Exodus 17:15
And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi:
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(15) Moses built an altar.—Primarily, no doubt, to sacrifice thank-offerings upon it, as an acknowledgment of the Divine mercy in giving Israel the victory. But secondarily as a memorial—a monument to commemorate Israel’s triumph.

And called the name of it Jehovah-nissi.—Jacob had named an altar “El-Elohe-Israel” (Genesis 33:20); but otherwise we do not find altars given special names. When an altar was built as a memorial, the purpose would be helped by a name, which would tend to keep the event commemorated in remembrance. Jehovah-nissi—“the Lord is my banner”—would tell to all who heard the word that here there had been a struggle, and that a people which worshipped Jehovah had been victorious. It is not clear that there is any reference to “the rod of God” (Exodus 17:9) as in any sense the banner” under which Israel had fought. The banner is Jehovah Himself, under whose protection Israel had fought and conquered.



Exodus 17:15

We are all familiar with that picturesque incident of the conflict between Israel and Amalek, which ended in victory and the erection of this memorial trophy. Moses, as you remember, went up on the mount whilst Joshua and the men of war fought in the plain. But I question whether we usually attach the right meaning to the symbolism of this event. We ordinarily, I suppose, think of Moses as interceding on the mountain with God. But there is no word about prayer in the story, and the attitude of Moses is contrary to the idea that his occupation was intercession. He sat there, with the rod of God in his hand, and the rod of God was the symbol and the vehicle of divine power. When he lifted the rod Amalek fled before Israel; when the rod dropped Israel fled before Amalek. That is to say, the uplifted hand was not the hand of intercession, but the hand which communicated power and victory. And so, when the conflict is over, Moses builds this memorial of thanksgiving to God, and piles together these great stones-which, perhaps, still stand in some of the unexplored valleys of that weird desert land-to teach Israel the laws of conflict and the conditions of victory. These laws and conditions are implied in the name which he gave to the altar that he built-Jehovah Nissi, ‘the Lord is my Banner.’

Now, then, what do these stones, with their significant name, teach us, as they taught the ancient Israelites? Let me throw these lessons into three brief exhortations.

I. First, realise for whose cause you fight.

The Banner was the symbol of the cause for which an army fought, or the cognizance of the king or commander whom it followed. So Moses, by that name given to the altar, would impress upon the minds of the cowardly mob that he had brought out of Egypt-and who now had looked into an enemy’s eyes for the first time-the elevating and bracing thought that they were God’s soldiers, and that the warfare which they waged was not for themselves, nor for the conquest of the country for their own sake, nor for mere outward liberty, but that they were fighting that the will of God might prevail, and that He might be the King now of one land-a mere corner of the earth-and thereby might come to be King of all the earth. That rude altar said to Israel: ‘Remember, when you go into the battle, that the battle is the Lord’s; and that the standard under which you war is the God for whose cause you contend-none else and none less than Jehovah Himself. You are consecrated soldiers, set apart to fight for God.’

Such is the destination of all Christians. They have a battle to fight, of which they do not think loftily enough, unless they clearly and constantly recognise that they are fighting on God’s side.

I need not dwell upon the particulars of this conflict, or run into details of the way in which it is to be waged. Only let us remember that the first field upon which we have to fight for God we carry about within ourselves; and that there will be no victories for us over other enemies until we have, first of all, subdued the foes that are within. And then let us remember that the absorbing importance of inward conflict absolves no Christian man from the duty of strenuously contending for all things that are ‘lovely and of good report,’ and from waging war against every form of sorrow and sin which his influence can touch. There is no surer way of securing victory in the warfare within and conquering self than to throw myself into the service of others, and lose myself in their sorrows and needs. There is no possibility of my taking my share in the merciful warfare against sin and sorrow, the tyrants that oppress my fellows, unless I conquer myself. These two fields of the Christian warfare are not two in the sense of being separable from one another, but they are two in the sense of being the inside and the outside of the same fabric. The warfare is one, though the fields are two.

Let us remember, on the other hand, that whilst it is our simple bounden duty, as Christian men and women, to reckon ourselves as anointed and called for the purpose of warring against sin and sorrow, wherever we can assail them, there is nothing more dangerous, and few things more common, than the hasty identification of fighting for some whim, or prejudice, or narrow view, or partial conception of our own, with contending for the establishment of the will of God. How many wicked things have been done in this world for God’s glory! How many obstinate men, who were really only forcing their own opinions down people’s throats because they were theirs, have fancied themselves to be pure-minded warriors for God! How easy it has been, in all generations, to make the sign of the Cross over what had none of the spirit of the Cross in it; and to say, ‘The cause is God’s, and therefore I war for it’; when the reality was, ‘The cause is mine, and therefore I take it for granted that it is God’s.’

Let us beware of the ‘wolf in sheep’s clothing,’ the pretence of sanctity which is only selfishness with a mask on. And, above all, let us beware of the uncharitableness and narrowness of view, the vehemence of temper, the fighting for our own hands, the enforcing of our own notions and whims and peculiarities, which have often done duty as being true Christian service for the Master’s sake. We are God’s host, but we are not to suppose that every notion that we take into our heads, and for which we may contend, is part of the cause of God.

And then remember what sort of men the soldiers in such an army ought to be. ‘Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.’ These bearers may either be regarded as a solemn procession of priests carrying the sacrificial vessels; or, as is more probable from the context of the original, as the armour-bearers of the great King. They must be pure who bear His weapons, for these are His righteous love, His loving purity. If our camp is the camp of the Lord, no violence should be there. What sanctity, what purity, what patience, what long-suffering, what self-denial, and what enthusiastic confidence of victory there should be in those who can say, ‘We are the Lord’s host, Jehovah is our Banner!’ He always wins who sides with God. And he only worthily takes his place in the ranks of the sacramental host of the Most High who goes into the warfare knowing that, because He is God’s soldier, he will come out of it, bringing his victorious shield with him, and ready for the laurels to be twined round his undinted helmet. That is the first of the thoughts, then, that are here.

II. The second of the exhortations which come from the altar and its name is, Remember whose commands you follow.

The banner in ancient warfare, even more than in modern, moved in front of the host, and determined the movements of the army. And so, by the stones that he piled and the name which he gave them, Moses taught Israel and us that they and we are under the command of God, and that it is the movements of His staff that are to be followed. Absolute obedience is the first duty of the Christian soldier, and absolute obedience means the entire suppression of my own will, the holding of it in equilibrium until He puts His finger on the side that He desires to dip and lets the other rise. They only understand their place as Christ’s servants and soldiers who have learned to hush their own will until they know their Captain’s. In order to be blessed, to be strong, to be victorious, the indispensable condition is that our inmost desire shall be, ‘Not my will, but Thine be done.’

Sometimes, and often, there will be perplexities in our daily lives, and conflicts very hard to unravel. We shall often be brought to a point where we cannot see which way the Banner is leading us. What then? ‘It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait’ for the salvation and for the guidance of his God. And we shall generally find that it is when we are looking too far ahead that we do not get guidance. You will not get guidance to-day for this day next week. When this day next week comes, it will bring its own enlightenment with it.

‘Lead, kindly Light, . . .

. . .One step enough for me.’

Let us take short views both of duty and of hope, and we shall not so often have to complain that we are left without knowing what the Commander’s orders are. Sometimes we are so left, and that is a lesson in patience, and is generally God’s way of telling us that it is not His will that we should do anything at all just yet. Sometimes we are so left in order that we may put our hand out through the darkness, and hold on by Him, and say, ‘I know not what to do, but mine eyes are towards Thee.’

And be sure of this, brethren, that He will not desert His own promise, and that they who in their inmost hearts can say, ‘The Lord is my Banner,’ will never have to complain that He led them into a ‘pathless wilderness where there was no way.’ It is sometimes a very narrow track, it is often a very rough one, it is sometimes a dreadfully solitary one; but He always goes before us, and they who hold His hand will not hold it in vain. ‘The Lord is my Banner’; obey His orders and do not take anybody else’s; nor, above all, the suggestions of that impatient, talkative heart of yours, instead of His commandments.

III. Lastly, the third lesson that these grey stones preach to us is, Recognise by whose power you conquer.

The banner, I suppose, to us English people, suggests a false idea. It suggests the notion of a flag, or some bit of flexible drapery which fluttered and flapped in the wind; but the banner of old-world armies was a rigid pole, with some solid ornament of bright metal on the top, so as to catch the light. The banner-staff spoken of in the text links itself with the preceding incident. I said that Moses stood on the mountain-top with the rod in his hand. Now that rod was exactly a miniature banner, and when he lifted it, victory came to Israel; and when it fell, victory deserted their arms. So by the altar’s name he would say, Do not suppose that it was Moses that won the battle, nor that it was the rod that Moses carried in his hand that brought you strength. The true Victor was Jehovah, and it was He who was Moses’ Banner. It was by Him that the lifted rod brought victory; as for Moses, he had nothing to do with it; and the people had to look higher than the hill-top where he sat.

This thought puts stress on the first word of the phrase instead of on the last, as in my previous remarks. ‘The Lord is my Banner,’-no Moses, no outward symbol, no man or thing, but only He Himself. Therefore, in all our duties, and in all our difficulties, and in all our conflicts, and for all our conquests, we are to look away from creatures, self, externals, and to look only to God. We are all too apt to trust in rods instead of in Him, in Moses instead of in Moses’ Lord.

We are all too apt to trust in externals, in organisations, sacraments, services, committees, outside aids of all sorts, as our means for doing God’s work, and bringing power to us and blessing to the world. Let us get away from them all, dig deeper down than any of these, be sure that these are but surface reservoirs, but that the fountain which fills them with any refreshing liquid which they may bear lies in God Himself. Why should we trouble ourselves about reservoirs when we can go to the Fountain? Why should we put such reliance on churches and services and preaching and sermons and schemes and institutions and organisations when we have the divine Lord Himself for our strength? ‘Jehovah is my Banner,’ and Moses’ rod is only a symbol. At most it is like a lightning-conductor, but it is not the lightning. The lightning will come without the rod, if our eyes are to the heaven, for the true power that brings God down to men is that forsaking of externals and waiting upon Him which He never refuses to answer.

In like manner we are too apt to put far too much confidence in human teachers and human helpers of various kinds. And when God takes them away we say to ourselves that there is a gap that can never be filled. Ay! but the great sea can come in and fill any gap, and make the deepest and the driest of the excavations in the desert to abound in sweet water.

So let us turn away from everything external, gather in our souls and fix our hopes on Him; let us recognise the imperative duty of the Christian warfare which is laid upon us; let us docilely submit ourselves to His sweet commands, and trust in His sufficient and punctual guidance, and not expect from any outward sources that which no outward sources can ever give, but which He Himself will give-strength to our fingers to fight, and weapons for the warfare, and covering for our heads in the day of battle.

And then, when our lives are done, may the only inscription on the stone that covers us be ‘Jehovah Nissi: the Lord is my banner’ ! The trophy that commemorates the Christian’s victory should bear no name but His by whose grace we are more than conquerors. ‘Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’

Exodus 17:15. And Moses built an altar, and called it Jehovah-nissi — The Lord is my banner. The presence and power of Jehovah was the banner under which they were listed, by which they were animated and kept together, and therefore which they erected in the day of their triumph. In the name of our God we must always lift up our banners: he that doth all the work should have all the praise.

17:8-16 Israel engaged with Amalek in their own necessary defence. God makes his people able, and calls them to various services for the good of his church. Joshua fights, Moses prays, both minister to Israel. The rod was held up, as the banner to encourage the soldiers. Also to God, by way of appeal to him. Moses was tired. The strongest arm will fail with being long held out; it is God only whose hand is stretched out still. We do not find that Joshua's hands were heavy in fighting, but Moses' hands were heavy in praying; the more spiritual any service is, the more apt we are to fail and flag in it. To convince Israel that the hand of Moses, whom they had been chiding, did more for their safety than their own hands, his rod than their sword, the success rises and falls as Moses lifts up or lets down his hands. The church's cause is more or less successful, as her friends are more or less strong in faith, and fervent in prayer. Moses, the man of God, is glad of help. We should not be shy, either of asking help from others, or of giving help to others. The hands of Moses being thus stayed, were steady till the going down of the sun. It was great encouragement to the people to see Joshua before them in the field of battle, and Moses above them on the hill. Christ is both to us; our Joshua, the Captain of our salvation, who fights our battles, and our Moses, who ever lives, making intercession above, that our faith fail not. Weapons formed against God's Israel cannot prosper long, and shall be broken at last. Moses must write what had been done, what Amalek had done against Israel; write their bitter hatred; write their cruel attempts; let them never be forgotten, nor what God had done for Israel in saving them from Amalek. Write what should be done; that in process of time Amalek should be totally ruined and rooted out. Amalek's destruction was typical of the destruction of all the enemies of Christ and his kingdom.Jehovah-nissi - See the margin, "Jehovah my banner." As a proper name the Hebrew word is rightly preserved. The meaning is evidently that the name of Yahweh is the true banner under which victory is certain; so to speak, the motto or inscription on the banners of the host. Inscriptions on the royal standard were well known. Each of the Pharaohs on his accession adopted one in addition to his official name. 14-16. Write this for a memorial—If the bloody character of this statute seems to be at variance with the mild and merciful character of God, the reasons are to be sought in the deep and implacable vengeance they meditated against Israel (Ps 83:4). Moses built an altar, both for the offering of sacrifices of praise unto God, and to be a monument of this victory, and of the author of it. The name of it, viz. of the altar, which he so calls metonymically, because it was the sign and monument of Jehovah-nissi; even as circumcision is called God’s covenant, Genesis 17:13, and the lamb, the passover, Exodus 12:11, and the cup, the new testament, Luke 22:20, because they were the signs of them. Or the word altar is to be repeated out of the former member, which is frequent, and the place to be is read thus,

he called the name of it the altar of

Jehovah-nissi. Or the name given to it signifies only the inscription engraven upon it, which was not the single name of God, but an entire sentence, the lord my banner. By which words he takes all the praise of the victory from the Israelites, and gives it to God.

And Moses built an altar,.... On Horeb, as Aben Ezra; on the top of the hill, as Ben Gersom, where sacrifices of thanksgiving were offered up for the victory obtained, or however a monument erected in memory of it:

and he called the name of it Jehovahnissi; which signifies either "the Lord is my miracle" who wrought a miracle for them in giving them the victory over Amalek, as well as, through smiting the rock with the rod, brought out water from thence for the refreshment of the people, their children and cattle; or "the Lord is my banner": alluding to the hands of Moses being lifted up with the rod therein, as a banner displayed, under which Joshua and Israel fought, and got the victory. This may fitly be applied to Christ, who is both altar, sacrifice, and priest, and who is the true Jehovah, and after so called; and who is lifted up as a banner, standard, or ensign in the everlasting Gospel, in order to gather souls unto him, and enlist them under him, and to prepare them for war, and encourage them in it against their spiritual enemies; and as a token of their victory over them, and a direction to them where they shall stand, when to march, and whom they shall follow; and to distinguish them from all other bands and companies, and for the protection of them from all their enemies, see Isaiah 11:10. These words were inscribed upon the altar, or the altar was called the altar of Jehovahnissi, in memory of what was here done; from hence it has been thought (a), that Baachus, among the Heathens, had his name of Dionysius, as if it was Jehovahnyssaeus.

(a) Vid. Bochart. Canaan, l. 1. c. 18. col. 440.

And Moses built an altar, and called the name of it Jehovahnissi:
15. Moses erects an altar, to offer upon it a sacrifice of thanksgiving to Jehovah, and to preserve the memory of the victory for the future. For other examples of commemorative altars, with names, see Genesis 33:20 (unless, as the verb used here suggests, ‘standing-stone’ (ch. Exodus 24:4) should be read for ‘altar’), Exodus 35:7, Joshua 22:34, Jdg 6:24.

Yahweh-nissi] i.e. Yahweh is my banner, as though to say, He is our Leader; we fight under His banner (Psalm 20:5 [the Heb. for ‘banner’ different], 7); His name is the motto on our standards (Kn.).

Verse 15. - Moses built an altar. An altar naturally implies a sacrifice, and Moses may well have thought that the signal victory obtained required to be acknowledged, and as it were requited, by offerings. In giving his altar a name, he followed the example of Jacob, who called an altar which he built, El-Elohe-Israel (Genesis 33:20). Moses' name for his altar, Jehovah-nisi, meant "the Lord is my banner," and was intended to mark his ascription of the entire honour of the victory to Jehovah but had probably no reference to the particular mode in which the victory was gained. Exodus 17:15To praise God for His help, Moses built an altar, which he called "Jehovah my banner," and said, when he did so, "The hand on the throne (or banner) of Jah! War to the Lord from generation to generation!" There is nothing said about sacrifices being offered upon this altar. It has been conjectured, therefore, that as a place of worship and thank-offering, the altar with its expressive name was merely to serve as a memorial to posterity of the gracious help of the Lord, and that the words which were spoken by Moses were to serve as a watchword for Israel, keeping this act of God in lively remembrance among the people in all succeeding generations. כּי (Exodus 17:16) merely introduces the words as in Genesis 4:23, etc. The expression יהּ על־כּס יד is obscure, chiefly on account of the ἁπ λεγ. כּס. In the ancient versions (with the exception of the Septuagint, in which יה כץ is treated as one word, and rendered κρυφαία) כּס is taken to be equivalent to כּסּה (1 Kings 10:19; Job 26:9) for כּסּא, and the clause is rendered "the hand upon the throne of the Lord." But whilst some understand the laying of the hand (sc., of God) upon the throne to be expressive of the attitude of swearing, others regard the hand as symbolical of power. There are others again, like Clericus, who suppose the hand to denote the hand laid by the Amalekites upon the throne of the Lord, i.e., on Israel. But if כּס signifies throng or adytum arcanum, the words can hardly be understood in any other sense than "the hand lifted up to the throne of Jehovah in heaven, war to the Lord," etc.; and thus understood, they can only contain an admonition to Israel to follow the example of Moses, and wage war against Amalek with the hands lifted up to the throne of Jehovah. Modern expositors, however, for the most part regard כּס as a corruption of נס, "the hand on the banner of the Lord." But even admitting this, though many objections may be offered to its correctness, we must not understand by "the banner of Jehovah" the staff of Moses, but only the altar with the name Jehovah-nissi, as the symbol or memorial of the victorious help afforded by God in the battle with the Amalekites.
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