For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2005 James Melough

17:1.  “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.”


For the spiritual significance of Sin see comments on 16:1.


According to Numbers 33:12-14 they camped at Dophkah and Alush before coming to Rephidim.


Rephidim means supports: shrinking of hands, the spiritual lesson being that one of the first lessons the sinner must learn is that man can do nothing to save himself: his salvation must come from God.  Literal water is a biblical type of the written Word, and there being no water at Rephidim is the symbolic declaration of the truth that man’s faith in his own works cuts him off from the salvation which God bestows in response to faith in Christ as Savior and Lord, as it is written, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast,” Ephesians 2:8-9.  There is no salvation apart from belief of the written Word which presents Him Who is the Living Word.


17:2.  “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?”


“chide” is also translated grumbled: growled and complained: found fault with: were angry with: were reviling: strove with: disputed with; and “tempt” is also rendered try His patience: put Yahweh to the proof: try: challenge.  We are guilty of all these offences when we complain against God’s ordering of our lives.  Sickness, death of a loved one, unemployment, persecution for righteousness’ sake, etc., and every other seeming tragedy or misfortune, are all the instruments God uses to strengthen our faith so that our eternal reward may be the greater.


17:3.  “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?”


How different was this from the singing with which they had celebrated their deliverance from Egyptian bondage as recorded in chapter 15!  How quickly they had forgotten God’s destruction of the Egyptians in the overwhelming returning waters of the Red Sea!  And yet must we not confess that countless times since our conversion we have also complained against His ordering of our lives, forgetting His assurance that, “.... all things (even the seeming misfortunes and tragedies) work together for good to those who love God....” Romans 8:28.


The enormity of their offence was that they were thus making God a liar, for He had promised that His purpose in bringing them out of Egypt was to give them the land of Canaan, a land flowing with milk and honey, as an inheritance.  When we are tempted to complain against His ordering of our lives we should remember that He is bringing us to an eternal inheritance in heaven.


17:4.  “And Moses cried unto the Lord, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.”


The extent of the people’s anger may be gauged by the fact that they were ready to kill Moses, but his wisdom is disclosed in that he took the problem to the Lord; and we would do well to follow his example relative to all our own perplexities.


17:5.  “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 (the Nile), take in thine hand, and go.”


It seems that God’s purpose in having Moses take with him the elders of Israel was that they might be witnesses of the miracle He was about to perform, just as they and all the people had been when He had turned the waters of the Nile to blood.  His rod, the symbol of his authority, is a type of the Scriptures which are our authority for our mode of living, our worship, and for the gospel we preach.


17:6.  “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.”


Horeb, meaning a waster, is a symbol of Calvary, for clearly the smitten rock is a type of Christ on the cross, “stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted,” Isaiah 53:4, when He took our sins upon Him, and died to expiate them, see also 1 Corinthians 10:4, “... for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ.”  The water from that smitten rock at Horeb represents the water of life made available to perishing men and women who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, see John 4:10-14, “Jesus answered and said unto her, If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldst have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water .... Whosoever drinketh of this water shall thirst again: but whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”


The performance of the miracle “in the sight of the elders of Israel,” was also fulfilled at Calvary, for the elders of Israel were among those who had not only condemned the Lord to death, but who stood around the cross taunting Him, and mocking His dying agony.


17:7.  “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?”


Massah means tempted: she fainted; and Meribah, strife.  The type, and the propriety of the names are readily apparent, for at Calvary Israel tempted the Lord; but spiritually she herself fainted as it were, for her unbelief cut her off from the blessing which is available only to faith; and relative to the meaning of Meribah strife, at Calvary Israel’s unbelief set her at strife with God.


Their question, “Is the Lord among us, or not?” declared not only the unbelief of that early generation: it foreshadowed also the unbelief of the later generation which also refused to believe, in spite of the miracles that confirmed the Lord’s claim that He was God “manifest in flesh,” 1 Timothy 3:16.


17:8.  “Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.”


See verse 1 for comments on Rephidim.  Amalek, means people of lapping (or licking up), and while the meaning of the name yields no clear spiritual lesson, the history of Amalek and his descendants leaves no doubt as to what he symbolizes.  He represents the will of the flesh, striving continuously against the spirit, and producing that unceasing warfare that will not end until our earthly course is finished.  He gave his name to his descendants, the Amalakites, the first people to attack Israel in the wilderness, causing God to declare "I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.... the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation," Exodus 17:14‑16­. 


In Genesis they are called the sons of Esau meaning shaggy: his doings, though they were, in fact, his grandsons.  Shaggy in the present context means hairy, and hairiness is always associated with the strength of the flesh: with what is natural rather than spiritual.  Note that Jacob, in contrast with his hairy brother Esau, “was a smooth man,” Genesis 27:11.  However diversified the line may become; however much the flesh may seek to obscure its origin, and disguise its true character, God reminds us that it never ceases to be like Esau in character.  The flesh is always the flesh no matter what disguise it may assume, and it is always the inveterate enemy of the Spirit, as it is written, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,” Galatians 5:17, lusteth here meaning to plan or plot against.  The flesh never ceases to plan and plot against the Spirit.                          


17:9.  “And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.”


This is the first mention of Joshua, meaning Jehovah is salvation.


Moses means drawing out (because he had been drawn out of the Nile); and Joshua is a clear type of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Captain of our salvation.  Moses’ command to Joshua to fight with Amalek reminds us of our unceasing warfare with the flesh, but assurance of victory in that conflict is given by Paul who has written, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” Philippians 4:13.  The command to Joshua to “choose us out men,” reminds us that each believer has been chosen by the Lord to be His soldier in the conflict with the powers of darkness, His command to us being recorded in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.”


In the present context Moses on the top of the hill, with the rod of God in his hand, is a type of the Lord Jesus Christ as our omnipotent Representative in heaven; and as noted already “the rod of God” is a type of the written Word.


17:10.  “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.”


Aaron means light-bringer; and Hur white, so that the three - the biblical number of resurrection - on the hill represent Christ drawn out of death in resurrection as was Moses typically when drawn out of the river; while Aaron portrays Him as the light of the world; and Hur, as the sinless One.  It is that same Christ “on top of the hill,” i.e., in heaven, Who guarantees us ultimate victory in our conflict with the world, the flesh, and the Devil.


17:11.  “And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.”


No such variation mars the advocacy of Christ.  As our Great High Priest in heaven His hands are never lowered.  It is our own inconstancy that brings our defeats.


17:12.  “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.”


Moses, great though he was, was still only a man, subject to all the frailty that marks every one of Adam’s sons; but our Advocate is the Lord of all creation, by whose word the worlds were created, and are upheld.  The victory wrought by means of Moses’ uplifted hands was but the foreshadowing of the infinitely greater victory won by the Lord Jesus Christ as He became our Substitute, and hung with outstretched arms on the cross to expiate our sins and deliver us from the power of death. 


The stone upon which Moses sat is a symbol of the Lord Jesus Christ as the great Rock upon which we rest, and upon which He is building His Church, see e.g., Matthew 16:18, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  The word used here for Peter is Petros, meaning a piece of rock, or a small stone; but the word for “this rock” is Petra, meaning a great rock, and the reference is clearly to Christ Himself.  It is He, not Peter, as claimed by Roman Catholicism, Who is the Foundation of the Church.  1 Corinthians 3:11 states clearly that Christ is the foundation of the Church, “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”


See also 1 Peter 2:6.  “Wherefore also it is contained in the scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded,” the quotation here being from Isaiah 28:16, “Therefore thus saith the Lord God, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation ....”  It is ridiculous to believe that the Lord would build His Church on the foundation of any mere man.  It is He Himself Who shed His precious blood which cleanses believers and makes them the living stones of which He builds His Church.  By no stretch of the imagination can this chief corner stone be Peter, for we are not commanded to believe on him, or any other man, but on Christ.


In this present context Aaron may also represent the Lord Jesus Christ as our Great High Priest; and Hur, the Holy Spirit, their ministry to Moses portraying the ministry of the Lord and of the Holy Spirit to believers today.


His hands being “steady until the going down of the sun” is the symbolic assurance that the Lord has promised to bring every believer safely home to heaven, and He will not fail in that great work, as it is written, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.  My Father who gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.  I and my Father are one,” John 10:27-30.


17:13.  “And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.”


“... discomfited” is also rendered laid low: defeated: overthrew: mowed down: routed.  This speaks of the Lord’s victory over Satan at Calvary, and is the assurance to us that the evil prince of darkness has no more power over us than what God permits. Satan’s testing of Job is a demonstration of the truth that that evil spirit cannnot go beyond the limits imposed by God, see Job 1:12, “And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand.”


Since the sword is a biblical symbol of the written Word, the lesson being taught in Joshua’s victory having been accomplished by means of the sword, is that the written Word is the spiritual sword by which we may defeat the evil power of the flesh, and of all the other agents Satan might employ against us.


17:14.  “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.”


As has been noted already, Joshua’s defeat of Amalek is a type of the Lord’s triumph over the world, the flesh, and the Devil, at Calvary, the Bible being the book in which His great victory has been recorded, not only for the instruction and encouragement of His people here on earth, but as an eternal monument to the greatest battle ever fought, and the most stupendous victory every won.


God’s promise to obliterate the remembrance of Amalek is also the assurance that He will remember no more all the evil produced in our lives by the activity of the flesh, He Himself having declared, “Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more,” Hebrwes 10:17.


17:15.  “And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi:”


Jehovah-nissi means the Lord is my standard: the Lord is my banner: the Lord is my refuge.


17:16.  “For he said, Because the Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”


Inasmuch as Amalek typifies the flesh as an instrument of Satan, this verse declares the Lord’s inveterate hatred of all that pertains to the flesh, of which Scripture has nothing good to say, e.g., the declaration of Paul in Romans 7:18, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing,” and again, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other ....” Galatians 5:17, and again, “Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God....” 1 Corinthians 15:50.


It is the wickedness of the flesh that requires a man to be born again spiritually if he would enter heaven, the Lord Himself declaring, “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God,” John 3:3, and again in verse 7, “Ye must be born again.”

[Exodus 18]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough