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Exodus 17 – Skeptic's Annotated Bible answered

A response and reply to the notes on Exodus 17 in the Skeptic's Annotated Bible (SAB).

King James Version

SAB comment

My comment

1 And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink.

(17:1-7) "The wilderness of Sin"
Where did Moses get water from a rock?
The author of the SAB confuses two instances. This event and the one in Num. 20:1-8 are similar, but not the same. Here God requests that Moses smites the rock (verse 6). But in Num. 20:8 God requests that Moses speaks to a rock. In the comment in that verse it appears the author of the SAB recognises these are two different instances, so why make up this accusation as if this was a contradiction?

2 Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD?

(17:2) "And Moses said unto them ... wherefore do ye tempt the LORD?"
Can God be tempted?

3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst?

4 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me.

5 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go.

6 Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

(17:6) "I will stand before thee there upon the rock."
God stands on a rock and tells Moses to hit the rock. Then water comes out of it for the people to drink. God is such a clever guy!
(17:6) "Thou shalt smite the rock."
How did God tell Moses to get water from a rock?
The author of the SAB scoffs: water out of the rock, that doesn't happen in real life? No, the Israelites just drank rain water in the desert, like everyone else!
It is interesting to note that we have an account of water coming out of the rock in this desert in recent times in Yesterday and Today in Sinai by Major C.S. Jarvis, British governor of Sinai, published in 1936:

Several men of the Sinai Camel Corps had halted in a dry wadi ... They were trying to get at the water that was trickling slowly out of the limestone rock ... One of his violent blows hit the rock by mistake. The smooth hard crust which always forms the weathered limestone split open and fell away. The soft stone underneath was thereby exposed and out of its apertures shot a powerful stream of water. The Sudanese, who are well up in the activities of the prophets but do not treat them with a vast amount of respect, overwhelmed their sergeant with cries of ‘Look at him! Prophet Moses’!

7 And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not?

8 Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim.

9 And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: to morrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.

10 So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.

11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.

(17:11) "When Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed."
As long as Moses the magician keeps his hand up, the Israelites are successful in battle, but the second his hand falls, they start getting beat.
Obviously Moses lifting up his hands could have nothing to do with winning or losing the battle. It was not as if some kind of power flowed from his hands. So the lifting up of his hands had a particular meaning that was blessed by God, the ultimate cause of Israel's strength.
The lifting up of Moses's hands was a sign he was praying, see Psalm 28:2. This battle was a spiritual battle as well. While Moses prayed, Israel prevailed. This has a spiritual meaning as well: the battle isn't of horses, see Psalm 33:17, but our strength, in all things, is from the Lord.

12 But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.

13 And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

(17:13) "Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword."
God's Tenth Killing
Let me see, Israel is in the desert, in no man's land, and gets attacked by Amalek (verse 8). Israel didn't start the fight, but the author of the SAB still calls their defence unjust.

14 And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.

(17:14) "I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven."
And for good reason: without cause they attacked innocent people, and would have killed them all had they succeeded.

15 And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi:

16 For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.

(17:16) "The Lord has sworn [God swears!] that the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation."