"Moses built an altar and called it the LORD is my Banner." --Exodus 17:15
The Lord goes by many names throughout the Bible. As I mentioned in my reflection posted on this blog last week, a number of these names are variations of the Tetragrammaton, in Hebrew Yahweh ("I am") or, more commonly, Jehovah. One of these variations appears only once in the entire canon of Scripture. That is the name Jehovah Nissi or "The Lord is my banner." Moses built an altar to the Lord and called it this name after the Lord delivered the children of Israel during a unique battle described in the book of Exodus, chapter 17.
The children of Israel had been liberated from their slavery in Egypt by the Lord and, under the leadership of Moses, they were traveling through the wilderness en route to the land that God had promised to them. They faced many challenges and trials during this journey--even military battles on occasion. One such occasion occurred in Rephidim the day the Israelites were attacked by a ferocious group of nomads known as the Amalekites. Let's read the strategy that Moses adopted for fighting this battle:
"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." So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 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. So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword." (Exodus 17:9-13)
In this story, Moses' rod is likened to the battle flag that armies often fight under--the cause for which they strive and the symbol of the manner in which they are resourced for the conflict. Moses' rod was used on numerous occasions to initiate a supernatural intervention of divine power on behalf of the Israelites. Is it any wonder then that Moses would build an altar (altar building is always significant in the Old Testament and often happens following a major act of the Lord) and name it "The Lord My Banner" or battle flag. What are the lessons to be learned from this story?
First, it is important to remember that the Lord allowed this battle, perhaps even chose it, for His people. They didn't choose it for themselves. I have heard some people say that we need to "pick our battles wisely." I think we shouldn't pick them at all. Let's ask the Lord to show us what is worth fighting for rather than depend on our own wisdom for that choice. The reason I suggest this is that, in my case anyway, I know that I am too often influenced by my own selfishness and pride. Sometimes I will pick a fight with someone or something because my ego has been bruised or my need for recognition has been offended. If we trust the Lord, He will show us what is worth fighting for.
The Amalekites represent a people that were not entirely subdued at this particular point of time. In verse 14, the Lord promised Moses that the name of the Amalekites will eventually be blotted out from under heaven--they will be totally defeated in the future. At the same time, in verse 16, Moses declared that the Lord will do battle with the Amalekites from generation to generation. Therefore, many Bible scholars argue that the Amalekites symbolize the power of our sinful nature. Some day it will be destroyed, but, for now, the Lord helps us fight our selfishness daily under His banner (His resources) in a battle that He has chosen for us to make us holy (whole, healthy and happy.)
And that is the second lesson. We fight in the Lord's strength, not our own. Some of us are worn out and depleted under the weight of the burdens we bear or the battles we face. Even Moses got tired in the story we read above. Jesus was not angry at his disciples when they fell asleep right before He was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane; He simply acknowledged that the "spirit is willing but the flesh is (often) weak." (Mark 14:38) Whose resources are we relying on through the course of our days? Moses was no doubt engaged in intercessory prayer as he extended his arm and rod during the battle with the Amalekites. Whenever he got tired and his arm dropped, the Israelites were driven back. Whenever Moses' arm was lifted up, symbolizing dependence on the Lord's power and not his own, the people of God were victorious. The Christian band called "Casting Crowns" sings a song in which they encourage their listeners to "stop holding on and just be held." Some of us are trying so hard just to keep ourselves together and to control our circumstances! We are trying to be God rather than letting Him have that role in our lives. Let's give up and look up. Remember the counsel of Peter: "Cast all your anxiety upon the Lord because He cares for you." (I Peter 5:7)
One more thing--when we see a brother or sister in Christ struggling under the weight of their battle, their arms drooping in weakness and their faces downcast in discouragement, we need to come alongside of them to hold them up, literally with acts of kindness and spiritually in prayer. That's what Aaron and Hur did for Moses in the story. We may even have to devise a long-term strategy or mode of assistance for those who face a fight that is ongoing and not quickly resolved. In Moses' case, the two men pulled a stone over for Moses to sit on in his fatigue as they held up his hands in prayer. For us, maybe we need to discern, with the insight of the Holy Spirit, a long-range plan to help a person or family facing a chronic illness or a powerful addiction. And we can't give up in the midst of the battle. The people we seek to help may appear to be losing their fight at times (as the Israelites seemed to be losing when Moses' hands dropped), but that must not deter us from continuing to give them the help they need. The Lord must be the source of the assistance we offer; we must be the channels of His grace to those who struggle and suffer. They don't need our good will or our best intentions. They need the Lord's power and compassion offered through weak, imperfect human vessels like us.
Heavenly Father, thank You for being our banner in battle, the standard under which we fight and will ultimately be victorious. Indeed, we are already victors in Christ through His death on the Cross. Guide and direct our lives to the extent that we only enter the conflict or fight You have chosen for us. Help us to rely on Your strength alone, not our own fleshly resources, in our own battles and as we help others embroiled in theirs. In Jesus' Name, Amen.