Water From the Rock, 1-7
Ex 17:1 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, travelling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
Verses 1-7 tell of Israel’s complaint, and of the provision of water at Horeb. There is a similar account in Nu 20:13, but it is unlikely that both passages are describing the same event.
Ex 17:2 So they quarrelled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?”
They quarreled with Moses – This is the key statement in this episode, and the reason why the place was named ‘Meribah’ (‘arguing’).
Ex 17:3 But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
Ex 17:4 Then Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
“They are almost ready to stone me” – Compare the experience of David at Ziklag, 1 Sam 30:6, and of Adoram at Shechem, 1 Kings 12:18. Cole points out that Christ, Jn 10:31, Stephen, Acts 7:58, and Paul, Acts 14:19, all faced stoning at the hands of God’s people, the very people to whom they had been sent.
Ex 17:5 The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go.”
Ex 17:6 “I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.
Horeb – This appears to be a synonym for Sinai.
Commentators usually seem to be at a loss as to how to make sense of this miracle. Stuart, for example, simply concedes that this is ‘hardly a normal means of finding water’!
Durham (WBC) thinks that ‘the naturalistic explanations of the water as coming from a spring that flows beneath “a thin layer of rock” (so Cassuto, 202–3) are as misplaced as the attempts at a “logical” accounting for the manna and the quails. The whole point of and reason for this narrative is Yahweh’s miraculous provision for his people, by supplying water where there was none, from the unlikeliest of all spots, a rock.’
Colin Humphries thinks that a natural explanation can be found for the water coming out of the rock (the miracle, in this case, being in the timing). He notes two particular features in the story: firstly, the rock is described as ‘the rock at Horeb’, suggesting a large and notable rock. Secondly, Moses is commanded to ‘strike’ the rock (and the underlying word indicates a forcible blow). It is well-known that porous rocks, such as sandstone and limestone, can hold large quantities of water. These reserves are frequently used as aquifers, for the supply of water for human and agricultural use. In desert conditions, sandstorms can force sand and organic material onto the surface of the rock, leading to the formation of a hard impervious crust. This crust prevents the water from draining out of the rock, but, if broken, will allow it to drain out.
Ex 17:7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarrelled and because they tested the LORD saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”
A number of OT refs to God are in the NT shown to be refs to the Holy Spirit, Ex 17:7 w Heb 3:7-9 Isa 6:3,8-10 w Acts 28:25-27 Ps 78:17,21 w Acts 7:51.
The Amalekites Defeated, 8-16
Ex 17:8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.
Summary: ‘While the Israelites were encamped at Rephidim they were attacked by the Amalekites. These people were descendants of Esau (Gn 36:12, 16). The Amalekites pounced upon the stragglers who were weary and worn out from the journey (Dt 25:17-19). Joshua, mentioned here for the first of twenty-seven times in the Pentateuch, was delegated to organize a fighting force to deal with the threat. Moses promised to undergird his efforts with intercession on a nearby hill. He would hold in hand his staff, symbol of the power of God at work among his people. Moses’ reliance on the staff, however, did not exclude the action of Joshua (17:8-9). As long as the Israelite fighters could see the upraised staff of Moses on the hill they prevailed in battle. When the staff was lowered because of fatigue, however, the course of the battle changed. Noting this, a stone was rolled into position for Moses to sit upon. Aaron and Hur stationed themselves on either side of him and propped up his hands until the sun set. (Jewish tradition identifies Hur as the husband of Miriam.) Joshua was thus enabled to overcome the Amalekite army (17:10-13). Battles as well as blessings mark the course of a believer’s pilgrimage. Sometimes the Lord fights for his people (as at the Red Sea), and sometimes through his people. In any case believers can be confident that he who is in their midst is greater than any enemy which may be encountered in the way.’ (OT Survey)
‘God had provided mannah from heaven and water from the rock; now he provides deliverance from enemies.’ (New Geneva)
‘The Amalekites, who were descended from Abraham through Esau, (Ge 36:15) were a nomadic or seminomadic people who inhabited the general region of the Negev and the Sinai during the second half of the second millennium B.C.’ (OT Background Cmt’y)
According to Deut 25:17f ‘Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God.’
It may be assumed that the area could not support grazing for both Israel and Amalek. The Amalekites’ typical method of attack (mentioned resentfully in Deut 25:18) was to cut off stragglers from the rear and sides of the group.
The Lord had brought them out of Egypt. But they sometimes felt as if they had been taken out of the frying pan and into the fire. When they were lost, the Lord was their guide; when they were hungry and thirsty, the Lord was their provider. Now they are under attack. Now their protector.
a permanent record/reminder – the altar: something happened they were never to forget
the attacks we experience – the ‘fiery darts’ of the evil one. Mortification. Jn 18:36
Our part – different roles for Joshua (personal effort) and Moses (fervent prayer)
But the battle belongs to the Lord: the Lord is my banner
Ex 17:9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.”
This is the first mention of Joshua. “Joshua was born in Egypt during the period of slavery. He was a member of Ephraim, the important tribe that later formed the heart of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. He first appeared during the battle with the Amalekites during the desert travels. He was Moses’ general, who led the troops in the actual fighting while Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ hands. (Ex 17:8-13)
Joshua was Moses’s servant. (Ex 24:13) He was on the mountain when Moses received the Law. (Ex 32:17) He was also one of the twelve spies Moses sent to investigate Canaan. (Nu 13:8) He and Caleb returned with a positive, minority report. Of all the adults alive at that time, only the two of them were allowed to live to enter the land of Canaan. (Nu 14:28-30,38)
The Lord selected Joshua to be Moses’ successor long before Moses’ death. (Nu 27:15-23 Deut 31:14-15,23 34:9) Joshua was a military leader, a political leader, and a spiritual leader. He was quiet and unassuming, but he was not buffaloed by his responsibilities or the task that lay before him. He was a battlefield genius, particularly in the areas of careful planning, strategy, and execution. He was a capable administrator for the nation, effective in maintaining harmony among people and groups. He was a spokesman to the people for the Lord. Though he did not receive the Law as Moses had, he communicated the Lord’s will and the Lord’s message much like Moses.
Joshua was at the helm of the nation during the conquest and the distribution and settlement of Canaan. He led in the covenant renewal at mount Ebal and Shechem. (Jos 8:30-35 24:1-28) He was able to challenge his people by both word and example. His pattern is a hard one to better.” (Holman)
This incident is alluded to by William Cowper:-
Restraining prayer, we cease to fight,
Prayer keeps the Christian’s armour bright,
And Satan trembles when he sees
The weakest saint upon his knees.
While Moses stood with arms spread wide,
Success was found on Israel’s side;
But when through weariness they failed,
That moment Amalek prevailed.
Ryle refers to this passage in his classic description of Christian zeal: ‘Zeal in religion is a burning desire to please God, to do his will, and to advance his glory in the world in every possible way. It is a desire which no man feels by nature-which the Spirit puts in the heart of every believer when he is converted-but which some believers feel so much more strongly than others that they alone deserve to be called ‘zealous’ men…A zealous man in religion is pre-eminently a man of one thing. It is not enough to say that he is earnest, hearty, uncompromising, thorough-going, whole-hearted, fervent in spirit. He only sees one thing, he cares for one thing, he lives for one thing, he is swallowed up in one thing; and that one thing is to please God. Whether he lives, or whether he dies-whether he has health, or whether he has sickness-whether he is rich, or whether he is poor-whether he pleases man, or whether he gives offence-whether he is thought wise, or whether he is thought foolish-whether he gets blame, or whether he gets praise-whether he gets honour, or whether he gets shame-for all this the zealous man cares nothing at all. He burns for one thing; and that one thing is to please God, and to advance God’s glory. If he is consumed in the very burning, he cares not for it-he is content. He feels that, like a lamp, he is made to burn; and if consumed in burning, he has but done the work for which God appointed him. Such a one will always find a sphere for his zeal. If he cannot preach, work, and give money, he will cry, and sigh, and pray…If he cannot fight in the valley with Joshua, he will do the work of Moses, Aaron, and Hur, on the hill. (Ex 17:9-13) If he is cut off from working himself, he will give the Lord no rest till help is raised up from another quarter, and the work is done. This is what I mean when I speak of ‘zeal’ in religion. (Practical Religion, 1959 ed., p. 130)
Ex 17:10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill.
Ex 17:11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.
The likely explanation (cf. v16; also Ps 63:4) is that Moses’ hands were held up in prayer; while he did so, the Israelites were victorious. ‘The act represents the efficacy of intercessory prayer-offered doubtless by Moses-a point of great moment to the Israelites at that time and to the Church in all ages.’ (Barnes)
We might think of individuals today – especially elderly or frail Christians – who cannot be actively involved in the Christian fight, but who can support it with powerful and prevailing prayers.
‘The church’s cause is, commonly, more or less successful according as the church’s friends are more or less strong in faith and fervent in prayer.’ (MHC)
Ex 17:12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up-one on one side, one on the other-so that his hands remained steady till sunset.
Ex 17:13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.
Ex 17:14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
“Write this on a scroll” – ‘It is interesting that the “writing” is paired with oral recitation here: no doubt this corresponds to the two great streams of sacred tradition, written and oral. It is also interesting that the oral is here seen to be in dependence upon the written document.’ (Cole)
Ex 17:15 Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner.
The Lord is my banner – lit. ‘Jehovahnissi’. Cf. Gen 22:14 (The Lord will provide). See also Ps 60:4.
‘Banners are identifying flags or streamers attached to the end of a standard. Throughout history they have served three main purposes: to identify a group, to claim possession of a space or territory and to lend festivity to a celebration. Banners are rallying points, physically and/or emotionally.’ (DBI)
‘The banner was frequently used to rally an army for battle (cf. Ps 60:4 MT 6); thus the altar would witness to all who saw it that Yahweh was responsible for the Israelites’ victory over the Amalekites.’ (ISBE)
The altar – a place of sacrifice and worship
The banner – a rallying-point
Ex 17:16 he said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
The Amalekites are mentioned again in 1 Sam 15:2-3, ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.'”‘ But Saul captured Agag the Amalekite king, and spared his life. For this act of disobedience, Saul was rejected as king, 15:23. Then we read in the book of Esther of the plot of Haman to destroy the Israelites. Haman, be it noted, was an Agagite, a descendent of the sole survivor of the Amalekites.
‘Amalek’s destruction was typical of the destruction of all the enemies of Christ and his kingdom. Whoever make war with the Lamb, the Lamb will overcome them.’ (MHC)