In our current series called “The Wandering Church” we have been studying the story of the exodus. Under the leadership of Moses, the children of Israel have fled from Pharaoh and crossed the Red Sea. Now in the region of Midian, they are finally approaching Mt. Sinai (also called Mt. Horeb) where the LORD has been leading them. They have journeyed through the Wilderness of Sin and have arrived at a place called Rephidim.
In our time together today we will consider the events that transpired while the people are camped at Rephidim. It is important to realize that this location is very near to Mt. Sinai, which is called the mountain of God. There are 3 major occurrences that take place at Rephidim, all of which are written about in Exodus 17, and these will be our points of emphasis.
I. WATER (Exodus 17:1-7)
We have already seen how water played an important role in the exodus journey. God had turned bitter water into sweet at Marah, and had provided abundant water at the desert oasis of Elim. But once again the people’s water supply began to run short and the complaints began to rise again. Their dissention was so strong that Moses actually feared that the people might stone him to death. So, once again, he turned to the LORD in prayer.
God answered Moses by telling him to gather some elders and pass before the people, thereby gaining their attention. Then he was to take his staff - the same one that he had used when turning the waters of the Nile River into blood back in Egypt - and to strike the rock at Horeb with it. The fact that this rock was called the “rock at Horeb” indicates its proximity to Mt. Horeb or Mt. Sinai. When Moses struck the rock, waters flowed out of it so that the people had plenty to drink.
Moses named this place Massah which means “to test” and Meribah which means “to quarrel”. Despite the LORD’s continued faithfulness to them, these people tested Him and provoked Him by constantly questioning His ability to provide for their needs. The more things change, the more they stay the same… despite our modern conveniences and enlightenment, we as God’s church still question and doubt Him all the time.
Much later in this series we will read of another very similar episode that takes place at another location also called Meribah (found in Numbers 20:8-20). Some theologians have suggested that these 2 stories refer to a single event and are therefore duplicated unnecessarily in scripture. I however believe that they are distinct and separate events, which share many commonalities. This would be comparable to Jesus’ cleansing of the temple twice in the gospels - once near the beginning of His ministry (John 2:10-11) and again in the week before His death (as recorded in Matthew, Mark, and Luke).
II. WAR (Exodus 17:8-13)
While still at Rephidim, the people of Amalek came up and attacked the Israelites. While they had never directly engaged in combat with the Egyptians, because the LORD delivered them Himself, they had prepared themselves to fight. Now, for the first time during the exodus journey, the people of God would be called to battle. Moses selected Joshua to serve as their military commander, and he assembled an army of men go out and meet the Amalekite threat.
Apparently the Hebrews arrived at Rephidim in stages (see verse 1) with some groups getting there earlier while other straggled behind. According to a passage found in Deuteronomy 25:17-18, the Amalekites attacked the rear flank of the people, probably trying to cut them off from the larger group already ahead at the camp. When it became known that they were under attack, Joshua led his army to confront the enemy.
17 “Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, 18 how he met you along the way and attacked among you all the stragglers at your rear when you were faint and weary; and he did not fear God. - Deut. 25:17-18
During the battle, Moses took his brother Aaron and trusted companion Hur up onto a nearby hill to watch the fighting as it took place. The exact identity of Hur is unknown, but some have suggested that he was either Moses’ nephew (Miriam’s son) or his brother-in-law (Miriam’s husband). Either way, he was a dear friend. From their vantage point, these 3 men watched the combat raging in the valley below.
Moses realized that when he held his hands up Israel prevailed, but when he put them down Amalek prevailed. Wanting to ensure the victory for his people, Moses put his hands up but his arms soon grew tired and began to droop. Therefore, they placed a large stone under Moses so the he could sit. Aaron and Hur then took their places on either side of Moses and held up his weary arms until Israel had won the battle.
This story is a wonderful illustration of how we need each other. There are times in all of our lives when we grow weak and tired. The battle before us seems too great and our strength is all but gone. Often in these trying moments God uses our friends, family, and/or others to step in and be our support. We are called to “hold up the arms” of our friends when they can’t do it for themselves. By facing the battles of this world together, we can better ensure the victory that God has in store.
III. WORSHIP (Exodus 17:14-16)
After the Amalekites were defeated the LORD spoke to Moses. He told him to write down in a book that the Amalekites would one day be completely annihilated from the pages of history. He told Moses to share this news with Joshua. This point is reemphasized in the Deuteronomy 25 passage I mentioned earlier. God would eventually destroy the Amalekites because they did not fear His name and because they continually harassed His people.
19 Therefore it shall come about when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your surrounding enemies, in the land which the Lord your God gives you as an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you must not forget. - Deut. 25:19
Moses wrote that the LORD had sworn to eradicate Amalek once and for all. Some 300 or more years later, during the reign of King Saul, God instructed the Israelites to carry out this promise. While killing most of them, Saul did not completely finish the job and some Amalekites remained. However, in the book of 1st Chronicles we read that the descendants of Simeon eventually wiped out the remnant that was left. Thus, God kept His word and blotted out the Amalekites forever.
Back to our story... the enemy had retreated and the people of God rejoiced. Moses built an altar at Rephidim and named it “The LORD Is My Banner”. We can understand the meaning of this phrase by thinking of a banner as a flag. When armies go into battle under the colors of a certain flag, it means that they are fighting on behalf of and in allegiance to whatever nation that flag represents. In the same way, when we face the struggles of this current life we should fight the in the name of and under the banner of God Almighty. It is His flag that should always wave over our lives.
Archaeologists have discovered a rock near the suggested site of Mt. Sinai that many believe to be the rock at Horeb. It is over 5 stories tall, split down the middle, and shows signs of water erosion at its base. Nearby, there is an altar built of large stones. Pictures of these locations are available online. These serve to authenticate the truthfulness of the exodus account.
When we consider the events that took place at Rephidim, there are a few applications that we should highlight before we close the message today....
The first is that we should not test or provoke God like the people did at Meribah. We are reminded of this by Jesus’ own words during His temptation in the wilderness. The second is that we should support each other, by being present to assist and hold up one another’s arms during times of trouble. And finally, we should be allegiant to and wholly devoted to God alone and allow His banner to fly over our lives. We are His people, and He is our God!