Yahweh Nissi — The Lord My Banner
Ancient armies carried standards or banners that served as marks of identification and as symbols that embodied the ideals of a people. Like a flag, it was something that could be seen from afar, serving as a rallying point for troops before a battle. Banners were first used in Egypt, Babylonia, Assyria, and Persia. The Israelites carried them on their march through the desert.
Unlike fabric flags, ancient banners were usually made out of wood or metal and shaped into various figures or emblems that could be fastened to a staff or a long pole. Depicting birds, animals, or gods, they often glistened brightly in the sun so that they could be seen from far off.
A banner carried at the head of an army or planted on a high hill served as a rallying point for troops before battle or as an announcement of a victory already won. When Moses held up the staff of God in the battle with the Amalekites, he was holding it like a banner, appealing to God’s power. By building an altar and naming it Yahweh Nissi (yah-WEH nis-SEE), “The LORD Is My Banner,” he created a memorial of God’s protection and power.
Praying to Yahweh Nissi
I went to a tough middle school when I was in seventh grade, so tough that even the girls got into fistfights. Though most women I know have never duked it out on the playground, all have had their share of battles.
When it comes to fighting, the name Yahweh Nissi reminds us of at least two things. First that we are in a war, and second, that we are going to win it. Let’s look at this battle scene from Exodus--the first fight the Israelites face after leaving Egypt (see Exodus 17:8-16). The outcome will indelibly mark them as victors or vanquished, influencing the course of their history.
Under the circumstances, you would expect Moses to act like a good general, surveying the battle from a strategic vantage point, deploying his troops, and then communicating a tactical plan as the battle advances. So it’s not surprising that he ascends a hill from where to watch the battle unfold. But Moses has more than a good military brain. He has a secret weapon, three secret weapons to be exact.
Notice, first of all, that the Bible says Moses held the staff of God in his hands, the one representing God’s authority. This is the same staff he threw down in front of Pharaoh’s magicians, the same staff he held above the Red Sea, commanding the churning waters to part.
But what’s the second secret weapon? Instead of issuing nonstop commands to his men, Moses raises his hands, and calls out to God in prayer. Whenever he tires and lowers his hands, the battle goes to the enemy. Whenever he raises them, it goes to the Israelites. So the second secret weapon is prayer—persistent, ongoing, prayer.
But what about the third secret weapon? When Moses gets tired of holding up his hands, he asks two of his leading men to stand alongside him and hold up his hands. Aaron and Hur could have been out on the field commanding troops, but instead they are standing still, holding up the hands of their leader. So the third secret weapon is community, specifically a community of prayer.
Whether our own battles are sudden attacks or prolonged sieges, we need to remember that we have authority over the spiritual realm because of our relationship with Christ. The battles we face can only be won with God’s help.
So pray. And make sure you are part of a community of Christians, large or small, who are committed to praying together.