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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged

Exodus 17

Verse 1

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.

Journeyed from the wilderness of Sin. In the succinct annals of this book, those places only are selected for particular notice by the inspired historian which were scenes memorable for their happy or painful interest in the history of the Israelites. A more detailed itinerary is given in the later books of Moses; and we find that here two stations are omitted, (Numbers 33:1-4.33.56.)

According to Jerome, the whole of the desert region to Sinai comprehending El Murkha and El Kaa, was called "the wilderness of Sin." There were three routes by which the Israelites could have traversed it. The first, that advocated by Strauss, Knobel, Graul, and Keil, starting from Elim (Ghurundel) - not to speak at present of "the encampment by the Red Sea" (Numbers 33:10), at the descent of the fertile Wady Taiybeh, was in a northeasterly direction, over the wide sandy plain of Debbet el Ramleh, which these writers suppose to have been the scene of the complaining. That course leads into Wady es-Shiekh; but it is most unlikely that the Israelites took such a direction, both from the long detour, and from the extreme difficulty of leading so vast a multitude through narrow and rocky defiles.

The second route, approved by some, and fully described (Sandie, 'Horeb and Jerusalem'), was directly southward, along the seacoast to Tor, and then turning eastward, by Wady Daghadah, into Wady Rudhwan, which is considered to have been Rephidim, at the extremity of Wady er Rahab. In support of this hypothesis an appeal is made to Josephus, who says ('Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 1:, sec. 7), that the Israelites were supplied with water during this part of their journey from mountain springs and rills; and both Niebuhr and Lepsius testify that there is still plenty of water to be got from the hills along this way, before reaching the high watershed at Rudhwan. The third route is a middle one, along the ordinary caravan road, which, through Wadys Shellal and Mukatteb, leads into Wady Feiran-the most beautiful locality in the whole Peninsula.

According to the commandment ... - not given in oracular response, nor a vision of the night, but indicated by the movement of the cloudy pillar. The same phraseology occurs elsewhere (Numbers 9:18-4.9.19).

Pitched in Rephidim, [ bi-Rªpiydiym (H7508)] - i:e., stays, resting-places, a particular station; now believed, on good grounds, notwithstanding the abundance of good water there now, to Wady Feiran, which is exactly a day's march from Mount Sinai, and at the entrance of the Horeb district. It is a long circuitous defile, about 40 feet in width, with perpendicular granite rocks on both sides. The wilderness of Sin, through which they approached to this valley, is very barren, has an extremely dry and thirsty aspect, little or no water, scarcely even a dwarfish shrub to be seen, and the only shelter to the panting pilgrims is under the shadow of the great overhanging cliffs.

Lepsius, Bartlett ('Forty Days in the Desert'), Stewart ('Tent and Khan'), identify this halting-place with Wady Feiran, under the impression that Moses, from his knowledge of the rich and well-watered character of this extensive valley, must have led the people there in order to secure for them on their journey the benefit of its abundant resources in water and pasturage. But, not to dwell on the circumstance that the choice of the encampments did not depend on Moses, the hypothesis of these writers is inconsistent with the fact, that no water could be obtained in all the neighbourhood; and although it is conceivable that the extreme heat at that season, as in some seasons still, might have dried up the wells and fountains, there is another objection to the position assigned to Rephidim in Feiran, founded on the statement in a subsequent verse (Exodus 17:6), that it was not far from Horeb. [Accordingly, Eusebius ('Onomast.') says, 'Rafidim, topos tees Ereemou para to chooreb oros engus Faran'-Rephidim, a place in the desert, beside Mount Horeb, near Pharan.]

Cosmas ('Indicopleustes'), who traveled through the Sinaitic peninsula A.D. 535 AD, describes Rephidim in Greek: hoos apo milioon hex, about six miles from Horeb - i:e., at the spot in Wady es-Shiekh where now stands the tomb of Shiekh Saleh. According to Dr. Robinson, Rephidim is a mile or two further down that wady, at a narrow gorge which opens into the central mountain range. This is on the skirts of Horeb, taking Horeb as the general name for the region.

Verses 2-3

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?

People did chide with Moses. The want of water was a privation, the severity of which we cannot estimate, and it was a great trial to the Israelites; but their conduct on this new occasion was outrageous: it amounted even to "a tempting of the Lord." It was an opposition to his minister, a distrust of his care, an indifference to his kindness, an unbelief in his providence, a trying of his patience and fatherly forbearance.

Verses 4-6

And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.

Moses cried unto the Lord. His language, instead of betraying any signs of resentment or vindictive imprecation on a people who had given him a cruel and unmerited treatment, was the expression of an anxious wish to know what was the best to be done in the circumstances (cf. Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:21).

Verse 5. The Lord said ... - not to smite the rebels, but the rock; not to bring a stream of blood from the breast of the offenders, but a stream of water from the granite cliffs.

Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel. It is observable that the miraculous supply of water provided for the Israelites on this occasion was not given at Rephidim; because the rock that was smitten was not there, nor even in the immediate neighbourhood of that station.

Verse 6. I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb - "Horeb," i:e., dry place-the name given to the central cluster of the mountain range of which Sinai is a particular summit. It was perhaps the greatest miracle performed by Moses, and in many respects bore a resemblance to the greatest of Christ's, being done without ostentation and in the presence of a few chosen witnesses. [The Septuagint has: hode egoo hesteeka ekei pro tou se-Behold, I stand there before thou come to Horeb.]

The cloudy pillar, moving forward, guided the way of Moses and the elders as the star, at a future period did that of the wise men at Bethlehem, and stationing itself at a particular spot, pointed out the rock which was to be smitten. Since the Israelites, while at Rephidim, drew their supply of water from this source, it is obvious that the locality of the rock was not far distant. Those who, with Lepsius, Ritter, Stanley, Drew, etc., place Rephidim at the entrance of Wady Feiran, consider the smitten rock to have been situated at the further end of the wady, where, according to their view, is the northern borderline of the mountain region to which the general name of Horeb is given, and they see the traditional spring of Moses in the present brook of Feiran. But as, according to Burckhardt, Robinson, Tischendorf, Wilson, and others, Rephidim was in Wady es-Shiekh, the smitten rock, which was in advance of that position, must be sought for in Jebel Musa.

"The rock in Horeb" may have been selected in preference to any other rock at hand, just because the call of Moses to his mission, and the miracle of the burning bush, had already been associated with that district or particular mountain, and because greater signs and wonders were about to be exhibited at it in connection with the giving of the law. The water may have flowed to the Israelites when encamped at Rephidim, at the distance of several miles from the rock, as the winter torrents do now through the wadys of Arabia Petraea. In fact, the language of the psalmist would lead us to conclude that this was actually the case (Psalms 78:15-19.78.16). The rock may have been smitten, too, at such a height, and at a place bearing such a relation to the Sinaitic valleys, as to furnish in this way supplies of water to the Israelites during the first of their journeyings from Horeb (Deuteronomy 1:1). On this supposition, also, light is perhaps thrown on the figurative language of the apostle, when he speaks of the 'rock following' (1 Corinthians 10:4) the Israelites. On this supposition, also, we see a reason why the rock should have been smitten to yield a large supply to flow to a distance, even though springs and rills might have been found pre-existent in Sinai.

With regard to the particular instance in this passage, the mountain range Wateiyah runs northeast and southwest, like a wall, and is very picturesque. It approaches Wady Shiekh at the place which is supposed to have been Rephidim; and it is to be particularly noticed, that water from the rock in Horeb could easily flow to them at this very place on the only road practicable to them from Wady Feiran to Sinai. 'The Wady Shiekh, through which we had come down from Sinai, forms to this day, in fact, the channel by which the winter torrents find their way to the Red Sea, passing out of it into Wady Feiran, which, after running to the northwest until it approaches the Wady Mukatteb, strikes nearly directly to the west, and runs into the sea. I was greatly struck with the regular descent from Sinai of this water-channel, through the Wady esh-Shiekh' (Wilson's 'Lands,' vol. 1:, pp. 234, 235, 354).

Dr. Robinson, after remarking that neither in Wady esh-Shiekh nor in the adjacent district is there at the present day any special want of water, acknowledges his inability to solve the question how, in such a locality, the Israelites should have been so destitute of water, in any other way than by supposing that, as that people seem to have remained several days-perhaps a week-at Rephidim, the scanty supply of water was exhausted ('Biblical Researches,' vol 1:, p. 179). This solution is quite satisfactory, considering that the daily necessities of more than two million people had to be met. The presence of the elders with Moses when he struck the rock would be of the greatest importance, in affording independent and reliable testimony that there was no water there previously. Thus our Lord took select disciples along with him to some of the most interesting scenes of his ministry, to be witnesses of the greatest of his miracles.

After what has been said, it is almost superfluous to observe, that the rock in Wady el Lejah which monkish tradition points out as the one smitten has no just claims to that honour. It is a huge insular mass of granite, in the form of a cube, about twelve feet high, with a number of grooves and fissures-some natural, and others produced by the hand of man. But although the position of the smitten rock is unknown, this boulder in El Lejah could not be the veritable one. [The apostle, referring to that rock (1 Corinthians 10:4), calls it pneumatikee, a spiritual, i:e., a typical rock, symbolical of a spiritual reality, and the circumstance of its being 'smitten' had its antitype in the death of the Saviour, from whose wounded side the living waters have flowed to refresh and regenerate the world.]

Verse 7

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?

Called the name of the place Massah - temptation.

Meribah ... chiding - strife-the same word which is rendered "provocation," Hebrews 3:8.

And because they tempted the Lord - i:e., Him whose presence in the cloud accompanied them through the wilderness-namely, Christ (1 Corinthians 10:9).

Verse 8

Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.

Then came Amalek. Some time probably elapsed before they were exposed to this new evil: and the presumption of there being such an interval affords the only ground on which we can satisfactorily account for the altered-the better and firmer-spirit that animated the people in this sudden contest. The miracles of the manna and the water from the rock had produced a deep impression and permanent conviction that the Lord was indeed among them; and with feelings elevated by the conscious experience of the Divine Presence and aid, they remained calm, resolute, and courageous under the attack of their unexpected foe, fought with Israel.

The language implies that no occasion had been furnished for this attack; but, as descendants of Esau, the Amalekites entertained a deep-seated grudge against them, especially as the rapid prosperity and marvelous experience of Israel showed that the blessing contained in the birthright was taking effect. According, to Lepsius, 'Wady Feiran belonged to them. They had allowed the great host to march into and encamp in the Steppes without opposition, but were not very likely to surrender without a struggle the gem of the peninsula.' But the Israelites gave no evidence that they had the remotest intention of either injuring the persons or seizing on the territory of the Amalekites, which does not appear to have formed any part of the land of which the Jews were commanded by God to take possession.

The attack, therefore, made upon them by this fierce Bedouin tribe was altogether unprovoked and gratuitous; and whatever was their impelling motive, they seem to have premeditated a systematic, obstinate, and exterminating contest. At all events, it is evident that the assailing force was not some stray parties who had unexpectedly fallen in with the advancing hosts of Israel; but that it comprised the whole or the chief strength of Amalek; and, as their headquarters were at a distance on the borders of Palestine (cf. Numbers 24:20), they must have marched in full force from the south of Canaan, across the wilderness to the Sinaitic peninsula, with the determined purpose of making this attack upon Israel.

Considering that the Amalekites were the first (Numbers 24:20) to oppose the march of the Israelites after the miraculous passage of the Red Sea, their assault was a mean, dastardly, insidious surprise on the rear (Numbers 24:20; Deuteronomy 25:17), and an impious defiance of God. The scene of this attack is, by those who place Rephidim in Wady Feiran, supposed to be in Husseiyeh, not far from the ruins of the ancient town of Paran. It was close to the palm groves, and being the most fertile spot in the beautiful valley, affords, in the opinion of Lepsius, a sufficient reason for the Amalekites resolving with vigour to resist the occupation of it by the Israelites. In support of this view, he considers that a double assault, in front and in the rear, was simultaneously made, founding on Deuteronomy 25:18. But it will be shown on that passage that such an interpretation is totally unsupported by the language of the sacred historian.

Verse 9

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.

Moses said unto Joshua, [ Yªhowshua` (H3091)] - the name, according to Gesenius, of one 'whose help is Yahweh;' according to others, it signifies 'God the Saviour.' The original form of it was Oshea or Hoshea -

i.e., Salvation, deliverance; and it was afterward changed by Moses himself, through conjunction with the divine name, into the more lengthened appellation, Jehoshua, Jeshua, and Jesus (Acts 7:45; Hebrews 4:8).

It is most probable that the new and extended form of it was given in connection with this memorable occasion; for although Kurtz ('Hist. of Old Covenant,' 3:, p. 284) and others maintain that it originated at a later period (see the note at Numbers 13:16), a prolepsis being in this passage, Hengstenberg ('Genuineness of the Pentateuch,' 2:, p. 323), followed by Ranke (vol. 2:, p. 202), has conclusively proved that there was nothing in the nomination of Joshua with the other spies to suggest a change of his name; whereas the signal victory over the Amalekites was an occasion worthy of associating the sacred name with his. The new appellation became thus not only commemorative of the past, but prophetic of the still more important services which the bearer was destined to render in introducing Israel into the promised land.

The parentage of Joshua is recorded at length, 1 Chronicles 7:27; but the passage under consideration contains the earliest notice of a young warrior destined to act a prominent part in the history of Israel. He went with a number of picked men. There is not here a wide-open plain on which the battle took place, as according to the rules of modern warfare. The Amalekites were a nomadic tribe, making an irregular attack on a multitude probably not better trained than themselves, and for such a conflict the low hills and open country around this Wady would afford ample space' (Robinson).

Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek. The Israelites were now entering on their special mission, and hence, it became them, in conformity with their national calling, to make an active, vigorous opposition to the enemies of God. The circumstance of their being possessed of military weapons to such an extent as to enable a considerable body of them to engage in battle with a hostile band is easily accounted for, not only by the few and simple accoutrements required for warfare in that early period, but by the fact of their having gathered up the arms of the drowned Egyptians, which were washed on the shore of the Red Sea.

Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill. The engagement took place, it appears, on the day after the attack; and it could not be otherwise, because as the rear was the portion of the Israelite camp on which the assault had been made, and the main body under the command of Moses was considerably in advance in Rephidim, some time would necessarily elapse ere the leader could receive intelligence of the occurrence, and prepare a select party to chastise the assailant. [ `al (H5921) ro'sh (H7218) hagib`aah (H1389), on the top of the Gibeah (hill). The word Gibeah denotes a curve, a small round hill, in distinction from har (H2022), a high hill, a mountain.]

With the rod of God in mine hand (see the note at Exodus 4:20).

Verse 10

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.

Moses, Aaron, and Hur, went up to the top of the hill. Hur, [Septuagint, Hoor; Josephus, Houroon] appears to have been a person of note and influence in the camp-which arose, it may be, in addition to his personal merits, from his intimate relation by family ties to Moses and Aaron, having been, according to Jewish tradition ('Antiq.,' b. 3:, ch. 2:, sec. 4), the husband of Miriam (see further the notes at 31:2; 35:30; 38:22; 1 Chronicles 2:19-13.2.20; 1 Chronicles 4:1). His association with Moses and Aaron, on this and a subsequent occasion of solemn importance and interest (Exodus 24:14) attests the eminence both of his social position and his piety.

Verse 11

And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.

When Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed ... The object of the leader in this remarkable act has been the subject of much discussion. That it was the attitude of prayer is maintained by Origen, Sebastian Munster, Seiler, Keil and Delitzsch, Dr. Hall, etc., who dwell on these circumstances-that Moses did not act as the commander, having transferred the command to Joshua-that he retired to a hill where he might not be seen by the warriors in the heat of battle-that as not one hand only, but both hands (Exodus 17:12) were raised, which was the position of a suppliant, "the rod" having been the instrument of his formerly exercising supernatural power, was now grasped eagerly as the means of drawing down supplies of grace and divine strength from above; and that all these circumstances combined prove that Moses was engaged in prayer, appears confirmed by the fact of his announcing, for the personal encouragement of Joshua before the commencement of the battle, his intention of seeking succour in that way.

On the other hand, that Moses held his rod elevated in his outstretched hand as "an ensign to the people," is the view supported by Le Clerc, Vater, Lakemacher, Rosenmuller, Werenfels, Kurtz, etc., who notice that the leader did not stretch his rod over the enemy, as he uniformly did in performing the wonders in Egypt, but raised his hands-that the occasional depression of them as the fortune of the battle inclined in favour of the enemy, shows that it was intended to serve as a banner for assuring the Israelites of divine help-and that the protracted elevation of the hands, if done in prayer, implies the ascription of too much virtue to the outward form. The former of these views is supported by some recent writers on the ground that there are instances, even in earlier portions of the sacred history, of the efficacy of prayer, and that Moses now gave the Israelites an important lesson, that in all their conflicts with the ungodly powers of the world, a believing dependence upon Yahweh, through prayer, was the sure and certain pledge of victory. On the other hand, it is observable that "the rod" was given to Moses for the express purpose of working wonders (Exodus 4:17), and that it never seems to have been used in a season of prayer.

Verse 12

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.

No JFB commentary on this verse.

Verse 13

And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Joshua discomfited. Victory at length decided in favour of Israel, and the glory of the victory was by an act of national piety ascribed to God (cf. 1 John 5:4). Josephus states ('Antiquities,' b. 3:, ch. 2:, sec. 5) that 'not one of the Hebrews was slain; but the slain of the enemy's army were too many to be enumerated.' He also adds, that on the day after the battle the Israelites stripped the dead bodies of the Amalekites of their ornaments, and collected the armour of those that had fled, which was doubtless another source of the abundance of the useful and precious metals which the Israelites appear at Sinai to have possessed.

Verses 14-16

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.

Write this for a memorial in a book - Hebrew, the book; the public register of occurrences kept by direction of God, and in which not every incident, but only special events, were recorded. Hence, the special injunction of Yahweh to record an account of this contest.

And rehearse it in the ears of Joshua, [ wªsiym (H7760)] - and put it in the ears of Joshua 1:1-6.1.18:e., inform him of this divine decree, and impress it upon his mind as a duty incumbent upon him, and all who may be delegated rulers in Israel, to execute this sentence.

For I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. If the bloody character of this statute seems to be at variance with the mild and merciful character of God, the reasons are to be sought for in the deep and implacable vengeance they meditated against Israel (Psalms 83:4). The Amalekites were the first of the nations (Numbers 24:20) to oppose the progress of Israel; and therefore they were, as Kurtz expresses it, 'the prototypes of paganism in its hostile relation to the kingdom of God.' They were not, as Michaelis represents them, a petty tribe of roving Bedouins, but the most powerful of the adjoining people, since they dared to attack a body of 600,000 warriors. They were repulsed on this occasion, not exterminated; but such an impression had been made upon them that, although the Israelites remained 38 years in the wilderness, they never renewed the attack.

The doom of extermination denounced against the Amalekites has been a great difficulty in the way of establishing the historical truth of this book; Rationalistic and infidel writers declaring it to be irreconcileable with the benevolence of the divine character and government. But it must be borne in mind that, although the attack upon Israel was cruel, treacherous, and altogether unprovoked, it was not the baseness and implacable hostility of Amalek, but their daring impiety, which drew down upon them the vengeance of heaven (Deuteronomy 25:17). "The attack, in respect both to the time and the circumstances, must have been intended by the Amalekites, as well as considered by the Israelites, as a direct insult to the majesty of Yahweh, in his character of special guardian and immediate Lord of this chosen people. It was not consistent with the purposes of the divine economy to vindicate the honour of Yahweh by any general punishment of the Amalekites at that time: their attack was repelled, but not retaliated, nor was their territory invaded.

This contemptuous defiance of the power and majesty of God would therefore have appeared to escape with impunity, if no further notice had been taken of it-a circumstance which might have degraded the Deity in the estimation of Israel, who judged of His power, as all other nations then judged of their guardian gods, by His rigour and promptitude in defending His people and punishing their enemies. This seems to be a reason why God judged it necessary to announce to the Israelites that, though He would not at present punish the insult of the Amalekites, He yet would not suffer it to pass finally unpunished; but that he would authorize and employ them to inflict, at a remote period, the punishment it merited; thus impressing His people themselves with the salutary conviction that, where the majesty of Yahweh was insulted, PRESENT delay of punishment afforded no presumption of final impunity (Graves 'On the Pentateuch,' 2:, p. 90: cf. Butler's 'Analogy,' part 1:, ch. 2:,p. 56).

Verse 15. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it JEHOVAH-nissi - i:e., the Lord ( Yahweh (H3068)) my banner. [The Septuagint has: kurios katafigee mou, my refuge, neec (H5251) denotes a sign, standard, a signal erected on an eminence.] Since no mention is made of sacrifices, it has been supposed that this altar was intended as a pious trophy, a grateful memorial after the battle was won, not in honour of Moses, who had raised his hands, nor to Aaron and Hur, who had upheld them, nor to Joshua, the commander, nor to the soldiers who had fought the battle, but to the Lord, whose right hand and holy arm had gotten them the victory.

Verse 16. For he said - literally, 'And he said,' which is preferable, as this verse does not assign a reason of the act recorded in the preceding passage, but is an additional sentence.

Because the Lord hath sworn - [ keec (H3676), a hapax legomenon, is generally regarded as used for kicee' (H3678), the word which stands in the text of the Samaritan codex.] The literal translation of this obscure passage is, 'Because the hand upon the throne of the Lord,' or, 'the hand of the Lord upon His throne,' 'The lifting up the hand' is a form of swearing not only adopted among men (Genesis 14:22), but also applied figuratively to God (Deuteronomy 32:40). And His hand lifted upon His throne, the seat of His glorious majesty, denotes the most solemn oath-God swearing by Himself (Hebrews 6:13). This is the meaning put upon the clause by the Chaldee and Arabic Paraphrasts. But others consider the reference is to Amalek; 'the hand (namely, of Amalek), or his hand (is) upon the throne of God' - i:e., upon Israel, among whom the seat or chosen dwelling of God was. This interpretation is perfectly consistent with the meaning and order of the original words; and it seems to harmonize better than the former with the tenor of the context, besides assigning an adequate reason for the exterminating doom and perpetual war that was denounced against Amalek. [But Gesenius and others are of opinion that instead of keec (H3676), throne, yeec, standard, banner, is the proper reading, and what is required by Exodus 17:15. The Septuagint has: en cheiri krufaia, by a concealed, unseen hand the Lord will war against Amalek.]

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Bibliographical Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Exodus 17". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/jfu/exodus-17.html. 1871-8.