Exodus 17:8–19:25. Israel Moves to Mount Sinai.

This lesson describes three episodes between the spring at Rephedim and the receiving of the Law at Mount Sinai.

Israel beat off an Amalekite attack.
His father-in-law came to meet Moses and offered an improvement in administration.
Israel was oriented to God at Mount Sinai.
There is a sharp break after Israel’s wilderness gift of divine bread and the water of life and the next episode. We would expect a time of peace and settlement. Instead, there is a war with Amalek almost at once, especially puzzling because God did not want Israel to fight with Philistines (Ex.13:17). It is full of instruction.

17:9–15 “Then came Amalek and fought with Israel at Rephidim.”
 Why? The previous verse leaves the open question: “Is the Lord with us or not?” I think the war answers that question.  God will be with Israel and give them the victory. And Israel will see the hand of God at work again.

Moses put Joshua (his name means “God is Savior”) in command of the military (hardly an army) and went up to the hill-top with the staff of God. He stood with arms outstretched until fatigue overcame him; then Aaron and Hur had him sit on a stone and they held his arms up—in prayer seems obvious. When he slumped down, Amalek prevailed; when he held up his arms, Israel fought back successfully. At the end of the day, Moses’ arms were up, Amalek was mowed down and the victory was won. God was invoked by one of His warrior names: “JHWH Nissi”, the Lord is my banner.” Moses had a hand on the banner of the Lord. God was with Israel. Hopefully that anwered the question for a while.


This battle stands near the mid-point in the history of this tribe. Amalek is named after the grandson of Esau (Gen.36:12).  Although Jacob and Esau were brothers and were reconciled late in life (Gen. 33), the tribes became hereditary enemies.  The Amalekites were cruel, attacking Israel’s rear-guard and killing the stragglers, the weak, the sick, and the old. Moses ordered Amalek’s eventual destruction and made sure that Joshua got the message.

Forty years later Moses would remind the next generation:

“Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you came out of Egypt, how he attacked you on the way, when you were faint and weary, and cut off at your rear all who lagged behind and he did not fear God. Therefore…you shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.” (Deut.25:17–19).

Balaam, the false prophet, also said:
“Amalek was the first of the nations, but in the end he shall come to destruction.” (Num.24:20).

This task was given to Saul four hundred years later. (I Sam.15). He failed, as evidenced by the successful raid the Amalekites made on David’s stronghold a few years later . (I Sam.30).  Four hundred Amalekites escaped even then from David’s rescue operation. Some think Esther’s antagonist, Haman the Agagite,  was an Amalekite—perhaps the last Amalekite. (Agag was the name of the Amalekite king that Saul captured.)

I believe that Moses, Aaron and Hur were in intense prayer, an agony of prayer,  all day for the battle below them. If we can take a lesson from that, it suggests that we must uphold each other in prayer. That implies prayer together—corporate prayer.  It is not enough to say “I will pray by myself.” Plainly, people reinforce each other in prayer and that is how that battle with Amalek was won.

Chapter‘ concentrates on Jethro / Reuel. Ex.2:18
Jethro went out to meet Moses with his daughter Zipporah, Moses’ wife,  and his sons Gershon and Eliezer.  They had apparently gone back to Midian after the startling episode when God challenged Moses on the way back to Egypt. (Ex.4:24). That would have been a year past. We cannot ignore the pain that is implied when Moses focuses on Jethro and neglects his family. They had been married for perhaps the 40 years that Moses was in Midian. We do not know what became of Zipporah. Moses later married an Ethiopian. (Num.12:1). Plainly Moses has his warts like almost all the OT saints. But Moses’ two sons stayed with Israel and are recorded in the Chronicles. I Chron.23:15

Moses told Jethro how God had delivered Israel for Egypt.  This testimony apparently persuaded Jethro to honor the God of Israel as the true God; they offered sacrifice together and the elders and Moses broke bread with Jethro.
The next day Jethro observed Moses sitting as judge before a swarm of people standing around waiting to have their disputes settled. It was obvious that he needed help. Jethro proposed that Moses “teach them the statutes and the decisions and make them know the way in which they must walk and what they must do.” (18:20)
That is, he should teach the people the law as it was known and the principles of ethics. Then he should chose able men in population groups of ten to a thousand to judge the people in smaller matters, bringing the major issues to Moses.  Moses did as he was advised. Meekness in action.

In a later episode when Moses was overwhelmed by Israel’s rebellion, God ordered Moses to gather 70 men from among the elders on whom He would put His Spirit. They were to act more like pastors (prophets) than judges. (Num.11:1–30).  That calmed the storm.

Conscientious delegation first benefits the person who has the major responsibility. relieves the pressure and helps him to understand that he is not indispensable. It also helps the group served because the work is done more efficiently aand it benefits those who are given responsibility; they grow and become leaders.

19:1–2 They moved on to Mt. Sinai.
’:3–9. In these few verses we have the formal covenant that God made with Israel, binding on Him and them. The Covenant is between a master and his servants. The servants  are not able to alter  the terms of the agreement; they can only say “yes” or “no.”

*Summons: “The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying ‘thus you shall say to “the house of Jacob” (the 12 sons of Jacob) and “the house of Israel’” (now 2 million strong).
*History: “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself….”
*Stipulation: : : : “Now therefore, if you will obey My voice and keep My covenant….”
*Blessing: “ You will be My own possession among peoples. For all of the earth is Mine.” “…and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests…” “…and a holy nation.”
*Acceptance: “And all the people answered together and said, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do.’”

’:9–15 The final step in Israel’s preparation to receive the Law was to purify themselves. God told Moses to set a boundary around Mt. Sinai  and warn  the people not to touch it on pain of death. They were to consecrate themselves for two days, wash their clothes and surround the mountain but not touch it when they heard the trumpet sound.
Moses went down to tell the people to consecrate themselves, wash their clothes and abstain from sexual intercourse.

19:16–25 On the third day the people gathered around the foot of the mountain and God descended in fire, smoke, earthquake and the sound of the trumpet. Moses went up to Him.
God then told Moses to go back down and warn the people not to break through the barrier. Moses said he already had told them. (Moses had not mentioned the danger of getting too near.) God told him to go back down and make the warning clearer. And he was to summon Aaron to come up with him.

A superficial reading of the text would leave us to think that Moses was just going up and down the mountain. It appears that God was listening closely to what Moses transmitted to the people, and made him go back and give the message correctly.  Do we know God? Listen to God and Moses talking to each other all through this book. Let us watch and listen and get it right.

Moses will make 7–8 trips up the Mountain. It was a great ordeal and he must have been supernaturally provided for. He was twice on the mountain  for forty days, the second time without food or drink . 24:18; 34:28

1. Introduction  to God and His covenant.’:3–8
2. Preparation and consecration of Israel.’:8–15
3. Moses sent back to instruct the people more exactly.’:16–25
4. He received the first part of the Law. 20:21
5. He went up with the elders to worship God and eat and drink with Him. 24:1; 9–11
6. Moses was given the stone tablets written with the finger of God. He is gone up for  40 days .24:12–18
7. He went up to make intercession for sinful Israel. 32:30
8. He received the new stone tables and got instruction on tabernacle and priests. 34:1–5

Seven covenants, or special promises can be identified in Scripture. All were initiated by God for our good. Four of the covenants (#) indicate God’s concern for the earth and our stewardship of it.

*#Covenant in Eden (Gen. 1:28) to care for the earth, and obey one simple negative command.
*#Covenant with Adam and Eve after the Fall (Gen.3:14-), their continuing responsibilities,  the curses for disobedience--and the blessings of God’s grace.
*#Promise to Noah that there would never again be a universal  flood. Gen.9:1
*#Covenant with Abraham: the promise of blessing to the world and a homeland for his offspring. Gen.12:2; 15:1–6
*#Covenant of Law with Israel. Ex.19:25–23:33. This covenant of God with Israel was  in effect for 1500 years until it was replaced by the New Covenant described in Hebrews. (Heb.8:8–13; 9:15–22)
*David’s eternal kingdom promised to David’s Son. IISam.7:14–17
*Jesus’ new covenant in His blood. Heb.9:15

What is the relationship between the covenants? There are three useful contrasts.
Paul compares the promise to Abraham, with the Law, given 400 years later. (Rom.4). He talks about the covenant with Abraham and the covenant with Moses using the word “promise” instead of “covenant”. He points out that the promise to Abraham was not annulled by the Law.  God’s justification of Abraham by faith was not created or nullified by the later law of Moses. Justification is by faith now as ever. In this sense the Covenant with Abraham is still valid.

Paul also compares what he calls “the dispensation of condemnation”--The Law--with “the dispensation of righteousness”--Christ’s transforming power. He reminds us  that Moses’ face glowed after being exposed to the glory of God, but that the believers have an unfading splendor generated by the Holy Spirit. IICor.3:17–18

The final contrast between the Law and Grace under Christ is in Heb.8:8–13 which is a nearly verbatim quote of Jer.31:31–34. The contrast between Law and Grace is due to the internalization of God’s word by the Holy Spirit.

“I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts.”
“They shall not teach every one his fellow…saying ‘Know the Lord’ for all shall know me from the least of them to the greatest.”  (Heb.8:10,11)

I Pet.2:5,9 applies the promise in Moses’ covenant of a kingdom of priests (Ex.19:5–6) and a holy nation to the Christians. We become the fulfillment of the Law, separated to God, and mediating grace to the world. It is a high honor to be a child of the King.

In summary, this section has five lessons:

Is God with us or not? Don’t ask that question.
Pray for victory. “The Lord is my banner.”
Don’t try to do  all the work yourself. Delegate.
Whatever God says to do, just do it.
Listen to God and give out His message straight.