Heavy Hands

When we think of some of the great men and women of the faith in the Old Testament, we sometimes have the idea that they were individuals who stood by themselves to accomplish the work of the  Lord, neither asking nor needing help from anyone else.  It is almost as if we consider them something akin to an ancient version of Jason Bourne or Superman.  Compared to them, we often feel inadequate and insignificant, resigning ourselves to the fact that we will always be spectators in this life.

While God did raise up judges and prophets who stood in the gap to call the people of Israel back to God, this solidarity as not something that characterized all of them.

Take Moses, for example.   In Exodus 17, we read of the time when Amalek and his army come to attack Israel soon after they have crossed the Red Sea.  Moses tells Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand” (Exodus 17:9).  These two men proceeded with the plan, and while Joshua fought, Moses stood on the mountain  with Aaron and Hur.  Moses lifted up his hands to the Lord, and as long as they remained raised, Israel moved closer and closer to victory.  The moment he let them down, however, Israel began to fall before their enemy (Exodus 17:11).

Now imagine: how long would you be able to keep your hands raised up while holding a staff?  Probably not very long.  Moses was just like us, beginning to grow tired and letting his hands sink (Exodus 17:12).   Now remember that Moses’ lifted hands (a sign that Israel’s strength rested in the Lord and not in themselves) were the key to victory.  Yet he could not keep his hands raised, so defeat seemed ready to come upon the Israelites.

But Israel wasn’t defeated, thanks to the two men who had accompanied Moses: Aaron and Hur.  These men were not part of the original plan that Moses had communicated to Joshua, yet they stepped in to help their leader.  They brought a large rock for him to sit on and they held up Moses’ hands (Exodus 17:12).  They saw Moses struggling to fulfill his task, but instead of taking over, they came to his aid and supported him.  As a result, “His hands were steady until the sun set.  So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (Exodus 17:12-13). Israel was victorious because two men stepped up to support their brother and friend in his God-given task.

This is not an isolated event, either in Scripture or in the life of Moses.    In the very next chapter of the Bible, Jethro comes to visit Moses at Mount Sanai.  While he is visiting, he sees that Moses alone stands as judge for the people concerning disputes, and that the task occupies his time from sun up to sun down.  Jethro then confronts his son-in-law and says, “The thing that you are doing is not good. You will surely wear out, both yourself and these people who are with you, for the task is too heavy for you; you cannot do it alone” (Exodus 18:17-18).  He councils him to institute a system of judges throughout Israel to take care of smaller matters, similar to the different levels of courts we have today.  The plan seemed good to Moses, and he set up the judges, though he continued to represent the people before the Lord as he was called to do (Exodus 18:19, 24).  There were other burdens that had fallen upon Moses that distracted him from his primary task, and he had the humility to recognize the wisdom in Jethro’s advice and sought out Godly men to help him.

Now let’s skip forward all through the kings to the return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon.  The people have come back to the land, and Ezra is sent to them to teach them to walk in the ways of the Lord once again.  While he is in Jerusalem, he finds out that many of the leaders of the people had intermarried with the heathen nations around them, something the Lord had strictly forbidden.  This knowledge breaks Ezra, and he falls to the ground and weeps before the Lord, completely “appalled” and “ashamed” at this act of unfaithfulness in Israel (Ezra 9:1-6).  His grief and shock were so great, he did not even know where to begin with dealing with the sin.

But then, a large group of people come to the weeping scribe, being led by a man named Shecaniah.  He comes to Ezra and says, “We have been unfaithful to our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land; yet now there is hope for Israel in spite of this. So now let us make a covenant with our God to put away all the wives and their children, according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law. Arise! For this matter is your responsibility, but we will be with you; be courageous and act” (Ezra 10:2-4).   When Ezra hears this encouragement and exhortation, he rises up and confronts those who had intermarried, removing the sin from the midst of Israel.  He was so broken, so weighed down by the burden of his responsibility, he needed Godly men around him to stand by his side and support him in his work.

Examples such as these abound in Scripture.  David was forced to flee from the king he had faithfully served, but his band of mighty men stood by his side all through the years (2 Samuel 23 8-38).  Hezekiah was fearful of the Assyrians and their threats, broken at the blasphemous words in a letter he received from them, but the Lord used Isaiah to strengthen him (2 Kings 19:6-7, 20-34). When Barnabas was sent to Antioch to encourage the church, he went to tarsus to look for Paul and bring him along to help in his work (Acts 11:22-26).            When Paul came to minister in the city of Troas, he said that he “had no rest for my spirit,” since he did not have his fellow worker Titus with him (2 Corinthians 2:12-13).  The list goes on and on.

What all of these examples illustrate is that sometimes we are given tasks by God that we cannot accomplish on our own, and other times we have such heavy burdens that weigh us down and hinder us from serving as we ought to.  Yet the Lord raised up other Godly men to assist those in these situations.  We are not to be “Lone Ranger Christians,” but we are to serve alongside one another, encourage one another, and pray for one another.

We may not all be in a position of prominence or receive the praise for what is accomplished.  Aaron and Hur didn’t.  But then again, human praise is not our ultimate goal.  Three of David’s friends risked their lives to bless their friend, a feat they did secretly (2 Samuel 23).   Our ultimate goal is the spread of the Gospel of Christ, and as long as it is going forth, it should not matter who is recognized by others for heading up a ministry, for getting people together, whatever the case may be.

All of us have God-given tasks and callings, and all of us have heavy burdens, and we all need one another to help us continue to run this race to the glory of God.  If we see a brother or sister struggling with the responsibility the Lord has given them in the Church, we are called to go to them and help them however we can.  It may simply be a prayer and encouraging word like Isaiah did for Hezekiah, or it may be “holding up hands” so to speak like Aaron and Hur.  Prayer is a powerful thing, and so often we neglect this great privilege we are given.

The corollary to this idea is that when we know we are being weighed down by responsibilities and heavy burdens, we need to have humility to listen to Godly council and seek help from other Christian brothers and sisters like Moses did.  We can do nothing apart from Christ, but the Lord has also called us to encourage and edify one another (John 15:5; Hebrews 10:24).  God has given us siblings in the faith for a reason.

So as we go through this life, let us look around for those whom we can share our burdens with and for those we can lift up and encourage.  Let us lift up the heavy hands.

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