Exodus 17

 

                        THE SECOND MURMURING FOR WATER

 

When the Israelites had come to Rephidim which was probably in the Wady Feiran,

near its junction with the Wady Esh-Sheikh, complaint arose, not, as at Marah

(ch. 15:23), that there was no drinkable water, but that there was no water at all. Water

had been expected, and consequently no supply had been brought; but none was found.

Violent murmurs arose, and the people were ready to stone their leader (v. 4), who had,

they considered, brought them into the difficulty. As usual, Moses took his grief to God,

and laid it before Him, with the result that God gave miraculous relief. Moses was

bidden to take his rod, and go with the elders to a particular rock known as “the rock in

Horeb” (v. 6), and there strike the rock, and water would flow forth. This he did, and a

copious stream welled out, which furnished abundant drink to the whole multitude. In

remembrance of the murmuring, he called the place Massah (trial) and Meribah (quarrel).

 

vs. 1-7 – “And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the

wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the

LORD” - Literally, “at the mouth of Jehovah,” i.e. as God ordered them. The

command was signified by the movement of the “pillar of the cloud.” – “and pitched

in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.  Wherefore the

people did chide with Moses” - “quarrelled,” made open murmurs and complaints —

as before frequently (chps. 14:11-12; 15:24; 16:2-3) - “and said, Give us water that

we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do

ye tempt the LORD?”  To “tempt the Lord” is to try His patience by want of faith, to

arouse His anger, to provoke Him to punish us. It was the special sin of the Israelites

during the whole period of their sojourn in the wilderness. They “tempted and

provoked the most high God and kept not His testimonies” (Psalm 78:56);

“provoked Him to anger with their inventions” (Psalm 106:29), “murmured in

their tents” (ib, 25), “provoked Him at the sea” (ib, 7), “tempted him in the desert”

(ib, 14). God’s long-suffering, notwithstanding all, is simply amazing!  And the people

thirsted there for water” - There is probably no physical affliction comparable to intense

thirst. His thirst was the only agony which drew from the Son of Man an acknowledgment

of physical suffering, in the words “I thirst.” (John 19:28) - Descriptions of thirst in open

boats at sea are among the most painful of the records of afflicted humanity. Thirst in the

desert can scarcely be less horrible – “and the people murmured against Moses” –

When the worst comes on men, if they are alone, they bear it silently; but if they can find

a scapegoat, they murmur. To lay the blame of the situation on another is a huge

satisfaction to the ordinary human mind, which shrinks from responsibility, and would

fain shift the burthen on some one else – “and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast

brought us up out of Egypt” -  to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?  

Compare chps. 14:11; 16:3. The circumstances of their life in the wilderness were such,

that, until accustomed to them, the people thought that, at each step, they must perish.

It may be freely admitted, that without continual miraculous aid this would have been

the natural denouement.  It is interesting to see that the “cattle” still survived, and were

regarded as of great importance. How far they served as a secondary head of subsistance

to the people during the 40 years, is a point not yet sufficiently elaborated.  And Moses

cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people?” - It is one of the

most prominent traits of the character of Moses, that, at the occurrence of a difficulty,

he always carries it straight to God. (See chps.15:25; 24:15; 32:30; 33:8; Numbers 11:2,11;

12:11; 14:13-19)  - “they be almost ready to stone me.” This is the first which we hear

of stoning as a punishment. It is naturally one of the easiest modes of wreaking popular

vengeance on an obnoxious individual, and was known to the Greeks as early as the time of

the Persian war (Herod. 9:5), to the Macedonians (Q. Curt. Vit. Alex. 6:11, 38), and

others. There is, however, no trace of it among the Egyptians.  And the LORD

said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of

Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.”

“Leave the people,” i.e., “where they are, in Rephidim, and go on in front of them,

with some of the elders as witnesses, that the miracle may be sufficiently attested.”

On the other occasion, when water was brought forth out of the rock (Numbers

20:8-11), it was done in the presence of the people. Perhaps now there was

a real danger of their stoning Moses, had he not quitted them.  Behold, I will stand

before thee” - A visible Divine appearance seems to be intended, which would guide

Moses to the exact place where he should strike – “there upon the rock in Horeb” –

this must have been a remarkable object, already known to Moses during the time that

he dwelt in the Sinai-Horeb region; but its exact locality cannot be pointed out. It

cannot, however, have been very far distant from Rephidim. (See v. 8.) – “and

thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people

may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.  And he called

the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the

children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD

among us, or not?”  Massah is from the root nasah, “to try,” or “tempt,” and means

“trial” or “temptation.”  Meribah is from rub, “to chide, quarrel,” and means “contention,

chiding, strife.” Moses gave the same name to the place near Kadesh, where water was

once more brought out of the rock, near the end of the wanderings. (See Numbers 20:13;

Deuteronomy 32:51; Psalm 106:32.)

 

 

                                    WATER OUT OF THE ROCK

 

“They did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual

rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ” (I Corinthians 10:4). When man

is at his last gasp, perishing for lack of what he sorely needs, then God lavishes His

mercies. All previous trials were as nothing compared with that which befell Israel at

Rephidim. Lips parched, throats dry, bodies fevered with heat, hearts expectant and

buoyed up with hope till the close of the day, then suddenly despairing — they lay on

the arid soil around the ill-named “resting-places,” maddened, furious, desperate.

Without water, they must perish in the course of a few hours — they, “and their

children” (v. 3) — the little tender innocents, a while ago so gay and sprightly and

joyous, now drooping, listless, voiceless. What wonder that some hearts were stirred

with fury against Moses, that some hands clutched stones, and were ready to launch

them at their leader’s head? Men in such straits are often not masters of themselves, and

scarcely answerable for the thoughts they think or the acts they do. But the greater the

need, the richer the manifestation of God’s mercy. At God’s word, Moses strikes

the rock; and the outcome is an abundant copious stream — aye, “rivers of living

water!” All were free to drink at once — men, women, little children, cattle, asses —

all could take without stint, satiate themselves, drink of the water of life freely. And the

water “followed them.” From Rephidim, in the second year, to Kadesh, in the thirty-eighth

year of the wanderings, there is no more complaint of want of water at any time, no need

apparently of any new and distinct miracle. And we too have WATER OUT

OF THE ROCK, which is Miraculous; Abounding; Life-giving.

 

  • Miraculous. For our Rock is Christ Himself — not the type, not the shadow,

      but the reality. Christ Himself, the true and only-begotten Son of God, makes

      Himself to us a perpetual, abiding, exhaustless source of a constant living stream,           

      from which we may drink continually. “If any man thirst,” He says, “let him

      come unto ME and drink” (John 7:37); and again — “Ho, every man that

      thirsteth, ,come ye to the waters” (Isaiah 55:1). He “opens rivers in high  

      places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys” — He “makes the        

      wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water” (Isaiah 41:18).       

      As from His riven side, upon the Cross, blood and water flowed down in a       

      mingled stream, so ever does He give us by a standing miracle His atoning

      blood to expiate our guilt, and His pure spiritual influences to cleanse our

      hearts and purify our souls. And the supply is”

 

  • Abounding. The water that He gives, is in each man “a well of water,

            springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:14). It is given without let or

            stint — freely to “every one that thirsteth.” This is His promise — “I will

            pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I

            will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy offspring”

            (Isaiah 44:3). Men have but to thirst for the living stream, to desire it,

            long for it, and he pours it forth. As in heaven, “a pure water of life, clear

            as crystal, proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb”

            (Revelation 22:1), so even here there is a fountain opened for sin and

            for uncleanness, abundant, copious, never-failing — of which all may drink

            freely. And the draught is:

 

  • Life-giving. However weak we are, however drooping, however near to

            death, once let us drink of the precious water that He gives, and we are

            saved. Death is foiled, the destroyer forced to release his prey, life springs

            up again within the heart; every nerve is invigorated; every fiber of our

            frame recovers its tone. True “water of life” is that stream which wells

            forth from the riven side of the Lamb. Christ is “our Life;” and in Him, and

            through Him we have life. The water that He gives us is “living water”

            for it is in truth the Spirit of Him who is “the true God and the eternal life”

            (I John 5:20) — who “hath life in himself.” Lord, evermore give us this

            “life!” (John 6:34)

 

 

                                    THE WAR WITH AMALEK

 

The Amalekites seem to have been descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau

(Genesis 36:12). They separated themselves off from the other Edomites at an early

date, and became the predominant tribe in the more northern parts of the Sinaitic

peninsula, claiming and exercising a sovereignty over the whole of the desert country

between the borders of Palestine and Egypt. We do not find the name Amalek in the

Egyptian records; but the people are probably represented by the Mentu, with whom

so many of the early Egyptian kings contended. The Pharaohs dispossessed them of the

north-western portion of the mountain region; but they probably claimed the suzerainty

of the central hills and valleys, which the Egyptians never occupied; and on these

they no doubt set a high value as affording water and pasture for their flocks during the

height of summer. When the Israelites pressed forward into these parts, the Amalekites,

in spite of the fact that they were a kindred race, determined on giving them battle.

They began by “insidiously attacking the rear of the Hebrew army, when it was exhausted

and weary” (Deuteronomy 25:18). Having cut off many stragglers, they attacked the main

body at Rephidim, in the Wady-Feiran, and fought the long battle which the text describes

(vs. 10-13). The result was the complete discomfiture of the assailants, who thenceforth

avoided all contact with Israel until attacked in their turn at the southern frontier of Canaan,

when, in conjunction with the Canaanites, they were victorious (Numbers 14:45). A bitter

and long continued enmity followed. Amalek, “the first of the nations” to attack Israel

(ibid. 24:20), was pursued with unrelenting hostility (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), defeated

repeatedly by Saul and David (I Samuel 14:48; 15:7; 27:8; 30:17; II Samuel 8:12); the

last remnant of the nation being finally destroyed by the Simeonites in the reign of king

Hezekiah, as related by the author of

Chronicles (I Chronicles 4:41-43).

 

vs. 8-16 – “Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.  And Moses

said unto 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.” - Moses meant to

indicate by this, that he looked for victory to God alone, and did not trust in an “arm of

flesh,” while, nevertheless, he sent his soldiers to the combat.  “So Joshua did as Moses

had said to him, and fought with Amalek:  and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to

the top of the hill.  And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel

prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.”  The elevation of

Moses’ hand, with the rod held in it, was an appeal to God for aid, and must be

supposed to have been accompanied by fervent prayer to God, that He would help His

people and give them victory over their enemies. So long as the hand was upraised, the

Israelites prevailed; not because they saw it, and took it as directing them to continue

the fight, but because God gave them strength, and vigor and courage, while Moses

interceded, and left them to themselves when the intercession ceased, It may be said,

that Moses might have continued to pray, though his hands were weary; but only those

who have tried, know how difficult a thing it is to pray with any intensity for a continuance.

Probably Moses’ spiritual and physical powers collapsed together; and when he dropped

his hand through physical fatigue, he rested also from his mental effort. To impress upon

Israel the importance of intercessory prayer, God made success and failure alternate

with its continuance and discontinuance, thus teaching His people a lesson of inestimable

value. “But Moses hands were heavy; and 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.  And Joshua discomfited Amalek  and his people with the edge of

the sword.  And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book,

and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance

of Amalek from under heaven.”  The original has, “Write this in the book.” It is clear

that a book already existed, in which Moses entered events of interest, and that now he was

divinely commanded to record in it the great victory over Amalek, and the threat uttered

against them. The record was to be for a memorial, that the victory itself might be held in

remembrance through all future ages, as a very signal instance of God’s mercy; and that

when the fulfillment of the threat came (I Chronicles 4:43), God might have His due honor,

and His name be glorified. “rehearse it in the ears of Joshua. “Hand down,” i.e., to

thy successor, Joshua, the tradition of perpetual hostility with Amalek, and the memory

of the promise now made, that the whole nation shall be utterly blotted out from under

heaven. (Compare Deuteronomy 25:19.) The special sin of Amalek was:  that he attacked

God’s people, not fearing God (ib, v. 18);  that he had no compassion on his own kindred:

and that he fell on them when they were “feeble, and faint and weary” (ibid.) – “And

Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi” -  “the Lord is my

banner, and was intended to mark his ascription of the entire honor of the victory to

Jehovah but had probably no reference to the particular mode in which the victory was

gained.  (I recommend Exodus 17 – Names of God – Jehovah-nissi by Nathan Stone –

this web site - CY – 2010)  -  “For he said,  Because the LORD hath sworn that the

LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”  Amalek was

warlike, accustomed to contend with the great nation of the Egyptians; Israel had had all

warlike aspirations checked and kept down by above 400 years of servitude and peace.

Amalek was no doubt well armed; Israel can have possessed few weapons. Amalek knew

the country, could seize the passes, and select a fitting moment for attack; to all Israel,

except Moses and Aaron (Exodus 4:27), the country was strange, the passes unknown,

and perhaps the very idea of their being attacked unforeseen and unexpected. The attack

actually came close upon the great suffering from thirst, when Israel was “feeble” and

“faint and weary” (Deuteronomy 25:18). So signal a mercy deserved special

remembrance. Men soon forget the favors they receive at God’s hands. That this favor

might not be forgotten, God required two things:

 

Ø      That a record of it should be inserted inHis book. There is no other

                        memorial comparable with this, whether we consider the honor of it,

                        since to obtain record there, an event must be indeed an important one;

                        or the enduringness, since God’s book will continue to the world’s end;

                        or the celebrity, since it is read by all nations. And God’s special                                               

                        command for the insertion, stamps the event with an extra mark of dignity,

 

Ø      That it should be handed on traditionally to Joshua, and through him to

                        others. Tradition is one of the modes by which God maintains the

                        knowledge of His truth in the world, and is at no time wholly superseded                                   

                        by the written Word, since there are at all times persons in the world too

                        young or too illiterate to have direct access to the Word, who must receive

                        their religious instruction orally from teachers. Tradition alone would be a

                        very unsafe guide; but tradition, checked by a book, is of no little value in

                        enlarging the sphere of religious knowledge, and amplifying and rendering

                        more intelligible the written record. To the two modes of securing

                        continued remembrance of the defeat of Amalek required by God, Moses

                        added a third — the erection of a material monument, to which he gave a

                        commemorative name. Many victories have been thus commemorated, as

                        those of Marathon, Blenheim, Trafalgar, Waterloo, etc.; but no erector of

                        such a memorial has ever given to his work so noble and heart-stirring a

                        name as Moses gave. “The Lord is my banner” — under no other

                        standard will I serve or fight — no other leader will I acknowledge no                           

                        other lord shall have dominion over me. “The Lord is my banner”                             

                        under this banner I engaged Amalek —God, and He alone, gave me the                                   

                        victory — through Him, and Him alone, do I look to discomfit my other                                    

                        enemies. Be the enemies material or spiritual, external or internal, to Him                                   

                        only do I trust to sustain me against them. None other name is there under                                 

                        heaven, through whom salvation is to be obtained, the adversary baffled,                                   

                        Amalek put to confusion.  (Acts 4:12)

 

 

                        THE USELESSNESS OF FIGHTING AGAINST GOD

 

Amalek was “the first of the nations” in audacity, in venturesomeness, perhaps in military

qualities, but scarcely in prudence or long-sightedness.  Amalek must precipitate its quarrel

with Israel, must “come to Rephidim” and offer battle, instead of letting Israel go on its own

way unmolested, and shunning a contest. They might have known that they were about to fight

against God, and that to do so is useless. None can contend with Him successfully. It is

curious that sinners do not see this. Some of them seem to hope to escape the notice of God;

others appear to doubt His power; a few seem to disbelieve in His existence. The uselessness

of contending against Him would be generally recognized, if men would bear in mind, as most

sure”

 

  • THAT THERE IS A GOD, DESERVING OF THE NAME, THE MAKER

      AND RULER OF THE UNIVERSE. The disbelief in a Personal God underlies

      much of the resistance which men offer to His will on earth.  They admit an impersonal

      something external to themselves, which they call “Nature,” and speak of as having

      immutable “laws.” These they profess to respect. But the law of righteousness,

      decreed by a God who is a Person, and written by Him in the hearts of His human

      creatures, is not among these “laws of nature,” they think, since in many people it is

      not found to exist. Neither to this law, nor to the God who made it, do they profess

      any allegiance. They claim the liberty to do that which is right in their own eyes.

      But, as surely as they are confounded, if they set themselves in opposition to a law

      of physical nature — walk on the sea, or handle fire, or seek to fly without wings

      — so surely does a Nemesis attend their efforts, if they transgress a moral law,

      be it the law of chastity, or of truth, or of general kindliness, or of special regard

      for God’s day, God’s house, God’s ministers, God’s people. The Amalekites

      attacked the last, and were overthrown. Final discomfiture will assuredly

      overtake all who attack anything that is God’s or in any way set

      themselves in opposition to His will.

 

  • THAT GOD IS REALLY OMNIPOTENT. It often pleases God to allow for a

      time the contradiction of sinners against himself, and even to let the ungodly enjoy

      a long term of worldly prosperity. Some of the worst men have prospered during

      their whole lives, and have died at the height of earthly greatness, self-satisfied, so

      far as men could see, happy. Men have questioned whether God, if really omnipotent,

      could have allowed this, and have doubted His ability to carry on a real moral

      government of the entire universe. But omnipotence is included in the very idea of

      God; and it is quite inconceivable that any of His creatures should be really able to

]     thwart or resist Him further than He Himself permits. Their very existence depends

      on Him, and unless He sustained them in being, they would perish at each moment.

      He temporarily allows the opposition of other wills to His, not through any defect of

      power, but for His own wise purposes. Some time or other He will vindicate Himself,

      and show forth His Almighty power, to the utter confusion of his enemies.

 

  • THAT GOD IS ALSO OMNISCIENT. The Psalmist tells us (Psalm 73:11) of

      those who said — “Tush, how should God perceive?  Is there knowledge in

      the Most High?” and, again, “God hath forgotten; He hideth away His face,

      and He will never see it” (Psalm 10:11). These are bold utterances, such as men

      scarcely make nowadays; but still there are many who in their inmost heart seem

      to cherish the Epicurean notion, “Deos securum agere oevum,” that the Divinity

      does not care for what men do, or that, at any rate, words or thoughts are beyond

      His cognisance. He, however, himself declares the contrary. “For every idle

      word that men shall speak they shall give account.” (Matthew 12:36) –

      “Thou knowest the very secrets of the heart.” (Psalm 44:21)  “All things

      are open and revealed unto him with whom we have to do.” (Hebrews 4:13) –

      We cannot resist Him secretly or without His knowledge. He knows all our words,

      and all our thoughts, as well as all our acts, “long before.” We cannot take Him

      by surprise and gain an advantage over Him. There is not a word in our mouth,

      or a thought in our heart, but he “knows it altogether” – (Psalm `139:4)

      has always known it, and has provided accordingly. If we were “wise,”

            if we were even moderately prudent, we should give up the idea of

            resisting God. Instead of “raging” and “imagining vain things” — instead

            of “taking counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed”

            instead of seeking to “break their bands asunder and cast away their cords

            from us” (Psalm 2:1-3), we should submit ourselves — we should be

            content to “serve the Lord with fear and rejoice unto Him with reverence”

            — we should “kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and so we perish from the

            right way, if his wrath be kindled, yea, but a little” (ibid. vs. 11-12) — we            

            should “take His yoke upon us, and learn of Him” (Matthew 11:28-30)            

            satisfied that in no other way can we prosper, in no other way can we obtain

            rest, or peace, or happiness.

 

 

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