THE SECOND MUMURING FOR WATER. When the Israelites had come to Rephidim which was probably in the Wady Feiran, near its junction with the Wady Esh-Sheikh, complaint arose, not, as at Marah (Exodus 15:23), that there was no drinkable water, but that there was no water at all. Water had been expected, and consequently no supply had been brought; but none was found. Violent murmurs arose, and the people were ready to stone their leader (Exodus 17:4), who had, they considered, brought them into the difficulty. As usual, Moses took his grief to God, and laid it before him, with the result that God gave miraculous relief. Moses was bidden to take his rod, and go with the elders to a particular rock known as "the rock in Horeb" (Exodus 17:6), and there strike the rock, and water would flow forth. This he did, and a copious stream welled out, which furnished abundant drink to the whole multitude. In remembrance of the murmuring, he called the place Massah (trial) and Meribah (quarrel).
From the wilderness of Sin. See the comment on Exodus 16:1. The sandy coast tract (El Murka) was probably quitted in lat. 28° 42' nearly, and the Wady Feiran entered on at its south-western extremity. Two stations, Dophkah and Alush, lay between the Sin wilderness and Rephidim, as we learn from Numbers 33:12, Numbers 33:13. It is impossible to locate these places with exactness. After their journeys. The three stages—from Sin to Dophkah, from Dophkah to Alush, and from Alush to Rephidim—seem to be alluded to. According to the commandment of the Lord. Literally, "at the mouth of Jehovah," i.e. as God ordered them. The command was signified by the movement of the "pillar of the cloud." And pitched in Rephidim. The word Rephidim signifies "resting places," and "is the natural name for the paradise of the Bedouins in the palm-grove where the church and palace of the bishops of Paran formerly stood ". There was no water. The Wady Feiran is watered ordinarily by a copious stream; but at times the brook is dry.
The people did chide. I.e. "quarrelled," made open murmurs and complaint—as before frequently (Exodus 14:11, Exodus 14:12; Exodus 15:24; Exodus 16:2, Exodus 16:3). Give us water. As Moses had already given them flesh (the quails) and bread (the manna), so it perhaps seemed to the people easy that he should give them such a common thing as water. Stanley notices that the wadys suggest the idea of water, and make its absence the more intolerable—they are "exactly like rivers," with "torrent bed, and banks, and clefts in the rock for tributary streams, and at times even rushes and shrubs fringing their course"—signs of "water, water everywhere, yet not a drop to drink." Wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? To "tempt the Lord" is to try his patience by want of faith, to arouse his anger, to provoke him to punish us. It was the special sin of the Israelites during the whole period of their sojourn in the wilderness. They "tempted and provoked the most high God" (Psalms 78:56); "provoked him to anger with their inventions" (Psalms 106:29), "murmured in their tents" (Psalms 106:25), "provoked him at the sea" (Psalms 106:7), "tempted him in the desert" (Psalms 106:14). God's long-suffering, notwithstanding all, is simply amazing!
The people thirsted there for water. There is probably no physical affliction comparable to intense thirst. His thirst was the only agony which drew from the Son of Man an acknowledgment of physical suffering, in the words "I thirst." Descriptions of thirst in open boats at sea are among the most painful of the records of afflicted humanity. Thirst in the desert can scarcely be less horrible. The people murmured and said When the worst comes on men, if they are alone, they bear it silently; but if they can find a scapegoat, they murmur. To lay the blame of the situation on another is a huge satisfaction to the ordinary human mind, which shrinks from responsibility, and would fain shift the burthen on some one else. To kill us. Compare Exodus 14:11, Exodus 16:3. The circumstances of their life in the wilderness were such, that, until accustomed to them, the people thought that, at each step, they must perish. It may be freely admitted, that without continual miraculous aid this would have been the natural denouement. And our cattle. It is interesting to see that the "cattle" still survived, and were regarded as of great importance. How far they served as a secondary head of subsistance to the people during the 40 years, is a point not yet sufficiently elaborated.
And Moses cried unto the Lord. It is one of the most prominent traits of the character of Moses, that, at the occurrence of a difficulty, he always carries it straight to God. (See Exodus 15:25; Exodus 24:15; Exodus 32:30; Exodus 33:8; Numbers 11:2,Numbers 11:11; Numbers 12:11; Numbers 14:13-19, etc.) They be almost ready to stone me. This is the first which we hear of stoning as a punishment. It is naturally one of the easiest modes of wreaking popular vengeance on an obnoxious individual, and was known to the Greeks as early as the time of the Persian war (Herod. 9.5), to the Macedonians (Q. Curt. Vit. Alex. 6.11, 38), and others. There is, however, no trace of it among the Egyptians.
Go on before the people. "Leave the people," i.e; "where they are, in Rephidim, and go on in front of them, with some of the elders as witnesses, that the miracle may be sufficiently attested." On the other occasion, when water was brought forth out of the rock (Numbers 20:8-11), it was done in the presence of the people. Perhaps now there was a real danger of their stoning Moses, had he not quitted them. Thy rod with which thou smotest the river. See above, Exodus 7:20.
Behold, I will stand before thee there. A visible Divine appearance seems to be intended, which would guide Moses to the exact place where he should strike. The rock in Horeb must have been a remarkable object, already known to Moses during the time that he dwelt in the Sinai-Horeb region; but its exact locality cannot be pointed out. It cannot, however, have been very far distant from Rephidim. (See Exodus 17:8.)
He called the name of the place Massah. Massah is from the root nasah, "to try," or "tempt," and means "trial" or "temptation." Meribah is from rub, "to chide, quarrel," and means "contention, chiding, strife." Moses gave the same name to the place near Kadesh, where water was once more brought out of the rock, near the end of the wanderings. (See Numbers 20:13; Deuteronomy 32:51; Psalms 106:32.)
Water out of the rock.
"They did all drink the same spiritual drink; for they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:4). When man is at his last gasp, perishing for lack of what he sorely needs, then God lavishes his mercies. All previous trials were as nothing compared with that which befel Israel at Rephidim. Lips parched, throats dry, bodies fevered with heat, hearts expectant and buoyed up with hope till the close of the day, then suddenly despairing—they lay on the arid soil around the ill-named "resting-places," maddened, furious, desperate. Without water, they must perish in the course of a few hours—they, "and their children" (Exodus 17:3)—the little tender innocents, a while ago so gay and sprightly and joyous, now drooping, listless, voiceless. What wonder that some hearts were stirred with fury against Moses, that some hands clutched stones, and were ready to launch them at their leader's head? Men in such straits are often not masters of themselves, and scarcely answerable for the thoughts they think or the acts they do. But the greater the need, the richer the manifestation of God's mercy. At God's word, Moses strikes the rock; and the outcome is an abundant copious stream—aye, "rivers of living water!" All were free to drink at once—men, women, little children, cattle, asses—all could take without stint, satiate themselves, drink of the water of life freely. And the water "followed them." From Rephidim, in the second year, to Kadesh, in the thirty-eighth year of the wanderings, there is no more complaint of want of water at any time, no need apparently of any new and distinct miracle.
And we too have WATER OUT OF THE ROCK, which is—
1. Miraculous. For our Rock is Christ himself—not the type, not the shadow, but the reality. Christ himself, the true and only-begotten Son of God, makes himself to us a perpetual, abiding, exhaustless source of a constant living stream, from which we may drink continually. "If any man thirst," he says, "let him come unto ME and drink" (John 7:37); and again—"Ho, every man that thirsteth,,come ye to the waters" (Isaiah 55:1). He "opens rivers in high places, and fountains in the midst of the valleys"—he "makes the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water" (Isaiah 41:18). As from his riven side, upon the Cross, blood and water flowed down in a mingled stream, so ever does he give us by a standing miracle his atoning blood to expiate our guilt, and his pure spiritual influences to cleanse our hearts and purify our souls. And the supply is—
2. Abounding. The water that he gives, is in each man "a well of water, springing up into everlasting life" (John 4:14). It is given without let or stint—freely to "every one that thirsteth." This is his promise—"I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground; I will pour my spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thy offspring" (Isaiah 44:8). Men have but to thirst for the living stream, to desire it, long for it, and he pours it forth. As in heaven, "a pure water of life, clear as crystal, proceeds out of the throne of God and of the Lamb" (Revelation 22:2), so even here there is a fountain opened for sin and for uncleanness, abundant, copious, never-failing—of which all may drink freely. And the draught is—
3. Life-giving. However weak we are, however drooping, however near to death, once let us drink of the precious water that he gives, and we are saved. Death is foiled, the destroyer forced to release his prey, life springs up again within the heart; every nerve is invigorated; every fibre of our frame recovers its tone. True "water of life" is that stream which wells forth from the riven side of the Lamb. Christ is "our Life;" and in him, and through him we have life. The water that he gives us is "living water"—for it is in truth the Spirit of him who is "the true God and the eternal life" (1 John 5:20)—who "hath life in himself." Lord, evermore give us this "life!"
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
The water from the rock.
The Israelites pursued their journey to the mount of God. It was—
1. By stages—"after their journeys." It is well to discipline the mind to look at life as a succession of stages. "Most people can bear one day's evil; the thing that breaks one down is the trying to bear on one day the evil of two days, twenty days, a hundred days."
2. According to God's commandment—following still the guiding cloud.
3. It brought them in due course to Rephidim, the scene of a new trial, and of a new theocratic mercy.
I. THE SITUATION. Its horrors can be better imagined than described.
1. The want of water. "There was no water for the people to drink" (Exodus 17:1). Even where water was comparatively abundant, it would be a task of no small difficulty to supply the wants of so immense a multitude. Now they are conducted into a region where water absolutely fails them. The last drop in their water-skins is exhausted. There is a famine of the needful element. Scouts bring in the intelligence that the place is one of utter drought, without streams, wells, rivulets, oozing rocks, or any other means of renewing the supplies. Consternation sits on every face. Dismay is in every heart.
2. The consequent thirst. "And the people thirsted there for water" (Exodus 17:3). The pangs of unallayed thirst constitute an intolerable torture. Hunger is attended by gnawings and tearings in one organ of the body—that concerned in the reception of food. But thirst possesses the whole being. It mounts to the brain. It burns and rages like fever in the blood. Draining the body of its juices, it causes every nerve to throb with acute suffering. "Heart and flesh" cry out for the boon of water. It has been remarked that "I thirst" was the only expression of bodily suffering wrung from our Lord upon the cross.
3. The spiritual analogue. God brought the people into a situation in which they not only experienced acute thirst, but were made to feel that in their sore strait, nature could do nothing for them. If left to the resources of nature, they must inevitably perish. They cried for water, but it was not to be had. The depth said, It is not in me. The thirsty sand said, It is not in me. The sky that was as brass above them said, It is not in me. The dry, dead rocks around said, It is not in us. From no quarter could they extract so much as a drop of the precious liquid. The analogue to this is the condition of the spirit which has become awakened to the emptiness and unsatisfyingness of the world around it, of the finite generally; which feels the need of a higher life than the world can give it. In the renewed nature, it becomes definitively the thirst for God, for the living God, for his love, his favour, for knowledge of him, for participation in his life (Psalms 42:1, Psalms 42:2; Psalms 63:1-3). Under conviction of sin, it is specially the thirst for pardon and holiness (Psalms 51:1-19.; Psalms 119:41, Psalms 119:81,Psalms 119:123, Psalms 119:166, ] 74). By bestowing on the Israelites supernatural water to quench their thirst, God declared at the same time his ability and willingness to supply these higher wants of the soul; nay, held out in type the promise of this gift. This is not a far-fetched application of the incident. The word spoken to the Israelites at Marah, "I am Jehovah that healeth thee" (Exodus 15:26), gave them a key to the interpretation of this whole series of miraculous facts. We cannot say to what extent they used it; but the key was there. Just as at Marah, the healing of the waters was a symbol of the truth that Jehovah would be their healer in every sphere of their existence; as the gift of manna was the type and pledge of the gift of "that meat which endureth unto everlasting life" (John 6:27); so, in the case before us, was the water from the rock, this supernatural water, an emblem and token of a supply in God for the satisfaction of spiritual thirst, and a pledge to his people that this supply would actually be made available for their wants.
II. THE CHIDING (Exodus 17:1-5). The behaviour of the people (making all allowance for their sore necessity) showed how little they had profited by past experiences of God's kindness.
1. They chided with Moses. This is, they blamed, rebuked, reproved, reproached him for having brought them into this unhappy situation. How unreasonable was this, to chide with Moses, when they knew that in every step by which he had led them, Moses had only done God's bidding. It was God's arrangements they were quarrelling with, not the arrangements of Moses. But it is usually in this indirect way that murmuring against God, and rebellion against his will are carried on. Because of this chiding of the people, the place was called Meribah (Exodus 17:7).
2. They asked Moses for the impossible. They said, "Give us water to drink" (Exodus 17:2). Here was further unreasonableness. They knew very well that Moses could not give them water. There was none to give. Probably they meant that he should supply their wants by miracle. If so, the spirit of their demand was wholly unbecoming.
3. They taunted Moses with design to kill them. This was a further disclosure of their unbelief. Twice, on previous occasions, they had made the same complaint, ostensibly against Moses, but really against God (Exodus 14:11; Exodus 16:3), and twice had God shown them how unfounded were their ungenerous suspicions, lie had saved them from the Egyptians. He had supplied them with bread. Could they not now trust him to supply them with water? Perhaps, as a writer has remarked, had the combination of circumstances been exactly the same as before, their hearts would not have failed them. "But when are combinations of circumstances exactly the same? and when the new combination arises, the old faith is apt to fail". This, however, was part of the design, to reveal the Israelites to themselves, and show them the strength of this "evil heart of unbelief" within them, which was ever prompting them anew to depart from the living God (Hebrews 3:12). We have equal need to beware of its operations in ourselves.
4. They were like to stone Moses. Moses speaks, in Exodus 17:5, as one driven to his wits' end by the unreasonableness and violence of the mob. He did, however, the right thing—betook himself in his strait to God. There is perhaps no prayer, which in the discharge of public duties, servants of God are more frequently tempted to offer, or do offer with greater heartiness than this, that they "may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men; for all men have not faith" (2 Thessalonians 3:2).
III. THE DELIVERANCE (Exodus 17:5, Exodus 17:6). God, as before, grants a supply for the people's wants. By bringing streams out of the rock for them, and causing waters to run down like rivers (Psalms 78:15, Psalms 78:16; Isaiah 48:21), he showed how wanton and ungrateful had been their suspicions of him, and how foolishly they had limited his power. Notice—
1. God's loving-kindness in this gift. This was very marked, when we remember how soon the people had forgotten previous mighty works.
2. The manner of the gift. This is to be carefully noted.
3. Its spiritual teaching. The rock points to Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). The waters which flowed from it, accordingly, are to be taken, not simply as streams of literal refreshment for the Israelites, but spiritually, typically, symbolically—may we not almost say sacramentally?—as representative of spiritual blessings. So, in the above-cited passage, the apostle calls the water "spiritual drink," even as the manna was "spiritual meat" (1 Corinthians 10:3, 1 Corinthians 10:4). See below. We may extend the figure, and think of Christ, in turn, smiting with his cross the hard rock of the human heart, and causing living waters to flow forth from it (cf. John 7:38). While this obvious lesson is taught in addition, that in providing and ministering spiritual refreshment to his people, God can, and will, break through the greatest outward hindrances and impediments (cf. Isaiah 35:6).
IV. TEMPTING GOD. "They tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not?" (Exodus 17:7). The peculiarity of this sin of Rephidim deserves to be carefully noted. Rephidim, it is true, is not the only instance of it; but it is the outstanding and typical one, and, as such, is frequently alluded to in Scripture (cf. Deuteronomy 6:16; Psalms 95:8, Psalms 95:9; Hebrews 3:8, Hebrews 3:9). The allusion in Psalms 78:18, Psalms 78:19—"They tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?" is to the incident in Numbers 11:1-35. Comparing the different scripture references to this sin of "tempting," it will be found that both in the Old and New Testaments, it is invariably connected with the idea of proposing tests to God, of putting him in some way to the proof, of prescribing to him conditions of action, compliance or non-compliance with which is to settle the question of his continued right to our trust and obedience. It is the spirit which challenges God, and is even peremptory in its demand that he shall do as it requires, if, forsooth, he is not to fall in its esteem. It is, as in the gospels (Matthew 16:1, etc.), the sign-seeking spirit, which, not satisfied with the ordinary evidences, demands exceptional ones, and lays down conditions on which belief in the revealed word is to be made to depend. Cf. Renan's demand for "a commission, composed of physiologists, physicists, chemists, and persons accustomed to historical criticism," to sit in judgment on the miracles ("Life of Jesus," Introduction). It is, in short, the spirit which requires from God proofs of his faithfulness and love other than those which he has been pleased to give us, and which even presumes to dictate to him what these proofs shall be. It is, therefore, a spirit which carries distrust on the face of it, and is, besides, daringly presumptuous and irreverent. This furnishes the key to Christ's second temptation in the wilderness. It was a temptation to put his father's care and faithfulness to the test by casting himself down from the pinnacle of the temple (Matthew 4:5-8). And he repelled it by quoting the passage in Deuteronomy which alludes to this sin of Massah, "Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 6:16). It is forgotten by those who are guilty of this sin, that God brings us into situations of trial, not that we may test him, but that he may test us. Professor Tyndall's proposal of a prayer-test may be cited as a not irrelevant illustration of the type of transgression referred to.—J.O.
That rock was Christ.
In the statement of Paul—"They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:4)—we have a clear assertion of the typical character of this transaction at Rephidim. We may either suppose the term "Rock" in the first clause to be used by metonymy for the water which flowed from the rock, or we may understand the allusion to be to hint of whom the rock was but a symbol, and who did accompany the Israelites in their wanderings, abundantly supplying their wants. The latter view, which conserves the grain of truth in the Rabbinical traditions above referred to, to which the apostle seems to make allusion, is most in keeping with the further statement, "that Rock was Christ." An interesting comparison is with the words of Christ himself, when, on "the rest day, that great day of the feast," he "stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink" (John 7:37). The libation of water from the pool of Siloam, which was a ceremony connected with the feast of tabernacles, and which most commentators take to be the subject of Christ's allusion in these memorable words, was commemorative of this miraculous supply of water in the desert. Dr. Godet goes further, and takes this passage in Exodus to be itself the "scripture" (John 7:38), and the bringing of the water from the rock the evert, which Jesus had in view when he gave his invitation. "Why," he says, "should not Jesus, instead of stopping at the emblem, go back to the Divine fact which this rite commemorated … He had in Exodus 2:1-25. (of John's Gospel) represented himself as the true temple, in Exodus 3:1-22. as the true brazen serpent, in Exodus 6:1-30. as the bread of heaven; in Exodus 7:1-25. he is the true rock: in Exodus 8:1-32. he will be the true light-giving cloud, and so on till Exodus 19:1-25; when he will at length realise the type of the Paschal Lamb" (Godet on John 7:37). The points to be noted here are these:—
I. HUMAN NATURE IS IN A CONDITION OF THIRST. Its state is figured by that of the Israelites in the desert. It thirsts for a satisfaction which the world cannot give it. Give man all of the world he asks for, and still his soul is deeply athirst. His increasing cry is, who will show us any good? (Psalms 4:6). Learning does not satisify this thirst (Ecclesiastes, Goethe's "Faust"). Pleasures do not satisfy it (Byron's "Childe Harold"). Colonel Gardiner told Dr. Doddridge how, on one occasion, when his companions were congratulating him on his distinguished felicity, a dog happening to conic into the room, he could not help groaning inwardly, and saying to himself, "Oh, that I were that dog." Riches do not satisfy it. It is, however, when spiritual awakening comes, and the sinner is brought to realise his true condition as alienated from the life of God, that his thirst enters on the phase which makes satisfaction of it possible. It is now spiritual thirst—thirst for pardon, for holiness, for salvation. Note, in passing, how this deep-seated thirst of man testifies to his spiritual dignity. If man is merely a natural being—the highest of the animals—why does not nature satisfy him? Why are all. things thus full of labour—the eye not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing (Ecclesiastes 1:8)? The mere animal is easily satisfied, and returns into its rest. How different with man! His bodily comforts may be every one attended to; his senses filled with grateful pleasures; his imagination fed with the most gorgeous images, of beauty; his intellect stored with the facts and laws of every department of finite science, but all does not slake the thirst of his spirit. His soul still cries, "Give, give; I want not this, nor this; give me living water, of which, if a man drink he will never thirst again."
II. CHRIST IS THE SATISFACTION OF THIS THIRST. He says—"If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink" (John 7:37). He understands better than any one else the nature, causes, and intensity of our thirst, yet he promises to gratify it. And who that puts his word to the test is ever sent disappointed away? His salvation is found by every one that tries it, to have really this property of quenching spiritual thirst. He meets the special thirst of the sinful soul, by satisfying its desires for pardon and holiness. He meets the more fundamental thirst of our nature—the thirst for blessed life—by admitting us to fellowship with himself, the perfect embodiment of truth, purity, and goodness; by giving us a true end in our existence; by furnishing the soul, in the living God
III. CHRIST SATISFIES THIS THIRST IN VIRTUE OF HIS HAVING BEEN SMITTEN. It was only as a rock "smitten' that Jesus could yield waters of salvation to mankind. Atonement must be made for sins. The Christ must be smitten for the transgressions of the world. He came to save. He must appear as the Lamb of God, that taketh away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Jesus was thus smitten in the garden and on Calvary. John notes how from his wounded side there came forth the water and the blood (John 19:34, John 19:35). "Rock of Ages," etc.
IV. THE WATERS OF CHRIST'S SALVATION ARE FREE AND PLENTIFUL.
1. Free. "Ho, every one that thirsteth" etc. (Isaiah 55:1), "Whosoever will" Revelation 22:17).
2. Plentiful. "Preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15).—J.O.
HOMILIES BY H. T. ROBJOHNS
Christ our Spring.
"They drank of that spiritual rock," etc. (1 Corinthians 10:4). Introduction may deal with the following important items, as all leading up to the theme of the homily—the journey from Sin to Rephidim (Numbers 33:12-14), the incidents connected with furnishing water out of the rock—the fact that the water may have followed Israel for at least a few stations—and on that fact (not on the [Rabbinical legend) found the New Testament application of the Apostle Paul—which justifies us in speaking here of Christ as The Eternal Spring of Refreshment to all believers. Expound the connection of 1 Corinthians 10:4; thus:—By passing under the cloud and through the sea "our fathers" were baptised unto Moses, committed to him as to a leader they being, his disciples Thereupon two necessities—bread and water—both in a spiritual sense found in Christ. Even in the desert the water came not so much from the rock, as from the Lord of the rock: i.e. Christ.
I. THE, SOUL, NEEDS REFRESHMENT—i.e; not only food for strength, but spiritual influences for refreshment. Show from Christian experience how many and powerful are the causes of depression, weariness, and fainting.
II. OUT OF THE ROCK—CHRIST—REFRESHMENT SPRINGS. Refreshment does come from time to time to the faint. But the cause is Christ, the living and the ever near. As to the way in which the ministration comes, it does not concern us much to point out; enough to know the fact. Still there are many channels of this grace, e.g; a gleam of morning sunshine, the song of a bird, the pleasant letter of a friend, etc. etc. Channels of the grace, mark! But what is the water itself? See John 7:37, John 7:38, John 7:39. "This spake he of the Spirit," etc. The water is the consolation of the Spirit; and the rock (from whom proceeds the Spirit) is Christ.
III. THE REFRESHMENT SPRINGS IN UNLIKELY PLACES. As out of the very desolations of Rephidim came the water; so out of our very sorrows come our deepest consolations.
IV. THE ROCK—CHRIST—EVER FOLLOWS US. Here give the fable of the Rabbis; and show that in it there was a deeper truth than the Rabbis knew. Paul saw it. The refreshments of the Spirit are not like angels' visits; for the Dispenser of the grace is never far away.
V. WE ARE REFRESHED THAT WE MAY REFRESH. See John 7:38. "Out of his belly," etc.—R.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The giving of water in Rephidim.
I. OBSERVE HOW THE PEOPLE CAME TO REPHIDIM. There is a distinct intimation that it was according to the commandment of Jehovah. He it was who led them where there was no water to drink, and equally he must have given them the intimation to pitch their tents. And we who read the narrative are not at all discomposed on learning that there was no water in this place of encampment. We remember how God has already shown that his ways are not as men's ways, by taking his people where they were entangled in the land, and the wilderness shut them in (Exodus 14:3). And we are sure that as he then showed what men count folly to be the highest wisdom, so it would prove again. Water is a necessity, and when Jehovah takes his people where there is no water to drink, it must be under the compulsion of a still higher necessity. If water had been one of the chief things to consider, the people would never have gone to Rephidim at all. But at present the great matter for consideration was Sinai, the mountain where the people were to serve God. Everything else was in subordination to the sojourn at Sinai. God could bring Rephidim to Sinai, and he did so when he caused Moses to smite the rock; but it was not possible to bring Sinai to Rephidim.
II. OBSERVE THEIR FIRST REQUEST, AND THE ANSWER OF MOSES. "Give us water that we may drink." The mere words, of course, tell us nothing as to the spirit of the request. In certain circumstances such a request would be innocent and natural enough. Jesus began his conversation with the woman at the well by asking her for a drink of water. The request here, however, was evidently expressed in a complaining, chiding tone; and we can only understand it as we come to study the rejoinder of Moses. That. rejoinder shows how he is becoming more and more alarmed at the perils into which the unbelief of the people is taking them. They are still looking towards Moses; they cannot be got to understand that he is as much dependent on the cloudy pillar as are the rest of them. Him who had been given to help and encourage their faith, they treat in such a way that he becomes a stumbling-block. Hence he tries his best to move away their thoughts from himself to Jehovah, with whose long-suffering he warns them that they are making very presumptuous and perilous experiments. They are on dangerous ground, and none the less dangerous because they tread it with such profane unconcern. There had now been several trials of the Divine long-suffering in the short time since they had left Egypt (Exodus 14:11, Exodus 15:24, Exodus 16:3, Exodus 16:20, Exodus 16:27); and through all these God had moved gently, providing and protecting, even in the midst of their unbelief. But this gentleness of dealing could not go on for ever; and Moses felt it was quite time to warn them, so that none in Israel might delude themselves with the notion that whatever they said and however they complained Jehovah would not smite them.
III. IN DUE COURSE, THERE IS A SECOND APPEAL TO MOSES. Their first request seems to have come immediately on encamping. They look round with an instinctive feeling for the water supply; and, missing it, they ask for it. Then they wait awhile; and, of course, the longer they wait the more thirst begins to assert itself. Their children cry; and all the cattle signify, in an equally impressive way, their want of water. (Remember what a terrible calamity the want of water is in eastern countries.) No wonder then that increasing thirst drove the Israelites to the bitter complainings of Exodus 17:3. It was not without a profound reason in the plans of God that waterless Rephidim lay so near Sinai. He will make his people to know the utter privations that belong to Rephidim as well as the bitterness of Marah and the abundance of Elim. Thus they passed in a very remarkable way, and in a very short time, through three great representative experiences with regard to the resources of nature. They found those resources existent but impaired at Marah; well-nigh perfect at Elim; and at Rephidim altogether absent. Then, to add further to the significance of Rephidim, God made the people to wait there till their want of water became little short of agony. Not that he delights in inflicting pain; but pain is often needful to teach great lessons, he seems to have made them wait longer at Rephidim where there was no water, than at Marah where the water was only bitter. Hence the exasperation, defiance, almost despair which find utterance in their second cry. For all they can see, they are on the point of death; they, their children and their cattle. And yet this very reference—excusable as it might be in their half-maddened state—suggested at once its own confutation. God had worked by special interventions to bring those very children and cattle out of Egypt intact. Those first-born especially, for whom the lamb had been slain and the blood sprinkled, was it likely they would perish from a thing so entirely within Divine control as lack of water? The truth seems to be that one more great discovery had. to be made by Israel before they came to Sinai. They had known Jehovah appearing to them in bondage and more and more manifesting his power; giving them at last an exceeding abundant deliverance from bondage and overwhelming their great enemy in all his strength. These were all completed experiences. There remained one thing more, namely that they should be made to feel their dependence on Jehovah for bread and water. That dependence must be taught in the most practical way, before he proceeded formally to ask as he did at Sinai, for the unreserved regard and obedience of his people.
IV. THIS OCCASION EVIDENTLY BECAME THE MEANS OF DRAWING MOSES HIMSELF NEARER TO GOD. We feel that he was coming into peril from the exasperated people. They were, indeed, past all argument and expostulation—suffering themselves, and made more frantic still by the cries of their children and the threatened damage to their property. So here again we see how Moses' own path was the path of faith. Jehovah has ever some fresh revelation of power to deepen the impression already made on the mind of his servant with regard to his omnipotence. Moses must be brought to feel by all sorts of illustrations that God can do everything which is not by its very nature impossible and which does not contradict his own character.
V. OBSERVE THE METHOD OF SUPPLY.
1. God has the elders called out from among the people. Thus, for his own purposes, he still further extends the period of waiting. Possibly it was through these very elders, chosen and responsible men among the people, that the complaints and threats had come. The Israelites, even in their unbelief and worldliness, did not degenerate into a rabble. They had their leaders, whom they chose, recognised from the human point of view, as well as that leader whom God had sent, and whom they so often had despised and rejected. The time had come to make these elders feel their responsibility. Many who made light of Moses looked to them; and according to the way they spoke and acted, they would do much either to produce faith throughout the people, or, on the other hand, to produce unbelief.
2. God brings the rod once more into requisition, and as he does, makes a special connection of it with one accomplished work in particular. With that rod Moses had been the means of smiting the river and turning it to blood; the import of the reference evidently being that water everywhere is under the Divine control. By this time there must surely have been great virtue in the sight of the rod to call forth faith and expectation. Hitherto it had been used to destroy—it delivered, indeed, at the same time that it destroyed but now it is called to a work of unmixed beneficence. All that had been done so far was right and necessary; but it is well that there should now be one work of the rod which, in blessing Israel, does not inflict harm on a single human being.
3. The source whence the water comes. From a rock. The smiting, of course, was simply a symbolic action, just as the smiting of the water was. It was not as if some blow had been struck, suddenly opening up a hidden reservoir. What God did here by smiting he commanded, at a later date, to be done by speaking. (Numbers 20:8.) The water came, and was to be understood as coming, from a most unlikely place. Did we know more of the details, more as to the kind of rock that was smitten and the way in which the water gushed forth, we might be even more deeply impressed with the miracle. It may not be going too far to say that no amount of excavating or tunnelling would have got water from that rock. He who turned the water to blood made water to flow from an arid rock in some altogether mysterious way. Doubtless many of the Israelites were beginning to think that it was with a rocky God they had to deal; a hard, unsympathising Deity; that, in short, they had exchanged a human Pharaoh for a Divine one. And so God shows them that even the rock holds unexpected, abundant, and exactly appropriate blessings. The rock at Meribah was a good symbol of Jehovah for the time. He had already presented to the people much that was in aspect stern and unyielding; and he would have to do this still more in the future. And yet in the midst of all necessary hardness, he took care to refresh his people with gracious comforts and promises. He who demands that everything shall be done in righteousness, truth, and profound reverence for his will, is by no means one of those tyrants who seek to reap where they have not sown. Rather does he take his people into circumstances seemingly the most unfavourable, seeking there to teach them how, if they only sow a spirit of faith, obedience, and expectation, they shall reap a sufficient and steady supply for all their daily wants.
VI. OBSERVE THE NAME THAT WAS GIVEN TO THE PLACE. Massah and Meribah. These words did not so much mark the power and providence of God as the unbelieving, self-regarding spirit of the people. This they constantly needed to be reminded of. It might well happen that some of the more sanguine would say, "We shall never be unbelievers again; we shall go with confidence into any place whatever, whither the Lord may lead us." And so these warning names are fixed for them to look back upon. The unbelief of the people was not to be lost in the glory of the Divine action, as if it were a thing of no consequence. We cannot dispense with any recollection of the past, however disagreeable it may be, which keeps before us our own deficiencies, and impresses upon us the need of constant humility.—Y.
HOMILIES BY G. A. GOODHART
They tempted God in the desert.
Illustration. Child cries; parent sends for doctor; pleasant medicine is prescribed. Later the child cries again; cry is apparently addressed to parent, but real aim is to see if the doctor will give more pleasant medicine. Chiding with the parent is a cover for experimenting upon the doctor. Here—previous murmuring against Moses had resulted (Exodus 16:2-5) in food from God. The people would see whether like conduct might not lead to a like result; they chode with Moses, but, in reality, they were tempting—trying experiments upon—God. Notice:—
I. THE CHIDING (Exodus 17:2). An outward manifestation of displeasure against the visible leader. Why should Moses have brought them, thirsting, to this barren and inhospitable spot? The fact that their journeys were "according to the commandment of Jehovah" (Exodus 17:1) is altogether forgotten or ignored. Not a rare offence: the people, displeased, blame the minister, quite forgetting that he has a master other than themselves. Churches are called Eben-ezers and the like; they might often as truly be called Meribahs. The question which must be put in such cases is one not easy to answer: "Why strive ye with me?" The answer is involved in that other question which few grumblers care to face—"Why do ye tempt Jehovah?" Chiding can only be passed on with the motive which inspires it to its true object; he who tries to answer it otherwise does but stand in God's light, doing that which Joash declined to do for Baal ( 6:31), and which, with yet more reason, God's servants had best abstain from in his cause.
II. THE TEMPTATION. The inner motive for the outward manifestation was to see whether God was really among them, and would indicate his presence by supporting his servant. He had given quails and bread, would he now shield Moses by supplying the demand for water? Observe—
1. The favourable side of the offence. The people remembered that God had helped, whence they inferred that he might help again. Memory fed hope. So far it was well. Memory, however, was but half instructed, The remembered gift was more thought of than the giver. Hope was not faith; it could not prompt the prayer of faith. God was not regarded as he should have been, and consequently men could not state their needs with confidence, "nothing doubting."
2. The unfavourable side of the offense. Jehovah, they thought, was the friend, if of any one, of Moses. They regarded him as a being apart, quite as likely to be their enemy as the enemy of the Egyptians. Perhaps, however, if they put his friend in difficulties, to help his friend he might appease them. Is not the same thought latent still in like cases? "If the minister is a good man, God will help him, and we shall be the gainers. If not, we shall get quit of him, and possibly his successor may remedy his defects." A kind of witches' ordeal from which the accusers hope to profit any way. Trouble should strengthen trust, and when it does, trust will be rewarded. Beware, however, lest imperfect trust take the form of temptation. God will justify his own elect, but experiments made on him are apt to recoil on the experimenters.
III. THE RESULT (Exodus 17:5, Exodus 17:6). The people spoke at God instead of to him. Moses, instead of being the channel for their prayers, was the rock whence might echo their complaints. God, in answer, draws himself yet further off from the complainers. They get their water; but they lose that which they might have had as well, the sense of the presence of their God. The experiment was successful, physical thirst was slaked; it was also a disastrous failure: instead of gaining a strong assurance that God was indeed among them, they gained rather a confirmation of their suspicion that he was not among them, but at a distance.
Conclusion.—Beware how you tempt God. Whether is it better to endure discomfort and have a nearer sense of his presence, or to escape discomfort and endure his absence? Thirst endured trustfully must have brought the Israelites such a realisation of the Divine presence as would have quenched, what was worse than thirst, the irrepressible desire to murmur. Temporary satisfaction then, as ever, thus obtained, led on to yet deeper doubt.—G.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Trial and failure.
I. THE PURPOSE OF RECURRING TRIALS. Israel, tried before at Marah, is now led from the comforts of Elim to the thirsty land of Rephidim. They might have learned something of their own heart and of God's unfailing goodness, and now they are led hither that he may prove whether they will serve him or no. Trial comes that the teachings of truth may be changed into the convictions of trust.
II. ISRAEL'S CRIME.
1. It was not unbelief, but impious presumption. They demand water, believing that it can be produced. They regard themselves as having a right to the choicest of God's blessings. This presumptuous claim lies in the heart of all unbelief.
2. Their accusation of Moses and of God (Exodus 17:3). They have belief but no prayer, no trust, only strife and bitterness.
III. GOD'S LONG-SUFFERING.
1. Their murmuring is met with help. He might have proved himself to be among them by his judgments; but he gives them water from the flinty rock. Not till mercy has done her utmost is judgment let loose against his people.
2. He labours to establish their faith in himself. The elders are taken as witnesses, and the reek is smitten with the rod of God.
I. A PICTURE OF THE SEEKERS AFTER MORAL IMPROVEMENT WHO DO NOT FOLLOW THE PATHWAY OF FAITH.
1. Their unquenched thirst.
2. Their despair. It had been better for them, they say, that the desire to go forth had never been awakened; that the quest after a better country had never been entered upon.
3. Their cry, "Is the Lord among us or not?" Does God take thought of us? Is there a God? How often has youthful earnestness come to rest at last in the blankest unbelief!
II. A PICTURE OF CHRIST, THE ANSWER TO THE SEEKER'S NEED.
1. The living rock, the changeless one, the sure foundation.
2. How he is made to us the fountain of living waters: he is smitten by the rod of God on behalf of the sinful.
3. The water "followed them." Christ's consolations the one perennial stream for refreshment and strength.
4. How he may be found: by following the guidance of those who testify of him.—U.
THE WAR WITH AMALEK. The Amalekites seem to have been descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12). They separated themselves off from the other Edomites at an early date, and became the predominant tribe in the more northern parts of the Sinaitic peninsula, claiming and exercising a sovereignty over the whole of the desert country between the borders of Palestine and Egypt. We do not find the name Amalek in the Egyptian records; but the people are probably represented by the Mentu, with whom so many of the early Egyptian kings contended. The Pharaohs dispossessed them of the north-western portion of the mountain region; but they probably claimed the suzerainty of the central hills and valleys, which the Egyptians never occupied; and on these they no doubt set a high value as affording water and pasture for their flocks during the height of summer. When the Israelites pressed forward into these parts, the Amale-kites, in spite of the fact that they were a kindred race, determined on giving them battle. They began by "insidiously attacking the rear of the Hebrew army, when it was exhausted and weary" (Deuteronomy 25:18). Having cut off many stragglers, they attacked the main body at Rephidim, in the Wady-Feiran, and fought the long battle which the text describes (Exodus 17:10-13). The result was the complete discomfiture of the assailants, who thenceforth avoided all contact with Israel until attacked in their turn at the southern frontier of Canaan, when, in conjunction with the Canaanites, they were victorious (Numbers 14:45). A bitter and long continued enmity followed. Amalek, "the first of the nations" to attack Israel (Exodus 24:1-18 :20), was pursued with unrelenting hostility (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), defeated repeatedly by Saul and David (1 Samuel 14:48; 1 Samuel 15:7; 1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:17; 2 Samuel 8:12); the last remnant of the nation being finally destroyed by the Simeonites in the reign of king Hezekiah, as related by the author of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 4:41-43).
Then came Amalek. The bulk of the Amalekites would have been passing the spring in the lower plains, where herbage is abundant after the early rains, while later in the year it dries up. They would hear of the threatened occupation of their precious summer pastures by the vast host of the Hebrews, and would seek to prevent it by blocking the way. Hence they are said to have "come"—i.e; to have marched into a position where they were not previously, though it was one situated within their country. We must remember that they were nomads. And fought with Israel For the nature of the fighting on the first day, see Deuteronomy 25:18; by which it appears that the original attack was made on the rear of the long column, and was successful. The Amalekites "smote the hindmost" of the Israelites, "even all that were feeble behind them, when they were faint and weary."
And Moses said to Joshua. On hearing what had happened, Moses summoned to his presence an Ephraimite in the prime of life—about 45 years old—and devolved on him the military command. The man's name at the time was Hoshea or Oshea (Numbers 13:8). lie was the son of a certain Nun (ibid.) or Non (1 Chronicles 7:27), and the tenth in descent from Ephraim, the son of Joseph (1 Chronicles 7:23-27). Some forty years later Moses changed his name from Hoshea to Jehoshua. which became contracted into Joshua. The occurrence of this form in the present passage may be accounted for.
1. By Moses having written (or reviewed) Exodus late in his life; or
2. By a later authorised reviser (Ezra?) having altered the text. Choose out for us men—i.e. "Select from the congregation such a number of fit men as appear to thee sufficient, and with them fight Amalek." To-morrow. It was probably evening, when Moses heard of the attack on his rear, and there was consequently no possibility of retrieving the disaster till the next day. lie could but make his arrangements for retrieving it. I will stand on the top of the hill. It is implied that there was a conspicuous hill (gibeah), not a rock (tsur) in the near vicinity of Rephidim, whence Moses could see the fight, and be seen by those engaged in it. Dean Stanley finds all the conditions answered by an eminence on the south side of the Wady Feiran. Others suggest the Jebel Tahuneh north of the same wady. With the rod of God in my hand. Moses meant to indicate by this, that he looked for victory to God alone, and did not trust in an "arm of flesh," while, nevertheless, he sent his soldiers to the combat.
Hur. Hur has not been mentioned hitherto. According to one Jewish tradition, he was the son, according to another, the husband of Miriam. Scripture only tells us of him, that he was descended from Judah, through Caleb the son of Hezron (1 Chronicles 2:18-20), and that his grandson, Bezaleel, was the artificer of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:2). He is again associated with Aaron in Exodus 24:14.
When Moses held up his hand,… Israel prevailed. The elevation of Moses' hand, with the rod held in it, was an appeal to God for aid, and must be supposed to have been accompanied by fervent prayer to God, that he would help his people and give them victory over their enemies. So long as the hand was upraised, the Israelites prevailed; not because they saw it, and took it as directing them to continue the fight (Kalisch), but because God gave them strength, and vigour and courage, while Moses interceded, and left them to themselves when the intercession ceased, It may be said, that Moses might have continued to pray, though his hands were weary; but only those who have tried, know how difficult a thing it is to pray with any intensity for a continuance. Probably Moses' spiritual and physical powers collapsed together; and when he dropped his hand through physical fatigue, he rested also from his mental effort. To impress upon Israel the importance of intercessory prayer, God made success and failure alternate with its continuance and discontinuance, thus teaching his people a lesson of inestimable value.
But Moses' hands were heavy. Moses, no doubt, held the rod alternately with one hand and the other, until both were so tired that he could hold them up no longer. It is this natural weariness which is expressed by the words—"his hands were heavy." When Aaron and Hut perceived this, they brought a stone for him to sit on, and then, standing one on either side of him, alternately supported his hands until the sun set and the battle was over. To reward the faith and perseverance of the three, God gave Israel in the end a complete victory.
Amalek and his people—i.e. "the Amalekites proper, and the tribes subject to them, who fought on their side."
Write this … in a book. The original has, "Write this in the book." It is clear that a book already existed, in which Moses entered events of interest, and that now he was divinely commanded to record in it the great victory over Amalek, and the threat uttered against them. The record was to be for a memorial—
1. that the victory itself might be held in remembrance through all future ages, as a very signal instance of God's mercy; and
2. that when the fulfilment of the threat came (1 Chronicles 4:43), God might have his due honour, and his name be glorified. Rehearse it in the ears of Joshua. "Hand down," i.e; to thy successor, Joshua, the tradition of perpetual hostility with Amalek, and the memory of the promise now made, that the whole nation shall be utterly blotted out from under heaven. (Compare Deuteronomy 25:19.) The special sin of Amalek was,
1. That he attacked God's people, not fearing God (Deuteronomy 25:18);
2. That he had no compassion on his own kindred: and
3. That he fell on them when they were already suffering affliction, and were "feeble, and faint and weary" (ib,)
Moses built an altar. An altar naturally implies a sacrifice, and Moses may well have thought that the signal victory obtained required to be acknowledged, and as it were requited, by offerings. In giving his altar a name, he followed the example of Jacob, who called an altar which he built, El-Elohe-Israel (Genesis 33:20). Moses' name for his altar, Jehovah-nisi, meant "the Lord is my banner," and was intended to mark his ascription of the entire honour of the victory to Jehovah but had probably no reference to the particular mode in which the victory was gained.
Because the Lord hath sworn. Rather, as in the margin, "Because the hand of Amalek was against the throne of the Lord"—"because," i.e; "in attacking Israel, Amalek had as it were lifted up his hand against God on his throne," therefore should there be war against Amalek from generation to generation.
The uselessness of fighting against God.
Amalek was "the first of the nations" in audacity, in venturesomeness, perhaps in military qualities, but scarcely in prudence or longsightedness. Amalek must precipitate its quarrel with Israel, must "come to Rephidim" and offer battle, instead of letting Israel go. on its own way unmolested, and shunning a contest. They might have known that they were about to fight against God, and that to do so is useless. None can contend with him successfully. It is curious that sinners do not see this. Some of them seem to hope to escape the notice of God; others appear to doubt his power; a few seem to disbelieve in his existence. The uselessness of contending against him would be generally recognised, if men would bear in mind, as most sure—
I. THAT THERE IS A GOD, DESERVING OF THE NAME, THE MAKER AND RULER OF THE UNIVERSE. The disbelief in a Personal God underlies much of the resistance which men offer to his will on earth. They admit an impersonal something external to themselves, which they call "Nature," and speak of as having immutable "laws." These they profess to respect. But the law of righteousness, decreed by a God who is a Person, and written by him in the hearts of his human creatures, is not among these "laws of nature," they think, since in many people it is not found to exist. Neither to this law, nor to the God who made it, do they profess any allegiance. They claim the liberty to do that which is right in their own eyes. But, as surely as they are confounded, if they set themselves in opposition to a law of physical nature—walk on the sea, or handle fire, or seek to fly without wings—so surely does a Nemesis attend their efforts, if they transgress a moral law, be it the law of chastity, or of truth, or of general kindliness, or of special regard for God's day, God's house, God's ministers, God's people. The Amalekites attacked the last, and were overthrown. Final discomfiture will assuredly overtake all who attack anything that is God's or in any way set themselves in opposition to his will.
II. THAT GOD IS REALLY OMNIPOTENT. It often pleases God to allow for a time the contradiction of sinners against himself, and even to let the ungodly enjoy a long term of worldly prosperity. Some of the worst men have prospered during their whole lives, and have died at the height of earthly greatness, self-satisfied, so far as men could see, happy. Men have questioned whether God, if really onmipotent, could have allowed this, and have doubted his ability to carry on a real moral government of the entire universe. But omnipotence is included in the very idea of God; and it is quite inconceivable that any of his creatures should be really able to thwart or resist him further than he himself permits. Their very existence depends on him, and unless he sustained them in being, they would perish at each moment. He temporarily allows the opposition of other wills to his, not through any defect of power, but for his own wise purposes. Some time or other he will vindicate himself, and show forth his Almighty power, to the utter confusion of his enemies.
III. THAT GOD IS ALSO OMNISCIENT. The Psalmist tells us (Psalms 73:11) of those who said—"Tush, how should God perceive? Is there knowledge in the Most High?" and, again, "God hath forgotten; he hideth away his face, and he will never see it" (Psalms 10:11). These are bold utterances, such as men scarcely make nowadays; but still there are many who in their inmost heart seem to cherish the Epicurean notion, "Deos securum agere oevum," that the Divinity does not care for what men do, or that, at any rate, words or thoughts are beyond his cognisance. He, however, himself declares the contrary. "For every idle word that men shall speak they shall give account." "Thou knowest the very secrets of the heart." "All things are open and revealed unto him with whom we have to do." We cannot resist him secretly or without his knowledge. He knows all our words, and all our thoughts, as well as all our acts, "long before." We cannot take him by surprise and gain an advantage over him. There is not a word in our mouth, or a thought in our heart, but he "knows it altogether"—has always known it, and has provided accordingly. If we were "wise," if we were even moderately prudent, we should give up the idea of resisting God. Instead of "raging" and "imagining vain things"—instead of "taking counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed"—instead of seeking to "break their bands asunder and cast away their cords from us" (Psalms 2:1-3), we should submit ourselves—we should be content to "serve the Lord with fear and rejoice unto Him with reverence"—we should "kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and so we perish from the right way, if his wrath be kindled, yea, but a little"—we should "take his yoke upon us, and learn of him"—satisfied that in no other way can we prosper, in no other way can we obtain rest, or peace, or happiness.
Diversities of gifts, but the same spirit.
DIVERSITIES OF GIFTS. The needs of life are various, and the gifts which God imparts to his saints are correspondingly diversified. In Moses, at the age of eighty (Exodus 7:7), the qualities required for the successful conduct of military matters were not present. It may be doubted whether he would at any period of his life have been a good general But his age, his temperament, and his training made him emphatically a man of prayer. Joshua, on the other hand, in the full vigour of middle life, active, energetic, bold, intrepid, indefatigable, was a born soldier, and a man well suited for military command. To Moses belongs the credit of having recognised the needs of the occasion, and the "diversity of gifts" in himself and his "minister." He took the duties, for which he felt himself fit, upon himself; he delegated those, for which he knew that he was unfit, to the individual who, among the thousands of Israel, appeared to him, and. no doubt was, the most perfectly fitted for them. In a minor way, it may be noticed that Aaron and Hur, unsuited for either military command or the leading part in sustained intercessory prayer, had yet gifts which enabled them to play a useful secondary part in support of Moses, and were selected by him for their fitness. The recognition of DIVERSITIES OF GIFTS is required—
1. For the best utilisation of all the powers possessed by God's people at any given time. Unless diversity be recognised, all aspirants naturally seek the same posts. All are rivals. Jealousies, sure to arise, are intensified. Discontents multiply. Rulers find the difficulty of government augmented. Again, special talents are wasted. The man most suited to one post occupies another. The gifts which he needs he often does not possess; those which he possesses he cannot exercise.
2. For the satisfaction of individuals. It is a sore grief to feel unfit for the work which we have to do; but it is a still sorer grief to be conscious of powers which have no field of exercise, while we see others in possession of the field without the powers. Individuals perhaps ought to be content if they can -perform satisfactorily the work that is set them. But minds of superior capacity are not, and never will be, thus satisfied. They want a congenial sphere, an occupation which would put their powers to the proof, a task which they would feel that they, and they alone, could perform properly. Hence, it is of great importance, for the contentation of those under their charge, that such as have the rule over men should both recognise the fact of "diversity of gifts," and seek to obtain a full knowledge of the special gifts of those to whose services they have to give employment.
3. For the general advance of God's kingdom. It is only by utilising to the utmost all the gifts possessed by members of the Church at any given time, that the Church can be brought into the highest possible state of efficiency. "Diversities of gifts" are a fact (1 Corinthians 12:4). "To one is given the word of wisdom; to another, the word of knowledge; to another, faith; to another, the gifts of healing; to another, the working of miracles; to another, prophecy; to another, discerning of spirits; to another, divers kinds of tongues; to another, the interpretation of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:8-11). Unless this be recognised, unless each gifted one is put to his proper use, there is a waste of power—an absolute loss to the Church—a stoppage of possibilities which might have occurred, had things been better ordered.
THE SAME SPIRIT. Different as are the duties of life, various as are the calls made upon the individuals who compose the Christian community—now for courage, now for counsel, now for governmental capacity, now for military skill, anon for earnest and prolonged prayer—there is, after all, but one spirit in which all have to act, as there is also but One Spirit from whom the power to act aright in all cases comes. The merchant in his trade, the soldier on the battle field, the minister in his parish, the man of learning in his study, all may and all ought to act in one and the same spirit, diligently, manfully, earnestly, striving to do their duty, under their various circumstances, in singleness of heart, as unto the Lord and not unto man. The true Christian temper is one and the same, whatever a man's occupation may be; and it is not very difficult to recognise in a Havelock or a Lawrence the identical tone and temper which we have admired in a Channing and a Wesley, a Pascal and a Fenelon. From One Spirit flow all the graces that adorn the Christian character; and the unity of the source is traceable in the graces themselves, which, amid all their diversity, have an element of likeness.
Exodus 17:14 16
God's mercies need memorial, and obtain it in several ways.
Deliverance from Amalek was a great and noticeable mercy. It was.
1. UNDESERVED, as the people had just been murmuring against God, and threatening to stone his prophet (Exodus 17:3-4).
2. TIMELY. Defeat, or even an indecisive success, would have brought upon the Israelites a host of enemies, under whose combined or continuous attacks they must have succumbed. The complete discomfiture of the powerful Amalek struck terror into the hearts of the neighbouring peoples, and induced them to leave Israel for nearly forty years unmolested.
3. WONDERFUL. Amalek was warlike, accustomed to contend with the great nation of the Egyptians; Israel had had all warlike aspirations checked and kept down by above 400 years of servitude and peace. Amalek was no doubt well armed; Israel can have possessed few weapons. Amalek knew the country, could seize the passes, and select a fitting moment for attack; to all Israel, except Moses and Aaron (Exodus 4:27), the country was strange, the passes unknown, and perhaps the very idea of their being attacked unforeseen and unexpected. The attack actually came close upon the great suffering from thirst, when Israel was "feeble" and "faint and weary" (Deuteronomy 25:18). So signal a mercy deserved special remembrance. Men soon forget the favours they receive at God's hands. That this favour might not be forgotten, God required two things:
1. That a record of it should be inserted in his book. There is no other memorial comparable with this, whether we consider the honour of it, since to obtain record there, an event must be indeed an important one; or the enduringness, since God's book will continue to the world's end; or the celebrity, since it is read by all nations. And God's special command for the insertion, stamps the event with an extra mark of dignity,
2. That it should be handed on traditionally to Joshua, and through him to others. Tradition is one of the modes by which God maintains the knowledge of his truth in the world, and is at no time wholly superseded by the written Word, since there are at all times persons in the world too young or too illiterate to have direct access to the Word, who must receive their religious instruction orally from teachers. Tradition alone would be a very unsafe guide; but tradition, checked by a book, is of no little value in enlarging the sphere of religious knowledge, and amplifying and rendering more intelligible the written record. To the two modes of securing continued remembrance of the defeat of Amalek required by God, Moses added a third—the erection of a material monument, to which he gave a commemorative name. Many victories have been thus commemorated, as those of Marathon, Blenheim, Trafalgar, Waterloo, etc.; but no erector of such a memorial has ever given to his work so noble and heart-stirring a name as Moses gave. "The Lord is my banner"—under no other standard will I serve or fight—no other leader will I acknowledge no other lord shall have dominion over me. "The Lord is my banner"—under this banner I engaged Amalek—he, and he alone, gave me the victory—through him, and him alone, do I look to discomfit my other enemies. Be the enemies material or spiritual, external or internal, to him only do I trust to sustain me against them. None other name is there under heaven, through whom salvation is to be obtained, the adversary baffled, Amalek put to confusion.
HOMILIES BY H. T. ROBJOHNS
Christ our Banner.
"Jehovah-Nissi." Exodus 17:15. Historical introduction: The Amalekites—their territory—reasons why they barred Israel's way.
2. Religious animosity—incidents of the engagement—the two memorials, book and altar—judgment pronounced on Amalek, and why—the slow execution through the centuries, ending in the final blotting out of the nation. "The counsel of the Lord standeth for ever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations." Show further that the rod of Hoses was in reality the banner of Israel; the pole of a banner without drapery, affording a rallying-point for Israel's armies, a memorial of past achievement, a force therefore, a guide, an appeal to heaven, an earnest of victory. By that banner Israel conquered. But again, as with the water and the rock we ascended to the First Cause of all refreshments, so here we ascend beyond the rod-banner to the Real Cause and Giver of all victory, i.e; to Jehovah, i.e; to Christ.
I. ALL IN THE WILDERNESS MUST FIGHT.—In the moral wilderness there are only two great hosts Amalek and Israel, pilgrims going to the heavenly country, and children of the desert that withstand their way.
1. Amalek cannot let Israel alone—if of the world we must fight—for there seems a certain constraint that will not permit us to leave the truth, Christ and God, without antagonism.
2. Israel will fight—dutifully—and inspired thereto.
II. PILGRIM WARRIORS MAY BE TAKEN AT A DISADVANTAGE. See Deuteronomy 25:18. The attack of Amalek was—
2. On an undefended rear.
3. On the faint.
4. On the demoralised by sin.
Trace the analogies in moral conflict.
III. OUR BANNER COMPENSATES FOR ALL DISADVANTAGE. Jehovah-Nissi—Christ our banner. See Isaiah 11:10-12; Romans 8:37; Revelation 12:11; Constantine's "In hoc signo." The banner Christ:—
1. Rallies to decision. Christ lifted up in the realms of thought, domestic life, business, social life, political life, men must take sides; must answer the question, What think ye of Christ? A Christ-side to every moral question. Reason why Christian men not always on the same side in reference to particular questions (e.g; abstinence) may be, because in actual conflict issues get confused. But wilful trimming not permissible. Nothing like the conduct of the Frenchman, who at the outbreak of the revolution wore both cockade and tricolour, one under one coat lappel, the other under the other. Rather should we be like Hedley Vicars, who, the morning after the great decision for God, unfurled his banner by laying an open Bible on his table for all his comrades to see.
2. Is a memorial of victories achieved. It was so with the rod of Moses (go over instances). So is it with regimental ensigns, inscribed oft with glorious names, e.g. Salamanca, Vittoria, etc. Picture the shot-rent, tattered banners, hung under vaulted roof, for a memorial. So Christ—he shines before us in the light of ten thousand victories—on "his head many crowns." Recall the history of t he Church, public and more private, its confessors and martyrs.
3. Is a force therefore (Revelation 12:11). The moral power for a regiment in the possession of its colours; its demoralisation when lost. Christ seen in the host. Illustration: Castor and Pollux at the battle of Lake Regillus.
4. Is direction in the fray. No man in a battle can see it, understand it. Leadership necessary by trumpet, by signal, by aide-de-camp, by banner. So was it here. Moses directed the battle by the standard in his hand. So Christ to every soldier-saint. We may not fight for our own hand, nor according to our own whims; but take direction from him.
5. Is appeal for heavenly help. That banner-pole of Moses was not only for encouragement and lead to Israel, but also was an appeal to God for that aid which ensures victory. So, wherever Christ is, the intercessor is. O. Is earnest of victory. Christ is a force that cannot fail (Romans 8:37).—R.
HOMILIES BY J. ORR
Various circumstances are to be noted in connection with this attack of Amalek on Israel.
1. It was unprovoked. "Then came Amalek" (Exodus 17:8).
2. It was unfriendly. The Amalekites were descended from a grandson of Esau, and so were related to the Israelites (Genesis 36:12).
3. It was bitterly hostile. This fierce and warlike tribe attacked Israel in the rear, and with great cruelty smote those who had fallen behind, whether from natural infirmity or from weariness and faintness in the march (Deuteronomy 25:18). This was a peculiarly malignant and vindictive act, and as perpetrated upon the people with whose well-being God had specially identified himself, was never to be forgotten. It was in truth one of those wrongs which burn themselves into the memory of a nation, and never can be forgotten. A special Nemesis waits on acts of flagrant inhumanity.
4. It was not without knowledge of the mighty works which God had wrought for Israel. We may be certain of that from what was said in Exodus 15:1-27. of the effects produced on the surrounding peoples by the deliverance of the Red Sea. The Amalekites knew that the children of Israel were the people of Jehovah. They knew what great things Jehovah had done for his nation. They probably shared in the fear which these wonders of Jehovah had inspired. Their hostility to Israel, indeed, may partly have sprung from this cause. The opportunity seemed given them of making a successful raid upon a people whom they both dreaded and despised, and they hastened to avail themselves of it. Knowing that the Israelites were inexperienced in war, and being themselves numerous and powerful, they may have counted on an easy victory, especially as the people were fatigued with marching and. encumbered with baggage, with women and children, and with the aged and infirm. It was a time well chosen for delivering an attack, and for inflicting a mortal injury on the advancing host.
5. It was the first attack of its kind. And this circumstance gives it a very special significance. It makes it typical. In the issue of the conflict with Amalek is to be seen the result of the whole conflict, prolonged down the ages, between the friends and the enemies of God, between the Church of living believers and the world that hates and seeks to destroy it, waging against it an incessant warfare. Consider—
I. THE BATTLE.
1. HOW fought. Observe
2. How won. First, as seen above, by dint of hard fighting, but second, and more specially, by Moses' intercessions. This portion of the narrative (Isaiah 55:10-12) is full of richest instruction. Observe—
3. Connection with previous miracle. Is it fanciful to trace in the boldness, valour, and spiritual confidence of the Israelites in this battle, some relation to the wonderful deliverance they have just experienced? It was "at Rephidim," the scene of the miraculous supply of water, that the attack of Amalek took place (verse 8). This water, in the first place, refreshed the Israelites physically, and so enabled them to fight; but we may believe that it had also a powerful, if temporary, effect upon their minds. It would banish doubt, restore trust, inspire enthusiasm. They drank of the brook by the way, and now lifted up the head (Psalms 110:7). Thus does God time his mercies to our trials, and make the one a preparation for the other.
II. THE RECORD IN THE BOOK (verse 14). This command to insert in "the book" an account of the battle with Amalek was connected:
1. With God's design to give his Church a Bible. A "book" is presupposed, in which, apparently, a journal was kept of the transactions of the march. Such a contemporary record was plainly necessary, if exact accounts of these mighty acts of God in the desert were to be preserved. In no other way could the knowledge of them have been handed down to posterity without distortion, mutilation and adulteration. And God was not giving these mighty revelations of himself, to waste them on the air of the wilderness, or to leave them to the risk of being mixed up with legendary matter of man's adding. This part of Israel's history was being shaped and guided with a view to the instruction of the Church to the end of time (1 Corinthians 10:6, 1 Corinthians 10:11); and it was requisite that a proper account should be kept of its memorable events. Hence the existence of "the book," out of the contents of which, we may believe, these narratives in the book of Exodus are principally compiled.
2. With a special significance attaching to this particular event. Amalek's attack on Israel was, as already observed, the first of its kind. "In Amalek the heathen world commenced that conflict with the people of God, which, while it aims at their destruction, can only be terminated by the complete annihilation of the ungodly powers of the world" (Keil). This explains the severe sentence pronounced upon the tribe, as also the weighty significance attached to this first defeat. It takes many types to set forth completely the many-sided enmity of the world to God and to his Church. Pharaoh was one type, Amalek is another. Pharaoh was more especially the type of the enmity of the world against the church, viewed as having escaped from its power. Amalek, as Edom afterwards, is peculiarly the type of vindictive hostility to the kingdom of God as such—of implacable hate. Between Amalek (spiritually) and the church, therefore, there can never be aught but warfare. "Because his hand is against the throne of the Lord" (marg.), therefore "the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (verse 16). In this first defeat we have the type of all.
III. JEHOVAH-NISSI. Moses reared an altar in commemoration of the victory, and inscribed upon it the name—"Jehovah-Nissi"—"Jehovah, my banner' (verse 15). This name inscribed upon the altar is at the same time a name of God. It extracts and generalises the principle involved in the victory over Amalek, as a former name, "Jehovah-jireh" (Genesis 22:14) extracted and generalised the principle involved in the interposition on Moriah; and as the words, "I am Jehovah that healeth them" (Exodus 15:26), extracted and generalised the principle involved in the miracle at Marah. The truth taught by the name is precious and consolatory. Jehovah is the Church's banner. His invisible presence goes with her in her conflicts. His help is certain. With him on her side, she is assured of victory. His name is her sure and all-sufficient trust. Learn
1. God's deeds reveal His name. The revelation of the Bible is a fact-revelation.
2. It is the Church's duty gratefully to remember the interpositions of God on her behalf.
3. It is her duty to seek to apprehend the principle of God's dealings with her, and to treasure up the knowledge for further use.—J.O.
Exodus 17:15,Exodus 17:16
The use of this name by the Church bespeaks—
1. Her militant condition. "The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.''
2. The side on which she fights—"My banner."
3. The name round which she rallies—"Jehovah." "One Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians 6:5).
4. The confidence by which she is inspired. The inscription on a banner frequently sets forth the ground of confidence. "God and my right."
5. The certainty she has of victory.—J.O.
HOMILIES BY G. A. GOODHART
Thou hast given a banner unto them that fear thee.
1. THE ATTACK BY AMALEK. It was cowardly, malicious, merciless (cf. Deuteronomy 25:17; 1 Samuel 15:2); not open, straightforward enmity; cutting off the feeble and the stragglers; a vulture-like hostility; a type and sample of diabolical hatred. Notice the parallel between Israel's position with regard to Amalek and our position with regard to Satan and his emissaries.
1. Israel was. passing through the wilderness. So God's people are passing through this world (Hebrews 11:14). The country through which the route lies is not claimed by those who use it.
2. Amalek considered the wilderness as their own. So Satan claims to be the prince of this world. In either case the authority is usurped.
3. Amalek took Israel at a disadvantage. No cause of enmity assigned, only apparently the right assumed for the stronger to prey upon the weaker. Satan, too, always endeavours to take us at a disadvantage. He did not attack Christ until "he was an hungered;" he attacks us, also, when we are weakest.
II. THE DEFENCE AND CONFLICT.—
1. A chosen captain. Joshua—"Jehovah is hell)." Perhaps name changed from Hoshea at this time; shows, at any rate, whence the leader derived his ability to lead. Our captain, "manifested to destroy the works of the devil." Had it not been for Satan's enmity, how should we have known the power of Christ?
2. Selected soldiers. Not all the people, but chosen from the people. All share the danger, but the defence may best be undertaken by a few, though, no doubt, these few are supported and encouraged by the general sympathy. In the war with Satan the brunt of the battle must fall on the selected soldiers—Christ chose apostles, and in every age the majority has been protected by representative champions. Satan must make more headway than he does, were it not that the weaker and more ignorant are sheltered from direct attack behind the bulwarks raised by the stronger and the wiser.
3. An uplifted banner. Usually the colours go before the army; here the banner—God's rod—is upheld upon the mountain—
1. This banner was a sign of God's helpful presence.
2. It was in full view of the fighters, and the fortune of the battle varied according as it was raised or lowered. Two things were necessary to ensure victory
(1) that the banner should be held up;
III. THE MEMORIAL.
1. A book. This victory a pledge of Amalek's final exter- ruination.
2. An altar. "Jehovah our Banner," sign of a continuous war to be ended only with the fulfilment of God's purpose.
In the fight with Satan our Lord's victory in the wilderness and on the cross, a pledge of final victory for all.
1. It is written in a book. Who has not read of it?
2. It is commemorated by a memorial, which all may see. "This do as a memorial of me." So long as there is evil in the world, so long there must be war. God's soldiers must fight from generation to generation until the final victory be achieved. What is the secret of their strength? The banner uplifted upon the mountain. The rod of God. "It is written." The prophet uprears it. Priest and noble, in so far as they fulfil their office, unite to support the prophet. The fighters h,ok up to the banner, and, encouraged by its steadfast maintenance, fight on till victory be secured.—G.
HOMILIES BY D. YOUNG
The discomfiture of Amalek in Rephidim.
I. AMALEK'S IGNORANCE OF THE RESOURCES OF ISRAEL. Amalek attacked Israel in Rephidim. Rephidim stands very well as the type of all places and positions where human resources appear utterly wanting. It was a place where no water could be found, and where of course there must also have been little growth. Everything therefore would lead Amalek to say, "We shall easily conquer these people, being but an undisciplined, unmanageable crowd." How should outsiders understand anything of the way in which the Lord had led Israel? To Israel itself, the way had been one which it -knew not; and to Amalek, able to judge only by first appearances it would seem the way of folly, rashness, and certain ruin. The Amalekites could very well see that there was no ordinary source of supplies open, and extraordinary sources were beyond their ken, beyond their powers of imagination. We shall do well to consider, before we oppose anything, what its resources are; apparent weakness may not only hide real strength, but may be almost the condition of it. We shall do well also to consider whether under erroneous notions of self-preservation, we may not often be found fighting against God. These Amalekites went out to war against Israel upon motives of self-interest. It seemed to them if they did not destroy Israel, Israel would destroy them. Yet if they had only inquired, if they had only asked the question how this great company had managed to get so far, they might have been spared all anxiety and the great destruction which came upon them. The wisest plan would have been to leave Israel alone and wait; then it would have been seen that Israel was not going to stop in that district.
II. THE WAY IN WHICH ISRAEL MEETS AMALEK.—
1. The spirit and conduct of Moses are to be considered. Hitherto in his difficulties he has cried to the Lord, not of course despairingly, but feeling deeply his need of Divine direction. Here however he is ready for action at once. No mention is made of recourse to God, from which we assume that the line of action was at once apparent to Moses. The promptitude of his action is indeed remarkable; and yet it is clear from the result that there was nothing presumptuous in it. Everything evidently accorded with the will and purpose of God. This was an occasion when Israel could do something, and they were bound to make the attempt. Moses was a man who appreciated the principle that God helps those who help themselves. When the people were entangled in the land by the lied Sea they could do nothing; when they came into the wilderness with its scarcity of food and drink, they could do nothing; they had simply to wait on God's provisions. But here where fighting men appear against them, and there is space and time for resistance, Moses rightly takes means to bring the strength of his people into operation.
2. The spirit and conduct of the people are also to be considered. Their faith, promptitude and composure are also very remarkable, more remarkable even than the like conduct on the part of Moses. Those who had been so long, and only so lately, unbelieving and unmanageable, all at once manifest a surprising readiness to meet the foe. Considering the way in which they had recently behaved, it is a marvellous thing that all was not thrown into panic and confusion, immediately on the appearance of Amalek. To what then can this composure and readiness be attributed? Evidently it was the effect—a temporary effect certainly, yet not insufficient for its purpose—of the gift of the manna and of the water in a dry and thirsty land. God took care that all troubles should not come on them at once. They were strong with a strength Amalek knew nothing of; and it was in the fresh consciousness of that strength that they made ready for the battle. We imagine that on this occasion, Joshua found abundance of volunteers, and that those who went out against Amalek were the very pick and pride of Israel's warriors.
III. THE WAY IN WHICH GOD SIGNIFIES HIMSELF TO BE THE CONTROLLER OF VICTORY. Moses knows right well that after all preparations, the victory must come from Jehovah. He sets the discriminating Joshua to lead a chosen and competent army against Amalek, as if everything depended upon them, and yet at the same time he remembers that God must be glorified in the very best of human preparations. God will have us to honour him by our very best, and yet our very best must be considered as no more than the humble channel of his power. We must not suppose, because it pleases God in his wisdom, to put the excellency of his treasure into earthen vessels, that we are at liberty to offer him anything which first comes to hand. And then Moses, having done his best in the choice of means, takes his conspicuous position on the hill, to cheer his fighting friends with the sight of the lifted rod. Through the lifting of that rod the energies of victory were to flow into the bodies of Israel's warriors. To Amalek the sight of Moses told nothing. They knew nothing of the significance of the rod, and may rather have wondered why he should stand so long in this position of constraint. But Israel, we cannot doubt, quickly discerned the significance of their leader's attitude and the close connection between the lifted hand and the progress towards victory. The lesson for us is the oft taught one, that while God would have us to labour strenuously and bear the heat and burden of the day in all the inevitable conflicts of life, we must do it with the remembrance that victory really comes from him. We are only strong, as Paul felt he was, by the strength which Christ puts into us.—Y.
HOMILIES BY J. URQUHART
Victory through faith.
I. IN THE WARFARE OF FAITH, PRAYER AND EFFORT MUST BE JOINED TOGETHER.
1. Arrangements are carefully made for both.
2. Joshua discomfited Amalek with the edge of the sword; but the battle was for or against Israel, as Moses' hands were lifted up in strong supplication or hung down in weariness.
II. AIDS TO PREVAILING PRAYER.
1. The remembrance of past deliverances and services. Moses takes the rod of God in his hand.
2. The union of many hearts: he sat on the hill-top in sight of Israel.
3. Friendly help in weakness. Aaron and Hur hold up the wearied hands.
III. IN THE VICTORY OF THE RIGHTEOUS, A YET FURTHER TRIUMPH IS PROMISED. The promise is recorded in the book that that against which they war shall be swept from under heaven.
IV. THE GRATITUDE OF THE REDEEMED IN THE HOUR OF TRIUMPH. The monument of victory is an altar and its name Jehovah-Nissi.—U.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Exodus 17". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany