Study Notes

Exodus 17:8-18:27

17:8 Amalek At Rephidim

The name Rephidim means "resting place." Rephidim was supposed to be a rest stop, a place to find water and peace. But unlike its name, the Israelites found no water or rest, and were attacked by the Amalekites.

The Amalekites were descendants of Amalek. Amalek was one of Esau's grandsons. In Deuteronomy, Moses is reminding the Israelites before they enter the promised land of all that has happened. He reminds them of their first encounter with the Amalekites, saying

Deut. 25:17-18 "Remember what Amalek did to you along the way when you came out from Egypt, 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.

So the Amalekites' first strategy was to attack the stragglers at the rear, picking off the ones who didn't walk with the rest of the children of God.

That is the easiest place for you to be attacked as well. When you're out of fellowship with the rest of God's people, having a Lone Ranger kind of attitude: "I don't need to go to church to be a Christian. I can worship God up on this mountain while I'm hunting." Guess what - something is hunting you. The further you are from the rest of the flock, the easier prey you are for the wolves.

17:9-13 Joshua

This is the first we hear of Joshua. Moses put him in command of the battle, and God will eventually use him to lead the people into the promised land.

Moses tells him to choose men for an army, and lead the fight against the Amalekites.

Holding Up Moses' Arms

Meanwhile, Moses, Aaron, and Hur go up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held the rod up over his head, the battle was victorious for the Israelites. But when Moses' arms grew tired and he dropped them, then the Amalekites would prevail. Aaron and Hur became a support to Moses. They gave him a stone to sit on, and lifted up his hands. Thus, God's people were victorious.

I see a picture here that is going to become clearer in chapter 18. Moses was the servant that God chose to lead His people through the wilderness. But Moses wasn't able to do it alone. There were too many people, too much work to do on his own. He needed other leaders to support him in what he had been called to do.

As a pastor, I'm in much the same boat. I've been called as a servant to lead a number of God's people through the wilderness of this life, but the job is too big to handle alone. If our group of God's people are to be victorious, I need other leaders who will support me and lift my arms when they grow weary. That is why the biblical church has been established with elders (overseers) and deacons. The pastor can't do it all alone, any more than Moses could. The elders are called to support the pastor's spiritual arm - counseling, praying, encouraging, and teaching. The deacons are called to support the pastor's physical arm - cleaning, helping, moving, serving.

With the support of Aaron and Hur, Moses was able to do his part to insure that the Israelites were victorious against their enemy.

17:14 -16 Amalek Will Be Blotted Out

The Lord promises that each generation would have war against the Amalekites until they were utterly wiped out.

In 1Sam 15, we read that Samuel prophecies to Saul,

1Sam. 15:2-3 "Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I will punish Amalek {for} what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'"

This was the time that God ordained to utterly blot out the Amalekites. But Saul had his own interpretation of victory, that didn't include complete obedience to God.

1Sam. 15:8-9 And he captured Agag the king of the Amalekites alive, and utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the fatlings, the lambs, and all that was good, and were not willing to destroy them utterly; but everything despised and worthless, that they utterly destroyed.

The Lord told Samuel,

1Sam. 15:11 "I regret that I have made Saul king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not carried out My commands."...

Saul tried to make excuses,

1Sam. 15:20 Then Saul said to Samuel, "I did obey the voice of the LORD, and went on the mission on which the LORD sent me, and have brought back Agag the king of Amalek, and have utterly destroyed the Amalekites.

But Samuel tells Saul,

1Sam. 15:23 "...Rebellion is as the sin of divination, And insubordination is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, He has also rejected you from {being} king."

Partial obedience is disobedience. When we don't obey the Lord completely, His perfect plans for our victory can get really messed up. Had Saul obeyed, the Amalekites would never have troubled Israel again. But by sparing just one man, Agag, it almost meant the complete destruction of Israel.

For you see, we read in the book of Esther that a man named Haman was nearly successful in having all the Israelites destroyed. Haman was an Agagite, a descendant of the sole survivor of the Amalekites.

That certainly has application in our own lives. When God calls us to deny our flesh completely, to obey entirely, to pluck out a root of bitterness in its entirety, we must not only obey partially. These things will come back in spades and possibly destroy us.

At the end of 1Chronicles 4, we read that the remnant of the Amalekites are finally destroyed. Today, all the world knows of the Israelites, but Amalekites are nowhere to be found.

18:1-7 Jethro Shows Up

Jethro, or Reuel, as he was called back in chapter 2, brings back Moses' wife (his daughter), Zipporah. Remember that back in chapter 4 we discussed how Moses had sent her away, probably right after the incident at the lodging place. Moses had not circumcised his son Gershom, and Moses was going to die for the disobedience.

Exod. 4:24-26 Now it came about at the lodging place on the way that the LORD met him and sought to put him to death. Then Zipporah took a flint and cut off her son's foreskin and threw {it} at Moses' feet, and she said, "You are indeed a bridegroom of blood to me." So He let him alone. At that time she said, " {You are} a bridegroom of blood " - because of the circumcision.

Most people believe that Moses sent her and his two sons back home at this point. It is possible that he sent her away later, but we really don't know. So now here comes Jethro with Moses' wife and her two sons.

18:8-12 Jethro Believes

Remember that Moses had spent forty years tending Jethro's sheep. They knew each other well, and Moses had probably often spoken both of the Lord and his own desire to free God's people from the bondage of their slavery in Egypt. After meeting God at the burning bush, Moses packed up and said, "I'm going to deliver God's people." You can imagine what Jethro might have thought about all this "craziness."

When I announced that I was moving 1,100 miles away to a place that I'd never been before to start a church in a living room, lots of people thought I was nuts, too. Leaving the safety and security of employment and a large, successful church was pretty "out there" to some folks.

I think of Philip in Acts chapter 8. Philip was in Samaria, proclaiming Christ, and massive multitudes of people were getting saved. He was casting out unclean spirits, and healing many who were paralyzed and lame. People were being baptized, signs and miracles, people receiving the Holy Spirit. The town was rocking with revival.

Acts 8:26 But an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, "Arise and go south to the road that descends from Jerusalem to Gaza." (This is a desert {road} .)

To me, the most impressive thing about Philip is not that he was being used mightily in this revival, but that he didn't say, "Wait a minute, Lord! We've got radical revival happening here, and you want me to leave and go to this nowhere place? What's up with that?" No, he just up and went. That's faith and obedience.

So Moses had done the same thing, leaving security to go off and do something "nutty" for God. But now Moses relates the incredible story of God's deliverance and miraculous provision. Jethro is floored. "Now I know that the Lord is greater than all the gods, Moses. If he can do what He's done with you, He can do anything!"

18:13-27 Jethro's Advice

With 2 or 3 million people to lead, there was often conflicts that needed resolving. "She took my bucket and didn't return it!" "He dug a hole that my lamb broke its leg in." "Those neighbor's kids stole my tent pegs!" "That guy broke my rake!"

Moses was dealing with these problems all day long. Jethro saw that this was an impossibility, both for Moses, who would wear himself out, and for the people, who deserved more expedient justice. He tells Moses that he should focus on two responsibilities: 1) Represent the people to God, and 2) Teach the people what God says.

As for the matters of resolving disputes, he was to select men with three qualifications. 1) Men who fear God, 2) Men of truth, and 3) Men who hate dishonest gain. They were to be placed over the people as leaders of various-sized groups. Moses would handle the major disputes, but these guys would be a support to Moses' ministry, bearing the burden with him.

This plurality of leadership validated in Exodus is carried on into the church. In the book of Acts, we read of a similar situation.

Acts 6:1-4 Now at this time while the disciples were increasing {in number,} a complaint arose on the part of the Hellenistic {Jews} against the {native} Hebrews, because their widows were being overlooked in the daily serving of food. And the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. But select from among you, brethren, seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. But we will devote ourselves to prayer, and to the ministry of the word."

The apostles came to the same conclusion that Moses did. "We should only have two responsibilities, the same two that Moses had. Prayer and the Word."

Just as Moses was to represent the people to God in prayer, and minister the word by teaching the people God's statues, laws, and the way they should walk.

Just as Moses needed his arms held up. Just as he needed assistance from godly men who could help lead the people, so every pastor needs elders and deacons to share the weight of ministry.

If God Commands You

Before we close, I'd like to point out one more thing that Jethro said when he gave Moses this advice. In verse 23, he says,

Exod. 18:23 "If you do this thing and God so commands you...

Too often, we give our advice like it is gospel truth. Too often, we think, "I've got the solution, listen to me." But Jethro was truly a man of wisdom. He says, "Moses, here's my idea. But only implement it if God commands and confirms it."

When we give advice, we should always make sure to say the same thing: "Hey, this is just my idea, but pray about it and see if the Lord would confirm it."

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