Exodus 17
Pulpit Commentary
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, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.
Verses 1-7. - THE SECOND MUMURING 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 (Exodus 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 (ver. 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" (ver. 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). Verse 1. - From the wilderness of Sin. See the comment on Exodus 16:1. The sandy coast tract (El Murka) was probably quitted in lat. 28° 42' nearly, and the Wady Feiran entered on at its south-western extremity. Two stations, Dophkah and Alush, lay between the Sin wilderness and Rephidim, as we learn from Numbers 33:12, 13. It is impossible to locate these places with exactness. After their journeys. The three stages - from Sin to Dophkah, from Dophkah to Alush, and from Alush to Rephidim - seem to be alluded to. 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. The word Rephidim signifies "resting places," and "is the natural name for the paradise of the Bedouins in the palm-grove where the church and palace of the bishops of Paran formerly stood "(Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 41). There was no water. The Wady Feiran is watered ordinarily by a copious stream; but at times the brook is dry (ibid. p. 40, note 3).
Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, 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?
Verse 2. - The people did chide. I.e. "quarrelled," made open murmurs and complaint - as before frequently (Exodus 14:11, 12; Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2, 3). Give us water. As Moses had already given them flesh (the quails) and bread (the manna), so it perhaps seemed to the people easy that he should give them such a common thing as water. Stanley notices (p. 70) that the wadys suggest the idea of water, and make its absence the more intolerable - they are "exactly like rivers," with "torrent bed, and banks, and clefts in the rock for tributary streams, and at times even rushes and shrubs fringing their course" - signs of "water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink." 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" (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; and the people murmured against Moses, 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?
Verse 3. - 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." 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. The people murmured and said 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. To kill us. Compare Exodus 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. And our cattle. 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? they be almost ready to stone me.
Verse 4. - And Moses cried unto the Lord. 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 Exodus 15:25; Exodus 24:15; Exodus 32:30; Exodus 33:8; Numbers 11:2, 11; Numbers 12:11; Numbers 14:13-19, etc.) 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.
Verse 5. - Go on before the people. "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. Thy rod with which thou smotest the river. See above, Exodus 7:20.
Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; 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.
Verse 6. - Behold, I will stand before thee there. A visible Divine appearance seems to be intended, which would guide Moses to the exact place where he should strike. The rock in Horeb 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 ver. 8.)
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?
Verse 7. - He called the name of the place Massah. 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.)

CHAPTER 17:8-16
Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
Verses 8-16. - 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 Amale-kites, 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). I-laving cut off many stragglers, they attacked the main body at Rephidim, in the Wady-Feiran, and fought the long battle which the text describes (vers. 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 (Exodus 24:20), was pursued with unrelenting hostility (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), defeated repeatedly by Saul and David (1 Samuel 14:48; 1 Samuel 15:7; 1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:17; 2 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 (1 Chronicles 4:41-43). Verse 8. - Then came Amalek. The bulk of the Amalekites would have been passing the spring in the lower plains, where herbage is abundant after the early rains, while later in the year it dries up. They would hear of the threatened occupation of their precious summer pastures by the vast host of the Hebrews, and would seek to prevent it by blocking the way. Hence they are said to have "come" - i.e., to have marched into a position where they were not previously, though it was one situated within their country. We must remember that they were nomads. And fought with Israel For the nature of the fighting on the first day, see Deuteronomy 25:18; by which it appears that the original attack was made on the rear of the long column, and was successful. The Amalekites "smote the hindmost" of the Israelites, "even all that were feeble behind them, when they were faint and weary."
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.
Verse 9. - And Moses said to Joshua. On hearing what had happened, Moses summoned to his presence an Ephraimite in the prime of life - about 45 years old - and devolved on him the military command. The man's name at the time was Hoshea or Oshea (Numbers 13:8). He was the son of a certain Nun (ibid.) or Non (1 Chronicles 7:27), and the tenth in descent from Ephraim, the son of Joseph (ib, 23-27). Some forty years later Moses changed his name from Hoshea to Jehoshua. which became contracted into Joshua. The occurrence of this form in the present passage may be accounted for.

1. By Moses having written (or reviewed) Exodus late in his life; or

2. By a later authorised reviser (Ezra?) having altered the text. Choose out for us men - i.e. "Select from the congregation such a number of fit men as appear to thee sufficient, and with them fight Amalek." To-morrow. It was probably evening, when Moses heard of the attack on his rear, and there was consequently no possibility of retrieving the disaster till the next day. lie could but make his arrangements for retrieving it. I will stand on the top of the hill. It is implied that there was a conspicuous hill (gibeah), not a rock (tsur) in the near vicinity of Rephidim, whence Moses could see the fight, and be seen by those engaged in it. Dean Stanley finds all the conditions answered by an eminence on the south side of the Wady Feiran (Sinai and Palestine, p. 41). Others suggest the Jebel Tahuneh north of the same wady. With the rod of God in my 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.
Verse 10. - Hur. Hur has not been mentioned hitherto. According to one Jewish tradition, he was the son, according to another, the husband of Miriam. Scripture only tells us of him, that he was descended from Judah, through Caleb the son of Hezron (1 Chronicles 2:18-20), and that his grandson, Bezaleel, was the artificer of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:2). He is again associated with Aaron in Exodus 24:14.
And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
Verse 11. - When Moses held up his hand,... Israel 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 (Kalisch), but because God gave them strength, and vigour 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.
Verse 12. - But Moses' hands were heavy. Moses, no doubt, held the rod alternately with one hand and the other, until both were so tired that he could hold them up no longer. It is this natural weariness which is expressed by the words - "his hands were heavy." When Aaron and Hut perceived this, they brought a stone for him to sit on, and then, standing one on either side of him, alternately supported his hands until the sun set and the battle was over. To reward the faith and perseverance of the three, God gave Israel in the end a complete victory.
And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
Verse 13. - Amalek and his people - i.e. "the Amalekites proper, and the tribes subject to them, who fought on their side."
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.
Verse 14. - Write this... in a book. 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 -

1. that the victory itself might be held in remembrance through all future ages, as a very signal instance of God's mercy; and

2. that when the fulfilment of the threat came (1 Chronicles 4:43), God might have his due honour, 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,

1. That he attacked God's people, not fearing God (ib, verse 18);

2. That he had no compassion on his own kindred: and

3. That he fell on them when they were already suffering affliction, and were "feeble, and faint and weary" (ib,)
And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi:
Verse 15. - Moses built an altar. An altar naturally implies a sacrifice, and Moses may well have thought that the signal victory obtained required to be acknowledged, and as it were requited, by offerings. In giving his altar a name, he followed the example of Jacob, who called an altar which he built, El-Elohe-Israel (Genesis 33:20). Moses' name for his altar, Jehovah-nisi, meant "the Lord is my banner," and was intended to mark his ascription of the entire honour of the victory to Jehovah but had probably no reference to the particular mode in which the victory was gained.
For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.
Verse 16. - Because the Lord hath sworn. Rather, as in the margin, "Because the hand of Amalek was against the throne of the Lord" - "because," i.e., "in attacking Israel, Amalek had as it were lifted up his hand against God on his throne," therefore should there be war against Amalek from generation to generation.

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