Every year on June 14, people across America celebrate Flag Day with red-white-and-blue decorated picnics and parades. Officially, the day is set aside to commemorate the adoption of the U.S. national flag in 1777. To those who have fought to defend the nation represented by the stars and stripes, this patterned cloth holds immense significance. For many citizens our flag powerfully embodies the heritage and history of the United States.
Our world abounds with flags for just about every imaginable purpose. A simple drive through town reveals a plethora of corporate, religious, governmental, territorial, and sports flags, plus multitudinous other special-interest and decorative applications. With so many flags and logos surrounding us every day, Christians rarely stop to consider what God’s Word says about how His people ought to regard these symbols.
Before diving in, we should note that whenever Christians pledge allegiance to a flag—or to anything else—our pledge of loyalty must always be under God. Our allegiance is first and foremost to our Creator and King. After all, the first of the Ten Commandments states, “
You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:3). We should also remember that in the second commandment God charged His people not to set up and revere any physical image (Exodus 20:4–5), an idea restated in 1 John 5:21. So we must be careful not to idolize a flag.
Flags in Scripture
God’s Word speaks highly of flags when they are used in their proper context. You might be surprised by how often the Bible mentions this topic—just under different names than we might expect. Although the word flag is rarely used in most English translations, Scripture contains dozens of references to banners, standards, and emblems.
Flags in the Bible were often used to identify the tribes and families of Israel, as the Lord commanded: “
Everyone of the children of Israel shall camp by his own standard, beside the emblems of his father’s house” (Numbers 2:2). These standards may have been made of cloth like today’s flags, or perhaps some were painted or engraved on wood and other materials. Whatever the case, their purpose was similar to how flags are commonly used today—for identification of different groups.
Numbers 10:14–28 records “
the order of march of the children of Israel, according to their armies, when they began their journey.” The people moved out in groups organized by flags, as we read, “
the standard of the camp of the children of Judah set out first according to their armies,” and the other camps followed in like manner. These standards were regularly used in wartime to mark divisions of soldiers on the battlefield. King Solomon knew well the magnificent scene of thousands of warriors brilliantly arrayed in armor with their banners streaming in the wind. He described the sight of his beloved bride to be “
awesome as an army with banners” (Song of Solomon 6:4, 10).
A well-known statement credited to Solomon’s bride also mentions banners, but in a different context: “
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (Song of Solomon 2:4).1 This type of banner is joyfully displayed for all to see—it brings to mind images of jubilant celebrations and festivities. Solomon’s father David used flags in this sense when he wrote, “
We will rejoice in your salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners!” (Psalm 20:5). David also said of the Lord, “
You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth” (Psalm 60:4).
These Psalms show flags as a way to rejoice in the salvation God has won for us. Similarly, after a miraculous victory, Moses likened God to a flag of triumph when he named an altar Yahweh-nissi, which means “
The Lord is my Banner” (Exodus 17:15). The prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah as a rallying flag: “
And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people” (Isaiah 11:10).
Our God is a glorious banner of victory over us—a flag of triumph. The gospel declares that Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Son, defeated sin and death to redeem us from the Curse. Let’s celebrate under that banner today!