From one resting place to the next the people of Israel moved in stages. At Rephidim they made a major encampment for rest and refreshment. It was expected that there would be water at Rephidim but there was none. Again the people turned on Moses and God. There are at least three records of the people turning on Moses because of thirst. (Exodus 15:22-27 Exodus 17:1-7 Numbers 20:1-13) All of these references are probably different occurrences, while some say they are the same. In a wilderness region some oases dry up with changes in climate. There is no reason not to think this is a separate event. The details are different from the earlier experience at Marah.
The term “quarreled with” is a typical legal expression. Apparently their murmuring led to some sort of legal action against Moses. We see the possibility continue in the statement of Moses, “A little more and they will stone me.” The action against a leader is stoning. (1 Samuel 30:6 John 10:31)
Moses condemned his people by asking “Why do you test the LORD?” It is man who is judged by God, not the reverse. Moses’ implication was that the people had put God on trial. How quickly people forget God’s acts of deliverance. How often do we when a new crisis comes forget God’s victories of the past.
God commanded Moses to demonstrate God’s power before the elders. It was to be the responsibility of the elders to pass the word on to the people of God’s new provision.
Moses named this place with a double name. The name Massah, which means proof or test, and the name Meribah, which means contention are how they translate. The geographic locations of Israel’s memories served as a reminder of their foolish lack of faith. Knowing human nature as we do we can be sure to know that Israel will again question God. As their faith was growing through God’s gracious care still they had their human natures.
Suddenly Israel found themselves in a different kind of crisis. The earlier crisis that had crippled Israel’s faith was that of an enemy whom they thought had been defeated and the lack of provision in the wilderness when they thought they could not survive. With the Amalekites, there was an enemy in front of them, prohibiting them from continuing on their way to Sinai. The Amalekites were descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:12) and therefore related to Israel. Throughout the Old Testament they are seen as enemies of Israel. We are not given a reason for the attack here; it was probably based upon the belief that the water and sparse grass of the wilderness was not sufficient for both the Israelites and the Amalekites.
For the first time Joshua appears. Joshua is Israel’s military leader. The action of Moses during the battle with the Amalekites is best understood in the symbolic actions of the prophets. Moses lifting his hands towards the heavens is to be seen as releasing the divine power of God. This kind of act was always considered to be an outpouring of divine grace. Here Aaron and Hur are portrayed as faithful servants who literally undergirded their leader in his faithful service. By their aid, with Joshua’s military leadership, and as a result of God’s power, Israel had the victory.
We have another new dimension in the conclusion of this episode. Moses is commanded to commit something to writing. The Hebrew has a definite article, making the order refer to “the book.” This was the record of the past to be used as a basis for future actions. This should not be considered a strange act for a man who was trained with the education of Pharaoh’s court. In that compactly Moses would have been knowledgeable in the importance of good records.
We cannot be sure of the details of the last passage in this chapter because of the difficulty in translating the Hebrew. But the passage obviously serves as a prediction of a long series of future conflicts between Israel and the Amalek. The basic meaning seems to have been that God would always serve as an ensign of the armies of Israel.
Numbers 20:1-13, 1 Samuel 30:6, John 10:31, Genesis 36:12