Sermon Title: Jehovah Nissi God Our Banner
Text: Exodus 17:1-16
Speaker: Ed Grable
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Good morning! I’m so excited to be with you today! I want to welcome those of you at our North Main Campus. I will miss you today, but I'll see you all next week. I pray you will be encouraged and empowered to live a life guided by biblical truth and have an overflowing love for Jesus and those he has placed in your life.
I have the privilege of finishing our Names of God series this year. This has been a series where a few staff and elders have shared sermons highlighting the names of God and their meanings and power in scripture. So, if you missed any sermons from this series or any sermon from this year, I will challenge you to go to gatewayepc.org and catch up.
The Name of God: Jehovah Nissi
Today, we will look at the name of God, Jehovah Nissi, or The Lord Is My Banner. Now, you may be wondering how or why this name of God and why it is important. My hope is that by the end of our time together, you will see the power of this name, and you will faithfully make it a part of your everyday life. The Lord Our Banner or Jehovah Nissi. A banner is used to identify and unify a particular group of people.
As a visual learner, I thought of a few examples to help us remember what banners are. We see banners hung from the ceilings in sports arenas or on a high school wall that show their championships. We will see a version of a banner in a couple of days when we watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade because each marching band or organization will have a banner that tells you who they are and where they are from.
The Romans used banners at the front of their columns of soldiers to allow the enemy to see who they were walking into battle with. They would often place a golden eagle on the top of the pole so it was easy for their soldiers to see in battle. Many of the flags used in the Civil War were battle flags that were proudly displayed and held high so their soldiers knew where the line was and if they were advancing or retreating. When the flag was flying, you kept fighting. If the flag fell, the soldier closest to it dropped their weapon, lifted the flag back up, and kept moving forward; this inspired men to continue fighting. If the flag started to move quickly to the rear, this signaled a retreat, and those fighting would rally to the flag in solidarity with the hope of regrouping, reorganizing, and hopefully re-engaging in the fight.
One of the most inspirational banners ever raised was during World War II, and it was the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima. This iconic photo shows six United States Marines raising the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iwo Jima. This banner inspired those below to continue fighting and defeating the enemy. We will see a similar picture in our verses today, but Moses will lift a staff with Aaron and Hur's help while Joshua and the Israelites fight the Amalekites down below. At the battle's end, the Israelites will say, “The Lord is my Banner,” to identify themselves as unified followers of the Lord God.
Our main text is in Exodus 17:8-16, So if you have your Bible, and I hope you do, you can turn there now. For those of you new to using the bible, it is the second book of the bible. Scoot past Genesis, and you will find Exodus. As you’re finding our verses for today, I want to ask you a few questions. First, how many of you feel like you are fighting a battle of some kind? Maybe it is an illness, a recent diagnosis, or you have a child that has walked away from God or you or both. Maybe your battle is internal. You're fighting an invisible war. It is a battle of addiction, depression, and bouts of anxiety that seem to hit you like big waves in the ocean, wave after wave, and it seems like it is never going to stop. You have tried to handle it on your own. You have prayed and prayed but just can't seem to get your footing. Today, I want to give you hope.
Or maybe you are the loved one of someone I just described, and you don’t know what to do. I want you to leave here with hope as well. I also recognize in a crowd this size. I am sure some are not struggling or know anyone who is. I have some news for you. You will face a battle of some kind someday. We never leave this life untouched by tragedy, heartache, or pain, so enjoy your season of peace and rest. But I would also challenge you to put what I say in your pocket for later because you will need this someday.
My second question is, tell me who you are without telling me what you do; how would you respond? The answer to this question will tell you who or what you put your identity in. Just like military banners or the many flags that get waved around today, our identity can often be found in a cause, an organization, a country, a political party, or a sports team, to name a few. Our identity can also be found in our hurts, habits, or hangups. Those become the banners we proudly stake in the ground or retreat to in times of trouble.
So, let's get our bearings on where we are in the book of Exodus. The Israelites have just crossed the Red Sea and witnessed God destroy Pharaoh's army. Now if we base our view of things on what we read at the end of chapters 13, 14, and most of 15, it looks like things are good with Moses, the people, and God. And they already identify that God is Jehovah Nissi God, is their banner, right? Sadly, that is not the case. While it is true that everyone seems to be happy as they continue their long walk, following a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night, trusting in God to lead them to the promised land, the people become restless and just like all long car rides, with the kids everyone gets thirsty and wants a drink.
The people turn against Moses and God. The Israelites demanded water, and in his faithfulness, God provided water to drink. In chapter 16, we see the Israelites turn on Moses and Aaron again! This time, because they are hungry. It is easy to say, seriously, are you forgetting the four hundred years of slavery, torture, and death? They make Egypt sound like paradise, wishing they had never left. Now, we have to be careful here not to judge the Israelites because we are guilty of the same thing in our own lives. We focus more on what we want. It is often something that will satisfy the flesh and those desires, forgetting all we have and all God has already provided. But once again, God shows his people mercy and provides. He gives them manna or bread from heaven and quail to eat. This will be what they will eat for the next forty years while they wander.
So, if we return to the idea of raising a banner during a life event or situation. I think it is interesting how the Israelites found their identity in their years of captivity. They glorified the past, flying a banner of slavery in Egypt again, making it sound like they had it good, forgetting how God had saved them and set them free. Instead of raising a banner of freedom and gratitude, they grumble and gripe. How many times have you caught yourself doing the same thing? Instead of focusing on God, you find yourself focused on your problems.
Charles Stanley Story: Charles Stanley tells a story about when he was a young pastor and things were not going well, and he was possibly being voted out of his church as the pastor. But before the meeting, a seventy-year-old woman invited him to lunch. She was old, so he had no worries about anyone saying anything, so he went. Upon entering the house for lunch, the lady asked him to look at a painting on her wall. It depicted Daniel in the lion's den. She asked what do you see? He pointed out the lions, Daniel, bones on the floor, and the position of the lions. Then she said look at Daniel and where he was focused. Daniel is concentrating on the light coming from the window with his hands behind his back. You see, Daniel understood that focusing on God was the important thing to do. Focusing on the lions or his troubles was not going to help anything. The same is true with the trouble we face in life. The more you look and think about them, the bigger and scarier they get. Focus on God he will get you, though.
Chapter 17 starts out once again with the Israelites coming after Moses and questioning God because they are thirsty with no water in sight. At this, the tensions are high, and you get the sense that Moses has had enough of their complaining. It is so bad that Moses is worried the people are going to kill him. Let's start in verse one where we read:
17 The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. 2 So they quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses replied, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?” 3 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?” 4 Then Moses cried out to the Lord, “What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” 5 The Lord answered Moses, “Go out in front of the people. Take with you some of the elders of Israel and take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. 6 I will stand there before you by the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it for the people to drink.” So Moses did this in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
So, another physical need presents itself, and the people are again crying out for water. They seemingly forgot that God had led them to this place, and he had always provided water before. But instead of going to Moses and asking if he had talked to God about the lack of water, like hey, Moe, what is God's plan? We need water; we’re getting thirsty. Nope, they chose to once again complain and argue with Moses. Are you seeing a theme yet?
It is at this point that I will say that the Israelites had a legitimate concern because if you go too long without water, you will die. I learned in survival training that the average person can only go about three days without water, or there is a high likelihood they will be unalive. In the same respect, we can normally go thirty days without food. Anyway, now you know.
Moses is upset as well; he separates himself from them when he calls the Israelites “these people.” You get the sense he wants to pull the car over and tell everyone to get out so he can drive on alone. Keep in mind Moses is eighty years old when he is doing this.
Once again, Moses is obedient and takes the elders as witnesses; some believe this is an attempt to use their witness to spread the amazing thing God was about to do, and the staff was a reminder to Moses of how God has done great things through him like turning the water of the Nile into blood and splitting the Red Sea. Now, God will use it to bring water to his people. And as Moses strikes the rock, water flows.
Before I can move on to verse 8, I want us to look once again at verse 7. It says
7 And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord, saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”
We see the Israelites fly a banner of selfishness, abandonment, and unbelief, all while questioning if God was anywhere to be found. They dared to ask if the Lord was among them. Their doubt astonishes me, but once again, I can not stand here and judge them. I have found myself in life situations where I ask where God is in the moment. The loss of a baby, a diagnosis of a life-ending disease, the suicide of a young person, or the death of innocent lives in war. In those moments, I cry out to God and ask why and where he was. It is often years later that I understand what God was doing. He never left. He had a bigger purpose in mind.
My wife Lea and my mother-in-law Verna sadly experienced this many years ago. Verna married a hippy named Hal, and he was an amazing man. He loved Lea like she was his own and brought joy and fulfillment to Verna that no one had ever seen before. He loved the Lord and would faithfully study his Bible and pray. He was even a leader in a church plant in an upstairs storefront. He started running to get in shape to run a marathon and be a Golden Glove boxer, and while on one of his runs, he collapsed and died. He was only 26. So many people questioned where God was at in that moment. Why did he allow this to happen?
One answer, in this case, came rather quickly. At Hal's funeral, many young people were rocked by the fact that they had lost a friend so young, and the reality that we are not promised tomorrow caused them to recommit their lives to Jesus while others did so for the first time. Even though I have never met the man, I have always looked up to him as a model of the kind of Christ follower I want to be. He was faithful in the little things and did not cling to this life too tightly. In fact, one of his favorite sayings was, “We are just passing through.” It is as if he knew somehow. He is one of the people I can’t wait to meet in heaven.
So God was with the Israelites even though they could not find him. So now everyone was drinking, and life was again good for Moses and his people. But just when Moses thinks the trouble has passed, those in the rear of the assembly are attacked. Look with me in verse 8. We read:
8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim.
The Amalekites were a nomadic tribe that waited to attack the Israelites once they crossed over the Red Sea. They stalked the people, trying to keep up, and when the time was right and everyone was tired and weak, they attacked. We see these details in Deuteronomy 25:17-18:
17 “Never forget what the Amalekites did to you as you came from Egypt. 18 They attacked you when you were exhausted and weary, and they struck down those who were straggling behind. They had no fear of God. 19 Therefore, when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies in the land he is giving you as a special possession, you must destroy the Amalekites and erase their memory from under heaven. Never forget this!
So, it was at this moment that the Amalekites became the enemy of God. Attacking God's people in this way was cowardly and low. This so angered God he challenged the Israelites to remove them and any memory of them from the earth. And we will see later they will be at war with each other for many generations.
If we look at this attack from a modern-day perspective. When does the enemy often attack us? Is it when we are rooted in the word, constant in prayer, and connected to God and his people? No, in most cases, the enemy comes when we are tired, worn out, and questioning our existence and God as we struggle to make it day to day. Now, that is not always the case, but many times this is true.
Scripture tells us that the enemy is waiting for that right moment to strike. It is found in 1 Peter 5:8: Listen to Peter's words.
8 Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
So, the devil wants to disrupt us and give us trouble. We are not immune to trouble just because we follow Christ. John 16:33 tells us we will have trouble, but there is good news for those who believe in Jesus’ words:
33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
In James 1:2-4 we see one way we can respond to trouble or attacks from the enemy.
2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.
So when trouble comes your way, lean into your faith and understand that this is an opportunity to grow and mature in your relationship and dependence on God.
Finding confidence in knowing that God has got this, and you will be stronger on the other side. As that confidence grows, so will your endurance and joy. Have you ever met someone whose life is falling apart, and they are smiling and joyful, praising him in the storm? These people are living this verse. They have chosen to look past their pain and suffering and are focused on his purpose and plan. We call that trusting in God's sovereignty. We will see that same faith as we continue in our verses for today.
So the Amalekites have attached the rear of the assembly, and word gets back to Moses; let's pick back up in verse 9.
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.
This is the first mention of Joshua in scripture. Remember his name means Yahweh saves or the Lord saves, and in Greek, it is translated into Jesus. But there are two things we need to keep in mind here. First, what was the Israelites previous profession? Slaves right. No formal military training. This was their first battle, and the guys they were going up against were seasoned warriors. Secondly, Joshua didn’t question the command. He just did what he was asked. This tells us he was a warrior and trusted both Moses and God. So Joshua goes and starts fighting the enemy.
I have to laugh because I wonder if Joshua was wondering: wait a minute, Moses, I am going off to fight, and you are going up on a hill to get a better view, and you are taking your stick and some friends. But the significance of both is quickly revealed. Look at verse 11.
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.
Do you see the amazing picture here? As Moses lifts his hands, Joshua and his men are winning, and when he drops them, they start to lose. Up good, down bad. So, what does all of this mean? Well-lifted hands in the air is the Hebrew position of prayer. Moses lifted his hand and the staff of God in a prayer for victory during the battle, and as long as he prayed, the Israelite army was beating back the Amalekites. But when he got tired, he dropped his hands, and the enemy was winning.
There are some important things to point out here. First is the position of Moses's prayer. He has his hands raised in the air, reaching out to God. You might think that you are doing it wrong when you fold your hands, close your eyes, and bow your head, and the answer is no. Charismatic Christians did not invent the praising God with their hands lifted high. The Hebrews did. I don't know where the tradition of prayer the way we do it originated, but there are some benefits, especially in a crowd this size.
I do not know about you, but if I didn’t fold my hands, bow my head, and close my eyes, I could not concentrate on what I was doing. I mean, who am I kidding? When someone prays a long prayer, I often start to drift in my thinking like I wonder how long this guy will go on and on, or I’m hungry, I wonder if there is any meatloaf leftover at home. Just being honest. I know I just lost half of you when I said meatloaf.
All that to say, you can pray in many different ways physically. But the most important part in prayer is the position of your heart. One of my favorite pictures of this is in Luke 18:10-14. Let's look at it together.
10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Are you humble as you approach the God of all creation? Is your heart full of thankfulness for all he has done? Are you surrendering to his will in your life?
So again Moses is praying on the hill, hands lifted, asking God to help those below in the battle. He prays to the point of exhaustion, dropping his hands seeing what is happening Aaron, Moses's brother, and Hur, some believe this is Moses's brother-in-law, step in and help Moses by getting him a seat to sit on, and they stand on either side, holding his arms in the air with the rod of God lifted. They held them up until the battle was won.
Again, there is so much here, but I want us to take away a few truths that can encourage those in the midst of a battle today. First, Moses is passionately and fervently praying for those fighting below, interceding on behalf of the Israelites, asking for God's mercy and victory over the enemy. It is such a blessing having people in your life who pray for you. It is because of their faithfulness in prayer that we find the strength, courage, and drive to keep fighting. But without the help of Aaron and Hur, Moses could not have continued. He needed their help and support.
How about you? Are you trying to do it on your own? Are you fighting a battle on your own? Are you getting tired and weary? Or have your hands fallen, allowing the enemy to gain ground in the battles you are facing? I have good news for you today. You don't have to do it on your own anymore. As your faith family, we want to help you and come alongside you in prayer. At the end of each of our services here at Gateway Church, we have prayer teams available to pray with you. Take advantage of them. They want to pray for you. If you are in a Life Group, have them pray for and support you. They want to love, support, and encourage you. Stop trying to do it on your own.
Secondly, we see Joshua defeated the Amalekites. We ca?n't forget that Joshua and his men had to physically fight the battle. Sometimes, we as Christians must do our part in the physical fight. There are those who are good at praying and getting support in their prayers from friends, families, and even their Life Groups, but getting in the battle physically is dismissed or simply ignored. They say I prayed, and I trust God. God’s got this. I have faith.
Sadly, I have seen this happen to someone I knew many years ago. She was diagnosed with cancer and was told that they caught it early enough, and if treated, she would most likely be cured within six months. So we all were so excited. Little did we know that she chose not to get treatment, and instead, she prayed and had an army of people praying, believing that if she had enough faith and enough people praying with her, she would be healed. But sadly, she died, leaving her husband and two teen daughters without a wife and a mother.
Listen, if you are struggling and have prayed, great, I am so glad. But if your next step is to see a doctor or a counselor or to check yourself into rehab, do it. Please do the right thing! So you have been knocked down. Listen, you must stop laying on the mat bleeding. Get Up! Get back in the fight! Like Joshua, you must be a warrior and fight until the battle is won. When you lose ground, keep fighting!
Let's look at the last section of our verses for today, continuing with verse 14 we read.
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.
This victory was made possible only with God's help, and those who fought and witnessed this battle knew this because they were not warriors, and there was no other reason they should have won. Whenever there was a doubt about who was allowing the battle to be won, they just had to look up on the hill and see Moses, Aaron, and Hur praying to know who was allowing them to overcome a great and powerful enemy.
You see, as humans, we naturally can become prideful after a victory. Saying we did this. God wanted everyone involved to know it was God that won the victory. Moses is told to write it down and share it with Joshua, so he remembers who deserves the glory for this win. This story was also a reminder to future generations that God was the one who defeated their enemies. Look at verse 15
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.”
As I mentioned in the beginning, A banner also functions as a rallying point for troops in a battle. The altar Moses built in Exodus 17 marked where God intervened on behalf of his people and promised to defeat his enemies. For Moses, Joshua, and the Israelites, the banner was the banner of God, and it was a reminder of all that God had done! It would continue to be their war banner for forty years as they conquered their enemies and eventually entered the promised land.
Psalm 20 shows a beautiful picture of God's people uniting and calling on Jehovah Nissi.
Starting in verse 5, we read:
5“May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.” May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests. 6 Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
God’s people continue to say, “The Lord is my Banner,” because it is in his power that the enemies are vanquished. The Lord is our Banner in that he is the One we unite under. He is our Savior. We are rescued by him and identified in him.
So the next question is, now what? Right? Well, I'm glad you asked. Let's circle back to the questions I asked at the beginning. First, if you are fighting a battle alone, I want to challenge you to talk to someone this week, if not today. Reach out to your Life Group, a Christian friend, or even Pastor Robert. Stop trying to do it on your own. We are your faith family; let us help you. The second question was, who would you say you are without telling me what you do? What is the banner you stake in the ground and rally to in times of victory and defeat? My hope after today it is a banner of faith in Jesus, and you would describe yourself as a Christ follower finding your identity in him and him alone because while everything and everyone will let you down, he will never fail you. Raise his banner confidently and raise it high for the world to see that Jehovah Nissi, the Lord, is your banner. Let's pray.
Father, I thank you for this place and these people. I pray that we leave this place encouraged and empowered by the word of God. Understanding that to know you is to know it. We come to you in many ways, much like the Israelites at times struggling to see you in the midst of our journey. Help us to remember all that you have done on our behalf through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son Jesus. Forgive us in those times when we chose to be selfish and focused on our own needs. Thank you for hearing our prayers and the prayers of others lifted up in the midst of the battles we face. May we rally to the banner of God and shout the victory we have in him. Finally, help us to find our identity in you and you alone, for you are trustworthy and remain the same today, tomorrow, and forever!
May you go proclaiming and raising the name of God Jehovah Nissi, for he is our banner!
You are sent! Have a great week!