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Bible Commentaries

Kingcomments on the Whole Bible

Exodus 17

Verses 1-3

No Water: A Grumbling People

The people move on. They do not do this because it makes sense or because they see the point of it, but because the LORD has given the command to do so. That’s how they arrive in Rephidim. There appears to be no water. Is that the result of listening to a command from the Lord? It teaches us that even if we go the way of obedience, we are not spared difficulties and trials. God uses these difficulties to try and purify our faith and to glorify Himself by saving us from them.

How slow we are to learn, just like the people who are grumbling again. The Lord brings us into such situations, so that we may learn to see what is in our hearts. Moses is blamed once again. But their behavior again indicates a poor state of mind.

Moses said that they tested the LORD. Their unbelief appears when they accuse Moses of taking them out of Egypt to let them die in the wilderness. Again they do not think of God and the redemption from slavery (Exodus 16:3).

Verses 4-6

The LORD Gives Water

Moses takes his need to the LORD. The LORD gives His instructions to meet in grace the grumbling of the people (cf. Exodus 15:25). Here the Lord Himself gives the example of what He tells us to do: “But if your enemy ... is thirsty, give him a drink” (Romans 12:20). Moses must hit the rock on which the LORD stands with the same staff as the one with which he smote the river Nile. Then there will be water flowing. As the elders stand there as witnesses, Moses strikes the rock, causing a stream of water to flow out (Psalms 78:15-Nehemiah :; Psalms 114:8).

Paul explains the spiritual meaning of this event. In view of this event, he says that the Israelites “all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). Here it says that the rock represents Christ. He was beaten in the judgment God has brought over Him on the cross. After His death, resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit came. The Holy Spirit is compared to “rivers of living water” (John 7:38-Malachi :).

Just as the manna comes every day, the river of water also continues to follow the people, through the whole wilderness journey (1 Corinthians 10:4). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is a one-off happening, but its consequences persist. This is done through the intercession of the Lord Jesus: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; [that is] the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, [but] you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-Esther :). The Holy Spirit will be with and in the believer as long as the church is on earth, and forever.

Verse 7

The LORD Tested

In Exodus 17:2 Moses really exposes the evil mind of the people by telling them that they test the LORD. After beating the rock he calls the place “Massah and Meribah”. In this way he records the reminder of what is happening here for posterity. The reason for the naming is described in detail in this verse. Massah means ‘trial’, Meribah means ‘struggle’ or ‘twist’. In Hebrews 3 it is rendered with ‘bitterness’ (Hebrews 3:8).

Remarkably, the names do not remind of God’s gracious actions, the striking of the rock, but of the rebellious actions of the people. They need to be reminded why the rock was beaten.

The special thing about this trial is not so much that God is testing His people, but the opposite, that Israel is testing God! They challenge Him by demanding from Him a proof of His presence. By doing so they show doubt of His love and faithfulness and of His presence in their midst, perhaps even of His existence. It is the same language of rebellious unbelief that does not sound unfamiliar to us in our day: If there is a God, He should do this or that. As if God has not proven Himself many times already.

The sin of the people is not just unbelief in the power of God, but a doubt of His presence and intentions. You may doubt whether He is able to work in a particular case. That is thinking too little of God, or badly of Him. It is even worse when we think He doesn’t have good intentions for us, or that He doesn’t care about us at all or that He isn’t with us.

Verses 8-13

Joshua’s Fight Against Amalek

In the previous sections God has made sure that the people will have food and water all the time. Now there is fighting as well. The report on the fight is heralded by the word ‘then’. Following on from the previous verse, this fight seems to follow, not so much on the actions of God, but on the attitude of unbelief of the people. Yet the people can make use of the food and water provided by God in order to be able to cope with this battle at its height.

In Egypt they had no fighting. There they have been in slavery. At the Red Sea there was no fight either. There God has fought. In the wilderness there is a fight that has to be fought by the people. The fight against Amalek is not sought by the people. Amalek, the aggressor, is a grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12), the “ungodly” (Hebrews 12:16), and shows his character traits.

Amalek is a picture of satan attacking the believer through the weakness of his sinful flesh. Peter exhorts the believers to “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). This fight is against our souls. It is a fight that we must leave to the Spirit Who dwells in us (Galatians 5:17). By walking in the Spirit we will not give in to the lust of the flesh (Galatians 5:16).

The Spirit directs our attention to Christ in glory. Joshua will bring the people through the Jordan into the promised land. He is a picture of Christ Who enables us through the Spirit to take possession of the land. It is the Lord Jesus who fights against the flesh through the Spirit. ‘Joshua’ is the Hebrew name for the Greek name ‘Jesus’.

At the same time, the result of the battle depends on the place Moses occupies before God on the mountain. Moses is there together with Aaron and Hur. These three men on the mountain also represent Christ: Moses delivered the people, he represents the Redeemer; Aaron represents the Lord Jesus as the High Priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15); Hur means whiteness, purity, which shows the perfection of Him Who does intercession.

Of course, the Lord Jesus never gets tired (Hebrews 7:25). It shows how much everything depends on Him, Whose intercession in heaven determines the course of the conflict on earth.

The fight is settled by Joshua with the sharpness of the sword. The Word of God is compared to “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17). The Spirit in us applies the Word of God and enables us to resist the flesh and its desires.

Verses 14-16

The LORD Has War Against Amalek

Amalek has been defeated, but not destroyed. The flesh cannot be eradicated. The victory does not benefit Israel, except that they can now go further without suffering any damage. They will have to remain wary of this enemy. That is why this battle is written down so that they have a permanent warning. Anything written can always be consulted (cf. Isaiah 30:8). At the same time an encouragement is given: the LORD will eventually completely destroy this enemy.

The reaction of Moses is wonderful. He builds an altar. An altar indicates worship. The name he gives it speaks of victory in the Name of the LORD. The government is in the hand of the LORD. It is His fight.

The reaction of Moses is an example for us. How do we react to what the Lord does for us? The awareness that there is no power in us, but that He is in charge of our lives, will lead us to worship Him. He has promised never to forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).

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Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Exodus 17". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/exodus-17.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.