Exodus 17:1-17:16 Staff Strikes

Abstract: Who’s striking? Against whom? With what? Who gets the glory, and why? Click “Read More” for details.

Exodus 17:1-17:16

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.

Well, well. The food situation is now well in hand, but the lack of wells in the desert (midbar) leads (once again) to a water (mayim) shortage. Which (as might be expected) leads once again to strife (riyb):

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?

Moses apparently sees this as part of the same trial (nacah) that God took them through (or perhaps vice versa) earlier. But his thirsty (tsame’) countrymen (`am) are in no mood for theological introspection, preferring instead to lodge a complaint (luwn):

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?

Moses takes this pretty seriously — and to God:

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

God’s reply is rather interesting:

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.

I count three commands:
a) go (`abar)
b) take (laqach) elders (zaqen)
c) take your smiting (nakah) rod (matteh)

Always good to have a trusty staff at hand (yad) in times of conflict and rebellion. Especially when you’re out in front (paniym) and have to worry about arrows in the back! Fortunately Someone’s out in front of Moses:

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.

Interesting; it sounds like the elders may not have been there for moral support, but as witnesses (`ayin) — implying they were the ones complaining to Moses (albeit on behalf of the children 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?

Sigh. Will these trials ever end? Apparently not:

Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.

This appears to be the first armed conflict (lacham) by the Israelites; only the second in Scripture, if memory serves. While undoubtedly traumatic, I wonder if its almost a relief to Moses compared to the internecine strife he’d been facing. He seems ready with an immediate plan:

And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.

This is our first glimpse of Moses’ lieutenant Joshua (Y@howshuwa`). The offhand way Moses addresses him implies to me that they’d already been working together closely, albeit not in a military context. Joshua certainly gives quick proof of his trustworthiness (and courage):

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.

Though, it appears Joshua’s competence is not the prevailing (gabar) factor:

And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.

The correlation is so strong that Aaron and Hur (who also premiers in this passage) take extraordinary measures to support (tamak) Moses:

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.

Not to downplay the effectiveness of Joshua’s sword (chereb), of course:

And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

Funny how the roles play out. Joshua is on the leading edge (peh) — literally! But he only wins when supported spiritually by Moses. Yet Moses needs to be supported physically by Aaron and Hur. The moral seems to be both that we all need each other, and that the battle belongs to the LORD.

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.

It is hard for me to tell whether this memorial (zikrown) is partly intended to remind (suwm) Joshua of his victory, or just of God’s intent to strike out (machah machah) the painful memory (zeker) of the Amalekites. The latter certainly seems the primary emphasis:

And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi: For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn [that] the LORD [will have] war with Amalek from generation to generation.

The honoring of Yawheh as their banner (nicciy) seems to imply both a forward-looking call to arms, as well as backward-looking remembrance of how God fought for them. Sorta like a “Remember the Alamekites.”


Lord, I’d like to be a Joshua, fearlessly leading troops into battle; instead, I feel more like the elders, whining about the dryness of the desert I’m in. Lord, have mercy on me. Strike me with the staff of your Spirit, that I may pour forth the water of life to those around me. Help me to recognize the Amalekites that are attacking your stragglers, and grant me a sharp sword to fight them. Grant me the humility to support the leaders you have chosen, in their exhausting back-room struggles for Your people. Help me to remember both the victory you have given, and the one you will give. But let me never forget to fight today’s battle. Amen.

About the Title:

“Strike” is a versatile term that can be variously applied to combat, baseball, or labor disputes, among many other things.