I’m not sure when family crests became as important as they were in medieval times. Each family, nation or realm had its own army and these crests were emblazoned with the family colors and coat of arms. As armies marched across the land they carried banners and flags proudly bearing these logos. Family mottos were also included and these served as inspiration to soldiers and servants alike. Tracing one’s genealogy has made family crests popular again and garden flags have become a modern version of what the ancient banners used to do. Whether you are a medieval soldier marching into battle on behalf of your king or a fan of the local football team, banners display who you esteem and where your loyalties lie.
Banners were in use during Biblical times as well. In Exodus 17, after a significant victory over the Amalekites (Ex. 17:8-15), Moses builds and altar to worship the Lord and names it “Yahweh Nissi” (The Lord is My Banner). It is important to understand the context of this name in relation to the passage. According to the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, the Amalekites remain an obscure people group because their only record of existence is in the Bible. They were noted as descendants of Esau (Gen. 36:12) and called “the first among nations” by the seer Balaam (Nu. 24:20) because of the vast expanse of their geographical range (The Valley of Jezreel to the Arabah of Arabia) and most likely were nomadic. During Gideon’s day they raided Israelite villages (Jdg. 6:33) and Saul’s act of sparing an Amalekite king led to his downfall (1 Sam. 15:8-9). Their harsh treatment of Israel aroused God’s judgment on them and He vowed that “the memory of Amalekites would be blotted out from under heaven” (Ex. 17:14). Without any other record of their existence except the Biblical account it appears God did exactly what He said He would do!
Some have a hard time reconciling the modern perception of war with the wars of the Old Testament. In the grander scheme of Biblical history war, and God’s involvement in it, served as both an instrument of judgment upon nations who stood against Israel (Dt. 7:1,2,16; 20:16-17) and as a form of discipline upon the nation when they strayed from Him (Is. 63:10; Jer. 21:1-10; Amos 3:14-15; Hab. 1:5-12). One scholar noted, “The wars of survival and expansion illustrate another aspect of God’s involvement in Israel’s wars. God promised to do battle for His people, but only when Israel was faithful to Him (Ex. 14:14; Dt. 1:30; 3:22; Neh. 4:20).” When victorious the psalms proclaimed the reason for the victory (Ps. 118:10-14; Ps. 124:1-3). One can easily see then how Moses would recognize that the victory over the Amalekites was due to God’s hand in the manner and he illustrated this by naming the altar after the One who went before them into battle, just as banner of heraldry was carried in front of a medieval army.
There are many times in the New Testament where the walk of faith is likened to a battle. Paul often uses images of warfare to encourage believers to be as disciplined as a soldier who is preparing for battle (Eph. 6:10-20; 2 Tim. 2:3-4). But unlike the wars which rage between nations and men, the believer fights a battle of a spiritual nature (Rom. 7:23-25; 2 Cor. 10:3-5; 2 Pet. 2:11). On more than one occasion Paul exhorted Timothy to “fight the good fight” (1 Tim. 1:18; 6:12) and confessed that he had done the same (2 Tim. 4:7). And while it may seem to be an overwhelming task, the believer has a Banner that has gone before him/her and came through the fray victorious (1 Cor. 15:50-58; 1 Jn. 5:4)! What battles do you face today? How has the Lord become your banner? In what ways do you display a banner of faith to inspire and encourage others who face similar battles? Turn the outcome over to the Lord in prayer this week. Remember, the battle is the Lord’s (1 Sam. 17:47) and it is by His Spirit and through His Son that you will be victorious (Zech. 4:6).
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 9/25/2016