Paddle Signs and Banners of war
by Joel Bates
Did you know that canoeing has direct correlation to ancient warfare? I discovered this truth as I was teaching a swift-water-rescue course, but it wasn’t the connections one might expect. Rushing through a Class-4 rapid can certainly produce the exhilaration of battle, bouncing off waves, responding to wicked undercurrents with the reflexes of a swordsman, feeling instincts to lean into the brace when tipping, or having the consciousness to maintain breath control as you cascade through standing waves. But these are not the discoveries I’m talking about.
I was holding my paddle over my head before a small class, teaching them a new language, the language of river paddling. It’s a bit like sign language although much simpler. Using your canoe paddle, you can communicate from far downriver, across a garish rapid, or atop the banks of a distant shore. “If you can see the paddle, you can hear it speak,” I told the students. They looked at me with confusion.
I held the paddle aloft and began teaching them the simple signs that every paddler needs to know to communicate on the river. I showed them how to say, “Come this way;” and “Go to the other side of the river;” and “Stop, there’s trouble up ahead;” and even “Come over here to me.” I was enjoying the lesson when a scripture assaulted my thoughts.
I’d been studying Psalm 20 for a devotional series I was putting together. It’s a short psalm packed with battle imagery. In it, God is described as a great protector in the midst of battle, a source of reinforcement against the foe. Can’t you just imagine the scene—you and your comrades standing your ground on the battlefield, when suddenly the enemy tanks appear over the rise? You know these guys mean business, but you have a secret weapon of your own. You can call in an airstrike from the sanctuary of God! BOOM! The sparks fly, the earth explodes, and where that enemy tank once sat a deep crater remains. Oh yeah! That’s what we want to do to the enemies of God!
Then, I came to a curious passage about the banners of the Lord. I’ve heard about banners on a battlefield and have noticed banners referenced many times in scripture, especially when pertaining to warfare. So I dug a little deeper and discovered that banners on a field of battle have a huge, multifaceted significance.
First, they symbolize what side you’re on. If you are fighting battles and you find yourself in confusion, look up, examine the banner, and remember that you’re on the Lord’s side. Second, banners were used on battlefields to communicate, and like the signals I was teaching my students with a paddle, the banners of the flag bearers indicated the soldiers’ place and plan on the battlefield. The general or king could learn how the battle was unfolding and send aid to a fading line or direct a company to rout the enemy on a new front. Archers could differentiate between friend and foe as they examined the banners flying and aimed their arrows with precision.
My favorite use of the banner, though, is the presiding king raising his banner to signal a charge against the heart of the enemy lines. When the king’s banner goes up, all his forces rally to him and then make one massive, spearhead assault which utterly dominates the foe and decimates their numbers. The enemy is demoralized and consequently loses the nerve to persevere. Every warrior loves to see the king’s banner signal the charge because it means that the victory is imminent.
When we fight under our King’s banner, we fight for the Victor of the universe. We fight for the King who cannot be defeated, the King who has promised that He will never leave us or forsake us and will strengthen us to fight as we’ve never fought before. What a confidence we have as we rally under the banner of King Jesus! Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” What a King…what a Name!
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