And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner; (Exodus 17:15)
When we look at the Israeli flag today, we see a banner that is simple and eloquent – a plain white background emblazoned with a blue ‘star of David.’ It has a significant message to both Jews and Christians alike. It speaks of the eternal truth the line of David will last forever, that our King will return to reign on the throne of David, and that nothing can change this, prevent this, or end it. His kindgom is eternal, and as His followers, we look to that day. Interestingly enough, the Bible tells us to watch Israel for the signs of His coming. While we do not identify with the Israeli flag from a perspective of national identity in the sense that we must now assume a Jewish tradition and identity, we must yet keep our eyes on it. Jesus was, first and foremost, King of the Jews, and it is to the Jews that He will first return. His throne is in Jerusalem, and as His followers that should always be our frame of reference for His second coming. We look to the banner for the promise it holds – Jehovah Nissi, the Lord our Banner, will return to rule.
Jehovah Nissi is the place of warfare, of total allegience, and of victory.
Flags or banners still fulfill a vital role in our society. They are the means whereby we communicate identity – national identity in our country’s flag, corporate or comany identity, social or sport community identity, religious identity, and even personal identity. Flags are raised and lowered to various levels on the mast to indicate celebration, mourning, and other status changes, e.g. in a military scenario. We have incorporated much of the biblical concept of Jehovah Nissi into our modern lives, but the focus has become the flag and our sentiments rather than the real message originally intended. Our flags hold an almost sacred place in our lives, and many have actually lost their lives trying to protect a piece of silk or linen, because it embodies the identity of everything that has relevance to them.
In ancient times, banners were displayed for particular purposes. First, it was for identification. A political or military leader carried his banners wherever he went. He was identified implicitly by the insignia he chose, and his entourage and his army sported the same insignia on clothing, banners, and sometimes even as tattoos. This had both a egocentric and a practical purpose. Power and social status was implied and validated through a visual manifestation – the man with the greatest army generally carried a little more power than the others. Might was right, and this was visually displayed in the numbers wearing the lord’s ‘colours.’ On the practical side, it was a lot easier, particularly in times of conflict or battle, to identify who was who. This is a powerful representation of the basic concept of Jehovah Nissi – identification with a particular person or power.
Identification with God is powerfully revealed in Moses’ declaration that He is Jehovah Nissi. It’s an acknowledgement of God’s power, His sovereign authority, and His absolute right to effect His perfect will. Moses is very clearly saying that He is Lord, and that it is by His might and power that they have accomplished the victory. But it’s also important to grasp the truth that Jehovah Nissi occurs within the very real context of battle. This is where the banner or standard takes on powerful significance.
To understand this, we must build on the practical implications of the idea of banners determining and confirming identity. There are a few things that stand out in this regard. The first is that, very often, a banner was ‘planted’ in an elevated position where it was clearly visible. Battles usually occured on lower ground, and the commanders would watch and direct from this higher ground beside the standard. It was to the standard that the troops would look for direction. Often, this took place through specific gestures or waving different colour flags in different ways. The context of Jehovah Nissi is very clear – it is to God alone we look for direction of the battle. The battle is, in every way, His alone. We are subject to His will and His decisions.
The other vital truth is that the ‘planting’ of the banner often signified a declaration of war. It was a deliberate, definitive statement of the intention to go into battle. This is the full relevance of Jehovah Nissi. When we identify with Him, when we raise Him as our banner, when we declare our allegience to Him, we’re in a place of war. We’re drawing the battle lines and taking our stand under the banner of the King. We’re telling the enemy that that our loyalty and obedience is for Jehovah Nissi, and we’re taking our stand against him in the name of our God.
This is no comfortable, stroll in the park kind of declaration. It’s a total commitment, a life or death stand for the glory of our King. Remember, one of the primary purposes of the battle was to somehow capture or destroy the enemy’s banner or standard. When a standard was lowered, the battle was over. The banner still standing was the victor. Holding Jehovah Nissi high ensures our victory. Remember, this altar was raised after Moses had held the rod of the Lord high with the help of Aaron and Hur, and so ensured the victory over the Amalekites. Holding up Jehovah Nissi, the Lord our banner, is the only way to ensure that we are victorious. If we allow the banner to fall, if we take our eyes off it and cease to hold it high, the battle will turn against us.
The last wonderful truth is that a banner was also a rallying point. When the going was hard, when the army was scattered, the standard would be raised at a point of safety and the soldiers would make for that. They would regroup around the banner and find protection there. The Bible promises us that God will raise up Himself as a banner to bring in the remnant, to bring home the exiles, to call the faithful to Himself. What a wonderful assurance – Jehovah Nissi is as relevant today, tomorrow, forever as He was in biblical times. He remains the rallying point, the place of identity and protection for His people, He remains the absolute certain assurance of His power and might to guide, protect, and defend us.
Jehovah Nissi is fully manifested in the person of Christ, who has already gained the victory. As we lift Jesus higher, He will draw all men. As we look to Him, He will teach us, protect us, guide us, and empower us. Jehovah Nissi is no longer an outward manifestation, but an inward truth. We raise God’s banner high simply by living for Christ in us, by reflecting Him to the world. We are in His kingdom and so always in battle, but He has already got the victory and if we keep our eyes on Him, He will bring us safely to the place of worship and praise that makes it real in our lives.
Thank You, Lord, for Your eternal presence, our banner, our Lord, our victorious King. We raise You up today, declare our allegience to You alone, and trust in Your power and faithfulness, by grace, to bring us to victory in all our battles.