Exodus 17
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Israelites reach Rephidim. Water given to them at Massah. The victory over Amalek

1a (to Rephidim) has all the marks of P: the rest of the chapter belongs in the main to E (notice in particular the ‘rod’ in vv. 5, 9): but v. 3 reads like a doublet of v. 1b, 2a; and the double question in v. 2, the corresponding double name for the same place in v. 7, and the double explanation in the same verse, suggest somewhat strongly an amalgamation of two sources. It looks as if a Meribah-story from E—a doublet to J’s Meribah-story preserved fragmentarily in Numbers 20:1-13 (vv. 1b, 3a, 5)—had been here, on account of the similarity of motive, combined with a Massah-story from J.

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.
1a. the congregation] see on Exodus 12:3.

journeys] better, as marg., stages; lit. pluckings up, i.e. (see on Exodus 12:37) breakings up of camp. The same expression, Genesis 13:3, Numbers 10:12; Numbers 33:2. The stations between the wilderness of Sin and Rephidim, at which the Israelites thus halted, were, according to Numbers 33:12-14 (P), Dophḳah and Alush (both unidentified). ‘Journey’ (from journée) is probably used here in its old sense of a day’s travel.

according to the commandment (Heb. mouth) of Jehovah] A frequent expression in P: Numbers 3:16; Numbers 3:19; Numbers 3:51; Numbers 4:37; Numbers 4:41, &c.

Rephidim] Probably in the upper part of the broad and long Wâdy Feiran, the ‘finest valley in the Peninsula’ (Burckh.). As was mentioned on Exodus 16:1, W. Feiran could be reached from the plain el-Markhâ, either from the middle of the plain up the Seiḥ Sidreh on the E., or, 7 miles beyond the end of the plain, from the mouth of W. Feiran itself: the two routes converge at a point about 16 miles from the mouth of W. Feiran. The W. Feiran leads up Eastwards into the heart of the Peninsula. At about 30 miles from its mouth (see the Map), the traveller sees, 3 miles on his right, between W. ‘Ajeleh and W. ‘Aleyat, the lofty peaks of J. Serbâl; continuing up W. Feiran, he reaches, after 30, 37, or 41 miles, according to the route taken (see p. 182), J. Mûsâ. At the junction of W. ‘Aleyat with W. Feiran are ruins of the ancient episcopal town of Pharan, and of the churches and monasteries connected with it. For about 4 miles above these ruins there extends the oasis of W. Feiran, watered by a never-failing stream, in which the date palm is largely cultivated: Burckhardt (p. 602) says that the gardens and date plantations, nearly every one irrigated by its own well, extended uninterruptedly along the whole of the 4 miles: cucumbers, melons, gourds, also, as well as acacias, tamarisks, and other trees grew there (cf. Palmer, Desert of the Ex., pp. 154, 158, who describes this as the most fertile part of the Peninsula). The name Rephidim has not been preserved: but it is placed by Eusebius (Onom. 145. 25) near Pharan, and identified with it by Cosmas Indicopleustes, c. 535–40 a.d. (Rob. i. 126; Ordn. Surv. p. 199); and Antoninus (Itin. § 40), writing c. 570 a.d., states that a chapel was shewn there, the altar in which was supposed to stand upon the stones which supported Moses’ hands. This identification of Rephidim has been accepted by Lepsius, Ebers, and the members of the Ordnance Survey party (except the Rev. F. W. Holland), the Israelite encampment, it is supposed, having been, not as far up the valley as the oasis itself (in which water would hardly have been needed, v. 1b), but 3 or 4 miles below it, and the Amalekites having come down the valley to prevent the Israelites from gaining possession of the oasis (Major Palmer, Sinai,2 pp. 207 f., 86). A hill, on the N. edge of the Wâdy, about 720 feet high, called Jebel el-Taḥuneh (the ‘Mount of the Windmill’), covered with remains of chapels, cells, and tombs, has been suggested as the spot from which Moses viewed the battle (Ordn. Surv. p. 212; Prof. Palmer, Desert of the Ex. p. 162, with view, and map opposite p. 165; Major Palmer, Sinai, p. 138). (The Rev. F. W. Holland and Canon Cook (Speaker’s Comm. pp. 138–40) placed Rephidim some 27 miles beyond Feiran, at the narrow defile el-Waṭiyeh; and Keil placed it even beyond el-Waṭiyeh, at the point where W. Sheikh enters the plain er-Râḥah, just N. of J. Mûsâ.) Dillm. describes the different views that have been taken about the situation of Rephidim; but wisely makes no attempt to decide between them.

1b–7. Water given to the people from the rock in Horeb.

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?
2. Wherefore] the Heb. is simply And.

strove, i.e. disputed, expostulated. The word means properly to argue a case in a court of law; but it is often used more generally. Cf. as here, in the similar narrative, Numbers 20:3; Numbers 20:13; also Genesis 26:20-22; Genesis 31:36 (‘chode’), Jdg 11:25. (Not the word so rendered in Exodus 2:13, Exodus 21:22, which means to quarrel or fight.)

why [as just before] do ye put Jehovah to the proof?] by doubting, viz. (v. 7) whether He is really in your midst (cf. Numbers 11:20; Numbers 14:14), and able to supply your needs. Tempt is a misleading rendering: for to ‘tempt,’ in modern English, has acquired the sense of provoking or enticing a person in order that he may act in a particular way: whereas the Heb. nissâh is a neutral word, and means to test or prove a person to see whether he will act in a particular way (Exodus 16:4), or whether the character he bears is well established (1 Kings 10:1). God thus ‘proves’ a person, or puts him to the test, when He subjects him to a trial, to ascertain what his character is, or whether his loyalty to Him is sincere (Exodus 16:4, Deuteronomy 8:2; Deuteronomy 13:3; cf. Genesis 22:1, Exodus 15:25; Exodus 20:20 : so the ‘temptations’ of Deuteronomy 4:34; Deuteronomy 7:19; Deuteronomy 29:3 are really trials, or provings, of Pharaoh’s disposition and purpose); and men test or ‘prove’ God when they act as if questioning, and so challenging Him to give proof of, His word, or promise, or ability to help; so here and v. 7 (cf. Deuteronomy 6:16, Psalm 95:9), Numbers 14:22, Psalm 78:18 (see v. 19 f.), Psalm 78:41; Psa 78:56, Psalm 106:14, cf. Isaiah 7:12 : in all these passages ‘tempt’ obscures the meaning.

If the analysis of the ch., adopted above, is correct, this clause will have stood originally after v. 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?
3. murmured] see on Exodus 15:24.

Wherefore, &c.] cf. Numbers 20:4-5; also Exodus 14:11 f., Exodus 16:3.

brought us up] into the high ground of the Sin. Peninsula.

us, &c.] Heb. me, and my children, and my cattle,—the first pers. sing denoting the people. So Numbers 20:19 al.

And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.
4. cried unto Jehovah] Exodus 14:15, Exodus 15:25.

to stone me] Cf. 1 Samuel 30:6.

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.
5. the elders] to witness what takes place, and be able to certify it to the people.

thy rod, &c.] see Exodus 7:17 b, 20b.

the river] the Nile: see on Exodus 1:22.

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.
6. stand before thee] be present with My omnipotence (Di.): a fine and striking anthropomorphism.

the rock] Not a particular rock, but the rocky mass in general (cf. Exodus 33:21-22).

in Horeb] The statement occasions great difficulty,—at least for those who place Rephidim in W. Feiran, and identify Sinai (substantially = Horeb) with J. Mûsâ, by the shortest route 24 miles (see above) beyond W. Feiran. If Sinai were J. Serbâl, the mountain above W. Feiran, on the S., there would be no difficulty; nor would there be any, if Sinai were J. Mûsâ, and Rephidim were where Keil places it, at the SE. entrance to the plain er-Râḥah, just N. of J. Mûsâ. ‘Horeb,’ however, is equally with ‘Sinai’ the scene of the lawgiving (see Deuteronomy 4:15); so, even though (see on Exodus 3:1) it may have been a somewhat wider term than ‘Sinai,’ it is scarcely likely that it will have included territory separated from it by a rough mountainous country, and only to be reached by a mountain valley at least 24 miles long. If, therefore, Rephidim is rightly placed in W. Feiran, and J. Mûsâ is rightly identified with Sinai, the most natural supposition is that the author wrote without an accurate knowledge of the topography, and did not realize how far ‘Horeb’ was from ‘Rephidim.’ It is, however, a question whether ch. 17–18 did not originally stand at a later point of the narrative, after ch. 34 (cf. p. 162), in which case Rephidim might be near ‘Horeb.’

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?
7. Massah] i.e. ‘Proving,’ from nissâh, to ‘prove,’ v. 2.

Meribah] i.e. ‘Strife’ (Genesis 13:8), from rîb, to ‘strive,’ v. 2. In Numbers 20:1-13 (J and P) there is a similar account, which reads like a variant tradition, of water produced by Moses from a rock (séla‘, not ṣûr as here) at Kadesh (‘Ain Ḳadish, 50 miles S. of Beersheba), the spring being afterwards called, from the fact that the Israelites ‘strove’ there with Jehovah, the ‘waters of Meribah’ (vv. 3, 13 al.), or ‘of Meribath-Kadesh’ (Numbers 27:14, Ezekiel 48:28 al.). It is strange in the present narrative that one place should receive two names; it is doubtless due, as suggested above, to the combination of two narratives. Massah is mentioned besides in Deuteronomy 6:16; Deuteronomy 9:22; Deuteronomy 33:8 ("" ‘the waters of Meribah,’ Numbers 20.), Psalm 95:8 ("" ‘Meribah’).

tempted the Lord] put Jehovah to the proof: see on v. 2.

Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
8. Then] Heb. And (Amalek came &c.). The immediate sequence expressed by Then is not necessarily implied in the Heb.

fought with Israel] In Deuteronomy 25:18 it is said in particular that Amalek ‘met Israel in the way,’ and ‘cut off at the rear (lit. tailed) in thee all that were fagged behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary,’ exhausted by heat or other accident of the journey.

8–16. The victory over the Amalekites. The Amalekites were what we should call a nomad Bedawi tribe, who are spoken of as having their home in the desert S. of Palestine: in the ‘Negeb,’ or ‘South,’ of Judah, Numbers 13:29; Numbers 14:25; Numbers 14:43; Numbers 14:45, about Kadesh Genesis 14:7, and in the same neighbourhood in 1 Samuel 15:7; 1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:1 : they corresponded in fact very much to the Azâzimeh tribe, who now inhabit a large part of the elevated limestone plateau, called the Tih, between the mountains of the Sinaitic Peninsula and the Mediterranean Sea. Their appearance here in the Sinaitic Peninsula is not a substantial difficulty: as Di. remarks, ‘a branch of them may have been settled in or about the oasis in W. Feiran (Leps., Ebers); or they may in May or June have led their flocks up into the cooler and fresher pastures in the mountains (Kn. Ke.); or they may even have made a raid against Israel from their homes on the Tih (Bunsen)’: whichever supposition is the correct one, ‘it was natural enough that the nomads, who lived on the scanty products of this region, should do their utmost to expel the intruders. That the narrative, in spite of its legendary features, has a historical foundation, cannot be doubted’ (Nöldeke, EB. i. 128).

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.
9. Joshua] mentioned here for the first time. Afterwards he appears frequently in the Pent. as Moses’ attendant, Exodus 24:13, Exodus 32:17, Exodus 33:11, Numbers 11:28, and elsewhere. According to P, he only received the name of Joshua at Kadesh, Numbers 13:8; Numbers 13:16, having been till then called Hoshea.

the rod of God] as Exodus 4:20.

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.
10. Hur] Although mentioned besides only in Exodus 24:14, Hur must have been a man of some importance at the time of the Exodus. No particulars are given about his family. It is not probable that he is identical with the grandfather of Beẓal’el, of the same name, Exodus 31:2, &c. Later Jewish tradition (Jos. Ant. iii. 2. 4) makes him Miriam’s husband.

And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.
11. held up, &c.] a gesture suggestive partly of strenuousness and energy, partly of appeal for help to God.

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.
12. steady] Heb. steadiness (G.-K. § 141d); elsewhere always in a moral sense, steadfastness, faithfulness. See the writer’s note on Habakkuk 2:4 in the Century Bible.

And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
13. discomfited] rather, disabled, or (in a fig. sense) prostrated (RVm.); lit. weakened1[157]. The verb occurs otherwise in Heb. only Job 14:10 a (‘man dieth and is powerless’), and Isaiah 14:12 (חלש על cannot mean ‘lay low’: read probably, ‘(lying) powerless on the corpses’): but it is found in the Targums; the cognate adj. weak occurs in Joel 4:10, and is common in Aramaic; and the substantive weakness in Exodus 32:18.

[157] Read the transitive form וַיְחַלֵּשׁ, as in the Targ. of Job 12:21.

with the edge of the sword] lit. according to the mouth of the sword, i.e. as the sword devours (2 Samuel 11:25), = without quarter. So always. ‘With the edge’ is not correct.

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.
14. this] the preceding incident.

in a book] The Heb., as pointed, is, in the book, whence it has often been supposed that the reference is to the history which Moses had already begun to write. But though this might be the meaning of the Heb., it is certainly not the necessary meaning: ‘the Hebrew always writes in the book, Numbers 5:23, 1 Samuel 10:25, Jeremiah 32:10, Job 19:23 (cf. Esther 9:25 Heb.)’ (Di.); an object being conceived as definite in Heb. not only because it is already known or has been mentioned before, but also because it is taken for a particular purpose, and so made definite in the speaker’s or writer’s mind. See numerous examples in G.-K. § 126r, s: e.g. Exodus 16:32 the omerful, Exodus 21:20 with the rod, Numbers 21:9 put it on the pole, Joshua 2:15 with the cord, &c.; in all such cases we naturally say a.

rehearse] Heb. place; the meaning being, impress it upon Joshua. ‘Rehearse,’ at least as understood now, is not very suitable. It means properly (from Fr. reherser) to harrow over again, fig. to go over repeatedly: in Jdg 5:11, 1 Samuel 17:31, it is used in the sense of tell, recite.

for (marg.) &c.] The memory of the incident is to be preserved, because, on account of the unfriendliness shewn in it by Amalek, it is Jehovah’s purpose to blot out their name from under heaven.

I will utterly blot out, &c.] Repeated, in the form of an injunction laid upon Israel, in Deuteronomy 25:19. To ‘blot out from under heaven,’ also, Deuteronomy 9:14; Deuteronomy 29:20.

14, 15. Provision made for the remembrance of the victory to be handed down to future generations.

And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi:
15. Moses erects an altar, to offer upon it a sacrifice of thanksgiving to Jehovah, and to preserve the memory of the victory for the future. For other examples of commemorative altars, with names, see Genesis 33:20 (unless, as the verb used here suggests, ‘standing-stone’ (ch. Exodus 24:4) should be read for ‘altar’), Exodus 35:7, Joshua 22:34, Jdg 6:24.

Yahweh-nissi] i.e. Yahweh is my banner, as though to say, He is our Leader; we fight under His banner (Psalm 20:5 [the Heb. for ‘banner’ different], 7); His name is the motto on our standards (Kn.).

For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.
16. A solemn poetical utterance of Moses, swearing war for ever on Jehovah’s part against Amalek.

Yah hath sworn] This rendering cannot be right. The Heb. is A hand upon (or to [as Exodus 9:22-23 Heb.]) the throne of Yah! i.e. I (Moses) swear, with my hand raised to Jehovah’s throne in heaven (see on Exodus 6:8). So Ew. (Hist. i. 251), Di. But many scholars, as Clericus, J. D. Mich., Ges., Kn., Bäntsch, read nçs ‘banner’ for the otherwise unknown kçs (for kissç’, ‘throne’), i.e. A hand on the banner (v. 15) of Yah! let it ever be faithful to this banner, and ready to bear it in the future battles against Amalek. This reading has the advantage of bringing Moses’ words into direct relation with the name of the altar in v. 15.

This unfriendliness of Amalek to Israel was remembered afterwards with some bitterness. In 1 Samuel 15:2 f. it is assigned as the ground for Saul’s expedition against them; and in Deuteronomy 25:17-19 Moses is represented as exhorting Israel to remember it, and, when their possession of Canaan is secured, to be careful to recollect the injunction of Exodus 17:14, and ‘blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.’ Cf. also Numbers 24:20. Saul’s raid, however, in spite of the terms used in 1 Samuel 15:8, did not exterminate the entire tribe: see 1 Samuel 27:7; 1 Samuel 30:1 ff. (where a band of them make a raid upon Ziklag, and are smitten afterwards by David, though 400 escape, v. 17), 2 Samuel 8:12, 1 Chronicles 4:43 (the remnant of them smitten by 500 Simeonites, in the time of Hezekiah).

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