Exodus 17

During the past week, people like you have faced various problems: relationship issues, physical problems, political upheaval, financial issues… the list could go on. When we go through these problems, we can be tempted to think that we are the only one who has ever faced this. But is that really true? Is it possible that someone else during the last 6,000 years has had a problem like yours? A read through the Bible will give evidence that other people have faced these difficulties.

In today’s passage, we will read about two problems that Moses and the people faced. Some of the problems came from inside. Some of the problems came from outside. But we will also see that the answer to those problems — regardless of the source — came from turning to the Lord and trusting Him to take care of the situation. As we read the account of what happened, keep your eyes open to both the problem and the solution.

  1. Problems from inside (17:1-7)

    What does this mean? A problem from inside might be something that happens between you and someone close to you. The situation usually involves people that you know and have a relationship with.

    [Read Exodus 17:1-7.]

    a. The problem (1-3)

    The people were obeying God’s command (1a).

    It seems strange to say that part of the problem was that the Israelites were following the command of the Lord. But the first verse is very specific in stating that the Israelites were obeying God’s command. They were exactly where the Lord wanted them to be.

    “Though journeying … under the express guidance of the Lord, yet they are conducted to a scene of extreme trial and distress; showing that the mere fact of our being in the way of our duty is no certain security against the occurrence of trouble” (Bush 215).

    Think about that for a moment. This problem happened when the Israelites were exactly where the Lord wanted them to be. But is that really that odd? The Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted by Satan. In this chapter, the Israelites were led to the place where they would be tempted to complain instead of trusting the Lord. So, we learn that the Lord often leads His people to places that will give them problems. It is by His design; perhaps it is a test.

    The people were thirsty (1b).

    Once again, this large group of people was thirsty. Bitter water was not the problem; it was a complete lack of water. They needed water to drink and to water their cattle. Remember that this part of the world is very hot and without water they would be quite thirsty.

    The people complained to Moses (2-3).

    The people contended with Moses about the lack of water. Here the inside problem was an angry quarrel with people whom Moses knew well. They accused him of bringing their families and cattle into the wilderness to die of thirst. In their minds, it was obvious that Moses had caused this problem.

    But was it Moses’ fault? Remember they had followed where the Lord had led them.

    “They challenge him to supply them with water, as if he had the command of springs and rivers and could summon them up at will, and produce effects in the desert to which Omnipotence alone is equal” (Bush 215).

    APPLIC. Note how thirst and hunger can cause a person to do and say things that don’t make sense. Be careful to guard your thoughts, attitudes, and speech when you are not feeling well. You may do things that you will later regret.

    Things continued to escalate until “their rage and malice at length rose to such a pitch, that they were ‘almost ready to stone him'” (Bush 216). Not good.

    If you were Moses, what would you do?

    b. The solution

    “We cannot doubt that Moses was now in real peril of his life. But he had before this learned where his true refuge lay, and to that he [takes] himself” (Bush 216). So what did he do?

    Moses prayed to the Lord (4).

    Knowing that the Lord was the only One who could provide water for this huge group of people, Moses prayed to the Lord. Note that he asked a question first. What shall I do? He knew that the Lord had the solution he needed.

    But Moses didn’t just ask the question, he also expressed his fear and feelings. He told the Lord that the people were almost ready to stone him to death. This meant that they would kill him and find someone else to lead them to where they wanted to go. Yikes!

    David had a similar response in Psalm 61.

    “Hear my cry, O God, listen to my prayer; from the end of the earth I call to you when my heart is faint. Lead me to the rock that is higher than I, for you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the enemy. Let me dwell in your tent forever! Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings!”

    APPLIC. When you are in a deep spot in your life, cry out to the Lord. It might involve tears but the purpose is to talk to the Lord about your need and to leave it with Him. He is the One who can take care of you and no one else.

    Moses heard from the Lord (5-6a).

    The Lord gave a solution to the problem. Instead of running from his accusers, Moses was to go before the people and take some of the elders with him. With the rod of God in his hand, Moses was to strike a certain rock and water would come out of it so that the people could drink.

    Why was Moses to take the rod with him?

    “This ‘staff of God’ (4:20; 17:9) was a symbol of power; holding it was a sign of dependence and trust in God” (Hannah 135). It would remind the people of what the Lord did in Egypt and at the Red Sea. It was a visual cue that God could and was about to do something miraculous.

    Why take the elders with him?

    Note that Moses was to go in front of the people and select some of the elders to go with him. “The elders would be able … to testify that there was previously no spring or reservoir of water in the place, and that the present supply was produced solely by the mighty power of God” (Bush 217-18).

    Moses did as the Lord said (6b).

    This is such an understatement. Moses just did what the Lord told him to do. There is no mention of water gushing out of the rock. There is no mention of him striking the rock. But we know that the Lord always keeps His promises. So everything went just as the Lord said would happen.

    Question: How much water came from the rock? Pictures of this event make it look like a small stream that would be insufficient to meet the needs of millions of people. I imagine that it must have been a great torrent of water that rushed out of the rock and caused a great river or lake to be formed.

    Moses commemorated the event (7).

    The Lord’s kindness to the complaining Israelites was not something Moses wanted the people to forget. The Lord could have punished them as He did the Egyptians, but He chose to love and provide for them.

    To help them remember what had happened, Moses “called the place by two names: Massah (‘testing’) and Meribah (‘quarreling’)” (Hannah 135). The end of verse 7 indicates that the people had suggested that the Lord was not with them. Sadly, many of the Israelites were still too spiritually dense to see the Lord’s hand in their lives after all that He had done.

    Sometimes, problems come from inside. They come from the people closest to you. Tensions rise, words are said, feelings are hurt but the Lord is still there to help. But in our next section, note that problems can come from another source.

  2. Problems from outside (17:8-16)

    What does this mean? A problem from the outside could be something caused by someone outside your normal sphere of influence. It might be from a stranger or someone you don’t usually interact with. But whatever the case, it still is a problem.

    [Read Exodus 17:8-16.]

    a. The problem (8)

    While enjoying the Lord’s provision of water, the Israelites faced another problem. The Amalekites attacked them. Just who were these people? “The Amalekites were nomads in the desert south of Canaan (cf. 1 Sam. 15:7; 27:8). They were descendants of Esau through Eliphaz (Gen. 36:12)” (Hannah 135).

    Moses records some more details about their attack in Deuteronomy 25:17-19. There we learn that the Amalekites “attacked [their] rear ranks, all the stragglers at [the] rear, when [they] were tired and weary; and he did not fear God.” It was a cowardly attack that showed their total disregard for God and his people.

    Another thing to note about problems from the outside is that we often have no control over the situation. In this case, the Israelites didn’t invite the attack. It happened without a logical reason. But it happened nonetheless.

    b. The solution (9-12)

    If Moses were to follow the solution from the first half of the chapter, he would have gone somewhere quiet and alone to pray to the Lord. But this would not have been appropriate at the moment. They were being attacked and had to respond or be killed. So Moses did what he needed to do. The solution involved two things:

    Moses sent Joshua to lead the army (9a).

    With an enemy attacking and perhaps capturing some of their people, it was time to go into action. Moses immediately instructed Joshua to choose men and form an army to fight against the Amalekites. But he also told Joshua that he would be on top of the hill overlooking the battle with the rod of God in his hand.

    Moses held the rod of God on a hill (9b-12).

    The next day, Moses, Aaron, and Hur climbed to the top of the hill to watch the battle. As Moses held up the rod of God, the Israelites prevailed. But when he lowered his hand, the Amalekites prevailed.

    What was Moses doing?

    Remember how the Lord commanded Moses to use the rod for certain miracles? In the past, the rod had become a serpent, been used to part the Red Sea, to turn the Nile into blood, and cause water to come out of the rock. But now, the rod was being used in a different way.

    “Moses’ holding the staff of God (cf. Ex. 4:20) above his head … symbolized Israel’s total dependence on the power of God. When Moses lowered his hands, a picture of lack of dependence, the enemy was winning” (Hannah 135).

    One commentator has the idea that Moses was praying while he was holding the rod up. The text doesn’t say that but it could be true. I would imagine that Moses’ view of the battle caused him to pray many times while on top of the hill.

    So how did the Lord respond to Moses’ raised staff?

    c. The results (13-16)

    The Lord gave them the victory (13).

    That day, Joshua and his chosen soldiers defeated the army of the Amalekites. With the Lord’s help, they won the battle. This happened because they were trusting in the Lord and fighting for his purposes.

    The Lord promised to destroy Amalek (14).

    After the battle, the Lord spoke to Moses. He wanted Moses to write down that God would completely destroy the Amalekites in the future. Apparently, their disregard for the Lord and their attack against God’s people revealed their wicked character and this led to this pronouncement of future judgment.

    “The defeat of the Amalekites was something God wanted Joshua to remember. The Amakekites remained a persistent, harassing enemy of Israel (cf. Num. 14:45; Jud. 6:33; 1 Sam. 14:48; 15:7; 27:8) until they were finally destroyed by King David (1 Sam. 30)” (Hannah 136).

    The Lord was honored (15-16).

    To remember what the Lord did for them that day, Moses built an altar and named it Jehovah Nissi which means “The Lord is my Banner.” The Lord was the banner under which they fought and lived. But there was more to this than just that. This further underscored the Lord’s decision to destroy the wicked Amalekites.

    APPLIC. What do we learn from this? Sadly, there are some people whom the Lord despises. Yes, God is love, but He is also holy. Yes, God loved the world, but He will also judge the world. Those, like the Amalekites, who reject the Lord and His ways will be rejected by the Lord.

    There are two parts to this application.

    First, if you have been rejecting God’s commands in the Bible, be sure that you will face God’s judgment at some point. Consider what Romans 1:17 says: “ The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness.” Those who reject the Lord will face His wrath now and in the future. Turn from your sin today and believe and follow Jesus. It is your only way to escape the coming judgment.

    Second, if you have already turned from your sin to the Lord, be faithful in warning people who are actively rejecting the Lord and how He has instructed us to live. A recent visit to downtown Columbus showed me that there are many people there who are supporting ungodly behavior and attitudes. Unless these people hear from us, how will they escape the wrath to come? And who knows? Maybe some of these people who hear your warning will turn to the Lord from their sin and find hope in God.

    Remember that the same Jesus who died for your sins and rose from the dead did it for the world. If they will repent of their sins and believe Jesus, they too will be saved from God’s judgment.


The problems we face during our lives will be varied. Some problems will come from inside. In Moses’ case, the first problem was a lack of water, complaining people, and threats to his life. What did he do? He took his problems to the Lord. When you face problems that come from close by, remember what the Lord did for Moses and the Israelites. The Lord may allow you to face a problem this week but remember that He is there to help you through it. Be sure to take your problem to Him to find the appropriate solution.

Some problems will come from outside. In Moses’ case, the Amalekites attacked the people and had to be fought. What did he do? He trusted in the Lord to give the victory over their outside enemy. This week, you may face some problems that come from outside. You may face bad attitudes from people who reject the gospel message or who want to continue in their sin. What should you do? You should trust the Lord, pray, and use the sword of the Spirit (the Bible) to combat these problems. As you do, you will see God give you the victory.

This chapter teaches us to turn to the Lord in any situation. Regardless of the source of the problem (from inside or outside), we must learn to turn to the Lord and trust Him for the solution. Will you do that today?


Bush, George, Notes on Exodus, Minneapolis: James & Klock, reprint 1976, 215-223.

Hannah, John D., “Exodus” in Bible Knowledge Commentary Old Testament, USA: SP Publications, 1989, 135-136.

“Who were the Amalekites?”, as viewed at https://printer.gotquestions.net/GeneratePF?articleId=8622 on 6/12/2022.