But you have raised a banner for those who fear you—a rallying point in the face of attack. Now rescue your beloved people. Answer and save us by your power. [Psalm 60:4-5 (NLT)]
May he grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed. May we shout for joy when we hear of your victory and raise a victory banner in the name of our God. [Psalm 20:4-5 (NLT)]
The Amalekites were a warlike nomadic tribe who frequently raided settlements to carry off plundered goods. About six weeks into the Israelites’ exodus from Egypt, these marauders made an unprovoked attack on the weary refugees while they camped at Rephidim. Moses commissioned Joshua to lead an army against their enemies the following morning. Joshua’s army, however, wasn’t made up of soldiers! Facing the veteran warriors of Amalek were men who less than two months earlier had been enslaved brick makers and field laborers! Worse, this unseasoned army was led by a general as inexperienced as were they. Nevertheless, Israel’s men set out to battle while Moses, his brother Aaron, and a man named Hur (who Jewish tradition believes was married to Miriam and brother-in-law to Moses) climbed to the top of a nearby hill to watch. As Israel fought their powerful foes, Moses extended his arms and held out his staff for all to see.
When going into battle, opposing armies would carry banners or standards that served as rallying points before battle, encouraged the warriors as they fought, and announced when the battle was won. Representing their tribe or leader, the banners usually depicted animals, birds, or pagan gods. Made of fabric, wood, or metal, they were fastened onto a long pole or staff so they could be seen from a distance. Marauders like the Amalekites probably had such a banner. The Israelites, however, weren’t an experienced army and had no flag or standard under which to rally.
Moses’ staff was the closest thing Israel had to a banner. Although it looked like an ordinary shepherd’s tool, to the Israelites it symbolized God’s intervention. Through God’s power, it had transformed into a snake, turned water into blood, produced hail, and infested Egypt with frogs, gnats, flies, and locusts. When Moses raised it over the Red Sea, the waters parted and, when Moses struck a rock with it, water gushed out. That staff, associated with God’s miracles, became Israel’s banner. As long it remained in sight, Israel’s novice army believed God was with them and victory was possible. That symbol of God’s faithfulness, presence, and power remained in the men’s sight on the hilltop until Israel was victorious over the army of Amalek.
After their victory, Moses built a memorial altar and called it Yahweh-Nissi (Jehovah-Nissi), which meant “The Lord is Our Banner.” By not calling it “The Staff is Our Banner” or “Our Banner Brought Us Victory,” it was clear that Moses knew it wasn’t the staff, Joshua’s battle strategy, or Israel’s military might that defeated the Amalekites. The name Yahweh-Nissi acknowledged that it was God’s presence and power that gave them their triumph. God, and God alone, was the author of their victory.
Indeed, the Lord is our banner. Unlike the Israelites, we’re not being attacked by an army of marauding warriors but, like them, the enemy attacks us every day with desire, discontent, despair, anger, and guilt. We face our battles under God’s banner—one of encouragement, courage, hope, love, faith, power, and might. If we keep our eyes focused on the Lord, victory is ours. Because of Yahweh-Nissi, we don’t have to fight our battles on our own strength – we have His!