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Session 3: Our Banner

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Jehovah Nissi (The Lord My Banner)

Recap of the Hardship Highway:

Grumbled because they were about to die at Red Sea ()
Exodus 14:11–12 ESV
They said to Moses, “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.”
Grumbled for lack of water in Wilderness of Shur ()
Exodus 15:22–24 ESV
Then Moses made Israel set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter; therefore it was named Marah. And the people grumbled against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”
Grumbled for lack of meat in wilderness of Sin ()
Exodus 16:2–3 ESV
And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”
Once again Israel revealed a heart of faithlessness and ingratitude.
The song of victory at the banks of the Red Sea had fully faded from their memory and from their lips.
In the desert the whole community grumbled against Moses and Aaron. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the LORD’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted, but you have brought us out into this desert to starve this entire assembly to death.” ()
They were no longer exalting God and trusting in Moses; they were bitterly complaining against God and ready to rebel against Moses.
Once again Israel revealed a heart of faithlessness and ingratitude. The song of victory at the banks of the Red Sea had fully faded from their memory and from their lips. They were no longer exalting God and trusting in Moses; they were bitterly complaining against God and ready to rebel against Moses.
But once again God met the needs of his people. Look at
Exodus 16:4–8 ESV
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather daily.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the people of Israel, “At evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your grumbling against the Lord. For what are we, that you grumble against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you in the evening meat to eat and in the morning bread to the full, because the Lord has heard your grumbling that you grumble against him—what are we? Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord.”
He delivered them from their hunger by giving them meat to eat in the evening and bread to eat in the morning. Each evening the skies rained quail and each morning the ground was rife with manna.
The manna would come to represent the entire wilderness wanderings of the Israelites. They would eat it for forty years, until they reached the borders of the land of promise (). God once again provided for his people.

THE DESERT OF REPHIDIM

After leaving the desert of Sin, the Israelites next camped at the city of Rephidim. Like their experience in the desert of Shur, Rephidim was a place without water.
Israel was once again suffering from thirst, and they made their displeasure known to Moses: “So they quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink’ ” ().
Can any of you relate to the exchange between Moses and the people in ?
Exodus 17:2–4 ESV
Therefore the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Give us water to drink.” And Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?” But the people thirsted there for water, and the people grumbled against Moses and said, “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” So Moses cried to the Lord, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.”
This is a different episode than when Moses struck the rock twice. This instance happens on route to Sinai and the other after Sinai at Meribah, which is covered in
Moses was miffed and even a bit afraid. The crowds were angered and restless.
Moses did the only thing he could do. He sought God for help. “Then Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What am I to do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me’ ” (). God answered Moses’ concerns and the needs of his people by instructing Moses to strike a rock with his staff. Upon his striking the rock, water flowed from it to quench the parching thirst of the Israelites ().
But Moses was getting a bit fed up with the behavior of the Israelites, and he named the location where this occurred Massah (which means “testing”) and Meribah (which means “quarreling”) “because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’ ” (). The pattern here is the same, Israel grumbled and God provided.
Israel’s trials at Rephidim were not over. After quenching their thirst with the water from the rock, the Israelites were confronted by another military challenge. The Amalekites came and attacked them.

THE AMALEKITES

Let’s go to
Exodus 17:8–10 ESV
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose for us men, and go out and fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.” So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.
Verse 9 represents the first time Joshua is mentioned in the OT.
Exodus 17:8 ESV
Then Amalek came and fought with Israel at Rephidim.
Who were the Amalekites?
The Amalekites were descendants of Esau (Edom) (, ). The territory of the Amalekites was situated in the desert south of Canaan, north of the Israelites’ location at this time . God’s plan was for Israel to eventually wipe them out completely (see
Deuteronomy 25:19 ESV
Therefore when the Lord your God has given you rest from all your enemies around you, in the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance to possess, you shall blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven; you shall not forget.
Genesis 36:12 ESV
(Timna was a concubine of Eliphaz, Esau’s son; she bore Amalek to Eliphaz.) These are the sons of Adah, Esau’s wife.
Genesis 36:16 ESV
Korah, Gatam, and Amalek; these are the chiefs of Eliphaz in the land of Edom; these are the sons of Adah.
Moses refers to what he once called an ordinary staff () to the “staff of God” in verse 9. What significance can you draw from this?
Exodus 4:2 ESV
The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A staff.”
page 39 in your guide asks you, “When have felt being under attack?
Let’s move on to
Exodus 17:11–13 ESV
Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary, so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the sword.
Raising one’s hands in the air during that time was common when one was praying. What can we take way from this today?
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.
Note on Hur: Hur would later be one of the leaders who assisted Aaron in governing the people while Moses was on Mount Sinai (24:14). Later tradition names Hur as the husband of Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron (Josephus, Antiquities 3.54).
These verses prove a couple of things:
Moses is clearly shown to be who the Lord has chosen to lead Israel and serves as an intercessor between the nation and God
God is in control and will deliver them through Moses, even in his human weakness. Notice Scripture did not provide a rationale for Moses raising his arms. Moses acted on God’s authority.
The staff is symbolic of God’s power and served as an object lesson to trust God
Somebody go to and read
Ephesians 6:13–18 ESV
Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,
How can you relate this to the actions of Moses on the hill?
We prevail in spiritual battles because of God’s presence and power in our lives. God provides the weapons for our battles, but we must use them to receive the benefit.
Are you limiting His power through trying to be strong on your own?
What about symbols? what symbols do we have today of God? When can these symbols become bad?
Faith in God provided Joshua’s victory. Compare verse 13 with
Israel prevailed in their conflict with the Amalekites. Moses went to the top of a hill and, as long as his hands were held up, the Israelites gained the upper hand in the battle. Aaron and Hur helped to keep Moses’ arms up until the victory was won (). Moses built an altar there and worshipped the Lord. He called the place “The LORD is my Banner” (). Moses, and the Israelites, had once again been delivered by their Lord.
The Amalekites were descendants of Esau (Edom) (, ). The territory of the Amalekites was situated in the desert south of Canaan, north of the Israelites’ location at this time
17:9–13 The focus on Moses’ hand(s) (vv. 9, 11, 12) manifests two things that the people of Israel need to take to heart: (1) Moses is the one whom the Lord has chosen to lead Israel (notice that Moses’ hands relate to who prevailed; v. 11); and (2) the Lord is responsible for working their deliverance through Moses (signified by the staff of God in Moses’ hand [v. 9] and the fact that his hands grew weary [v. 12], showing his human weakness).
17:14–16 No explicit reason is given for the severity of the Lord’s judgment on Amalek. A later reference to the event () says that Amalek “did not fear God,” having attacked the people of Israel who were trailing behind and tired from the journey. The Amalekites still posed a threat to Israel in the days of Saul and David (). For a longer discussion of a similar matter, see Introduction to Joshua: The Destruction of the Canaanites.
17:8–16 When the Amalekites attack them, the Israelites encounter their first opposition from other people since arriving in the wilderness. The Amalekites apparently interpreted the appearance of the Israelites as a threat to their territory and its resources. Other details of this conflict are found in , which describes a surprise attack by the Amalekites at the back of Israel’s wandering assembly.
Amalek (Person) AYBD
17:9 The first reference to Joshua in the ot. He will become Moses’ commander-in-chief and lead the Israelites’ conquest of Canaan.
Joshua DOT: HB
Joshua (Person) AYBD
God had not instructed Moses to hold up or point the staff of God over the battle scene. However, God had previously done miraculous things when he did so (; , ; ; ; ).
17:11 The significance of the gesture is never explained. All that is known is that Moses had the staff of God with him. Moses may have held the staff over his head with two hands ().
Moses holding up the staff may serve as a visible reminder to the soldiers that God will fight for them—they would be emboldened by the staff. It seems unlikely that God’s power was somehow triggered by the position of Moses’ arms—especially since the account does not include God instructing Moses to do this.
Writing DOT: P
Writing and Writing Materials AYBD
Yahweh commands Moses to write down his promise to destroy the Amalekites; they would suffer the same fate as other people groups targeted in the conquest of Canaan (see ; ; ). However, this did not happen during the conquest; the Amalekites would continue into the time of Saul and David (; ).
17:15 For the practice of erecting and naming altars, see ; ; . None of these occasions included a sacrifice (compare ). This practice appears to have been discontinued once Israel was united under a king in Canaan.
17:16 The phrase here in the traditional Hebrew text, or Masoretic Text, is kes yhwh (“throne of Yahweh”). However, this phrase is confusing in context.
The problem was apparently created by the confusion of two Hebrew letters—nun (“n”) and kaph (“k”)—which appear nearly identical in handwritten manuscripts like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Exchanging those letters would produce nes yhwh (“the banner of Yahweh”) in place of kes yhwh (“the throne of Yahweh”), which would make more sense in light of .
Faith in God provided Joshua’s victory. Compare verse 13 with
1 John 5:4 ESV
For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
Move on to
Exodus 17:14–16 ESV
14 Then the Lord said to Moses, “Write this as a memorial in a book and recite it in the ears of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” 15 And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner, 16 saying, “A hand upon the throne of the Lord! The Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”
9. Moses said unto Joshua—or, “Jesus” (; ). This is the earliest notice of a young warrior destined to act a prominent part in the history of Israel. He went with a number of picked men. There is not here a wide open plain on which the battle took place, as according to the rules of modern warfare. The Amalekites were a nomadic tribe, making an irregular attack on a multitude probably not better trained than themselves, and for such a conflict the low hills and open country around this wady would afford ample space [Robinson].
17:14 The first mention of writing in the Bible. Recite it to Joshua. Why?
Numbers 21:4–9 ESV
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
Moses commends this victory with a memorial altar that was called The Lord [not “Moses’ Arms”] is My Banner.
Hebrew word for banner means sign, signal pole, emblem. Remind you of anything else in the history of Israel that Moses lifted up?
The same Hebrew word (nes) used for banner here, in in is the same word used to describe the serpent pole in and is how Jesus refers to himself in
John 3:14–15 ESV
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Numbers 21:4–9 ESV
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died. And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent and set it on a pole, and everyone who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone, he would look at the bronze serpent and live.
The Lord was the source of courage and strength, and hence the Author of this victory.
Writing DOT: P
Go to and describe how this battle equates to our relationship with Jesus
Isaiah 11:10 ESV
In that day the root of Jesse, who shall stand as a signal for the peoples—of him shall the nations inquire, and his resting place shall be glorious.
13. Joshua discomfited Amalek—Victory at length decided in favor of Israel, and the glory of the victory, by an act of national piety, was ascribed to God (compare ).
NIV
Isaiah 11:10 (NIV): 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his resting place will be glorious.
Our foe the Devil will continue to tempt and attack us until Jesus returns, but just like Israel, we know our Savior stands with us to both protect us and fight for us.
Our foe the Devil will continue to tempt and attack us until Jesus returns, but just like Israel, we know our Savior stands with us to both protect us and fight for us.
Writing and Writing Materials AYBD
14. 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 ().
Yahweh commands Moses to write down his promise to destroy the Amalekites; they would suffer the same fate as other people groups targeted in the conquest of Canaan (see ; ; ). However, this did not happen during the conquest; the Amalekites would continue into the time of Saul and David ( ).
The similarity between this story and the one in has led some scholars to conclude that these are simply different versions of the same event. In both instances, water is produced from a rock, the site is called Meribah, and the people contend with Moses.
However, more striking than the similarities between the two passages are the differences. occurs en route to Sinai; Numbers comes clearly after Sinai. The locations of the two events are different. God’s instructions to Moses on each occasion are different. In Moses is to strike the rock, while in he is to speak to the boulder. In when Moses strikes the rock, he does so in violation of God’s directive and is punished. When he strikes it in , it is in response to God’s instruction and he is not condemned for his action. Thus it should be clear that the two stories are different.
Verse 6 records that the rock that produced the water is located at Horeb. This suggests that this incident takes place very close to the area of Mount Sinai, for the terms Horeb and Sinai are used interchangeably.
God is angered by the reaction of the people to this crisis. By virtue of their complaints they are asking, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7b). After witnessing the plagues, the crossing of the sea, the sweetening of the water at Marah, the provision of food, and the ever-present cloud, how could it be that God is not with them? “To whom much has been given, much is required.” There is no excuse, from God’s perspective, for this breach of faith.
While at Rephadim the Israelites battle the Amalekites, a seminomadic people who are descendants of Esau (). Verse 8 makes it clear that the Amalekites are the aggressors, a point confirmed in .

Takeaways

Moses is instructed to hold up his staff which figured prominently in the plagues of Egypt and at the crossing of the sea. The significance of Moses’ raising the rod over his head is not clear. As a man of advanced years (early eighties) he would not be able to lead the troops into the field of battle; that is left to Joshua (vv. 8–10), who is mentioned here for the first time in the Pentateuch. Hands in an upraised position is a gesture associated with prayer, and some scholars think that this may be involved here. But this does not account for the presence of Moses’ staff. By this time the staff had become symbolic of God’s saving acts, and holding it could remind the people of this fact and encourage them in battle.
The importance of Moses’ hands upholding the staff is seen in the success of Israel’s army when they are raised and its failure when they are lowered (v. 12). In order to sustain Moses, Aaron and Hur make him sit on a stone and prop up his tired arms (v. 12). Israel prevails.
God directs Moses to record this event in a book (probably a scroll) and to make sure that Joshua hears it. This statement is important for it shows that God wants his people to have a sense of history.
God will help His people in dire situations when they learn to rely on Him.
The victory is marked by erecting an altar to God and calling it, “The Lord is my Banner” (v. 15). God is Israel’s banner, perhaps symbolized by the staff of Moses.
Our well-being and success are from God, and He does His work through His own chosen instruments
Each generation has a responsibility to tell the next generation about the powerful presence of God in their lives
We are challenged to press on under the banner of Jesus Christ to fight the battles before us, knowing He is our hope and our victory.
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. 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.

Questions for Self-Reflection

Against whom or what evil are you now facing that hinders you from serving God fully?
Can you recall a time that God enabled you to prevail in a spiritual battle? Did you give Him praise for doing so?
In your life now, what are you doing to lift the banner of the Lord high?
On page 44, there is an activity “Your Worst Enemy”
17:8–16. Exactly who the Amalekites were (apart from the fact that they were descendants of Esau; cf. ) and why they opposed the nation of Israel at this point is not clear. They would appear several more times in Israel’s history (cf. ; ; ; .) This is the first mention of Joshua, the man who becomes the nation’s general (17:9) and Moses’ personal aide (cf. ; ; ; ). It should be noticed that Moses gave him orders (17:9) and Joshua did as Moses told him (17:10), an example of obedience that stands in contrast to the people as a whole. This battle is most remarkable because the ebb and flow of the battle seemed to be more dependent on Moses, who was literally above it all, than it was with the men who were actually engaged in the fighting. Of course, the act of Moses holding up his hands (17:11) was not merely encouraging to the combatants nor was it simply a matter of Moses’ personal intercession. This action symbolized that the success of the army was dependent on the constancy of the Lord, for after the victory the memorial altar was called The Lord [not “Moses’ Arms”] is My Banner (17:15 YHWH-Nissi; meaning “the standard,” “the flag,” or “the emblem”). The Lord was the source of courage and strength, and hence the Author of this victory.
Writing DOT: P
Writing and Writing Materials AYBD
Yahweh commands Moses to write down his promise to destroy the Amalekites; they would suffer the same fate as other people groups targeted in the conquest of Canaan (see ; ; ). However, this did not happen during the conquest; the Amalekites would continue into the time of Saul and David (; ).
17:15 For the practice of erecting and naming altars, see ; ; . None of these occasions included a sacrifice (compare ). This practice appears to have been discontinued once Israel was united under a king in Canaan.
The problem was apparently created by the confusion of two Hebrew letters—nun (“n”) and kaph (“k”)—which appear nearly identical in handwritten manuscripts like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Exchanging those letters would produce nes yhwh (“the banner of Yahweh”) in place of kes yhwh (“the throne of Yahweh”), which would make more sense in light of .
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