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Bible Commentaries

The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Exodus 17

 

 


Verses 1-16

1. And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the Lord, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.

2. Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?

3. And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?

4. And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me (tumultuary, not legal stoning).

5. And the Lord said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.

6. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb (some particular rock in the Horeb range); and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

7. And he called the name of the place Massah (trial or temptation), and Meribah (chiding or quarrel), because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?

8. Then came Amalek (the first formal mention as a nation), and fought with Israel in Rephidim.

9. And Moses said unto Joshua (the first mention of Joshua , the tenth in descent from Joseph, probably forty-five years old), Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.

10. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses (upwards of eighty), Aaron (eighty-three), and Hur (the grandfather of Bezaleel, and not much younger than Moses or Aaron) went up to the top of the hill.

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

12. But Moses" hands were heavy; and they took a stone (only an eyewitness would have noted this), and put it under him, and he sat thereon and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

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

14. And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven (done finally and completely in the reign of Hezekiah, see 1 Chronicles 4:43).

15. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi (Jehovah, my banner).

16 For he said, Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation (because the hand of Amalek is against the throne of God, therefore the Lord hath war with Amalek from generation to generation).

Rephidim: Ancient and Modern

Exodus 17

Chapters like this enable us to see how far the race has advanced in a moral direction. How far have we travelled from Rephidim? This is more than a question in geography: it is a profound inquiry in morals. We are too apt to dismiss as ancient history terms which we consider to be merely local. The terms themselves may be strictly local and hardly worth remembering; but they may be associated with qualities, influences and ministries, which constitute an eternal presence in human life. The New Testament did not hesitate to make use of the history of the Old, and we are called upon in this matter to follow the example of Christ and to imitate that of the Apostles. They told us the meaning of the things which happened aforetime; and every teacher who would maintain a profound influence upon any age must see to it that he does not allow the unity of the ages to be broken, but rather insist upon their continuousness, their solidarity, and their unanimous meaning. The ages are one. If we ask how far have we advanced in a mechanical direction, it will be difficult to establish any link of union between our country to-day and five hundred years ago. Verily, we have travelled from ourselves innumerable thousands of miles in all matters of a merely mechanical nature. Our ancestors would not know us in these particulars. All things have been created anew. It would be impossible for us to go back upon the olden days. We should scorn their narrowness, wonder at their poverty, and hold in more or less gracious contempt the slowness, and the weariness, and the dull monotony of the old times of our forefathers. We rejoice in this progress; we mark it in a way that cannot be easily mistaken, and say that civilisation has expanded its influence and consolidated its empire. So be it. How far have we advanced in a literary direction? Again the progress has been almost immeasurable. In words, in pureness of literature, in daring boldness of conception, in loftiness of speculation, in splendour and vividness of diction and representation, we seem to have advanced almost incalculably from many of the old standards. So be it. In this respect there is in very deed what may be termed ancient history. We have almost a new English. We have been so complete in our criticism and progress as to have almost established a new alphabet of things. We rejoice in this, and call it progress, and boast of it with honest and legitimate triumph. But the preacher"s question is: How far have we advanced morally, spiritually, and in all the higher ranges and Diviner outlooks of our being? Here we seem to be still at Rephidim. Geographers say they cannot find out the exact locality. Verily, there need be no difficulty about the exact locality—it is just where we are. We carry the locality with us. Let men who like to search the sand, and turn over the stones, and compare ancient and modern geography, bewilder themselves in seeking for square feet and precise positions; we interpret the event by a broader law, and have no difficulty whatever in affirming that we carry Rephidim with us, and this day, four—five thousand years away in time from the place, we are standing in the very footprints of old Israel, and doing in all their broader meanings exactly the actions which old Israel performed. Unless we seize this idea of the Scriptures we shall separate ourselves very far indeed from their truest and deepest meanings. We must not allow little boundaries, and local names, and occult Hebraisms and Chaldaisms to come between us and the great unity of the human race. We must overleap these, or crush our way through them, and claim association with the central and abiding line which marks the development of human history and Divine purpose.

Why be so emphatic about our being at Rephidim? Because, first of all, I said that the people at Rephidim were tormented by a continual consciousness of necessity. How far have we got from necessity? Not one inch. Necessity has followed us all the time. It is awake in the morning before we open our eyes, and the last thing we see, before we close our vision in sleep, is the grim image of necessity. The people wanted bread a day or two ago—now they are consumed with thirst, and are chiding Moses and murmuring bitterly against him because of the want of water. If that is Song of Solomon , verily we are still at Rephidim. Every life knows the bite of necessity; every man represents the great void of need; every soul cries out in pain because there is wanting some completing favour, some culminating and all-contenting benediction. Here it is bread; there it is water; but everywhere a famine—a hungrier famine than the wolfs cry for food in many a case,—a famine of the soul, a spiritual destitution, a consciousness of a void which time cannot satisfy or space content. Why did they not find themselves water? Why did they not supply their own necessity? This is the mystery of human life: that we are not self-complete, but are debtors to nature. We must put out our hand and receive from another that which we daily need. Poor creatures!—yet so august in greatness. We are indebted to one another. We find a leader when we are in pain, sorrow and deep necessity. In the great round of daily occurrences we pay but small heed to him—he is there, or will soon be present, or where he is we hardly know and do not specially care; but let us become surrounded by danger, let us become conscious of some new necessity, let a sudden pain strike our life and torment our happiness, and up goes the cry, Where is Moses? Where is the leader? Where the priest who can pray? Where the man who is a host in himself? These are the hours in which we discover just what we are and just what we can do. Strange that men who cannot support the body without help have in some infatuated cases supposed that they could nurture the soul without assistance. God will have hold of us somewhere. If we do not give him the opportunity of laying hold of our consenting minds, and burning, loyal, devoutest love, he will get hold of our fleshly necessities, and we shall cry to him, whom we spiritually deny, when our tongue is athirst for water and our life is perishing for want of bread. Pray we must—a prayer of agony and hopefulness. Prayer in its deepest meaning—not in its formality, or as a matter of attitude, and posture, and mechanical expression—is a necessity of life, an instinct of the soul, and an aspiration that separates us from the base and makes us men We must advance from the lower to the higher. We have it before us as a certain and indisputable fact that for the support of the body we need external help: we need the whole ministry of kind and gracious nature. What wonder if in the education, and culture, and strengthening of the soul we need all heaven, with its infinite Trinity of Father, Song of Solomon , and Holy Ghost? Were we pressed to affirm that necessity it would be in strict consonance with all the other wants that follow and devour our wasting life.

Why be so emphatic about our still being at Rephidim? Because at Rephidim help was found in unexpected places and given in unexpected ways: "Thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink." Is that ancient history? It may be ancient, but it is very new—quite modern, young as the morning, present as our immediate consciousness and experience. We are always helped by unexpected people, in unexpected ways, and at unexpected places. God would appear to delight in baffling the ingenuity that would forecast the future with too exclusive a minuteness. God will not allow us to trifle with his prerogatives. He will find water where we should find none. The rock is not an inhospitable stone; it is a congealed fountain. Human necessity and Divine grace meet in sweet consent Have no fear then. I know that there is a rock immediately ahead of me; but God can melt it into a river. I know that there is a Red Sea just in front of me; but God can divide it and let me pass as through an iron gate. I am aware that Jordan"s water is rolling just a few paces ahead, and I may have to go so near it as to touch it; but the moment the foot of faith splashes in the waters of danger they must give way, for faith can never fail. Lord, increase our faith.

In the great encounters of life, either the spiritual or the material must give way, and God has never been stopped by that which is material and physical. Say that it is a work of imagination if you please, but as such it is done with infinite skill—a skill so infinite as to be more than human. God is never represented as being worsted, baffled, by any of the material which is built up into the house which we call his universe. "If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you." We die when our faith dies. Our power is not a power of genius, but an almightiness of belief. Nature is always equal to our physical necessities. God has put everything into nature which that other nature, called human, requires for its bodily sustentation. All food is in the kind earth. All medicine is in the garden. All healing is in the air which is blowing around us like a Divine benediction. The water is sometimes kept in the rock, and the bread is sometimes locked up in the cloud and allowed to drop down upon us like a very small coriander seed which we gather with wonder, and eat with an inquiry, saying, What is it? All help is near, if you did but understand it:—"there standeth One among you, whom ye know not; he it is." The unknown is sitting next to you. The tree you need for the cure of the bitter pool is bending over the very water that needs to be healed. We realise the nearness of food, the nearness of music, the nearness of the living air, the nearness of those elements which are essential to the upbuilding and maturity of our lower nature,—why do we not realise the nearness of the redeeming God—the immediate presence of him who says—"Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in"? In all other things we glory in the nearness of the remedy, in the close proximity of what we need: yet, when we come into spiritual inquiries, the soul says—"Why standest thou afar off, O God?" and the inquiry is rebuked by the infinitely tender gospel—"I am a God near at hand," saith the Lord, "and not a God afar off." A wonderful rock!—I cannot explain it; but rocks and more than rocks; rivers and more than water—the Lord hath turned every Nile into saving blood, every rock into living water, and he has interpreted the parable of nature into the great and saving gospel of love. Do you ask the meaning of the rock? The Apostle Paul shall give it:—"I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptised unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual meat; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ." Be it mine to belong to the school that sees great things in little ones, that sees the moulding hand of God in the dew-drop as well as in the infinite constellations which seem to crowd the very amplitude of infinity. The very hairs of your head are all numbered; and as for Song of Solomon -called small things, take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; it were better for that man that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depths of the sea, than that he should dispossess or offend one of God"s little ones. Look for great meanings. See in the dust the possibility of children being raised up unto Abraham. See in the temple stones possible voices of praise, if the natural worshippers should suddenly become dumb; and see in every rock not stone only, but an unhewn stairway up to the Jerusalem which is lighted by the Lamb.

Why be so emphatic about still being at Rephidim? Because peevish tempers were corrected by great duties in that ancient locality. So the providence of God continues to work in us. The children of Israel were peevishly sighing and crying for the old Egyptian life, longing for the fleshpots of Egypt, desiring to be back again where they had food enough, because even Egyptian slave-drivers were wise enough not to starve their beasts of burden. So Israel fell into fretfulness, and whining, and dissatisfaction, and rebellion. What did God do? He sent Amalek upon Israel. That is the function of war among the nations. It is no use reasoning with peevishness. It is time wasted to try to expostulate with any man who is in a whining mood of soul, displeased because of his bread, discontented because of the scarcity of water, making no allowance for the undulations of life,—reasoning, remonstrance, expostulation would be lost. What must be done? An enemy must be raised up to smite him with the sword. Then he will come into a new mood of mind, forget his littleness, and, springing forward to a realisation of his true power, he will lose in service the discontent which he contracted in unbelief.

What we want to-day is persecution. We do not want eloquence, criticism,—new learning, some new invention in theological confectionery that shall tempt appetites that have been sated; we want war—persecution—the enemy at the gate. Then we should begin to forgive one another, to pray for one another, to come more closely together at the altar and more near in that consent of soul which is blessed with insight into spiritual mysteries. We have lost in losing the enemy. The sting of Smithfield fire would correct our theology a good deal; the old gibbet would take the fretfulness out of our tone; the great earthquake rocking our cities would make us forget our animosities and unite us in bolder intercession. This is the meaning of your commercial depressions, of your mercantile losses, of your great and small afflictions in the family. This is the meaning of the little coffin in the upper chamber, of the father"s dead body being carried out to the churchyard. This the meaning of all the gloom, and cloud, and battle, and contest. We have been too peevish, wandering, discontented. We have been in need of knowing the true tragedy of life and of being whipped out of our peddling criticism, out of our mean and contemptible conceptions of God and his universe; and if we accept the Divine discipline in the right spirit, when that discipline has exhausted itself, each man will say for himself, "It was good for me that I was afflicted; before I was afflicted I went astray." "No chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." "My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience." When God sends the Amalekite upon you, it is that the enemy may teach what the friend has failed to convey.

A most beautiful picture:—the old men up the hill praying, Moses, and Aaron, and Hur—a man almost as mysterious in history as Melchisedek himself,—all the three men more than eighty years of age, away supplicating Heaven; the young men fighting as young men always should be, and the Lord watching. Now the Amalekite prevails—now Israel. How goes the fight? Watch the leader"s arms. They are up; then the banner is Israel"s that floats with triumph in the hot air;—the poor arms have fallen down, and Amalek springs towards the temporary victory It is a great parable; it is a most tender idyl. This scene is full of present mystery and present grace. Mock the suppliants if you will; but they are men who are engaged in the upper regions of the battle. They are not cowards who have fled from the fight, they are heroes who are standing at its front and have undertaken the responsibility of its success. Young men, go forth to the war. I am ashamed of the young man who stays at home and sates himself with debasing luxury, when there are great wars to be fought, great positions to be taken, mighty fortresses of evil to be overthrown. Awake! awake! put on thy strength, oh redeemed life, and carry the Lord"s banner away to the front and set it up in sign of victory.

Wondrous is one little line in the history:—"And thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go," and afterward Moses, having spoken to Joshua , said, "I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand." Never forget the old rod, the old book, the old truth;—the sword that cut off the head of Goliath—"Give me that," said David, "there is none like it." Thus God hides inspiration in things of apparently little value, and touches the imagination and the faith by books, ministries, churches, altars, which we thought had passed away into desuetude, perhaps oblivion. Your first prayer may help you to-day. The faith of your youth may be the only thing to win the battle which now challenges your strength. One little hour with the old, old book may be all you need to obtain the sufficiency of light which will drive away the cloud of mystery and bring in the heaven of explanation. Of ancient Rephidim we know nothing: the geographers and discoverers are still searching for it; but the modern Rephidim of conscious necessity, of finding help in unexpected places, of having peevish tempers corrected by great duties,—that Rephidim is our present environment. May we answer the call of God when challenged to battle with a heroism that cannot cringe and with a faith that can only satisfy itself with prayer.

 


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Bibliography Information
Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Exodus 17:4". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jpb/exodus-17.html. 1885-95.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 24th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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