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‘Jehovah-nissi’ is the name, not of God, but of the altar built by Moses to commemorate the Israelite’s victory over the Amalekites recorded in Exodus 17:8-16. During that battle Moses stood on the top of a hill with the staff of God in his hand. As long as he raised his hands the Israelites were winning; when he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning [17:9-11]. So all through the day his hands were raised to God; when he tired Aaron and Hur held his hands up [17:12].

The word ‘nissi’ is derived from the Hebrew ‘nace’ which means a flag, a signal, a banner, a standard, an ensign. In the Old Testament the word is used most frequently in the context of battle: either as an assurance to those who were aligned with God, or as a warning to those who were opposed to God or to God’s people.

We are here confronted with questions about allegiance and acknowledgement: are we aligned with God or are we not? Do we acknowledge our dependence on God or do we not?

When Moses named the commemorative altar ‘Jehovah-nissi’ – ‘the LORD is my banner’, this was an affirmation that the Israelites were aligned with the LORD, that they fought under his authority and in his name, and that by his power and his strength had attained the victory.

Thus ‘Jehovah-nissi’ presents us with the necessity and the challenge to define our allegiance: is Jehovah, the great I AM, our God or is he not? Are we living and serving under his authority, or are we not? Are we depending on his power and his victory, or are we fighting our battles in our own name, in our own strength, under our own banner? Are we acknowledging him or are we not?

But there is also in ‘Jehovah-nissi’ a hidden anticipation of Jesus Christ.

Isaiah, in a chapter predicting the coming of the Messiah, wrote:

‘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’ [Isaiah 11:10].

And here we understand that Jesus Christ is our ‘banner’. Who do we belong to? We belong to Jesus. We name him as our God. We identify ourselves by his name. His name means salvation, security, victory and rest for all who acknowledge him, and judgement for all who do not.

‘Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son’ [John 3:18].

This commemorative name of Moses’ altar – Jehovah-nissi – occurs only once in the Bible. But that which it demonstrates – the victory and supremacy of God, and that which it proclaims – human acknowledgement of God, are dominant themes of the Bible. Both are fully and finally put before us in Jesus Christ: in him God is shown to have the supremacy and the victory over all that is opposed to him, and in him we are confronted with our last and final opportunity to acknowledge God.

Let us each one have the understanding and the faith to acknowledge him and to proclaim with Moses: Jehovah-nissi – the LORD is my banner: To him alone I pledge my allegiance. On him alone I depend. In him alone I trust. His name, and his name only, I honor.


© Rosemary Bardsley 2013