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Exodus 17:16

Adam Clarke
Bible Commentary

The Lord hath sworn that the Lord will have war with Amalek, etc. - This is no translation of the words מלחמה יה כס על יד כי ki yad al kes yah milckamah, which have been variously rendered by different translators and critics; the most rational version of which is the following: Because the hand of Amalek is against the throne of God, therefore will I have war with Amalek from generation to generation. This gives a tolerably consistent sense, yet still there is considerable obscurity in the passage. Houbigant, a most judicious though bold critic, supposes that, as נסי יהוה Jehovah -nissi, Jehovah my ensign, was spoken of immediately before, כס kes, a throne, in this verse, is an error of some transcriber for נס nes, an ensign, which might be readily occasioned by the great similarity between the כ caph and the נ nun . He thinks farther that the two letters יה yah, which are supposed to be here a contraction of the word יהוה Yehovah, are separated, the י yod from the נס nes, which should be written נשי nissi, and the ה he, from מלחמה milchamah, which should be written המלחמה hammilchamah, and then the whole verse will run thus: For the hand shall be upon the ensigns of war unto the Lord, against Amalek for ever, i.e., God makes now a declaration of war against the Amalekites, which shall continue till their final destruction. The conjecture of Mr. Julius Bate, in his Literal Translation of the Pentateuch, deserves attention. He supposes that, as כס cos signifies a cup, and a cup is emblematically used for wrath, on one of the stones of the altar, mentioned in the preceding verse, a hand holding a cup was sculptured, this being a memorial, according to the custom of hieroglyphical writing, that the Lord would continue the cup of wrath, portending continual war, against Amalek for ever. I prefer Houbigant's exposition.

  1. This first victory of Israel must have inspired them with a considerable measure of confidence in God, and in his servant Moses. Though God alone could give them the victory, yet it was necessary to show them that it was by the influence of Moses they got it. Moses could not deliver Amalek into their hands; yet if Moses did not continue to hold up his hands, i.e., to pray, Amalek must prevail. God, therefore, wrought this work in such a way as to instruct the people, promote his own glory, and secure the true honor of his servant. The Divine Being always performs the greatest number possible of ends, by the fewest and simplest means. In every work of God there is as much of wisdom and economy, as there is of sovereign uncontrolled power.
  • It is not probable that the people whom Joshua chose out to lead against Amalek were unarmed; and we have already seen that it is not at all likely that they came armed out of Egypt. And as the whole circumstances of this case show that those who fought against the Amalekites were properly equipped for the fight, we may then safely presume that they got their arms from the Egyptians, whose bodies were thrown on the shore after having been overwhelmed in the Red Sea. Thus, what was a judgment in the one case, was a most gracious providence in the other. Judgment on God's foes is mercy to his friends.
  • Of the efficacy of prayer we have already had the most striking examples. He who has the spirit of prayer, has the highest interest in the court of heaven; and the only way to retain it, is to keep it in constant employment. Apostasy begins in the closet: no man ever backslid from the life and power of Christianity who continued constant and fervent, especially in private prayer. He who prays without ceasing is likely to rejoice evermore.
  • Albert Barnes
    Notes on the Whole Bible

    Because the Lord hath sworn - This rendering is incorrect. Our translators regard the expression as a solemn asseveration by the throne of God. However, to this the objections are insuperable; it has no parallel in Scriptural usage: God swears by Himself, not by His Throne. As the Hebrew text now stands the meaning is more satisfactorily given in the margin.

    An alteration, slight in form, but considerable in meaning, has been proposed with much confidence, namely, נס nês “standard” for כסא kı̂ssê' “throne”; thus connecting the name of the altar with the sentence. Conjectural emendations are not to be adopted without necessity, and the obvious a priori probability of such a reading makes it improbable that one so far more difficult should have been substituted for it. One of the surest canons of criticism militates against its reception. As it stands, the text was undoubtedly that which was alone known to the Targumists, the Samaritan, the Syriac, the Latin and the Arabic translators. The Septuagint appears to have had a different reading: ἐν χειρὶ κρυφαίᾳ πολεμεῖ en cheiri kruphē polemeō f0.

    Matthew Henry
    Concise Bible Commentary
    Israel engaged with Amalek in their own necessary defence. God makes his people able, and calls them to various services for the good of his church. Joshua fights, Moses prays, both minister to Israel. The rod was held up, as the banner to encourage the soldiers. Also to God, by way of appeal to him. Moses was tired. The strongest arm will fail with being long held out; it is God only whose hand is stretched out still. We do not find that Joshua's hands were heavy in fighting, but Moses' hands were heavy in praying; the more spiritual any service is, the more apt we are to fail and flag in it. To convince Israel that the hand of Moses, whom they had been chiding, did more for their safety than their own hands, his rod than their sword, the success rises and falls as Moses lifts up or lets down his hands. The church's cause is more or less successful, as her friends are more or less strong in faith, and fervent in prayer. Moses, the man of God, is glad of help. We should not be shy, either of asking help from others, or of giving help to others. The hands of Moses being thus stayed, were steady till the going down of the sun. It was great encouragement to the people to see Joshua before them in the field of battle, and Moses above them on the hill. Christ is both to us; our Joshua, the Captain of our salvation, who fights our battles, and our Moses, who ever lives, making intercession above, that our faith fail not. Weapons formed against God's Israel cannot prosper long, and shall be broken at last. Moses must write what had been done, what Amalek had done against Israel; write their bitter hatred; write their cruel attempts; let them never be forgotten, nor what God had done for Israel in saving them from Amalek. Write what should be done; that in process of time Amalek should be totally ruined and rooted out. Amalek's destruction was typical of the destruction of all the enemies of Christ and his kingdom.
    Ellen G. White
    Patriarchs and Prophets, 300

    The Amalekites were not ignorant of God's character or of His sovereignty, but instead of fearing before Him, they had set themselves to defy His power. The wonders wrought by Moses before the Egyptians were made a subject of mockery by the people of Amalek, and the fears of surrounding nations were ridiculed. They had taken oath by their gods that they would destroy the Hebrews, so that not one should escape, and they boasted that Israel's God would be powerless to resist them. They had not been injured or threatened by the Israelites. Their assault was wholly unprovoked. It was to manifest their hatred and defiance of God that they sought to destroy His people. The Amalekites had long been high-handed sinners, and their crimes had cried to God for vengeance, yet His mercy had still called them to repentance; but when the men of Amalek fell upon the wearied and defenseless ranks of Israel, they sealed their nation's doom. The care of God is over the weakest of His children. No act of cruelty or oppression toward them is unmarked by Heaven. Over all who love and fear Him, His hand extends as a shield; let men beware that they smite not that hand; for it wields the sword of justice. PP 300.1

    Not far distant from where the Israelites were now encamped was the home of Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses. Jethro had heard of the deliverance of the Hebrews, and he now set out to visit them, and restore to Moses his wife and two sons. The great leader was informed by messengers of their approach, and he went out with joy to meet them, and, the first greetings over, conducted them to his tent. He had sent back his family when on his way to the perils of leading Israel from Egypt, but now he could again enjoy the relief and comfort of their society. To Jethro he recounted the wonderful dealings of God with Israel, and the patriarch rejoiced and blessed the Lord, and with Moses and the elders he united in offering sacrifice and holding a solemn feast in commemoration of God's mercy. PP 300.2

    As Jethro remained in the camp, he soon saw how heavy were the burdens that rested upon Moses. To maintain order and discipline among that vast, ignorant, and untrained multitude was indeed a stupendous task. Moses was their recognized leader and magistrate, and not only the general interests and duties of the people, but the controversies that arose among them, were referred to him. He had permitted this, for it gave him an opportunity to instruct them; as he said, “I do make them know the statutes of God, and His laws.” But Jethro remonstrated against this, saying, “This thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone.” “Thou wilt surely wear away,” and he counseled Moses to appoint proper persons as rulers of thousands, and others as rulers of hundreds, and others of tens. They should be “able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness.” These were to judge in all matters of minor consequence, while the most difficult and important cases should still be brought before Moses, who was to be to the people, said Jethro, “to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: and thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” This counsel was accepted, and it not only brought relief to Moses, but resulted in establishing more perfect order among the people. PP 300.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Spiritual Gifts, vol. 3, 257-9

    “Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur, went up to the top of the hill. And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur staid up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.” 3SG 257.1

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    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies for the Church, vol. 5, 245

    Sacred history presents striking examples of the Lord's jealous care for the weakest of His children. During the journeying of Israel in the wilderness the weary and feeble ones who had fallen behind the body of the people were attacked and slain by the cowardly and cruel Amalekites. Afterward Israel made war with the Amalekites and defeated them. “And the Lord said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.” Again the charge was repeated by Moses just before his death, that it might not be forgotten by his posterity: “Remember what Amalek did unto thee by the way, when ye were come forth out of Egypt; how he met thee by the way, and smote the hindmost of thee, even all that were feeble behind thee, when thou wast faint and weary; and he feared not God.... Thou shalt blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shalt not forget it.” 5T 245.1

    If God thus punished the cruelty of a heathen nation, how must He regard those who, professing to be His people, will make war upon their own brethren who are worn and wearied laborers in His cause? Satan has great power over those who yield to his control. It was the chief priests and elders—the religious teachers of the people—that urged on the murderous throng from the judgment hall to Calvary. There are hearts today among the professed followers of Christ inspired by the same spirit that clamored for the crucifixion of our Saviour. Let the workers of evil remember that to all their acts there is one witness, a holy, sin-hating God. He will bring all their works into judgment, with every secret thing. 5T 245.2

    “We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let every one of us please his neighbor for his good to edification. For even Christ pleased not Himself.” As Christ has pitied and helped us in our weakness and sinfulness, so should we pity and help others. Many are perplexed with doubt, burdened with infirmities, weak in faith, and unable to grasp the unseen; but a friend whom they can see, coming to them in Christ's stead, can be as a connecting link to fasten their trembling faith upon God. Oh, this is a blessed work! Let not pride and selfishness prevent us from doing the good which we may do if we will work in Christ's name and with a loving, tender spirit. 5T 245.3

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    Ellen G. White
    Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, 106-9

    When we sin against God, there is a disposition to fall behind Jesus a day's journey; we seek to separate from His company because it is distasteful, for every ray of light from His divine presence points to the sin of which we have been guilty. Satan exults over the sins which he has induced souls to commit, and he makes the most of all these failures and sins. He rehearses them to the angels of God, and taunts them with these weaknesses and failures. He is in every sense an accuser of the brethren, and exults over every sin and wrong which God's people are beguiled to commit. You, Brother V, have been engaged in this same work to quite an extent. You have taken what appeared to you like wrongs, weaknesses, and errors in the ranks of Sabbathkeeping Adventists, and have brought them to the notice of the enemies of our faith who were warring against that company unto whom angels of heaven were ministering, and whose cause Jesus, their Advocate, was pleading before His Father. He cries, “Spare them, Father, spare them, they are the purchase of My blood,” and lifts to His Father His wounded hands. You have been guilty before God of a great sin. You have been taking advantage of those things which grieve, which bring anguish upon the people of God as they see some of their numbers unconsecrated and frequently overcome by Satan. Instead of aiding these erring souls to get right, you have triumphantly made their errors conspicuous to those who hated them because they professed to keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus. You have made it very hard for those who were engaged in the work of saving the erring, hunting up the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 2T 106.1

    Because of Israel's disobedience and departure from God, they were allowed to be brought into close places and to suffer adversity; their enemies were permitted to make war with them, to humble them and lead them to seek God in their trouble and distress. “Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.” This took place immediately after the children of Israel had given themselves up to their rebellious murmurings and to unjust, unreasonable complaints against their leaders whom God had qualified and appointed to lead them through the wilderness to the land of Canaan. The Lord directed their course where there was no water, to prove them, to see if, after receiving so many evidences of His power, they had learned to turn to Him in their affliction, and had repented of their past rebellious murmurings against Him. They had charged Moses and Aaron with selfish motives in bringing them from Egypt to kill them and their children with hunger, that they might be enriched with their possessions. In doing this the Israelites ascribed to man that which they had received unmistakable evidence was from God alone, whose power is unlimited. These wonderful manifestations of the power of God He would have them ascribe to Him alone, and magnify His name upon the earth. The Lord brought them over the same ground of trial repeatedly to prove whether they had yet learned His dealings and repented of their sinful disobedience and rebellious murmurings. In Rephidim, when the people thirsted for water, they were again proud, and showed that they still possessed an evil heart of unbelief, of murmuring, of rebellion, which revealed the fact that it would not yet be safe to establish them in the land of Canaan. If they would not glorify God in their trials and adversity, in their travels through the wilderness to the Canaan in prospect, while God was continually giving them unmistakable evidence of His power and glory, and His care for them, they would not magnify His name and glorify Him when established in the land of Canaan, surrounded with blessings and prosperity. Because the people thirsted for water, they were provoked, so that Moses feared for his life. 2T 106.2

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    The Route of the Exodus