I must say that the thought of a banner following battle always conjures an image of medieval times and the battlefields. I don’t usually think of the flags that represent today’s battles. Though, I suppose they are the same. It also made me wonder how have come up with this idea of a visual representation of a group. That was easily determined when I found that the tribes of Israel camped below their standards (banners) in Numbers 2:2 “The Israelites are to camp around the tent of meeting some distance from it, each of them under their standard and holding the banners of their family.” So, it would seem that there was already a tradition of banners and visual representation of groups.
Banner in the original Hebrew is often translated as sign or standard. Even the snake on a pole which healed (Numbers 21:8) was a banner. The banner represents a number of things, and was used all the time, not only in battle, as we are reminded here in Exodus 17:15, ‘Moses built an altar and called it The Lord is my Banner.’ I am struck by this name being proclaimed at an altar, a place of worship. Our worship should be to the Lord and him alone. The banner itself has also brought many connections to mind when considering the Lord.
Leadership - the banner represented the head of the unit or village; in Numbers it is the head of the family represented. It was the place or person to whom all look for direction, both literal and figurative. The banner that we follow indicates the position that we have chosen, if there was rebellion in the kingdom, the banner you followed was the king or the rebel. The banner represented the stand that you took in regard to the decisions to be made and the issues under discussion.
Commander in battle – the banner marks the location of the leader’s tent and the point of rally for the troops who support that side. Orders come from this point and spread to the troops. The banner is also carried into battle so that the troops can look up and see their location throughout the positioning, waiting and fighting.
Protector in peace – the banner was also used in time of peace by the leaders. The leaders would continue to issue forth commands and requests during that time, particularly to ensure protection. The protection offered under the banner included assistance in fighting of threats, such as fire or drought. The banner, or leadership, was who the people look to for direction in daily life. As the head of the family, or the head that people chose, the people would look to them for provision and guidance at all times.
Guide in movement – the banners were also used when the Israelites moved while in the wilderness. They camped under them and they followed them as they moved. I can only imagine what it would be like to follow along as one of over 2 million people, plus the livestock and carts and all the loot that the Israelites carried. It is thought that over 2 million people left Egypt and travelled into the wilderness with Moses. The thought of rallying that many people and the line of movement that would create is astounding. Yet, the banners would indicate where people were or should be, and the Lord even dedicated time to issuing the instruction and order that the tribes should follow each other. So, even when we are not settled and protected in peace, even when we are not commanded in battle, we are lead by the hand in that in-between time of wandering.
Symbol of Victory – the banner, particularly in this case of Exodus 17, was a symbol of victory and a reminder of how they won – it was the Lord who won the battle. It was the Lord whose banner they followed into battle and the Lord is the one who claims the victory. He leads and protects; we know the victory is won.
I find this a powerful reminder that we are to look to Him in the calm and in the storm, when we are wandering between the two. At all times, he is there and not only beside us, accompanying us, but is the ultimate leader in our lives. In the big stuff and the little stuff, he is able and he leads. When have to look for his banner and follow his lead, his commands, and we will find protection and guidance which lead to victory.
I find also that I reflect on what the banner is that I carry. What does my banner proclaim? We are to be the salt and light that lead the way to him. Am I leading to him or to another?