Chapter 17

Submitted by admin on Sun, 2020-08-16 15:11.

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After leaving the wilderness of Sin in keeping with YHWH’s commandment, the Israelites arrived at Rephidim (Raphidin [LXX]). There is no certainty about where Rephidim was located. One common conjecture links the place to a site northwest of and comparatively near the traditional location of Mount Sinai. At Rephidim, the people found no water and began to quarrel with Moses, telling him that he should give them water to drink. He responded with the questions, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test YHWH?” The people were wrongfully testing YHWH, for their words challenged YHWH as if he were absent from them and could or would not provide for them what they needed. (17:1, 2)

Their grumbling against Moses reached the point where they accused him of leading them out of Egypt to kill them, their children, and their livestock with thirst. Moses felt seriously threatened and prayed to YHWH about what he should do, for the people were almost ready to stone him. YHWH (evidently his representative angel) told Moses to choose some of the elders of Israel to accompany him to the rock at Horeb (the mountainous area around Mount Sinai) and there, with the rod he had struck the Nile, to strike the rock. It appears that YHWH revealed that he would point out the particular rock, for he is quoted as saying, “Look, I will stand before you [literally, before your face] there.” The account does not, however, reveal whether the angel of YHWH stood at the location or whether the cloud moved to that location. When Moses struck the rock “before the eyes of the elders of Israel,” water in abundance gushed forth. (17:3-6)

Moses named the place, where water had been provided from the rock, Massah (Testing [also LXX]) and Meribah (Quarreling; Reviling [LXX]). They had put YHWH to the test when implying with their faithless complaint that he was not there for them, not providing them with water. They had challengingly questioned whether YHWH was among them or not. The people had also quarreled with or railed against Moses for leading them away from Egypt into a desert where they would die of thirst. (17:7)

At Rephidim, the Amalekites attacked the rear of the camp of Israel. Based on Genesis 36:15, 16, the Amalekites were the descendants of Eliphaz, the firstborn son of Jacob’s twin brother Esau. When they launched their unprovoked attack, the Israelites were in a weak (hungry or famished [LXX]) and weary state. (Deuteronomy 25:18) Moses directed Joshua to select men from among the people to fight against the Amalekites. According to Josephus, they had earlier collected weapons of the Egyptian military force that perished in the Red Sea (Antiquities, II, xvi, 6) and would have been in a position to engage in battle. Moses assured Joshua that he would stand on top of a hill in the area and hold the “rod of God in [his] hand.” (17:8, 9)

Joshua acted on Moses’s directive to fight against the Amalekites, and Moses, accompanied by his brother Aaron and by Hur, walked up to the “top of the hill.” With the rod in his hand pointing skyward, Moses was unable to keep his arm continually aloft. Apparently the lifted rod constituted an appeal to God to render aid to Joshua and the men under his command. It appears that the petition for God’s help required that the rod be steadily held aloft. Therefore, when Moses’ hands became weary, causing him to lower the rod, the Amalekites proved to be superior in their fight against Joshua and the men with him. Witnessing this development, Aaron and Hur found a stone on which Moses could sit. Then, with Aaron on one side of his brother and Hur on the other side, they held his hands steady until the sun set and the Amalekites were defeated. The role of Moses with the rod revealed that the victory had been attained with YHWH’s assistance. (17:10-13; see the Note section.)

In view of what the Amalekites did, Moses was to record, as a memorial or a reminder, YHWH’s judgment against them and to read it aloud to (literally, “in the ears of”) Joshua. The memory of Amalek was to be blotted out. Evidently in expression of thanksgiving for the victory over the Amalekites, Moses built an altar and called it YHWH-nissi (YHWH is my standard or banner, the One around whom the warriors assemble). In the Septuagint, the name of the altar is rendered “The Lord [is] my refuge [or, My Lord [is] a refuge].” (17:14, 15; see the Notes section.)

There is uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew noun kes in the words ascribed to Moses, “Hand upon the throne [kes] of Yah.” Numerous translations render kes as “banner.” Perhaps the words constitute a battle cry, possibly implying that the warriors should look to YHWH for help as if taking hold on his throne or as if assembling around him like a raised banner. That the Israelites would again fight against the Amalekites is evident from the words that YHWH would be at war “with Amalek from generation to generation.” According to the Septuagint, God would be fighting against Amalek with a “hidden hand,” perhaps indicating that the power at work against Amalek would be secret, not visible. (17:16; see the Notes section.)


Hur was probably the son of Caleb of the tribe of Judah and the grandfather of the expert craftsman Bezalel. (1 Chronicles 2:19, 20) Josephus wrote that Hur was the husband of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron. (Antiquities, III, ii, 4)

About the altar (17:15) Josephus (Antiquities, III, ii, 5) wrote, “Moses offered sacrifices of thanksgiving to God and built an altar.” Josephus identified God as the Lord who conquers or grants the victory.

Uncertainty about the significance of verse 16 has led to various renderings in modern translations. “‘Take up the banner of the LORD!’ The LORD has a war against Amalek through the ages.” (NAB, revised edition) “Hold high the banner of the LORD! The LORD will continue to fight against the Amalekites forever!”(TEV) “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.” (NIV) “They have raised their fist against the LORD’S throne, so now the LORD will be at war with Amalek generation after generation.” (NLT) “My oath upon it: the LORD is at war with Amalek generation after generation.” (REB) “Then Moses explained [the reason for the victory], ‘This is because I depended on the LORD. But in future generations, the LORD will have to fight the Amalekites again.’” (CEV)