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Exodus 17


Book of Exodus Chapter Seventeen
Commentary by Pastor Ron Beckham


The Lord Is My Banner

In Verse 1, the people of Israel are on the move again and complaining as usual. "Then 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." This was a people who grumbled and complained, much like people everywhere. How much complaining do we do, deep in our souls? Someplace down inside, we expect that God's role is to meet our every whim. Israel was moving again, but not by their own choice...God surrounded them with enemies and trouble...they had to follow Him or die. It's a model for us all—the troubles in our lives are intended to change us for the better—we are individually and collectively meant to become the faithful, mighty army of God, whether we are willing or not. His purposes are higher and more effective than ours.

Verse 2 reports, "Therefore 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?'" What if a group of people were to march up to you and demand, "Give us water that we may drink?" What will you do if something like it happens? It may not, although missionaries have had such concerns expressed to them through the centuries. This should make us wonder about our own demands of the people around us. They aren't God, anymore than we are, and all of us should take our complaints to the One who can really help—God Himself. In Verse 3, "But 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?'" We have a misplaced sense of justice, based on the assumption, "It's all about me." If something goes wrong, blame is assigned, and we think, only then will things be made right if it's not my fault. But God cries out, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay" (Romans 12:19), reasonably expecting that we will turn to HIM instead of maligning somebody else.

The people confronted Moses, as though he was the cause of their lack, and note that the concept, "God would never do such a thing," isn't always true. He was the One who led them to the place that lacked water and He has something much higher in store for us all. Their human leader, Moses, also saw the lack, but had a better solution—he prayed. In Verse 4, "So Moses cried out to the Lord, saying, 'What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.'" Notice the humanity of Moses: When he was cut, he bled; without water he was thirsty like everybody else; and in the face of an angry mob, he felt fear. But in that fear he "cried out to the Lord," as we should. And our prayers are always best when we look to the Lord and simply express the need: "What shall I do?"

In Verses 5-6, "Then 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. 6 Behold, 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." Now, you can take some kind of stick and hit rocks all day long, and we can agree it's unlikely that water will come out...but we're not dealing here with the physical properties of the universe or with human limitations...this is God, who can do—anything, and what He does is—wonderful. "Horeb," by the way, was another name for Mt. Sinai, helping us determine where they were at the moment.

In Verse 7, we find Moses' concern about the people he led, not only their attitude about Him, but about their lack of faith in the Lord who was their true Leader. "He 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?'" Have we, through attitude or words, conveyed the idea, the question to ourselves and others, "Is the Lord among us, or not?" Indeed He is among us, and He is Almighty God who expects that we will trust in Him. "Massah," by the way, translates as "tempted" or "tested," and "Meribah" meant "contention." Do we test the Lord with our words and attitudes?

Things may seem to get worse before they get better. That's the way it was for Israel as seen in Verse 8: "Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim." Israel didn't have to move in order to find trouble, for now the fierce Amalekites attacked. These were descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau, brother of Jacob, also known as Israel. They were inhabitants of the northeast Sinai Penninsula and the Negev Desert. Israel was in for a tough fight. In Verse 9, "So 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.'" Joshua, Moses' secretary and assistant, was now being trained for a future he did not know about: He would be the human ruler of Israel and its general, after Moses was gone. And Moses was modeling prayer for him.

Joshua was now functioning as a sub-general under the command of Moses, and he was under God. I like this young man. In Verse 10, even though he was human like the rest of us, "Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill." Moses, his brother Aaron, and another man named "Hur" made their way up a nearby hill. "Hur" meant "splendor" and in 1 Chronicles 2:18-20, we find he was of the tribe of Judah and a son of Caleb. They did not walk up the hill merely to watch the battle, but went there to pray, as we should pray also.

You can see the prayer of Moses inferred by Verses 11-12: "So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. 12 But 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." Hands being raised was a symbol of surrender then as it is now, and this was the surrender of Moses to God, placing the battle's outcome into His Almighty hands. The other men were supporting the prayer of Moses, which we should do for one another. And God eloquently answered his prayer, seen in Verse 13: "So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword." If you doubt prayer, you should prayerfully study these verses again. As Zechariah the prophet would observe, "...not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts" (Zechariah 4:6). The outcome would seem to belong to Joshua, but the victory in their lives and ours, always belongs to the Lord.

How many Amalekites have you met? Perhaps you've met one, but I doubt it, and I have never met or even heard about even one Amalekite in my long life. There may be blood descendants mixed in with other tribes, but as a nation, people and culture, they are gone. They don't know who they are and neither do we. And there is a reason as revealed in these verses: God made it so. He sustains Israel to this day and He destroyed the Amalekites. As it says in Verse 14, "Then 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.'" Not right away, but God would do it in His own time. Israel still stands...the strong Amalekites are no more.

We should express our love for the Lord in gratitude for everything we have, are, and can expect from Him. So in Verse 15, "Moses built an altar and named it The Lord is My Banner;" a phrase which was "Yahweh Nissi" in the Hebrew language. Most people respect the flag of their country, but this is more. Through God's grace, through faith in Him, we are citizens of a better place. Our earthly affiliations may be compelling, but they will pass away, and we should join the jubiliation, for, "the Lord is my Banner" and yours. "And he said (in Verse 16), 'The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.'" The Lord would fight against the Amalekites until they were gone, just as He will fight against the enemies of all His faithful ones. He loves us and He is God.

Father, in differing ways, life for us is one battle after another. You are our "Banner," the One who delivers us through our trust in the One who saves us. We confess our failures, our unbelief, and come to You in faith. Help us, Lord. Save us. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Ron Beckham, Pastor
Friday Study Ministries
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