Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Exodus 17

This chapter reprises the faithlessness of the Israelites, they repeating at Rephidim the grumbling of Marah (Ex. 15).  They cannot even agree on the name of the place, calling it Massah (testing of God) and Meribah (contention). This time, the Lord quenches their thirst with a notable miracle, in which Moses strikes the rock with his staff.  In the New Testament, Jesus becomes the living rock, from which believers drink (John 7:37).

Yet before criticizing the Israelites too severely for their faithlessness, consider that they did not accuse God.  They accused Moses. He was the one who turned that criticism into an attack on God. 

The Israelites are immediately thereafter attacked by the Amalekites.  Matthew Henry says the Amalekites are the descendants of Esau, and that, like predators, they attacked the rear of the Israelite column.  The latter is not evident from the text.  The Israelites are saved only because Moses raises his hands to heaven.  Joshua may be a great general, but only because Aaron and Hur are able to support the arms of the elderly Moses until sunset do the Israelites win.  Moses erects an altar, calling it Jehovanissi (The Lord is my Banner). God promises to annihilate the Amalekites and tells Moses to write this down and make sure that Joshua hears it.  So, evidently, Joshua is not literate. 

Commentary apparently states that the winning of the battle is not miraculous(  The Israelites won when Moses' hands were raised because it set their minds on God.   This is not entirely persuasive, since one would imagine that the warriors would have their eyes elsewhere than on Moses.  What is certain is that the Israelites fight as free men fighting for their own families, not as the slaves of others. 

So, is there a connection between the faithlessness of the Israelites and the attack of the Amalekites? It's not clear.  What is clear is that God is systematically testing the Israelites with danger and discomfort, just as they are systematically testing Him with their doubt. 


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