Is God Among Us?
By now we see a common thread running throughout the book of Exodus. It is not only Pharaoh who was "stiff-necked," but the Israelites also. What was the difference? God was setting the Israelites apart as a special people due to the covenant that He made with Abraham (Deuteronomy 7:7-8). They had a very special opportunity because of God dealing directly with them. Yet they constantly set their hearts against God's love for them. Once again they complain and murmur against Moses, this time almost to violence. The event at Massah, meaning "Tempted," also called Meribah, meaning "Contention," even saw the Israelites asking the question, "Is the Lord among us or not?" (Exodus 17:7). Their attitude was outrageous. They had seen God destroy Egypt through the plagues, had been freed from Egypt by Him, had walked through the Red Sea on dry ground, had seen the Egyptians swallowed up and had bitter water made drinkable. Every day they had the daily miracle of His provision of manna. And every moment the pillar of God's presence blazed above them! Yet, like those stiff-necked Israelites, even we sometimes forget God's miraculous intervention in our lives—or, worse still, choose to forget.
Amazingly, God remains incredibly merciful with the Israelites in this situation. He does not even send a rebuke against the people. Instead, He provides for them. He has Moses strike a rock, causing water to come out of it—evidently becoming a steady source to supply all the needs of the people and their flocks.
Chapter 17 also presents us with Israel's battle against the Amalekites. Amalek was a descendant of Esau or Edom (Genesis 36). A more detailed description of this confrontation is given in Deuteronomy 25:17, which explains that, in a cowardly move, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites from the rear, taking the stragglers and the weary. God regarded this act as dishonorable and despicable. He prophesied that the Amalekites would eventually be blotted out of existence. This prophecy was carried out in part by King Saul (1 Samuel 15:18) and to a much greater degree by Simeonites in the days of Hezekiah (compare 1 Chronicles 4:41-43)—and will likely find its ultimate fulfillment when the Edomites in general are destroyed at Christ's return (see Obadiah 18). In the confrontation with the Amalekites in Exodus 17, God chose to show His dealings with Israel through His chosen servant Moses—as long as he held aloft the "rod of God" (see verse 9). In this way, though Moses was God's chief human instrument at this time, the miraculous power of God was still the focus. As long as the rod of God was held up, Israel prevailed in their battle. Indeed, it is interesting that Moses was not able to serve God and the people on his own. Rather, he needed help—people to hold up his arms—a point made even more apparent in the next chapter.