The first time I saw it, I laughed. A runner with a balloon tied to his back. Is someone trying to be the circus clown? Stand out in the crowd? Make the spectators laugh?
Cross-cultural living always has you learning new things, and I was a newbie to the running culture of my host country. I had signed up for the race months earlier, learned the fun of running with friends (you can read that story here) and was now ready for my first race day.
But what was up with the balloon man?
Then I started to notice that the balloon man had friends, lots of them. And all of them had balloons tied to their shirts, literally walking around with plastic globs floating in the sky above them.
Did I miss something on the registration card (we all know how possible that would be)?
The race started, the balloon people seemed to cluster together while running, four of them here, four up ahead, four behind me. The whole race long I kept my eyes on that row of balloons in front of me and put one foot in front of the other until the finish line.
It wasn’t until after the race that I learned what the balloon man and his friends were actually doing: they were the pacers. There to help us find and hold a consistent pace all the way to the end.
And here I thought they were just providing a nice row of helium-filled plastic orbs to dance in front of my eyes and spur me on to the finish line.
I guess I just really like the thought of someone going before me. Someone I can fix my eyes on.
Good news: that’s exactly who God says He is.
It was soon after watching God listen to the cries of a grumpy people by providing water from a dry rock that Moses was called into another battle. This time, he sat to the side as observer while Joshua did the work of the warrior. But Moses was no casual observer, he was holding the staff of God in his hand, and as long as it was high in the air, Joshua would experience victory. Moses’ limbs were weary under the pressure, and he had to call on Aaron and Hur to help hold up his arms, keeping his hands steady all the way to the day’s end.
The day ended and Israel had endured. I don’t know who was more tired: Joshua the warrior or Moses the staff-wielder. Clearly, it was the Lord who brought the victory that day.
At day’s end, Moses used his shaking hands to build an altar and called it Jehovah-Nissi, the Lord is my Banner.
Banners are hung high to commemorate bravery, to honor champions. They are a visible representation of what a people are all about. They wave our allegiance, our identity, our hopes.
At the end of a long, grueling day of battle, this is who God says He is.
In ancient culture, there was another meaning for “banner”, another use. It wasn’t always a piece of cloth or canvas, but always something bright and noticeable. A banner was an object carried at the head of a military march. It was the visible sign that everyone could see, the first steps in the line of offence.
It was what all the other warriors placed their gaze upon, giving them direction and assurance that they were heading the way they should go.
Scripture is full of this metaphor, this symbol of a banner. My favorite “banner Scripture” is Isaiah 10:11 – “The Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the people; the nations will rally to him.” What a cool picture. Jesus is making his presence fully known to his warriors, giving them a fixed point to set their gaze upon and a direction to rally towards.
Banners remind us that we are not alone. Banners go before us as a place for us to set our gaze as we engage in battle.
Like the balloon man and his friends provided a spot ahead for me to focus on while I ran that day.
But so much better. This is the Lord of Hosts, walking directly into battle, giving us a rallying point, and reminding us of his presence.
You’re not alone, soldier. The Lord is your Banner. Rally to Him.
Do you have a favorite “banner Scripture”? What comfort or encouragement does this name of God bring to your heart?