Exodus 17


The Israelites journey from the wilderness of Sin to

Rephidim, 1,

where they murmur for lack of water, 2, 3.

Moses asks counsel of God, 4,

who commands him to take his rod and smite the rock, 5,

and promises that water should proceed from it for the people to

drink, 6.

The place is called Massah and Meribah, 7.

The Amalekites attack Israel in Rephidim, 8.

Joshua is commanded to fight with them, 9.

Moses, Aaron, and Hur go to the top of a hill, and while Moses

holds up his hands, the Israelites prevail; when he lets them down,

Amalek prevails, 10, 11.

Moses, being weary, sits down, and Aaron and Hur hold up his

hands, 12.

The Amalekites are totally routed, 13,

and the event commanded to be recorded, 14.

Moses builds an altar, and calls it JEHOVAH-NISSI, 15.

Amalek is threatened with continual wars, 16.


Verse 1. Pitched in Rephidim] In Nu 33:12-14 it is said, that

when the Israelites came from Sin they encamped in Dophkah, and

next in Alush, after which they came to Rephidim. Here,

therefore, two stations are omitted, probably because nothing of

moment took place at either.

See Clarke on Nu 33:12; and "Nu 33:13".

Verse 2. Why chide ye with me?] God is your leader, complain to

him; Wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? As he is your leader, all

your murmurings against me he considers as directed against

himself; why therefore do ye tempt him? Has he not given you

sufficient proofs that he can destroy his enemies and support his

friends? And is he not among you to do you good? Ex 17:7. Why

therefore do ye doubt his power and goodness, and thus provoke him

to treat you as his enemies?

Verse 3. And the people murmured] The reader must not forget

what has so often been noted relating to the degraded state of the

minds of the Israelites. A strong argument however may be drawn

from this in favour of their supernatural escape from Egypt. Had

it been a scheme concerted by the heads of the people, provision

would necessarily have been made for such exigencies as these.

But as God chose to keep them constantly dependent upon himself

for every necessary of life, and as they had Moses alone as their

mediator to look to, they murmured against him when brought into

straits and difficulties, regretted their having left Egypt, and

expressed the strongest desire to return. This shows that they

had left Egypt reluctantly; and as Moses and Aaron never appear to

have any resources but those which came most evidently in a

supernatural way, therefore the whole exodus or departure from

Egypt proves itself to have been no human contrivance, but a

measure concerted by God himself.

Verse 6. I will stand before thee there, upon the rock in Horeb]

THE rock, hatstsur. It seems as if God had directed the

attention of Moses to a particular rock, with which he was well

acquainted; for every part of the mount and its vicinity must have

been well known to Moses during the time he kept Jethro's flocks

in those quarters. Dr. Priestley has left the following sensible

observations upon this miracle:-

"The luminous cloud, the symbol of the Divine presence, would

appear on the rock, and Horeb was probably a part of the same

mountain with Sinai. This supply of water, on Moses only striking

the rock, where no water had been before nor has been since, was a

most wonderful display of the Divine power. The water must have

been in great abundance to supply two millions of persons, which

excluded all possibility of artifice or imposture in the case.

The miracle must also have been of some continuance, no doubt so

long as they continued in that neighbourhood, which was more than

a year. There are sufficient traces of this extraordinary miracle

remaining at this day. This rock has been visited, drawn, and

described by Dr. Shaw, Dr. Pocock, and others; and holes and

channels appear in the stone, which could only have been formed by

the bursting out and running of the water. No art of man could

have done it, if any motive could be supposed for the undertaking

in such a place as this."

This miracle has not escaped the notice of the ancient Greek

poets. Callimachus represents Rhea bringing forth water from a

rock in the same way, after the birth of Jupiter.



Hymn ad Jov., ver. 31.

_____________With her sceptre struck

The yawning cliff; from its disparted height

Adown the mount the gushing torrent ran.


The rock mentioned above has been seen and described by Norden,

p. 144, 8vo.; Dr. Shaw, p. 314, 4to., where there is an accurate

drawing of it; Dr. Pocock, vol. i., p. 143, &c., where the reader

may find some fine plates of Mount Horeb and Sinai, and four

different views of the wonderful rock of Meribah. It is a vast

block of red granite, fifteen feet long, ten broad, and twelve

high. See Dr. Shaw's account at the end of Exodus. My nephew,

who visited this rock in 1823, confirms the account of the

preceding travellers, and has brought a piece of this wonderful

stone. The granite is fine, and the quartz mica, and feldspar

equally mixed in it. This rock or block of granite is the only

type of Christ now existing.

Verse 7. He called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah]

Massah signifies temptation or trial; and

Meribah, contention or litigation. From 1Co 10:4, we learn

that this rock was a type of Christ, and their drinking of it is

represented as their being made partakers of the grace and mercy

of God through Christ Jesus; and yet many who drank fell and

perished in the wilderness in the very act of disobedience!

Reader, be not high minded, but fear!

On the smiting of the rock by the rod of Moses, Mr. Ainsworth

has the following pious note: "This rock signified Christ, and is

therefore called a spiritual Rock, 1Co 10:4. He being

smitten with Moses's rod, and bearing the curse of the law

for our sins, and by the preaching of the Gospel crucified among

his people, Ga 3:1, from him floweth the spiritual drink

wherewith all believing hearts are refreshed." Joh 7:37, and

Isa 53:1-3.

Verse 8. Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel] The

Amalekites seem to have attacked the Israelites in the same way

and through the same motives that the wandering Arabs attack the

caravans which annually pass through the same desert. It does not

appear that the Israelites gave them any kind of provocation, they

seem to have attacked them merely through the hopes of plunder.

The Amalekites were the posterity of Amalek, one of the dukes of

Eliphaz, the son of Esau, and consequently Israel's brother,

Ge 36:15,16.

Fought with Israel] In the most treacherous and dastardly

manner; for they came at the rear of the camp, smote the hindmost

of the people, even all that were feeble behind, when they were

faint and weary; see De 25:18. The baggage, no doubt, was the

object of their avarice; but finding the women, children, aged and

infirm persons, behind with the baggage, they smote them and took

away their spoils.

Verse 9. Moses said unto Joshua] This is the first place in

which Joshua the son of Nun is mentioned: the illustrious part

which he took in Jewish affairs, till the settlement of his

countrymen in the promised land, is well known. He was

captain-general of the Hebrews under Moses; and on this great

man's death he became his successor in the government. Joshua was

at first called Hoshea, Nu 13:16, and afterwards called

Joshua by Moses. Both in the Septuagint and Greek Testament he

is called Jesus: the name signifies Saviour; and he is allowed to

have been a very expressive type of our blessed Lord. He fought

with and conquered the enemies of his people, brought them into

the promised land, and divided it to them by lot. The parallel

between him and the Saviour of the world is too evident to require

pointing out.

Top of the hill] Probably some part of Horeb or Sinai, to which

they were then near.

Verse 10. Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up] It is likely that the

Hur mentioned here is the same with that Hur mentioned

1Ch 2:19, who appears from the chronology in that chapter to

have been the son of Caleb, the son of Ezron, the son of Pharez,

the son of Judah. The rabbins and Josephus say he was the

brother-in-law of Moses, having married his sister Miriam. He

was a person in whom Moses put much confidence; for he left him

conjoint governor of the people with Aaron, when he went to confer

with God on the mount, Ex 24:14. His grandson

Bezaleel was the chief director in the work of the tabernacle;

see Ex 31:2-5.

Verse 11. When Moses held up his hand] We cannot understand this

transaction in any literal way; for the lifting up or letting down

the hands of Moses could not, humanly speaking, influence the

battle. It is likely that he held up the rod of God in his hand,

Ex 17:9, as an ensign to the people. We have already seen that

in prayer the hands were generally lifted up and spread out,

(See Clarke on Ex 9:29,) and therefore it is likely that

by this act prayer and supplication are intended. The Jerusalem

Targum says, "When Moses held up his hands in prayer, the house of

Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hands from prayer, the

house of Amalek prevailed." We may therefore conclude, that by

holding up the hands in this case these two things were intended:

1. That hereby a reference was made to God, as the source whence

all help and protection must come, and that on him alone they must

depend. 2. That prayer and supplication to God are essentially

necessary to their prevalence over all their enemies. It is

indisputably true that, while the hands are stretched out, that

is, while the soul exerts itself in prayer and supplication to

God, we are sure to conquer our spiritual adversaries; but if our

hands become heavy-if we restrain prayer before God, Amalek will

prevail-every spiritual foe, every internal corruption, will gain

ground. Several of the fathers consider Moses, with his

stretched-out hands, as a figure of Christ on the cross, suffering

for mankind, and getting a complete victory over sin and Satan.

Verse 13. Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people] Amalek

might have been the name of the ruler of this people continued

down from their ancestor, (See Clarke on Ex 17:8,) as

Pharaoh was the name of all succeeding kings in Egypt. If this

were the case, then Amalek and his people mean the prince and the

army that fought under him. But if Amalek stand here for the

Amalekites, then his people must mean the confederates he had

employed on this occasion.

Verse 14. Write this for a memorial in a book] This is the first

mention of writing on record: what it signified, or how it was

done, we cannot tell. But it is evident that either this passage

is introduced here instead of De 25:17, by way of

anticipation, or that by the words kethob and sepher

was intended only a monumental declaration of the defeat of Amalek

by Joshua, by some action or symbolical representation; for it

is immediately subjoined, "And Moses built an altar, and called

the name of it Jehovah-nissi." See Dr. A. Bayley, and see the note

on chap. xxx. It is very likely that the first regular

alphabetical writing in the world was that written by the finger

of God himself on the two tables of stone. What is said here was

probably by way of anticipation, or means some other method of

registering events than by alphabetical characters, if we allow

that God gave the first specimen of regular writing on the tables

of stone, which did not take place till some time after this.

Rehearse it in the ears of Joshua] Thus showing that Joshua was

to succeed Moses, and that this charge should be given to every

succeeding governor.

I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek] This

threatening was accomplished by SAUL, 1Sa 15:3, &c.; four hundred

and twelve years after. Judgment is God's strange work; but it

must take place when the sins which incensed it are neither

repented of nor forsaken. This people, by their continued

transgressions, proved themselves totally unworthy of a political

existence; and therefore said God to Saul, Go, and utterly destroy

the SINNERS the Amalekites; 1Sa 15:18. So their

continuance in sin was the cause of their final destruction.

Verse 15. Jehovah-nissi] Jehovah is my ensign or banner. The

hands and rod of Moses were held up as soldiers are wont to hold

up their standards in the time of battle; and as these standards

bear the arms of the country, the soldiers are said to fight under

that banner, i.e., under the direction and in the defence of that

government. Thus the Israelites fought under the direction of God,

and in the defence of his truth; and therefore the name of JEHOVAH

became the armorial bearing of the whole congregation. By his

direction they fought, and in his name and strength they

conquered; each one feeling himself, not his own, but the Lord's


Verse 16. The Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with

Amalek, &c.] This is no translation of the words

ki yad al kes yah milckamah, which have been variously

rendered by different translators and critics; the most rational

version of which is the following: Because the hand of Amalek is

against the throne of God, therefore will I have war with Amalek

from generation to generation. This gives a tolerably consistent

sense, yet still there is considerable obscurity in the passage.

Houbigant, a most judicious though bold critic, supposes that,

as Jehovah-nissi, Jehovah my ensign, was spoken of

immediately before, kes, a throne, in this verse, is an error

of some transcriber for nes, an ensign, which might be readily

occasioned by the great similarity between the caph and the

nun. He thinks farther that the two letters yah, which are

supposed to be here a contraction of the word Yehovah, are

separated, the yod from the nes, which should be

written nissi, and the he, from milchamah,

which should be written hammilchamah, and then the whole

verse will run thus: For the hand shall be upon the ensigns of war

unto the Lord, against Amalek for ever, i.e., God makes now a

declaration of war against the Amalekites, which shall continue

till their final destruction. The conjecture of Mr. Julius Bate,

in his Literal Translation of the Pentateuch, deserves attention.

He supposes that, as cos signifies a cup, and a cup is

emblematically used for wrath, on one of the stones of the altar,

mentioned in the preceding verse, a hand holding a cup was

sculptured, this being a memorial, according to the custom of

hieroglyphical writing, that the Lord would continue the cup of

wrath, portending continual war, against Amalek for ever. I prefer

Houbigant's exposition.

1. THIS first victory of Israel must have inspired them with a

considerable measure of confidence in God, and in his servant

Moses. Though God alone could give them the victory, yet it was

necessary to show them that it was by the influence of Moses they

got it. Moses could not deliver Amalek into their hands; yet if

Moses did not continue to hold up his hands, i.e., to pray, Amalek

must prevail. God, therefore, wrought this work in such a way as

to instruct the people, promote his own glory, and secure the true

honour of his servant. The Divine Being always performs the

greatest number possible of ends, by the fewest and simplest

means. In every work of God there is as much of wisdom and

economy, as there is of sovereign uncontrolled power.

2. It is not probable that the people whom Joshua chose out to

lead against Amalek were unarmed; and we have already seen that it

is not at all likely that they came armed out of Egypt. And as the

whole circumstances of this case show that those who fought

against the Amalekites were properly equipped for the fight, we

may then safely presume that they got their arms from the

Egyptians, whose bodies were thrown on the shore after having been

overwhelmed in the Red Sea. Thus, what was a judgment in the one

case, was a most gracious providence in the other. Judgment on

God's foes is mercy to his friends.

3. Of the efficacy of prayer we have already had the most

striking examples. He who has the spirit of prayer, has the

highest interest in the court of heaven; and the only way to

retain it, is to keep it in constant employment. Apostasy begins

in the closet: no man ever backslid from the life and power of

Christianity who continued constant and fervent, especially in

private prayer. He who prays without ceasing is likely to rejoice


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