As we’ve reached the halfway point in the Way to Shavuot this is the perfect time to talk about altars and banners. Up on this hill with Aaron and guest-star Hur, Moses takes this lesson so seriously that he sets up the first altar in his life to YHWH on this very site. The only other altar set up in the entire book of Exodus (outside of “The” Altar in the Holy Tabernacle) is on the day of Shavuot itself—so this really is quite the occasion.
There are 8 altars set up in the book of Genesis by Noah and the patriarchs. The word ‘altar’, simply means ‘a place for an offering’—and other than the specific “Altar of Incense” inside the Holy Place, this ‘offering’ always means an animal sacrifice. One of the less obvious events happening in this Exodus 17 story is the beginning-of-the-end of animal sacrifices as an individual form of worship for Israel (done wherever and however we want). Since Pesach, YHWH is training us to think corporately. We are initially redeemed as individuals, but not since Abraham has there been a Hebrew in solitude. A Hebrew alone is an oxymoron.
Yah is in the process of creating a Holy nation. The Blood of the Pesach Lamb was and remains the individual sacrifice that pays the price for admission into Israel (or more technically the SIGN that a price was paid). From this point, on this Exodus 17 hill, ONLY Moses’ bloodline (the Levites) are to facilitate such offerings. This is a controversial statement, but one of the reasons for centralizing sacrifices like this is for Yah to be able to END animal sacrifice when He sees that the time is right.
The blood of animals has always been powerless except for as a teaching tool and an object lesson. The humble and contrite heart of the one offering the sacrifice has always been the focal point.
Moses gives this altar a name. “YHWH is my Banner” is how the ESV translates it. This is a very interesting and important concept, but it many not seem so due to some funky translation issues in crucial verses. Lets take a look at to see how long-reaching Yah’s banner truly is. The Hebrew word for banner is nes (Strongs H5251). Nes is just two letters, nun and samech, which we’ve discussed before. ‘Nun’ implies ‘perpetual life’ (as in ‘Joshua Son of Nun’) and samech is a ‘circular barrier of thorns” that acts as a protective milestone of sorts as we increase in intimacy with YHWH. So, in the same way that an altar marks a special event at a certain location, a nes is a like a huge flag on the highest of hills that represents a perpetual milestone—in this case victory over Amalek. This banner reminds us of our victory in a battle that will occur from generation to generation.
Without too much of a detour here, Moses also writes this all in a book; So between the book, the altar, and the imagery of a huge flag on a tall hill—it seems like Yah might be making an everlasting point—do you think?
The short word nes is next used in the Book of Numbers, when the bronze serpent is lifted up as a nes (often very poorly translated as ‘on a pole’). The lesson is the same—don’t put your focus on the sickness, or the evil, or the enemy, instead lift up your head and look up at the nes. Yeshua pretty much drops the mic when talking to Nicodemus when he says, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:14-16) Isn’t it sad that the most known verse in the entire bible is a reference to a key lesson on The Way, to this very Exodus 17 altar, and through ignorance, tradition, and bad translation most never see it.
Write it in a book. Make an altar. Lift up a nes.
This is not the only place where a banner lifted extremely high is lost in translation. Revelation 20:7-10 details the final end of Amalek in all of Scripture at the end of the 1000 year reign of Messiah on earth. This is all the proof I need that “Jesus fulfilled the Law” cannot possibly mean that the Law of Moses is no longer applicable. Revelation 20 “fulfills” Exodus 17. If Messiah returned today, the Revelation 20 fulfillment would still be 1000 years in the future!
Here’s the oddity to watch for, “on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:16). Nowhere in scripture is there a reference or allusion to writing anything on anyone’s thigh. In fact in the Hebrew scriptures the ‘thigh’ is usually a wink-wink reference to testicles. It’s also extremely unlikely that John, who penned Revelation, was writing in Greek. However in Aramaic, a very likely choice to the original language of Revelation, simply one small speck of ink could turn the word for ‘thigh’ into a word meaning BANNER.
“On his robe and on his BANNER he has a name written, King of kings, and Lord of lords”.
It is not uncommon for words and phrases to enter into our bibles through inadvertent scribal error. This does not mean the ‘Word of God’ has issues, it just means that we have to realize the ‘Word of God’ transcends the printed bibles we are carrying around. Our bibles are translations of translations, and like everything else man touches becomes tainted to some degree. This is why the lessons along The Way are so crucial. This is why the patterns and themes in Scripture are so crucial to “realize” (ayin) and internalize through repetition and study. It makes these types of outliers stand out clearly and invites even deeper study.
Messiah says the same in Matthew 5:18-19, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Torah until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one the least of these commandments and teaches others to the same will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.”
Sermon on the mount, people. On the mount.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at the ‘stone’ Moses is sitting on. You didn’t think we were done talking about rocks, did you?