Opening Prayer: Almighty God, we thank you for your Word. That it is true and trustworthy. We thank you that your word remains true through all generations and that your word does not return to you fruitless or empty. Empower your word now by the work of your Spirit that we may be cultivated and produce a great harvest, through Jesus, our King, Amen!
Remember where we are in the story. This entire book is about the marriage of Yahweh and Israel, his bride. This story is about God keeping his promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (Ex. 2:24, 3:6, 16). This book is about the faithfulness of God to the covenant. The covenant is the bond that God graciously made with his people and with their children after them (Gen. 12, 15, 17, etc.).
Water from the Rock
It is striking just how ungrateful these people are, and thus God’s patience seems even more striking. The people are complaining again, and this time apparently they are threatening to even stone Moses (17:4). Previously God rained bread down upon them, and now God instructs Moses to take his rod to a rock near Horeb and strike it, and water will come out (17:5-6). Why is God so gracious? Because of the covenant. God made his covenant with Abraham and with his descendents after him (Gen. 17:10). The content of this promise is that God will multiply Abraham’s seed like sand of the seashore and the stars of the heavens (Gen. 15:5) and give them a great land (Gen. 15:18). But Ps. 78 has more to say about this episode; the psalmist says that this testing of the people greatly angered the Lord and he was furious (78:20-21). But the psalmist goes on to say that God was merciful again and again even though his people forgot his covenant (78:32-39). Psalm 105 recounts this same story and brackets it on either side with the covenant promises and mercies of God (Ps. 105:7-11, 42-45). His covenant is his promise. And even Nehemiah sees this entire story as the story of Israel after the exile and hope for the people (Neh. 9:15, 20, 32ff). Another explicit reference to this story is in Ps. 95 where God says that Meribah and Massah are examples of people hardening their hearts. The forty years wandering was a result of rebellion like that. In other words, God’s grace could be crossed. His patience did have a limit. Much later, Moses says that at one point, he pleaded before God for forty days and nights not to destroy Israel. It was Moses pleading the promises of the covenant to God that delivered them from wrath (Dt. 9:23-29). Moses reminds God that they are his people by virtue of the promises and by virtue of the Exodus. Hundreds of years later, the writer of Kings even recognizes that God continues to be gracious to Israel for the sake of the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (2 Kings 13:23).
Amalek was one of the descendents of Esau (Gen. 36:12). Apparently, Amalek attacked Israel unprovoked, and it is in defense that Moses instructs Joshua to muster an army (17:9). Remember how Israel marched out of Egypt as the armies of Yahweh (Ex. 12:41, 51, 13:18). But they fought their battles by killing lambs, eating unleavened bread, asking their neighbors for riches, etc. Notice how odd this story is: an old man holding up his arms (with help) with a staff is the determinative factor in winning this battle. How strange. What kind of battle tactics are these? It’s the same rod that fought their battle before. The same rod that struck the Nile and brought the death of the first born is the same rod that strikes the rock and gives water, the same rod that strikes down the “first born” of Amalek (Num. 24:20). Yahweh is still the God of the Exodus. Yahweh is still the God who fights for his people. Dt. 25 fills this story out even more. It reveals that Amalek was particularly cruel and conniving, and that God’s covenant extends to jealously defending his people. If you mess with God’s people, you mess with God. This was particularly high handed given the response of all the other nations around (e.g. Josh. 2:9, 9:24). This battle throughout the generations of Amalek reappears during the reign of Saul (1 Sam. 15). Notice that the covenant is still at work hundreds of years later! And this is one of the layers of the story of Esther even hundreds of years after that (cf. 2:5, 3:1). The memorial that Moses erects is not something that God forgets after the alter has fallen down and been forgotten by the locals. God remembers his covenant and mercy to a thousand generations; Yahweh is our banner (Ex. 17:15).
Conclusions and Applications
Testing: God tests his people not to see if they will fail. He tests them in order that the fear of God may be with them (Ex. 20:20). This means that God’s tests are inherently gracious. This is what the writer of Hebrews say: God is treating you like sons (Heb. 12).
The covenant still has sanctions for disobedience. In fact, the logic of the covenant is that while the blessings of the new covenant are deeper, richer, and farther reaching, rejection of the covenant is that much worse (Heb. 10:28-29, 12:25). Paul says that a man who does not provide for his own family is worse than an unbeliever (1 Tim. 5:8). Peter says that it would have been better for some to never have known the way of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:20). So how is the covenant kept? How can we avoid the curses? Believe God.
The new covenant is the climax of all the covenants, all the promises that God has made. This entire story of redemption is what we call the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace is the story of God’s unfailing goodness and favor to us his people. Learn to see the covenant in your life: your children are the covenant, the food on your table is the covenant, your house, your clothes, your church, your job, your health, and everything else. It’s all the covenant; it’s the sure mercies of and David (Is. 55:3). No it’s better: it’s the sure mercies of Jesus, the Lord of the covenant who is risen from the dead, better than all of these (Acts. 13:34). Therefore we can be more sure of the goodness and mercy of God. Trust him.
In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen!
Closing Prayer: Good and Gracious God, you are the God of the covenant. You are the God makes promises and does not forget them. You make promises and you remember them even for our children and grandchildren and to a thousand generations. You are faithful even when we are not. You are constant even when we doubt and complain. We thank you for the covenant we have in Jesus, for our baptism, and for all of your promises to us and to our children. We believe them now and we trust you for them; teach us to walk in them.