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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Exodus 17

Verses 1-16

Exodus 17:2

In the first expostulation condemning them of injustice since not he, but the Lord, hath afflicted them; in the second, of presumption; that since it was God that tempted them by want, they should tempt Him by murmuring. In the one He would have them see their wrong; in the other, their danger.

Bishop Hall.

You, therefore, who wish to remain free, either instantly be wise, or, as soon as possible, cease to be fools; if you think slavery an intolerable evil, learn obedience to reason and the government of yourselves; and finally bid adieu to your discussions, your jealousies, your superstitions, your outrages, your rapine, and your lusts.

Milton, Second Defence.

Exodus 17:4

Compare John Foster's remarks to a misanthropist, in the fourth chapter of A Man's Writing Memoirs of Himself: 'Frail and changeable in virtue, you might perhaps have been good under a series of auspicious circumstances; but the glory had been to be victoriously good against malignant ones. Moses lost none of his generous concern for a people on whom you would have invoked the waters of Noah or the fires of Sodom to return; and that Greater than Moses, who endured from men such a matchless excess of injustice, while for their sake alone He sojourned and suffered on earth, was not alienated to misanthropy in his life or at His death.

Exodus 17:4

The glory of all heroes and patriots grows pale before that of Moses; others deliver, he creates a nation. With him, 'this people' is, for the first time, recognized as a unity, the chaos of warring tribes is subdued into a cosmos, and the unity of a family expanded into the unity of a possible nation.

Miss Wedgwood, Message of Israel, p. 44.

Look almost where you will in the wide field of history, you find religion, whenever it works freely and mightily, either giving birth to and sustaining states, or else raising them up to a second life after their destruction. It is a great state-builder in the hands of Moses and Ulfilas, Gregory and Nicholas.

Sir John Seeley, Natural Religion, pp. 188 f.

He did not, like the Egyptians, fashion his works of art out of bricks and granite. He erected human pyramids, he carved out human obelisks, he took a poor shepherd tribe, and from it he created a people fit to defy the centuries, a great, a holy, an eternal people, a people of God! With greater justice than the Roman poet might this artist, this son of Amram and Jochebed, boast that he had erected a monument which should outlive all the creations of brass.

Heine.

The Lesson of Massah and Meribah

Exodus 17:7

I. Few incidents during the wanderings in the wilderness made a deeper impression upon the Jews than the striking of the rock by Moses, and the supply of water from it which followed, if, at least, we may judge from the number of references to it in their national literature.

But if, on the one hand, the incident thus stood out brightly as a signal manifestation of God's power and love, there was a darker side to it as well, for on the other hand, it was a no less striking and mournful example of the faithlessness and unbelief of God's people, and as such also it made a deep impression. So in that Psalm which the Christian Church has taken for daily use in her morning service there is a reference which the English reader is apt to miss, for when in the Venite the appeal is made, 'Today if ye will hear His voice,' etc., there is in the original a definite and clear allusion to that which happened 'at Meribah, in the day of Massah'; and these names, which were given to the spot in commemoration of the incident, stood forth to all time as a memorial of Israel's ingratitude, for Meribah means strife and Massah temptation. It was indeed a tempting of God. After so many manifestations of His power and goodness towards them they were still unable to trust Him for an instant.

II. When Israel is said to have 'tempted Jehovah,' it means that they acted as if doubting whether His promise was true, or whether He was really faithful to the character in which He had so often revealed Himself as a present God, able and ready to supply their every need. It indicated on their part a temper of distrust, a readiness to fall into a panic, to doubt God, and so to forsake Him at the first difficulty; and for this it is that it is so often alluded to in the subsequent history as a warning and example to all time.

III. Can we say that we of today have no need to lay to heart the warning which is writ so large on the face of the story, and that the temper shown by Israel has no counterpart among us now? The doubt which Israel felt of God's power and presence, because of an unexpected difficulty and a new problem, seems to me typical of that timid, faithless attitude which comes over so many when the advance of knowledge and discovery raises some difficulty with regard to the Christian faith.

Bishop Gibson, Messages from the Old Testament, p. 29.

References. XVII. 8. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xii. No. 712. XVII. 8, 9. Ibid. vol. xxxvii. No. 2233. XVII. 8-11. R. E. Hutton, The Crown of Christ, vol. ii. p. 509. XVII. 9. Ibid. vol. iii. No. 112.

Exodus 17:9

Then only can we pray with hope, when we have done our best. In vain shall Moses be upon the hill, if Joshua be not in the valley. Prayer without means is a mockery of God.

Bishop Hall.

Exodus 17:11

Moses, when the battle was raging, held up his arms to heaven, with the rod of God in his hand; and thus Israel overcame Amalek. Hence a notion got abroad through the world that in times of difficulty or danger the mightiest weapon a man can make use of is prayer. But Moses' arms grew heavy; and he was forced to call in Aaron and Hur to hold them up. In like manner do we all too readily weary of prayer, and feel it become a burthen, and let our hands drop; and then Amalek prevails.... As our flesh is so weak, that our prayers soon drop and become faint, unless they are upheld, Christ and the Holy Spirit vouchsafe to uphold our prayers, and to breathe the power of faith into them, so that they may mount heavenward, and to bear them up to the very Throne of Grace.

Julius Hare in Guesses at Truth.

References. XVII. 11. A. F. Wilmington Ingram, Under the Dome, p. 75. H.I.M. William II. of Germany, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. 1901, p. 49.

Exodus 17:12

Aaron was brother to Moses: there cannot be a more brotherly office than to help one another in our prayers, and to excite our mutual devotions. No Christian may think it enough to pray alone. He is no true Israelite that will not be ready to lift up the weary hands of God's saints.

Bishop Hall.

We do not find that Joshua's hands were heavy in fighting, but Moses' hands were heavy in praying. The more spiritual any service is, the more apt we are to fail and flag in it.

Matthew Henry.

References. XVII. 12. J. M. Neale, Sermons Preached in a Religious House, vol. i. p. 34. XVII. 13. T. Champness, New Coins from Old Gold, p. 66. XVII. 15. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, etc., p. 72. Prof. Findlay, British Weekly Pulpit, vol. ii. p. 285. T. G. Rooke, The Church in the Wilderness, p. 53. XVIII. 3, 4. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Exodus, etc., p. 80 XVIII. 7. D. Strong, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlii. 1892, p. 166.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Exodus 17". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/exodus-17.html. 1910.