Leadership Lessons from Moses (Exodus 17:8-16)

Promises. Signs. Wonders. Wandering. Complaining. Frustration. Hot. Thirsty. Hungry. Sore. Tired.

The Exodus

Can you imagine being an Israelite in the time when there was “a new king over Egypt who did not know Joseph” (Ex. 1:8), and this new king realized there were too many Israelites, so he dealt harshly with them? Day in and day out – you may deal with “oppressors” who deal with you harshly. Those who may not or do not care for you, and enslave you to the work ahead, just to accomplish the building of their “kingdom”? It must have been awful, yet many of us feel enslaved to the work and building up another’s “kingdom”.

Then who comes on the scene? Moses. We all know the story. Moses grows up in the house of Pharaoh, recognizes the oppression of the Israelite people, kills an Egyptian, hides the body, is confronted by two Israelite men bickering at each other, and Moses then flees to the wilderness of Midian. While serving his father-in-law, Jethro, Moses came to Horeb where the Lord appeared to Moses in the burning bush and calls Moses to “deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey” (Ex. 3:8).

Moses confronts Pharaoh, and after a series of signs and wonders, Pharaoh allows the Israelites to leave. They have seen these great wonders – even the parting of the red sea – yet by the time of Exodus 17, the Israelites were grumbling and complaining about a lack of water. The Israelites began to lack faith in their miraculous Lord, even after all the Lord had previously done to provide for the Israelites.

The Israelites vs the Amalekites

While the Israelites had previously feared battle with the Egyptians (Ex. 14:10), they were now engaging in battle with the Amalekites. The Amalekites were descendants of Esau’s grandsons (Gen. 36:12) and had settled in part of the Sinai that the Israelites now occupied (Constable). Thus, the descendants of Esau draw up in battle against the Israelites since Israel was likely seen as a threat to their security. We also see in this passage (Ex. 17:8-16) the first reference to Joshua (v.9) – and Moses had selected Joshua to lead Israel’s army (subtle, but important!).

At this point in time, Moses, Aaron, and Hur hike to the top of the hill with the staff of God firmly placed in the hands of Moses. The text states that,

"Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while 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 going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword." - Ex. 17:11-13

Why is this story so important, or what implications does this passage portray for us? I want to draw out two leadership lessons from this passage.

Leadership Lesson 1: Moses was Dependent Upon the Lord

It is easy to be critical of any leader as a couch quarterback. Why did Moses not join the others on the battlefield? Why did he appoint others to do his bidding, while Moses is just perched at the hilltop, watching? Why doesn’t he get down and lead already! Why did he appoint this man, Joshua to lead us? Why isn’t he leading us?

This could easily be our mindset, too, when being critical of leaders around us. Why aren’t they helping more? Why do they seem like they are on the sidelines watching the battle rage? Why don’t they show some real leadership and get in the midst of this gruesome battle? Do they even care?

Moses Was Most Useful Pursuing the Lord

But what was Moses doing in this moment? Notice that in this passage three men were selected for important tasks. Joshua lead the armies of Israel, while Aaron and Hur joined Moses on a nearby hilltop. Moses took two of the Godly men with him to pray and intercede on behalf of Israel. Moses could have likely gotten in the midst of the battle, but is that where he was most useful? Likely not. He was most useful in pursuing the Lord and His grace over the battle scene, and the leader he appointed to lead the battle.

Moses was exemplifying his strong conviction that the battle truly belongs to the Lord, and Moses sought the Lord – Moses was dependent upon the Lord in this time of trial. What about the staff in Moses’ hands? The emphasis of the staff in verse 9 is seen as the instrument of the Lord’s power.

Keil and Delitzsch state,

"The lifting up of the staff secured to the warriors the strength needed to obtain the victory, from the fact that by means of the staff Moses brought down this strength from above, i.e., from the Almighty God in heaven; not indeed by a merely spiritless and unthinking elevation of the staff, but by the power of his prayer, which was embodied in the lifting up of his hands with the staff, and was so far strengthened thereby, that God had chosen and already employed this staff as the medium of the saving manifestation of His almighty power."

The Best Leaders are Completely Dependent Upon God

Moses was completely dependent on the Lord to assist Israel in this time of trial. At one time or another, all of us are likely more critical than we ought to be when questioning what in the world our “leaders” are doing. Instead of exhibiting a critical spirit, have you considered praying with and for the leader of your organization, church, or workplace? Have you considered that the leader may be doing what she or he thinks is in the best interest of the organization?

Undoubtedly, there are those who are seeking to lead for their own gain, at the expense of others. However, do not be quick to assume that that is the case. Be quick to be dependent upon the Lord when times of frustration and battle arise – and seek Him in prayer!

Leadership Lesson 2: Moses Was Dependent Upon the Help of Three Godly Men

By all worldly standards, Moses was the man. He had confronted the most powerful man in the world and won! Well, with the help of the Lord, of course. Moses had every opportunity to exhibit pride. Instead, we see throughout Exodus that Moses sought to lead the people of Israel in a right and good way. Of course, the Lord assisted Moses throughout this time.

When we come to this battle scene against the Amalekites, Moses appoints one man to lead the army and brings two more men with him to the hilltop. Why? The text does not reveal the specific reason as to why Moses brought these two Godly men with him, but we do know that they were useful and that the Lord used them! The text states,

"But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while 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 going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword." - Ex. 17:12-13

Christians Need to Be Helpful

Commenting on this passage, Wiersbe wrote, "Not everybody can be a Moses or Joshua, a D. L. Moody or Billy Graham, but all Christians can be like Aaron and Hur and help hold their hands as they obey God." Moses could have easily exemplified pride and showed Joshua, Aaron, and Hur away as he alone sought to accomplish this thing with the help of the Lord. But Moses, as a leader, knew his own limitation, as enlisted the help of other Godly men in several different capacities.

Again, it could be easy to be critical of “the leader” and whom he or she has chosen to lead in various ways. Why did he choose Joshua to lead the battle? Why did he choose Aaron and Hur to come to the hilltop with him? Why didn’t Moses lift up his staff in the middle of the battle instead of from a hilltop view? Yet, we see that the Lord used the three men in ways they themselves may have not anticipated to be used that day, under the leadership of Moses.

Sometimes, leaders need the faithful assistance of a few Godly men or women to help. Leaders grow weary. Leaders need support. Leaders need strength. Leaders need rest. Leaders need others who are willing to come alongside and help, even if they do not know the best way to help, which may mean just simply holding up the leader's hands as they raise their hands in prayer!

Leaders Need Help from the Church

If you are a leader – you must enlist the help of others to assist you in your leadership and the overall objectives of your organization. Maybe it is through accountability, maybe it is through prayer, maybe it is through the mundane day-to-day tasks. But one thing we do not see from Moses is pride. Pride is sin – ask for help – even if you do not realize the great need you are in. Enlist the help of Godly men or women to sustain you in your role. The church, organization, or company cannot exist long-term if the leader is focused on themselves or what they may individually gain.

The body of Christ exists for this very reason – so that those who are stronger can support those who are weaker. And the beauty is that we all have different gifts and abilities to help assist, support, and care for each other. Don’t wait until a leader has hit rock bottom before you come alongside and offer support – do it now. They may not know it and you may not know it – but the leader needs your help – they need your gifts. Do not neglect using your gifts! Even the simple gesture of holding up the arms of your leader will always result in honoring the Lord.

Once again, through this battle, Israel learned that it was Yahweh who would give them victory over the enemies they encounter. Why? To drive their dependence on the Lord – He was their victor and their champion.

Leaders, Come to Christ

Promises. Signs. Wonders. Wandering. Wandering. Wandering. Complaining. Frustration. Hot. Thirsty. Hungry. Sore. Tired. This description is not just for the Israelites… it is for you, too. You have a variety of things in life at this present moment that have both destroyed your hopes and dreams in life or other things that have resulted in the restoration of your faith. You have spent time in your life wandering. You have spent time complaining. You are frustrated, sore, and tired. Yet, Christ bids you come… all the way to the throne! As the author of Hebrews writes,

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us take hold of our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things like we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." - Heb. 4:14-16

If you are a leader – great – depend on the Lord and depend on the help of a few Godly men and women. Seek the Lord and seek what is best for your flock. Shepherd them well. Care for their greatest needs, not yours. If you are not a “leader”, great – the same principles apply! Depend on the Lord and depend on Godly men and women. Do not be too prideful to enlist help as Moses did. Friends, we can draw near with confidence to the throne of grace. The throne that was once the judgment throne is now the throne where we find mercy and grace to help in our time of need.

Today, look to Christ – Christ is the victor – He is our champion! When we focus on Christ and His kingdom, the focus is turned inside out. It is a great place to be - to be dependent upon Godly men or women and the Lord, who can help provide sustenance and care for the physical and spiritual. Use your gifting. Admonish your leaders. Provide support. Be dependent upon the Lord and His Church.

John Walker

Dr. John Walker is the Superintendent of Central Christian School in Hutchinson, Kansas.  He is a 2014 graduate of Emmaus Bible College, Cum Laude, in Biblical Studies.  He has worked in education throughout his professional career, dedicating his service to private, Christian education.  He successfully defended his dissertation in February 2021, obtaining his Doctor of Education in Higher Education Leadership from Missouri Baptist University. He attends Grace Bible Church in Hutchinson, KS where he resides with his wife (Sarah, EBC ‘13) and four kids.
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