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Last night my one year old’s erupting teeth and my own recently extracted wisdom teeth combined to keep me awake most of the night. I won't lie--I was really grouchy about it. Eventually, though, I quieted my mental grumblings to listen. Usually I savor my night-wakings as my special, secret time with God. I tend to be pathetically distractable , and during the day so many things seem to conspire to keep me from just sitting at His feet.
Once I stopped mentally screaming and begging for more sleep, and after I watched the new episode of Top Chef on our DVR, I got a song stuck in my head. It was one I hadn’t heard since I was a little girl, and it was based off of the verse from the Song of Songs that says, "He brought me to his banquet table; his banner over me is love." It planted itself firmly in my mind with all the persistence of an obnoxious commercial, though with far more soothing effect.
I'm not sure that I ever fully went back to sleep, but throughout the day, that verse has reverberated in my heart. Now I know that believers debate how much of the Song of Songs has a spiritual interpretation and how much is just love poetry. I don't really care, although some of the more, um, unusual and creative similes remind me of the sense of humor of the Lover of our Souls who chose to heal a blind man by mixing spit and dirt and smearing it in the guy's eyes. Regardless, I know that He claims us as His bride, and I have no doubt that the verse applies to us. His banner over us is love.
I started looking through other Biblical references to banners. One of the first was mentioned in the account of the Israelites battling the Amalekites. When Moses lifted his hands, they would prevail; when he was too tired and put them down, they began to lose. So he got the support of friends who held his hands for him. After they won the battle, he built an altar and declared that the Lord was their banner.
Another passage is in one of my favorite Psalms: "We will shout for joy when you are victorious and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests." (20:5)
Isaiah 11:1-22 continues with a beautiful promise to draw all the nations of the earth to Himself, standing "as a banner for the peoples" and says that "the place of His rest will be glorious." He promises to gather together the outcasts and the people who don’t have a place where they belong.
Isaiah also spoke of banners in chapter 49. The servant of the Lord was discouraged and felt that all his work had been a waste of time. He was worn out and didn’t believe he was accomplishing anything. God gave him a radiant promise of the restoration of Israel, of captives finding freedom, abundance and fulfillment, and declares that those who hope in Him will not be disappointed. In chapter 59, He says that when the enemy comes in like a flood, He would raise up a banner.
As I read these words, a few things stood out to me. First, so many of these talked about weariness and discouragement. Whether we can see it now or not, our efforts have value and purpose, and ultimately, we will enjoy victory. Furthermore, this victory is the result of love--our acts of love for others, the love of people around us who hold our hands when we need extra strength, and the power of an open, accepting love that will draw all nations.
Most of all, though, it is about His love for us. His banner over us is love. The most persistent struggle in my walk with God has been trying to grasp what is the height, the depth and full measure of His love toward us. There is a stubborn, sneaky part of me that keeps wanting to make it about my worthiness or lack thereof, and reduce God's amazing passion into a resigned tolerance. Some duty that He has just because He is God and He “has to” love me.
But banners don’t convey that image at all. Banners are about public proclamations. About belonging. About confidence. They shout out our true identity to everyone present: We are His Beloved! He isn't ashamed of loving us! In fact, He is a joy-filled, delighted lover who is boldly announcing to the whole world that we belong to each other. I am my Beloved’s, and He is mine. His banner over me is love
I pray that despite any weariness that you may be feeling right now, and even if you are in the presence of your enemies, that you will enjoy the feast that He has prepared for you. You are the guest of honor at His banquet table. His banner over us is love.