1 - 3 No Water: A Grumbling People
1 Then all the congregation of the sons of Israel journeyed by stages from the wilderness of Sin, according to the command of the LORD, and camped at Rephidim, and there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water that we may drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the LORD?” 3 But the people thirsted there for water; and they grumbled against Moses and said, “Why, now, have you brought us up from Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?”
The people move on. It does not do this because it makes sense or sees the point of it, but because the LORD has given the command to do so. That’s how they arrive in Rafidim. There appears to be no water. Is that the result of listening to a command from the Lord? It teaches us that even if we go the way of obedience, the difficulties and trials are not spared us. God uses these difficulties to try and purify our faith and to glorify Himself by saving us from it.
How hard we are learning, just like the people who are grumbling again. The Lord brings us into such situations, so that we may learn to see what is in our hearts. Moses has to take the blame again. But they are at the wrong address. They are also in a bad mind.
Moses saith that they test the LORD. Their unbelief appears when they accuse Moses of taking them out of Egypt to let them die in the wilderness. Again they do not think of God and the redemption from slavery (Exo 16:3).
4 - 6 The LORD Gives Water
4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do to this people? A little more and they will stone me.” 5 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Pass before the people and take with you some of the elders of Israel; and take in your hand your staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.
Moses goes with his need to the LORD. The LORD gives His instructions to meet in grace the grumble of the people (cf. Exo 15:25). Here the Lord Himself gives the example of what He tells us to do: “But if your enemy ... is thirsty, give him a drink” (Rom 12:20). Moses must hit the rock on which the LORD stands with the same staff as the one with which he smote the river Nile. Then there will be water ko-men. As the elders stand there as witnesses, Moses strikes the rock, causing a stream of water to flow out (Psa 78:15-16; 114:8).
Paul explains the spiritual meaning of this event. In view of this event, he says that the Israelites “and all drank the same spiritual drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which followed them; and the rock was Christ” (1Cor 10:4). Here it says that the rock represents Christ. He is beaten in the judgment God has brought over Him on the cross. After His death, resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit came. The Holy Spirit is compared to “rivers of living water” (Jn 7:38-39).
Just as the manna comes every day, the river of water also continues to follow the people, through the whole wilderness journey (1Cor 10:4). The outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost is a one-off happening, but its consequences persist. This is done through the intercession of the Lord Jesus: “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; [that is] the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, [but] you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (Jn 14:16-17). The Holy Spirit will be with and in the believer as long as the church is on earth, and forever.
7 The LORD Tested
7 He named the place Massah and Meribah because of the quarrel of the sons of Israel, and because they tested the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us, or not?”
In verse 2 Moses already exposes the evil mind of the people by telling them that they test the LORD. After beating the rock he calls the place “Massah and Meribah”. In this way he records the reminder of what is happening here for the posterity. The reason for the naming is described in detail in this verse. Massah means ‘trial’, Meribah means ‘struggle’ or ‘twist’. In Hebrews 3 it is rendered with ‘bitterness’ (Heb 3:8).
Remarkably, the names do not remind of God’s gracious actions, the striking of the rock, but of the rebellious actions of the people. They need to be reminded why the rock was beaten.
The special thing about this trial is not so much that God is testing His people, but the opposite, that Israel is testing God! They challenge Him by demanding from Him a proof of His presence. By doing so they show doubt to His love and faithfulness and to His presence in their midst, perhaps even to His existence. It is the language of rebellious unbelief that does not sound so unknown to us in our days: If there is a God, He should do this or that. As if God has not proven Himself many times already.
The sin of the people is not just unbelief in the power of God, but a doubt of His presence and intentions. You can doubt whether He is able to work a particular case. That is thinking too little of God. That is bad for God. It is even worse when we think He doesn’t have good intentions with us, or that He doesn’t care about us at all, that He isn’t with us.
8 - 13 Joshua’s Battle Against Amalek
8 Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. 9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” 10 Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. 13 So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
In the previous sections God has made sure that the people will have food and water all the time. Now there is fight, also all the time. The report on the fight is heralded by the word ‘then’. Following on from the previous verse, this fight seems to follow, not so much on the actions of God, but on the attitude of unbelief of the people. Yet the people can make use of the food and water provided by God in order to be able to cope with this battle in its power.
In Egypt they had no fight. There they have been in slavery. At the Red Sea there was no fight either. There God has fought. In the wilderness there is a fight that has to be fought by the people. The fight against Amalek is not sought by the people. Amalek is a grandson of Esau (Gen 36:12), the “ungodly” (Heb 12:16), and shows his character traits.
Amalek is a picture of satan attacking the believer through the weakness of his sinful flesh. Peter exhorts the believers to “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1Pet 2:11). This fight is forcing itself into our souls. It is a fight that we must leave to the Spirit Who dwells in us (Gal 5:17). By walking in the Spirit, we will not give in to the lust of the flesh (Gal 5:16).
The Spirit directs our attention to Christ in glory. Joshua will bring the people through the Jordan into the promised land. He is a picture of Christ Who precedes us through the Spirit to take possession of the land. It is the Lord Jesus who fights against the flesh through the Spirit. ‘Joshua’ is the Hebrew name for the Greek name ‘Jesus’.
At the same time, the fight depends on the place Moses occupies before God on the mountain. Moses is there together with Aaron and Hur. These three men on the mountain also represent Christ: Moses delivered the people, he represents the Redeemer; Aaron represents the Lord Jesus as the High Priest who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” (Heb 4:15); Hur means whiteness, purity, which shows the perfection of Him Who does intercession.
Of course, the Lord Jesus never gets tired (Heb 7:25). It is about showing how much everything depends on Him, by Whose intercession in heaven determines the course of the fight on earth.
The fight is settled by Joshua with the sharpness of the sword. The Word of God is compared to “the sword of the Spirit” (Eph 6:17b). The Spirit in us uses the Word of God to deprive the power to the flesh and its desire.
14 - 16 The LORD Fights Against Amalek
14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 Moses built an altar and named it The LORD is My Banner; 16 and he said, “The LORD has sworn; the LORD will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”
Amalek has been defeated, but not destroyed. The flesh cannot be eradicated. The victory does not benefit Israel, except that they can now go further without suffering any damage. They will have to remain wary of this enemy. That is why this battle is written down so that they have a permanent warning. Anything written can always be consulted (cf. Isa 30:8). At the same time an encouragement is given: the LORD will eventually completely destroy this enemy.
The reaction of Moses is wonderful. He builds an altar. An altar indicates worship. The name he gives it speaks of victory in the Name of the LORD. The government is in the hand of the LORD. It is His fight.
The reaction of Moses is an example for us. How do we react to what the Lord does for us? The awareness that there is no power in us, but that He is in charge of our lives, will lead us to worship Him.