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Occupation and liberation
In the Netherlands, May 4 is a national day of remembrance. Every year on that day, we commemorate all the victims of the Second World War when Germany occupied our country. The festival of liberation is celebrated on May 5 when Germany capitulated in 1945.
These were special days of remembrance on May 4 and 5. Special, because the liberation was 75 years ago. Special, because we had to remember it differently during the pandemic of the coronavirus.
This day, Sunday, May 10, is also part of it because the German invasion of our country took place on May 10, 1940.
It’s been so long now. And we already have so many worries about our health and our economy here and now, shouldn’t we stop remembering?
Do we still have to dwell on the past? Isn’t it better to think much more about the future? Isn’t that reason enough now that the future is also very uncertain? That too.
But is there a future at all if we haven’t learned lessons from the past? And if those lessons don't remain in our memory? Isn’t there just a sad repetition of the past? Without progress? Doesn’t history stop then?
Doesn’t God know much better than we do that we need such remembring, on the one hand to remain vigilant against evil, and on the other hand to hope for real, full freedom and peace?
Because it’s striking: already after the first war that the people of Israel wage and win, the Lord gives the command: Write this in a book in remembrance. So: lest we forget. As it often says on memorials. So, dwell on it, says God. From one generation to the next. Don’t let it disappear from the collective memory.
What war was that then? Israel travels through the desert. It has been liberated from the oppression in Egypt, with suffering, sorrow, injustice, violence. And on the way to the promised land of God. To a beautiful future, with justice, freedom, peace, joy.
But that journey is not going smoothly. It’s more like trudging through loose desert sand and spraining the ankles on desert rocks. And in Rephidim, they get stuck. It’s a staging point in the desert for those passing through, but it was a hair’s breadth, or nothing came of passing through.
First, there’s danger from within. There’s no more drinking water in this oasis. The people complain about it and hurl all kinds of reproaches at Moses and God. “Did you bring us up out of Egypt to perish here?” Moses prays, “What shall I do with these people, Lord? Just a little while, and they’re going to stone me.
Even now, some dangers threaten our nation from within. No more faith in God. Flat materialism, selfishness, individualism. No more cohesion and togetherness. Lack of moral boundaries, breakdown of marriage and family. Also, negative criticism of any authority. Populism. Hatred of strangers in our midst. Beware. Dictators like Hitler get the chance just then. The conditions for this are gradually becoming favourable in our country. A question: how far have these things crept into our own hearts?
But Moses strikes the rock with his staff at God’s command, and water comes out to quench the thirst. The Lord will not forsake his people. How great and good He is!
But then the danger comes from outside. The Amalekites attack Israel. “Then Amalek came”, it says succinctly. These are warlike desert people who see the opportunity to overpower weak, unprotected Israel and take men, livestock and possessions as booty. They make a dangerous attempt to cut off the road to God’s future for Israel, to make impossible the fulfilment of what God promised his people, yes, to exterminate that people.
And history repeats itself. Again and again, such attempts have been made. Then came Hitler. That was not just an attack on the Netherlands and other nations. That, too, was an attempt to thwart God’s plans of salvation for the world, an attempt to destroy peace, justice and freedom, an attempt to bring man back to Egyptian slavery and let him on his way to God’s future go dead.
And it’s then almost inwardly necessary that the Jewish people, in particular, have to suffer. After all, God has chosen and called upon that nation to lead on the road to its future salvation. And to show what God has in mind for all nations, even to deliver the messianic king, who will bring God’s peace to the earth. The Lord shows through Israel what He wants to give to all nations: liberating salvation and binding law. That’s why Israel, God’s first among the nations, is dealt with the hardest.
And the lesson for us is the following. Remember, don’t forget: whoever has heard the call of God, who has followed Israel with faith, and who follows the true Son of Israel, Jesus Christ, and so eagerly approaches God’s salvation, is sometimes attacked by hostile powers and finds himself in an exhausting battle. The Evil still rages. The spirit of Amalek always makes areas in the world and also our hearts a kind of Rephidim, a battlefield full of spiritual battles between good and evil.
Then came Amalek. It started with the Amalekites. But it didn’t stop there. The destructive forces of that time were also at work in the second world war and are still today. They keep popping up under different names. Never forget it.
How do we recognize those powers?
They are, first and foremost, belligerent. They want to use weapons to expand their sphere of influence and exploit other people. What did Israel do against the Amalekites? Nothing. Yet they attack it, out of sheer lust for power and greed. Thus Hitler’s armies flooded country after country for no reason. One had to look for a cause or to stage it. It was purely expansionary and lust for power. They wanted ‘Lebensraum’. Our country unexpectedly was invaded by them. By the way, do we recognize the invasions of the Evil in our own hearts, his attempts to create space for him there?
The second characteristic of these powers is cowardice, no matter how warlike they seem. In the book of Deuteronomy, Moses later tells his people how the Amalekites fight. They attack when Israel is tired from the rigours of the desert and unable to resist. And they overwhelm the rear, where are the weak, who can’t keep up, women, children, the elderly, the sick.
For example, in the Maydays of 1940, the Netherlands were politically, economically and militarily weak compared to Germany, and it caught us by surprise.
Horrible, all those weapons in the world. But on the other hand: don’t lose vigilance, don’t underestimate the spirit of Amalek. Weakening of free nations and Leagues of Nations can lead to cowardly power-hungry forces seeing their chance to conquer defenceless countries and thus, even now, cut off the road to God’s future of peace, freedom and justice. Small countries with leaders with evil intentions can make nuclear weapons. North Korea, Iran. How did the evil spirit of Amalek get out in the Balkans years ago and into the Horn of Africa? Do not forget. Then came Idi Amin, Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, Mladic. Incidentally, are we aware of the weaknesses in our own hearts? The Evil knows them all too well.
Then came Amalek. And Moses said to Joshua: “Choose men for us, and go up and fight Amalek.” So: the mobilization. There’s the hard fact that sometimes we can only defend ourselves with weapons. But there’s more. There must always be more. Weapons alone don’t save. You can’t rely on weapons alone, not now, never. If the guns have the last word, then there’s no future, no land with all the glory God has promised us.
That’s why Moses says something more: “Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” And so it happens. Joshua fights the Amalekites, but Moses climbs to the top of the hill with Aaron and Hur. That’s the position that gives a view of the battle scene, and it’s the place of rest, far above the battle. And the place nearest to heaven, to God.
And it's the place where they pray to Him. For Moses lifts his hands and what’s that else but calling on God for help in distress.
And he also lifts the rod of God, a beautifully crafted staff with an ornate knob. It’s is a sceptre, which is the symbol of kingship and power.
We don’t know what the staff Moses is holding in his hand looks like. Maybe it’s a regular stick. But with that staff, God already performed many miracles.
That staff turned into a serpent as a sign to Pharaoh and the Egyptians that the God of Israel is mighty.
Moses strikes the Nile with that staff, and the water turns to blood. The first plague in Egypt.
That staff is stretched over the rivers and canals, and the frogs come up. The second plague.
With that staff, the dust of the earth is struck, and then the mosquitoes come. The third plague.
Moses strikes the Red Sea with that staff, and a path comes through the water.
Moses strikes the rock with that staff, and drinking water flows out of it.
So that staff is a sign of God’s saving actions for his people in need.
And Moses holds up that token. He reminds God and pleads. “Lord, look at your own work, your mighty and princely work.” Moses doesn't use the evil intent of the Amalekites as an argument, nor the piety of the Israelites, how could he, but God’s own saving work. ”Lord, go on with the liberating acts you did with this staff, this royal sceptre. Don’t let go of your plan of salvation, for which you’ve already performed so many miracles. Let your helpful power prevail - of which this staff is the symbol after all - and not the unwholesome power of brutal violence.
But this staff, raised in the hand of Moses, also wants to encourage the fighting soldiers. When they look up to the hilltop, they see that staff. It’s their banner, their flag in battle. It points them to God’s miracles and helps in the past. And thus, it gives them hope and courage again. They don't fight alone, but the Lord fights with them. And who won’t win in the end in that case?
And that’s how it should be today. In the fight against injustice and violence, against everything that hinders us on the way to God’s salvation and peace, we, like Moses, must above all use the spiritual weapon of prayer. We should beg the Lord for relief, because only He can save. And we must plead like Moses, nay, not on our goodness and holiness, how could it be, but on God’s miracles. And for us, these are above all the miracles He performed through His Son, Jesus Christ. We must, as it were, lift the staff of the cross like a banner in prayer. “Lord, will you continue with the realization of your Kingdom, already drawn near in Jesus Christ?” God will not reject such a people praying in need, pleading on what the Lord Himself did. Do we pray a lot?
And in that battle, the gospel of God’s saving acts must always be made known. You only can fight courageously against the forces that want to destroy humanity if you keep your eye on the gospel as a kind of staff. For that gospel tells you of God’s mighty redeeming acts, primarily through Jesus Christ. That gospel is your banner, signpost, support, strength, and encouraging landmark. Seeing that in faith gives you the power to win. “For this is the victory that overcomes the world”, says John, “our faith.” Brave resistance fighters prayed and read from the Bible very often. When a nation no longer prays, no longer hopefully looks to God and listens to God, it falls like a ripe apple into the lap of God’s enemies. But if there’s a prayerful and believing view on the Lord and his deeds, it's resilient and, even if it must take five years or longer, it will still prevail. We see this in Israel as well. As long as Moses kept his arm up, Israel was the strongest, but Amalek had the upper hand if he lowered his arm. I cannot say that this staff has been raised very high nowadays in the Netherlands. Many churches are emptying. Christian lifestyle is a fringe phenomenon. The gospel is no longer known to the masses. To what will it lead? A dangerous development.
We read further that the arms of Moses become heavy. It’s not easy to keep them high for long with the staff in them. They become like lead.
We run up against our limits in our struggle against evil and for the good of God. You are continuously fighting for humanity and humanity. You’ve your action against injustice, your commitment to a good cause, your work for the Christian congregation, which upholds the banner of the gospel in the world, your informal care. But you feel your limits. Physically. Moses’ arms grow heavy. Your eyes can become weary from sleep and your legs from fatigue. Psychic. The battle lasts so long, and there are so many setbacks. You have a tired head: you can’t think properly. It makes you melancholy and threatens to lose your courage.
What is helping then? Cooperation. Aaron and Hur provide a stone for Moses to sit on and support him on either side so that the staff may stand up until the sun goes down, and the darkness must stop the battle.
Help and support each other in the battle for the coming of God’s Kingdom! Fortunately, there was a lot of solidarity and help during the war. A hungry townsman got food from a farmer. A fugitive was given a hiding place. Another family took in an evacuated family. Men of different political and religious views are banded against a common enemy. Nations allied themselves to liberate other nations: the allied forces. All these kinds of support have contributed to the victory.
Let no one forget that too. And let everyone ask themselves why we often don’t help each other in a time of peace. It’s so important to join forces, not waste forces against each other, and support each other, as Aaron and Hur supported Moses. Do we know in our hearts the desire to assist the other?
And so Joshua defeated the Amalekites. And the Lord said to Moses: “Write this in a book for a memorial. It should not be forgotten.
Was it necessary to make special days of May 4 and 5? Yes. Lest we forget. So that no one ever forgets how brutal violence wants to destroy everything, but also how God saves everything.
Put them on paper, the lessons of history. The coming leaders of the nations must not fall into the same trap as their predecessors.
The Lord said to Moses: “Imprint it on Joshua.” He will be the successor of Moses once. A nation will be delivered up to the Gentiles if it forgets its history. Those in power, who have learned nothing from history, cannot lead their people well.
So: lest we forget. And above all, don’t forget to thank God for the deliverance from oppression and suffering. Praise Him because we may live in peace and freedom for many years while many people don’t have that privilege. Do not forget to gratefully dedicate our lives to the Lord, not to misuse our freedom as an opportunity to live sinfully, but to see it as the opportunity given to serve the Lord freely and joyfully. In the service of the Lord Jesus, the great deliverer from all evil powers: sin, the devil and death.
And Moses built an altar and called it: The Lord is my banner. On that altar are also offered the sacrifices of thanks, tribute, and devotion to God. Perhaps made of the stone on which Moses sat, that altar is a lasting memorial in Israel of God’s redemption. The Lord is my banner.
I hope that we also will continue under this field sign going towards God's great future. Not under the banner of the swastika, hammer and sickle, crescent, or whatever, but under the banner of the God of Israel and the Father of Jesus Christ.
Our spiritual landmark. That also gives us hope and prospects. The Lord will fight against Amalek. For Amalek has dared to lift his hand against the throne of the Lord. The Lord will fight in all generations to come. And He will make sure that nothing on earth will remembes the people of Amalek.
The unrevised old dutch translation is the only one with the Hebrew repetition of the word remembrance and thus shows the striking contrast. Write this in a book in memory of this, that I will blot out the memory of Amalek.
There once stood a cross on the earth. And Paul wrote about that: "God through Christ has blotted out and destroyed the document, the charter, the book, in which we were charged and accused because of our sins, by nailing it on the cross."
There once was an open grave. Christ triumphed over all evil powers. The decisive turning point in the battle. And it will lead to some day on which those powers are destroyed forever. Then there will be no more memories of Amalek, of Hitler. Forever forgotten all kinds of evil.