If you were to walk into my office, one of the first things you would see as you enter is the large flag that hangs on my wall. My flag travels with me when I move to a new place or achieve something significant. I have a photo somewhere of me flying it at the top of Mount Kenya in Africa. Now that I live in Oregon, USA, I proudly hang my Australian flag in my office to be seen every day. It serves as a reminder to me, and to those who visit, that I was born and raised under the Southern Cross, a cross-shaped constellation visible in the Southern Hemisphere’s night skies and prominent on our flag.
At home in Australia, if you were to walk into my parents’ home office, you may notice the Lindsay family crest hanging on a small shield on the left. I have one of those too, in the form of a rubber stamp for the books in my library. I even have a scarf with the pattern of the Lindsay tartan—a unique pattern of crisscrossed horizontal and vertical lines in multiple colors. Centuries ago, my Scottish ancestors would have had their kilts made with the same pattern and colors.
For some strange reason, these things bring me joy. I find a sense of identity in belonging to a larger group of people. But if I think about it long enough, it ceases to be that strange after all. There is a longing we all have to identify with something, someone, or a group of someones. Each of us, at some point in our lives, start wondering about who we really are and may find ourselves facing two questions: Who am I, really? And who do I belong to?
Each of us, at some point in our lives, start wondering about who we really are…
In the book of Numbers, God told Moses that “the people of Israel shall camp each by his own standard, with the banners of their fathers’ houses” (Numbers 2:2, ESV). In other words, each of the tribes had their own area and each family had their own flag by which they camped. God is a God of order, and they all had a place they belonged to—a place they could feel safe and accepted.
The word standard is a military term indicating a rallying point. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word as a flag or other conspicuous object, raised on a pole for all the soldiers to see above the chaos of war. It comes from the word “stand” because it was at the standard where the men took their stand to conquer or die. In more modern times, the standard was carried by the standard-bearer. His job was to follow the leader, so that his regiment could tell where they were moving. He did not carry a weapon and therefore didn’t engage in combat. This meant that his job was often considered the bravest position you could hold in the military.
This idea of a rallying point on the battlefield is encompassed in a two-letter Hebrew word: נֵס or nec (nês). It’s a more specific word than the one used by Moses in the second chapter of Numbers. King David uses this word in Psalm 60:4 NKJV, where he writes, “You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth.” Nec is translated here as “banner,” so God has given those who fear Him a rallying point. But we don’t meet there, as in military days of old, to “conquer or die,” for the psalmist continues, “That Your beloved may be delivered” (verse 5).
We go to the standard to conquer. Period.
But where is this rallying point?
The prophet Isaiah, in chapter 11 of his writings, identifies the Root of Jesse as the One “who shall stand as a banner (nec) to the people” (11:10). The Root of Jesse is none other than the promised Messiah, and here He is prophesied to become the Standard for humanity. “The Gentiles shall seek Him,… and [He] will assemble the outcasts of Israel and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (verses 10,12).
Throughout his book, Isaiah uses nec to refer to Christ as one who is bringing Salvation to all those who look toward the banner. Over and over again, Isaiah writes of Christ as drawing all men to Himself (Isaiah 5:26; 11:10,12; 13:2; 18:3; 49:22; 62:10-12). To all those who identify with Christ as their Standard, the Lord has proclaimed, “Surely your salvation is coming; Behold His reward is with Him,… And you shall be called Sought Out, A City Not Forsaken” (Isaiah 62:11-12).
Over and over again, Isaiah writes of Christ as drawing all men to Himself.
Interestingly, the word nec first shows up in the Hebrew scriptures when Moses lifts up a bronze serpent on a pole in the wilderness (Numbers 21). After the Lord allowed the deadly serpents into the Israelite camp, many of the people were bitten and died. The people quickly realized their sin and begged Moses to intercede with God for them. So God told Moses to craft a bronze serpent and lift it on a pole (nec), and He said, “it shall be that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, shall live” (Numbers 21:8). God didn’t take away the curse immediately, but instead, provided a way for them to live.
When Jesus came to earth, a few thousand years later, He had a conversation one night with Nicodemus. He referenced this very story, and said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:14,15).
The serpent, representing sin and death, was hung on the pole, the standard, which the Israelites were to look towards to be healed. Jesus knew that He was the anti-type to that type. He knew He was to become the embodiment of the curse (2 Corinthians 5:21) and be lifted up on a pole to provide the Way to eternal life. Just as Isaiah prophesied, Christ on the cross of Calvary became the Standard—our rallying point for redemption.
Just as Isaiah prophesied, Christ on the cross of Calvary became the Standard—our rallying point for redemption.
So, when we go to the Standard to conquer, we are fighting with Jesus by our side. Back in Psalm 60, we are reminded that the battle isn’t ours but the Lord’s. “With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies” (verse 12, NIV). When we aren’t gathered at the Cross, we can’t conquer, for it is He who does the conquering. He defeated death, so all that we need to do is to look to Him and live.
Across the top of the Lindsay family crest, the motto reads, endure fort or endure with strength. If I’m truly honest with myself, however, I know I don’t have the strength to endure much of anything. But there’s good news! Because I have put my trust in Jesus Christ, I don’t have to do the conquering. “In Christ the guilty heart has found relief. He is the sure foundation. All who make Him their dependence rest in perfect security” (Ellen White, The Desire of Ages, p. 599). Just like on the battlefields of days-gone-by, we need to go to the Standard to conquer. Only there will we endure with His strength.
Finding the answers to those two questions surrounding our identity is crucially important. At the deepest level, who are you? Who do you belong to? Whose flag is flying above your camp? I may have been born and raised under the Southern Cross, but, ultimately, my identity is found at the cross of Christ.