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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 17

Preacher's Complete Homiletical CommentaryPreacher's Homiletical

Verses 1-7


Exodus 17:1. After their journeys.]—Literally, “their breakings up,” alluding to nomad life, and bringing vividly before the mind the pulling up of the tent-stakes and general break up of the camp, incident to the passage of a people through the desert. The places of encampment would naturally become landmarks to be counted in, remembered, and recorded. Cf. especially Numbers 33:0.—The commandment of the Lord.] That is, through the guiding pillar of cloud and fire. Cf. C. N. on Exodus 13:21-22.

Exodus 17:2. Tempt]—More exactly, “put to the proof;” for so the word נסה signifies. God did put Abraham to the proof—which was right: Israel did put God to the proof—which was wrong. Proof in abundance had already been given that Jehovah was among His people. The want of water was a sore trial, but might itself have assured them that a supply would soon come. The daily provision of food by a miracle, added to all the foregoing tokens of Jehovah’s presence, should have controlled the spirit of the people, and confined their application to earnest believing petition.

Exodus 17:6. Stand … upon the rock.]—This incident, especially when conceived according to the vividness of the original, is most pleasing and satisfying to the imagination of faith. “Behold Me! standing before thee there upon the rock.” It is from Him who is standing upon the rock that the waters really flow. By this Divine action, of taking up such a position, the Source and Medium are in a manner identified. This is the first rock-smiting recorded; the second is narrated in Numbers

20. It is no doubt to this first, more illustrious, instance that the Apostle alludes in 1 Corinthians 10:4. The outflow now caused appears to have been kept up for some time; and the desert of Sinai being near wherein Israel remained for about a year, this rock “followed them” with its welcome stream, becoming thereby typical of spiritual blessing. “That rock was (i.e., represented) the Christ.” An experience in the desert such as this, even if continued only for a few months, would worthily serve as a type to be carried down the ages: it is, however, to be noticed, that we do not read of the Hebrews again suffering from thirst till years have elapsed, and then it is in a locality a long way from this smitten rock in Horeb.



The expression, “after their journeys,” in Exodus 17:1, would lead us to expect that there was a station or two between the wilderness of Sin and Rephidim. And on reference to Numbers 33:12-14, we find that there were Dophkah and Alush. Nothing of importance occurred at these places. The Israelites were not tempted. God was not displeased. The life of man is not always eventful. It has many halting-places destitute of moral interest. But these are soon exchanged for scenes of trial. Moral character is developed better at Rephidim than at Dophkah and Alush.

I. That men are sometimes brought into great straits through lack of the ordinary things of life. “And there was no water for the people to drink.” Thus the Israelites lacked water. They had lacked bread only a few days previously. It is not the lot of man to be long free from trial of some kind. Trials come successively. This was the case with Job. Joseph escapes the pit and is put into the dungeon. David passes from the cave of Adullam to the wilds of Engedi. They are diversified according to the station in which our tent is fixed. Every sphere of life has something of perplexity connected with it, which tests our moral nature and brings the mercy of God near to us. We must learn both how to want and how to abound, to be sorrowful and yet always rejoicing. Thus by the varied trials of life man is made to feel that earth cannot give him abiding satisfaction, and he is led to anticipate the rest of heaven. Each sorrow in the wilderness would lead the true Israelite to long for the land of promise; and so all the vicissitudes of earth should create desires for the eternal satisfaction of heaven. The believer must not think of undisturbed repose while in the flesh. Life is a school in which sorrow is the first teacher, and in which we may learn the meaning of self. In the best gardens of earth there are graves; the garden of heaven is in eternal bloom. There the wilderness is unknown, and hunger and thirst are not experienced. The Lamb feeds them. They drink of the River of the Water of Life. But we see from this narrative, that each occasion of want on the part of Israel was signalised by a rich manifestation of the mercy of God. Their hunger was met by the manna. Their thirst was met by the streams of Horeb. The hour of man’s need is often the hour of God’s richest gift and blessing. Heaven gives kindly revelations of its love to sorrowful souls. Thus we see how thoroughly man depends upon God, even for the common necessities of life. The water we drink is the gift of His hand, and will cease to flow at His command. Man may experience want even in the paths in which he is Divinely led. Sorrow should lead to repentance and not to murmuring. Have you never felt the need of spiritual water? There is a thirst of soul compared with which physical thirst is unimportant, and which needs immediate attention. David thirsted for God. Earthly things cannot appease this thirst. The life of the soul cannot be sustained without the water of the Holy Spirit. It is absolutely essential. We are dependent upon heaven for it. No human creature can supply it. It flows clear as crystal from the throne of God and the Lamb. It is beyond price, and yet is free. It is refreshing to the weary soul. Here we drink of the stream; in the life to come we shall drink at the fountain head. If we thirst after God we shall diligently seek Him in the means of grace and in private prayer.

II. That when men are brought into great straits through lack of the ordinary things of life, they often appeal to human agencies rather than to Divine. “Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink.” Thus the Israelites blamed Moses for the straits into which they were brought through lack of water. How foolish, for did not he suffer from the same calamity? nor was it in his power to create fountains. How cruel, for was not he seeking their freedom? How fickle the approbation of men, it varies with the circumstances of life. People often go to the human in trouble when they ought to go to the Divine. It is the way of the world. God must be seen through all the agencies which He sends to conduct our life to its destined place. The seen things around us, which are influencing us, are only the means which heaven appoints to bring us to rest, and therefore our thoughts must not terminate in them, but must run on to that Being who has so wisely ordered them. Men are slow to see that all the circumstances of life are related to the providence of God, rather than to the immediate agencies which appear to have caused them. And if you are seeking spiritual water to quench the thirst of your soul, do not go to the creature for it, but to the Creator. The Israelites went to Moses and asked him to satisfy their thirst; but in vain. Not even the good things of this life, which are appointed by God for the true welfare of man, can satisfy this deeper longing of the soul. Science cannot. A good name cannot. Social enjoyment cannot. God alone can quench its thirst. Hence let no human soul seek to obtain from human agencies what alone can be obtained from the Divine. If you drink of the wells of earth you will thirst again; but if of the water of the Spirit you will thirst no more.

III. That when men are brought into straits through the lack of things they very much need, they often get them in the providence of God from the most unlikely sources.” “Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink.” Thus we see that God did not flash immediate judgment upon these rebellious people. He is long-suffering toward the race. We must learn to be patient with those who injure us. God has regard to human need, and evil in men will not turn Him away from His promise. None need despair of His mercy. When the people chide, the minister should pray. When his perplexity is great he most needs direction from heaven; God always reveals to praying souls the best method of action in the time of trouble. To prayerful spirits He makes known the rock which shall relieve their need. Thus the thirst of Israel was quenched by water from a rock. Who would expect clear, bright, water from a flinty rock? Certainly not the most sanguine in the camp of Israel. We know not the possibilities of the things around us. The providence of God can make rocks into rivers to supply the need of His people. We often get our blessings from whence we least expect them; we get pity from the hard-hearted, money from the miserly, and harvests from barren places. Nature yields her secret treasures at the voice of heaven. Every rock in the desert is embraced in the providence of God. From whence shall come the water to satisfy the thirst of the soul? From the rivers of worldly pleasures? From the streams of human philosophy? From the wells of wealth? Nay; we point to One who was despised and rejected of men, a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, and say that from the Rock Christ Jesus comes the spiritual water, which alone can quench the thirst of the soul. Christ is set forth under the emblem of a rock. He is strong. He withstands all enemies. He is the true foundation for moral character. He is the abiding Refuge of the soul. Thus, is not human salvation from an unlikely source? Who would have predicted that the Divine Son of God would have died to save men from sin? Yet so it is, and from the smitten Christ there flows a stream which is equal to the moral thirst of humanity. Christ was smitten. He bore the penalties of a broken law. Heaven spared Him not. He was smitten in body and in soul (Isaiah 53:10). The supply of water from the rock was free. The waters which flowed forth from the rock were free to all the camp of Israel. We should not have been surprised if rebellion had limited the supply to the more worthy few; but no, the gifts of God are bestowed on the just and on the unjust. And so the mercy which is in Christ Jesus is free to all, even to the worst of sinners (Revelation 22:17). The supply of water from the rock was abundant. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused the waters to run down like rivers (Psalms 78:16). There was sufficient water to meet the thirst of the entire camp. The mercy which is in Christ Jesus is superabundant; all may freely drink and yet there will be enough and to spare. Our Heavenly Father bestows not mercy with a sparing hand. He is rich in pity. The supply of water from the rock was pure. This water was not bitter. It was not poisonous. It was sweet. It was cooling. The mercy which is in Christ Jesus is sweet and clear as crystal. It cleanses those who drink it, and makes them meet for the inheritance of the saints in light. The supply of water from the rock was continuous. The water of the rock followed Israel. The mercy which is in Christ Jesus will never leave a trustful soul; but will follow it through all the wanderings of life. Our Heavenly Father is never absent from the good; goodness and mercy follow them all their days.

IV. That when men are brought into straits, the way in which they act therein will leave irreparable memorials of sin or victory. “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?” (Exodus 17:7.) In the conduct of the Israelites there had been base unbelief and ingratitude. They had chided Moses. They had forgotten the sweetened waters of Marah. They thought not of the pillar of cloud. In the presence of these things, they asked, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” Some men will not see the clearest indications of the Divine Presence in the experiences of life. They are slow to recognise God in their time of need. Heaven is with us as truly in need as in plenty. When life is in pain, then the consolations of Divine mercy are richest. Moral conduct always leaves memorials behind it. In the olden times names were changed in token of great soul-events; Jacob was changed to Israel. Every righteous act of the soul leaves its memorial in increased vigour of manhood, in purity and beauty of character, and in the rich blessing of God. Every sinful act of soul leaves its memorial in an impoverished and ruined manhood. Thus the scenes of life which ought to be radiant with Divine mercy, are often darkened by the sin of man. Let us not leave behind in our life memorials of strife and unbelief, but of faith and good works. Such memorials are abiding; once erected, they cannot be removed; hence the need that they should be worthy. LESSONS:—

1. That man is frequently called upon in this life to endure great physical need.

2. That the physical needs of life often reveal our real and inner character.

3. That the physical needs of life are no indication that God has failed us.

4. That the physical needs of life give us a great insight into the wealth and method of Divine mercy.


Exodus 17:1-2. The trials of the Church are continued and multiplied in the time of pilgrimage.

The Church must encamp where the Word of God determines.
Want and hardship may attend God’s people where He bids them pitch.
Every strait is an occasion of stirring up the wicked to sin.
Unreasonable transgressors are apt to revile the innocent ministers of God.
God’s faithful ministers may justly turn away undeserved reproofs from themselves.
God’s faithful ministers labour to show men their unreasonableness in their temptation of God.

Exodus 17:3-7. Unbelieving murmurers expostulate about judgments as if they were causeless.

Earnest prayers to Jehovah are the best means for God’s servants to use against the violent threats of men.
In the midst of threatenings God commands His servants to walk safely.
God may allow some murmurers to go and see His miracles wrought, but not all.
Murmurers fare the better and have mercies through believers who obey God.
God’s ministers are and must be exact in doing God’s commands before all men.
It is God’s pleasure to make places monuments of men’s sins by His naming them.
Temptation of God and contention with His servants usually go together.
It is high tempting of God to call in question His gracious presence with His people.



Human Hearts! Exodus 17:1. Men may do much under the momentary influence of excitement. A coward has been known to become momentarily brave, as Sir Walter Scott evidently understood when he painted one of his characters in the “Fair Maid of Perth.” But the nature is not changed; for when the exciting cause ceases, then the effects vanish—like the music which dies away when the breeze ceases to touch the harp chords—or like the corpse of Edgar Allan Poe’s romance, which ceased to move when the electric battery was removed. So with Israel; great was their Red Sea triumph-song; but there was no change of heart. They had been like those sand toys which we buy for our children. You turn the box upside down, and then the little acrobat revolves and revolves till the sand is all run down, when he hangs motionless; or like that singular case in the now defunct Oxford Street Pantheon, which contained a bird drinking at a fountain. After every sip of the crystal fluid, it raised its head, swelled its gorgeous throat, trilled its glorious song, only so long as the machinery was wound up. When the chain and spring had run down, then the bullfinch stood stiff and still. The winding up had not changed it from a stuffed to a living bird. Israel, wrought up to enthusiasm on the spur of the moment, sang Jehovah’s praises by the Red Sea wave; but the wilderness-way cools their fervour. Alas! they soon show that their hearts had yet to be changed.

“Oh! wonderful rebellion,

Thou Lord of hope and life!

Betwixt Thee and Thy servant

There have been war and strife.”

Rephidim-Rest! Exodus 17:1. The course of none has been along so beaten a road that they remember not fondly some “resting-places” in their journeys—some turns of their path in which lovely prospects broke in upon them—some soft plats of green refreshment to their weary feet. Talfourd says, such are confiding love—generous friendship—disinterested humanity. The Rephidim-rest was by no means barren. It was doubtless surrounded by steep shelving mountains of gneiss, the fantastic cleavage and variety of which added greatly to the beauty of the scene. It has been said that the scenery is not unlike Gleneoe without its heather. Through the plain nay be seen scattered groups of trees—the tamarisk with its long, feathery boughs—the palm-tree with its long, bare trunk, and tuft of broad leaves at the top—and the thick, straggling, thorn bushes. But palms and tamarisks were dotted all around; and on every knoll and mountain slope were ruined houses, churches, and walls, at the time Captain Palmer visited the scene. Farther on were some hundreds of palms—what Southey calls “a palm grove islanded amid the waste.”

“Mine eyes have seen Thy wonders
All through this desert land.”

Rephidim-Rebellion! Exodus 17:2. How often—especially in Eastern lands and under Syrian skies—have we seen a morning fair and bright as ever dawned on mortal vision, and looked for a high noon golden and glowing, flashing its glories far and wide, only, when the hour arrived, to find it clouded and mournful, with wailing winds and muttering thunders! When the motley hosts of Moses clustered on the far shore of the Red Sea wave, what a bright dawn was their liberty—brighter far than the radiant beams of eastern dawnlight that lit up the wide waste where slept in their watery couches the mailed phalanxes of Pharaoh. Alas! how soon—ere noon—did that bright promise pale and fade—pale as pales the northern coruscations from the arctic zone—fade as fades the blush upon the cheek of consumption, beauteous when it is christened death. When Sir Samuel Baker was in Abyssinia, he saw the natives employing their cattle not only as beasts of burden, but for carrying supplies of water in skins slung at their sides. Probably the Israelites brought with them from Egypt supplies of water in this way. These would last until, having reached the Wilderness of Sin, they were called upon to turn away from the seashore, and get up among the mountains. Here the water supply becomes exhausted, and Israel once more sins. With fierce impatience, they turn to their leader, and heap upon him reproaches as bitter as they were unjust and ungrateful. The falling spoke of the revolving wheel returns and reascends. The ebbing tide of rebellion rolls in again. Thus troubles fall and rise again; temptations die and revive again. The Israelites murmur; and in their repinings we see the bias of human nature. Yet, on the base of rebellion there rises a lovely pillar, on which all ages may read the golden glories of the Lord—the Lord God merciful and gracious

“And yet I could not trust Thee,
Or wait upon Thine hand.”

Rephidim-Rock! Exodus 17:6. About two miles below Paran, on the side towards Egypt from which the Israelites would have approached, there is a spot never noticed by former travellers, which is connected by Bedawin tradition with this miracle. Thus writes Captain Palmer of the Sinaitic Expedition:—Dr. Durbin, in his “Observations on the East,” says that the rock made more impression upon him than any natural object claiming to attest a miracle ever did. No moisture is now seen about the surface, but the Arabs say that there is water beneath the soil. They accordingly give to the stone the name of “The Concealed Spring of the Writer,” i.e., Moses. In Psalms 114:8, it says that Jehovah turned the flint into a fountain of water. The manna was simply sent from heaven; but the water, on the contrary, was brought out of the smitten rock—the most unlikely place that could be imagined. Some men went about collecting funds for an important charity. They arrived in course of time at a very rich man’s door, who was known to be churlish in his manner and niggardly in his gifts; whereupon they said that there was no need to call on him, “He is not likely to give.” However, they entered, laid their case before him, and were beyond measure astonished when he gave them the largest donation of all. Rephidim-Rock was a most unlikely place from which to receive supplies of water. And nothing more unlikely than that life and happiness should flow from One crucified as a malefactor.

“What if my lips have thirsted?

Thou from the rock couldst bring

The pure refreshing water

Of some unfailing spring.”

Rock-Rifts! Exodus 17:6. The command is: “Smite the rock” Moses lifts his rod, and with it he strikes the great granite mass. It is rent, torn asunder; and from inside the water bubbles up—gushes out—overflows in all directions—pours down into the valley—and rolls onward a clear, bright, and sparkling river. Law remarks that the antitype is the smitten Jesus.

(1.) It was from the stricken stone that the waters gushed out. The wounds of Jesus are the avenue of the Spirit. They give forth water—the sparkling emblem of the power of grace.

(2.) Sweet was this blessing to the pilgrims of the desert; but sweeter far to the true sons of God are those spiritual supplies, of which they drink with greediness and gladness.

“And now that I have tasted

The soul-reviving stream,

Alas! how sad and shameful

My late repinings seem.”

Seeing Purity! Exodus 17:1-7. We have become familiar with the symbol of the stagnant pool, all whose impurities have settled at the bottom, and left its waters clear. The sunbeam or even the traveller’s staff soon discloses the “seeming purity to be real impurity.” But we have recently read that a tourist in the Holy Land on one occasion procured two little phials, which he filled with water from the Jordan. The liquid in one of the vessels was filtered, so as to be clear like crystal. The other bottle had in it the sediment as well as the water; and when shaken, it rose and discoloured the liquid. So with Israel; when Jehovah shook them, it was apparent that deep down at the bottom of the sea of their religious life there was much impurity. Affliction soon tests the integrity of our motives—the disinterestedness of our friendships—the reality of our faith in God. And so with Israel. The manna miracle had only caused the doubts and despairs to settle at the bottom of their heart; so that when the hand of God shook it by lack of water, loud murmurs rose up. All the goodness of God was forgotten; and maddened with thirst and rage, they threatened the life of their leader.

“Yes, I have vainly chided

Thy providential ways;

And I have mourned and murmured

When thou hast looked for praise.”

Prayer-Power! Exodus 17:4. There is scarcely a material force or element which has not been at one time or another influenced by prayer. We speak of a flinty rock; and lo! waters gush forth plentifully when prayer touches it with her magic wand. We speak of the ocean; and lo! a pathway is made for the ransomed of the Lord, when prayer stretches over it her magic wand and divides it asunder. Talk of Aladdin’s lamp; behold the true secret of power in the uplifted hand and heart of Moses in the Mount. It will be one of the grand revelations of the future to see the proofs of the power of prayer—many and more marvellous than Jacob’s Peniel wrestlings—than Elijah’s Carmel agonisings—than Paul’s strong cryings and tears. As has been said, prayer plucks out the briers and thorns in the pathway of life, and covers that pathway with flowers and fruits—stretches out its mighty hand to heaven, and scatters the dark portentous cloud threatening destruction—links its hands to Divinity, so that it becomes strong as God, and can hurl defiance at all foes:

“I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless;
Prayer makes the Christian’s armour bright.”

Sanctified Suffering! Exodus 17:3-7. It has been beautifully said, “There are many fruits which never turn sweet until the frost has lain upon them. There are many nuts that never fall from the boughs of the forest trees till the frost has opened and ripened them. And there are many elements of life that never grow sweet and beautiful until sorrow comes.” But these sorrows need the sanctifying influences of the Spirit to the end that they may ripen and sweeten the elements of character upon which they act. Without divine grace we may grow sour and ungainly under heart sorrows.

“God guideth all His children home

By paths we know not here;

But once with Him, His ways will be

To every loved one clear.”

Verses 8-16


Exodus 17:16. The Lord hath sworn.]—A far-fetched if not an impossible rendering. The words are literally—

“For (or because) a hand upon (or against) the throne of Jah;
War for Jehovah with Amalek from generation, generation.”

“If the hand refer to Amalek (Kalisch), the sentence runs thus—‘because his (Amalek’s) hand was against the throne of Yah (the Kingdom of God, which includes His people), &c.’ The meaning is here simple and easy; the connection with what goes before is sufficiently plain; and the reason assigned for perpetual war until Amalek be extirpated, is intelligible and suitable.”—(Murphy). “This on the whole seems to be the moat satisfactory explanation.”—(Speaker’s Commentary.) Some scholars (Gesenius, Fürst, Davies) think the rare word כס, “throne,” to be an error for נם, “banner;” and one of them (Fürst) proposes the following translation: “The memorial is upon the banner of God,—‘Jehovah wages war with Amalek from generation to generation.’ ”



It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of heaven. The Israelites had experienced hunger. They had experienced thirst. Both had been supplied. Now they are to pass into a new experience of sorrow, they are called to do battle with numerous and fierce enemies. Thus the trials of the Christian life are numerous, varied, unexpected, and come in rapid succession. They test strength. They require wisdom. They are to be met in dependence on God. All pure souls are in a militant condition as long as they are in this world; they are met in their moral progress by terrible enemies, whom they must conquer or before whom they must fall.

I. That the good are required to do battle with inveterate enemies. “Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim” (Exodus 17:8). These people were descended from Esau, and seem to have been animated by something of the old enmity which once existed between Jacob and Esau. They were also envious of the mercies which were Divinely vouchsafed to Israel, and were anxious to spoil them. Some people can never live in peace and let the children of God pass by unmolested. These foes came secretly upon Israel (Deuteronomy 25:18). And so every pure soul has its Amalek. It has to contend with the Amalek of an evil heart; with the Amalek of a wicked world; and with the Amalek of fallen angels. These enemies seek to impede its progress to heaven. They are cunning in device. They are vigilant in purpose. They are intense in hatred. They especially imperil those who loiter in the rear of the Christian life. Peter followed afar off, and was overtaken by the enemy. No pure soul is exempt from this conflict. Are we surprised that God did not avert this war from the Israelites? They were only just out of bondage; the newly-converted soul is speedily called to meet enemies. They were undrilled; the good learn their drill in the battle. They were unarmed; the weapons of the good are not carnal. Thus they were prepared for coming warfare with the Canaanites, whose territory they were to possess. The soul is led gradually into the moral battle of life. We cannot get to heaven without being interrupted by many enemies—by Satan, by poverty, by sickness, by prosperity; all these will seek to stop or slay us.

II. That the good in this conflict must combine prayer with the utmost exertion to overcome their enemies. “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” (Exodus 17:9-11). Thus the Israelites were not with indifference to look upon the invading army. The good cannot afford to treat the progress of sin in the world with cool contempt. Joshua was to muster the best men for the conflict. The good require to be well led by the purest and most heroic spirits in their midst, in their strife with evil. Truth has lost many a battle through bad generalship. Truth needs a man like Luther to lead the attack. If we would overcome evil within us and without us, we must summon the best energies of our mental and moral nature, and put them under the command of Christ; then shall we be led to victory. Joshua fought. Moses went up the hill to pray. Prayer is often uphill work. And the conflict between Good and Evil necessitates the use of prayer and activity. Man must pray over his evil heart, and he must also fight against its sinful tendencies. During the battle some are better qualified to pray, others to wield the sword; both conduce to the victory. Hence varied talents are brought into helpful service. We must not go to this war in our own strength. Christ within the veil prays for every soul engaged in dire conflict with the world’s evil; and in this is the hope of victory. We must trace all our moral victories up to the intercession of Christ; He prays for us that our faith fail not. Yet the conflict may be severe and long; even prayer and effort do not always win a speedy conquest. Sin is persistent in its opposition to the soul.

III. That the good in this conflict are often impeded by the weakness consequent upon the physical condition of life. “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” (Exodus 17:12). The physical man soon tires in religious devotion. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. The best of men are not exempt from the infirmities which inhere in the body. When prayer is interrupted, the enemy of the soul gains an advantage. Moral declension begins here. We conquer evil as we pray. Nature at the strongest is weak. But the hands of Moses were supported by Aaron and Hur. Holy companionship is helpful in the hour of severe moral conflict. Two are better far than one. Christians should seek to hold up the hands of ministers. They must bear one another’s burdens. The insignificant members of the Church may render service to the most important; Hur may strengthen Moses. The smallest services are potent for good in the great conflict between Good and Evil; even the holding up of enfeebled hands. All can do something toward this ultimate victory. The energy of one may aid the weakness of another. The hands of our heavenly Intercessor never grow weary with pleading; and the infirm Christian will soon be as the angels. It is consoling that God knows our frame, and remembers that we are dust.

IV. That the good in their conflict should keep faithful record of their victories. “And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book” (Exodus 17:13-14). Thus the Israelites were victorious. They were delivered from their enemies. They gained warlike experiences which would be useful to them. They would gain courage and hope in reference to the future. And one victory over self prepares the way for another, though we may have to wait long for final conquest over selfishness. The power of Satan will one day be destroyed. The Church must conquer all foes. Christ is its Captain. He has triumphed by the cross. A record should be kept of all our soul-victories, to aid memory, to inspire hope, to awaken gratitude to Him to whom it is due. They are worthy of permanent name. They are interesting and instructive. And soon may the record of final victory be penned, and the kingdoms of this world become the kingdoms of the Lord.

V. That the good in this conflict should ascribe all the glory of victory to God. “And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi: for he said, Because the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:15-16). The Israelites had fought under the banner of God—to Him was due the glory of victory. They recognised the Divine help—not their own valour and fortune. They set up a memorial of it. We should set up grateful memorials of our victories over sin. LESSONS:—

1. That there are inveterate enemies to moral goodness.

2. That these enemies are doomed to ultimate defeat and destruction.

3. That the good must pray and fight to this end.

4. There will be a final celebration of victory.


Exodus 17:8. New plagues for new murmurings God can make quickly to follow sinners.

Greatest enemies of the Church God may make to arise from the fathers of it.
The weakness of the Church is an occasion unto wicked enemies to oppress it.
Amalek will for no cause seek to fight and destroy Israel.
Whatever enemies intend, God orders all their victories against Israel for good.

Exodus 17:9. In case of oppression by hostility, God allows His Israel to make this defence.

God in His wisdom orders several parts to several instruments for safety.
The Church needs leaders in its war against evil.
Counsel for praying and fighting given by God, and taken from Him, is defensive to His Church.

Exodus 17:10. Counsels for defence of God’s Church are not only to be given and taken, but acted upon.

Good associates in praying are sweet helps to save the Church.
Gracious instruments are ready to climb hills to God for the help of the good.

Exodus 17:11-13. The human hand:—

1. Helpful to God, as an instrument
2. Feeble in prayer, as an infirmity.
3. Strengthened in service, as indicative of friendship.
4. An encouragement in battle even to victory.

Doubtful may be the fight of Israel as to success against its enemies for a time.
Good helpers to strengthen hearts and hands in faintings are especially useful.
By such aids souls may be faithful to God unto time of victory.

Exodus 17:14. Jehovah’s victories over the enemies of the Church He giveth in charge to be recorded.

Writing and tradition are both God’s ways of recording His works for future ages.
God’s book is the best record of His mighty works done for His Church.
A memorial would God have kept by the records of God’s works to men.

Exodus 17:15-16. Worship-memorials are the best monuments of God’s glorious victories in the Church.

In all such worship-memorials, Jehovah must be known as the banner of the Church.
God’s oath against the enemies of His Church is a strong reason for naming Him their banner.
God has sworn successive destruction to all of Amalek to the end.



Amalek-Associations! Exodus 17:8. The Amalekites—a nomad people dwelling in tents, and rich in flocks and herds—at this time occupied the peninsula. Some have supposed them to be descendants of Esau; but doubtless they had an earlier origin. Smith says that Arabian geographers state that they came from the shores of the Persian Gulf. At any rate, they were a numerous and powerful nation, occupying the region between Southern Palestine and Egypt. There is every reason to believe that Paran is just the spot which the Amalekites would have been sure to defend. It contains a beautiful oasis well worth fighting for; and the place is capable of being easily defended against large numbers by a comparatively small force. Whether Amalek regarded Israel as an intruder, or whether, for the sake of plunder, they seem first to have assaulted the rear of the column as it wound up through the narrow defiles, and cut off the infirm and stragglers, the motives which Amalek had in view seem to have been so base and reprehensible that they called forth from God a special and terrible announcement—nothing short of extermination. This incessant struggle against Amalek furnishes an admirable application for the Church. She must not let go the sacred banner displayed because of the truth, nor cease waging a perpetual moral crusade against sins and corruptions until she has effectually destroyed them, and can say, “They are no more.” The course adopted by the Scottish monarchs for the resolute extirpation of the Border raiders may supply an analogy. In nature, one species of the ant tribe thus exterminates its foes. The missel thrush, knowing the cruel propensities of the jay as they grow up, watches the young of these birds, and deliberately destroys them wherever it can. It is an instinct—not of revenge—but of self-defence and preservation. So with Israel! Defence not defiance!

“Thronging hosts have gathered round me,

And the pilgrims God defied;

But His armour fitteth closely,

And His sword is at my side.”

Mountain-Mediation! Exodus 17:9. Not the hands of Moses, but the rod was the banner. That rod was held forth as a banner over the battle-field—not in the midst of the fight, where sacrilegious hands could grasp—but high above, i.e., 700 feet, on the top of the hill overlooking the scene. When Moses let down this banner, the hands and hearts of Israel sank—their hopes of victory faded. The Great Mediator faltered in His earth-struggle; but even as Aaron and Hur sustained the uplifted hands of Moses, so the attributes of Messiah’s priesthood strengthened Him to uphold the banner of the truth. Henry of Navarre bade his soldiers look for his snow-white plume, that crested his princely helmet—in place of the celebrated oriflamme or standard of France—and press towards it for victory. As it fell, so sank their hopes; but as it rose again in sight, they fought and won. Our Mediator, high on the heights of heaven, sustained by His priestly powers, uprears over the great battle-plain of earth His glorious standard—the rod that smote—the truth of God. Now His hands never sink, but are upheld unweariedly until at eventide His mountain-mediation secures ultimate victory. It has, however, been suggested that Aaron and Hur represent those children of God who are shut out from active effort for God and His Church by sickness or infirmity. Such cannot fight like Joshua on the plain; but with Moses on the height they can pray. So that the lesson designed by the incident is not so much the power of prayer by us as the might of His mediation. “Christ the strength of His people,”—both on the mount and in the valley—both as Moses and as Joshua. The most honoured of earthly standards may lead to defeat, as when the consecrated standards of the Crusaders were grasped by the sacrilegious hosts of Saladin; but the “name of the Lord,” the “truth of God,” must lead to victory.

“Is not He who fights for Israel

Pledged to make my cause His own!

Keeps He not for me the palm branch,

And the overcomer’s crown!

Pleading and Praising! Exodus 17:14. These are twins, which ought never to be sundered. It was a quaint notion of the learned Goodwin that prayer and praise were like the double action of the lungs, what we receive in answer to prayer being given back in praise to God. Moses had been wrestling on the hill while Israel was wrestling in the vale; now praise follows. What joyful songs of praise rose up as the last rays of the sun faded behind the hills. Standard-bearers, captain, soldiers, all rejoice together.

“Long, indeed, may last the conflict,

But the victory is secure;

And the new sweet song of triumph

Shall from age to age endure.”

Banner-Beacons! Exodus 17:15. It was Jehovah who led Israel to Rephidim, that “place of mercy,” which Israel turned into a place of murmuring. It became a place of battle; and on it Israel erected a banner. On the field of Waterloo there stands a huge mound, surmounted with the Belgic lion; and here and there may be seen monuments where heroes such as Picton and Ponsonby fell. These are to mark the place of victory. The victorious Israelites erected not a monument, but a memorial-altar, thus acknowledging the source of victory. Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory! After the fearful and bloody strife at Sedan, the warrior veteran monarch of Germany telegraphed to his anxious Empress that God had given them victory, and she must at once announce a solemn Te Deum throughout the land. If there be baseless pretension, it is when dust claims honour as the worker of Jehovah’s works. The tool is not the agent, the pen is not the spring of thought, the spade of the labourer is not the source of growth and ripeness in the corn. It is the Lord who fights for His people. Under this banner they advance from victory to victory, until all their enemies are destroyed Led through countless conflicts, yet they never lose a field. They march to the throne of God in heaven, before which is spread a banquet, overshaded by a banner. When the Waterloo banquet was first held to celebrate Wellington’s victory over Napoleon, the banqueting hall was hung round with standards, and a canopy of English banners was suspended over the heads of the Iron Duke and his officers. He brought me into His banqueting-house, and His banner over me was Love. Blessed are they that are called to the marriage-supper of the Lamb.

“ ‘Jehovah, my standard!’ How bright is the blessing

Of them who go forth in the name of the Lord,

To combat with those who long since have been vanquished

By Him who has given this rallying-word.”

Intercession-Influence! Exodus 17:10-11.

(1.) We have read of the missionary travelling in the desert, and resting for the night with his little company without any other covering than the canopy of heaven, rising the next morning and observing the footsteps of the beasts of prey within a few inches of his person, and yet no injury done. But have we thought what intercession-influence in England secured this safety?
(2.) Look at the statesman wielding the destinies of the nation, presiding at the helm of national affairs. We think that his talent has brought all these popular measures about; but if we only knew the real truth, we should find that these wonderful acts are the result of intercession-influence. In the world that lies beyond, we shall see how often God has answered prayer even in national history; and how many of the measures which have delighted and blessed us have been the fruit of believing prayer in some humble cottage home.

“Mora things are wrought by prayer
Than this world dreams of.”

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Exodus 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/exodus-17.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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