The Rod of God

Abstract of a Sermon Preached on September 24, 2000

by Glenn Conjurske

The power of God is with the man of God. This is an obvious fact of history, and plainly taught in the Bible. When Elijah was taken up from earth to heaven, and the longing Elisha cried after him, “My father, my father, the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof,” this was no idle talk. Neither was it the language of partiality, dictated by his own attachment to Elijah. There was nothing inordinate in his attachment. He knew what Elijah was, and his devotion to Elijah was the natural and very proper result of that understanding.

But was Elijah indeed the chariot of Israel and the horsemen thereof? Did the fortunes of the nation depend upon him? I appeal to the facts. There was a time when Elijah had said, “As the Lord God of Israel liveth, before whom I stand, there shall not be dew nor rain these years, but according to my word.” Now unless Elijah was either a deceiver or deceived, all was dependent upon him. No alms, no righteousness, no prayer, no repentance even, could bring one drop of rain upon the whole land of Israel, except it first cleared Elijah, and came by his word. Ahab and the rest of the nation doubtless scoffed at Elijah’s pride and presumption when he made such an announcement, but the passing of months and years without a drop of rain or dew made believers of them. Ahab then knew that the power of God was with Elijah—-knew that the fortunes of the whole nation were dependent upon Elijah, and sent therefore to every kingdom under heaven to seek him. “As the Lord thy God liveth,” said Ahab’s servant, “there is no nation or kingdom, whither my lord hath not sent to seek thee: and when they said, He is not there; he took an oath of the kingdom and nation, that they found thee not.” The power of God was with the man of God, and it was utterly vain for Ahab or Israel to think of obtaining the rain of heaven in independence of the man of God. The rain must come by the word of Elijah, or not at all. When accosted and commanded as “Thou man of God,” Elijah replied, “If I be a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven, and consume thee and thy fifty.” If he was a man of God, then the power of God was with him. “And there came down fire from heaven, and consumed him and his fifty.”

And as it was with Elijah, so it was also with Elisha after him. When Naaman sent to the king to be healed of his leprosy, the king rent his clothes, and supposed the king of Syria sought a quarrel with him. “And it was so, when Elisha the man of God had heard that the king of Israel had rent his clothes, that he sent to the king, saying, Wherefore hast thou rent thy clothes? let him come now to me, and he shall know that there is a prophet in Israel.” He should see that the power of God was with the man of God. The Shunammite knew this, and therefore clung to the feet of Elisha when she was in distress, saying to him the same words which he had spoken himself to Elijah in years gone by, “As the Lord liveth, and as thy soul liveth, I will not leave thee.” Her child was dead. Nothing would do now but the power of God. She knew this, and knew where that power was to be found. She knew that the power of God was with the man of God, and so “she saddled an ass, and said to her servant, Drive, and go forward; slack not thy riding for me, except I bid thee. So she went and came unto the man of God to mount Carmel.”

Now the rod of Elisha was the rod of God. He had no doubt wrought wonders enough by means of it, and he will now send it by his servant, saying, “Gird up thy loins, and take my staff in thine hand, and go thy way: if thou meet any man, salute him not; and if any salute thee, answer him not again: and lay my staff upon the face of the child.” This would not satisfy the mother, who evidently had more discernment on this point than the prophet. Elisha supposed the rod of God would be effectual in the hands of his servant, “but there was neither voice, nor hearing,” and Gahazi must report to his master, “The child is not awaked.” The rod of God in the hands of Gehazi was of no more power than the name of Jesus in the mouth of the vagabond Jews. “Jesus I know, and Paul I know,” said the demon, “but who are ye?” The power of God was with the man of God. The rod of God was the symbol—-perhaps the vehicle—-of the power of God, but that power was not in the rod, but in the man who held it. The Shunammite knew this, and held fast to Elisha himself, wherever he might send his rod.

So thoroughly true was this fact, that the power of God was with the man of God, that even the dead bones of Elisha retained that power, and when they were touched by another dead man, he came to life. This fact appears everywhere in Scripture and history. When Charles G. Finney walked over the bridge to enter a town, a solemn awe fell upon the inhabitants. Whitefield’s Tabernacle was commonly called “the soul trap,” for when men entered the place they could not escape the power of the man in the pulpit. The power of God was in Peter’s shadow, and Paul’s handkerchiefs. By those handkerchiefs God wrought “special miracles,” for they were effectual where the rod of Elisha failed, when sent from his body by the hands of others. And we cannot help but think that if men but understood this, in the present day of democracy and independence, they would not itch for their independence as they now do. It is a poor bargain to exchange the power of God for our independence, and may be as profane as Esau’s barter of his birthright for a mess of pottage.

But observe, we do not recommend looking for power, or success, and cleaving to that. We could hardly make a greater mistake. The Antichrist will have power, and such success as will put the greatest prophets of history in the shade. What we contend for is cleaving to the man of God, whether his power appears or not, as David’s men did when David was in the wilderness, in the time of his weakness and reproach. The Shunammite clave to Elisha when she perceived him to be a man of God, not when she had seen his power, or received any benefit from it. “And she said unto her husband, Behold now, I perceive that this is an holy man of God, which passeth by us continually. Let us make a little chamber, I pray thee, on the wall; and let us set for him there a bed, and a table, and a stool, and a candlestick: and it shall be, when he cometh to us, that he shall turn in thither.”

But to proceed. Moses, too, was a man of God, and the power of God was with him also. Moses knew this—-knew how the power of God was conferred upon him, and had seen its effects in the judgements upon Egypt and the deliverance of Israel. He therefore says to Joshua, “Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.” What wonders he had worked with “the rod of God”! What expectations he had of its success in the coming battle! The Lord had told him at the burning bush, “And thou shalt take this rod in thine hand, wherewith thou shalt do signs.” Moses acted in faith on that word, and wrought wonders. Not that the power of God was in the rod. The rod was but the symbol of the power. The power was with the man who held it. This will plainly appear as we proceed.

Now behold the battle. “Joshua did as Moses had said to him.” Joshua went with his chosen men to the battlefield. Moses went to the top of the hill with the rod of God in his hand. “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.” From this it plainly appears that the failure or success of the whole enterprise was entirely dependent upon Moses. Regardless of the relative strength of the opposing armies, regardless of the various strategies of their generals, regardless of the morale of the troops, regardless of every other consideration under the sun, when Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed, and when Moses let down his hands, Amalek prevailed. The power to win the victory that day lay entirely in the hands of Moses, though he never set foot on the field of battle.

But how can this be explained? I believe in the efficacy of means. So did Moses. “Choose us out men,” he had said to Joshua. This does not mean to choose the halt and the maimed and the lame and the blind, but what the Bible often calls “chosen men”—-the best, the strongest, the fittest. These Joshua chose, and entered the battle with the best army he could put together. Yet when Moses let down his hands, Amalek prevailed, though when he held them up, Israel prevailed. This really says nothing at all against the efficacy of the means employed on either side. One side or the other must have won that war, by the strength of their army, or by the “time and chance” of the day, if God had not been in the battle. We suppose that those soldiers of flesh and blood were not the only combatants in that war. Elisha once said to his servant, “Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them. And Elisha prayed, and said, Lord, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the Lord opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.” God sent Israel against nations greater and mightier than themselves, and promised to fight for them. Israel’s victory did not depend upon their strength, but upon the fighting of those invisible hosts which later stood round about Elisha. When Moses held up his hands, the Lord engaged these invisible hosts in the battle. When Moses let down his hands, the Lord commanded them to withdraw. Such I suppose to be the real facts of this battle. At any rate, however you may wish to explain it, it is perfectly plain that all depended upon Moses. The power of God was with him, and there was no victory without him.

And what an awful place of responsibility was this! Those who aspire to the places of leadership in the church are really little better than fools, if they have no sense of the responsibility of such a place. They want the glory of the public platform and the public eye, but are altogether careless of the account which they must give of their leadership, and unconcerned about the greater judgement which will be theirs for the place in which they stand—-much less do they care for the fate of those who must suffer for their failures. Leadership involves some form of headship, and nations, families, and churches must partake of the fortunes of their heads. They must bear the consequences of the follies and weaknesses of their heads. Selfish leaders care nothing for this. They seek their own glory, and scarcely spend a thought on the consequences which must fall upon their subjects. Moses sought none of that glory. He sent Joshua to the battlefield, and retired himself to the top of the hill, so that though the victory lay altogether in his hands, it appeared to be Joshua’s.

And at this point we come to the most solemn matter in this history. It is clear that everything was dependent upon Moses, and equally clear that Moses was insufficient for the task. The success or failure of the whole battle lay in the hands of Moses—-the life or death of Israel’s chosen men rested solely in his hands—-and he was unable to perform what was required of him. His hands were weary, and he could not hold them up, though he saw the armies of Israel driven back when he let them down.

But in the midst of this solemn setting we find a glorious fact. Moses knew that he was insufficient for all that devolved upon him. He stood where the apostle Paul stood after him, who knew that he was the savour of death unto death to some, and to others the savour of life unto life, and must immediately exclaim, “And who is sufficient for these things?” Moses no doubt felt this as deeply as Paul did. And he did not learn it when he saw Israel driven back when he let down his hands. He knew it beforehand. He did not say, as some glory-seekers would, “I will stand alone atop the hill, holding up the rod of God.” He said indeed, “To morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand,” but when he did so he did not go alone. No, but “Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.” Though the power of God was in his own hands, yet he must lean upon the hands of others, and he knew it.

And yet the presence of Aaron and Hur at his side, and the part which they performed that day, served only to emphasize the fact that the power of God was with the man of God. Moses did not take these men into the mount in order that he might hand the rod of God to them when his own hands were weary. If that were all, he might have sent the rod of God to the top of the hill in the hands of a dozen strong men, and gone to bed himself. The power of God was not in the rod, but in the man who held it. It must be the hands of Moses which held up the rod of God, and Moses was insufficient for this. But he had sense and humility enough to provide for the exigency, and thus he took Aaron and Hur with him.

But if the hands of Moses were not sufficient for such a work, no more were the hands of Aaron and Hur. If Moses could not hold up his own hands the whole day, much less could Aaron and Hur hold up the hands of another. Their own hands must soon be as weary as those of Moses. But “wisdom is better than strength,” and these men devised means by which to conserve their strength, while they held up the hands of Moses. “They took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.” While Moses sat on the stone, and they stood at his sides, they could hold up his hands without holding up their own, and thus the victory was secured.

Now observe, though it remains a fact that the power of God was with Moses, and all the issues of that day were dependent upon him alone, yet it is also a fact that the victory was entirely dependent upon the offices of Aaron and Hur. If they had not held up the hands of Moses, Israel would have been defeated. They were therefore as necessary as he, only with this difference. It must be the hands of Moses himself which were held up, while ten thousand others could have performed the work of Aaron and Hur. Could have, but in fact didn’t. It requires a peculiar kind of devotedness and humility to hold up the hands of another. Most men would rather hold up their own hands. They want their own ministry, their own glory. They find it irksome to contribute to the glory or the success of another. They would rather go off and hold up some powerless stick of their own, than to hold up the hands which hold the rod of God. Indeed, the pride and presumption of some leads them to think themselves called to weaken the hands of the man of God, instead of holding them up.

But I must bring these things home. There are two things which I feel very deeply. I feel the awful responsibility which rests upon me in the place of leadership which I have in this little flock. The weakness of this congregation is my weakness. The failures of this church are my failures. And more deeply still I feel my insufficiency. Though I see Amalek prevail, and though I see Israel driven back, yet my hands are weak. I appeal to you to hold up my hands. Some of you, I know, delight to do so, but perhaps you cannot feel the need of it as I do. You look at me, and think me strong. You cannot feel my weakness as I do. But I need you to hold up my hands. I need encouragement, inspiration, prayer, exhortation. I leave you to your own ingenuity as to what to do and how. It was Aaron and Hur who devised the means by which to hold up the hands of Moses. They knew what needed to be done, and devised what they could do, and they did it, and it was effectual. Go ye and do likewise.

Glenn Conjurske