Water and War

Exodus 17:5-6 - The LORD answered Moses, “Walk on ahead of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel.

Exodus 17:10-13 - So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up-one on one side, one on the other-so that his hands remained steady till sunset. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Read all of Exodus 17


“Water and War” sounds like the title of a novel or a government report of a war over disputed water rights. Disputes and wars over water rights were common in the frontier days of the “Old West,” and unfortunately they are all too possible in the Middle East today. However, “Water and War” is not about a war over water rights—it’s actually about two events in Exodus 17: God’s provision of water for the people of Israel in their wilderness travels, and Israel’s war with Amalek.

In Exodus 16 we read about the Lord’s miraculous daily provision of manna, the food which would satisfy the physical hunger of His people. In chapter 17, the Israelites were in need of water. By this time in their travels, they should have learned that God would provide for them. Instead they grumbled and complained, and defiantly asked Moses why he had brought them out of Egypt to die of thirst in the wilderness! Moses actually feared that they were ready to stone him to death. Once again, in His great grace, God miraculously provided for His people—in spite of their complaining and lack of trust. The Lord showed Moses a rock and instructed him to strike it with his rod. Miraculously, fresh water flowed from the rock to quench the thirst of the people.

The Amalekites were a fierce nomadic tribe that lived in the Sinai peninsula. They were descendants of Esau. In Deuteronomy 25 we learn that on this occasion (Exodus 17) the Amalekites attacked Israel from the rear. However, God protected His people and the Amalekites were defeated under the military leadership of Joshua. As Moses stood on the top of a hill overlooking the battle, his upraised arms were key to the defeat of Amalek. As long as Moses’ arms were raised, Israel prevailed in the battle, but when Moses’ arms dropped, Amalek prevailed. Aaron and Hur became important contributors to Israel’s victory by supporting the upraised arms of Moses.

Doctrinal / Teaching Points:

In the wilderness trek of Israel, both the water and the war are parts of the overall spiritual picture lesson that God has given us. 1 Corinthians 10:11 informs us that all of the events in the travels of God’s people from Egypt to Canaan are examples, or “types,” from which we can learn spiritual truth. A “type” is an Old Testament person, place, event or other item that pictures New Testament truth. In what ways do the water from the rock and the war with Amalek picture New Testament truth?

1. The water from the rock is a spiritual picture of the Water of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 10:4 says that the people in the wilderness drank “spiritual drink” from a “spiritual rock.” Does this mean that the water in the wilderness was not real water and the rock was not a real rock? No, the water and the rock were definitely real. The rock from which water flowed is a type or spiritual picture of Jesus Christ, the Source of living water. On the cross the Lord Jesus was “struck” with the “rod” of God’s judgment because of our sins. Spiritual life, or living water, is now available for anyone who is spiritually thirsty.

Besides representing new spiritual life in Christ, the water also portrays the Holy Spirit who empowers that life. Remember what our Lord said at the Feast of Tabernacles? “On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If a man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37-39). This is the same “living water” that the Lord promised to give the woman of Samaria if she would turn to Him as the Messiah (John 4:13-14). The promise of new life empowered by the Holy Spirit is available today to everyone who will come to Jesus Christ, the smitten Rock, to quench their spiritual thirst.

2. The war with Amalek is a spiritual picture of the war with the sinful nature.

 In the war with Amalek we have a spiritual picture of another aspect the Christian life. The Bible teaches that we are born with a sinful nature—sometimes called “the flesh” in the New Testament. When we become believers we receive the water of life that is empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit, but our sinful nature is not yet eliminated. In fact, there is an ongoing war between the flesh and the Spirit! As Galatians 5:16-17 says, “Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other…” The war between the flesh and the Spirit is pictured in the war with Amalek. In our Background Notes, we saw that the Amalekites were descendants of Esau, who was a godless and immoral person according to Hebrews 12:16. He was controlled by the desires of his fleshly or sinful nature. This background emphasizes how Amalek portrays the activity of the flesh in the believer’s life.

Although Amalek was defeated in this battle, we see from verse 16 that Amalek was not destroyed. As war continued between Amalek and Israel from generation to generation, so throughout our lives as Christians there will be war between our flesh and the indwelling Holy Spirit. In Romans 7, the apostle Paul wrote of this warfare from his own Christian experience. Praise the Lord, the war between the flesh and the Spirit will be over when we get to heaven and we have our resurrected bodies, which will be sinless (Philippians 3:20-21)!

In the spiritual picture in Exodus 17, we see several principles of victory in the war between the flesh and the Spirit. First, we need to gratefully recognize that the Lord is on high, “making intercession for us,” as Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25 clearly state. Moses on the mountain, as the leader of God’s people, pictures the truth of the Lord making intercession for us on high. Moses with upraised hands also emphasizes the importance of prayer in spiritual battle. As long as Moses’ arms were raised in prayer, God’s people prevailed, but when he grew weary and his arms drooped, the enemy prevailed. Because the sinful nature is always active, we must stay alert and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

Another principle of victory in the war between the flesh and the Spirit may be seen in verse 13. In the spiritual picture, the defeat of Amalek by “the edge of the sword” may portray the necessity of using the sword of the Spirit, the Word of God, when we engage in spiritual battle with the enemy as emphasized in Ephesians 6:17. The Holy Spirit, who lives within us, battles against the flesh by filling our minds with the Word of God so that we are strengthened in the Lord. He can bring specific verses or passages to our minds to oppose the persistent mindset of the sinful nature. In addition, we learn in Hebrews 4:12 that through the two-edged sword of the Word, the Spirit can bring to our attention problem areas in our lives where the sinful nature has gained control over us. But remember, we must read and know the Word of God so that the Holy Spirit can use it to correct us and enable us for spiritual battle!

Practical Application

Did you ever feel that you’re just an ordinary believer and not a multi-talented, important or up-front Christian? Do you feel like your prayers are just commonplace, even though you’ve tried to be a great prayer warrior? Be encouraged. Maybe you’re a Hur! All Hur did was support one of Moses’ upraised arms. Hur didn’t have a “starring” role. Hur wasn’t in the spotlight. But Hur had an important role - a very important role!

Do you see the application? Do whatever you can to support the work of the Lord - and the workers of the Lord! Be on the lookout for supporting jobs that need a willing helper, jobs that are often passed by or overlooked because they don’t seem very important or glamorous. Look for people who need your everyday prayers and your encouraging words. Maybe a battle-weary leader in your church or fellowship needs your support right now! Maybe a hurting friend needs your comfort and practical help right now!

Your supporting job may not seem like a big role to you, but Christians who play the “supporting roles” are very important for winning battles in spiritual warfare. In fact, the faithful, “supporting role” believer may make the difference between defeat and victory!
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