Jehovah Nissi — which translates as “the Lord is my Banner” — is the name Moses gives to God upon building an altar in recognition of God’s help defeating the Amalekites, their first battle after fleeing Egypt.
The battle began with the Amalekites launching a surprise attack on the weary Jewish slave rabble. And to this day, the Amalekites are seen as the arch-enemy of the Jews.
So, who were the Amalekites? What does this Name of God mean for us today?
They were descendants of Amalek (interestingly, Esau’s grandson), and they occupied settlements all along the section of the Wilderness through which the Israelites had to pass.
From the Bible, we know that God declared this battle to be an eternal remembrance for Israel:
“Then the Lord said to Moses His servant: 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.” (Exodus 17:14)
“Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. He said, ‘Because hands were lifted up against the throne of the Lord, the Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.’” (Exodus 17:15-16)
Forty years later, as the Jews enter the promised land, Moses reminds them of the command to destroy the Amalekites.
“Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out. They met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind. They had no fear of God.” (Deuteronomy 25:17-18)
“Therefore it shall be, when the Lord thy God hath given thee rest from all thine enemies roundabout, in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee for an inheritance to possess it, that thou shall blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven; thou shall not forget it.” (Deuteronomy 25:19)
Later in this article, we will see how Moses standing at the top of a hill, holding the “rod of God” with arms uplifted, is a representation of Jehovah Nissi – the Lord my Banner — under which everyone who sees it can rally and unite.
Back to the story in Exodus:
Moses is leading the Israelites out of Egypt after 400 years of slavery.
Of course, Moses carries his shepherd’s rod which earlier God sanctified to be used for performing miracles.
Thus, it has become the “rod of God.” An instrument of God’s presence and power.
About two months into their journey to the land of Canaan, and distressed for water, they encamp at Rephidim, a barren location in the Sinai Desert.
“Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. And Moses said unto Joshua, choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand.” (Exodus 17:8-9)
At this time, Moses was 80 years old; he could not physically lead his people into battle. But that didn’t matter because under Jehovah Nissi, the Lord my Banner, the Israelites would prevail.
“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.” (Exodus 1 7:10)
Next, we see the unique way the battle was won.
“And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed, and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed.” (Exodus 17:11)
“But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” (Exodus 17:12-13)
(Interesting, the Hebrew word emunah, translated steady here, is the word for faithful, trustworthy or true. Normally, it is used in a moral sense. This is the only time in the Bible it relates to something physical. Specifically, Moses’ hands.)
Moses’ hands are mentioned five times in just two verses. For as long as the battle lasted, Moses’ hands were held up, let down, heavy, then supported by Aaron and Hur; and finally, his hands were steady — or faithful, trustworthy, true.
Do you see the imagery here? Faithfulness is a progression. It’s not something we do all by ourselves; we hold each other up; and we appeal to Jehovah Nissi … until the sun goes down.
But there is a deeper significance.
You see, Moses, weak as he may be, climbed to the top of the hill, stood at the top of the hill, and held up his rod until the setting of the sun. Collectively, all Moses’ actions became a visible rallying point, under which evil was stood up to.
Evil being anyone who would prey on weakness with no fear of God. (See Deuteronomy 25:17-19 above.)
In Jewish tradition, Amalek represents pure evil — those who have the ability to know God and intentionally give themselves over to the powers of darkness.
And from the book of 1 Samuel: 15:3, we know the Amalekites were so evil that God commands King Saul, “Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.”
The command to destroy Amalek was so severe that no trace of Amalek’s existence could remain. Not even a donkey.
This is precisely why God reveals himself to us as Jehovah Nissi. Because only Jehovah Nissi can prevail against the evil around us … and the evil within us.
Let’s look into this.
Soon after the battle with Amalek, God commands Moses to build a tabernacle and other sacred articles, including a lampstand (menorah).
In Exodus 25 God gives Moses specific details: “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold…its base and its shaft…its cups, ornamental flowers, and petals shall be of one piece. Six branches shall issue from its sides: three branches from one side and three branches from the other. Then you shall make its lamps seven in number; and they shall mount its lamps so as to shed light on the space in front of it.”
It’s very interesting that this first menorah seems modeled upon the imagery of Moses, Aaron, and Hur’s uplifted arms during the battle against the Amalekites.
You say, how is that?
A shaft on a base could be seen as Moses supported by the stone — the stone being symbolic of a spiritual foundation.
The six branches can be seen to represent Aaron and Hur on either side of Moses with uplifted hands. Here we can see both the contrast and harmony between Moses’ weak hands and the hand of Almighty God which is represented by the seventh and center branch of the lampstand.
Now, fast forward about a thousand years, the Amalekites are ultimately wiped out by King Hezekiah (1 Chronicles 4:42-43).
However, recall that God’s command was to “remember Amalek” from generation to generation.
This is because “Amalek” lives on as the enemy we battle on a daily basis. The enemy within.
Have you ever noticed, there is an inward spirit of hopelessness that comes out when the soul is weak and weary? It tells us to give up faith in God, to give up holiness. And to give in to evil.
You say, “How am I, so weak and erring, able to lift up Jehovah Nissi – the Lord my Banner?”
Just as Moses stood at the top of the hill holding up the rod of God, we know that: “The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)
The Lord my Banner promises to always be with us when we are weak or grow weary… “His grace is sufficient for us, for His power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9) and “let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due time we will reap a harvest, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:9)
Jehovah Nissi is both a banner for us, and a banner we display for others to know whose we are, and whom we serve.