Beneath the Banner
The flag of a nation speaks volumes about the nation’s history, about its aims and about its goals. Sadly, as we have become all too familiar with, flags of terrorist entities such as ISIS, Hamas and Hezbollah also speak volumes about their goals.
Concerning the Israelites, during their time in the wilderness, they also bore flags. Numbers 2:1-2 says: And the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house; they shall camp some distance from the tabernacle of meeting. So, herein we see that a “standard” and “emblem” were flags or placards with an insignia or colour scheme which represented the group to which a particular tribe belonged. Concerning the arrangement of the camp, the tabernacle was in the centre (representing the fact we should always have God in the centre of our lives) and the tribes were arranged, from the orientation of the tabernacle, as follows:-
· On the eastern side would be Judah, Issachar and Zebulun (Numbers 2:3);
· On the southern side would be Reuben, Simeon and Gad (Numbers 2:10);
· On the western side would be Ephraim, Manasseh and Benjamin (Numbers 2:18);
· On the northern side would be Dan, Asher and Naphtali (Numbers 2:25).
The Scriptures do not give an indication of the design of the standard (Hebrew: degel) but according to Rabbinic tradition, the standard of Judah bore the figure of a lion; that of Reuben the likeness of a man (or of a man’s head); that of Ephraim the figure of an ox and that of Dan the figure of an eagle. If true, it is interesting to note the description of the creatures in Ezekiel 1:10: As for the likeness of their faces, each had the face of a man; each of the four had the face of a lion on the right side, each of the four had the face of an ox on the left side, and each of the four had the face of an eagle. Note also Revelation 4:6-7: Before the throne there was a sea of glass, like crystal. And in the midst of the throne and around the throne, were four living creatures full of eyes in front and in back. The first living creature was like a lion, the second living creature like a calf, the third living creature had a face like a man, and the fourth living creature was like a flying eagle.
Today, the flag adopted by Israel is obviously quite different from the descriptions given above. Theodor Herzl (who convened the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland in 1897) was one of the first public Jewish identities to propose a flag. As written in his diary in 1895 and published in The Jewish State one year later, he proposed a flag consisting of seven gold stars (representing the seven working hours of the day) on a white background (representing a new and pure life). Although other Zionist leaders convinced him to accept the Star of David, Herzl still insisted that six stars appear opposite the six points of the Star of David with a seventh star above it. This design, with the inscription “Aryeh Yehudah” (Lion of Judah) embroidered in the centre, became one of the earliest Zionist flag designs. In his pamphlet Der Judenstaat, Herzl described his vision as follows: “When the new land first comes into sight, our new flag will be raised on the staff. At present we do not have any. I am thinking of a white flag with seven gold stars. The white field signifies our new, clean life, and the seven stars, our desire to start this new life under the banner of labour.”
On 8 June 1948, the Provisional Government of the nation of Israel published an announcement in the newspapers inviting the citizens of Israel to submit proposals for the state emblem and flag. The announcement stated that the colours of the flag would be “light blue and white” and in the middle there would be “a Star of David or seven stars (in gold or some other colour).” Well, as we know, the Israeli Government settled on the design we are familiar with today – blue, white and the Star of David. The combination of blue and white as the colours of the Jewish flag was derived from an 1860 poem, “Judah’s Colours”, by Austrian man Ludwig August Frankl, in which the blue symbolized “the splendours of the firmament”, and the white represented “the radiance of the priesthood.” But the blue stripes were also inspired by the stripes on the tallit, which Jewish men wrap themselves in when they pray. To the Jewish people, this reminds them of the faith and prayers exhibited by so many before them that longed to live in the homeland.
The origins of the Star (or shield) of David are more difficult to explain, particularly since there are multiple theories concerning it. Franz Rosenzweig claimed that the star consists of two intertwined triangles: one pointing up to God and the other pointing down to man, symbolizing the relationship between the two – “the interpenetration of two realms”. He goes on to claim that the six points represent two triads: creation, revelation and redemption on one side and God, Israel and the Gentile world on the other. Another author claims they represent the six aspects of the Divine Spirit as outlined in Isaiah 11:2: The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD. In yet another explanation, Kabbala teaches that the six points indicate the extent of God’s sovereignty: north, south, east, west, up and down.
As we see pictures of Israeli soldiers and citizens draping themselves in their flag, we trust it will come to mean more to them than mere nationalism. As they meditate on the history of their flag and its design, in prayer may they call out to Almighty God – Psalm 5:1-3: Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation. Give heed to the voice of my cry, my King and my God, for to you I will pray. May they also trust not in the might of their military but in the might of their God – Psalm 147:5: Great is our Lord, and mighty in power. May they know the deliverance of God from their enemies – Psalm 18:2-3: The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I will call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised; so shall I be saved from my enemies.
Finally, and most importantly, we claim the promise of God that there is coming a glorious time when Israel will no longer be a place of war, but of peace. They will rally, not around a flag, but around a Person: King Jesus. Isaiah 11:10-13: And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.” 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 who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.
Later, in Isaiah 35:8, we see a wonderful description of the future glory of Zion: A highway shall be there, and a road, and it shall be called the Highway of Holiness. When we consider the future of God’s chosen people, how wonderful to know that even though Isaiah saw a sinful nation, he also saw a nation that would one day walk the “highway of holiness” into a righteous kingdom. Where he once saw a suffering people, he also saw people who would one day enjoy a beautiful and peaceful kingdom. Where he once saw a scattered people, he also saw a people who would be regathered and reunited under the kingship of Jesus Christ. Then, may all the world rejoice in those simple words of Song of Solomon 2:4: He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.