This is the complete story of Jehovah Nissi. Take time to read and genuinely pray the prayer at the end. God longs to fight for you.
Twins. Not one child, but two. And though they came from the same womb, they grew to be worlds apart. Their names are probably familiar to you. Esau, born first, loved to hunt. Isaac, his father, loved him for it. Jacob, riding out of the womb on the heel of Esau, hung out at the tents—a homebody of sorts. Rebekah loved him.
Esau could hunt, Jacob cook. Esau was passionate, emotional and sporadic. Jacob, cunning and deceitful. Isaac kept on loving Esau, Rebekah continued to favor Jacob.
One day. How a day changes everything. Esau, as the firstborn owned the birthright. He owned it for no other reason than the fact he was born first. As owner of the birthright, he knew that several privileges awaited him at his father’s death. First of all, he would receive twice as much of his father’s property as any other heir. His wealth was secure. Second, he received authority over the other family members. He became the new patriarch, the newly respected leader of the family. His authority would be in tact. Finally, he would receive the much-desired blessing from the father which secured his relationship with Almighty God. His spiritual heritage was pronounced. All because he owned the birthright.
One day. Esau came home from the field—exhausted, famished, weary. Almost home, he smelled lunch. Jacob was practicing his culinary arts again. The aroma of the freshly cooked stew floated through the dry desert air. Esau’s empty stomach screamed for food. His tired, aching body begged for relief. His mind listened to nothing else but their voices.
“Jacob, please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished,” Esau begged.
Jacob had plenty of time to fill his stomach and his heart with a devious plan. Seeing Esau’s desperate condition, he went for the jugular.
“First, sell me your birthright.”
Esau’s eyes grew larger than his stomach. Hunger overwhelmed him. Forgetting that in his father’s house was plenty of food, in his father’s house were servants who could have responded to his request for food, he chose a swallow of lentil soup— a simple stew of red beans. Where he could have enjoyed a leg of lamb, he gulped a mouthful of beans. When he could have feasted at Isaac’s table, he begged at his brother’s trailside soup kitchen. Overcome with emotion, Esau responded:
“Behold, I am about to die; so of what use then is the birthright to me?”
Jacob, wanting to clearly understand that he had so easily won the coveted birthright asked Esau for further assurance. “Swear to me.” The steam from the bean soup slowly wafted to Esau’s nostrils. Swearing that Jacob could have his birthright, Esau lunged for the bowl of soup.
Jacob served Esau for the last time. From now on, Esau would serve Jacob. With each swallow of the soup Esau’s birthright disintegrated into nothing. A full stomach gave way to an empty heart. Esau despised his birthright.
Years passed. Esau continued to hunt and his father continued to favor him. Jacob perfected his bean soup. Isaac aged. His eyesight grew dim. Death lurked just around the corner.
One day. So much happens in a day. Isaac called Esau into his quarters. “I am old and do not know the day of my death. Now, then, please take your gear, your quiver and your bow, and go out to the field and hunt game for me; and prepare a savory dish for me such as I love, and bring it to me that I may eat, so that my soul may bless you before I die.”
Esau’s heart jumped for joy. A glimmer of hope shed new light on the emptiness. Though he did not have his birthright, at least he would receive the blessing. He readied his bow, filled his quiver with arrows, dressed in his best camouflage and headed straight for hunting ground.
Rebekah overheard the entire conversation. Her favor for Jacob overshadowed her respect for her husband. Her plan became her priority. Quickly she summoned Jacob, informed him of Isaac’s intention to give Esau the blessing and instructed him to choose two young goats from the flock. She would prepare one of Isaac’s favorite dishes and Jacob would carry it into him and receive the blessing.
“But mama,” Jacob replied, “Esau is hairy and I am smooth. What if my father feels me and discovers that I have deceived him. I will be a deceiver in his sight and receive a curse, not a blessing.”
“Do what I say,” Rebekah scolded. Jacob conceded.
Once again the pleasing aroma of a simple cooked meal paved the way for Jacob to receive what rightly belonged to Esau. He stepped into his father’s room.
“Here I am. Who are you, my son?”
“Esau, your firstborn. I have done as you told me.” Jacob hesitated—shocked by a shiver of fear. “Get up, please, sit and eat of my game, that you may bless me.”
Esau had never gotten game so quickly and prepared it so wonderfully. Isaac hesitated.
“How is it that you have it so quickly, my son?”
Jacob continued resolutely in his deception. “Because the Lord your God caused it to happen to me.”
Isaac hesitated again. Something wasn’t right about this and he couldn’t put his finger on it. “Come close that I may feel you, my son, whether you are really my son Esau or not.”
Jacob’s heart skipped a beat. Did Isaac know? He feared his father’s curse if his true identity were revealed. He walked timidly toward his father, arranging the goatskin that now graced his hands and neck so that his father would touch the hairy hands of Esau.
“The voice is the voice of Jacob,” Isaac stammered, “But the hands are the hands of Esau.”
Isaac blessed Jacob.
Another moment of doubt. “Are you really my son Esau?” Isaac asked.
Another lie. “I am.”
Jacob served Rebekah’s best. Young goat marinated in deception. Wine aged by dishonesty. An aging father, a desperate son, a doting mother and a deceitful brother. A recipe for disaster.
Isaac’s tired voice broke the silence. “Come close and kiss me my son.”
Jacob approached his father—again—and kissed him. The smell of the fresh goatskins pleased Isaac.
“See, the smell of my son is like the smell of a field which the Lord has blessed. Now may God give you of the dew of heaven, and of the fatness of the earth, and an abundance of grain and new wine; may peoples serve you, and nations bow down to you; be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you. Cursed be those who curse you, and blessed be those who bless you.”
Jacob breathed a sigh of relief, gathered the leftovers and slipped out of the room.
Esau rushed in. His food prepared to perfection, he awaited his father’s blessing. “Let my father arise and eat of his son’s game, that you may bless me.” Esau waited.
“Who are you?” Isaac questioned.
“I am your son, your firstborn,” Esau answered, carefully indicating that he had been born first, though only a few seconds before Jacob.
The news shocked Isaac. He trembled in his bed. “Who was he then that hunted game and brought it to me, so that I ate of all of it before you came, and blessed him? Yes, and he will be blessed.”
The words pierced Esau like an arrow from his quiver. He cried out bitterly, “Bless me, even me also, O my father!”
Isaac’s trembling body lay still. All that could be heard was Esau’s groaning and Isaac’s weakening voice, “Your brother came deceitfully and has taken away your blessing.”
Esau, filled with rage, begged his father. “Is he not rightly named Jacob, for he has supplanted me these two times? He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing. Have you not reserved a blessing for me?”
Isaac’s words stung like driving rain. “Behold, I have made him your master, and all his relatives I have given to him as servants; and with grain and new wine I have sustained him. Now as for you then, what can I do, my son?”
Dignity gone. Self-respect relinquished. Esau begged. “Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me, even me also, O my father.” Esau’s weeping could be heard through the entire village.
Isaac’s feeble voice penetrated Esau’s sobbing cries. “Behold, away from the fertility of the earth shall be your dwelling. And away from the dew of heaven from above. By your sword you shall live, and your brother you shall serve; but it shall come about when you become restless that you will break his yoke from off your neck.”
A blessing? Esau hardly thought so. “Once dad has died,” he thought, “I’ll kill Jacob.” Anger gave way to revenge. Bitterness grew like a deep root in his heart, squeezing out his very life. He set his heart on killing his brother.
Time passed. Esau and Jacob died…but the bitterness lived on. Generations later Moses confronted the offspring from that root of bitterness. Esau fathered a son named Eliphaz. Eliphaz had a concubine, Timna who bore him a son. They named him Amalek. From Amalek, a people known as the Amalekites arose who became bitter enemies of Israel. Perhaps Amalek heard stories passed down from his father about Jacob’s deceit. Though Esau had forgiven Jacob (whose name had been changed to Israel), the anger and enmity between the Amalekites and the Israelites ran deep. The Hatfields and the McCoys were no match for the Israelites and the Amalekites. These cousins fought one another furiously.
Moses had just witnessed the parting of the Red Sea. Israel, pursued by an advancing army on one side and a raging sea on the other walked across on dry land. The same sea that became a dry bed for them swallowed Pharaoh’s army alive. Though the people had seen God’s hand in a mighty way, their celebration soon gave way to agitation when they ran out of food. They wished once more for the food of the Egyptians. Like Esau, their stomachs cried louder than the voice of their God. “Would that we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat, when we ate bread to the full; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
God’s response: manna and quail. Every evening, the quail flew into the Israelite camp. Each family had enough to fill their stomachs. The next morning, once the dew evaporated, fine flakes of delicious bread, fresh from God’s bakery, with a dash of honey taste. What more could they ask? Perhaps a light, fluffy croissant dripping with honey would compare.
God’s provision. In His faithfulness, He provided. They moved on to Rephidim. The very name means “rest.” And the Israelites must have needed rest. Tens of years in captivity had come to an end. A pursuing army, a parting sea and the stubborn Mediterranean climate had taken their toll. And they were thirsty.
Rephidim. A river valley. Along this valley tall palms grew in long groves providing shade and rest for all who entered. Cool streams of water mixed with the shade from the palms created the most fertile place in the land. Towering mountains provided much needed protection from the enemy. Rephidim. A place of rest and refreshment. Here the Israelites would be renewed, revived, restored. Here they would receive much needed energy and refreshment. Here, their cousins showed up—the Amalekites!
They attacked Israel at their weakest point. The sick, the faint, the weary were their targets. Those who straggled behind the great Israelite host were suddenly attacked. Amalek, whose grandfather Esau lost his birthright when he was weary, now used the same plan of attack against the Israelites. Ruthlessly, the Amalekites sought to destroy the Israelites. Cousins bitterly engaged in war.
Moses instructed Joshua, his young recruit, to head the troops. This valley of Rephidim, refreshment and restoration, became the battleground of revenge for the Amalekites. There were no tanks, no hand grenades, no weapons of mass destruction. This was hand-to-hand combat. Soldier to soldier. Sword to sword. Man to man. The men of Israel confronted their cousins, the descendants of Esau. Moses, Aaron and Hur sat on the mountain nearby cheering them on. The Israelites were hardened men. Years of slavery had yielded strong muscles and resiliency. They could fight. The Amalekites were well-trained warriors. They knew how to fight—and win. The outcome was a toss-up—until God showed up.
Moses raised his staff toward the sky. When he lifted his hands, the Israelites won. When he lowered them, they lost. No other single factor controlled the outcome of the battle. Moses looked at the people he loved so dearly. To lose would mean the death of thousands of men, women and children. His own people, those he risked his life to lead from Egypt. His arms became weary.
Aaron and Hur stepped in. When Moses became weary, they lifted up his arms. They too recognized that the battle was not won by expertise, but by divine intervention. Winning or losing depended not on training, but on the God who had brought them this far. So they held up his hands. What a foolish thing to do! Winning a war by holding up your hands. Holding up one’s hands normally signified giving up, not overcoming. At the end of the day, Israel had won hands up.
“Write it down,” God said. “And tell Joshua that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
Moses built an altar and called the place Jehovah-nissi, The Lord is my Banner. In the wilderness journey, on the tall mountain surrounding the valley of Rephidim, in the middle of the battle, the Lord became the banner for Israel. And not just any banner. The Hebrew word for banner suggests something that gleams from afar and was often a shiny piece of metal raised high enough for all in the camp to see. In the heat of the battle, when the sun struck the banner, it would glisten letting those engaged in war know that they were still in the battle—the war was still winnable.
What about you? Have you lost sight of the banner? Your faith so weakened by the battle that you can’t see the Son’s reflection?
“This is no ordinary battle,” you say. “You don’t know what I’m facing.” And you think God doesn’t understand either.
No one is free of the Amalekites. And often they are so closely related to how we live our lives that we fail to see them before they have attacked. Amalek was of the same flesh and blood as the Israelites. What is your weakness, your pet sin? Just when you have geared yourself up for rest and restoration, your flesh rears its ugly head. At your weakest moment, when you are straggling in your walk with Christ, you fall prey to temptation. Your head buried in the muck and mire of a bad decision, the banner no longer glistens in the sunlight. Hope escapes you.
Get up! That’s right, get up! The banner hasn’t moved, you have. The Son hasn’t gone down, you have. Look toward the hill overlooking the valley. Can you see? There hangs the Banner. You need no sun to reflect His image for He is His own light. There is no beauty that you should desire Him. He was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows acquainted with grief, and like one from whom men hide their face. He was despised and we did not esteem Him. Surely our griefs He Himself bore, and our sorrows He carried; yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, smitten of God and afflicted. But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.
Though the battle rages long and hard and the enemy of the flesh persists in rearing his ugly head, the Banner waves. His name is Jesus. In the cross, God demonstrated his power over the penalty of sin. You bear the scars of battle. He bore the penalty for those scars. He was pierced through for you. The penalty for your sin has been paid in full. No longer must you lose in the battle with the flesh.
Look to the cross—the banner. Jesus keep me near the cross, there a precious fountain. Free to all a healing stream flows from Calvary’s mountain. The blood that flows through the heat of the battle is not yours—but His. He paid the price. He is Jehovah-Nissi.
The cross frees you from the penalty of sin. One day you will be free from the presence of sin. Did you miss it? Notice God’s promise to Moses. “Write this in a book as a memorial and recite it to Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.”
One day. O, the difference a day makes. One day Jehovah-Nissi will return. Sin—gone. The war ended. Until then God provides a promise: “The Lord has sworn; the Lord will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.” The Lord will have war. And you are included in those generations. The battle is His, not yours. And I have news for you—He’s never lost. And He never will.
He knows the battle. He is your Banner—Jehovah Nissi.
Pray this prayer to Him right now:
Jehovah Nissi, the Lord my Banner, I confess that I have seen the battle as mine, not yours. I’ve tried to repeat the work of the cross. Too often I look at my problem and fail to see your provision. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Now, I lift up my head. I lift up my head to see Your face, your bleeding, hurting face. On your shoulder I see my burden, my sin, my battle. And I hear you say ‘It is finished!’ I know that the battle with my Amalek will continue. As long as I live, I’ll live with this flesh. However, I also know that you won this battle. The price for sin You paid. The penalty for sin You took. Thank You. Today and everyday hereafter I lay my Amalek before you. Fight for me. The battle is yours. Your warrior child.