As long as Moses kept his hands raised up, Israel had the better of the fight, but when he let his hands rest, Amalek had the better of the fight. Moses’ hands, however, grew tired; so Aaron and Hur supported his hands… so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” (Ex 17:11-12)
Which one of us even at a young age could all the day long keep his hands raised above his head? God certainly gave Moses divine authority to secure victory over Amalek; however Moses still needed to rely on his natural strength to keep his hands raised during the entire battle. Each time he lowered his arms from exhaustion he had to know that some of his men were being wounded and killed. Just knowing this must have added anguish to the task and anxiety to his weariness.
Fortunately, Moses had Aaron and Hur to hold his arms up. More to the point, the task which now requires three persons, takes on spiritual meaning: the prefigurement of the Holy Trinity. This is not to take the comparison too far and suggest that Moses’ weariness shows that one divine person is weak without the others. It is simply an Old Testament foretokening of the revelation of the tri-fold Godhead, the eternal communion of truth and love.
Moses also serves as a foreshadowing of Jesus. This task of Moses is a window into the Passion of Christ who in His own battle against the enemy keeps His own hands above His head. The hands of Jesus were held aloft by nails so that He could not lower them. In fact, the lowering of His hands would mean coming down from the cross – and risking the loss of souls. Moses held on “until sunset” when the battle finally ended. Jesus held off until sunrise when on Easter morning he burst forth from His tomb bringing victory over sin and death.
To bring the image of Moses from the Book of Exodus alive on this 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, we place on our bulletin cover a work by Pre-Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais entitled Victory O Lord (1871). Although this work is thoroughly Pre-Raphaelite in its naturalistic and spiritual mood, it also indicates the movement of Millais into his landscape period when scenery gains more emphasis. Although Aaron (in red) and Hur are present to give relief to the weary Moses, Millais paints Moses as one who appears eager and tireless. The observer of the painting gets the sense that Moses is being held back from throwing himself forward into the battle. (The battle is only indicated by a single broken spear head in the lower right corner of the image). The face of Moses is determined and intent on the event below, while above and behind him the sun begins to set as the day closes and victory draws near.
Staff in hand, this image of Moses flanked on high by two companions could depict the scene of Creation. In that case Moses would be the Father shown unwearied by his task yet still held back by the Spirit and the Son for a “day of rest” as the new world dawns for man.
–Steve Guillotte, Director of Pastoral Services