The Amalekites — Third in a series
At the Exodus Moses and Israel sang, The LORD [is] my strength and song, and he is become my salvation: he [is] my God, and I will prepare him an habitation; my father's God, and I will exalt him. (Ex 15:2) Yes, into the desert they went to build a habitation, a tabernacle, where they would worship the Lord according to his revealed pattern.
Moses also prophesied,
The people shall hear, [and] be afraid: sorrow shall take hold on the inhabitants of Palestina. Then the dukes of Edom shall be amazed; the mighty men of Moab, trembling shall take hold upon them; all the inhabitants of Canaan shall melt away. Fear and dread shall fall upon them; by the greatness of thine arm they shall be [as] still as a stone; till thy people pass over, O LORD, till the people pass over, [which] thou hast purchased. (Ex 15:14-16)
Indeed, the inhabitants of the land feared the approach of the Israelites, and one duke-dom of Edom would challenge the exodus, as we shall see.
After crossing the Red Sea, the Lord sent the Hebrews south into the desert wilderness to make Pharaoh think they were confused, and so that they would not become disheartened in a confrontation with the Philistine. (Ex 14:3; 13:17)
Picture the Red Sea with its two fingers that extend upward, the Gulf of Suez on the left and the Gulf of Aqaba on the right. To the west of the left finger is Egypt, to the east of the right was Midian (today, Saudi Arabia), and in between is the Sinai Peninsula.
After about three months the Hebrews were two-thirds of the way down to the bottom of the Peninsula, at Rephidim, a resting place, not a city of Amalek. Yet Amalek attacked. Why? His territory was further north (Gen 14:7). Did anything provoke his attack? Let's look at the events that preceded it.
Only three days after God drowned Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea, the Israelites murmured and complained against Moses because of their thirst at Marah where the waters were bitter. (Ex 15:22, 23) He cried out to the Lord and was shown a tree which, when cast into the waters, made them sweet. There, Moses told the people that if they would listen to God and obey his commandments, he would not visit them with illnesses: I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I [am] the LORD that healeth thee. (Ex 15:25, 26)
Next, they came to Elim (Ex 15:27) where plenty of water was available. Then, from Elim they entered the wilderness of Sin. It had now been two and a half months since their Exodus (Ex 16:1) Again, the whole congregation murmured and complained against Moses and Aaron, this time because they were hungry. The Lord provided quail and rained down manna from heaven. (Ex 16:4) They were to gather enough manna for the Sabbath on the sixth day, but some disobeyed so the Lord corrected their behavior. (Ex 16:28)
They continued on their journey and left Sin to pitch tents in Rephidim but there was no water, so again, they complained to Moses and railed against him. This was mere squealing because the manna was to serve as both food and water. (Reference: John Calvin).
Moses cried to the Lord, What shall I do unto this people? They be almost ready to stone me. (Ex 17:4) It seems the Lord understood that His people were spiritual infants, so He performed an even greater miracle, commanding Moses to take the rod that had done wonders in Egypt and to strike a rock in Horeb. Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. (Ex 17:6)
Nevertheless the place was called "Massah and Meribah" — temptation and strife, because of the grumbling of the people and because they tempted the Lord, saying, Is the Lord among us or not? (Ex 17:7) THEN CAME AMALEK and fought with Israel in Rephidim. A surprise attack!
Moses instructed Joshua to choose men and fight against Amalek, while Moses, Aaron and Hur watched from the top of a hill. When Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, but when he let it down, Amalek did. (Ex 17:11) The battle was won by the Israelites, but only because Aaron and Hur kept Moses' hands upraised. God clearly demonstrated that Moses was not to be abused. He was their leader and their lives were in his hands.
The Lord instructs us by His Word, by fellow Christians and our pastors, by merciful revelations and daily events, but there comes a time when he must discipline. Then, like a father who anguishes over the spanking more than the child who received it, he shows sorrow: And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this [for] a memorial in a book, and rehearse [it] in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. (Ex 17:14) Note, however, the words were for Joshua's ears only.
Moses then built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi: For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn [that] the LORD [will have] war with Amalek from generation to generation. (Ex 17:15, 16) Jehovahnissi means "The Lord is my banner." Moses knew it was not his hand but the rod of God that he held up, that is, God alone, who gave the victory in battle. Further, he understood that God counted his people's enemies as his own enemies. How wonderful!
But why were the Amalekites singled out for a destiny of annihilation? We will look at that in the next post.