Exodus 17 Explained – Verse by Verse Commentary

1 All the congregation of the people of Israel moved on from the wilderness of Sin by stages, according to the commandment of the Lord, and camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.
2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?”
3 But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
4 So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
5 And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass on before the people, taking with you some of the elders of Israel, and take in your hand the 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 shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
7 And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarreling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
8 Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.
9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”
10 So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
11 Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.
12 But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.
13 And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner,
16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”


The True Meaning of Exodus 17

The Book of Exodus, the second book of the Bible, was written by Moses, the great prophet and leader of the Israelites. This chapter provides a glimpse into the challenges faced by the Israelites as they journey through the wilderness towards the Promised Land as the narrative continues from the previous book of Genesis. The Israelites face a critical water shortage in Exodus 17, leading them to question God’s provision and Moses’ leadership. This episode highlights the ongoing tension between the people’s faith and their human frailty, a theme that echoes throughout the Exodus narrative. God’s miraculous intervention and Moses’ obedience shape the events that unfold, ultimately strengthening the Israelites’ trust in the divine plan as we delve into this chapter.

The events described in Exodus 17 are closely connected to the earlier account of the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt and their subsequent experiences in the wilderness, as recorded in the preceding chapters. This chapter also foreshadows the future battles the Israelites will face as they continue their journey towards the land that God has promised them, as seen in the encounter with the Amalekites.

Exodus 17:1-7

Several important sections can be observed in Exodus 17:1-7. The passage begins with the Israelites’ journey through the desert and their arrival at Rephidim, where there was no water for the people to drink. The people immediately quarreled with Moses and demanded water, accusing him of leading them to their deaths in the desert. This sets the stage for a test of faith and a demonstration of God’s provision.

The significance of the lack of water highlights the Israelites’ constant struggle with faith and obedience. Throughout their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land, the Israelites faced numerous challenges and turned to complaining and doubting God’s plan for them. This lack of trust is a recurring theme in the Israelites’ relationship with God, demonstrating the human tendency to forget past miracles and provisions when faced with difficulties.

Moses’ reaction to the people’s complaints is pivotal in this passage. Rather than responding in anger or frustration, he seeks guidance from the Lord. This underscores Moses’ role as a mediator between God and the Israelites, as he consistently intercedes on their behalf and follows God’s instructions. Moses’ humility and reliance on God’s wisdom serve as an example of leadership and faith for believers to emulate.

God’s response to Moses’ plea for help is to instruct him to strike a rock at Horeb, which results in water gushing out for the people to drink. This miraculous provision of water in the desert is a powerful demonstration of God’s faithfulness and provision. It serves as a reminder to the Israelites—and to readers of the Bible throughout history—that God is the ultimate source of sustenance and life, even in the most desolate of places.

The naming of the place as Massah and Meribah—meaning testing and quarreling—highlights the Israelites’ lack of faith and their tendency to challenge God’s presence and provision. This event becomes a significant marker in the Israelites’ journey, a reminder of their wavering faith and the consequences of disobedience. It also serves as a lesson for future generations about the importance of trusting in God’s promises and provision, even in the face of challenges.

This passage in Exodus 17 echoes similar incidents in the Israelites’ journey, where their lack of faith leads to testing and God’s intervention. It aligns with other stories in the Bible that emphasize the importance of obedience, trust, and reliance on God’s guidance. For instance, the Israelites’ grumbling and lack of faith are reminiscent of their earlier complaints in Exodus 16 about the lack of food in the wilderness, leading to God providing manna from heaven as sustenance. Exodus 17:1-7 serves as a powerful narrative of God’s faithfulness, the challenges of human faith, and the importance of obedience and trust in God’s provision. It highlights the role of leaders like Moses in interceding for the people and seeking God’s guidance in times of trial. This passage reminds readers of the timeless message of God’s sovereignty, provision, and the need for unwavering faith even in the midst of desert experiences in life.

Exodus 17:8-13

The Israelites were fighting against the Amalekites in Rephidim in Exodus 17:8-13. Moses told Joshua to choose men to go out and fight against the Amalekites while he, Aaron, and Hur went to the top of a hill. The Israelites prevailed as Moses held up his hands, but the Amalekites gained the upper hand whenever he lowered his hands. So, Aaron and Hur supported Moses by holding his hands up until sunset, and Joshua overwhelmed the Amalekite army with the sword.

This passage holds several key messages that are timeless and relevant even today. Firstly, the power of intercession and prayer is highlighted through the act of Moses lifting his hands. This symbolizes prayer and supplication to God for victory in battle. It shows that the outcome of the Israelites’ fight was directly linked to the posture of Moses’ hands, emphasizing the importance of seeking God’s help and intervention in the midst of battles we face in life.

Aaron and Hur’s role in supporting Moses by holding up his hands is significant as well. It demonstrates the importance of community and teamwork in overcoming challenges. Just as Aaron and Hur came alongside Moses to provide physical support, we are called to support and uplift one another in times of need, whether through prayer, encouragement, or practical assistance. This unity and cooperation among God’s people are essential for victory in spiritual battles, as echoed in Ecclesiastes 4:9-12.

Furthermore, Joshua’s leadership and military strategy exemplify the importance of both spiritual dependence and practical preparation in warfare. While Moses, Aaron, and Hur engaged in prayer and support, Joshua led the Israelite army with skill and strength. This duality of reliance on God’s power and the use of earthly means aligns with biblical principles seen throughout the Bible, including in the story of David and Goliath (1 Samuel 17) and the armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-18. Exodus 17:8-13 teaches us that victory in battles, whether physical or spiritual, requires a combination of prayer, community support, leadership, and strategic action. It underscores the importance of faith, unity, and perseverance in facing and overcoming the challenges that come our way. Just as Moses, Aaron, Hur, and Joshua worked together in harmony to secure victory for the Israelites, believers today are encouraged to stand together in faith and purpose, trusting in God’s strength and guidance to see us through every battle.

Exodus 17:14-16

The verse in Exodus 17:14-16 is broken down into several crucial sections.

Firstly, verse 14 states, “Then the Lord said to Moses, ‘Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the name of Amalek from under heaven.’” This section emphasizes the importance of remembering and recording the events that took place. God instructs Moses to write down what happened for future generations to learn from and remember. It also highlights the seriousness of God’s judgement on the Amalekites, indicating that their name will be blotted out entirely. This serves as a reminder of God’s sovereignty and justice. The mention of Joshua here is significant as it indicates the role he played in the battle against the Amalekites. Joshua, who would later succeed Moses and lead the Israelites into the Promised Land, was a key figure in this event, showcasing his leadership abilities and faith in God.

Moving on to verse 15, it reads, “Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner.” This act by Moses is symbolic and carries deep spiritual significance. Moses proclaims that it was God who gave them the victory over the Amalekites by building an altar and naming it “The Lord is my Banner.” The banner symbolizes God’s presence and protection over His people. This act of building an altar is reminiscent of other instances in the Bible where altars were built to commemorate significant encounters with God (e.g. Abraham in Genesis 22:14). It serves as a reminder that worship and gratitude should follow moments of victory and deliverance.

Lastly, in verse 16, it states, “He said, ‘Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.’” This verse illustrates the serious consequences of opposing God and His people. The act of the Amalekites attacking the Israelites was seen as an act of rebellion against God Himself. The mention of God being at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation signifies the ongoing spiritual battle between good and evil. This serves as a warning that those who stand against God will face His judgement, emphasizing the importance of obedience and faithfulness. Exodus 17:14-16 illustrates the themes of remembrance, worship, and the consequences of opposing God. It showcases the leadership of Moses and Joshua, the faithfulness of God in battle, and the importance of acknowledging God’s victory in our lives. This passage teaches us about obedience, spiritual warfare, and the necessity of recognizing God as the ultimate source of strength and protection.

After Exodus 17

The Israelites had faced many trials and tribulations on their journey through the wilderness. Yet, through it all, they had witnessed the power and provision of their God. They were about to witness another miraculous display of divine intervention as they stood before the rock at Horeb. Little did they know that this encounter would not only quench their thirst but also serve as a foreshadowing of the salvation that was to come.

The battle with the Amalekites had been won, but the war was far from over. The people of God would need to continue to rely on the strength and guidance of the Almighty if they were to reach the Promised Land. They knew that the road ahead would be filled with both challenges and blessings as they turned their eyes towards the horizon. But with the Lord as their shield and their fortress, they were confident that they would emerge victorious, for the battle belongs to the Lord.