The chapter begins with the Israelites not believing that God will provide water. One might be able to understand them worrying about finding water, but when they were in need before, God provided. Also, God recently provided them with meat and continues to provide mana, so it is difficult to believe that they could be as dense as to question Moses, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” Do they really still think that Moses brought them out of Egypt, even after the parting of the sea?
We must keep the Israelites’ attitude in mind in the context of their learning how to be a godly people. Even though they have recently witnessed the amazing miracles in Egypt, they are still mysteriously clueless to the idea that the Lord will continue to protect them, having brought them this far. In this chapter, we can boil down their mistakes to the following three points:
- Learning from their mistakes (faith in a water source)
- Lack of faith in their path (comparing Egyptian slavery with wilderness life)
- Recognizing the true source of authority (Moses vs. God)
Moses uses the question, “Why do you tempt the Lord?” when rebuking the Israelites because they are in essence tempting God to exact judgment on them when they do not properly recognize Him. God will provide water. God is the power behind Moses. If the Israelites recognize this, then they will give God His due as all-powerful and they will not be as the pagan nations whose gods are fabrications.
Next in this chapter is the fight against Amalek. The exact source of their conflict with Israel is unclear, but it is most likely simply that they wish to conquer and defeat this seemingly weak nomadic nation. You may remember that the Amalekites are descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:1, 12).
The Israelites prevail in the fight against the Amalekites because of God’s power in them. Moses holding his hands up was a visual indicator of the power of God residing in them during the battle. During the battle, as long as Moses held up his hand with the rod, Israel would win the battle. Moses, not a young man anymore, needed help for the duration of the battle to maintain his hand in the air. This chapter marks the first mention of Joshua, the young man that would be Moses’ successor. He is being trained and led by Moses to eventually lead the people of God.
To solidify the defeat, Moses is told by God to record it as a memorial that Amalek will be removed from memory. Just as Abraham and Isaac did, Moses built an altar to the Lord to celebrate his loyalty, dedication and faith.
This brief chapter once again reminds us that the Israelites are spiritual infants. Their faith is basically nonexistent even while God’s grace and mercy take center stage to save them from internal and external threats.