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. What more could they ask?
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. Thousands 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 Israel. 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 skill, 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 shine 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? Their 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. (Isaiah 53:2-5)
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.