This week at Mass we read what has become one of my favorite “prayer stories.” It might seem a little obscure at first, but as I listened to the story, I got a flash of insight over a situation that has been bugging me for some time now. So bear with me, and maybe it will help you, too!
In Exodus 17, Moses and Joshua led the children of Israel against the Amalekites. This was not the first time the Chosen People had encountered this wicked nation. In Deuteronomy 25, we read of an earlier encounter between the Amalekites and the Israelites, in which the Amalekites slaughtered the weak and defenseless left behind in the camp as the Israelite men went into battle.
It could be argued, therefore, that the account in Exodus 17 was divine retribution for Amalekite’s cowardice and cruelty.
Have you ever noticed how often in the story of the Hebrew exodus, conflict is preceded by some dramatic encounter with the Almighty? Following God’s orders, the people marched in silence for seven days around Jericho, and the walls came tumbling down. Prior to this, the Hebrews evaded Pharaoh’s troops when Moses lifted his rod and divided the Red Sea so the Israelites could make their escape.
In this story, Moses sends Joshua and the troops into battle … but he and Aaron did not venture into the fray. Instead, they climbed to the top of a nearby hill, where they could clearly see and be seen. Moses raised his arms in prayer … and the battle began.
As long as Moses continued to intercede for the people, all went well. But as he tired, and his arms began to sag, the Amalekites began to win. Aaron and Hur noticed what was going on, and they quickly intervened, bringing a stone so the prophet could sit and propping up Moses’ arms so they stayed upraised. Through their ministrations, the prayers continued to ascend to heaven. And in the end, God’s people won the war.
Okay … so what’s the big deal?
In this story, everyone had a particular job to do. Some fought this powerful-yet-cowardly enemy in person, and others fought in the spiritual realm. Both were necessary. That was true in the Hebrew story … and it is true in our time as well.
Without going into painful details, I have an Amalek in my life, someone whose thoughtlessness and selfishness has created great hardship for my family in general, and my husband in particular. While there have been periodic truces in the battle, they never last for long … and the attack always seems to strike hardest when he is feeling most vulnerable and alone.
Early on in our marriage, I would get outraged and attempt to orchestrate the outcome of each confrontation. Invariably, it made things worse.
But this week, listening to the story, I came away with a different approach. Instead of going into battle, I need to climb a hill, lift up my hands, and pray for divine intervention. And when I feel discouraged and weak, instead of giving up and indulging in unhappiness … I will ask others to pray for me. For him. For us.
I don’t know why God allows Amalek to torment his children. Maybe it’s all supposed to be an exercise of faith. God promises to be father to the fatherless, and husband to the widow. (Did you notice that the Gospel reading was also about how God listens to the prayers of the poor?) I don’t know why. But Jesus, I trust in You!
Lord God, in your justice protect us from destruction, and be our advocate in times of adversity. In your mercy, work in the hearts of the cold and indifferent, that your love will prevail over all.