Banners in the Old Testament are military standards. They first appear in Numbers1:52 and 2:2 in the directions God gave to Moses for the arrangement of the Israelite camps in the wilderness. Those banners, specifically and publicly, identified the tribal armies to which each Israelite belonged. Thus the banner represented identity, strategic organization, purpose, and inspiration for battle. And it is these practical elements that provide the foundation for the metaphorical use of banner in later Old Testament Scriptures. Let’s take a few moments to consider these four elements.
1) Identity. The soldier finds fellowship, accountability, and stimulation to strive harder by being part of a solid corps of soldiers. Therefore, the corps flag, as a visual symbol of all its values, is deeply cherished and carefully protected. Psalm 20:5 emphasizes the blessing of identifying with God in His victories by erecting banners. “We will sing for joy over Your victory and, in the name of our God, we will set up our banners.” A similar expression is seen in the exultation over Zion’s new and forever glory in Isaiah 62:10. “Build up the highway, remove the stones, lift up a standard over the peoples.”
But the banner isn’t only displayed after the victory. No, it is also unfurled preliminary to and during the battle itself. Indeed, the banner of God can serve as a prophetic announcement of His holy, conquering purpose. Babylon, for instance, is warned in Isaiah 13:2 and 3, “Lift up a standard on the bare hill… I have even called My mighty warriors, My proudly exulting ones to execute My anger.” Ethiopia and the other nations are also warned of judgment by the appearance of the Lord’s banner in Isaiah 18:3. “All you inhabitants of the world and dwellers on the earth, as soon as a standard is raised on the mountains, you will see it.”
2) Organization. Throughout history, military commanders have used the various banners of their armies to help conduct strategic movement during a battle. Though a being a whole and unified army, it is composed of different parts and the skillful coordination of their action is critical to success. The individuals within the corps do not necessarily need to know the overall battle plan, they simply need to stay close to their standard and obey their orders.
3) Purpose. In some cases, the military banners of an army represented specialized talents, training, or tasks. For example, an infantry corps played a different role in battle than did pikemen or archers or cavalry. In the same way, the Lord often gives Christians different banners to carry, banners that signify their unique callings and spiritual gifts. Nevertheless, they serve in a common cause, under a common Commander, anticipating a common inheritance.
4) Inspiration. Bonds forged by love and trust and shared ideals are tremendously strong. And those bonds yield courageous, sacrificial devotion. Historical examples abound of the honor involved in carrying the flag in battle. One standard-bearer falls but another picks it up and moves forward. Through the cries and confusion, the smoke and shells, the flag continues to wave, inspiring and guiding soldiers in their advance.
All four of these elements are relevant in the “banner verse” that’s been on my mind lately. It is Psalm 60:4. “You have given a banner to those who fear You that it may be displayed because of the truth.” As a believer, one who fears God with proper reverence and love, I am fully identified with Him…and He with me. Scripture teaches that because I have trusted in Christ as my Savior, I am one of His beloved disciples. And that service carries the responsibility of being a bondservant, a faithful witness, a dedicated soldier. And especially applicable to these tasks is His gift to me of a holy banner -- a banner which needs to be publicly displayed.
My identity isn’t static or platonic, it involves function. I am a standard-bearer, responsible to show forth in the public square (as well, of course, in my private life) His truths concerning righteousness, justice, and the offer of grace through the atoning work of Jesus. I must bear this banner for others to see and do so boldly, consistently, gratefully, and joyfully.
God is working out His will in history. And, amazingly, I am honored to be a part of that. In the spiritual rebirth that comes through receiving Christ, God has not only forgiven my debt of sin, He has redeemed me, transformed me, and (through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit), equipped me for every good work…including bearing His banner in my corner of the battlefield.
All the banners of the Lord display His character and the glorious truth He offers to men. Like the lights we are given that are not to be hidden under a basket, the banners we are given or not to be stowed away in the trunk of our car to be unloaded only when we attend church. No, the Lord’s banners are for public display. Therefore, if we fail to raise His standard, we are living in flat out disobedience.
“You have given a banner to those who fear You that it may be displayed because of the truth.” So don’t neglect your high calling. Bravely bear His banner.