At my house, preparations for Thanksgiving are in full swing, and for the most part, all is ready. But if I’m honest…I’m not ready. Not on the inside. I’m not ready to sit around a table that looks like it belongs in Southern Living and enjoy a family meal as though we were a Norman Rockwell print come to life. Can you relate? Let’s be truthful.
The truth is, some of us will be limping to the Thanksgiving table this year. Rather than cozy feelings of communal warmth and uncomplicated gratitude, we are coming to the feast wounded and weary, aware that this year our injuries far exceed the masking capacity of our usual band-aid, a smiling veneer. We’re coming to the banquet straight from a battlefield that is still smoking.
Some of us are fighting to prevent our marriages from disintegrating. Some of us are striving to keep our health or our finances from failing. Some of us are battling to keep people we love from stumbling into danger, or succumbing to sin’s darkness. In realms unseen with human eyes, we are wrestling against malevolent injustices and insidious deceptions, against demonic forces, and against self’s hard-heartedness.
We are wounded, and we are weary, even if we can see through the eyes of faith that we’re winning. I don’t know about you, but I need more than a good dinner in a comfortable home. Before I approach my Thanksgiving table, I need to take a seat at the banquet table of Jesus. I need to seek sanctuary under the banner of the Most High. Maybe you do, too.
In the poetic book of Song of Solomon, King Solomon’s beloved is dreamily speaking of the king’s love for her. In chapter two, she likens him to a fruit tree which has drawn her into its shade, a metaphor for the king’s loving protection over her. Then she makes this moving declaration: “He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.”
In the Amplified Version, the phrase “waving overhead to protect me and comfort me” is tacked on after the word love to clarify the significance of the king’s banner. When I read these verses recently, the imagery of the king’s banquet hall and his banner of loving protection over his beloved acted like a balm on my bruised heart. I was motivated to search my memory for other biblical references to banquet and banner.
Maybe you’ve already thought of Psalm 23 and a verse about a table prepared by God. This table is for those he calls his sheep. In what is arguably the most comforting of all the psalms, David writes about the many ways God relates to his people like a loving shepherd, caring for their every need in every circumstance.
If it’s been awhile since you’ve read Psalm 23, I hope you’ll take a few minutes and read it, particularly if you are among the wounded and weary today. Do you need rest for your soul? Do you need to be restored? God does that for his beloved.
Do you need guidance to find the right path through your battlefield, through the dark valley that threatens death and destruction? God does that for his beloved. He guides and protects us, he comforts and consoles us.
And here it is, in the beginning of verse 5: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Oh, how I love this verse! Charles Spurgeon says it best:
When a soldier is in the presence of his enemies, if he eats at all he snatches a hasty meal and away he hastens to the fight. But observe…nothing is hurried, there is no confusion, no disturbance; the enemy is at the door, and yet God prepares a table, and the Christian sits down as if everything were in perfect peace. Oh! the peace which Jehovah gives to his people, even in the midst of the most trying circumstances!
Our King offers us an invitation to come into his banqueting place—that is, his presence. To sit at a table that he himself prepares just for us. Take a moment and allow the weight of your circumstances to slide off your shoulders as you ponder this truth.
You don’t set this table. You don’t make the food. You don’t provide the protection from the encroaching forces of evil. You merely sit down and rest in God’s presence, while Satan watches impotently.
You just eat. No, you feast. Spiritually speaking, you have an unhurried, ten-course fellowship banquet with Jesus as you meet him in his Word, in worship, and in prayer. He gives you exactly what you need to gain fresh strength and renewed hope for the fight he is leading you through.
Picture King Solomon, solicitously choosing the sweetest fruit and the choicest meat to give his beloved as they relax at the banqueting table within the safety of his palace. We are Christ’s beloved and the sheep of his pasture. He is our Shepherd King.
When we are wounded and weary from the fray, we can come into the sanctuary of his presence and receive the ministry of the banquet table. Psalm 23:5 goes on to say that God anoints our heads with oil and fills our cups to overflowing, signifying his abundant grace poured out to bless us, heal us, and refresh us. Let’s not resist this respite!
Whatever may be keeping you from entering his presence and letting him meet your needs, lay it down. Come to his table. Experience the grace of his banquet.
In my search for other mentions of banquet and banner in Scripture, I found in Exodus 17 a reference to God’s banner. Or rather, to God as our banner. In this chapter, the children of Israel, having recently been delivered out of bondage in Egypt, are attacked by the Amalekites.
During the ensuing fight, Joshua leads the Israelite troops (such as they were in those early days) down in the valley, while Moses remains on the hill overlooking the battle. In fact, Moses spends the day holding a staff–the staff with which God has already done many wonders for the people–above his head. As long as the staff of God is raised, the Israelites prevail, but when Moses tires and lowers the staff, the Amalekites start winning. Aaron and Hur seat Moses on a rock and hold his arms aloft until the Amalekites are routed.
Afterward, Moses builds an altar to commemorate God’s protection and clear intervention in their victory. He gives the altar a name that tells observers what happened there. He calls it The Lord is my Banner.
In ancient military contexts, a banner was usually a pole decorated in such a way that it would be visible to the soldiers fighting or marching near it. It was used as a rally point, as well as a means of signaling instructions in battle. Those who served under the authority the banner represented looked to it, relied on it, and returned to it in due course to regroup.
The staff Moses held high symbolized the presence of God, who with omnipotent sovereignty and faithful love protected the people he had created and set apart and delivered from bondage. The battle was the Lord’s. He himself was the banner they were learning to look to, rely on, and return to as he led them toward the Promised Land.
Friends, God is our banner, too. He is our authority, he is our victory, and he is our safety. His presence is with us, wherever we go (Ps. 139:7-10, Matt. 28:20). And just like Solomon’s beloved, we can declare with confidence that his banner over us is love (1 John 4:8).
We don’t live under the banner of sin anymore. We don’t live under the banner of fear. We don’t live under the banner of condemnation. Those are flags our enemy flies, but we don’t belong to that kingdom anymore.
For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Colossians 1:13-14
His banner over us is love. We are his beloved, ransomed with a great price and betrothed to Christ in love and faithfulness when we receive him through faith (1 Pet. 1:18-19; Hos. 2:19-20). No matter how fierce our battle, when we run into the strong tower of his presence, we are safe under the authority and love of Jehovah-Nissi, the Lord our Banner.
You Are Invited
No matter how this year has unfolded or how it plays out, we have much for which to be thankful in Christ. And regardless of how extravagant or humble our family feast may be, Thanksgiving is simply an opportunity to remember the goodness of God and share it with others around the table. But before we do that, let’s respond to God’s invitation.
To the wounded and weary among his people, God offers abundant, overflowing grace in his presence, grace to give you joy and make you whole. You are invited. Come to him. Feast at his banquet and rest beneath his banner, beloved of the King.
For further reading on Exodus 17 and Jehovah-Nissi, see Exodus by Douglas K. Stewart and Lord, I Want to Know You by Kay Arthur.