If you ever went to Sunday School as a youngster, you have probably heard the little children's song based upon the above verse. Though I did not grow up in a Christian home, and I do not believe I went to any sound churches as a child (four years attending Sunday School in a Pentecostal church - I do not ever remember hearing the Gospel from them), I still had some exposure to songs such as this that were based on verses from the Bible or from Bible stories. I praise the Lord for this song and John 3:16 - because even as a lost youngster, I learned the truth that God was love, and that He loved me - and later as an adult, this fact was always in the back of my mind when I thought about God. I knew He cared about me in my darkest times.
Though many of us may have sung that song or read that verse, did we really know what it meant? Yes, the Lord has covered His children with His love, but what is a banner, and what are we rallying under as Christians?
A banner is a flag, a standard. In this case, God's Word says His flag over us is love. The flag the believer is to rally around is love! Not some ecumenical, lovey-dovey, wishy-washy, anything goes love - but love according to the Word of God: love for God first, then love for others. (See Matthew 22:37-40)
The banner the Lord has placed over us is love - is your life, your daily conduct, your attitude towards others, a reflection of that love?
After the tabernacle was completed, the Lord gathered the nation of Israel and divided them into their individual tribes, each tribe having its own standard. The order they were to march was designated by God Himself.
Numbers 2:2 Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.
Webster's 1828 Dictionary defines a standard as: "An ensign of war; a staff with a flag or colors. The troops repair to their standard." Ensign means: "The flag or banner of a military band; a banner of colors; a standard; a figured cloth or piece of silk, attached to a staff, and usually with figures, colors or arms thereon, borne by an officer at the head of a company, troop or other band." Repair means: "To go to; to betake one's self; to resort; as, to repair to a sanctuary for safety."
The Defined King James Bible defines ensign as: "Flag, banner, or standard, esp. a military one raised high as a rallying point."
From the above definitions, we can see that the standard was the flag each tribe (each division in the army comprising the nation of Israel) gathered around - it was what they resorted to as a sanctuary, a place of safety. Each standard had its own distinct figure or color. This flag was also what they marched under - the standard they raised, representing their position in the army.
Numbers 2:3 And on the east side toward the rising of the sun shall they of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch throughout their armies: and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be captain of the children of Judah.
The first standard we see listed in the Word of God is the standard of the tribe of Judah. From what I have read, the standard for the tribe of Judah was the lion. I have not been able to confirm that Scripturally - BUT we do know that the tribe the Messiah was to come from was the tribe of Judah, and this belief (in the coming Messiah) they were rallying under as a nation. And Jesus Christ, the Messiah foretold in the Word of God, did come in the fulness of time - and one day He is coming back again to reign: He is the Lion of the tribe of Judah.
Genesis 49:8-10 Judah, thou art he whom thy brethren shall praise: thy hand shall be in the neck of thine enemies; thy father's children shall bow down before thee. Judah is a lion's whelp: from the prey, my son, thou art gone up: he stooped down, he couched as a lion, and as an old lion; who shall rouse him up? The sceptre shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from between his feet, until Shiloh come; and unto him shall the gathering of the people be.
Revelation 5:5 And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof.
Isaiah 11:10 And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious.
Are you rallying under the Lord Jesus Christ? Is the Lion of the tribe of Judah the banner you are holding high? Is He the ensign you are seeking and gathering around?
Look again at Numbers 2:2 Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house...
Every tribe, every family, was to be rallied under the banner representing their father's house. Are you gathered together with the house of God, representing your Heavenly Father's house? (See 1 Timothy 3:15 and Ephesians 3:14-15) Does the world (and even your enemies) clearly know which army you represent? Is it obvious to others that you have rallied under the banner of the cross?
Exodus 32:26 Then Moses stood in the gate of the camp, and said, Who is on the LORD'S side? let him come unto me. And all the sons of Levi gathered themselves together unto him.
Right about now I think it would be prudent to restate part of the definition of standard: "an ensign of war." Too often we forget that we are in a war - we entered into a spiritual battleground the moment we got saved! When we gather around the banner of the cross, we are declaring battle on falsehood, on false religion, on unrighteousness; we are declaring war on the world, the flesh, and the Devil. I think we as believers get sidetracked and even sideswiped by the Devil because we forget this fact! We forget there is a war going on - and we get a bit of shrapnel first - then we wake up! Then we put on the whole armour of God.
In the army of the Lord, we are fighting this old world by being salt and light in the midst of it (see Matthew 5:13-15 and Philippians 2:14:16) - creating a thirst, preserving our society and families, shining the light of the Word of God, exposing sin and error.
Isaiah 59:19 So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.
In this world, we are one of the main ways the Lord uses to hold back sin (through living righteously and having an influence on our society and those we come in contact with, and by our petitions for the lost around us) - once the true church is raptured out, there will be such chaos that this world has never seen when evil is no longer held back like it has been (see 2 Thessalonians 2:7 and Genesis 6:3). Until then, the Lord has lifted US up to be a standard against the evil around us.
Isaiah 11:11-12 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the Lord shall set his hand again the second time to recover the remnant of his people, which shall be left, from Assyria, and from Egypt, and from Pathros, and from Cush, and from Elam, and from Shinar, and from Hamath, and from the islands of the sea. And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
Isaiah 49:22-23 Thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet; and thou shalt know that I am the LORD: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me.
As a declaration to the nation of Israel, God has promised them that He would use the Gentiles to bring them back to their own land, and that He would set up a standard to the people. As a general application, are you rallying behind the nation of Israel? Too much of the world is opposed to them and more and more nations are fighting against them (whether physically or through the media). YET, we know the Lord has promised them the land of Palestine forever, and one day Jesus will come back and reign from Jerusalem. Are we gathering around the standard of the nation of Israel - or are we just letting them fight against this ungodly world alone? (This is not an endorsement of all that the nation of Israel has done, but it is an acceptation of God's promises which will one day be fulfilled.) His promise to bless those that bless the nation of Israel is still in His Word! Likewise also His promise to curse those who curse them!
Psalm 122:6 Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee.
Does the world know where you stand in relation to the nation of Israel and to their Promised Land?
Zechariah 9:16 And the LORD their God shall save them in that day as the flock of his people: for they shall be as the stones of a crown, lifted up as an ensign upon his land.
Isaiah 62:6-7, 10-12 I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night: ye that make mention of the LORD, keep not silence, And give him no rest, till he establish, and till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth... Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people. Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the world, Say ye to the daughter of Zion, Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him. And they shall call them, The holy people, The redeemed of the LORD: and thou shalt be called, Sought out, A city not forsaken.
Are you lifting up a standard for the nation of Israel? I admit, I have not protested the iniquity against them as much as I should have in the past - but the more injustice, lies and slander I see in the media, the more I cry out and stand against their enemies!
Isaiah 62:10 is interesting: Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the people.
Just as those Isaiah was prophesying about were to prepare the way of the people, even so we too should be preparing the way for others to hear the Gospel.
Isaiah 40:3-4 The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.
John the Baptist prepared the way for Christ's first coming - his preaching of the Gospel prepared the hearts of the nation of Israel for the reception of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. In some ways our task is similar: we are to make straight paths toward those who the Lord places in our way, so that they can hear and receive the Gospel of Christ. We should cast up (ie. build up) the highway of holiness, gather out the stones (the stumbling blocks - whatever is hindering the preaching or reception of the Gospel), and lift up a standard for the people to rally around. We should lift up Jesus Christ before the eyes of our friends, families, and neighbours.
John 12:32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.
John 3:14-15 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life.
Jesus had to be lifted up on the cross (ie. crucified) in order to draw all men unto Himself. Now we are to lift Him up (ie. exalt Him through our witness). As we do so, we are lifting up high the Gospel standard, and causing others to see it.
Galatians 3:1b ...before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you.
Webster's defines a standard-bearer as: "An officer of an army, company or troop, that bears a standard."
What standard are you bearing? What standard does your church rally under? What standard do you and your family rally under? Is it the Word of God? Too many throughout history have rallied behind a man, or a denomination - and when that man or denomination has contradicted the Word of God, they often took a stand for that man or denomination and against God's Word. Is your standard the Word of God? I am a Baptist by conviction because I believe that denomination is the closest historically to what the New Testament teaches a church should should be like (ie. in beliefs, practices, ordinances, etc.). If my local church ever stood against the Word of God, I would leave it and search for another faithful congregation that sought to teach and follow the Bible. My standard is the Word of God, and my Baptist church only inasmuch as it follows that standard. How about you?
Let's even make it more specific: do you rally under God's preserved Word - a Bible that you can hold in your hands today? Do you rally under the King James Bible, based on the preserved Hebrew Masoretic Text, and the Greek Textus Receptus? It is the only Bible in English today that is based solely on these texts - all other modern versions are based only partly on them and, are in fact, mostly based on other manuscripts that were edited or put together by heretics and unbelievers. Which Bible is your standard - your sole (or should that be "soul") authority?
Psalm 20:5 We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the LORD fulfil all thy petitions.
Psalm 60:4 Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of the truth. Selah.
I love the words to Stand Up, Stand Up For Jesus (I encourage you to read all the stanzas to this hymn - though this link has slightly different lyrics than I am used to):
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.
For a list of studies that use the Song of Solomon as the springboard:
Song Of Solomon