Exodus 17

 

וַיִּסְעוּ כָּל־עֲדַת בְּנֵי־יִשְׂרָאֵל מִמִּדְבַּר־סִין לְמַסְעֵיהֶם עַל־פִּי יְהוָה וַיַּחֲנוּ בִּרְפִידִים וְאֵין מַיִם לִשְׁתֹּת   17:1

הָעָם

Exod. 17:1  And all the congregation of the children of Israel went forth from the wilderness of Sin to their journey according to the Lord, and they encamped in Rephidim.  But the people had no water to drink.

וַיָּרֶב הָעָם עִם־מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמְרוּ תְּנוּ־לָנוּ מַיִם וְנִשְׁתֶּה וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם מֹשֶׁה מַה־תְּרִיבוּן עִמָּדִי מַה־תְּנַסּוּן   17:2

אֶת־יְהוָה

Exod. 17:2  So the people contended with Moses and they said, “Give us water so we may drink.”  And Moses said to them, “Why must you contend with me?  Why must you test the Lord?”

This verse contains a first-person imperfect verb with a non-inverting vav prefix. It is in the ninth word, hT_,v.nIw, translated as so we may drink.  Coincidentally, the verb is also a consequence of the preceding action, Give.

וַיִּצְמָא שָׁם הָעָם לַמַּיִם וַיָּלֶן הָעָם עַל־מֹשֶׁה וַיֹּאמֶר לָמָּה זֶּה הֶעֱלִיתָנוּ מִמִּצְרַיִם לְהָמִית אֹתִי וְאֶת־   17:3

בָּנַי וְאֶת־מִקְנַי בַּצָּמָא

Exod. 17:3  But the people thirsted there for water and the people murmured against Moses; then one said, “Why is it you brought us up from Egypt, to kill me and my children and my cattle by thirst?”

Verses 17:2 and 17:3 present typical examples of mistranslation of the Hebrew bible.

In v. 17:2 the two questions contained there have imperfect verbs; yet they are apparently universally translated as perfect.  A typical translation might be “Why do you contend with me?  Why do you test the Lord?”  Look carefully at the more accurate translation above and you’ll notice that it contains an implication that is missing in the typical translation:  Moses is frustrated and himself contentious.  The more accurate translation conveys that more clearly.  In the typical translation he is asking simple rhetorical questions of the people.

In v. 17:3 almost every pronoun after the semicolon is singular (the pronoun us is the only exception).  In typical translations they are all translated as plural.  Again the more accurate translation conveys a message that is absent in the typical translation:  One individual seems to have become a spokesperson, at least temporarily. This may be an indication of things to come. I will refer back to this then.                                       [Return to Numb. 16:1]

וַיִּצְעַק מֹשֶׁה אֶל־יְהוָה לֵאמֹר מָה אֶעֱשֶׂה לָעָם הַזֶּה עֹוד מְעַט וּסְקָלֻנִי   17:4

Exod. 17:4  And Moses cried out to the Lord saying, “What can I do for these people?  They are on the verge of stoning me.”

Can you hear Moses’ helpless frustration and disillusionment?

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה עֲבֹר לִפְנֵי הָעָם וְקַח אִתְּךָ מִזִּקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וּמַטְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הִכִּיתָ בֹּו אֶת־הַיְאֹר   17:5

קַח בְּיָדְךָ וְהָלָכְתָּ

Exod. 17:5  And the Lord said to Moses, “Pass by 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 river, and you shall go.”

“With which you struck the river?”  Is the Lord here reminding Moses of his earlier indiscretion, not strictly following His instructions as written in Exod. 7:19 and 7:20.  It would seem so.  At least the scribe may be implying this.

הִנְנִי עֹמֵד לְפָנֶיךָ שָּׁם עַל־הַצּוּר בְּחֹרֵב וְהִכִּיתָ בַצּוּר וְיָצְאוּ מִמֶּנּוּ מַיִם וְשָׁתָה הָעָם וַיַּעַשׂ כֵּן מֹשֶׁה   17:6

לְעֵינֵי זִקְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

Exod. 17:6  “Behold, I will be standing before you there on the rock in Horeb.  And you shall strike on the rock and water shall come out of it, and the people can drink.”  And Moses did so for the eyes of the elders of Israel.

וַיִּקְרָא שֵׁם הַמָּקֹום מַסָּה וּמְרִיבָה עַל־רִיב בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְעַל נַסֹּתָם אֶת־יְהוָה לֵאמֹר הֲיֵשׁ יְהוָה   17:7

בְּקִרְבֵּנוּ אִם־אָיִן

Exod. 17:7  And he called the name of the place Massah-and-meribah because of the strife of the children of Israel and because of their testing the Lord saying, “Is the Lord in our midst, or not?”

The name Massah-and-Meribah means temptation-and-contention or trying/testing-and-striving.  Notice the reverse order of the explanations.  Strife is mentioned first, then testing, although the words in the whole name are the other way around.                                                                                                [Return to Deut. 9:22]

וַיָּבֹא עֲמָלֵק וַיִּלָּחֶם עִם־יִשְׂרָאֵל בִּרְפִידִם   17:8

Exod. 17:8  Then Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.

Amalek is the tribe first mentioned in Gene. 14:7.  The fact that this verse immediately follows the previous one suggests to me that Amalek came because of the doubts that Israel had about God being with them.  I think, judging from what comes later in this chapter, that the Lord is demonstrating a great teaching for Israel about doubting Him.

וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה אֶל־יְהֹושֻׁעַ בְּחַר־לָנוּ אֲנָשִׁים וְצֵא הִלָּחֵם בַּעֲמָלֵק מָחָר אָנֹכִי נִצָּב עַל־רֹאשׁ הַגִּבְעָה   17:9

וּמַטֵּה הָאֱלֹהִים בְּיָדִי

Exod. 17:9  And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out to fight with Amalek tomorrow.  I will be stationed on top of the hill and the staff of God will be in my hand.”

There is no way of telling exactly when during the forty years of wandering this event took place, but notice that Joshua, who will later minister to Moses and then will take over leadership of the Israelites as they enter the promised land, has already been born.  He must have been born in the wilderness (because he -- and Caleb -- survived the forty years of wandering.  None of those who were in the exodus survived).  And he was now fighting young!  Note also that the scribe introduces Joshua casually and familiarly, already knowing of Joshua’s importance.

וַיַּעַשׂ יְהֹושֻׁעַ כַּאֲשֶׁר אָמַר־לֹו מֹשֶׁה לְהִלָּחֵם בַּעֲמָלֵק וּמֹשֶׁה אַהֲרֹן וְחוּר עָלוּ רֹאשׁ הַגִּבְעָה   17:10

Exod. 17:10   So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, to fight with Amalek, and Moses, Aaron, and Hur ascended the top of the hill.

The individual whose name is Hur is mentioned here for the first time.  I have read that the great bible commentator of the eleventh century, Rashi, commented that Hur was the son of Miriam.  According to this, Hur was Aaron’s nephew.  As it turns out, I have found nothing outside of Talmudic stories to support or refute Rashi’s understanding.

   [Return to Exod. 24:14]       [Return to Exod. 31:2]       [Return to Exod. 32:2]           [Return to rubincmds.org]

וְהָיָה כַּאֲשֶׁר יָרִים מֹשֶׁה יָדֹו וְגָבַר יִשְׂרָאֵל וְכַאֲשֶׁר יָנִיחַ יָדֹו וְגָבַר עֲמָלֵק   17:11

Exod. 17:11   And it happened, as Moses would lift up his hand, that Israel would prevail, and when he would lower his hand, that Amalek would prevail.

וִידֵי מֹשֶׁה כְּבֵדִים וַיִּקְחוּ־אֶבֶן וַיָּשִׂימוּ תַחְתָּיו וַיֵּשֶׁב עָלֶיהָ וְאַהֲרֹן וְחוּר תָּמְכוּ בְיָדָיו מִזֶּה אֶחָד   17:12

וּמִזֶּה אֶחָד וַיְהִי יָדָיו אֱמוּנָה עַד־בֹּא הַשָּׁמֶשׁ

Exod. 17:12   But the hands of Moses were heavy, so they took and placed a stone under him and he sat on it, and Aaron and Hur held onto his hands; one on this side, and one, on that; and his hands were steady until the sun set.

וַיַּחֲלֹשׁ יְהֹושֻׁעַ אֶת־עֲמָלֵק וְאֶת־עַמֹּו לְפִי־חָרֶב   17:13

Exod. 17:13   And Joshua disabled Amalek and his people by the edge of the sword.

The first Hebrew word of this verse, translated as disabled, seems to be a strange choice of the scribe. Usually when an army defeats another army , the word used to describe the defeat means smite, demolish, destroy, etc. There’s usually some finality implied by the choice of words. In this case, the word implies no permanence.  Other meanings for the verb used are prostrated, weakened, or discomfited.  All these meanings imply transience.  We may as well understand that Amalek will return again and again.

וַיֹּאמֶר יְהוָה אֶל־מֹשֶׁה כְּתֹב זֹאת זִכָּרֹון בַּסֵּפֶר וְשִׂים בְּאָזְנֵי יְהֹושֻׁעַ כִּי־מָחֹה אֶמְחֶה אֶת־זֵכֶר   17:14

עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם

Exod. 17:14   And the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in the scroll and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua, for I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under the heavens.”

There are four peculiarities in this verse.  First, Amalek is a mysterious person or people.  As I mentioned above, they will keep coming back again and again, always against the Israelites.  It’s as if he/it is a perpetual enemy of Israel.  I am inclined to suspect that he/it represents anti-Semitism.

Then note that Moses is to rehearse the events that just occurred in Joshua’s ear.  Why do you suppose that was necessary?  My thought is that Moses was to tell Joshua what v. 17:16 meant (see below), so that he could transmit the meaning to future generations. But, if I’m right, somewhere along the line the message got lost.

Next note that the scroll, apparently the scroll of Moses, that is, Exodus, Deutoronomy or the entire Torah, is mentioned here.  This would mean that Moses had already been instructed by God to keep a record of events, and he either wrote it himself or, more likely, dictated to a scribe.  So we now have an answer to the question examined in relation to
Exod. 16:34.

Finally, God promises to blot out the memory of Amalek.  How would that be done, if he is to be mentioned in a memorial?  I believe that the promise is a teleological one; it has not yet been fulfilled and will not be until a later time.  We will get the answer to this final puzzle when we get to Deuteronomy 25.             [Return to Deut. 25:19]

וַיִּבֶן מֹשֶׁה מִזְבֵּחַ וַיִּקְרָא שְׁמֹו יְהוָה נִסִּי   17:15

Exod. 17:15   Then Moses built an altar and called its name Adonai-nissi.

The name can mean the Lord is my Banner, the Lord is my Miracle, or the Lord is miraculous.  There are other translations possible too, but they are more remote to the context.  I prefer the last of the offered translations, myself.  For me, it introduces the next verse.

וַיֹּאמֶר כִּי־יָד עַל־כֵּס יָהּ מִלְחָמָה לַיהוָה בַּעֲמָלֵק מִדֹּר דֹּר   17:16

Exod. 17:16   And he said, “While the hand is over the seat, woe!   War with Amalek shall be the Lord’s from generation to generation.”

While this is an eternal prophecy, the Hebrew of this verse is truly strange.  As a result, it is translated in a variety of ways in different bibles.  Literally, the Hebrew says “When the hand is on the seat [or throne] of the Lord, war shall be for the Lord with Amalek from generation to generation.”  There are three reasons why I didn’t use the literal translation or any of the other translations I came across.  First, the literal translation makes little sense, and doesn’t tell us much.  Second, the apparent abbreviation for the Lord’s name in the sixth word of the verse contrasts with the full name appearing in the eighth word, hinting to me that the sixth word shouldn’t be considered the abbreviation, and instead is the word woe.  Third, I’m pretty sure this verse and its meaning are the culmination of the events depicted in second half of this chapter (vss. 17:8 through 17:14) and expresses a vital message for future generations.

I believe this is the message: 


         Woe, Jews!  Woe if you forget or misunderstand this verse and don’t maintain faith in the power

         of God’s presence among us.  When the leader of Israel raises his hands to heaven and keeps

         them up, the Lord will be fighting for us against our perpetual enemy.

Now what does it mean for the leader to keep his hands up?  I suspect it relates to the plagues preceding the Exodus from Egypt.  Most of those miracles were implemented by Moses stretching his hands to heaven.  And the purpose of those miracles was to glorify God’s name and to bring about the release of Israel from bondage; in this case I assume it’s the bondage of anti-Semitism.  That is a bondage we have endured for most of the last three thousand years.                                                        [Return to rubincmds.org Commandment 556]

 

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