Rephidim and Amalek: Exodus 17

Exodus 17  •  17 min. read  •  grade level: 8
Exodus 17
Once again the children of Israel move forward and meet with other difficulties. But “all these things happened unto them for ensamples” (1 Cor. 10:1111Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)) (types): “and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:1111Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come. (1 Corinthians 10:11)). There is, therefore, a special interest attaching to all their wilderness sorrows and experiences. “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. 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? 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? And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. 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. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb: and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us, or not?” (vss. 1-7)..
As in the case of the manna, so with the smitten rock, the people’s sin was the occasion for this display of power and grace. In Rephidim there was “no water for the people to drink.” And what did the people do? Were they not encouraged, by their past experiences of God’s faithfulness and tender care, to turn to Him in the confidence that He would interpose on their behalf? Were not the quails and the manna fresh in their recollection as the evidence of the all-sufficiency of Jehovah to meet their every need? Had they not learned that the Lord was their shepherd, and that therefore they should not want? All this, indeed, might have been expected; and, were we ignorant of the human heart, of the character of the flesh, it might have been expected as the natural results of what they had seen of the wonderful works of the Lord. But so far from this being the case, they chode with Moses, and said, “Give us water that we may drink” (vs. 2). In their sinful murmurings and unbelief, they looked upon Moses as the author of all their misery, and were almost ready to kill him in their anger.
An observation or two may be made upon the character of their sin, before the gracious provision accorded to their need is considered. The people chode with Moses; but in reality, as Moses said, they tempted the Lord (vs. 2); saying, by their acts, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” (vs. 7).. Moses was their appointed leader, and was, therefore, for the people Jehovah’s representative. To chide with him was thus to chide with the Lord; and to complain of their privations was in fact to doubt, if not to deny, the Lord’s presence. For had they believed that He was among them, every murmur would have been hushed, and they would have rested in the assurance that He who had brought them out of Egypt, parted for them the waters of the Red Sea, delivered them from the hand of Pharaoh, and guided them in all their journeys by the pillar of fire by night, and the pillar of cloud by day, would in His own time hear their cry, and supply their need. It shows the very solemn nature of the sin of murmuring and complaints, because of the trials of the wilderness, and teaches us, at the same time, that the essence of all such is doubting whether the Lord is with us. Hence the antidote to all such tendencies, to these common snares of Satan, by which he so often entangles the feet of the Lord’s people, and robs them of their peace and joy, even when he does not compass their fall, is a firm, unwavering hold upon the truth that the Lord is among us, that He leads His people like a flock through every stage of their wilderness journey. How beautiful, in contrast with the conduct of Israel, is the perfect attitude of our blessed Lord. When tempted by Satan in the wilderness, He in immovable dependence, repelled his every suggestion with the simple word of God.
Moses cried unto the Lord, and the Lord heard his prayer, and, spite of the people’s sin, “He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. For He remembered His holy promise, and Abraham His servant” (Psa. 105:41-4241He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. 42For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant. (Psalm 105:41‑42)) (Psa. 105:41-4241He opened the rock, and the waters gushed out; they ran in the dry places like a river. 42For he remembered his holy promise, and Abraham his servant. (Psalm 105:41‑42)). Thus grace still prevailed, and satisfied the needs of the people. But it is in the typical instruction of this incident that the chief interest lies. Even as the manna, the rock also speaks of Christ. Paul thus says, “They drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:44And 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)). But the Rock was smitten before the waters flowed. Moses was directed to take the rod—the rod wherewith he had smitten the river—and there with Jehovah standing before him on the rock in Horeb, he was to “smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink” (vs. 6). The rod has been explained to mean a symbol of God’s power, and in smiting it will therefore set forth the exercise of His judicial power. We behold then, in this smiting of the rock, the stroke of His judgment falling upon Christ on the cross. The smitten rock is a crucified Christ. It was the people’s sin, remark, that led to the smiting of the rock—a striking exemplification of the truth that “He was wounded for our trangressions, He was bruised for our iniquities.” Surely this is a sight both for sinners and saints. Sinners may behold Christ on the cross bearing the judgment of sin, and learn, if they will but ponder it, what sin is in the eyes of a holy God; and as they learn this lesson, let them also be warned of their coming doom if they continue in impenitence and unbelief. For if God spared not His own Son, when dealing with the question of sin, that Son, who was the delight of His heart, who was holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners, how can they expect to escape? Saints, moreover, cannot too often look back to the cross. And how will their hearts be touched, humbled, melted, as by grace they are enabled to say, “His own self bare our sins in His own body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:2424Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. (1 Peter 2:24)). Throughout eternity they will never forget that their sins necessitated that death; while they will never cease to remember that God was glorified by it in every attribute of His character, and hence that it is the everlasting and immutable foundation of all their blessing. It is indeed a most solemn, as well as precious, truth, that the Rock must needs be smitten before the people could drink. Inasmuch as sin was in question—sin which had dishonored God before the whole universe—all that God was demanded it for His own glory; and inasmuch as the people would have perished without water, their needs demanded it that they might live. But God only could provide it, and hence in the directions to Moses another beauteous unfolding of the grace of His heart is exhibited.
The Rock was smitten, and “the waters gushed out” (Psa. 78:2020Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people? (Psalm 78:20)). Not before—this was impossible; for because of sin God was, as it were, restrained. His mercies and compassions, His grace and His love, were pent up within Himself. But immediately that atonement was accomplished, whereby the claims of His holiness were forever satisfied, the floodgates of His heart were opened to pour forth streams of grace and life throughout the world. Hence we read in Matthew, that as soon as the Lord Jesus had yielded up the Spirit, “the veil of the temple was rent in twain, from the top to the bottom” (Matt. 27:5151And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; (Matthew 27:51)) (Matt. 27:50-5150Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost. 51And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent; (Matthew 27:50‑51)). God was now free in righteousness to come out in grace to a sinful world with offers of salvation, and man—the believer—was free to enter boldly into His immediate presence. The way had been revealed by which man could righteously stand before the full light of the holiness of the very throne of God.
The water which flowed from the Rock is an emblem of the Holy Spirit as the power of life. This is clear from the gospel of John. Our blessed Lord thus said to the woman of Samaria, “Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:1414But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14)). In John 7 He uses the same figure, and John adds, “This spake He of the Spirit, which they that believe on Him should receive: for the Holy Spirit was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:3939(But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.) (John 7:39)). Two things are indeed clear from this passage—first, that the “living water” is a type of the Holy Spirit; and secondly, that this “living water,” the Holy Spirit, could not be received until Jesus was glorified. In other words, the Rock must first be smitten, as already seen, before the waters could flow out to quench the thirst of men.
There is one lesson of great practical importance that cannot be overlooked. There is nothing that can satisfy the undying needs of man but the Holy Spirit as the power of life—everlasting life; and this blessing can only be received through a crucified and risen Christ. Hence He cried to the Jews, “If any man thirst, let him come unto Me, and drink” (John 7:3737In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. (John 7:37)). And the proclamation still goes forth, “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev. 22:1717And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that heareth say, Come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely. (Revelation 22:17)). May every one who reads these lines have this truth impressed upon his soul in the power of the Holy Spirit!
Thus the Lord met the murmurings of His people by grace, and gave them water to drink; but the names Massah and Meribah, given to the place—remained as the monument of their sin.
Immediately after the waters being fetched out of the rock comes conflict with Amalek. The connection of the incidents is most instructive as illustrating the ways and the truth of God. The manna is Christ come down from heaven, the smitten Rock is Christ crucified, the living water is an emblem of the Holy Spirit; and now together with the reception of the Spirit comes conflict. It must be so; for “the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: that ye should not do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:1717For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. (Galatians 5:17)). Hence the order of these typical events. What then, it may be inquired, is symbolized by Amalek? It is often stated that it is the flesh; but this is only part of the truth. As to Amalek, his real character is readily apprehended from his origin. (See Gen. 36:1212And Timna was concubine to Eliphaz Esau's son; and she bare to Eliphaz Amalek: these were the sons of Adah Esau's wife. (Genesis 36:12).) But the point to be discerned here is, that Amalek sets himself in open antagonism to the people of God, and seeks to hinder their progress, and even to destroy them from off the face of the earth. It is therefore the power of Satan—acting through the flesh it may be—that thus challenges the onward march of the children of Israel. And the subtlety of Satan in the time chosen for the attack is plainly apparent. It was just after the people had sinned, at a time, therefore, when an enemy might have supposed that they were under the displeasure of God. This is ever his method. But if God be for His people, He will suffer no foe to accomplish their destruction. The people indeed if left to themselves might easily have been scattered; but He who had brought them through the waters of the Red Sea will not now leave them to perish. The Lord was their banner, and thus their defense was sure. Let us then notice how the defeat of Amalek was accomplished.
“Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said unto Joshua, 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. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur, went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword” (vss. 8-13).
First, then, we find that Joshua, at the commandment of Moses, places himself at the head of chosen men for the battle. Joshua represents Christ, in the energy of the Spirit, leading His redeemed to the conflict. What a consolation! If Satan marshals his forces to assail the Lord’s people, Christ, on the other hand, leads out His chosen men to meet the foe. The battle therefore is the Lord’s. This is illustrated again and again throughout the history of Israel; and it is as true in principle of the conflicts of believers of this dispensation. This, if apprehended, would calm our minds in the presence of the sorest difficulties. It would help us to cease from man, and to count upon the Lord. It would enable us to estimate at their proper value the restless activity and the schemes of men, and to look for deliverance alone to the Lord as the Leader of His people. In a word, we should then remember that there can be no successful defense offered to our foes but in the power of the Spirit of God.
There is yet another thing. If Joshua leads his warriors in the plain, Moses—with Aaron and Hur—go up to the top of the hill; and the fight below depends upon the uplifting of the hands of Moses above. Moses, as thus seen, is a figure of Christ above in the value of His intercession. While He leads His people in the power of the Spirit below, He maintains their cause by His intercession in the presence of God; and secures for them mercy and grace for seasonable succor. They have therefore no strength for conflict apart from His priestly intercession; and the energy of the Spirit as leading them onward is in relation to this intercession. Paul indicates this truth when he says, “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword (or, we may add, Amalek)? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us” (Rom. 8:34-3634Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. 35Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. (Romans 8:34‑36)). The Lord Himself taught His disciples the connection between His work above, and the Spirit’s action in them below, when He said, “If I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you” (John 16:77Nevertheless I tell you the truth; It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. (John 16:7)). Hence, too, He terms the Holy Spirit “another Comforter” (John 14:1616And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; (John 14:16)); and the Apostle John applies to our blessed Lord the same title (that is, Advocate, but really the same word Paraclete; 1 John 2:11My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: (1 John 2:1)).
But no one man could be a perfect type of Christ. The hands of Moses were heavy, so that they were sustained by Aaron and Hur. This, however, only brings out more fully the truth of the intercession of Christ. Aaron, though not yet formally set apart, represents the priesthood, and Hur, if the significance of the name may guide us, typifies light or purity. Together therefore it will mean the priestly intercession of Christ maintained in holiness before God; and hence an intercession, since it is based upon all that Christ is and has done, which is ever effectual and prevailing. The lesson should be well observed. The battle below depended not upon the strength of the warriors, nor even upon the Holy Spirit, but upon the enduring and efficacious intercession of Christ. For when Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. Hence the necessity of dependence. Apart from it, we may be ready for the conflict; the cause may be a just one, but our failure will be sure and inevitable. But with it, having Christ on high on our behalf, and Christ in the energy of the Spirit as our Leader, “when the wicked, even our enemies and our foes, come against us, they will stumble and fall.” Then no foe can stand before the Lord’s people.
Amalek was thus discomfited with the edge of the sword. But such a victory—revelation of the source of their strength, and the unchanging character of the enemy—was not to be forgotten. It was to be recorded as a memorial.
“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. And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi: for he said, Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (vss. 14-16).
Two things were combined in this memorial—the record of their deliverance from Amalek, and the pledge of his final overthrow. Every display of the Lord’s power on behalf of His people bears this double character. If He step in and vindicate them from the assaults of their enemies, He, by that same act, assures them of His continual protection and care. Every interposition therefore of His between them and their foes should be rehearsed in their ears, and written on their hearts, both as the memorial of the past, and as the guarantee of His immutable defense. Hence when the Psalmist celebrates a past deliverance, he exclaims, “Though an host should encamp against, me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident” (Psa. 27:33Though an host should encamp against me, my heart shall not fear: though war should rise against me, in this will I be confident. (Psalm 27:3)). In the same confidence Moses built an altar. By it he gratefully owned the divine hand, as well as expressed that the praise of the victory belonged to the Lord. It is precisely here that so many fail. The Lord vouchsafes help and deliverance, but they forget to build their altars. Driven into the Lord’s presence in their straits, they too often neglect to praise Him when relieved from their pressure. Not so with Moses. By building the altar he declared before the whole of Israel, It is the Lord who has fought for us and secured the victory. This is proclaimed by the title he affixed to it—“The Lord our banner.” He therefore it was who led our hosts, and He it is who will lead our hosts; for His controversy with Amalek will never cease. As long as He has a people on the earth, so long will Satan seek to encompass their overthrow. We need to remember this, but with all the prospect it involves, our hearts will be confident, if we can but grasp in power the truth of Jehovah-nissi. The battle is the Lord’s, we fight under His colors, and hence—whatever the stubborn persistence of the foe—the victory is assured.