Saturday, July 21, 2007

Jehovah-nissi

When I first started looking at this compound name, I thought that this one might be kind of straightforward and a little boring. The more I look at Jehovah-nissi (The Lord our banner) the more interesting it becomes. Here's the verse where this name is found:

Exodus 17:8-16
Then came Amalek, and fought with Israel in Rephidim. 9 And Moses said unto Joshua, Choose us out men, and go out, fight with Amalek: tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in mine hand. 10 So Joshua did as Moses had said to him, and fought with Amalek: and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. 11 And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses' hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword. 14 And the LORD said unto Moses, Write this for a memorial in a book, and rehearse it in the ears of Joshua: for I will utterly put out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. 15 And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovah-nissi: 16 For he said, Because the LORD hath sworn that the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation. (KJV)


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 memory of Amalek from under heaven."
15 Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. 16 He said, "For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation." (NIV)


Note that this name was given by Moses to a place, an altar actually, that Moses built to memorialize the victory over the Amalekite's. If you remember the last compound name that we looked at, Jehovah-rapha, was given immediately following the Israelites having trouble getting water to drink. Well again this passage where the name Jehovah-nissi, is given, also follows a problem with water:

Exodus 17:1-7
And all the congregation of the children of Israel journeyed from the wilderness of Sin, after their journeys, according to the commandment of the LORD, and pitched in Rephidim: and there was no water for the people to drink. 2 Wherefore the people did chide with Moses, and said, Give us water that we may drink. And Moses said unto them, Why chide ye with me? wherefore do ye tempt the LORD? 3 And the people thirsted there for water; and the people murmured against Moses, and said, Wherefore is this that thou hast brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our cattle with thirst? 4 And Moses cried unto the LORD, saying, What shall I do unto this people? they be almost ready to stone me. 5 And the LORD said unto Moses, Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel; and thy rod, wherewith thou smotest the river, take in thine hand, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before thee there upon the rock in Horeb; and thou shalt smite the rock, and there shall come water out of it, that the people may drink. And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel. 7 And he called the name of the place Massah, and Meribah, because of the chiding of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, Is the LORD among us, or not? (KVJ)


Look what happens here. The Israelites are wandering in the hot and dry desert. They have no water to drink and they begin to turn against the leadership of Moses. Moses as a consequence of the threat turns to God for help. God replies to him, gather around all your senior people. Take the rod that you used to do the miracles in front of Pharaoh, I will be with you, hit the rock with that rod and water will flow out of it. The people will have water to drink. Moses did just what God told him to do.

Now the Israelites have a problem, actually a continuing problem (from the days of Abraham) with the Amalekites. The Amalekites attack and Moses tells Joshua to go out tomorrow with the army and he will stand on top of a hill overlooking the battle, with the staff that he used to get the water out of the rock.

This is so fascinating. In every compound name that we have looked at, it is not only the passage describing the giving of the name that is important, but the preceding passage(s) that set the stage for the lesson of the name. Each name that we've looked at, indeed every passage of the Bible is not seen as standing alone, but is part of a wondrous fabric, a tapestry, that is all woven together. . .

Look at the difference between these two events. In the previous passage, the problem with the water, Moses went to God and asked Him to intervene. In the battle with the Amalekites, it does not say that Moses ever consulted with God before acting. Moses used the same tool that God had him use before, his staff, but apparently this time without the explicit power or authority of God behind it. Moses seems to have forgotten that it wasn't the staff that had the power, it was God. He appears to have used the staff without asking God. Was it God's will that the Israelites smite and be victorious over the Amalekites? Absolutely, but was God asked ahead of time to intervene for them? The Bible doesn't record that He was.

We've got to be careful that we don't get confused and start thinking that there is power in the tools that we use. We sometimes talk about the 'power of prayer' or the 'power of worship'. I think that is not just splitting hairs, but prayer has no power. Worship has no power. God has the power. We use prayer and worship to reach God, but they are just tools, like Moses' staff. They have no power of their own. We must never forget that. The Amalekites troubled the Israelites for many hundreds of years after this battle. God gave Joshua and his army a very small victory, that day, in a very long struggle. . . How might the outcome have been different if Moses had cried out to God beforehand?

It is difficult for me to think of another case in the Bible where such a supremely taxing effort was ever required, of someone doing a work for God. Usually the works of God are amazing for their results with such little human effort. Think of some examples: the 4 leprous men (II Kings 7) driving off an entire army, the angel of the Lord killing an army of 185,000 (II Kings 19) Gideon and his 300 men (Judges 7) having his huge victory with such a small band of men. I'm sure there are more examples if we thought about it. Over and over again God does huge works with never enough resources (in man's eyes).

This passage is often used as a wonderful example of men holding up their Pastor, supporting him, assisting him in the work of God. I'm surely not going to take anything away from that. It surely is a commendable thing, and a thing I believe honored by God, to lift up any Godly leader, but we might ask ourselves if our work for God, and if our ministry requires us to be supported all day long by two men and a stone bench to keep us from collapsing, maybe we need to ask for God to intervene with His power, to support us with His might, and we then will not need to be carried by men.

It's probably pretty accurate, the name that Moses gave to that altar, the role Moses put God in that day, but I'm not sure it is a role that God wanted to be relegated to. I'm not sure it's a name God would have chosen for Himself. I'm not sure God wants to be our banner; maybe to put it in more modern terms, I'm not sure God wants to be only a billboard in our battle. What does a banner, a mere sign do? Jesus never said I am the way the truth and the big neon sign. A sign is passive. A sign does nothing of its own. God is by contrast always active, working behind the scenes. He is on the move and He wants to be moving in our lives all the time, every day. If he is only your banner, maybe you should take Him off the signpost and put Him in the pilot's seat. . .

Dave Stokely

No comments: