Exodus 17


‘The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 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?’ 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?’ Then Moses cried out to the LORD,’ What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ Exodus 17:1-4

It seems that their complaining here becomes more intense since they were desperate for water, even to the point of wanting to stone Moses. And at this point, turning back to Egypt was not an option, they needed water to live, and Moses was desperate to answer their complaint. Moses asks the question ‘Why do you put the LORD to the test?’

Although they desperately needed water, they had forgotten all the provisions of the Lord in the past. And so it was at this point in their journey, that God’s patience with them turned from enduring their complaints to punishment for their lack of faith. Moses recognized this, and that’s why he asked that question.

And remember that it was at this event when Moses received water after striking the rock that it was going to become a shadow of where we get the real living water, that is from Christ, according to John 7:37 / 1 Corinthians 10:1-4 / Galatians 3:1.

It was the Lord who commanded them to go to Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. At this point, Israel was completely in the will of God, yet there was no water to drink! Just because we are having problems, it doesn’t mean we are out of the will of God.

No water for the people to drink, this is not an imaginary problem, the people are right to be concerned. But the people then contended with Moses, showing they responded to the problem in the flesh.

Though the people focused their complaints against Moses, Moses understood that their problem was against the Lord. Why do you tempt the Lord?

When we have a problem, instead of thinking ‘I’m in a desert, it’s not surprising there isn’t much water here. I need to look to God to meet this need,’ we do what Israel did, we look for someone to blame. But that solved nothing!

The lack of water isn’t Moses’ fault, yet as the leader of Israel, he must lead them to the answer. Moses cried out to the Lord. Moses knew the people were being unfair, but he still had to lead while under the pressure of unfair attack, and he did the right thing by turning to God.

Water From The Rock

‘The LORD answered Moses, ‘Go out in front 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. 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.’ Exodus 17:5-6

God tells Moses how water will be provided. Moses still had to lead, even in a difficult situation. A leader under attack may find it easy to shrink back from leadership, but God still wants leaders to lead! At the same time, Moses needed to lead in concert with the men of wisdom the Lord had given Israel.

God had Moses use what had been successful before, this no doubt gave confidence to Moses, to use what had been proven useful. Certainly, 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 himself.

Most importantly, God would be with Moses through this difficult challenge of his leadership. Now Moses could lead boldly! The 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.

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, think how foolish he would look if it failed!

‘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?’ Exodus 17:7

After God provides water, Moses names the place as a rebuke to the children of Israel. Naturally speaking, this rock may have held an artesian spring which God caused to burst forth when Moses struck the rock. To give drink to that many people would have required the Niagara Falls.

God remembered the way Israel tested Him at Massah and Meribah, recalling it in Deuteronomy 6:16 / Deuteronomy 9:22 / Deuteronomy 33:8.

What made this incident so important to God? Because they tempted the Lord by saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’ In a time of difficulty, the children of Israel, directly or indirectly, doubted the loving presence and care of God among them.

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, ‘On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ John 7:37-38.

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! Jesus was struck with Moses’ rod, the curse of the law, and from Him flows water to satisfy our spiritual thirst.

The Amalekites Defeated

‘The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 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.’ So, Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning.’ Exodus 17:8-11

God brings victory to Israel over the Amalekites. Amalek battles Israel, the power of Moses’ prayer. With his armies, Amalek attacked the feeble and weak who were in the rear of the Israelite company.

Though the Amalekites were descendants of Esau, Genesis 36:12 / Genesis 36:16, they had forsaken their fear of the God of Israel, and so had felt no guilt about attacking the people of God.

Joshua went with Moses, Aaron and Hur to a hill that overlooked the valley where the battle between Israel and the Amalekites took place. Joshua was first known as Oshea, Numbers 13:16, and his name means, ‘Jehovah is salvation’. Hur is the grandfather of Bezaleel who was later inspired to build the tabernacle, Exodus 31:2.

This was an unprovoked attack by Amalek against Israel, Moses calls Joshua to lead the armies of Israel into battle. This is the first mention of Joshua, we find him doing what he does until the time Moses passes from the scene, Joshua is serving Moses Joshua did as Moses said to him. The method of attack used by Amalek was despicable, Deuteronomy 25:17-18.

Moses supports the work, behind the scenes, in prayer, the fate of Israel in battle depends on Moses’ intercession. Held up his hand describes the Israelite posture of prayer, as we might bow our heads and fold our hands, when Moses prayed, Israel won, when he stopped praying, Amalek prevailed.

How could this be? How could life or death for Israel depend on the prayers of one man? God wants us to pray with this kind of passion, believing that life and death, perhaps eternally, may depend on our prayer.

In his early days, Moses thought the only way to win a battle was to fight. Now he will let Joshua fight, while he does the more important work, pray for the victory.

It’s likely that he held up the rod of God in his hand, as a sign to the people. But with both hands being raised, this would be a position of prayer.

In other words, Moses recognised that God was the source of help and protection and the Israelites needed to depend upon God and God alone, especially if they wanted to defeat their enemies. And so in this incident, God was reaffirming the position of Moses, as well as His preservation of Israel through Moses.

In order to prevent anarchy in the years to come, God wanted Moses to be considered the authority through whom He worked to bring Israel to the Promised Land.

With the presence of Aaron and Hur, Moses was able to accomplish His part in the victory, illustrating that Moses also needed the help of others to stand by him. Good leaders know that they must always work in the company of others on whom they can lean.

The events were to be recorded for future generations to remember and the memory of the event would certainly play a part in reminding the people of what Amalek had done to the weak and feeble of Israel at a time when they were most vulnerable.

In the future, the Amalekites would be completely annihilated from history for this attack against Israel.

‘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. So, Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.’ Exodus 17:12-13

Moses’ hands are strengthened in prayer. And after the victory, Moses built an altar and named it, ‘the Lord is my banner’. And so God not only delivered His people from the Egyptians, but He also delivered them from the hands of the Amalekites.

Aaron and Hur come alongside Moses and literally hold his hands up in prayer, they help him and partner with him in intercession. Though this was Moses’ work to do, it was more than he could do, the battle of prayer could not be won by him alone. He needed others to come alongside and strengthen him in prayer.

Prayer is sometimes easy, other times it is hard work. This is why Paul describes the ministry of Epaphras as always labouring fervently for you in prayers, Colossians 4:12, and why Paul says we must continue earnestly in prayer, being vigilant in it with thanksgiving, Colossians 4:2.

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 had not done the work in prayer, the battle would not have been won, and history would have been changed.

How much victory is lacking because God’s people will not pray? When Jesus accomplished the greatest victory over Satan, His hands were stretched out.

‘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 name of Amalek from under heaven.’ Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, ‘Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the LORD, the LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.’ Exodus 17:14-16

A never-ending battle with Amalek. 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.

Though Moses knew his prayer was important, he wasn’t foolish enough to think that he had won the battle, in worship, he builds an altar and praises the name of ‘Yahweh-Nissi, that is to say, ‘The Lord is My Banner’.

Nissi refers to a flag or a banner, this is the idea of God, victorious in battle. The same word is used of the serpent on the pole in Numbers 21:8-9. See also Psalm 60:4 / Isaiah 11:10.

Israel was disobedient to the 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 / 1 Samuel 28:18. In the future, the Amalekites would be completely annihilated from history for this attack against Israel, 1 Chronicles 4:41-43.

Let me bring to your attention two other ongoing miraculous events which had already begun. These two miracles are often overlooked and at this point in time, the Israelites didn’t know about them yet.

In Deuteronomy 29 where we find God making a covenant with the Israelites in Moab, Moses records two miracles which have been going on for forty years.

Deuteronomy 29:5 “During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet.”

Do you think they noticed that their clothes and sandals never wore out? I can imagine a man saying to his wife, ‘you know darling it’s been a long time since we provided our children or even each other with some new clothes or shoes.’

I heard a story about a man who was preaching from this very passage and a young sceptic in the audience interrupted his sermon by shouting, ‘rubbish. How is that possible?’ So the preacher slowly and calmly walks over to the young sceptic and shouts in his ear, ‘God!’ ‘Oh’ said the young sceptic, ‘I understand’ to which the preacher said, ‘no son, no one really understands’.

Now think about this for a moment, God preserved them with water, He preserved them with food and He preserved them with clothes. In Matthew 6:25-34 Jesus reminds us that there are certain things we shouldn’t be worried about, food, drink or clothing, Matthew 6:31.

Jesus is not talking about paying our mortgage or our mobile phone bill, He’s talking about God supplying our most basic needs for life. And when we stop relying on God and trusting that He will meet those needs, then that becomes sinful.

God was supplying the daily basic needs for the Israelites and He still does it today for Christians we need to recognise that because the Greek word used for worry is ‘merimnao’ and it literally means distraction.

If we are to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness then we can’t allow ourselves to become distracted by the basic necessities of life. We must trust that God is going to supply those basic necessities.

Go To Exodus 18