Containing The Interval Of Two Years.
From The Exodus Out Of Egypt, To The Rejection Of That Generation.
How The Amalekeites And The Neighbouring Nations Made War With The Hebrews And Were Beaten And Lost A Great Part Of Their Army.
1. THE name of the Hebrews began already to be every where renowned, and rumors about them ran abroad. This made the inhabitants of those countries to be in no small fear. Accordingly they sent ambassadors to one another, and exhorted one another to defend themselves, and to endeavor to destroy these men. Those that induced the rest to do so, were such as inhabited Gobolitis and Petra.
They were called Amalekites, and were the most warlike of the nations that lived thereabout; and whose kings exhorted one another, and their neighbors, to go to this war against the Hebrews; telling them that an army of strangers, and such a one as had run away from slavery under the Egyptians, lay in wait to ruin them; which army they were not, in common prudence and regard to their own safety, to overlook, but to crush them before they gather strength, and come to be in prosperity: and perhaps attack them first in a hostile manner, as presuming upon our indolence in not attacking them before; and that we ought to avenge ourselves of them for what they have done in the wilderness, but that this cannot be so well done when they have once laid their hands on our cities and our goods: that those who endeavor to crush a power in its first rise, are wiser than those that endeavor to put a stop to its progress when it is become formidable; for these last seem to be angry only at the flourishing of others, but the former do not leave any room for their enemies to become troublesome to them. After they had sent such embassages to the neighboring nations, and among one another, they resolved to attack the Hebrews in battle.
2. These proceedings of the people of those countries occasioned perplexity and trouble to Moses, who expected no such warlike preparations. And when these nations were ready to fight, and the multitude of the Hebrews were obliged to try the fortune of war, they were in a mighty disorder, and in want of all necessaries, and yet were to make war with men who were thoroughly well prepared for it. Then therefore it was that Moses began to encourage them, and to exhort them to have a good heart, and rely on God's assistance by which they had been state of freedom and to hope for victory over those who were ready to fight with them, in order to deprive them of that blessing: that they were to suppose their own army to be numerous, wanting nothing, neither weapons, nor money, nor provisions, nor such other conveniences as, when men are in possession of, they fight undauntedly; and that they are to judge themselves to have all these advantages in the Divine assistance.
They are also to suppose the enemy's army to be small, unarmed, weak, and such as want those conveniences which they know must be wanted, when it is God's will that they shall be beaten; and how valuable God's assistance is, they had experienced in abundance of trials; and those such as were more terrible than war, for that is only against men; but these were against famine and thirst, things indeed that are in their own nature insuperable; as also against mountains, and that sea which afforded them no way for escaping; yet had all these difficulties been conquered by God's gracious kindness to them. So he exhorted them to be courageous at this time, and to look upon their entire prosperity to depend on the present conquest of their enemies.
3. And with these words did Moses encourage the multitude, who then called together the princes of their tribes, and their chief men, both separately and conjointly. The young men he charged to obey their elders, and the elders to hearken to their leader. So the people were elevated in their minds, and ready to try their fortune in battle, and hoped to be thereby at length delivered from all their miseries: nay, they desired that Moses would immediately lead them against their enemies without the least delay, that no backwardness might be a hindrance to their present resolution. So Moses sorted all that were fit for war into different troops, and set Joshua, the son of Nun, of the tribe of Ephraim, over them; one that was of great courage, and patient to undergo labors; of great abilities to understand, and to speak what was proper; and very serious in the worship of God; and indeed made like another Moses, a teacher of piety towards God.
He also appointed a small party of the armed men to be near the water, and to take care of the children, and the women, and of the entire camp. So that whole night they prepared themselves for the battle; they took their weapons, if any of them had such as were well made, and attended to their commanders as ready to rush forth to the battle as soon as Moses should give the word of command. Moses also kept awake, teaching Joshua after what manner he should order his camp. But when the day began, Moses called for Joshua again, and exhorted him to approve himself in deeds such a one as a his reputation made men expect from him; and to gain glory by the present expedition, in the opinion of those under him, for his exploits in this battle. He also gave a particular exhortation to the principal men of the Hebrews, and encouraged the whole army as it stood armed before him. And when he had thus animated the army, both by his words and works, and prepared every thing, he retired to a mountain, and committed the army to God and to Joshua.
4. So the armies joined battle; and it came to a close fight, hand to hand, both sides showing great alacrity, and encouraging one another. And indeed while Moses stretched out his hand towards heaven (7) the Hebrews were too hard for the Amalekites: but Moses not being able to sustain his hands thus stretched out, (for as often as he let down his hands, so often were his own people worsted,) he bade his brother Aaron, and Hur their sister Miriam's husband, to stand on each side of him, and take hold of his hands, and not permit his weariness to prevent it, but to assist him in the extension of his hands. When this was done, the Hebrews conquered the Amalekites by main force; and indeed they had all perished, unless the approach of the night had obliged the Hebrews to desist from killing any more.
So our forefathers obtained a most signal and most seasonable victory; for they not only overcame those that fought against them, but terrified also the neighboring nations, and got great and splendid advantages, which they obtained of their enemies by their hard pains in this battle: for when they had taken the enemy's camp, they got ready booty for the public, and for their own private families, whereas till then they had not any sort of plenty, of even necessary food. The forementioned battle, when they had once got it, was also the occasion of their prosperity, not only for the present, but for the future ages also; for they not only made slaves of the bodies of their enemies, but subdued their minds also, and after this battle, became terrible to all that dwelt round about them.
Moreover, they acquired a vast quantity of riches; for a great deal of silver and gold was left in the enemy's camp; as also brazen vessels, which they made common use of in their families; many utensils also that were embroidered there were of both sorts,that is, of what were weaved, and what were the ornaments of their armor, and other things that served for use in the family, and for the furniture of their rooms; they got also the prey of their cattle, and of whatsoever uses to follow camps, when they remove from one place to another. So the Hebrews now valued themselves upon their courage, and claimed great merit for their valor; and they perpetually inured themselves to take pains, by which they deemed every difficulty might be surmounted. Such were the consequences of this battle.
5. On the next day, Moses stripped the dead bodies of their enemies, and gathered together the armor of those that were fled, and gave rewards to such as had signalized themselves in the action; and highly commended Joshua, their general, who was attested to by all the army, on account of the great actions he had done. Nor was any one of the Hebrews slain; but the slain of the enemy's army were too many to be enumerated. So Moses offered sacrifices of thanksgiving to God, and built an altar, which he named The Lord the Conqueror. He also foretold that the Amalekites should utterly be destroyed; and that hereafter none of them should remain, because they fought against the Hebrews, and this when they were in the wilderness, and in their distress also.
Moreover, he refreshed the army with feasting. And thus did they fight this first battle with those that ventured to oppose them, after they were gone out of Egypt. But when Moses had celebrated this festival for the victory, he permitted the Hebrews to rest for a few days, and then he brought them out after the fight, in order of battle; for they had now many soldiers in light armor. And going gradually on, he came to Mount Sinai, in three months' time after they were removed out of Egypt; at which mountain, as we have before related, the vision of the bush, and the other wonderful appearances, had happened.
(7) This eminent circumstance, that while Moses's hands were lift up towards heaven, the Israelites prevailed, and while they were let down towards the earth, the Amalekites prevailed, seems to me the earliest intimation we have of the proper posture, used of old, in solemn prayer, which was the stretching out of the hands [and eyes] towards heaven, as other passages of the Old and New Testament inform us. Nay, by the way, this posture seemed to have continued in the Christian church, till the clergy, instead of learning their prayers by heart, read them out of a book, which is in a great measure inconsistent with such an elevated posture, and which seems to me to have been only a later practice, introduced under the corrupt state of the church; though the constant use of divine forms of prayer, praise, and thanksgiving, appears to me to have been the practice of God's people, patriarchs, Jews, and Christians, in all the past ages.