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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Exodus 17

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Exodus 17 – 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, following the pillar of cloud and fire; 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 a season of great problems.

i. “Thirst is the more eager appetite, so they are more eager and earnest for water than they were for bread.” (Trapp)

ii. Cole on to kill….our livestock with thirst: “Who but a cattleman would have worried about his stock dying of thirst, if he were already dying of thirst himself? Here speaks the true Israelite farmer.”

iii. Set out on their journey: “In Numbers 33:12-14 it is said, that when the Israelites came from Sin they encamped in Dophkah, and next in Alush, after which they came to Rephidim. Here, therefore, two stations are omitted, probably because nothing of moment took place at either.” (Clarke)

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. Yet when the people then contended with Moses, they did not respond with spiritual thinking or actions.

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 in prayer.

ii. “One of Moses’ most characteristic and praiseworthy traits was that he took his difficulties to the Lord.” (Kaiser)

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. Take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river: God directed Moses to get out before the people, to bring other leaders with him (take with you some of the elders of Israel), and to use what God had used 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 confidence in God, not in himself.

b. Behold, I will stand before you there: One of the great themes of this journey from Egypt to Canaan was that God was with them. He was with them each step of the way, and here again He would show His presence to Moses and to Israel.

i. “If God had not stood upon the rock, in vain had Moses struck it. Means must be used, but God only depended upon for success.” (Trapp)

c. You shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it: Moses was commanded, in the presence of the Lord, to strike the rock with his rod, and water would gush forth to satisfy the thirst of God’s people.

i. This was a remarkable miracle. Moses (and everyone else) knew that water does not normally come from rocks in such a way.

ii. This was a generous miracle. “Here again the divine patience appears, for Jehovah uttered no word of reproach, but in spite of their impatient unbelief provided water out of the rock for them.” (Morgan)

iii. This was a meaningful miracle. In striking the rock, Moses acted out a drama that perhaps he didn’t understand. In 1 Corinthians 10:4, Paul wrote of Israel in the Exodus: they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ. We don’t know if this rock followed Israel just as Paul described, but we do know that when Jesus was struck, living water flowed out for all to receive. “Herein a type of Christ, ‘stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted’ (Isaiah 53:4; 1 Corinthians 10:4).” (Trapp)

iv. Jesus was struck with the rod of Moses – 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.

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. Perhaps it was a completely unique miracle.

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 several 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?” God dramatically said, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb (Exodus 17:6), saying that He was and would be present with Israel. Yet they still wondered, Is the Lord among us or not?

i. 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. “Under the stress of an immediate lack, these people doubted the one fact of which they had overwhelming evidence.” (Morgan)

ii. 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)

iii. The living water Jesus spoke of was the Holy Spirit (John 7:39); it is no less of a miracle 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.

B. God brings victory to Israel over the Amalekites.

1. (Exo 17:8-9) Amalek attacks Israel.

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.”

a. Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim: This was an unprovoked attack by the Amalekites 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. “Amalek was grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12), and although akin to Israel, proved their most inveterate foe, as subsequent history shows.” (Thomas)

ii. “There is every possibility that they had known about the promise of the Land of Canaan that had been given to Esau’s twin brother, Jacob; therefore, they should not have felt any threat to their interests in the Negev had this promise been remembered and taken seriously.” (Kaiser)

iii. “Like many other nomads, they ranged over a wide area, roughly described as ‘the Negeb’ or ‘south land’ (Numbers 13:29).” (Cole)

b. And fought with Israel: 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.

i. “In the most treacherous and dastardly manner; for they came at the rear of the camp…The baggage, no doubt, was the object of their avarice; but finding the women, children, aged and infirm persons, behind with the baggage, they smote them and took away their spoils.” (Clarke)

c. Go out, fight with Amalek: This was a significant first experience of warfare for ancient Israel. They had lived for hundreds of years as slaves, and God fought the Egyptians for them. Now they had to learn rely on God as they fought a military battle.

i. “In their first movement God led them in such a way as to avoid the possibility of war (Exodus 13:17). Now they were involved in war.” (Morgan)

d. The rod of God in my hand: The Scriptures call this stout stick both the rod of Moses (your rod, Exodus 17:5) and the rod of God. There was the combination of the human instrument and the divine power.

i. God called it the rod of Moses, and so honored Moses. Moses called it the rod of God, and so honored God.

2. (Exo 17:10-11) Israel prevails in battle as Moses prays.

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. So Joshua did as Moses said to him: This is the first passage that mentions Joshua. We find him doing what he did until the time Moses passed from the scene – Joshua served the Lord and Moses faithfully.

i. It’s always good to remember that the name Jesus is simply the Greek way of pronouncing the name Joshua. It’s the same name.

ii. “Both in the Septuagint and Greek Testament he is called Jesus: the name signifies Saviour; and he is allowed to have been a very expressive type of our blessed Lord. He fought with and conquered the enemies of his people, brought them into the promised land, and divided it to them by lot. The parallel between him and the Saviour of the world is too evident to require pointing out.” (Clarke)

b. Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill: They did this so they could see, so they could be seen, and so that they could pray. Aaron was the brother of Moses, and some think Hur was his brother-in-law.

i. “Josephus (Antiquities III, 54 [ii.4]) preserves a Jewish tradition that Hur was the husband of Moses’ sister, Miriam.” (Kaiser)

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. Moses had to pray, and had to keep on praying. “Both the verbs ‘to hold up’ and ‘to lower’ are introduced by the perfect…Continued or frequentative action is clearly denoted.” (Kaiser)

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 that 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.

3. (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 alongside 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.

ii. “Several of the fathers consider Moses, with his stretched-out hands, as a figure of Christ on the cross, suffering for mankind, and getting a complete victory over sin and Satan.” (Clarke)

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 pray, or prayer does not support their work.

ii. Nevertheless, Joshua had to fight. Praying Moses did not eliminate what Joshua had to do. The battle was won with prayer, but also through normal instruments – the work of the army, led by Joshua. “Prayer is a downright mockery if it does not lead us into the practical use of means likely to promote the ends for which we pray.” (Spurgeon)

4. (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. Write this for a memorial in the book: Kaiser notes that there are five places in the Pentateuch where Moses wrote something down at the command of God (Exodus 17:14, Exodus 24:4-7, Exodus 34:27, Numbers 33:1-2, and Deuteronomy 31:9, 24). Not very long ago some academics were skeptical, and said that writing was not invented in Moses’ day. Further research proved that man had been writing for at least 1,500 years before the time of Moses.

b. I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven: Amalek had a special guilt and shame in their attack against Israel.

· Amelek had the shame of being the first nation to make war against Israel.
· Amelek had the shame of going out of their way to attack Israel.
· Amelek had the shame of actually fighting against God.

c. 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. In Exodus 17 we see examples of God’s power and man’s effort working together. Moses struck the rock; but only God could bring the water. Joshua fought, Moses prayed, but only God gave the victory over Amalek. In it all, God received the glory. It wasn’t Israel is my banner or Moses is my banner or Joshua is my banner; rather it was Yahweh-Nissi: The-Lord-is-My-Banner.

iii. We sometimes are even more aware of the power and the help of God when we work together with Him than we are when God does the work all by Himself. Jehovah-Nissi came after the battle with Amalek, not after the dead Egyptians at the Red Sea.

d. The Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation: This was not the last battle with or mention of the Amalekites. God continued His war against them, but gave them much time to repent of this great sin of attacking their cousin, Israel.

· Balaam prophesied of their ruin (Numbers 24:20)
· Hundreds of years later, Saul fought against them (1 Samuel 14:48)
· God then commanded Saul to continue the fight against Amalek, to bring complete judgment upon them for their ancient sin against Israel (1 Samuel 15:1-7)
· In partial obedience to God, Saul fought against the Amalekites and routed them, but kept their king alive (and presumably others) while also enriching himself in the battle (1 Samuel 15:7-9)
· The failure to obey God in regard to Amalek was the primary act of disobedience that cost Saul the throne (1 Samuel 15:2-9 and 1 Samuel 28:18)
· The Amalekites existed after this, so we know Saul did not complete the work God gave to him (1 Samuel 27:8, 30:17; 2 Samuel 8:12)
· There are some indications that this work was completed in the late days of the divided monarchy under Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:41-43), but it is possible that some descendants of the Amalekites remained (such as Haman in Esther 3:1)

i. Because of God’s strong command to battle against Amalek until they were completely conquered, many see the Amalekites as a picture of our flesh, the unspiritual aspect of man that makes war against the spirit. In this sense, “Amalek” constantly battles against the spirit and must be struggled against until completely conquered (Galatians 5:17).

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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