Flags have a very interesting history – especially in the ancient world. A flag, or, as it was know then, a STANDARD would be taken by an army, be it the Egyptian, Assyrian or Babylonian Army, first into battle. The troops and soldiers would follow behind it. It was more than just a decorative item on the battle field – it was symbol – a very powerful symbol. In those days a standard did not hang like a flag does today – it was hung on a pole which was in a cross shape. The standard or banner was a symbol of that army’s values and attached to it would be ribbons or symbols of the battles it had won in the past. A banner or standard was meant to put fear into the opposing army, as its sight would tell the story of its previous battles.
Another role for the standard or banner was that it was a place of safety – if in the midst of battle you needed to retreat or to find your army you would see your standard and go to it for protection.
Standards, banners and flags have been powerful symbols in history.
One of the things which I have noticed since living here in the United States is the reverence for the flag. Homes fly the flag – churches have the flag in their building – government offices have the flag in their offices.
This does not happen back home. Homes do not fly the British flag; government offices do not always have the flag in them; churches do not have the flag in them. The only times we Brits wave or have flags is for an event which involves the celebration of the Queen, or for a national sporting event.
Why is this? My own thoughts are because of what the flags represent. The British flag represents a history –It’s a history of conquest – a history of an empire which did some good and did some bad.
I always like to joke with my American friends that while America may want to rule half the world, the British actually did rule half the world – Africa, India, the Americas, South Africa, Canada, New Zealand, Australia. Our flag flew in these places and over time our flag was rejected by many of these nations as they sought independence and freedom.
Independence and freedom – that is what I see in the American flag. The American flag, from my perspective, does not represent a history of conquest, or of an empire. Far from it! The stars and strips represent the opposite – the journey to freedom and Independence. I am sure that you already know that the thirteen red strips on the flag represent the original thirteen colonies who declared independence from Britain.
Right there in the American flag is a reminder of where this nation has come from and how it was founded.
George Washington is credited for saying: “We take the stars from Heaven, the red from our mother country, separating it by white stripes, thus showing that we have separated from her, and the white stripes shall go down to posterity representing Liberty.”
It represents an ideal. As the Pledge of Allegiance says – liberty and justice for all. The USA is made up of many different people, many different backgrounds. The founding fathers and those who first settled here came from Britain, Germany, Holland. America has been the place that people all over the world look to come not because of its history – but because of what it stands for – what the Bill of Rights and the Constitution of the United States gives to people.
It is a standard to which people can run to when they are without justice or liberty. And for me, as a Priest in the Episcopal Church, I can not but help see the connection this has with the Bible. I was fascinated to discover the powerful symbols of the banner or standard in the Bible – especially the Old Testament. The tribes of Israel were instructed to gather around the tabernacle – which was made of banners – under the banner of their tribe and family.
But there is a quote in the book of Isaiah which I want to share with you:
In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the sea. Isaiah 11:10
The root of Jesse is Jesus; remember I said that a banner was placed on a cross – Jesus died on a cross. He was lifted up and all who come to him will receive Justice and truth and liberty.
The American flag – for what it stands for and what it strives to be, is an earthly type, not perfect, of the perfect truth which is in Jesus Christ and his kingdom.