Exodus 17:8
Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(8) Then came Amalek.—The Amalekites had not been previously (except in the anticipatory notice of Genesis 14:7) mentioned as a nation. Their name marks them for descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12; Genesis 36:16); and it would seem that they early became the predominant people in the Sinaitic peninsula. Balaam speaks of them as “the first of the nations” (Numbers 24:20); and though we do lot meet with the name in the Egyptian records, yet it is probable that they were among the hostile nations whom we find constantly contending with the Egyptians upon their north-eastern frontier. Though Edomitesn they are always regarded as a distinct race, and one especially hostile to Israel (Exodus 17:16). Their present hostility was not altogether unprovoked. No doubt they regarded the Sinaitic region as their own, and as the most valuable portion of their territory, since it contained their summer and autumn pastures. During their absence in its more northern portion, where there was pasture for their flocks after the spring rains, a swarm of emigrants had occupied some of their best lands, and threatened to seize the remainder. Naturally, they would resent the occupation. They would not understand that it was only temporary. They would regard the Israelites as intruders, robbers, persons entitled to scant favour at their hands. Accordingly, they swooped upon them without mercy, attacked their rear as they were upon the march, cut off their stragglers, and slew many that were “feeble, faint, and weary” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18). They then encamped in their neighbourhood, with the design of renewing the struggle on the next day. It was under these circumstances that Moses had to make his arrangements.

Exodus 17:8. Then came Amalek — When they were upon their march from Rephidim to Horeb, (Deuteronomy 25:17-18,) and fought with Israel — The Amalekites were the posterity of Esau, who hated Jacob because of the birthright and blessing. They did not boldly front them as a generous enemy, but, without any provocation given, basely fell upon their rear, and smote them that were faint and feeble.

17:8-16 Israel engaged with Amalek in their own necessary defence. God makes his people able, and calls them to various services for the good of his church. Joshua fights, Moses prays, both minister to Israel. The rod was held up, as the banner to encourage the soldiers. Also to God, by way of appeal to him. Moses was tired. The strongest arm will fail with being long held out; it is God only whose hand is stretched out still. We do not find that Joshua's hands were heavy in fighting, but Moses' hands were heavy in praying; the more spiritual any service is, the more apt we are to fail and flag in it. To convince Israel that the hand of Moses, whom they had been chiding, did more for their safety than their own hands, his rod than their sword, the success rises and falls as Moses lifts up or lets down his hands. The church's cause is more or less successful, as her friends are more or less strong in faith, and fervent in prayer. Moses, the man of God, is glad of help. We should not be shy, either of asking help from others, or of giving help to others. The hands of Moses being thus stayed, were steady till the going down of the sun. It was great encouragement to the people to see Joshua before them in the field of battle, and Moses above them on the hill. Christ is both to us; our Joshua, the Captain of our salvation, who fights our battles, and our Moses, who ever lives, making intercession above, that our faith fail not. Weapons formed against God's Israel cannot prosper long, and shall be broken at last. Moses must write what had been done, what Amalek had done against Israel; write their bitter hatred; write their cruel attempts; let them never be forgotten, nor what God had done for Israel in saving them from Amalek. Write what should be done; that in process of time Amalek should be totally ruined and rooted out. Amalek's destruction was typical of the destruction of all the enemies of Christ and his kingdom.Then came Amalek - The attack occurred about two months after the Exodus, toward the end of May or early in June, when the Bedouins leave the lower plains in order to find pasture for their flocks on the cooler heights. The approach of the Israelites to Sinai would of course attract notice, and no cause of warfare is more common than a dispute for the right of pasturage. The Amalekites were at that time the most powerful race in the Peninsula; here they took their position as the chief of the pagans. They were also the first among the pagans who attacked God's people, and as such were marked out for punishment (see the marginal references). Ex 17:8-16. Attack of Amalek.

8. Then came Amalek—Some time probably elapsed before they were exposed to this new evil; and the presumption of there being such an interval affords the only ground on which we can satisfactorily account for the altered, the better, and former spirit that animated the people in this sudden contest. The miracles of the manna and the water from the rock had produced a deep impression and permanent conviction that God was indeed among them; and with feelings elevated by the conscious experience of the Divine Presence and aid, they remained calm, resolute, and courageous under the attack of their unexpected foe.

fought with Israel—The language implies that no occasion had been furnished for this attack; but, as descendants of Esau, the Amalekites entertained a deep-seated grudge against them, especially as the rapid prosperity and marvellous experience of Israel showed that the blessing contained in the birthright was taking effect. It seems to have been a mean, dastardly, insidious surprise on the rear (Nu 24:20; De 25:17), and an impious defiance of God.

Then, i.e. when they were upon their march from Rephidim to Horeb, Deu 25:17,18.

The ground of the quarrel was the prosecution of the old hatred of Esau a against Jacob, and-the revenging of themselves and their father upon the posterity of Jacob; for which they thought this the fittest season, they being now great and potent people, Numbers 24:20, and Israel now weak, and unarmed, and dispirited with long servitude.

Then came Amalek,.... The Amalekites, who were not the posterity of Amalek, a son of Eliphaz, the son of Esau, by Timna the concubine of Eliphaz, Genesis 36:12 who dwelt in the desert, to the south of Judea, beyond the city Petra, as you go to Aila, as Jerom says (t); and so the Targum of Jonathan describes them as coming from the south; and Aben Ezra interprets them a nation that inhabited the southern country. Josephus (u) calls them the inhabitants of Gobolitis and Petra; but they were the descendants of Cush, and the same with those who were in Abraham's time long before Amalek, the descendant of Esau, was in being, Genesis 14:7 and who bordered eastward on the wilderness of Shur:

and fought with Israel in Rephidim; so that this was before they came from hence to Sinai, very probably as they were on the march thither, and before the rock was smitten, and they had been refreshed with water, and so while they were in distress for want of that, and therefore this must be a great trial and exercise to them. What should move the Amalekites to come and fight with them, is not easy to say; it is by many thought to be the old grudge of the children of Esau against the children of Israel, because of the affair of the birthright and blessing which Jacob got from Esau, who were now on their march for the land of Canaan, which came to him thereby: but it is hardly probable that these people should know anything of those matters at this distance, and besides were not of the race of Esau; and if anything of this kind was in remembrance, and still subsisted, it is most likely that the Edomites would have been concerned to stop them, rather than these: it is more probable, that these had heard of their coming out, of Egypt with great riches, the spoils of the Egyptians; and being an unarmed, undisciplined people, though numerous, thought to have taken this advantage against them of their distress and contentious, and plundered them of their wealth; unless we can suppose them to be an ally of the Canaanites, and so bound by treaty to obstruct their passage to the land of Canaan: but be it as it may; they came out against them, and fought with them without any provocation, the Israelites not attempting to enter their country, but rather going from it; for these seem to follow them, to come upon the back of them, and fall upon their rear, as appears from Deuteronomy 25:17.

(t) De locis Hebr. fol. 87. M. (u) Antiqu. l. 3. c. 2. sect. 1.

Then came {e} Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.

(e) Who came from Eliphaz, son of Esau, Ge 36:12.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
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).

Verses 8-16. - THE WAR WITH AMALEK. The Amalekites seem to have been descendants of Amalek, the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12). They separated themselves off from the other Edomites at an early date, and became the predominant tribe in the more northern parts of the Sinaitic peninsula, claiming and exercising a sovereignty over the whole of the desert country between the borders of Palestine and Egypt. We do not find the name Amalek in the Egyptian records; but the people are probably represented by the Mentu, with whom so many of the early Egyptian kings contended. The Pharaohs dispossessed them of the north-western portion of the mountain region; but they probably claimed the suzerainty of the central hills and valleys, which the Egyptians never occupied; and on these they no doubt set a high value as affording water and pasture for their flocks during the height of summer. When the Israelites pressed forward into these parts, the Amale-kites, in spite of the fact that they were a kindred race, determined on giving them battle. They began by "insidiously attacking the rear of the Hebrew army, when it was exhausted and weary" (Deuteronomy 25:18). I-laving cut off many stragglers, they attacked the main body at Rephidim, in the Wady-Feiran, and fought the long battle which the text describes (vers. 10-13). The result was the complete discomfiture of the assailants, who thenceforth avoided all contact with Israel until attacked in their turn at the southern frontier of Canaan, when, in conjunction with the Canaanites, they were victorious (Numbers 14:45). A bitter and long continued enmity followed. Amalek, "the first of the nations" to attack Israel (Exodus 24:20), was pursued with unrelenting hostility (Deuteronomy 25:17-19), defeated repeatedly by Saul and David (1 Samuel 14:48; 1 Samuel 15:7; 1 Samuel 27:8; 1 Samuel 30:17; 2 Samuel 8:12); the last remnant of the nation being finally destroyed by the Simeonites in the reign of king Hezekiah, as related by the author of Chronicles (1 Chronicles 4:41-43). Verse 8. - Then came Amalek. The bulk of the Amalekites would have been passing the spring in the lower plains, where herbage is abundant after the early rains, while later in the year it dries up. They would hear of the threatened occupation of their precious summer pastures by the vast host of the Hebrews, and would seek to prevent it by blocking the way. Hence they are said to have "come" - i.e., to have marched into a position where they were not previously, though it was one situated within their country. We must remember that they were nomads. And fought with Israel For the nature of the fighting on the first day, see Deuteronomy 25:18; by which it appears that the original attack was made on the rear of the long column, and was successful. The Amalekites "smote the hindmost" of the Israelites, "even all that were feeble behind them, when they were faint and weary." Exodus 17:8The want of water had only just been provided for, when Israel had to engage in a conflict with the Amalekites, who had fallen upon their rear and smitten it (Deuteronomy 25:18). The expansion of this tribe, that was descended from a grandson of Esau (see Genesis 36:12), into so great a power even in the Mosaic times, is perfectly conceivable, if we imagine the process to have been analogous to that which we have already described in the case of the leading branches of the Edomites, who had grown into a powerful nation through the subjugation and incorporation of the earlier population of Mount Seir. The Amalekites had no doubt come to the neighbourhood of Sinai for the same reason for which, even in the present day, the Bedouin Arabs leave the lower districts at the beginning of summer, and congregate in the mountain regions of the Arabian peninsula, viz., because the grass is dried up in the former, whereas in the latter the pasturage remains green much longer, on account of the climate being comparatively cooler (Burckhardt, Syr. p. 789). There they fell upon the Israelites, probably in the Sheikh valley, where the rear had remained behind the main body, not merely for the purpose of plundering or of disputing the possession of this district and its pasture ground with the Israelites, but to assail Israel as the nation of God, and if possible to destroy it. The divine command to exterminate Amalek (Exodus 17:14) points to this; and still more the description given of the Amalekites in Balaam's utterances, as גּוים ראשׁית, "the beginning," i.e., the first and foremost of the heathen nations (Numbers 24:20). In Amalek the heathen world commenced that conflict with the people of God, which, while it aims at their destruction, can only be terminated by the complete annihilation of the ungodly powers of the world. Earlier theologians pointed out quite correctly the deepest ground for the hostility of the Amalekites, when they traced the causa belli to this fact, "quod timebat Amalec, qui erat de semine Esau, jam implendam benedictionem, quam Jacob obtinuit et praeripuit ipsi Esau, praesertim cum in magna potentia venirent Israelitae, ut promissam occuparent terram" Mnster, C. a Lapide, etc.). This peculiar significance in the conflict is apparent, not only from the divine command to exterminate the Amalekites, and to carry on the war of Jehovah with Amalek from generation to generation (Exodus 17:14 and Exodus 17:16), but also from the manner in which Moses led the Israelites to battle and to victory. Whereas he had performed all the miracles in Egypt and on the journey by stretching out his staff, on this occasion he directed his servant Joshua to choose men for the war, and to fight the battle with the sword. He himself went with Aaron and Hur to the summit of a hill to hold up the staff of God in his hands, that he might procure success to the warriors through the spiritual weapons of prayer.

The proper name of Joshua, who appears here for the first time in the service of Moses, as Hosea (הושׁע); he was a prince of the tribe of Ephraim (Numbers 13:8, Numbers 13:16; Deuteronomy 32:44). The name יהושׁע, "Jehovah is help" (or, God-help), he probably received at the time when he entered Moses' service, either before or after the battle with the Amalekites (see Numbers 13:16, and Hengstenberg, Dissertations, vol. ii.). Hur, who also held a prominent position in the nation, according to Exodus 24:14, in connection with Aaron, was the son of Caleb, the son of Hezron, the grandson of Judah (1 Chronicles 2:18-20), and the grandfather of Bezaleel, the architect of the tabernacle (Exodus 31:2; Exodus 35:30; Exodus 38:22, cf. 1 Chronicles 2:19-20). According to Jewish tradition, he was the husband of Miriam.

The battle was fought on the day after the first attack (Exodus 17:9). The hill (גּבעה, not Mount Horeb), upon the summit of which Moses took up his position during the battle, along with Aaron and Hur, cannot be fixed upon with exact precision, but it was probably situated in the table-land of Fureia, to the north of er Rahah and the Sheikh valley, which is a fertile piece of pasture ground (Burckhardt, p. 801; Robinson, i. pp. 139, 215), or else in the plateau which runs to the north-east of the Horeb mountains and to the east of the Sheikh valley, with the two peaks Umlanz and Um Alawy; supposing, that is, that the Amalekites attacked the Israelites from Wady Muklifeh or es Suweiriyeh. Moses went to the top of the hill that he might see the battle from thence. He took Aaron and Hur with him, not as adjutants to convey his orders to Joshua and the army engaged, but to support him in his own part in connection with the conflict. This was to hold up his hand with the staff of God in it. To understand the meaning of this sign, it must be borne in mind that, although Exodus 17:11 merely speaks of the raising and dropping of the hand (in the singular), yet, according to Exodus 17:12, both hands were supported by Aaron and Hur, who stood one on either side, so that Moses did not hold up his hands alternately, but grasped the staff with both his hands, and held it up with the two. The lifting up of the hands has been regarded almost with unvarying unanimity by Targumists, Rabbins, Fathers, Reformers, and nearly all the more modern commentators, as the sign or attitude of prayer. Kurtz, on the contrary, maintains, in direct opposition to the custom observed throughout the whole of the Old Testament by all pious and earnest worshipers, of lifting up their hands to God in heaven, that this view attributes an importance to the outward form of prayer which has no analogy even in the Old Testament; he therefore agrees with Lakemacher, in Rosenmller's Scholien, in regarding the attitude of Moses with his hand lifted up as "the attitude of a commander superintending and directing the battle," and the elevation of the hand as only the means adopted for raising the staff, which was elevated in the sight of the warriors of Israel as the banner of victory. But this meaning cannot be established from Exodus 17:15 and Exodus 17:16. For the altar with the name "Jehovah my banner," and the watchword "the hand on the banner of Jehovah, war of the Lord against Amalek," can neither be proved to be connected with the staff which Moses held in his hand, nor be adduced as a proof that Moses held the staff in front of the Israelites as the banner of victory. The lifting up of the staff of God was, no doubt, a banner to the Israelites of victory over their foes, but not in this sense, that Moses directed the battle as commander-in-chief, for he had transferred the command to Joshua; nor yet in this sense, that he imparted divine powers to the warriors by means of the staff, and so secured the victory. To effect this, he would not have lifted it up, but have stretched it out, either over the combatants, or at all events towards them, as in the case of all the other miracles that were performed with the staff. The lifting up of the staff secured to the warriors the strength needed to obtain the victory, from the fact that by means of the staff Moses brought down this strength from above, i.e., from the Almighty God in heaven; not indeed by a merely spiritless and unthinking elevation of the staff, but by the power of his prayer, which was embodied in the lifting up of his hands with the staff, and was so far strengthened thereby, that God had chosen and already employed this staff as a medium of the saving manifestation of His almighty power. There is no other way in which we can explain the effect produced upon the battle by the raising and dropping (הניח) of the staff in his hands. As long as Moses held up the staff, he drew down from God victorious powers for the Israelites by means of his prayer; but when he let it fall through the exhaustion of the strength of his hands, he ceased to draw down the power of God, and Amalek gained the upper hand. The staff, therefore, as it was stretched out on high, was not a sign to the Israelites that were fighting, for it is by no means certain that they could see it in the heat of the battle; but it was a sign to Jehovah, carrying up, as it were, to God the wishes and prayers of Moses, and bringing down from God victorious powers for Israel. If the intention had been the hold it up before the Israelites as a banner of victory. Moses would not have withdrawn to a hill apart from the field of battle, but would either have carried it himself in front of the army, or have given it to Joshua as commander, to be borne by him in front of the combatants, or else have entrusted it to Aaron, who had performed the miracles in Egypt, that he might carry it at their head. The pure reason why Moses did not do this, but withdrew from the field of battle to lift up the staff of God upon the summit of a hill, and to secure the victory by so doing, is to be found in the important character of the battle itself. As the heathen world was now commencing its conflict with the people of God in the persons of the Amalekites, and the prototype of the heathen world, with its hostility to God, was opposing the nation of the Lord, that had been redeemed from the bondage of Egypt and was on its way to Canaan, to contest its entrance into the promised inheritance; so the battle which Israel fought with this foe possessed a typical significance in relation to all the future history of Israel. It could not conquer by the sword alone, but could only gain the victory by the power of God, coming down from on high, and obtained through prayer and those means of grace with which it had been entrusted. The means now possessed by Moses were the staff, which was, as it were, a channel through which the powers of omnipotence were conducted to him. In most cases he used it under the direction of God; but God had not promised him miraculous help for the conflict with the Amalekites, and for this reason he lifted up his hands with the staff in prayer to God, that he might thereby secure the assistance of Jehovah for His struggling people. At length he became exhausted, and with the falling of his hands and the staff he held, the flow of divine power ceased, so that it was necessary to support his arms, that they might be kept firmly directed upwards (אמוּנה, lit., firmness) until the enemy was entirely subdued. And from this Israel was to learn the lesson, that in all its conflicts with the ungodly powers of the world, strength for victory could only be procured through the incessant lifting up of its hands in prayer. "And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people (the Amalekites and their people) with the edge of the sword" (i.e., without quarter. See Genesis 34:26).

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