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Bible: What Does Exodus 17-18 Teach Us About Trials, Prayer, and Wisdom?

Updated on September 9, 2016

Massah and Meribah


The Rock at Horeb

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"The Trial at the Rock"

Israel leaves the Wilderness of Sin and arrives at waterless Rephidim, thirsty and in a foul mood toward Moses, who again questions their attitude (vv. 1-2; cf. 15:22).

They repeat the same “You brought us out of Egypt to kill us” refrain, driving Moses to petition the LORD again (vv. 3-4; cf. 16:3).

Yahweh directs him to take his rod (and some elders with him as witnesses) to the rock in Horeb on which (the text says) He will stand—[Yahweh mentions that Moses had struck the Nile with this rod (v. 5; cf. 7:20)]—and strike this rock also.

From this source God promises to cause water to flow (vv. 5-6).

Moses gives this site two names: Massah (“Tempted”) because there Israel tested God’s faithfulness to them, and Meribah (“Contention) because there they contended with Moses (v. 7).

Moses, Aaron, and Hur at Rephidim


Persistent Prayer Leads to Victory

After "The Trial at the Rock," Amalek (descendants of Esau) attacks Israel at Rephidim (v. 8).

Moses directs Joshua (first mention of this future leader) to lead “some men” against the enemy, while he “prays” on the hilltop (v. 9).

Joshua obeys Moses’ command; meanwhile, Moses ascends the mountain with his brother and a certain Hur (v. 10).

As long as Moses keeps his rod raised, Israel wins the battle (v. 11).

To help Moses endure the lengthy skirmish, the others support his arms on either side while he sits on a huge rock (v. 12), and Joshua (with Israel) wins the battle (v. 13).

Subsequently, Yahweh instructs Moses to record this event in a book and read the account to Joshua, so that he knows that He will completely destroy Amalek one day (v. 14).

Moses also builds an altar at Rephidim, commemorating this declaration of war against Amalek, the LORD’s enemy (vv. 15-16).



Jethro, the Priest of Midian

Exodus 18

Word travels to Jethro about how God had brought Israel out of Egypt through the mediatorial leadership of his son-in-law, Moses (v. 1; cf. 2:16, 18).

After informing Moses of his intentions to visit him (v. 6), Jethro stops by Sinai (“the mountain of God”); he brings along the prophet’s wife Zipporah and her sons Gershom and Eliezer, whom Moses had sent back (vv. 2-5).

[Moses details the significance of his sons’ names in verses 3-4, yet he apparently had little or no time for his family].

When he sees his father-in-law, Moses greets him with genuine respect and shows him hospitality (v. 7).

Then he rehearses to Jethro all the LORD’s exploits—how He had saved Israel not only from Egypt, but also through all of their most recent trials (v. 8).

Moses’ testimony causes Jethro to rejoice in this good news, bless the LORD for His work of salvation, and declare His utmost excellence in dealing with Egypt’s pride (vv. 9-11).

Jethro: Believer?

Do you think Jethro, the priest of Midian, is a true believer in Yahweh?

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Jethro: A True Believer in Yahweh alone?

After their conversation, Jethro offers sacrifices, and Aaron and the elders come to “eat bread” with him (v. 12).

[Has Jethro now become a believer in Yahweh for salvation, or does he only agree that He is greater than all the so-called gods of Egypt?]

On the next day when Jethro notices Moses judging every case of the people, he tells his son-in-law that it is not good that he is trying to do too much by himself (vv. 13-14, 18).

[Moses appeared to regard himself as "The Indispensable Man"; Jethro saw him as a prime candidate for “burnout”].

After hearing Moses’ explanation of his perceived role (vv. 15-16), Jethro offers him three levels of advice not only to prevent Moses’ physical and emotional erosion, but also to promote Israel’s "domestic tranquility" (v. 23):

(1) Act as a priest of the people, bringing their problems to God for them (v. 19);

(2) Teach them God’s laws, and how to live in obedience to them (v. 20);

(3) Select other men to “rule’’ over most of the people in smaller matters (vv. 21-22).

[Jethro suggests a rudimentary system of justice with Moses acting as the Supreme Court].

Humbly accepting the sound counsel of his father-in-law, Moses chooses men to help him rule the people; each head takes care of the smaller needs, and brings the more difficult cases to Moses (vv. 24-26).

Moses sees Jethro off to his own land, probably with many thanks (v. 27).

[Jethro, the priest of Midian, was a mature man with great wisdom and insight which God used to straighten out Moses’ thinking.

Never disregard the advice of the mature wise].

[[Moses forgets Jethro’s advice on the way to the Land (see Numbers 11)]].

© 2013 glynch1


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