Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Feb 28 2019 - Exodus 17:1-16 – Water and victory

Water is even more essential to human survival than bread and quails. You can survive for many days without food but for only a very few days without water in a hot and dry land. The Israelites would have been travelling from one water source to another, but when they camped at Rephidim no water could be found. Again they soon complain against Moses and against God saying, "Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?" (v. 3).

The problems are too great for Moses (see his complaint in v. 4), but nothing is impossible for the Lord. Moses is told to take in his hand the staff with which he struck the waters of the Nile. This staff is later called "the staff of God" (v. 9). It is not some magic wand with which Moses can perform magic tricks. This is the staff of God. It is the symbol of God's presence with them and his power which is active on their behalf. By the use of this staff, God makes it plain to both Moses and the children of Israel that he, the living God, is acting to help and to bless them. This staff had been used to display God's power before Pharaoh; it had been used to part the Red Sea and to restore its waters. Now it will be used to provide the Israelites with fresh water in the desert.

Moses is commanded by God to strike the rock. Water flowed from it for the people and their animals to drink. All of this happened at a place called Massah and Meribah. Massah speaks of God's testing of his people – would they trust him or would they fear that they would die of thirst. Meribah speaks of their complaint and quarrelling against God – they failed the test. This incident is picked up later in Psalm 95 which urges God's people:

Today, if only you would hear his voice,
 ‘Do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah,
    as you did that day at Massah in the wilderness,
where your ancestors tested me;
    they tried me, though they had seen what I did.   (Psalm 95:7-9)

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews again picks up this incident, quoting the verses from Psalm 95 and urging Christians to remember God's promises, go on listening to God's voice and not to turn back from following Christ (see Hebrews 3:7-12).

The second half of today's passage tells the story of the Amalekites' attack on the Israelites. Moses stood on a hill overlooking the battle with the staff of God in his hand. While his hands were raised the Israelites would begin to win the battle but when his arms grew tired and he let them drop the Amalekites began to gain the upper hand. Aaron and Hur therefore stood on either side of Moses supporting his arms. So the Israelites won the battle.

Again, we should not think that there was anything magical about Moses' arms. He has the staff of God in his hands. While he stretches out the staff of God towards the battlefield he is, in symbol, extending God's power over the battle. Moses' hands, lifted in prayer, connect with the very throne of the Lord (v. 16). Prayer connects with the power that governs the universe and that God has covenanted to use for the protection and blessing of his people.

We who come to God in prayer through the Lord Jesus Christ also come before his throne of grace and connect with the gracious power that rules the world and ensures the fulfilment of his promises.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the victory that is ours in Christ; "we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." Help us always to trust in you and the promises of your presence with us and protection of us. Open our ears, Lord Jesus, to hear your call upon our lives that we might be kept from bitterness and resentment when the path before us seems dark and dry. Keep us constant in prayer and joyful in tribulation, for the sake of your name and your glory.

Peter Misselbrook