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Water in the Rock Water From the Rock Other Trying Experiences in the Wilderness Water From the Rock The Water From the Rock
17:1-7 17:1-7 17:1-7 17:1-2a 17:1-7
Amalek Fought Victory Over the Amalekites War with the Amalekites A Battle Against the Amalekites
17:8-13 17:8-13 17:8-13 17:8-13 17:8-12a
17:14-16 17:14-16 17:14-16 17:14-16

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Bible Interpretation Seminar")

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.
  1. First paragraph
  2. Second paragraph
  3. Third paragraph
  4. Etc.


1Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. 2Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water that we may drink." And Moses said to them, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?" 3But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, "Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?" 4So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, "What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me." 5Then the Lord said to Moses, "Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink." And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the Lord, saying, "Is the Lord among us, or not?"


NASB, NRSV, NJB, JPSOA, REB  "by stages"
NKJV, LXX  "set out"
TEV  "moving from one place to another"
This word (BDB 652) literally means "pulling up" (i.e., tent pegs).

▣ "according to the command of the Lord" The stages of Israel's camp sites were directed by YHWH (cf. Num. 33:12-14) to test them (see SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD TESTS HIS PEOPLE (OT)) and strengthen their faith in Him.

▣ "Rephidim" This place (BDB 951) is unknown. It is also mentioned in Exod. 19:2; Num. 33:14-15.

▣ "there was no water" This was a recurrent problem. A similar event occurs in Num. 20:2-13, but was an act of disobedience on Moses' part (i.e., struck the rock out of frustration instead of obeying YHWH and speaking to it).
God's control of water was/is a significant issue for desert people. See SPECIAL TOPIC: WATERS.

17:2 "the people quarreled with Moses" This is also a recurrent pattern (i.e., Exod. 14:11-12; 16:2-3, etc.). Many commentators suppose that this is instigated by non-Israelite people who came out of Egypt with Israel (i.e., the mixed multitude, cf. Exodus 12:38; Numbers 11:4). However, the OT is a record of Israel's disobedience and rebellion. The real problem was Genesis 3 (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE FALL)!

▣ "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?" In reality the people were quarreling against YHWH and His promises of provision and care (cf. Exod. 16:7-8,12; Num. 14:27; 17:5). This is an example of "kill the messenger"!

17:3 This is very similar to Exod. 16:3.

17:4 Moses' frustration surfaces! Those he brought out of slavery now want to stone him (cf. Num. 14:10).
Note that Moses calls them "this people"!

17:5 "Pass before the people" This was a way to show Moses' leadership.

▣ "your staff" This shepherd's staff symbolized the power of YHWH in the hand of Moses (i.e., human instrumentality, cf. Exod. 3:7-10).

17:6 "I will stand before you" Apparently this refers to YHWH in the pillar of cloud.

▣ "the rock of Horeb" This mountain of revelation goes by two names.

  1. Horeb (Hebrew root)
  2. Sinai (non-Semitic root)
However, in this context it might not refer to Sinai (see SPECIAL TOPIC: THE LOCATION OF MT. SINAI) because Israel has not yet arrived there (there are two possible locations of Meribah: [1] near Sinai, cf. Exod. 19:1 or [2] near Kadesh, cf. Num. 20:13,14; Ezek. 48:28). Some rabbis and Paul thought this special rock, symbolizing God's provision (cf. Ps. 18:2), followed Israel throughout the wilderness wandering period (cf. 1 Cor. 10:4).

▣ "you shall strike the rock" The VERB (BDB 645, KB 697) is a Hiphil PERFECT with waw used in an IMPERATIVAL sense.

▣ "Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel" Moses acted publicly (cf. Exod. 17:5) so the tribal leaders could clearly see the power of YHWH. Moses' walking through the camp ahead of the elders was a way to publicly show his leadership to all Israelites.

17:7 "Massah" This is the Hebrew word for "test" (BDB 650 III, cf. Deut. 6:16; 9:22; 33:8; Ps. 95:8).

▣ "Meribah" This is the Hebrew word (BDB 937 II) which denotes "strife" (cf. Gen. 13:8; Num. 27:14).

8Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. 9So Moses said to Joshua, "Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand." 10Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. 12But Moses' hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. 13So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

17:8 "Amalek" This desert tribe came from Esau's line (cf. Gen. 36:11,12). They are linked to the area that later became Edom (cf. Gen. 36:15,16). They are known only from the OT. They were a fierce, nomadic tribe.
Israel had several encounters with this tribe.

  1. here
  2. Num. 14:43; 24:20
  3. Deut. 25:17-19
  4. Jdgs. 3:13: 5:14; 6:3,33; 7:12; 10:12; 12:15
  5. 1 Sam. 14:48; 15:6-8,15,18,20,32; 27:8; 28:18; 30:1,13,18
  6. 1 Chr. 4:41-43
For their cruelty to YHWH's covenant people, they would be destroyed completely (cf. INFINITIVE ABSOLUTE and IMPERFECT VERB, "utterly blot out," of Exod. 17:14, cf. Deut. 25:19). However, in Exod. 17:13 a Hebrew word is used that means "weakened" (BDB 325, KB 324, Qal IMPERFECT with waw) but does not denote the complete defeat mentioned in 1 Chr. 4:43 (alluded to in Exod. 17:14).

17:9 Moses issues three orders to Joshua (whose name means "the Lord saves" or "the Lord is salvation"; a VERB must be supplied; originally named Hoshea son of Nun, cf. Num. 13:16).

  1. choose men - BDB 103, KB 119, Qal IMPERATIVE
  2. go out - BDB 422, KB 425, Qal IMPERATIVE
  3. fight - BDB 535, KB 526, Niphal IMPERATIVE
Joshua was Moses' military commander and successor.

▣ "the staff of God" This symbolizes the power of God in the hand of Moses. See note at Exod. 17:5. Moses and the staff, not the Israeli soldiers, were the key to the battle.

17:10 "Hur" This man is mentioned only here and Exod. 24:14; 31:2, but was obviously well known. Jewish traditions say he was Miriam's husband.
This is another eyewitness detail.

17:11-12 This account is not meant to convey a powerless or weak YHWH (i.e., the staff) but the crucial role that Moses, their true God-called, God-equipped leader, played in their trek to Canaan and its defeat.

14Then the Lord said to Moses, "Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." 15Moses built an altar and named it The Lord is My Banner; 16and he said, "The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation."

17:14-16 YHWH wants a memorial both in a book and an altar (cf. Gen. 33:20; 35:7; Jos. 22:26-27), commemorating this victory over Amalek.
This is the first mention of a written record in the OT (cf. Exod. 24:4,7; 34:27,28; Num. 33:2; Deut. 31:9,22,24-26). For a good discussion on how oral cultures pass on their history and traditions, see John H. Walton and D. Brent Sandy, The Lost World of Scripture.

17:14 "book" This Hebrew term (BDB 706) can mean "document" (cf. Deut. 24:1,3), "book," or "scroll" (cf. Jos. 18:9). The NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 285, suggests another root (KB 767 II) meaning "bronze" and gives Job 19:23 and Isa. 30:8 as other possible places where it is used of another kind of writing material.

NASB  "The Lord is My Banner"
NKJV  "The - Lord - is - My - Banner"
NRSV  "The Lord is my banner"
TEV, REB  "The Lord is my Banner"
NJB  "Yahweh - Nissi"
JPSOA  "Adonai - Nissi"
LXX  "The Lord is a refuge"
This is one of several combination titles with YHWH and another NOUN. See SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY, D, #4.
The "banner" (BDB 651) refers to a "standard" or battle flag.

NASB, NKJV  "The Lord has sworn"
NRSV  "A hand upon the banner of the Lord"
TEV  "Hold high the banner of the Lord"
NJB  "Lay hold of Yahweh's banner!"
JPSOA  "Hand upon the throne of the Lord!"
REB, Peshitta  "My oath upon it"
LXX  "because by a secret hand"
The NRSV is closest to the MT. The UBS Text Project (p. 110) suggests "(for a hand) {has been raised} against the throne of the Lord." It gives "throne" a "B" rating (some doubt). It is difficult to know if the hand refers to
  1. an oath by YHWH (Targums, Rashi)
  2. an oath by Moses (NEB)
  3. a gesture of contempt by Amalek (AV margin)
Whatever this difficult phrase means, it was a way to affirm Moses' leadership and YHWH's kingship!
The Jewish Study Bible suggests several possible meanings (p. 343).
  1. "throne" (kes, BDB 490) may be textual corruption of "banner" (nes, BDB 651, i.e., battle standard)
  2. possibly an oath formula


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

  1. Is Rephidim close to Horeb or Kadesh? Why does this make a difference in how we understand "the Rock" of Exod. 17:6?
  2. How many different accounts of Israel's grumbling over no water to drink are recorded during the exodus and wilderness wanderings?
  3. Why did YHWH want to destroy Amalek?
  4. Who is Hur?
  5. How does one define "book" in an early context such as Exodus?
  6. Define the term "banner."

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