I have heard for years that God’s banner over us is love. It is a nice, often repeated sound bite. I had heard it, but until today I didn’t know what it really meant.
When the Old Testament speaks of a “banner” or “standard”, it primarily does so in two books and creates an unlikely link between the two. The Hebrew word for banner, degel, appears only in Numbers and Song of Solomon. It means a flag, banner, or standard. Numbers 1:52 says, “The sons of Israel shall camp, each man by his own camp, and each man by his own standard, according to their armies.” Numbers 2:2 goes on to say, “Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house.”
The second chapter of Numbers gives detailed instructions for the placement of the various tribes of Israel as they encamped around the Tabernacle of God’s presence. They knew where to camp by the high and visible placement of their tribe’s banner. The word degel appears again in Numbers chapter 10 as the armies of Israel began to march from Sinai toward the Promised Land. Numbers 10:14 tells us, “The standard of the camp of the children of Judah set our first according to their armies.” Again the banner was held high and directed the people where to march.
Flags and insignias have been associated with military companies for thousands of years. Their purpose is obvious, to identify the group of people who follow behind them. Commanders survey battle fields, using the flags and banners to identify which company is which. Soldiers use their flag as a rallying point. It becomes the thing they head toward during the chaos of battle, the thing that unites a company.
Battle flags are also visible to the enemy and can strike terror into the hearts of a foe when they realize who they face. The flag, banner, or standard is all about identity. It is a compass point to which members of a company align, and tells an enemy exactly who they face. We expect to find the use of military banners in Numbers as the book describes the placement and movement of Israel’s armies.
The poetry of Song of Solomon is a less likely place to find references to military insignias, but it is the other book with multiple references to these banners. Song of Solomon 6:4 gives an interesting analogy, “You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling, as lovely as Jerusalem, as majestic as troops with banners.” Verse ten goes on to say she is “awesome as an army with banners.” Here Solomon, a king who had led armies, draws on the awe and majesty of a company of soldiers with battle flags flying brightly before them in the breeze to describe the majestic beauty of a woman.
Solomon uses the verb form of degel which means to fly the banner in a way that is conspicuous and bold. Not only is a banner intended as an identifier and unifier, it is also intended to be impossible to ignore. There is to be nothing timid or hidden about a banner. It is to fly high and proud for everyone to see.
The Lord Himself has a banner, one that He raises over us, His people. Imagine how grand and glorious a banner it must be. A banner that unites His people, around which the entire body of Christ can rally. A banner that strikes dread into the heart of an enemy who sees it approaching.
He brought me into the banqueting house,
And His banner over me was love.
Song of Solomon 2:4
Love is our compass, our unifier, our identity, our rallying cry and the sign to our adversary of his eminent defeat. Body of Christ, His banner over us is love.