Nes: נֵס Nasas: נָסַס Degel: דֶּגֶל
Sounds like: ness/nawsas/dehghel
There are many names in the Tanakh for YHWH. He is El Roi– The God who sees me (Genesis 16:11-14); El Shaddai– The God Almighty (Genesis 17:1-2, Genesis 48:3:, Genesis 49:25); YHWH Rapha– YHWH is Healer (Exodus 15:26, Psalm 147:3), YHWH Rohi– YHWH is My Shepherd (Psalm 23:1-3)…
Nissi: YHWH is My Banner
…and then there is YHWH Nissi– YHWH is My Banner. We get what the other names are saying: YHWH is a God who is Almighty, and He watches and heals and shepherds His people. But what does it mean to say YHWH is our Banner?
This descriptor name of God comes out of one Biblical story, when the Hebrew people battled the Amalek nation:
Then Amalek came and fought against Israel at Rephidim. So Moses said to Joshua, “Choose men for us and go out, fight against Amalek. Tomorrow I will station myself on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hand.”
Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought against Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. So it came about when Moses held his hand up, that Israel prevailed, and when he let his hand down, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy. Then they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it; and Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side and one on the other. Thus his hands were steady until the sun set. So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.
This was an incredible event which highlighted the power of YHWH through the hands of Moses. Moses climbed to the top of a hill, like a flag on a mountaintop, and his hands did the signalling. When his hands were raised the Israelite army was victorious, but when his hands were lowered the army faltered and the Amalek nation bounced back. By propping up Moses’ arms, the Israelites were ensured victory. Moses was like a banner on a hill, visually announcing YHWH’s great victory.
YHWH wanted this event to be remembered, and so He commanded that Moses capture the memory. This was the first indication in the Bible that the Bible did not write itself. God commissioned humans to write it:
Then YHWH said 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.”
Moses built an altar and named it YHWH is My Banner [YHWH Nissi]; and he said, “YHWH has sworn; YHWH will have war against Amalek from generation to generation.”
Moses recognized that, through him, YHWH was announcing that He was there, present amongst His people… like banner waving for all to see. Writing down the story would remind everyone that under YHWH’s banner there would be victory.
I Am YHWH: The Visual Announcement
Banners/standards/signals/ensigns were like visual announcements, proclaiming someone’s presence. Warriors had their banners, ships had their ensigns, nations had their flags saying, this is who, and where, we are. Even YHWH announced that He would set up His standard so that people would see, and know, who He was:
Isaiah 49:22a, 23b
Thus says the Lord YHWH, “Behold, I will lift up My hand to the nations and set up My standard [Nissi] to the peoples… and you will know that I am YHWH; those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.
Degel: The Family Flag
There was another Hebrew word for banner/standard: degel. This Hebrew word is only found in only two books of the Bible: once in Song of Solomon and thirteen times in the book of Numbers (chapters 1, 2 and 10):
“The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard [al dig’loh], according to their armies. But the Levites shall camp around the tabernacle of the testimony, so that there will be no wrath on the congregation of the sons of Israel. So the Levites shall keep charge of the tabernacle of the testimony.”
Degel was the banner/standard of each tribe of Israel, like a family flag. Each tribe would have an army which would gather under their military banner. The Levites, however, were not a militant family; they were the priests and the tabernacle stood as their standard.
But YHWH’s banner was very different:
Song of Solomon 2:4
“He has brought me to his banquet hall, and His banner over me is love [w-dig’lo alai a’hava].”
It’s interesting that this famous passage in the Song of Solomon used degel instead of nes. Degel was a military banner but YHWH’s banner was not a militant. However, the degel banner was also used as a gathering-place marker for an army… and so was the banner we read about in Song of Solomon (just for a very different kind of army). YHWH’s banner did not reside on the battlegound, His banner was housed in the banquet hall, where He would gather us together, feed us, nourish us, and encourage us to grow in His love.
YHWH’s banner reinforced that YHWH was not a Warrior God; He was a God who wanted a relationship with His people. YHWH put LOVE above everything else, and we, as His Family, are called to gather together to stand under His Banner.
A Banner of Healing and Forgiveness
Whereas degel was a particular kind of banner which represented a family standard (like a flying coat of arms), nes was a more generic word for standard/banner/ensign/signal.
In Numbers 21 YHWH instructed Moses to create a decorative standard that would be used to heal people. While they were wandering in the desert serpents came and bit the many of the people. Moses went to God and sought healing for those who were suffering. In response…
…YHWH said to Moses, “Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard [nes]; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live.”
And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard [ha-nes]; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived.
Serpent bites were quite often fatal… but here YHWH showed that He was a God who would save His people! With one look upon YHWH’s Standard, a person could be healed. The serpents had come as a result of the peoples sin, and sin had a terrible cost attached to it (death). But YHWH could, and would, remove the suffering that came as a result of sin. It was a foreshadow of the ultimate healing and ultimate salvation to come.
Sin was holding humanity back. We had a hard time raising our standard for God because we were weighed down by the guilt of our own actions. But the prophet Isaiah associated being saved with forgiveness of sin/iniquity, and under that forgiveness YHWH would raise the banner for us:
But there the majestic One, YHWH, will be for us a place of rivers and wide canals on which no boat with oars will go, and on which no mighty ship will pass— for YHWH is our judge, YHWH is our lawgiver, YHWH is our king; He will save us!
Your tackle hangs slack; it cannot hold the base of its mast firmly, nor spread out the sail [the banner: nes]. Then the prey of an abundant spoil will be divided; the lame will take the plunder. And no resident will say, “I am sick”; the people who dwell there will be forgiven their iniquity.
Although most English translations used “sail” in this Isaiah passage, the Hebrew word was nes (banner). Because of sin, the people had no control over their banner and, like a sail without wind, it was slack and ineffective. But YHWH would forgive our sins and raise the banner for us. Under His banner we could reach our full capability as YHWH’s Image-bearers.
Banner of Truth and Salvation
However, humanity was far from reaching their full capability as children of God. The ebb and flow of the Hebrew people’s obedience to YHWH was dizzying. They trusted in YHWH, but then they turned to idols. They repented, and put their faith in YHWH, but again they melted down metals and returned to idol worship. Over and over they left Him and then came back to Him. Motivated by His love, YHWH took some tough measures to turn His people back to Him.
[David:] O God, You have rejected us. You have broken us; You have been angry; O, restore us. You have made the land quake, You have split it open; heal its breaches, for it totters. You have made Your people experience hardship; You have given us wine to drink that makes us stagger.
You have given a banner [nes] to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth… selah …that Your beloved may be delivered. Save with Your right hand, and answer us!
David understood that we, as God’s Imagers, needed saving. And YHWH, more than anything, wanted to save us! He would give humans a Banner of Truth which would rescue and deliver the people. But how would He do it? How would He save a human population that had turned so far away from His face?
The Messiah: A Signal for the People
The word nes was most prominently featured in the writings of Isaiah, and to him the greatest banner (visual announcement) to come would be the Messiah from the root of Jesse:
Isaiah 11:1-6, 10
Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. The Spirit of YHWH will rest on Him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of YHWH.
And He will delight in the fear of YHWH, and He will not judge by what His eyes see, nor make a decision by what His ears hear; but with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; and He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins, and faithfulness the belt about His waist. And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little boy will lead them…
…Then in that day the nations will resort to the root of Jesse, who will stand as a signal [l-nes] for the peoples; and His resting place will be glorious.
David was the son of Jesse, and from David’s line would come the Messiah, just as YHWH had promised Him (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16, Psalm 89:3-4). The Messiah would be a great signal to the world, and He would stand as the visual fulfillment of YHWH’s plan for human salvation.
Lifting Up a Standard in War
Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus the Messiah) came to earth as a Jewish baby, and the culture He grew up in was very familiar with war. Political and religious conflict was a prominent aspect of the history of the Hebrew people. Each time they went to war they would have raised/lifted up their standard. Sometimes they were triumphant under their own banner, but sometimes YHWH allowed the standard of the opposing army to be victorious. One of those times was the Babylonian invasion:
“Declare in Judah and proclaim in Jerusalem, and say, ‘Blow the trumpet in the land’; cry aloud and say, ‘Assemble yourselves, and let us go into the fortified cities. Lift up a standard [se’u nes] toward Zion! Seek refuge, do not stand still, for I am bringing evil from the north, and great destruction’”…
God warned the Jewish people: Raise the banner, the Babylonians are on their way. Sound the trumpets in alarm, and get to safety because destruction is coming.
In response Jeremiah cried out:
…My soul, my soul! I am in anguish! Oh, my heart! My heart is pounding in me; I cannot be silent, because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war.
Disaster on disaster is proclaimed, for the whole land is devastated; suddenly my tents are devastated, my curtains in an instant. How long must I see the standard [nes] and hear the sound of the trumpet?
Jeremiah was feeling beaten. How long would he have to see war banners surrounding him and hear warning trumpets consistently in his ears? How would YHWH save them now?
The destruction was horrific and it reshaped Jewish culture in more ways than we have time to discuss here. Although it seemed like nothing would ever be the same again, YHWH would not let this be the end of His people. The tables would eventually turn… and Babylon would fall:
The word which YHWH spoke concerning Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans, through Jeremiah the prophet:
“Declare and proclaim among the nations. Proclaim it and lift up a standard [nes]. Do not conceal it but say, ‘Babylon has been captured, Bel has been put to shame, Marduk has been shattered; her images have been put to shame, her idols have been shattered.’
It wouldn’t be Israel who would strike down Babylon, instead a country from out of the north would make Babylon an object of horror (Jeremiah 50:3). Yes, YHWH allowed the Babylonians to overtake the Israelite people, but He would not abandon them. Although death would occur and wounds would manifest, ultimately YHWH was a God of Life and a Healer to His people:
See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me;
It is I who put to death and give life.
I have wounded and it is I who heal,
And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
The Babylonian invasion and subsequent events was a reminder of the great power and the great mercy of the One True God. Many hearts would return to YHWH as a result of this complicated visual announcement of His great power. In humility, they would return and seek out their God:
Jeremiah 50:4-5 (See also: Jeremiah 51:10-12, 24-27)
“In those days and at that time,” declares YHWH, “the sons of Israel will come, both they and the sons of Judah as well; they will go along weeping as they go, and it will be YHWH their God they will seek. They will ask for the way to Zion, turning their faces in its direction; they will come that they may join themselves to YHWH in an everlasting covenant that will not be forgotten.”
A Standard on a Hill
Where’s the best place to raise a standard?
It’s not surprising that standards were consistently placed on hills and mountains where everyone could see them as a visual announcement:
All you inhabitants of the world and dwellers on earth, as soon as a standard is raised [ki-n’so nes] on the mountains, you will see it, and as soon as the trumpet is blown, you will hear it.
Lift up a standard [se’u nes] on the bare hill, raise your voice to them, wave the hand that they may enter the doors of the nobles.
These hillside banners were for war, but YHWH’s Banner was a visual announcement calling His people back home to Him. But they didn’t all come flocking back, because the people were short-sighted, stubborn and hard-hearted:
Isaiah 30:12-13, 15-18
Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel, “Since you have rejected this word and have put your trust in oppression and guile, and have relied on them, therefore this iniquity will be to you like a breach about to fall, a bulge in a high wall, whose collapse comes suddenly in an instant…
…For thus the Lord YHWH, the Holy One of Israel, has said, “In repentance and rest you will be saved, in quietness and trust is your strength.”
But you were not willing, and you said, “No, for we will flee on horses,” therefore you shall flee! “And we will ride on swift horses,” therefore those who pursue you shall be swift. One thousand will flee at the threat of one man; you will flee at the threat of five, until you are left as a flag on a mountain top and as a signal [w-kan-nes] on a hill.
Therefore YHWH longs to be gracious to you, and therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you. For YHWH is a God of justice; how blessed are all those who long for Him.
The Israelites were so attuned to war that they could not quietly rest in YHWH’s promise of salvation… If they couldn’t fight they would have to flee. By their actions, and lack of trust in God, they would become a signal on a hill… a visual announcement of what would happen when you relied on your enemies rather than relying on God.
What the people failed to understand was that YHWH had a different plan. With grace and compassion YHWH would raise a Banner on a hillside for a very different reason… and that reason would change the course of human history.
Yeshua: A Signal on a Hill
In many ways the Messiah stood as a signal on a hill. A careful reading of the Gospels points out that Yeshua was up and down hills, mountains, and high places all the time.
When the Adversary tested Yeshua in the desert, he took Him to the pinnacle of the Temple and said,
“If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written, ‘He will command His angels concerning You,’; and ‘On their hands they will bear You up, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone..’”.
Yeshua stood as a banner on the peak of the Temple, and He would not throw Himself down. He did not fall for the Satan’s word games.
Not long afterwards, when He began His ministry, Yeshua found Himself again on the edge of a high place:
And He [Jesus] came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
because He anointed Me to preach the Gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to porcelain release to the captives,
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to set free those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord.”
And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
And He said to them, “No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’”
And He said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown. But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land; and yet Elijah was sent to none of them, but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet; and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.”
And all the people in the synagogue were filled with rage as they heard these things; and they got up and drove Him out of the city, and led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built, in order to throw Him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, He went His way.
Why did they get so upset at Yeshua? First of all, by quoting that particular passage in Isaiah, Yeshua was making the claim that He was the Messiah. But that didn’t seem to bother them at all. However, when He pointed out that Elijah was sent to help only one person during the great famine (a foreign woman), and that in Elisha’s day only one leper (a foreign man), was cleansed, they became irate.
God’s chosen people were the Israelites and this man, who claimed to be the Messiah, seemed to elevate the status of the foreigner above themselves. Very quickly they dismissed His claim as Messiah and in their fear and confusion they drove Yeshua out of Nazareth and led him to a hillside cliff in order to throw him over. Just like The Adversary (Ha-Satan), they wanted to remove Yeshua as the signal on a hill by throwing Him off of it.
Yeshua was the family emblem of God and the standard on the hill raised for all to see. To make the point, Yeshua consistently preached and prayed on hillsides. He was the visual banner of YHWH and the gathering place for God’s family (a new Living Temple).
One of His most celebrated sermons (the Sermon on the Mount) occurred on a mountainside. It was here that He announced to the listeners that His followers would be like a city set on a hill, it’s light shining (like a banner) for all to see:
Jesus: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
Of course the most obvious, and painful, representation of Yeshua as a Banner was at Golgotha. Yeshua had preached on a hill far too often. He was thorn in the side of the Jewish elite leaders and Rome had no qualms about killing anyone who distracted the people’s attention from Rome’s authority. Yeshua was arrested, tried and sent to the hill of execution:
When they came to the place called The Skull [Golgotha], there they crucified Him and the criminals, one on the right and the other on the left. But Jesus was saying, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
And they cast lots, dividing up His garments among themselves. And the people stood by, looking on. And even the rulers were sneering at Him, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if this is the Messiah of God, His Chosen One.”
The soldiers also mocked Him, coming up to Him, offering Him sour wine, and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself!” Now there was also an inscription above Him, “THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS.”
One of the criminals who were hanged there was hurling abuse at Him, saying, “Are You not the Messiah? Save Yourself and us!”
Yeshua hung on the cross under a banner which read: King of the Jews. Without knowing it, Rome announced His kingship, but they couldn’t see it. Like Ha-Satan, the soldiers and the criminal tested Yeshua: if you are really the Messiah, jump down and save yourself!
But the other [crimiinal] answered, and rebuking him said, “Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he was saying, “Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!”
And He [Jesus] said to him, “Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.”
It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. And Jesus, crying out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” Having said this, He breathed His last.
Rome used this very public form of execution as a warning sign for all the people. To them Yeshua and all the criminals were signals on a hill announcing that you don’t mess with Rome.
But Yeshua wasn’t Rome’s banner. He was YHWH’s Banner; He was a signal on a hill proclaiming YHWH’s great love for His people. Yeshua, whose name literally meant “Salvation” fulfilled God’s plan to reunite the Creator with His people. By dying on the cross, and bearing the weight of our sins, we were set free and able to return to the Garden of Eden where we could be reunited, face to face, with our Creator.
The Banner of Salvation & the Spirit of Truth
All over the Tanakh we read that Mount Zion, Jerusalem, was the place where YHWH dwelt… It was, and will be, the place where He would raise His banner in victory and claim His home and His people with His love:
Go through, go through the gates, clear the way for the people; build up, build up the highway, remove the stones, lift raise up a standard [ha-rimu nes] over the peoples.
Behold, YHWH has proclaimed to the end of the earth, say to the daughter of Zion, “Lo, your salvation comes; behold His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.”
And they will call them, “The holy people, the redeemed of YHWH”; and you will be called, “Sought out, a city not forsaken.”
And YHWH their God will save them in that day as the flock of His people;
for they are as the stones of a crown, sparkling [like a banner: mit-nos’soht] in His land.
We are the saved ones and we are not alone. Before Yeshua left He promised that God would send the Spirit of Truth to live within us:
“I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever; that is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”
With the Spirit of Truth living in us, we are commissioned to be the new Banners of YHWH. Under His standard we are His gathering place, the living church. Let’s stand on the high places and be the signal of love that the whole world needs!
Next week: Face