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Moses Raising and Lowering His Hands
How a mountain scene of victory in Exodus 17 points to Christ
I’ve argued previously that the New Testament does not identify all Old Testament types. I’ve illustrated this point by discussing the famous example of Rahab’s cord and whether that cord has anything to do with the cross.
In this post I want to consider the narrative in Exodus 17:8–16, when the Israelites defeat the Amalekites as Moses raises his hands with the staff of God. How might we teach this passage in light of the person and work of Christ?
Consider the scene itself in Exodus 17:8–16. The Israelites had to fight the Amalekites. Moses told Joshua, “I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” (17:9). We’ve seen this staff before. The “staff of God” was involved in the exodus plagues, the parting of the Red Sea, and—most recently in Exodus 17—in the striking of the rock from which water flowed.
So up the mountain Moses went. But then we get an intriguing description of his movements. When Moses’s hands were raised the Israelites prevailed, but the Amalekites prevailed whenever he lowered his hands (17:11). Why would the position of Moses’s hands have anything to do with winning or losing the battle below? Because Moses’s hands held the staff of God. The point was the staff, not Moses’s hands. As shown in previous stories in Exodus, the staff represented the divine authority and power of God.
As the battle unfolded below, Moses was on the mountain acting as the mediator and intercessor for the Israelites, raising the staff of God that symbolized divine power and authority. But Moses’s hands became weary. We can understand why too, because later in the text the sun went down (17:12). We should envision Moses as needing to hold up the staff throughout the day!
To address the mediator’s weary hands, Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses to hold them up, one man on each side of him. Aaron and Hur even took a rock to put under Moses, for him to sit down. Picture, then, Moses sitting on a rock with upraised hands holding the staff of God’s power and authority. The hands of Moses were steady, and the Israelites prevailed.
Is Moses in this scene a type of Christ? The New Testament doesn’t identify this scene as typological. But in the scene right before this one, in Exodus 17:1–7, Moses strikes a rock, and Paul interprets that scene christologically in 1 Corinthians 10:4. The apostle was rightly understanding the association between God and the rock because in Exodus 17:6, God said, “Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb.” God was upon the rock.
In Exodus 17:8–16, there’s another rock, and who’s upon it? Moses. He’s sitting on a rock (17:12), and he’s representing the Lord for the people because he holds the staff of divine authority and power.
As we zoom out from this story and behold the canonical trajectory of types and shadows, we can say that Moses typifies Christ, the one who would ascend the mountain and lift his hands to a cross to accomplish victory. Though wearied and weakened physically, the Lord Jesus prevailed because he acted with divine authority. He didn’t conquer the Amalekites. He conquered the serpent and sin.
The victory in Exodus 17 was the seed of the woman over the seed of the serpent, so how much more the cross! Even now the risen Christ intercedes for us in power and authority. And glorified hands don’t grow weary. He doesn’t have anyone on his right or left holding them up. He is the exalted Savior, and he ensures that the battle is won.
Dear believer, there is warfare here below. But the battle belongs to the Lord. Look up and see the one greater than Moses, for your ascended Christ is enthroned. We say with Exodus 17:15, “The Lord Is My Banner!”