Introduction: We saw last week that great spiritual blessings such as eating manna and drinking from the rock which accompanied them in the desert did not produce faith on the part of Israel as a whole. Loving Father as He is, therefore, God resolves in Exodus 17:8-16 to discipline His unbelieving people as a direct consequence of their unbelief and bitter complaining. This is our focus this week. May the LORD’s chastisements prove fruitful and effective in our lives. May His rod of correction find us in the desert – even if He must send the sons of Amalek against us in order to bring us back to Himself! May we learn by experience the truth that Divinely-sent chastisements are a blessing if God uses them to restore us. May we learn to say with the Psalmist in Psalm 119:71: “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.”
Monday: read Exodus 17:7-8 and Genesis 36:15-16. The wrath of the LORD against His people’s complaining results in His permitting an attack against them. Amalek is God’s chosen instrument of chastisement. Who is Amalek? According to Genesis 36:15-16, he is the son of Esau’s first-born Eliphaz. Along with the other chieftains and even kings of Esau’s line, Amalek ruled over their land long before Israel had one inch of land to call their own – see Genesis 36:31. It is this mighty force of warriors that comes against Israel and Moses in the desert.
Meditate and Pray: Put yourself in Israel’s shoes as they bear this heavy and unexpected chastisement of a military conflict against the superior force of Amalek! Think of how they would feel! Let us humbly bow and confess that we too deserve heavy chastisements when we complain so bitterly against God. Sing with a spirit of humble penitence and yet hope for forgiveness the words of hymn # 486:
I am evil, born in sin;
Thou desirest truth within.
Thou alone my Savior art,
Teach Thy wisdom to my heart;
Make me pure, Thy grace bestow,
Wash me whiter than the snow.
Broken, humbled to the dust
By Thy wrath and judgment just,
Let my contrite heart rejoice
And in gladness hear Thy voice;
From my sins O hide Thy face,
Blot them out in boundless grace.
Tues/Weds: read Exodus 17:7-8 and Hebrews 13:5-6. Israel’s words of bitter accusation reach their climax when they declare that the LORD has broken His promise to be their God by abandoning them in the desert. God therefore corrects Israel precisely at this point by giving them a taste of what it is really like to feel alone and exposed to enemies. Through Amalek, God makes Israel regret her words in Exodus 17:7 and her contempt for the tokens of God’s presence which she had overlooked.
Of course, in the promise of God never to leave His people or forsake them, (Hebrews 13:5), we can be sure that God never actually forsook Israel. As the LORD declares after the forty years of wandering in the desert in Deuteronomy 8:2: “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and test you in order to know what was in your heart…”. Thus even when His people are sinning, the LORD will not abandon His covenant commitment to His people.
Meditate and Pray: Thank the LORD that despite the sorest calamities which we bring on ourselves and which the world cites as proof that God has abandoned us, the LORD is most attentive to us even when we are sinning. He knows that we will never survive the temptation and dangers of sin were He to abandon us even for one moment. Thank God that time and again His heart changes towards us so that He can again show compassion and restoring grace. As Hosea 11:8-9 say:
How can I give you up, Ephraim?
How can I hand you over, Israel? …
My heart is changed within me;
all my compassion is aroused.
I will not carry out my fierce anger,
nor will I devastate Ephraim again.
For I am God, and not a man—
the Holy One among you.
Thursday: read Exodus 17:7-9; 33:1-6 and Ephesians 4:29-30. Even though God’s objective covenant commitment means He never abandons His people, Israel in its unbelief does experience subjectively and emotionally the removal of the LORD’s felt presence. In terms of Ephesians 4:30, their unbelieving words and complaints do grieve the Spirit of God, and there is therefore a withdrawal of Divine protection as Amalek attacks.
But there is mercy even in the midst of this judgment. How otherwise would God rekindle a longing in His people for the return of Divine protection than to leave them feeling comfortless atleast for a time? This in fact would be the end result of all of Israel’s chastisements, including after the golden calf. Eventually Israel would “mourn” in deep repentance as the LORD announces the chastising departure of His felt presence in Exodus 33:4-6! Ah, finally! The fruit of God’s chastisements begin to appear. Oh that Israel always had such a heart within them to fear God, to long to be close to Him, and to sense when they have displease Him, (Deuteronomy 5:29)! May the LORD likewise increase our sensitivity to His Spirit, so that we do not grieve Him by our speech as Israel did! May our speech instead please the Spirit as it seeks to obey the injunction of Ephesians 4:29:
29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Fri/Sat/Sun: read Exodus 17:10-15. We are not to despair at the examples of grief which even the saints’ words and actions cause God in the Bible. Instead let us be thankful that despite their evil words God rescues His people, “lifting up a Banner” of His power and love over them just as Moses held up the rod of God over the battlefield in Exodus 17:10-12. I say “lifting up a Banner” because the name of God which Moses invokes as he worships Him at the altar in Exodus 17:15 means literally, “The LORD is my ‘Banner’ or ‘Standard’ or ‘Emblem of Victory’”.
But what exactly does it mean for Moses to hold up his rod as this ‘Standard’ or ‘Banner’ as the battle raged? Well, the rod was a symbol of the saving power of God vested in Moses, and lifted up in prayer by him it was a very comforting, unlooked for and undeserved sign towards which Israel could raise their eyes in faith. This rod was a rallying point for Israel’s faith in the heat of the battle. Up on the mountain above them, Israel beheld the very Banner of God’s victory held up by Moses in the form of the rod of God. In this way the LORD reasserted His determination and ability to save His people – even from the bloodthirsty, implacable and terrifying Amalekites.
Meditate and Pray: May we rejoice that God gives us places in the Scripture for the eyes of our faith to look to when our trials are most terrible. Even when the trouble we are in is self-inflicted, does not the Bible command us to look anew to God’s saving power? Even if we are so weakened by our sin that our hands can no longer hold up the sword; even if our feet can no longer march in formation and we find ourselves ready to surrender to the Evil One and give up all as lost – behold the mighty words of Scripture which promise that even the glance of faith to Jesus is enough to deliver us!
Look to Me, and be saved,
All you ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other. (Isaiah 45:22, NKJV)
No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him. (John 3:13-15)
(And for those too weak to even look up by faith to the Savior, who can only bemoan their sins and plead for mercy):
But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Luke 18:13-14)
For further meditation this weekend: May the LORD work in us an ever-increasing hatred of the sinful words, thoughts and deeds which must grieve Him, so that we humble ourselves and implore God’s renewed presence in our lives with the words of hymn # 534 by William Cowper
O for a closer walk with God,
A calm and heavenly frame,
A light to shine upon the road
That leads me to the Lamb!
Where is the blessedness I knew,
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?
Return, O holy Dove, return,
Sweet messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made Thee mourn
And drove Thee from my breast.
The dearest idol I have known,
Whate’er that idol be
Help me to tear it from Thy throne,
And worship only Thee.