Notes below based on sermon preached at One Church Home on September 4, 2022
Our journey to discover more about our GREAT God is taking us with the Israelites through the desert toward the Promised Land, as God continues to reveal to them (and to us) more about who He is, how He loves us, and how we relate to Him. His goal is always relationship—“that they [that we] may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent (John 17:3).
In week one, we embraced Him as YHWH, our covenant-keeping LORD, over every aspect of our lives.
In week two, we looked with fresh eyes at “Jehovah Jireh,” the LORD, our provider.
In week three, we studied what it means for God to be “Jehovah Rapha,” the LORD who heals us.
And while hopefully, we’ve gained a better understanding of the fullness of who God is with each name, we probably had at least some familiarity with those names when we began.
This week we will seek to know God as “Jehovah Nissi,” the LORD our banner, a name we don’t hear as much in today’s church culture. What does it mean that the LORD is our banner?
In the Bible, a banner is usually a military term of warfare. Webster’s Dictionary defines a banner as “a kind of flag attached to a spear or pike by a crosspiece, and used by a chief as his standard in battle.” Banners were ensigns or standards declaring allegiance to a god, a nation, or an army. A banner could represent the location of an army, serve as a rallying point to lead the troops into battle, or be raised to demonstrate possession of new territory.
Think Star Spangled Banner—the poem (later turned national anthem) penned by Francis Scott Key in 1814 after Fort McHenry in Baltimore Harbor survived a 25-hour barrage of shells and rockets. This was just weeks after the British had attacked Washington, D.C., burning the Capitol, the Treasury, and the President’s home. In the light of the early dawn, the American flag flying high above the battered Fort McHenry signaled America’s victory against enemy attack. It was a critical turning point in the War of 1812. The British abandoned their land assault, and a peace agreement was reached later that year. You may remember at least some of this from your American History lessons.
What you may not have learned in history class is that the Star Spangled Banner that flew over Fort McHenry was specially commissioned a year earlier by the commander of Fort McHenry, Major George Armistead. Knowing that the fort was a likely British target, he wanted a flag—a really big one.
“We, sir, are ready at Fort McHenry to defend Baltimore against invading by the enemy…except that we have no suitable ensign to display over the Star Fort, and it is my desire to have a flag so large that the British will have no difficulty in seeing it from a distance.”
The flag was made of 300 yards of English wool bunting (not counting the cotton used to make each of the 2-foot stars). It measured 30 by 42 feet overall and took at least 6 (if not 7) people sewing 10 hours a day for six weeks to complete. All of it to be sure their enemy would clearly see them and know beyond the shadow of a doubt who they were, what they were fighting for, and to whom their victory belonged.
Oh, for that kind of courage…to be so committed that we are not only willing to defend that to which we pledge allegiance, we wave a 1200-square foot flag above our heads to make sure our enemy can find us.
We rightly stand in salute to the Star Spangled Banner; we properly pledge our allegiance (to be faithful and true) to the flag of the United States of America…do we so humbly yet proudly honor our God?
It was following a battle—the Israelites’ first hand-to-hand combat since being delivered from slavery in Egypt—that Moses built an altar which he named Jehovah Nissi, “the LORD is my Banner.” This is what happened:
8 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 name of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner. 16 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.”
There is so much here that we need to understand. Let’s start with the historical context. The children of Israel have seen the Lord’s deliverance at the Red Sea. They experienced His healing at Marah and His provision of manna in the desert. And now they are camped at Rephidim, where there is no water once again. This time will they trust Him? They do not. Once again, they grumble and complain:
But the people were thirsty for water there, and they grumbled against Moses. They said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to make us and our children and livestock die of thirst?”
In verse 4, Moses cried out to the LORD, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
The Israelites’ grumbling had reached a fever pitch. They accused God of conspiring to kill them and threatened to stone Moses, the man God had called to lead them. And while they deserved God’s judgment, even death, God did not tell Moses to strike the people dead, but instead to strike the rock. And who is the rock? The rock is God himself.
The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
Jesus is “the stone [the rock] you builders rejected, which has become the capstone [or cornerstone].”
When Moses struck the rock as God had told him, water began to flow out of it for the people to drink. If we fail to understand the significance of this passage, we will miss all it tells us about our God and what it means for us today.
Dr. S. Lewis Johnson, Jr. wrote that,
“We have the rock smitten, suggesting the redemption through the Lord Jesus Christ, the water outpoured suggesting the ministry of the Holy Spirit who permanently indwells all believers. And then we are introduced to a fact that we sometimes forget, and that is that the Christian life is a life of conflict.”
We are not just reading a story about something that happened to the Israelites after their deliverance from slavery on their way to the Promised Land. This story is about what’s still happening to God’s people today. After we have been delivered from sin, we have His Spirit living in us, but we are in process of becoming all He has created us to be.
We are in a battle, a worthy fight. The Israelites represent us, the children of God. And who do the Amalekites represent? Those who war against us: the world, the flesh, and the devil.
We see each of these in the story in Exodus. There were actually three battles happening at the same time: one of them physical—led by Joshua with the men He chose; one of them spiritual—led by Moses as he raised his arms to God; and a third within Moses’ flesh as he struggled against exhaustion to persist in prayer. (As Jesus said in Matthew 26:41, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”).
As believers, we face all of these: the enemy without—the worldly culture that sets itself up against the ways of God; the enemy within—our own fleshly desires; and the spiritual enemy we can’t even see, but we know (or should know) that he is real and his attack is relentless.
The verb “attacked” (“fought” in some translations) is translated in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament) as polemeo. It is a verb that means “to make war or fight,” but it is used in this text in the imperfect tense, which means it is a repeated action. The Amalekites didn’t just attack once; they did it repeatedly. These are the perpetual enemies of the kingdom of God.
But we have not been left to fight on our own.
He has given us weapons, a holy preparation, a kingdom plan.
The Armor of God
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 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. 13 Therefore 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. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.
Note how important it is to “stand”—so important that Paul says it 4 times in this passage. In V. 11, Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. In V. 13, Therefore 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. And again in V. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,
Our feet must be firmly planted on the rock, who is Jesus, “the Word” (John 1:1), and we must not be moved by—we must not back down, run away, or give up any ground because of—what the world says, what our flesh desires, or the devil’s deceptive schemes.
Remember in Joshua chapter 3, as Joshua prepared to lead the Israelites across the Jordan into the Promised Land, God’s command was to “go” (step out in faith) and then “stand.”
7 And the Lord said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8 Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.'”
Given the importance of standing during a spiritual battle, it should not surprise us that the hymn, Standing on the Promises, was written by a teacher at a military academy, Russell Kelso Carter, in 1886.
Remember these verses?
2 Standing on the promises that cannot fail, when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail, standing on the promises of God. [Refrain]
3 Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord, bound to him eternally by love’s strong cord, overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword, standing on the promises of God. [Refrain]
It is His Truth that enables us to take our stand and to keep standing. And that Truth is not only our defense; it is also our offense.
Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”
A sword is useless if we don’t know how to use it, or even if we know how, but we never take it out of the sheath. Still, the sword of the spirit is a powerful weapon, so how we wield it matters. We don’t want to hurt people unintentionally or perhaps even ourselves. But God is so good; He tells us how to use the armor He gives us. The Bible clearly states that there is only one way to wield the sword of Truth: in love. As Paul told us in Ephesians 4:15, we are always to speak God’s Truth “in love.”
This is agape love—self-sacrificing, grace-filled, free and unconditional, everlasting. This is the covenant love between God and His children. Agape love comes only from God and flows through us back to Him and others. It is an intentional striving for the highest good of another, and it must be demonstrated by action. It is the love that is willing to have the complicated conversation or do the hard thing to help someone find their way to God (or back to Him), to not allow them to walk blindly forward in sin, even if they are angry at you for loving them that much.
Emily Wierenga explains in the Christian Courier that God’s love “is not of this world. It’s not pretty or nice or happy-ending. No, love is triumphant, but it is eternal, and this means it fights within another dimension – it fights for all the souls in this life to live forever in the next.”
This is powerful. If we dig deep into God’s Truth, we will find that His banner over us depicts neither a sword nor a shield. Song of Solomon (a book about Christ and His bride, the Church) 2:4 tells us that His banner over us “is love.”
Everything God is to us, everything God does for us is motivated by His love.
I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your naked body. I gave you my solemn oath and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Sovereign Lord, and you became mine.
I John 3:1
See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
God raised His banner of love over us when He sent His Son Jesus, who would live a sinless life and then spread His arms wide to die on the cross for our sins.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
…Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
As God flies his banner of love over us, so we too are to lift high His banner by loving one another.
Jesus said in John 13:34-35
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
His banner is our identity—we are His children, the heirs of His covenant promises.
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,
God’s love, His banner over us, should be the first thing that others, especially our enemies, see about us.
A banner affirms our allegiance—
Jesus continued in John 13:35
35 By this [our love for one another] everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Agape love is such a contrast from the world’s love that it is immediately recognizable as different. The world should look at our self-sacrificing, grace-filled love and see Jesus in us.
And when they do…
His banner declares our victory—
Romans 8:31, 35, 37
31 …If God is for us, who can be against us?
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
And what does that victory look like? Remember who our enemy is and what He is trying to do.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Our victory is in standing firm against the Amalekites (the world, the flesh, and the devil) and living the full life God has for us:
living His Truth,
loving God and loving one another,
becoming all God created us to be,
and bringing Him glory—lifting high
His name and His banner of love over us.
May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
For further study, read: Psalm 91.
Note: all scripture references are from the New International Version. (2011) BibleGateway.com
Questions for reflection or discussion:
Have you thought about the Christian life as a battle? How does it help to realize that God’s banner is over you, assuring your victory?
Have you seen someone wield the Sword of the Spirit, God’s Truth, without love? How did that prevent it from reaching its target? How might they have lovingly spoken the same Truth?
How does it bless you to know that God’s banner over you is love?
Do you think people can see His banner of love over you? What are some things you will do this week to fly His banner of love high over your life?
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