the inhabitants of Seir to hear things. And they were afraid and they slew one another.
And after three days of gathering up the spoils,
[2 Chronicles 20:26-28]
now look at the twenty-sixth verse:
And on the fourth day they assembled themselves in the Valley of Berachah; for there they blessed the Lord: therefore the name of the same place was called, The Valley of Berachah, unto this day.
Then they returned, every one to Jerusalem, and Jehoshaphat in the forefront. . .for the Lord had made them to rejoice. . .
And they came to Jerusalem with psalteries and harps and trumpets unto the house of the Lord.
[2 Chronicles 20:1-26-27]
Could you find a better illustration of the prevailing power of prayer and leaning upon God and looking to heaven, than in that story there?
When I was over there in Palestine, I wanted to see the Valley of Berachah. And it did my soul good, driving through that valley, the Valley of Berachah, the valley where God answered prayer, the valley of blessing. That’s what God teaches us here: our victories lie in Him, in intercession, in quietness, in confidence, in returning, in rest, in looking unto Him.
Now there is one other and it is so important. There is one other thing, “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hands, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hands, Amalek prevailed. But Moses hands were heavy” [Exodus 17:11-12]. He was still human just like you are, just like all of us are. “His hands were heavy.” He was still frail. He was still just a man made out of dust. And his hands were heavy, and he couldn’t keep them up, in supplication and in prayer, his hands grew weary and tired and fell down—“the spirit willing, the flesh weak” [Matthew 26:41]. And when he let down his hands, Amelak prevailed [Exodus 17:11]. But his hands were heavy and he couldn’t hold them up; “So Aaron and Hur, one on each side, stayed up his hands till the going down of the sun” [Exodus 17:12]. What would God teach us there? He teaches us there that no man can do it by himself. He must have helpers, you! A man might be willing to do it by himself; he might try to do it by himself, but he won’t succeed. He’s still human, and he’s weak and he’s frail.
“There is the story of Aaron and Hur,” says Edgar A. Guest in that little column that he used to publish a long time ago, called “Just Folks.” This poem is so old, it’s turned yellow since I clipped it out of a newspaper, but it’s still the truth of the Lord:
There is the story of Aaron and Hur
Who watched at the battle of Rephidim
At Moses side until eventide
They held up his tiring hands for him.
While his hands were up, so runs the tale,
The soldiers of Israel did prevail.
When Moses tired and his hands went down
In Amelak’s favor turned the tide.
But the Scriptures say on the hill that day
Stood Aaron and Hur at Moses side.
They stayed his hands till the setting sun
And the war for Israel’s cause was won.
When the people grumble in times of doubt
When sad misgivings disturb the land
There is none so strong who can get without
Faithful friends at his side to stand
To stay by him till the setting sun
And steady his hands till the war be won.
[Edgar A. Guest]
There is no leader, however gifted and able, but who is still made out of dust, and his hands are weak and frail. So Aaron and Hur stood each on his side, and held up the hands of Moses in intercession and prayer until Israel prevailed [Exodus 17:12-13].
Anybody can pray. God arranged it that way. Anybody can call on the name of the Lord. Anybody can have power with God. You can; you can. And there is no finer, better, nobler, more powerful way to sustain the work of God than to be a prayer partner, a fellow intercessor. Why, I can tell it, I can feel it and you can too. It takes two to preach a sermon. Somebody has to speak, I know. But somebody also has to listen and to pray. And it takes both of them. And I would not be able to say which one is the more important: the one who’s up speaking or the one who is there listening and praying. You can tell the difference when you walk into the room, when you step into the auditorium. I’ve had people say to me, “When I walked into the house a stranger, I felt the presence of the Spirit of God, just walking in the door.”
Do you know the difference between that iceberg that sent that Danish vessel to the bottom of the sea last week and the bosom of the ocean that bears up the traffic of the world? The difference is a little simple thing called temperature; that’s all. And a thousand icicles wouldn’t make a plane, nor ten thousand. But around you, and each one of you, is a little circle of warmth and prayer and intercession. Put us all together and it’s a flame; it’s a fire.
And Moses, with his hands to heaven, was stayed on either side by Aaron and Hur, till the battle was won [Exodus 17:12-13]. These things were written for our ensamples [1 Corinthians 10:6, 11], that we might be encouraged in the way of our pilgrimage. And God blessed them to us: my fellow soldiers, my prayer partners, my dear Christian intercessors.
Now while we sing our song, somebody this morning to give his heart to Jesus, somebody to put his life in the church, a family you, or one somebody you; while we make this invitation and sing the song of appeal, would you come, into the aisle, down these staircases, here to the front, somebody confessing his faith in the Lord or somebody putting his life in the church, while we make the appeal, would you come? While we stand and sing.
HOLDING UP THE HANDS OF THE PASTOR
I. Dependence of the pastor upon the church
1. Battle with Amelek – evil, good
2. Moses with rod of God
3. People helping Moses hold up the rod of God
II. Helping the pastor
1. In his own strength the pastor will fail
2. Great church – great pastor
3. Upholding the pastor in prayer, attendance, willingness to work and serve