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Exodus 17:8-16

Context
Victory over the Amalekites

17:8 1 Amalek came 2  and attacked 3  Israel in Rephidim. 17:9 So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our 4  men and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”

17:10 So Joshua fought against Amalek just as Moses had instructed him; 5 and Moses and Aaron and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 17:11 Whenever Moses would raise his hands, 6  then Israel prevailed, but whenever he would rest 7  his hands, then Amalek prevailed. 17:12 When 8  the hands of Moses became heavy, 9  they took a stone and put it under him, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side and one on the other, 10  and so his hands were steady 11  until the sun went down. 17:13 So Joshua destroyed 12  Amalek and his army 13  with the sword. 14 

17:14 The Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in the 15  book, and rehearse 16  it in Joshua’s hearing; 17  for I will surely wipe out 18  the remembrance 19  of Amalek from under heaven. 17:15 Moses built an altar, and he called it “The Lord is my Banner,” 20  17:16 for he said, “For a hand was lifted up to the throne of the Lord 21  – that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.” 22 

1 sn This short passage gives the first account of Israel’s holy wars. The war effort and Moses’ holding up his hands go side by side until the victory is won and commemorated. Many have used this as an example of intercessory prayer – but the passage makes no such mention. In Exodus so far the staff of God is the token of the power of God; when Moses used it, God demonstrated his power. To use the staff of God was to say that God did it; to fight without the staff was to face defeat. Using the staff of God was a way of submitting to and depending on the power of God in all areas of life. The first part of the story reports the attack and the preparation for the battle (8,9). The second part describes the battle and its outcome (10-13). The final section is the preservation of this event in the memory of Israel (14-16).

2 tn Heb “and Amalek came”; NIV, NCV, TEV, CEV “the Amalekites.”

3 tn Or “fought with.”

4 tn This could be rendered literally “choose men for us.” But the lamed (ל) preposition probably indicates possession, “our men,” and the fact that Joshua was to choose from Israel, as well as the fact that there is no article on “men,” indicates he was to select some to fight.

5 tn The line in Hebrew reads literally: And Joshua did as Moses had said to him, to fight with Amalek. The infinitive construct is epexegetical, explaining what Joshua did that was in compliance with Moses’ words.

6 tn The two verbs in the temporal clauses are by וְהָיָה כַּאֲשֶׁר (vÿhaya kaasher, as long as or, “and it was that whenever”). This indicates that the two imperfect tenses should be given a frequentative translation, probably a customary imperfect.

7 tn Or “lower.”

8 tn Literally “now the hands of Moses,” the disjunctive vav (ו) introduces a circumstantial clause here – of time.

9 tn The term used here is the adjective כְּבֵדִים (kÿvedim). It means “heavy,” but in this context the idea is more that of being tired. This is the important word that was used in the plague stories: when the heart of Pharaoh was hard, then the Israelites did not gain their freedom or victory. Likewise here, when the staff was lowered because Moses’ hands were “heavy,” Israel started to lose.

10 tn Heb “from this, one, and from this, one.”

11 tn The word “steady” is אֱמוּנָה (’emuna) from the root אָמַן (’aman). The word usually means “faithfulness.” Here is a good illustration of the basic idea of the word – firm, steady, reliable, dependable. There may be a double entendre here; on the one hand it simply says that his hands were stayed so that Israel might win, but on the other hand it is portraying Moses as steady, firm, reliable, faithful. The point is that whatever God commissioned as the means or agency of power – to Moses a staff, to the Christians the Spirit – the people of God had to know that the victory came from God alone.

12 tn The verb means “disabled, weakened, prostrated.” It is used a couple of times in the Bible to describe how man dies and is powerless (see Job 14:10; Isa 14:12).

13 tn Or “people.”

14 tn Heb “mouth of the sword.” It means as the sword devours – without quarter (S. R. Driver, Exodus, 159).

15 tn The presence of the article does not mean that he was to write this in a book that was existing now, but in one dedicated to this purpose (book, meaning scroll). See GKC 408 §126.s.

16 tn The Hebrew word is “place,” meaning that the events were to be impressed on Joshua.

17 tn Heb “in the ears of Joshua.” The account should be read to Joshua.

18 tn The construction uses the infinitive absolute and the imperfect tense to stress the resolution of Yahweh to destroy Amalek. The verb מָחָה (makhah) is often translated “blot out” – but that is not a very satisfactory image, since it would not remove completely what is the object. “Efface, erase, scrape off” (as in a palimpsest, a manuscript that is scraped clean so it can be reused) is a more accurate image.

19 sn This would seem to be defeated by the preceding statement that the events would be written in a book for a memorial. If this war is recorded, then the Amalekites would be remembered. But here God was going to wipe out the memory of them. But the idea of removing the memory of a people is an idiom for destroying them – they will have no posterity and no lasting heritage.

20 sn Heb “Yahweh-nissi” (so NAB), which means “Yahweh is my banner.” Note that when Israel murmured and failed God, the name commemorated the incident or the outcome of their failure. When they were blessed with success, the naming praised God. Here the holding up of the staff of God was preserved in the name for the altar – God gave them the victory.

21 tn The line here is very difficult. The Hebrew text has כִּי־יָד עַל־כֵּס יָהּ (ki yadal kes yah, “for a hand on the throne of Yah”). If the word is “throne” (and it is not usually spelled like this), then it would mean Moses’ hand was extended to the throne of God, showing either intercession or source of power. It could not be turned to mean that the hand of Yah was taking an oath to destroy the Amalekites. The LXX took the same letters, but apparently saw the last four (כסיה) as a verbal form; it reads “with a secret hand.” Most scholars have simply assumed that the text is wrong, and כֵּס should be emended to נֵס (nes) to fit the name, for this is the pattern of naming in the OT with popular etymologies – some motif of the name must be found in the sentiment. This would then read, “My hand on the banner of Yah.” It would be an expression signifying that the banner, the staff of God, should ever be ready at hand when the Israelites fight the Amalekites again.

22 sn The message of this short narrative, then, concerns the power of God to protect his people. The account includes the difficulty, the victory, and the commemoration. The victory must be retained in memory by the commemoration. So the expositional idea could focus on that: The people of God must recognize (both for engaging in warfare and for praise afterward) that victory comes only with the power of God. In the NT the issue is even more urgent, because the warfare is spiritual – believers do not wrestle against flesh and blood. So only God’s power will bring victory.



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