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Bible Commentaries
Exodus 17

Coke's Commentary on the Holy BibleCoke's Commentary



The Israelites murmur at Rephidim. GOD orders Moses to strike the rock at Horeb, from which proceeds water. Amalek fights against Israel, and is conquered, while Moses holds up his hands. Moses builds a memorial of the victory.

Before Christ 1491.

Verses 1-3

Exodus 17:1-3. After their journeys,—and pitched in Rephidim See Numbers 33:12-14. Rephidim was a dry and sandy part of the desert of Sin, within a march or two of Sinai; where, there being no water for the people to drink, and that which they brought from Elim being spent, their usual temper predominated, and they murmured against Moses for water now, as they had done for bread before. See ch. Exo 16:2-3 and Numbers 20:4.

Verse 6

Exodus 17:6. I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb That is, "I will manifest my presence upon a certain rock in Horeb, whence water shall flow upon thy smiting the rock; as proper witnesses of which, thou art to take the elders of Israel with thee," Exodus 17:5. The word there, שׁם sham, must either denote, that God pointed out the particular part of the rock in Horeb, where he would appear; or, it may denote only, a rock there in Horeb. The LXX render it, and go where I stood before thee upon the rock in Horeb; alluding to the place where God had appeared to Moses at the first. See note on ch. Exodus 3:1. "Miracles," says Bp. Warburton, "are of two sorts: those where the laws of nature are suspended, or reversed, (such as the budding of Aaron's rod, and the raising of Lazarus from the dead:) and those which only give a new direction to its laws; (such as bringing water from the rock, and stopping the issue of blood.) Who would affirm that the water, which came from the rock at the command of Moses, was just then created to do honour to his ministry? In this case, what more would a rational believer conclude, than that GOD, by making a fissure in the rock, gave room for the water to burst out, which had before been lodged there by nature, as in its proper reservoir? And the sober critic, who proceeds in this manner, only follows that method of interpreting, which God himself useth, in working the miracle; which is, to give to nature all that nature could easily perform."

Verse 7

Exodus 17:7. He called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah The meaning of which names is, as usual, given in the context; Meribah, chiding, or strife, because of the chiding of the children of Israel; Massah, temptation, because they tempted the Lord. See Exodus 17:2.Matthew 16:1; Matthew 16:1.Psalms 78:18-19; Psalms 78:18-19. "After we had descended, with no small difficulty, down the other or western side of Mount Sinai," says Dr. Shaw, "are came into the plain, or wilderness, of Rephidim, where we saw that extraordinary antiquity, the rock of Meribah, which has continued down to this day without the least injury from time or accidents. This is rightly called, from its hardness, (Deuteronomy 8:15.) a rock of flint; though, from the purple or reddish colour of it, it may be justly termed the rock of amethyst, or the amethystine, or granite rock. It is about six yards square, lying tottering, as it were, and loose, near the middle of the valley; and seems to have been formerly a part or cliff of Mount Sinai, which hangs, in a variety of precipices, all over this plain. The waters which gushed out, and the streams which overflowed withal, (Psalms 78:20.) have hollowed across one corner of this rock, a channel about two inches deep, and twenty wide, all over incrustated, like the inside of a tea-kettle which has been long used. Besides several mossy productions, which are preserved by the dew, we see all over this channel a great number of holes, some of them four or five inches deep, and one or two in diameter; the lively and demonstrative tokens of their having been formerly so many fountains. Neither could art or chance be concerned in the contrivance, inasmuch as every circumstance points out to us a miracle; and, in the same manner with the rent in the rock of Mount Calvary at Jerusalem, never fails to produce the greatest seriousness and devotion in all who see it. The Arabs, who were our guard, were ready to stone me for attempting to break off a corner of it."

REFLECTIONS.—In the way of duty we may meet with difficulties.

1. The children of Israel again want water; and as before, but too impatient, quarrel with their best friend, and question, after all they had seen, the reality of God's care and providence. Note; (1.) It is no uncommon thing for the greatest kindnesses to be thus ill requited. (2.) Who has not at some time felt the same provoking questions of unbelief under distressing circumstances, some even to the very doubt of the providence, perhaps of the being of God? Such is man's fallen nature.

2. Moses rebukes their unbelief, flies to God, casts his burdens upon him, for they threatened his life, and begs the Lord's assistance in their present perilous situation. Such dangers must they sometimes run, who stand up eminently for God. Note; Prayer is the best means to compose our spirits under every disturbance, and to obtain direction in all our difficulties.

3. God hears and answers. Instead of pouring out his wrath upon the rebellious, he pours out his water upon the thirsty, and floods on the dry ground. Moses is commanded to smite the rock; instant the copious torrent flows, and deep drink the parched Israelites of these refreshing streams. Note; (1.) God can open in our deepest distresses the most abundant supplies. Every believer spiritually experiences the same favour. This rock is Christ, smitten by the rod of God for our offences, opening a fountain in his side, quenching the thirst of the guilty soul, satisfying it with the abundance of his consolations, and springing up in our hearts as a well of water unto everlasting life.

4. We have the name of the place. Note; We should long remember our sins, and the places where and the times when committed, for our constant humiliation, and for our future caution.

Verse 8

Exodus 17:8. Then came Amalek We learn from Deu 25:18 that the Amalekites fell upon the hindmost part of the Israelitish army, and smote all that were feeble behind, at a time when they were all faint and weary at Rephidim. After this attack upon the rear, they came to a pitched battle in the plain below Mount Horeb, Exodus 17:10. The Amalekites inhabited some part of Arabia Petraea, near Rephidim, between that place and Canaan. They were descendants of Esau; and are therefore supposed to have hated the Israelites, the descendants of Jacob; whose settlement in the land of Canaan they, perhaps, were desirous to prevent, as imagining they themselves had an equal right to it.

Verse 9

Exodus 17:9. Moses said unto Joshua This is the first time mention is made of Joshua, or Jesus, who makes so distinguished a figure in the subsequent part of the sacred history. He is often styled the servant of Moses. Formed under the conduct of that great master, he is appointed general under his direction, and ordered to select proper men to fight with Amalek; while Moses proposes to stand on the hill, with the miraculous rod in his hand, in sight of the warriors, to inspire them with faith and courage; and to teach them and all succeeding generations, that though all human power is weak without the aid of GOD; yet, we should not so rely on that aid, as to omit the use of all rational means. God blesses his people in the use of these. Chosen men were appointed to fight; but they prevailed only while Moses held up his hands, Exodus 17:11.

Verse 10

Exodus 17:10. Hur It is uncertain who this person was: he is thought by some to have been the same who is mentioned, 1 Chronicles 2:19 : Josephus tells us, that he was the husband of Miriam. See Antiquities, book 3: ch. 2. To account for this event in an ordinary way, appears very difficult. We must understand it as a blessing upon prayer, and as an admonition to perseverance in it; see Luk 18:1 otherwise, that the holding up of the hand, or the ceasing to do so, should influence the battle, seems not easy to be conceived. Some, indeed, suppose that the sight of the rod, held up, inspirited the Israelites; as the loss of it had the contrary effect.

Verse 13

Exodus 17:13. Amalek and his people If we understand this disjunctively, Amalek must signify the prince of this people; or, if Amalek be understood of the Amalekites, collectively, his people must signify those confederated with him; or, perhaps, the words might be rendered, discomfited Amalek, even the people thereof.

Verse 14

Exodus 17:14. The Lord said unto Moses, write this, &c.— God commands Moses here, not only to write his decree concerning Amalek, but to rehearse it in the ears of Joshua; thus strongly declaring his fixed purpose; while it affords us one proof among many others, that Moses was the writer of this book, and that he wrote by the inspiration of the Lord. See Num 33:2 and Deuteronomy 25:17; Deuteronomy 25:19.

I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek Balaam (Numbers 24:20.) foretels this utter extirpation of Amalek. Saul, David, and the children of Simeon, were instruments of their destruction. See 1Sa 15:1-3; 1 Samuel 30:17. 1 Chronicles 4:43.

Verses 15-16

Exodus 17:15-16. Moses built an altar, &c.— It appears from Jos 22:26-27 that altars were not only built for sacrifice, but also for memorials and testimonies; see Genesis 31:48. Judges 6:24. This, built by Moses, was erected, as the name he gave to it plainly proves, in memory of the victory over Amalek; for he called it Jehovah-nissi, the Lord my Banner, according to our marginal translation. We have heretofore frequently observed, that the import of appellations given to persons or things in the Hebrew, is generally explained in the context. See a proof in the next chapter, Exodus 17:3-4. Now it is evident, that, in the next verse (in which Moses plainly means to give a reason for this name which he imposed upon the altar) there is nothing which, in the Hebrew, at all corresponds to nissi; and the reader may easily judge, from the italics inserted in the verse, as well as from the very different rendering given in the margin of our Bibles, that the original, in this instance, was not fully understood. In truth, the best critics have suspected an error. יהוהאּנסי ieovah-nisi is the name; but we look in vain for any thing corresponding to nisi, which is certainly wanted. Houbigant, who seems to be perfectly right, would read the passage thus, המלחמה נסי על יד כי, because the hand of the Lord shall be for ever upon the banners of war against Amalek; God promising, as in the former verse, that the kingdom of the Amalekites should be utterly destroyed by Israel. But we cannot proceed farther in this criticism, for fear of being tedious. We must therefore refer the reader, who desires further satisfaction, to Houbigant himself.

REFLECTIONS.—The first mention is now made of Israel's wars. Here is,

1. The engagement under the conduct of Joshua, and the prayers of Moses. Note. (1.) The prayers of the faithful can do more than the drawn sword in turning to flight the armies of the aliens. They who continue instant in prayer cannot fail to be conquerors in the end. (2.) Christ is to us instead of all; he is our unwearied and prevailing advocate, better than Moses; our Almighty Captain, greater than Joshua, on whose banners victory sits enthroned; and our Aaron too, who holds up our fainting arms and feeble knees, that we may be enabled to persevere in faith and prayer, till the sun of life shall set; and death, our last enemy, be overcome.

2. The monument raised to God in the altar, acknowledging under whose banner they fought and conquered. Let it be ever remembered, in our victories over our corruptions, that it is not I, but the grace of God which was with me. It is entered also upon record, that Amalek shall rue the day. Their enmity against Israel shall receive deserved judgment: the destruction now begins, and their name shall finally be blotted out from under heaven. Let assurance of victory inspire us with courage. Christ shall surely and shortly bruise all his enemies and ours under his feet.

Reflections on the rock in the wilderness, considered as a type of Christ.

"Bread shall be given," says the prophetic voice, (Isaiah 33:16.) The proof of this we have already seen. "His waters shall be sure:" the proof of this we have now before us. "For he clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rocks, and caused waters to run down like rivers." (Psalms 78:15-16.) What cannot this mighty God do, at whose command the clouds shall yield bread, which usually comes out of the earth, to appease the hunger of his beloved people; and the rocks shall send forth water, which usually falls from clouds, to satisfy the thirst of his chosen race. "Tremble, thou earth, at the presence of the Lord, at the presence of the God of Jacob, who turned the rock into a standing water, the flint into a fountain of waters." (Psalms 114:7-8.)

The ransomed tribes are, for the trial of their faith, conducted by the Lord, who alone did lead them to a dry and thirsty spot in the wilderness, where there was no water to drink. They ought to have recollected on this occasion, that the God, who brought them here, would most certainly extricate them from their present difficulties, as he had often done before. But O Impatience—how absurd and unreasonable art thou! Instead of be-taking themselves to God by humble prayer, and quietly waiting for the salvation of the Lord, they impiously demand of Moses to give them water. They reproach him with decoying them out of Egypt, with no other design than to famish them in the wilderness. In vain does this meek and gentle servant of God remonstrate against the injustice and impiety of their outrageous conduct. They are at the very point of stoning their deliverer, and rewarding, with cruel death, the good offices he had done them. He flies to God as his sanctuary, and invokes the Almighty aid, not to revenge the affront offered him by the rude multitude, but to relieve them in their present straits. The prayer is no sooner made than answered. He is directed to take with him the elders of Israel, and the wonder-working rod, with which he smote the sea: "And 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." Moses obeys, and the event crowns his wishes.

That more was meant than to give water for their thirst, might have been presumed from the naked history. This God could have done without a miracle. He could have opened the bottles of heaven, or led them to another Elim. Or, if he had chosen the miraculous method, why should the rock be smitten with a rod, to give streams in the wilderness, and waters in the desert, while God himself was standing on its summit? But the great Apostle of the Gentiles puts it beyond all doubt, and warrants us to say, without hesitation, that "this rock was Christ." (1 Corinthians 10:4.)

Having, therefore, such an infallible guide to our meditation, let us consider a little, what was the rock; what was the smiting; and what the water that issued from it.
The rock itself might be an emblem of his Person, in whom is everlasting strength, to whom we may fly as a refuge, and upon whom we may build as a foundation. There is not, perhaps, a metaphor more frequent in the book of God than this, "God is a rock." Though not used before this remarkable occurrence, yet soon after it is adopted by Moses in his dying song.

The smiting of the rock might pre-figure his satisfactory sufferings, who was stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted; and out of whose side, when it was opened by the soldier's spear, there came blood and water, the rock was smitten with the rod of Moses, the type of the law: and it was the curse of the law which subjected HIM to the ignominious cross, who "redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us." The rock was smitten in the presence of the elders of the Jews: so Christ was wounded at Jerusalem, the most public place, for our transgressions; and at the passover-solemnity, the most public time. Then and there he endured the cross, and despised the shame. At the commandment of the Lord the rock was smitten; and by the commandment of the Lord was the Captain of our salvation made perfect through sufferings.

The water that issued from the rock: what might it signify? Shall we say it is an emblem of the glad tidings of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which are to the distressed conscience as cold water to a thirsty soul? In vain did the poor and needy seek water to refresh their troubled minds in the legal doctrine of the Scribes and Pharisees, or in the philosophical disquisitions of the Gentile sages. Still their souls failed them for thirst. But "the Lord heard them, and the God of Israel did not forsake them." Isaiah 41:17. For in the preaching of the everlasting gospel, both to the Jews and Gentiles, the charming promise received its accomplishment in the most ample manner: "I will open rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the vallies: I will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water." (Isaiah 41:18.) "The beasts of the field shall honour me, the dragons, and the owls; because I give waters in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, to give drink to my people, my chosen." (Isaiah 43:20.) Or shall we say, that the water from the rock is an emblem of the influence of the blessed spirit, which, like a river pure as crystal, issues from the throne of God and of the Lamb? To this refreshing, cleansing, and prolific element, our Lord himself compares this glorious Person, when, on the last day of the feast, he stood and cried, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink. He that believeth on me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. This spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive." (John 7:37-39.) Or shall we say, that this water may be an emblem of that precious blood of Christ, which cleanseth from all sin; and except we drink it in a spiritual manner, we can have no life in us? Or, lastly, shall we say, that the water which issued from the smitten rock, did represent all the blessings of redemption, the salutary effects of his sufferings and death? for to him we may apply what the prophet foretels, "A man shall be as rivers of water in a dry place; as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land." (Isaiah 32:2.)

These waters flowed not till the rock was smitten with the rod of Moses. Nor could we have derived these gracious benefits from Christ, which we do partake, if he had not suffered. The striking of a flint, one should think, would rather bring fire than water. But it was of the Lord of hosts, who is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working. Who would imagine, according to the common nature of things, that the Redeemer's sufferings, which in themselves were tragical and melancholy, should prove so consolatory to the believing soul? O Christian, it is thine to extract joy out of sorrow, happiness out of misery, glory out of ignominy, life out of death, though these things seem as impossible as to fetch water from the flinty rock.
The waters flowed when the rock was smitten, not in a scanty measure, but in large abundance. The miraculous stream was not exhausted, though many hundred thousand men, with their herds, drank of it. So inexhausted is the fulness of Jesus Christ, from whom all sorts of men, the Jews, the Gentiles, the Barbarians, the Scythians, the bond, and the free, may receive all sorts of blessings. You are not straitened in him, O children of men. This river of God, which is full of water, can never run dry, nor be exhausted, how abundantly soever we drink of its refreshing streams.

Blessed be our Rock, who consented to be smitten, that we might drink abundantly of the river of pleasures. Great was the love of David's three worthies, who hazarded their lives, to purchase for their longing general a draught of water from the well of Bethlehem. But greater was the love of Jesus, who lost his life, and poured out his precious blood, that we might draw water with joy from the wells of salvation, when hungry and thirsty our soul fainted in us. "O that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!" (Psalms 107:8.) May this river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God, be our consolation in this dry and thirsty land! Ye broken cisterns of this world, sinful pleasures, vain comforts and delights, and our own legal righteousnesses, can you supply the place of this Fountain of living waters? How miserably will they be disappointed, who exchange the one for the other! They shall come back with their pitchers empty; they shall be ashamed and confounded, and cover their heads. How justly they deserve that God should bring upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, and pour upon them the fury of his anger, who refuse these waters of Shiloah, that go softly! Open, O Lord, the ears of sinners to hear thy gracious invitation, "Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters." (Isaiah 55:1.) Open their eyes to see this well, as once thou openedst the eyes of Hagar in the wilderness, lest in hell they lift up their eyes in torment, without a drop to cool their tongue. O grant us to believe on HIM, that we may never thirst!

Bibliographical Information
Coke, Thomas. "Commentary on Exodus 17". Coke's Commentary on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tcc/exodus-17.html. 1801-1803.
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