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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 17

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God's Provision and Protection of Israel

A. Water from the rock.

1. (Exo 17:1-4) The congregation of Israel contends with Moses.

Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, "Give us water, that we may drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the LORD?" And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, "Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, "What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!"

a. According to the commandment of the LORD … but there was no water for the people to drink: Israel did exactly what God commanded; yet there was no water to drink. They were in the will of God but in a difficult time. It is possible to be completely in the will of God yet also in great problems.

b. Therefore the people contended with Moses: The people of Israel had a real problem - there was no water for the people to drink. This was not an imaginary problem and the people were right to be concerned. But when the people then contended with Moses, they responded to the problem in the flesh.

c. Why do you tempt the LORD? The people focused their complaint against Moses, but Moses understood that their problem was with the LORD.

i. When we have a problem it is much easier to blame someone than to think through the problem carefully and spiritually. In this situation Israel could have thought, "We are in a desert; it's not surprising there isn't much water here. We need to look to God to meet this need." Instead they blamed Moses and did nothing to help the problem.

d. So Moses cried out to the LORD: The lack of water wasn't Moses' fault. Yet as the leader of Israel, he had to lead them to the answer - and crying out to the LORD was the right way to lead them to the solution.

i. Moses knew the people were unfair to him (What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!). But he still had to lead while under the pressure of unfair attack, and he did the right thing in turning to God.

2. (Exo 17:5-6) God tells Moses how water will be provided.

And the LORD said to Moses, "Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

a. Go on before the people: Moses still had to lead, even in the difficult situation. A leader under attack may find it easy to shrink back from leadership, but God still wants leaders to lead.

b. Take with you some of the elders of Israel: At the same time, Moses' needed to lead in concert with the men of wisdom the LORD gave to Israel.

c. Take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river: God directed Moses to use what was successful before. This gave confidence to Moses, because he saw God use that same rod to do great miracles before.

i. Moses couldn't pick up that rod without remembering the power of God. The confidence he received by picking up the rod was a confidence in God, not in himself.

d. Behold, I will stand before you there: God assured Moses that He would be with him in this very difficult trial and challenge of his leadership. Now Moses could lead boldly, confident that God was with him.

e. Water will come out of it: This plan made no sense, but Moses had to operate in obedience to God. The wisdom of the plan could only be seen in its ultimate success.

i. God required faith in Moses the leader. To do such a thing in front of the nation and the elders meant Moses had to have a lot of trust in God. He would look very foolish if he failed, so he had to depend greatly on God.

3. (Exo 17:7) Moses names the place as a rebuke to the children of Israel.

So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, "Is the LORD among us or not?"

a. So he called the name of the place: Moses did what God told him to do and water came from the rock. This was a great miracle of God's provision and a rebuke to unbelieving and rebellious Israel.

i. We don't know exactly how God provided water from this rock. Perhaps there was an artesian spring that God caused to burst forth when Moses struck the rock.

b. He called the name of the place Massah and Meribah: God remembered the way Israel tested Him at Massah and Meribah, recalling it in many passages:

- Deuteronomy 6:16: You shall not tempt the LORD your God as you tempted Him in Massah
- Deuteronomy 9:22: at … Massah … you provoked the LORD to wrath
- Deuteronomy 33:8: Your holy one, Whom You tested at Massah, and with whom You contended at the waters of Meribah

c. They tempted the LORD, saying "Is the LORD among us or not?" This attitude among the Israelites was their great sin. In this time of difficulty, the children of Israel - directly or indirectly - doubted the loving presence and care of God among them.

i. Later, when Israel remembered God's provision in the wilderness at the Feast of Tabernacles, they had a specific ceremony where they recalled this miracle of water from a rock. In that exact context, Jesus said: If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water. (John 7:37-38)

ii. The living water Jesus spoke of was the Holy Spirit (John 7:39); it is no less miraculous for God to bring the love and power of the Holy Spirit out of our hearts than it is to bring water out of a rock - our hearts can be just as hard!

iii. Jesus was struck with Moses' rod - the curse of the law - and from Him flowed water to satisfy our spiritual thirst. As the old hymn says:

Let the water and the blood
From Thy riven side which flowed,
Be of sin the double cure,
Save me from its wrath and power.

B. God brings victory to Israel over the Amalekites.

1. (Exo 17:8-11) Amalek battles Israel; the power of Moses' prayer.

Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, "Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand." So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.

a. Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim: This was an unprovoked attack by Amalek against Israel. In response, Moses called Joshua to lead the armies of Israel into battle, to defend the nation against the attack from Amalek.

i. The method of attack used by Amalek was despicable. Deuteronomy 25:17-18 says: Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.

b. So Joshua did as Moses said to him: This is the first mention of the man Joshua. We find him doing what he does all until the time Moses passes from the scene - Joshua served the LORD and Moses faithfully.

c. And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: Moses supported the battle behind the scenes, busy in prayer. The fate of Israel in battle depended on Moses' intercession because when he prayed Israel prevailed and when he stopped praying Amalek prevailed.

i. Held up his hand: This phrase describes the Israelite posture of prayer, even as some people today might bow their head or fold their hands.

ii. This amazing passage shows us that life or death for Israel depended on the prayers of one man. Moses prayed as we should pray - with passion, believing that life and death - perhaps eternally - depended on prayer.

iii. It can be difficult to reconcile this with knowing God has a pre-ordained plan. But God didn't want Moses to concern himself with that - he was to pray as if it really mattered. Just because we can't figure out how our prayers mesh with God's pre-ordained plan never means we should stop believing prayer matters.

iv. In his early days Moses thought the only way to win a battle was to fight (Exodus 2:11-15). Now Moses let Joshua fight while he did the more important work: pray for the victory.

2. (Exo 17:12-13) Moses' hands are strengthened in prayer.

But Moses' hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

a. Moses' hands became heavy: The job of supporting the battle in prayer was difficult and Moses could not easily continue. We might think that fighting was the hard work and praying was the easy work, but true prayer was also hard work.

i. Prayer is sometimes sweet and easy; other times it is hard work. This is why Paul described the ministry of Epaphras as always laboring fervently for you in prayers (Colossians 4:12), and why Paul wrote we must Continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving (Colossians 4:2).

b. Aaron and Hur supported his hands: Aaron and Hur came along side Moses and literally held his hands up in prayer. They helped him and partnered with him in intercession. Their help was successful: his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

i. Though this was Moses' work to do, it was more than he could do by himself. Moses alone could not win the battle of prayer. He needed others to come by his side and strengthen him in prayer.

c. So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword: Because of this work of prayer Israel was victorious over Amalek. We are left with no other option than to say if Moses, Aaron, and Hur did not do the work in prayer, Israel would have been defeated, and history would have been changed.

i. This amazing passage shows us the great importance of prayer. Life and death - the course of history itself - depended upon prayer. We can conclude that many times the people of God are defeated today because they will not prayer, or their work is not supported by prayer.

3. (Exo 17:14-16) A never-ending battle with Amalek.

Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven." And Moses built an altar and called its name, THE-LORD-IS-MY-BANNER; for he said, "Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."

a. I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven: Because of God's strong command to battle against Amalek until they are completely conquered, many see the Amalekites as a picture of our flesh - which constantly battles against the spirit and must be struggled against until completely conquered (Galatians 5:17).

b. And Moses built an altar and called its name, THE-LORD-IS-MY-BANNER: Though Moses knew his prayer was important, he wasn't foolish enough to think that he won the battle. As an act of worship he built an altar and praised the name of Yahweh-Nissi (THE-LORD-IS-MY-BANNER).

i. Nissi describes a flag or a banner. The idea is that God is victorious in battle and the flag of his victory is lifted high. The same word is used of the serpent on the pole in Numbers 21:8, and in other significant passages:

- Psalm 60:4: You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth.

- Isaiah 11:10: And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.

ii. Israel later disobeyed this command to constantly war against Amalek in the days of Saul. This was the primary act of disobedience that cost Saul the throne (1 Samuel 15:2-9 and 1 Samuel 28:18).

©2004 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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