Jehovah-Nissi (more properly Yahweh-Nissi) means “the Lord is our banner” in Hebrew. The name Jehovah-Nissi appears only once in the Bible, in Exodus 17:15. Moses, after the children of Israel defeated the Amalekites, built an altar and named it Jehovah-Nissi.
The background of the name Jehovah-Nissi involves the Israelites’ wandering in the desert after leaving their bondage in Egypt. Along the way, they were attacked by the Amalekites, a powerful and warlike group of nomads. As the battle commenced, Moses stood on the top of a hill where he could see the armies below him. He held in his hand the “rod of God”—the same rod with which he had struck a rock to bring forth water for the people in the desert (Exodus 17:5–6).
The battle was an unusual one: “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning” (Exodus 17:11). As Moses’ arms grew weary, they had to be supported by his brother, Aaron, and a man named Hur. At sunset, Israel defeated the Amalekites (verses 12–13). After the battle, Moses built an altar and named it Jehovah-Nissi, “the Lord is my banner.”
The strange way in which the battle was won left no doubt as to who was responsible for the victory. Only as the rod of God was held aloft did the Israelites prevail. The battle was not won by military might or superior battle plans; it was won by the power of God. “The battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:47).
The hands and rod of Moses were held up in the same way that soldiers hold up their flags in the time of battle. As these flags bear the insignia of their country, the soldiers are said to fight under that banner. The Israelites fought under the direction of God, Jehovah-Nissi. It was under the Lord’s banner and with His aid they fought, and in His name and strength they conquered.
It is safe to assume that, as Moses held up the rod of God, he was praying for the success of the Israelite troops below him. Moses’ lifting up of the rod can thus be seen as a picture of intercessory prayer. “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Moses’ weariness, evidenced by the lowering of his hands, illustrates the truth that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mark 14:38). The naming of the altar Jehovah-Nissi is a reminder to believers of every era that we can only be victorious as we honor the name of the Lord and rally to Him as our Banner.