In this story, the Israelites are still in the early stage of their forty-year wilderness journey.
<li>They crossed the Red Sea in chapter 14, began receiving manna from heaven in chapter 16.</li>
<li>They left the Wilderness (or Desert) of Zin and have arrived at Rephidim, which was in the desert area south of the Promised Land.</li>
<li>They quarreled with Moses because they had no water. Moses took the matter to Yahweh, who instructed him to take the rod which he had used to strike the Nile and use it again to strike a rock, which would produce water. Moses named the place Massah (which means “to test”) and Meribah (which means “to strive or contest”), “because the children of Israel quarreled, and because they tested Yahweh, saying, “Is Yahweh among us, or not?” (v. 7).</li>
<li>In chapter 19, they will arrive at Mount Sinai, where Moses will receive the law.</li>
<h3>EXODUS 17:8. AMALEK FOUGHT WITH ISRAEL</h3>
<span style=”color: #0000ff;”><strong><em><sup>8</sup></em></strong></span><em> “Then Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” </em>
Amalek was the grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12). The Amalekites who fight with Israel in this verse would be his descendants. There was (and would continue to be) ongoing conflict between Jacob and Esau––Israel and Edom.
The Israelites will encounter various foes in their wilderness wanderings. This is the first battle the Israelites had to fight after leaving behind the Red Sea and the Egyptian soldiers.
Most likely, the Amalekites were living in this region prior to the arrival of the Israelites, and perceived Israel as a threat. Given the arid nature of their land, they were probably concerned that the land would not support both Amalek and Israel.
<h3>EXODUS 17:9-10. MOSES SAID TO JOSHUA</h3>
<span style=”color: #0000ff;”><strong><em><sup>9</sup></em></strong></span><em> Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us, and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with God’s rod in my hand.” <span style=”color: #0000ff;”><strong><sup>10</sup></strong></span> So Joshua did as Moses had told him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.</em>
<strong>”Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose men for us, and go out, fight with Amalek'”</strong> (v. 9a). Joshua will be Moses’ successor, and will lead the Israelites into the Promised Land (Joshua 3). This is the first mention of his name in the Hebrew scriptures, and he is clearly subordinate to Moses.
Moses commands Joshua to “choose men for us” to fight the Amalekites. This implies that Joshua is to choose a select group to fight the battle.
Moses specifies no criteria for Joshua to use in making the selection––and there is no hint of the manner in which Joshua chose the men. Presumably, he chose strong men who would be fearsome fighters, but we don’t know that. In a similar story in Judges 7, Yahweh directed Gideon in the selection of a small band of men to fight the Midianites. In that story, the final criterion was to choose men who lapped water like dogs.
<strong>”Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with God’s </strong>(<em>’elohim</em>) <strong>rod in my hand”</strong> (v. 9b). We aren’t told the name of the hill, but that isn’t important. In battle, the high ground confers advantage. Standing on the hilltop, Moses will have a clear view of the battle, and the Israelite soldiers will have a clear view of him and his staff.
Moses will hold God’s rod in his hand:
<li>The rod that became a snake when Moses threw it to the ground at Yahweh’s direction (4:2-4; 7:8-12)</li>
<li>The rod that Moses used to strike the Nile River, turning its water to blood (7:20-21).</li>
<li>Possibly the rod that Aaron stretched over the waters of Egypt, creating a plague of frogs (8:5-7).</li>
<li>Possibly the rod that Aaron stretched over the dust of Egypt, creating a plague of lice (8:16-19).</li>
<li>The rod that Moses stretched over Egypt, creating a plague of locusts (10:12-17).</li>
<li>The rod that Moses stretched over the Red Sea, dividing the waters (14:15-25) and once again to bring the waters together, trapping the Egyptian soldiers (14:26-28).</li>
But the rod is not the secret of success. It is God who uses the rod to demonstrate his power.
<strong>”So Joshua did as Moses had told him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill”</strong> (v. 10). Joshua obeyed Moses’ order and led the battle against Amalek.
Aaron and Hur accompany Moses to the top of the hill, and stay with him through the battle. These are not young men. Not much earlier, Moses’ age was given as eighty, and Aaron’s at eighty-three (7:7). We don’t know Hur’s age. Age is a significant aspect of this story, because these three men will be responsible for keeping the rod elevated throughout the battle––and old men have less physical strength than young men.
Aaron is Moses’ brother (6:20), who assumed a significant leadership role along with Moses during preparations for the Exodus (4:10-16, 28-30; 5:1-20; 7:1-25; 8:5-25; 9:8; 10:3-16; 11:10; 12:1-50)––and in Israel’s wandering in the wilderness (16:2-10, 33). He is a descendent of Levi (6:16-25). Yahweh will appoint him as the priest in charge of the Levites (Numbers 3:5-10).
Aaron will assume an unfortunate role in the golden calf incident that we will soon see (Exodus 32), but will be forgiven and will continue as a leader of Israel (34:31).
We know much less about Hur. Moses will assign Hur as co-leader with Aaron until such time as Moses returns from the top of the mountain (24:14). Later, Yahweh will identify Hur’s grandson, Bezalel, as an artisan in every kind of craft (31:1-5; 35:30-35) who renders faithful service (38:22).
<h3>EXODUS 17:11-13. WHEN MOSES HELD UP HIS HANDS</h3>
<span style=”color: #0000ff;”><strong><em><sup>11</sup></em></strong></span><em> It happened, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. <span style=”color: #0000ff;”><strong><sup>12</sup></strong></span> But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side. His hands were steady until sunset. <span style=”color: #0000ff;”><strong><sup>13</sup></strong></span> Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.</em>
<strong>”It happened, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed”</strong> (v. 11). These verses don’t mention the rod, but in verse 9, Moses said that he would stand on the hill with the rod in his hand, and he surely does that now with rod raised high.
When Moses held his hand high (presumably holding the rod), Israel prevailed. When he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But it is neither Moses’ hand nor the rod that is important, but the God who empowers both Moses and the rod.
<strong>”But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side. His hands were steady until sunset”</strong> (v. 12). At one time soldiers were sometimes punished by being required to hold a rifle in a particular position for a prolonged period of time. That sounds pretty mild, but a rifle begins to feel heavy in just a few minutes. No one can do it for long.
So imagine eighty-year-old Moses trying to hold his hand aloft (with or without rod) during the battle. Before long, his hands became heavy and he needed help. Aaron and Hur moved a stone into position so Moses could sit, but that provided only a partial solution.
Aaron and Hur make a second effort. This time, Aaron holds one of Moses’ hands aloft, and Hur the other. They maintain that until sunset. I think of that as an heroic effort on the part of Aaron (eighty-three years old) and Hur.
<strong>”Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword”</strong> (v. 13). This verse credits Joshua with the victory over Amalek, but we must remember Moses’ role––and Aaron and Hur’s role. But, of course, it was God who enabled them to win the battle. It was God’s power that defeated Amalek.
<h3>EXODUS 17:14-15. MOSES BUILT AN ALTAR</h3>
<span style=”color: #0000ff;”><strong><em><sup>14</sup></em></strong></span><em> Yahweh said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under the sky.” <span style=”color: #0000ff;”><strong><sup>15</sup></strong></span>Moses built an altar, and called its name Yahweh our Banner. <span style=”color: #0000ff;”><strong><sup>16</sup></strong></span> He said, “Yah has sworn: ‘Yahweh will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.'” </em>
Yahweh promises to <strong>”utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under the sky”</strong> (v. 14). Later Yahweh will tell Saul to destroy the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:3). David will take spoils from Amalek (2 Samuel 8:12).
<strong>”Moses built an altar, and called its name Yahweh our Banner”</strong> (v. 15). In those days, armies used banners to identify soldiers on the field of battle. They used banners to rally the troops––and to signal victory over the enemy.
In this verse, the altar serves to identify Yahweh, rally the Israelites, and signal victory over the enemy.
<strong>”Yah has sworn: ‘Yahweh will have war with Amalek from generation to generation'” </strong>(v. 16). Yahweh doesn’t say that Israel will have war with Amalek, but that Yahweh will do so. But Israel, as Yahweh’s covenant people, will be involved.
<h3>A PERSONAL NOTE:</h3>
While serving as a U.S. Army Chaplain, I became aware that the Chief of Chaplains has an award called the Aaron and Hur Award which is awarded to people who do outstanding work in support of the chaplains’ work. It is not awarded often, so it is quite prestigious.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible. The World English Bible is based on the American Standard Version (ASV) of the Bible, the Biblia Hebraica Stutgartensa Old Testament, and the Greek Majority Text New Testament. The ASV, which is also in the public domain due to expired copyrights, was a very good translation, but included many archaic words (hast, shineth, etc.), which the WEB has updated. We are using the WEB because we believe it to be the best public domain version of the Bible available.
Bruckner, James K. <em>New International Biblical Commentary: Exodus</em> (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2008)
Brueggemann, Walter, <em>The New Interpreter’s Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus</em>, Vol. 1 (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994)
Childs, Brevard S., <em>The Old Testament Library: Exodus</em> (Louisville: The Westminster Press, 1974)
Cole, R. Alan, <em>Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Exodus</em>, Vol. 2 (Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1973)
Craghan, John F., <em>Collegeville Bible Commentary: The Book of Exodus</em> (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1985)
Dunham, Maxie D., <em>The Preacher’s Commentary: Exodus</em> (Dallas: Word, Inc., 1987)
Durham, John I., <em>Word Biblical Commentary: Exodus</em>, Vol. 3 (Dallas, Word Books, 1987)
Fretheim, Terence E., <em>Interpretation Commentary: Exodus</em> (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1973)
Janzen, J. Gerald, <em>Westminster</em><em> Bible Companion: Exodus</em> (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997)
Janzen, Waldemar, <em>Believers</em><em> Church</em><em> Bible Commentaries: Exodus</em> (Scottdale, Pennsylvania: Herald Press, 1987)
Stuart, Douglas K., <em>The New American Commentary: Exodus</em>, Vol. 2 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2006)
Copyright 2019 <a href=”https://www.sermonwriter.com/richard-niell-donovan/”>Richard Niell Donovan</a>