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Jehovah Nissi means “The Lord Is My Banner.” This name for God appears in Exodus 17:15—the only place it occurs in the Bible. It combines Jehovah (Yahweh)—the most frequently used name for God—with the Hebrew word, for a “banner” or a “flag.” In most English translations of the Bible this verse reads:
“And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner” (Exodus 17:15, NKJV).
However, the Septuagint (the earliest Greek translation of the Old Testament) traced the word, nissi, to a Hebrew root meaning “refuge” and translated it as “the Lord Is My Refuge.” And the Vulgate (an early Latin translation of the Old Testament) identified nissi with a Hebrew word meaning “to lift up” and translated Jehovah Nissi as “The Lord Is My Exaltation.”
What prompted Moses to build an altar dedicated to Jehovah Nissi—“The Lord Is My Banner”?
Exodus 17 picks up the story of the Israelites shortly after they left Egyptian bondage and were traveling to the land of Canaan under the leadership of Moses. While they were camped at a place called Rephidim, they were attacked by the Amalekites—a local people who didn’t appreciate the Israelites passing through their land.
Moses put Joshua in charge of leading the Israelite forces. “I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand,” he told Joshua. That was the battle plan.
The rod Moses was holding was the rod that he had used at God’s direction to work miracles—including parting the Red Sea so the Israelites could escape the Egyptians and also bringing water from a rock to quench their thirst in the wilderness.
When the armies met in battle, Moses, along with his associates, Aaron and Hur, was standing on a nearby hill holding high “the rod of God” in his hand. As long as he held the rod aloft, Israel was winning and pushing back the enemy. But when he grew tired and let his hand drop, the Amalekites would gain the upper hand.
All day long Aaron and Hur stood on each side of Moses, holding up his hands with the rod held high. And God gave Israel the victory over their enemies. At the close of the battle, “Moses built an altar and called its name, The-Lord-Is-My-Banner” (Exodus 17:15). By building the altar, Moses showed that he recognized the Lord as the source of their victory.
The miracle-working rod was like a banner flying over their army, identifying them as God’s people who were depending on Him for victory. It represented God’s power working on their behalf. By building an altar, Moses was also creating a place of remembrance and celebrating what God had done. It was an expression of gratitude for God’s blessings.
God is called Jehovah Nissi—“God Is My Banner”—only in Exodus 17:15, but elsewhere in the Bible His “banner” is an illustration of His protection and salvation.
Just as banners and flags today identify nations and groups and those who belong to them, God’s banner identifies those who belong to Him—those He has saved from their sins and given eternal life.
Speaking of the Messiah who was to come, Isaiah prophesied, “In that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people. . . . He will set up a banner for the nations” (Isaiah 11:10, 12).
In Romans 15:12 the apostle Paul quotes Isaiah’s words and applies them to Jesus. And Jesus Himself said, “I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32; see also John 3:14).
Just as Moses raised the rod in his hands as a sign of God’s saving protection for the armies of Israel, Jesus was lifted up on the cross for us. As long as we look to Him and what He did for us on the cross, Satan can never overcome us. Jesus is our banner of salvation.
What lessons can we take away from this story? What does Jehovah Nissi—The-Lord-Is-My-Banner—mean to us today?