17. The Exodus – the first battle; an important step towards becoming a nation

Thus, by providing divine food from the skies, God saved the Israelites from starvation. This phenomenon went on not for one or two years but for forty long years.


The Jews now travelled on from the desert of Zin. The assemblage continued following the ‘Pillar of the Cloud’ by day and the ‘Pillar of the Fire’ by night. Inching on, they reached a place called Rephidim. Though the supply of divine food continued, they ran out of water and once again some of the Jews started to grumble to Moses. There were few, who even expressed disbelief and doubt at everything that was happening. And finally when the level of the mob anger reached its tipping point, Moses did what he always chose to do: he prayed to God and He again came to his help. Commanding Moses to gather all the elders at a particular rock nearby, God asked Moses to strike it with his staff. As soon as the staff struck the rock, water started gushing out of it. The water continued to flow even after the thirst of the entire assemblage of the Jews and all of their flocks were quenched, so says the story.

Moses draws water from the Rock

Following the Exodus, all the calamities that the Jews had had to face, were natural and concerned more or less with thirst and hunger. But it was in Rephidim that they faced their first manmade adversity. The local tribesmen of ‘Amalek’ attacked them. The Amalekites were the descendants of Isaac’s son Esau (Jacob’s twin brother). They were warriors and were believed to be extremely cruel. The Jews tasting freedom only now and that too after long decades of slavery, were also worn out due to the long trudge across the barren desert land, were neither willing nor equipped to face them.

In the meantime Moses sent for Joshua, his close confidante and a trusted aide and planned out the next move. Accordingly Joshua built a force consisting of Jews who were young, strong and had a powerful fighting spirit.

This force of young and brave Jews put up a fierce resistance against the Amalekites with all the means and resources available to them.

As the Jewish force continued its resistance, Moses went to a hill nearby along with his brother Aaron and nephew Hur and prayed to God. Here, God commanded Moses to raise his arms and the staff. As soon as Moses did so, the Jews who were losing to the Amalekites till then, began to prove one up on them, so says the story.

Moses had kept his arms raised. But after some time, they hurt and so wishing to rest them as Moses lowered his arms. But that turned the tide in the favour of the Amlekites all over again. They noticed that every such time that Moses rested his arms, the Amlekites gained advantage over the Jews and that till the time Moses kept his arms and the staff raised, the Jews would command a lead in the battle. When this fact dawned upon Moses, Aaron and Hur, they devised a clever plan. Moses sat on a rock while Aaron and Hur supported each of his arms so as to keep them raised. A fierce battle continued for the entire day and finally the Jews emerged victorious and forced the Amalekites to flee. After the Exodus, the Jews faced many battles at hands of multiple aggressors of which this was the first.

The Victory of Israelites over the Amalekites

God commanded Moses to record and preserve the account of this battle for the benefit of the future generations of Jews.

Rephidim, where the Jews were put up, was quite close to the city of Midian, where the in-laws of Moses lived. It was but natural that Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses learnt about their arrival in Rephidim. Extremely happy that Moses had achieved the objective that he had left Midian for, he went to meet Moses. Moses’s wife Zipporah and his sons Gershom-Eliezer accompanied Jethro, who wished to hand them over to Moses.

On hearing about Jethro’s arrival from his messengers, Moses himself went all the way to boundary of the encampment to welcome Jethro and escorted him to his tent.

Reunited with the family after long and difficult times, Moses was choked with emotion. Moses had a long talk with his father-in-law. He told him all the stories in details that had happened since the time he left Midian. Jethro, well aware of the eminence of God, was overwhelmed on listening to the account of Moses.

From then on, Jethro too stayed with them. Jethro observed that it was on the shoulders of Moses alone, that the responsibility of leading the assemblage of millions of Jews rested. Also, as God had chosen Moses to be the ‘leader of the Jews’, he was the only one, who was to carry the word of God to the Jews. The Jews were released from the slavery of the Egyptians just about a few days back and were used to abide by the commands of their Egyptian masters at a whip lash. As a result they were yet to develop their own decision making capacity and hence depended on Moses even for trifles. Thus right from the most important task of carrying the word of God to the Jews – down to the everyday chores and at times even mediating to resolve petty disputes among the Jews, Moses had to handle just about every task. Though Moses never complained, the fact remained that he was the lone person bearing all the responsibilities, he tended to become disorganized. Moreover, though unscheduled, certain pressing jobs would demand urgent attention and the important and necessary tasks would, at times, suffered.

So, Jethro thought that the Jews must discipline and manage themselves well and in an organized manner if they had to come up as one, united nation once they reach the ‘Promised Land’. He discussed it with Moses and advised him to devise a system for the delegation of work.

Jethro advising Moses

He advised Moses to first identify God-fearing, righteous, well-built and also such people who were committed to the very cause and the reason for which they had left Egypt. Each of these would be put in charge of a group of about thousand Jews after of course, bringing home to him, the set of guiding principles, responsibilities and defining the respective areas of work. These leaders were to be responsible for the group of a thousand Jews, for their care and their needs. Also, they would resolve petty disputes, strive to bring them relief from troubles and ensure that they remained happy and united.

These leaders would have a chief governing them. This head would in turn preside over a group of hundred leaders. The chiefs would be confidantes of Moses. They would be in direct touch with him and would report to Moses issues which happened to fall outside the prerogative of the leaders. The hierarchy that Jethro suggested, intended to facilitate a two-way process, viz. that of conveying the issues and the sentiments of the common man to Moses and conveying in turn, decisions and messages from Moses to them.

Moses, though God’s most trusted one, had his feet firmly grounded and so did not take offence at Jethro’s unsolicited advice. He in fact liked it and implemented it right away.

Thus, the collection of Jews had taken an important step towards transforming into an organized group, a nation, ‘one united nation’! (To be continued…)

– Shulamith Penkar-Nigrekar

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