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Exodus 17:8-16 - Homilies By J. Orr


Various circumstances are to be noted in connection with this attack of Amalek on Israel.

1 . It was unprovoked . "Then came Amalek" ( Exodus 17:8 ).

2 . It was unfriendly . The Amalekites were descended from a grandson of Esau, and so were related to the Israelites ( Genesis 36:12 ).

3 . It was bitterly hostile . This fierce and warlike tribe attacked Israel in the rear, and with great cruelty smote those who had fallen behind, whether from natural infirmity or from weariness and faintness in the march ( Deuteronomy 25:18 ). This was a peculiarly malignant and vindictive act, and as perpetrated upon the people with whose well-being God had specially identified himself, was never to be forgotten. It was in truth one of those wrongs which burn themselves into the memory of a nation, and never can be forgotten. A special Nemesis waits on acts of flagrant inhumanity.

4 . It was not without knowledge of the mighty works which God had wrought for Israel . We may be certain of that from what was said in Exodus 15:1-27 . of the effects produced on the surrounding peoples by the deliverance of the Red Sea. The Amalekites knew that the children of Israel were the people of Jehovah. They knew what great things Jehovah had done for his nation. They probably shared in the fear which these wonders of Jehovah had inspired. Their hostility to Israel, indeed, may partly have sprung from this cause. The opportunity seemed given them of making a successful raid upon a people whom they both dreaded and despised, and they hastened to avail themselves of it. Knowing that the Israelites were inexperienced in war, and being themselves numerous and powerful, they may have counted on an easy victory, especially as the people were fatigued with marching and. encumbered with baggage, with women and children, and with the aged and infirm. It was a time well chosen for delivering an attack, and for inflicting a mortal injury on the advancing host.

5 . It was the first attack of its kind . And this circumstance gives it a very special significance. It makes it typical. In the issue of the conflict with Amalek is to be seen the result of the whole conflict, prolonged down the ages, between the friends and the enemies of God, between the Church of living believers and the world that hates and seeks to destroy it, waging against it an incessant warfare. Consider—


1 . HOW fought . Observe

2 . How won . First, as seen above, by dint of hard fighting, but second, and more specially, by Moses' intercessions. This portion of the narrative ( Isaiah 55:10-12 ) is full of richest instruction. Observe—

3 . Connection with previous miracle . Is it fanciful to trace in the boldness, valour, and spiritual confidence of the Israelites in this battle, some relation to the wonderful deliverance they have just experienced? It was "at Rephidim," the scene of the miraculous supply of water, that the attack of Amalek took place (verse 8). This water, in the first place, refreshed the Israelites physically, and so enabled them to fight; but we may believe that it had also a powerful, if temporary, effect upon their minds. It would banish doubt, restore trust, inspire enthusiasm. They drank of the brook by the way, and now lifted up the head ( Psalms 110:7 ). Thus does God time his mercies to our trials, and make the one a preparation for the other.

II. THE RECORD IN THE BOOK (verse 14). This command to insert in "the book" an account of the battle with Amalek was connected:

1 . With God ' s design to give his Church a Bible . A "book" is presupposed, in which, apparently, a journal was kept of the transactions of the march. Such a contemporary record was plainly necessary, if exact accounts of these mighty acts of God in the desert were to be preserved. In no other way could the knowledge of them have been handed down to posterity without distortion, mutilation and adulteration. And God was not giving these mighty revelations of himself, to waste them on the air of the wilderness, or to leave them to the risk of being mixed up with legendary matter of man's adding. This part of Israel's history was being shaped and guided with a view to the instruction of the Church to the end of time ( 1 Corinthians 10:6 , 1 Corinthians 10:11 ); and it was requisite that a proper account should be kept of its memorable events. Hence the existence of "the book," out of the contents of which, we may believe, these narratives in the book of Exodus are principally compiled.

2 . With a special significance attaching to this particular event . Amalek's attack on Israel was, as already observed, the first of its kind. "In Amalek the heathen world commenced that conflict with the people of God, which, while it aims at their destruction, can only be terminated by the complete annihilation of the ungodly powers of the world" (Keil). This explains the severe sentence pronounced upon the tribe, as also the weighty significance attached to this first defeat. It takes many types to set forth completely the many-sided enmity of the world to God and to his Church. Pharaoh was one type, Amalek is another. Pharaoh was more especially the type of the enmity of the world against the church, viewed as having escaped from its power. Amalek, as Edom afterwards, is peculiarly the type of vindictive hostility to the kingdom of God as such—of implacable hate. Between Amalek (spiritually) and the church, therefore, there can never be aught but warfare. "Because his hand is against the throne of the Lord" (marg.), therefore "the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation" (verse 16). In this first defeat we have the type of all.

III. JEHOVAH - NISSI . Moses reared an altar in commemoration of the victory, and inscribed upon it the name—"Jehovah-Nissi"—"Jehovah, my banner' (verse 15). This name inscribed upon the altar is at the same time a name of God. It extracts and generalises the principle involved in the victory over Amalek, as a former name, "Jehovah-jireh" ( Genesis 22:14 ) extracted and generalised the principle involved in the interposition on Moriah; and as the words, " I am Jehovah that healeth them" ( Exodus 15:26 ), extracted and generalised the principle involved in the miracle at Marah. The truth taught by the name is precious and consolatory. Jehovah is the Church's banner. His invisible presence goes with her in her conflicts. His help is certain. With him on her side, she is assured of victory. His name is her sure and all-sufficient trust. Learn

1 . God's deeds reveal His name. The revelation of the Bible is a fact-revelation.

2 . It is the Church's duty gratefully to remember the interpositions of God on her behalf.

3 . It is her duty to seek to apprehend the principle of God's dealings with her, and to treasure up the knowledge for further use.— J . O .

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