Joshua’s sword


Joshua’s Sword

The Israelites’ defeat of the Amalekites in chapter 17 is certainly not the most well-known story in the book of Exodus. It is a noteworthy passage, however, for a number of reasons. For one, this is the Israelites’ very first battle, post-Egypt, their very first conflict with another people group. Something that would come to define them, for good and bad, as time went on.

It is also significant because this is the first mention of Joshua, a figure who would come to play a vital role hereafter, including becoming the chosen successor to Moses, the one who would ultimately lead God’s people into the Promised Land.

Of course, some might remember the story for the uplifted staff of Moses. As long as Moses kept his hands held high, Israel gained ground. When his arms grew heavy and lowered under the weight, Israel began to lose ground. Like a game of spiritual tug-of-war.

Another fascinating detail is that from the moment we read in the text, ”The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim” (v.8) to the moment we’re told “Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword” (v.13), there is no mention of God in the story. He had saved them every step of the way up to this point. Where was God in this most important moment?

God enters back in immediately after the victory to speak to Moses. And Moses, in response, builds an altar proclaiming, “The Lord is my Banner,” and credits the victory not to Joshua’s sword but to the God to whom Moses had prayerfully lifted his hands.

So, the question has to be asked: was it Joshua’s sword or Moses’ staff that ultimately defeated the Amalekite army?

I’ll ask the question another way and bring it much closer to home: in our own lives, when we face challenges or feel attacked, is it prayer (à la Moses’ upraised staff) or our own tangible efforts (à la Joshua’s sword) that brings victory?

Could the answer be both?

We must always pray–pray without ceasing–seeking God’s supernatural help. And just as Moses directed all glory to God for their victory, so too God rightly deserves every bit of glory for every single battle from which we emerge. May our staff and prayers never lower.

But we must also work alongside God, wielding whatever means He has provided us. Remember, God created Adam and Eve to be co-laborers with Him in the Garden. And He called Moses to co-lead his people out of Egypt with Him. And I have to believe He was behind Joshua’s call to work alongside Him in this, Israel’s first real test in the wilderness.

God’s design is for human effort to be in full concert with His grace.

I can’t help but see a lesson for us in this story. Israel–as the covenant children of God–are still very young and still learning fundamental life lessons. In every victory up to this point, God had been not only present but was in clear control. In this battle, however, He seems to give his children enough space to decide for themselves how they will fight the Amalekites. Would they cry out and then sit idly by, waiting for him to save them again? No. Would they panic, lose patience with God, and attempt to fight the Amalekites by their own power alone? No.

In the end, Israel chose to take in hand and put to use both Joshua’s sword and Moses’ staff. Praise God. May we do likewise.



Joshua, here, take this sword
and fight the Amalekites
But not alone, Josh,
take some boys
and teach em how to fight
We’ve been attacked
and dangers near
and God who led us here
He seems nowhere in sight

So, Joshua, now take this sword
and here is what I’ll do
I’ll take my staff
and climb that hill
and fight this battle too
Though far away,
I’ll hold it high,
so Joshua do not fear
Just keep my staff in view
We’ll be victorious if you do

O tell us is it
Joshua’s sword or Moses’ staff
held on high up to the Lord
through which our victory
will be secured?
Up to the sky, we turn our eye,
O where is God
and why this sudden flight
Has he led us here
and left us alone to fight

So, Joshua, he took that sword
and beat those Amalekites
And Moses needed help
but kept his staff up in the sky
Then God returned
and with a word,
said, “Moses, you be sure”
The victory was mine
Yes, I was there the whole time

I heard you ask,
“Is it Joshua’s sword or Moses staff
held on high up to the Lord
through which our victory
will be secured?”
Trust me, child, I know this time
no hail or frogs or flies
came falling from the sky
But at least you all
now know how to fight

For through you former slaves
through the action of your days
My blessin’ will loosin’
the chains of the world
and bring glory for sure
to my Name

And so you’ll need
both Joshua’s sword and Moses staff
held on high up to the Lord
through both the Promised Land
will be secured
Life requires both your faith and fight;
so, child be strong and take heart
For in victories from now on
You will take part


Words & Music: Bill Wolf
Backing Vocals, Electric Guitar, and Accordion:
Brad Campbell