Twenty-fifteen began with a word pregnant with unmapped purpose. It exploded off the pages of the Word for me. It folded itself into the fringes of my poetry. It announced itself in people’s prayers over me. It came up again and again, sometimes so loudly that it blew me over and sometimes so softly that I had to whisper back, “Is that really You?”
The word was BANNER.
The phrase it made itself known in first was “a banner over a battle not yet raging.”
The opening of 2015 came quietly, not with warfare or fanfare. It came easily, like how seasons change in Mississippi; not abruptly or slowly, but by shifts, contrasting from one day to another, or even one hour to another. There was no battle I could feel when these words were first spoken over me.
I think the battle began today.
It was an easy move for me to make, to come here. To lay down life in the States and pick up a life I had so dearly welcomed and clung to for five years. Again, there was no warfare. There was sadness and deep pain over leaving, but not about arriving.
Descending into the airspace of Delhi was met with big, heavy tears, weighed with wonder—full of joy and hope and fulfillment and an overwhelming knowledge of the deep, deep love of God, my Father that would choose to fulfill HIs little girl’s heart’s desire. Those feelings are still there, the tears are still falling, still so heavy with meaning and longing.
And yet fear lurks in their trails on my cheeks as I raise my hands to touch my shield of faith, a fresh blow denting its gilded surface. In a moment, in a fifteen minute phone call, everything you ever thought you knew can change.
And then you can fast forward a few hours and see how it is all changed again. The light shifts with the shadows, dancing around old and new promises, as you try to follow its lead, His lead, through the circumstances.
But the Lord my Banner does not shift. The wind will not shake the standard He is over me.
The story (exodus 17.8-16) where this name first is declared is a story both of victory and continued warfare. It’s where we first hear of Israel’s most notorious enemy, where we first see the Lord’s victory over them, and where continued warfare between this people group is promised forever. Yes, one of the promises recorded here for God’s people to remember is that the warfare would continue.
But first, victory. Victory, for those in Christ, is always the first word we can claim.
The mode of victory in this passage is not typical. There is almost no focus on the Israelite army that fought that day. Or on the battle itself. The focus is on the role Moses played as he sought the victory. Such is the way God typically tells His battle-stories: not focused on the struggle, but on the people in the midst of it.
Moses said to Joshua, “Tomorrow, choose men to fight this enemy tribe. And when you and our mighty men go to fight, I will go on top of the hill that overlooks the battlefield, with the staff of God in my hand.” Aaron and Hur went to join him. Moses simply extended the staff of the Lord in his hands upward, and as he did, the battle was in Israel’s favor. If he lowered his hands, the enemy would prevail.
“But Moses’ hands grew weary,” the text says.
There is no condemnation spoken of towards his weariness, only of the action taken:
“So they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it, while Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side. So his hands were steady until the going down of the sun.” And victory came.
The majority of the text is given to this imagery of Aaron and Hur coming alongside Moses as his hands grew weary. What an unlikely victory—using people who aren’t wielding swords or shields to keep the Israelite army prevailing. Using people who are weary to win the battle. Using a simple staff in the hands of a servant, whose arms are in the hands of his friends, to see the subduing of the enemy.
Then the Lord speaks to this scene:
“Write this down as a steadfast memory and whisper it into the ears of Joshua, your successor: I will bring full victory over this tribe. I will erase their memory from the earth.”
And Moses builds an altar, a place to remember these words, and gives a new name to the place where God gave the victory: “The Lord is my Banner,” saying, “A hand be upon the banner of the Lord! It is the Lord will who have war with this tribe, from generation to generation.”
Just as hands steadied his as he held the staff of God, Moses calls for a hand not to steady the banner of the Lord—for He does not need steadying as we do, but to rest upon it, to seize it in the day of battle, to cling to it as wars continue to wage. Another translation of this passage shifts “banner” to “throne.” What another beautiful picture: steady your hand upon the throne, where your Father God sits. Rest your hand upon His sovereignty, cling to the place where His power and presence dwell secure—that you may also stand secure in the day of struggle and strife.
Oh, how we need to be steadied and securely set afresh beneath the banner of His love and His control of every circumstance that comes against us. The battle begins alongside the victorious vision our God has given us. We open our hands to His ways, we lightly cling to the promises He’s faithfully given and will faithfully answer—refusing idolatry in every step toward or away from them. But we do not open our hands towards His Word or lightly cling to the stories and words He has surrounded us with as songs of deliverance (psalm 32.7-8). We cling tighter to those. We cling tighter to the fresh words He still longs to sing through them. We cling tighter to His Body, the Church, the ones whom He has given us to go with us to see the victory from afar, as they uphold our hands with their own.
And we cling most tightly to Him, the Lord our Banner, the trustworthy one. The one who knows, the one who is in the control that we desperately long for, the one who is for us, and the one who is working all things out for the good of those who love Him and those whom He has called according to His will, that which is good and acceptable and pleasing and perfect—in execution, in details, and in timing.
“A hand be upon the banner of the Lord!
A hand be upon His throne!”