Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Exodus 17

By Joseph Benson


Verse 1
Exodus 17:1. The children of Israel journeyed — By divers stations, recorded Numbers 33:12-13, but here omitted, because nothing extraordinary happened in them. According to the commandment of the Lord — Signified either by word, or by the motion or rest of the pillar of cloud and fire. Although led by this, they came to a place where there was no water for them to drink — We may be in the way of our duty and yet meet with troubles, which Providence brings us into for the trial of our faith.

Verse 2
Exodus 17:2. Wherefore do ye tempt the Lord? — By distrusting his power, providence, and faithfulness, upon such a small occasion; by refusing to submit to his will, and to wait upon him in humble fervent prayer for relief; and instead thereof quarrelling with me, as if it were my fault that you want water, and by murmuring against God under my name.

Verse 5-6
Exodus 17:5-6. Go before the people — Though they spoke of stoning him. He must take his rod with him, not to summon some plague to chastise them, but to fetch water for their supply. O the wonderful patience and forbearance of God toward provoking sinners! He maintains those that are at war with him, and reaches out the hand of his bounty to those that lift up the heel against him. If God had only showed Moses a fountain of water in the wilderness, as he did to Hagar, not far from hence, (Genesis 21:19,) that had been a great favour; but that he might show his power as well as his pity, and make it a miracle of mercy, he gave them water out of a rock. He directed Moses whither to go, appointed him to take of the elders of Israel with him, to be witnesses of what was done, ordered him to smite the rock, which he did, and immediately water came out of it in great abundance, which ran throughout the camp in streams and rivers, Psalms 78:15-16. God showed his care of his people in giving them water when they wanted it; his own power in fetching it out of a rock, and put an honour upon Moses in appointing the water to flow out upon his smiting of the rock. This fair water that came out of the rock is called honey and oil, (Deuteronomy 32:13,) because the people’s thirst made it doubly pleasant; coming when they were in extreme want. It is probable that the people digged canals for the conveyance of it, and pools for the reception of it. Let this direct us to live in a dependance, 1st, Upon God’s providence, even in the greatest straits and difficulties; and, 2d, Upon Christ’s grace; that rock was Christ, 1 Corinthians 10:4. The graces and comforts of the Spirit are compared to rivers of living waters, John 7:38-39; John 4:14. These flow from Christ. And nothing will supply the needs and satisfy the desires of a soul but water out of this rock. A new name was, upon this occasion, given to the place, preserving the remembrance of their murmuring; Massah — Temptation, because they tempted God; Meribah — Strife, because they chid with Moses. Several commentators have here quoted the following passage from Shaw’s Travels, as a wonderful confirmation of this great miracle: “Here (in the plain of Rephidim) we still see that extraordinary antiquity, the rock of Meribah, which hath continued down to this day, without the least injury from time or accident. It is a block of granite marble, about six yards square, lying tottering as it were, and loose in the middle of the valley, and seems to have formerly belonged to mount Sinai, which hangs in a variety of precipices all over this plain. The waters which gushed out, and the stream which followed, (Psalms 78:20,) have hollowed, across one corner of this rock, a channel about two inches deep and twenty wide, appearing to be incrustated all over, like the inside of a teakettle that had been long in use. Besides several mossy productions that are still preserved by the dew, we see all over the channel a great number of holes, some of them four or five inches deep, and one or two in diameter, the lively and demonstrative tokens of their having been formerly so many fountains. It likewise may be further observed, that art or chance could by no means be concerned in the contrivance; for every circumstance points out to us a miracle; and, in the same manner with the rent in the rock of mount Calvary, at Jerusalem, never fails to produce a religious surprise in all who see it. The Arabs, who were our guard, were ready to stone me for attempting to break off a corner of it.” — Shaw’s Travels, pp. 252, 253.

Verse 7
Exodus 17:7. Is the Lord among us or not? — To protect and provide for us according to his word; will he be as good as his word, or will he not? Words which implied that to them it was very doubtful. Against doubts of this kind we ought constantly to guard. For, whatever may be suggested to our minds by the enemy of our souls, we ought never to question whether God will be gracious to those that desire and endeavour to follow him in the ways of his appointment.

Verse 8
Exodus 17:8. Then came Amalek — When they were upon their march from Rephidim to Horeb, (Deuteronomy 25:17-18,) and fought with Israel — The Amalekites were the posterity of Esau, who hated Jacob because of the birthright and blessing. They did not boldly front them as a generous enemy, but, without any provocation given, basely fell upon their rear, and smote them that were faint and feeble.

Verse 9
Exodus 17:9. I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand — See how God qualifies his people for, and calls them to various services for the good of his church; Joshua fights, Moses prays, and both minister to Israel. This rod Moses held up, not so much to Israel, to animate them, as to God, by way of appeal to him. Is not the battle the Lord’s? Is not he able to help, and engaged to help? Witness this rod! Moses was not only a standard-bearer, but an intercessor, pleading with God for success and victory.

Verse 10-11
Exodus 17:10-11. Hur — A person of eminence, no doubt, but who he was is uncertain. Josephus, however, tells us, he was the husband of Miriam, Antiq., 50:3, chap. 2. And when Moses held up his hand in prayer (so the Chaldee explains it) Israel prevailed: but when he let down his hand from prayer Amalek prevailed — To convince Israel that the hand of Moses (with whom they had just now been chiding) contributed more to their safety than their own hands; the success rises and falls, as Moses lifts up or lets down his hand. The Church’s cause is ordinarily more or less successful, according as the Church’s friends are more or less fervent in prayer.

Verse 13-14
Exodus 17:13-14. Though God gave the victory, yet it is said Joshua discovered Amalek, because Joshua was a type of Christ, and of the same name, and in him it is that we are more than conquerors. The Lord said, Write this for a memorial — This is the first mention of writing we find in Scripture.

Verse 15
Exodus 17:15. And Moses built an altar, and called it Jehovah-nissi — The Lord is my banner. The presence and power of Jehovah was the banner under which they were listed, by which they were animated and kept together, and therefore which they erected in the day of their triumph. In the name of our God we must always lift up our banners: he that doth all the work should have all the praise.

Verse 16
Exodus 17:16. Because the Lord hath sworn, &c. — The original of this passage is variously rendered. There are two senses which appear most plausible. The one of them we have here in our text, the other in the margin. The words כי יד על כס יהchi jad gnall ches Jah, are literally, Because the hand upon the throne of Jah, Or Jehovah. The text considers it as an oath: Because he (Jehovah) hath lifted up his hand upon (that is, hath sworn by) his throne. So the Chaldee paraphrast. Others apply it to Moses: Because I have lifted up my hand, or sworn, by the throne of Jehovah. There is, however, no verb in the original answering to lifted up.

Therefore, some of the interpreters prefer the sense of the margin. Because the hand (the hand of Amalek) was against the throne of Jehovah, (the verb was being often understood,) therefore Jehovah will have war with Amalek, &c. — His hand is said to have been against the throne of Jehovah, because the throne of God was then among the Israelites, whose King he was in a peculiar manner; on which account Jerusalem is called his throne, Jeremiah 3:17.