"A Banner For Them That Fear Him"

Psalm 60

David had his ups and downs as most of us have, but they are strange words that he uses at the opening of this 60th Psalm: — "O God, Thou hast cast us off." Is that true? Does God not cast off those who are His? Not one of us who have believed could say that. Cast down we may be, and often are, and good for us too, for "God comforteth those that are cast down" (2 Cor. 7:6), but cast off, never; God cannot deny Himself. He cannot be false to His word. There are wonderful words in the Old Testament which assure us that that could never be. They are meant in the first place for Israel, but we may appropriate them. Take this: — "Hearken to Me, O house of Jacob, Even to your old age I am He; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you" (Isa. 46). And again: — "Can a woman forget her sucking child? … Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee. Behold I have graven thee upon the Palms of My hands" (Isa. 49). But the New Testament makes assurance more assured, for there we are in our own sphere, and we read, "He has said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee". So that we may boldly say, "The Lord is my Helper, and I will not fear what man shall do to me" (Heb. 13); and most wonderful of all, "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom. 8). It is as clear as can be that we shall never be cast off.

But David continues his complaint. He says, "Thou hast scattered us." The two things would go together — to be cast off by God would be to be scattered one from another. But God has not cast off His flock, yet it is certainly a scattered flock today. Why? It is not God who has done this. The Lord Himself said, "The wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep." Whereas He laid down His life to gather them together in one, that there might be one flock and one Shepherd (John 10). "I know," said Paul, "that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them" (Acts 20). His prophetic words have been fulfilled, and God's fair flock is a divided and scattered flock, and the shame of it is ours. The scattering of the flock is the devil's work, but he would never have gained an entrance into it if the flock had hearkened to the voice of the Shepherd. It is our carnality and self-will that has made us dull of hearing and has given the devil his chance. "Now I beseech you," wrote the Apostle, "by the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you: but that ye be perfectly joined together, in the same mind and the same judgment" (1 Cor. 1). Have we listened to that beseeching? No, alas! we have not, we have been disobedient. And so the charge that follows is just and true.

"Ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? For while one says, I am of Paul, and another, I am of Apollos, are ye not carnal?" (1 Cor. 3). It would be well for us to face up to such solemn words as these and see how we stand, for those who make the loudest boast of walking in the truth are often the most sectarian in spirit and practice. It is fleshly pretension to talk of being seated in the heavenlies in Christ if we are sunken down in Corinthian discord and carnality, and are indifferent to the commandments of the Lord which Paul was inspired to write (1 Cor. 14:37).

But David did not only lament a scattered nation, but a shaking earth also; he looked around, and wherever he looked there was trouble; said he, "Thou hast made the earth to tremble, Thou hast broken it… it shakes." And that certainly describes the state of the nations today. David was bewildered. He had looked for peace and the kingdom of God on earth, and lo! war, and disaster upon disaster, and in his bewilderment he complained, "Thou hast made us drink the wine of astonishment." In these days many are drinking from that same cup — they are asking, Why? It is a question in their hearts continually, if not on their lips. Is God responsible for the broken, shaking earth? Can its miseries and groanings be laid at His door? Nay, as the church cannot blame God for its scattering, neither can the world blame Him for its shaking. It is "man's inhumanity to man that makes countless thousands mourn." Men reap what they sow; if they prefer the devil's way to God's they will get the devil's malice instead of God's mercy. Disobedience of God's law lies behind the world's wars. It has been so from the beginning. Genesis 3 records the first disobedience and defiance of the Divine will, and Genesis 4 describes the first destruction of human life, a man murdered by his own mother's son. The one follows the other as night follows day. It is cause and effect.

And yet we must be careful here lest we give the impression that God is an indifferent spectator of the ways of men, or powerless to intervene. He is God and over all: His throne must ever be universal and supreme. "He ruleth by His power for ever; His eyes behold the nations, let not the rebellious exalt themselves" (Ps. 66:7). But this is the acceptable time, the day of grace and salvation, and "God is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." God finds no pleasure in the miseries of men, their groanings make no music in His ears, but when one sinner repents there is joy in heaven. But He will have the last word in the affairs of men; He has said, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay"; and when He does intervene He will finish the work (i.e., He will settle the account) and cut it short in righteousness: because a short work will the Lord make upon the earth" (Rom. 9:28).

What then? With a scattered flock and a shaking earth, shall we abandon hope? Is the throne of God shaken, are His purposes scattered? Turn again to David. From the verge of despair he looked upward and away from the scattered flock and shaking earth and encircling gloom; and his distress was changed to delight, his sighs gave place to song, for he saw a banner unfurled and flying free and fair above him. "Thou hast given a banner to them that fear Thee, that it may be displayed because of truth, that Thy beloved may be delivered." That banner leads a victorious host. It was first lifted up when Israel fought with Amalek in the desert and broke his power with the edge of the sword. Then Moses raised his altar to the Lord and called it Jehovah-nissi — the Lord my banner.

The banner of the Lord cannot suffer defeat: it is held aloft by the undiminished power of the Holy Ghost. Hear how Paul describes it in his farewell letter to his son Timothy. "Be thou not ashamed of the testimony of the Lord." The testimony of the Lord is our banner today. Upon this banner I see quartered a manger cradle, a cross of shame, an empty tomb and a throne of glory. It is all Christ. Christ come down to manhood in great humility; Christ crucified; Christ triumphant over death; Christ Crowned with glory and honour, and most surely coming again as King of kings and Lord of lords. Christ is the truth, and the "banner is displayed because of the truth, that His beloved may be delivered."

Things could scarcely be worse than Paul describes them in this farewell letter, yet he is a poor soldier of Jesus Christ who has not felt the thrill of triumph that runs through every page of it. Paul's "nevertheless" and "notwithstanding" rebuke all defeatism, and the whole letter is a trumpet call to "everyone that nameth the Name of the Lord." The banner of the Lord is not a sectarian banner: there are such all over the field of conflict — filthy rags — but this is the Royal Standard, and every "good soldier of Jesus Christ" rallies to it.

David's cry to God was, "Save with Thy right hand and hear me," and God will answer that cry, not only for Israel and the nations but for us also. Christ is the Man of God's right hand (Ps. 80:17). He is the "arm of the Lord," "the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Cor. 1), and we, for His sake, are the "beloved of God." He can deliver and He will. We need not fear: no power of evil can prevail against the will of God. The scattered flock is one flock and shall be gathered together in one as surely as Jesus died with this in view. It will be at our "gathering together to Him" (2 Thess. 2:1). It will be at His coming when "the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4).

He will put the world right also for He shall judge it in righteousness (Acts 7:11) and "the work of righteousness shall be peace and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever" (Isa. 39). "In His day shall the righteous flourish: and abundance of peace so long as the moon endures" (Ps. 72). David's hope was in God, and so is ours, and in His Son Jesus Christ our Lord. He has said, "Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid; ye believe in God, believe also in Me."

David's doubts and fears were all dispelled and confidence and joy filled his soul, for he remembered that "God has spoken in His holiness" (v. 6), and what He has spoken He will most surely perform. He had promised the land to Israel, and though they had failed to possess it owing to their lack of faith in Him, He would and will bring them into it, and the very foes that had kept them out of their possessions — Moab, Edom and Philistia would be compelled to witness and add to their triumph. But "God has promised some better thing for us"; ours is a heavenly inheritance, "the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." "It is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him. But God has revealed them to us by His Spirit." And they have been revealed to us for our present triumph and joy.

But David asks, "Who will bring me into the strong city? Who will lead me into Edom? Wilt not Thou, O God?" And his own answer is, "Vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: for He it is that shall tread down our enemies." Like Israel of old, so we in our day have strong foes who would keep us from enjoying our God-given blessings. "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Eph. 6:12), and we may well ask, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Our answer is, "Our sufficiency is of God." The world, the flesh and the devil are subtle and mighty foes, but, "my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armour of God that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil," and "ye shall be more than conquerors through Him that loved us." And thus the banner that He has given to them that fear Him shall lead us on to final and complete victory.