Bible Study Commentary on the Names of God
Moses learns of Jehovah Nissi, the Lord our Banner
by I Gordon
We have been studying the character and attributes of God and so far have examined the name of Jehovah Jireh and Jehovah Rapha. Can you remember what they mean? I know, it's early for a test but you need to fire that old grey matter into action! Alright... I'll be kind (just this one time)... Jehovah Jireh speaks of the Lord as our provider. Jehovah Rapha speaks of the Lord as our healer and they are both important aspects of God's character that we need to learn and rely upon!
Today's study is the next compound name of God where we are introduced to the Hebrew word 'Nissi'. Moses, and Israel are in one hard long battle against their arch-enemies, the Amalekites. But this will be no ordinary battle for the Lord wants to teach them, and us, about who He is in the midst of the battle. By the end of the day, and battle, Moses and his fellow Israelites will have learned something new about this wonderful God that they serve. So much so that Moses will erect an altar which will be given the name Yahweh Nissi - The Lord our banner. Sounds a little mysterious at this stage but fear not... all (well some) will be revealed. Let's start with the context of the passage and then drill down a bit further into this word Nissi. Finally we'll look at how this name of our Lord is seen again in the coming days of the King!
Context, context, context... Where is this name of God revealed?
Exodus 17:8-16 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. (9) Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands." (10) So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. (11) As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. (12) 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. (13) So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword. (14) Then the LORD said to Moses, "Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven." (15) Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. (16) He said, "For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation."
The previous name looked at, Yahweh Rapha, was discovered in Israel's journey out of Egypt in Exodus chapter 15. So we don't have to travel far in our Bibles, or through the desert with Israel, before discovering the next compound name. As we see above Israel had a very odd fight with their foes, the Amalekites. It is a fight where the Israelites and Amalekites duke it out all day down in the valley, but the victory doesn't come down to who is the strongest or has the largest army, or who has the better tactics. Generally speaking those things normally come into a General's thinking when planning a battle. But not this one! No, this one comes down to an old man (and more importantly the God of this old man) standing at the top of a hill and raising his hands to heaven. As long as he can do that, all goes well for the Israelites. But when his hands drop, the Amalekites start to win. No pressure Moses!
Now I've written about this before so I won't go into any great detail of this fight again here. If interested please read the following:
Exodus Chapter 17 - Jesus the Rock and the battle with Amalek!
Don't forget to remember Amalek! (Exodus 17)
But for the busy young executives among you, Amalek in the Bible is a type of our fleshly nature. You know the one... that which you have problems with on a daily basis! So God was teaching Moses, the Israelites, and us about this battle that we are in. The battle belongs to the Lord. It doesn't come down to our strength or great numbers. It comes down to His response to our praise and surrender (pictured in Moses raising his hands to heaven).
So at the end of a long day for Moses, with arms that were no doubt very heavy, he wanted to praise and acknowledge the amazing victory that Yahweh had given the Israelites and so he built an altar:
Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner (Yahweh Nissi). (16) He said, "For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation."
So what is this word 'Nissi' which Moses used?
Let's look at the word 'Nissi' - Here is a standard definition from 'The Complete Word Study Dictionary'
"A masculine noun indicating a banner, a standard. It refers to a symbol or sign representing a cause, a person, God: a standard, a representation of the Lord (Exo 17:15); and the name of an altar dedicated to the Lord. It indicates a pole on which to display something (Num 21:8-9). It signifies a sign representing Zion (Isa 31:9; Jer 4:6); or a tragedy that could serve as a warning or a sign (Num 26:10). It indicates a flag or a symbol to rally around (Exo 17:15; Isa 18:3)."
So there are a few uses and thoughts there but the central thought is of lifting up a banner, signal or sign, which is used as a rallying point. You may think of the flags and banners different countries used in days of old as they went into battle. These flags and banners represented what they stood for and the armies would rally around such a banner. Well that is the type of thought that Moses was expressing here. Moses was saying that Yahweh, the God of Israel is the rallying point for His people. His is their victory. He was teaching them that they only have victory through Him and that all should rally around Him and lift up their hands and voices in praise to Him alone. Our battles can be internal, external or both. They can come through other people, spiritual forces or our own fallen nature. But Jesus is our rallying point in each of these. Here are some quick scripture examples to think about concerning this:
||Jesus our Victor, our banner, our rallying point
|Opposition from people
||2 Timothy 4:14-16 Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. (15) You too should be on your guard against him, because he strongly opposed our message. (16) At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them.
||2 Timothy 4:17-18 But the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. And I was delivered from the lion's mouth. (18) The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. To him be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
|Opposition from spirits
||Ephesians 6:12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
||Ephesians 6:10,13 Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. (13) Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
|Internal opposition from the fallen nature
||Romans 7:23-24 I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. (24) What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
||Romans 7:25-8:2 Thanks be to God--through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin. (8:1) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, (2) because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.
|In all things
||Philippians 4:12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.
||Philippians 4:13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.
Where else is 'Nissi' used?
So while Yahweh or Jehovah Nissi is only used in this one place (Exodus 17:15), the Hebrew word Nissi is used elsewhere in scripture to indicate a 'standard','banner' or 'rallying point'. It is used 20 times in the KJV translated as
Standard, (7) Isa 49:22, Isa 62:10, Jer 4:6, Jer 4:21, Jer 50:2, Jer 51:12, Jer 51:27
Ensign, (6) Isa 5:26, Isa 11:10, Isa 11:12, Isa 18:3, Isa 30:17, Isa 31:9
Banner, (2) Psa 60:4, Isa 13:2
Pole, (2) Num 21:8-9 (2)
Sail, (2) Isa 33:23, Eze 27:7
Sign, (1) Num 26:10
Let's look at one important one...
One classic example is where Moses in the wilderness lifted up a pole with an object at the top which became a rallying point for the people of Israel so that they could be healed. Do you remember the story? You should because Jesus spoke about it! What if I said 'bronze serpent'? Yeah you know... Here it is:
Numbers 21:4-9 Then they set out from Mount Hor by the way of the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; and the people became impatient because of the journey. (5) The people spoke against God and Moses, "Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this miserable food." (6) The LORD sent fiery serpents among the people and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. (7) So the people came to Moses and said, "We have sinned, because we have spoken against the LORD and you; intercede with the LORD, that He may remove the serpents from us." And Moses interceded for the people. (8) Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live." (9) And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.
To learn more about this in detail please see the specific study on this passage here:
Faith, Idolatry and the bronze serpent (Numbers 21)
But for now the important point is that to heal the people of the serpents bite, a standard or pole had to be lifted up which itself had a snake on it. This become a rallying point for the people for as they came and looked at the snake on the pole, they were healed of the snakes venomous poison! But this pole or standard (the word Nissi) had to be lifted up first. It is interesting that the snake lifted up on a pole is still used today in the medical world as seen in one example logo to the left. This again shows the western world's Christian foundation. Medical doctors can obviously help with some issues but the true physician is the Lord Jesus! And Jesus, as mentioned earlier, spoke specifically about this event back in Numbers because this story was simply a pointer to Him!
Joh 3:14-15 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; (15) so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
Jesus says that just as the serpent was lifted up, so He also would be lifted up and all that look in faith to Him and His work on the cross would be healed of the venomous bite of the serpent that we have all received. What a wonderful picture of the cross this story is and what a wonderful promise of the Lord this is for all who accept and believe!
So we see here that the cross is our rallying point, our personal nissi. It is here that the sinner must come to experience the victory over both the power and penalty of sin. Yahweh Nissi - the Lord our banner, our rallying point. It is at the cross.
But there is another coming rally point
Isaiah 49:13-23 Shout for joy, O heavens; rejoice, O earth; burst into song, O mountains! For the LORD comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones. (14) But Zion said, "The LORD has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me." (15) Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! (16) See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me... (22) This is what the Sovereign LORD says: "See, I will beckon to the Gentiles, I will lift up my banner (nissi) to the peoples; they will bring your sons in their arms and carry your daughters on their shoulders.
In this great promise of God He beckons all of the heavens to shout for joy. All of the earth should burst into song! Why? Because He is going to lift up a banner (nissi) to the peoples. There will be a rallying point of great victory! But who or what is 'my banner'? Who is the nissi of the Lord? That's right answer Jesus! (If you are ever in any doubt of the answer to one of my questions, just go with Jesus. You'll be right more often than not!) Jesus Himself, present on earth when he returns, will become the banner and rallying point for the whole world. Isaiah has spoken about this previously. Speaking of the kingdom that the Messiah Jesus will setup and reign over at His return, Isaiah foresaw the following wonderful soon-to-be-reality:
Isaiah 11:1-10 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. (2) The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him-- the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD-- (3) and he will delight in the fear of the LORD. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; (4) but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. (5) Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. (6) The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them. (7) The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox. (8) The infant will play near the hole of the cobra, and the young child put his hand into the viper's nest. (9) They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. (10) In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious.
Did you see that last verse? This root of Jesse (who was King David's father) will be a banner (nissi) for the peoples and the nations will rally to Him! What a day that will be! Imagine all the world going up to see the King of kings! Imagine the whole world at rest and in glory in His reign! On that day He alone will be lifted up and His name alone the only one! (Zech 14:9) Just reading these scriptures again makes me long even more for that day.
It was during a battle that Moses and the Israelites found that their Lord was Yahweh Nissi. He was their victor, their rallying point. Finding God as Jehovah Nissi always requires a battle for we only learn such things when pressed and desperate. It requires a conflict that causes us to cry out and learn of Him who is our victor. Our Christian walk begins with such a battle for we must experience Christ as we see our great need of salvation and humbly come before the cross of Christ and look at Him, the sinless Saviour lifted up and taking the bite of sin on our behalf. This is our initial rally point and victory. But the only growth in the Christian life is growth in Him. That is, it is growing and experiencing more of the One who is our victory (whether the opposition comes from without or within). Each day there is a need to come back to our rallying point and that banner that we rally to is the person of Christ.
We also look forward with GREAT hope and expectation to the day when all of the world will join us in rally to this banner that God will place over the whole earth. Maranatha - Come Lord jesus!
May you continue to grow and learn more about Yahweh Nissi - Your banner, your victory!