One thing is certain, in heaven all will be perfect and we will gather in the great banqueting hall to share in the love and delight of our God and our Savior. For those who are in Christ, we will all join together with him in eating the choicest meat and drinking the finest wine. Even now on earth we are invited to the table of God through the blood of Jesus. We are invited to drink deeply of the riches of His mercy and grace knowing that His banner over us is love…
His banner over me is love. When I sang these words as a child I imagined, very literally, a big sign above my head proclaiming God’s love for me . As I said in part I, kudos to the song because I understood the very important main concept. However, I am so happy to now know the true meaning and richness of those words.
In my (yet to be released) book Remade: Living Free there is a chapter devoted to God as Jehovah Rophe, our Healer. I won’t spoil the entire backstory (which you can find in chapter 5 of said book), but I came to study the names of God shortly after returning home from our vacation in Mexico in 2018. I’m tempted to tell you the full story, but for now, just know the urge to study the names of God came out of a beautiful time of worship on the beach with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. To my surprise, one of the names I later learned about was Jehova Nissi, which means “The Lord is our banner.”
In our culture and in this time in history we typically think of a banner as a flag or a decorated cloth that is displayed on a wall. However, in the Old Testament a banner was often the term used for a rod or staff and came to symbolize God’s protection and power. It is in the amazing book of Exodus we find the significance of the word banner- and the incredible story of Moses:
In faith the mother of Moses packaged him in a basket and floated him down the Nile River in an attempt to save him from the King’s edict to kill all baby boys (Exodus 1:22- 2:10). Providentially, Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted him as her own and raised him as a prince. However, because he knew his true Jewish heritage he angrily killed an Egyptian guard who had savagely beat a Hebrew man. When Moses realized this murder had been witnessed he fled to the desert where he eventually married and lived as a shepherd. All was life as normal until the day God spoke to Moses through a burning bush with the command to go back to Egypt to free His people from slavery. Naturally, Moses had objections and excuses but God assured Moses He would be with him. Part of this assurance was the use of a banner.
It was with this banner Moses approached Pharaoh, for God had told him in Exodus 4:17, “But take this staff in your hand so you can perform miraculous signs with it.” Before going to Pharaoh, God told Moses to throw down his staff- and to Moses’ great surprise it became a snake. Moses then performed this miracle to demonstrate to the Israelites that he was to be God’s messenger for their freedom; he was to say to Pharaoh, “This is what the Lord the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go,’ (Exodus 5:1). In chapter 7 we see Moses and Aaron again before Pharaoh speaking to him as God had commanded. When Moses told Aaron to throw down his staff it again became a snake- which then consumed the snakes Pharaoh’s magicians had made from their own staffs. There was absolutely no doubt that the staff of Aaron and Moses was a sign of God’s supreme power.
After the last of the plagues Pharaoh finally relented and let God’s people go. However, as the people were leaving Egypt, Pharaoh changed his mind and pursued the Israelites. With the Red Sea in front of them and Pharaoh’s army behind them, it seemed as though they were trapped. Then in Exodus 14:16 God said to Moses, “Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground.” In verse 21 Moses did as God said and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind. I hope someday in heaven to see a a replay of this incredible moment. Can’t you just see it: Moses with his outstretched arms, staff in hand, and a wall of water to the right and left as thousands of people walked through on dry ground?! It occurs to me now that Moses’ staff was irrelevant to the actual parting of the Red Sea. However, the staff became representative of God’s provision and protection.
Following the miraculous crossing of the Red Sea, the Israelites found themselves thirsty in the wilderness. Picking up the story in chapter 17 we see again God’s instruction to Moses to strike a rock with his staff. It was from this rock that water then flowed. Once again, the staff was used as part of God’s provision to meet the needs of His people. The second half of chapter 17 then tells of the battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites. During this battle, Moses stood on a hill and once again with outstretched arms held the staff in his hands. As long as his arms were raised Israel was victorious; when they were lowered they experienced defeat. As the battle continued and Moses grew weary, Aaron and Hur held up his arms which ensured the victory for the Israelites.
Perhaps this is more than you ever wanted to know about Moses, but I have one more important piece to share. As the Israelites wandered in the dessert they continuously grumbled against God and Moses. After so long of this God sent venomous snakes among them and many died (Numbers 21:6). As expected, the Israelites came to Moses in acknowledgement of their sin and asked him to pray for the Lord to take the snakes away. (Sidebar, outside of something happening to my kids this is my worst nightmare. I absolutely would have been on my knees begging Moses to pray!) This was God’s answer to Moses: “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived,” (Numbers 21:8-9).
Of significant note, the word used for pole in the above verse is the same word used in Exodus 17 for staff- both of which are translations of the Hebrew word for ‘banner’ (ESV Reformation Study Bible). The staff which had been utilized in freeing the Israelites from the beginning of the story was now being used to save their lives. When I was younger I always thought this was such an odd story. Why did God have them look up to a bronze serpent? Why not just heal them and take away the snakes? As it turns out, the answer is pretty incredible.
All of what I have communicated so far would have been known by any Jewish person, for these were the stories passed down and celebrated for generations upon generations. Furthermore, it was through the event of the exodus that God was revealed as Jehovah Nissi, the Lord our banner. He was their protector, provider, granter of victory, and mighty in power to save- all of which demonstrated His great love for His people. As our Father, He is all of this for us still. Yet, there is one more way in which God is our banner…and that is through Jesus himself.
Imagine the shock of hearing these words from Jesus for the first time: “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life,” (John 3:14-15). These were astonishing words as Jesus identified himself to be the source of life and salvation. Amazingly, he was declaring himself to be the needed banner for a much bigger problem than the venom of snakes; for he came to be our banner for the poison of sin.
Notice that Jesus’ statement about being lifted up precedes the most famous words he ever spoke: “For God so loved the world that he gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” (John 3:16). Just as the people in the desert were in need of a remedy from the snake bites, mankind was in need of redemption from the sin that separated us from God. Lifted high on the cross of Calvary Jesus became the banner we desperately needed. Just as those who looked upon the bronze snake lived, His life and sacrifice for our sins ensured deliverance for those who believe in his name. As Ken Hemphill in his amazing book, The Names of God, stated, “Jesus is the Banner of Jehovah, who provides forgiveness of sin and grants eternal life.”*
For those who are in Christ we no longer face the sting of death or the defeat of sin. This is the very reason Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:7, “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” God in His infinite love graciously and mercifully provided everything we need for complete victory and freedom. As a song I listen to almost daily says, “More than I could ask or seek, more than I could fathom; God, your love for me is better than I imagined.”** Yes and Amen! He who invites us to His banqueting house and gives us abundantly more in Jesus is the banner of protection and victory over us. May we now and always sing with confidence He brought me to His banquet eating table, His banner over me is love, as we live in full assurance of God’s magnificent love for us.
*Ken Hemphill, The Names of God, p. 117, 2001
**Abundantly More by North Point Worship