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Moses 17 – Rafidim And No Water


Let us follow the pillar of cloud to its next destination. May the Holy Spirit enlighten our minds as we meditate on His loving way in which He treats stubborn sinners.

Exodus 17:1 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.

Between the Wilderness of Sin, where the fall of the manna began, and Rephidim, lay two camp sites, Dophkah and Alush (Num. 33:12, 13)

Rephidim, Wadi Feiran lies but a few hours’ march from Mt. Sinai. This fact favours its identification with Rephidim, since in several texts Mt. Horeb is used almost synonymously with Mt. Sinai (see Ex. 17:6; 33:6; Ps. 106:19; etc.).

On their way to their next destination, they must have praised God for miraculously supply them with food. What a delicious divine breakfast! Angels were responsible for this heavenly breakfast.

Every morning they went out to get their food for the long day ahead. I wish I could have been there to experience such a miracle.

By the way, the Manna is still there in the morning. Take time with God’s Word and pray, and you will have an exciting theological spiritual breakfast.

How did Israel react to the fact that they ran out of water? They called a prayer meeting and took the matter to the Lord.

“Dear heavenly Father, you have led us thus far, and we trust that You will supply our water need like you supplied our wants in the past. Amen.”

Verse 2 Why the people did chide (quarrelled) with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said to them, Why chide you with me? why do you tempt the LORD?

The children of Israel “tempted” God by trying His patience, and aroused His holy anger by their continued want of faith and gratitude. The entire history of their desert wandering is one of provocation. The long-suffering of God with such a people, who “tempted and provoked the most high God” (Ps. 78:56), is amazing.

They repeatedly “provoked him to anger with their inventions” Psalms 106:29, “murmured in their tents” verse 25, “provoked him at the sea” verse 7, and “tempted God in the desert” verse 14

Traveling in the late spring the people expected to find water in the valleys. This probably accounts for the fact that water was not taken in sufficient quantity. The dry river bed of the valley of Rephidim proved to be the cause of consternation more serious than any they had felt before.

Again they distrusted the providence of God. In their blindness and presumption the people came to Moses with the demand, “Give us water that we may drink.” But his patience failed not. “Why chide ye with me?” he said; “wherefore do ye tempt the Lord?”

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

For a short time the words of Moses seem to have calmed the people, but when their thirst became unbearable they returned to Moses, hot with anger. Again accusing him of having plotted their death (Exodus 14:11), they manifested a grievous lack of faith.

They cried in anger, “Wherefore is this, which thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?”

When they had been so abundantly supplied with food, they remembered with shame their unbelief and murmurings, and promised to trust the Lord in the future; but they soon forgot their promise, and failed at the first trial of their faith.

The pillar of cloud that was leading them seemed to veil a fearful mystery. And Moses–who was he? They questioned, and what could be his object in bringing them from Egypt?

Suspicion and distrust filled their hearts, and they boldly accused him of designing to kill them and their children by privations and hardships that he might enrich himself with their possessions. In the tumult of rage and indignation they were about to stone him.

Verse 4 And Moses cried to the LORD, saying, What shall I do to this people? They be almost ready to stone me.

What a serious rebellion! Do you think it’s time for the Lord to punish the mourners, the rebels, the unthankful ones?

Moses ever carried his difficulties to the Lord (see Ex. 15:25; 32:30; 33:8; Num. 11:2, 11; 12:13; 14:13–19; etc.). For his own part, Moses had learned implicit confidence in the One who had called him to be leader of His people, and whenever he reached the limit of human wisdom he found an ever ready Helper.

Have you discovered what Moses discovered about God? He is a very patient, extremely forgiving type of God. The situation must have been serious indeed, for Moses’ very life was in danger.

Stone me

The practice of stoning is first mentioned in Exodus 8:26. It was no doubt suggested by the abundance of available rocks.

Stoning was later practiced among the Greeks, in the time of the Persian wars (Herodotus ix. 5), and by some other peoples.

It was one of the easiest ways of killing a criminal without spilling his blood, and seemed especially suitable when the public was called upon to avenge a certain crime like blasphemy (Lev. 24:16) or idolatry (Deut. 13:10; 17:5–7).

Here at Rephidim, however, the occasion was one of mutiny, a spontaneous uprising to get rid of a hated leader, whom they held responsible for their unbearable suffering. Thirst can, of course, prove to be torture of the worst sort.

How did God save Moses from certain death?

Verse 5 And the LORD said to Moses, Go on before the people, and take with you of the elders of Israel; and your rod, with which you smote the river, take in your hand, and go.

Instead of commanding Moses to lift up his rod and call down some terrible plague, like those on Egypt, upon the leaders in this wicked murmuring, the Lord in His great mercy made the rod His instrument to work their deliverance.

How does the psalmist describe this miracle?

Psalm 78:15 He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths. He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.

Can you see the waters coming down like rivers?

Who stood beside Moses when he smote the rock? The Son of God who, veiled in the cloudy pillar, stood beside Moses, and caused the life-giving water to flow.

Not only Moses and the elders, but the entire congregation who stood at a distance, beheld the glory of the Lord; but had the cloud been removed, they would have been slain by the terrible brightness of Him who abode therein. {PP 298.2}

Verse 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall 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.

Verse 7 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?

“Temptation,” and “murmuring.” The unbelief manifested here would by these names long continue to remind Israel of the lesson God designed to teach them upon this occasion (Deut. 6:16; Ps. 78:20; 95:8; 105:41).

Verse 8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim

Where do the Amelikes come from? Amelek was a grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:12).

Separating themselves from their brethren at an early date, they seem to have become a leading tribe in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula.

Though a race kindred to Israel, they viewed with suspicion the occupation of their pastures by the Hebrews, and were bent upon their utter destruction

Beginning with this first encounter at Rephidim, a long and bitter feud developed between the two nations. A year later the Israelites were defeated by the Amalekites, who joined forces with the Canaanites at Kadesh-barnea (Num. 14:45).

During the period of the judges the Amalekites sought to subjugate Israel, but were defeated by the band of Gideon (Judges 6:33).

Saul and David also repeatedly defeated them (1 Sam. 14:48; 15:7; 27:8; 30:17, 18; 2 Sam. 8:12).

The last remnants of the nation were finally destroyed by the Simeonites during the reign of King Hezekiah (1 Chron. 4:41–43). (PP 300).

Fought with Israel.

Where did the battle begin? An attack upon those at the rear of the long Hebrew column, “even all that were feeble,” when they were “faint and weary” (Deut. 25:18). Why did God allow it?

Because of the murmuring of the Israelites. How did Moses handle this new crisis?

Verse 9 And Moses said to 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 my hand.

He directed Joshua to choose from the different tribes a body of soldiers. Moses would stand on an eminence nearby with the rod of God in his hand.

Accordingly the next day Joshua and his company attacked the foe, while Moses and Aaron and Hur were stationed on a hill overlooking the battlefield.

With arms outstretched toward heaven, and holding the rod of God in his right hand, Moses prayed for the success of the armies of Israel.

As the battle progressed, it was observed that so long as his hands were reaching upward, Israel prevailed, but when they were lowered, the enemy was victorious.

As Moses became weary, Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands until the going down of the sun, when the enemy was put to flight.
The successor of Moses and later leader of Israel here appears in the narrative for the first time.

Joshua, whose name means “Jehovah is salvation” or “Jehovah helps,” was a prince of the tribe of Ephraim who entered the personal service of Moses either before or soon after the battle with the Amalekites (see Num. 13:8; Ex. 24:13).

When chosen by Moses, his name was still Hoshea or Oshea, which means “salvation.” His more meaningful name, Jehoshua or Joshua, “Jehovah is salvation” or “Jehovah helps,” was given him by Moses upon a later occasion (Num. 13:8, 16).

The name Jesus is from the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew name Joshua (see Heb. 4:8).

The rod of God in mine hand.

While Moses sent his men into combat and did everything humanly possible to guarantee victory over the treacherous enemy, he demonstrated also his trust in God rather than in human strength (cf. Jer. 17:5).

Although he knew that victory comes from the Lord, this trust did not prevent him from putting forth every effort to protect the women and children, the aged and weak. Divine power is thus ever to be combined with human effort.

Verses 10,11 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.


Hur, who also held a prominent position (ch. 24:14), was a descendant of Judah through Caleb, the son of Hezron (1 Chron. 2:18–20). His grandson, Bezaleel, was architect of the tabernacle (Ex. 31:2).

According to one Jewish tradition he was the husband of Miriam, and according to another, her son.

Israel prevailed.

The lifting up of the hands has generally been regarded by ancient Jewish scholars, by the church Fathers, by the Reformers, and by many modern commentators as the sign or attitude of prayer.

Throughout Bible times the custom of lifting up one’s hands in prayer was observed by pious and earnest worshipers. He had transferred the command to Joshua (v. 9). He himself engaged in earnest prayer to God for help and victory. The question has been raised as to why Moses did not continue to pray even when his hands were weary.

Only those who have attempted to pray continuously for long periods of time know how difficult such a procedure is.

Perhaps when Moses dropped his hands because of fatigue, he rested also from the mental concentration necessary to prayer.

To impress upon Israel the importance of intercessory prayer, God permitted success and failure to alternate accordingly. At the same time God wished His people to learn that their success was to be found in cooperating with His chosen leaders.

Verse 12 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.

Teamwork prevailed. While Israel under Joshua’s command fought for its very existence down in the valley Moses’ two companions supported him. This support was not only physical but probably spiritual as well. They continued with him in intercession until final victory was gained, toward the close of the day.

In this experience lies a deep spiritual lesson for every Christian and for the church as a whole. From it we learn that prayer and supplication are essential to victories over our enemies.

So long as the hands are outstretched and the soul exerts itself in prayer, our spiritual adversaries will be beaten back.

When prayer is forgotten and one’s hold on God is loosened, spiritual foes will gain ground, with the result that eventually all connection with heaven may be severed.

On the other hand the church is assured of victory over all the powers of evil so long as its leaders are men of prayer, and so long as its members cooperate with those leaders, supporting them with their prayers and exemplary lives.

Verses 13-16 And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. And the LORD said to 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 Jehovahnissi: For he said, Because the LORD has sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.

Great spiritual excitement awaits us after the break. We will discover more about the writing that is mentioned and the book that would contain the information.

Once again the spade of the archaeologist confirms the authenticity of the inspired book, the Bible

Updated on 21st Mar 2022

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