One Sabbath evening I was listening to Song of Songs, the oratorio by Ryan Malone. While following the words using the liner notes, a certain lyrical phrase caught my attention. Amid a glowing tapestry of romantic and joyful images—as well as some sobering ones—arose a most interesting and inspiring metaphor. It appears twice in “She Is the Only One” (Song 6:4-10; track 24). The context is Jesus Christ describing His repentant Bride—and the Church as a whole. Here is the opening verse, noting the last line specifically:
You are beautiful, O my love,
As a pleasant kingdom,
Lovely as Jerusalem,
As an awesome bannered host.
The lyrics were of course taken directly from Scripture. A “host” in Scripture means an army. The King James margin states it as: “glorious as an army with banners.” The term “bannered” refers to the battle flags or standards an army presents on the march or in battle, often signifying past victories, and implies an army on the move. Webster’s Dictionary defines “awe” as “an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fear or wonder produced by that which is grand, sublime or extremely powerful.”
This is how Christ sees His people: as an awe-inspiring army! Let’s explore some aspects of this analogy to gain a more dynamic vision of our noble role in God’s plan and inspire us to march and fight harder.
An Overwhelming Spectacle
From Shakespeare to modern filmmakers like Peter Jackson, men have tried to capture and convey the effect of an awesome bannered host. Yet some of the best descriptions come from the memoirs and diaries of actual eyewitnesses. After the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, British officers of every rank recorded what they had seen and experienced of the French Army. One episode was especially telling. A force of French heavy cavalry 12,000 strong—the revered cuirassiers donning Roman-like helmets and armored breastplates, and considered by some invincible—initiated the first of what would be perhaps a dozen charges against the British center. Notice how David Howarth, citing these eyewitness accounts, describes it:
“The British who watched were overwhelmed, not by fear but by honest admiration. Everyone who saw the host of horsemen riding up the slope at a slow canter, flowing over the undulations of the ground, was struck by the same simile: The line of them glittered, Gronow wrote, like a billowing wave of the sea when it catches the sunlight. In that line were 500 abreast, riding stirrup to stirrup, purposeful, deliberate, unhurried and utterly confident in appearance: and behind the front rank were at least a dozen other ranks of equal length. … They climbed towards the gunners on the ridge, a spectacle of awful grandeur, Gronow said, which nobody who survived the day could have forgotten in afterlife.”
That army fought in large, tight, orderly formations, advancing in perfect unison and purpose. This spectacle inspired awe that witnesses never forgot. Like that army, Christ’s awesome bannered host, His people, must move forward together in unity of purpose and heart—spiritual warriors finishing the commission and conquering Satan, self and society. When we do, according to Song of Songs, we have the same awe-inspiring effect on our Husband! He won’t forget it!
Many men and women have used canvas and brush to capture the essence—the awesome grandeur—of an advancing army. Consider the painting chosen to salute visitors entering the Nineteenth Century Gallery at the world-famous Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City: It is not a Monet, Renoir or Van Gogh, but a battle scene by a far lesser-known artist, Ernest Meissonier, depicting those knightly French cuirassiers of Napoleon: 1807, Friedland.
That French Army at Waterloo carried flags and banners commemorating victories won all over Europe. Historically, an army’s track record of success adds greatly to its awe effect. The French Army is a great example. For centuries it was considered the mightiest in Europe. This was due to its code of honor, fighting spirit and morale—but especially its dashing élan—the spirit of attack, which became its doctrine even when all seemed lost.
Winston Churchill, normally spare with romantic sentiment as a historian, described the outnumbered French cavalry at the Battle of Ramillies (1706) after the tide had turned against them: “These splendid warriors, the pride of the French nobility, advanced in counter-charge to meet their foes. Where their squadrons met front to front they conquered, but the allies, penetrating the intervals between the French squadrons, assailed them in flank and even in rear. Nevertheless, such was the vigor of the French cavalry that they drove in the Dutch right, and were about to fall upon the flank of the allied infantry. … Still more waves of allied cavalry rolled [in] …. Twenty-one fresh squadrons fell upon the harassed, over-pressed cavalry of France. The odds against them were now 5 to 3. In vain were their glorious golden banners, the royal emblems, the lilies of France, born forward in sublime devotion. Nothing could withstand the hammer-blows of repeated and seemingly inexhaustible reinforcements.”
Even Churchill was impressed! Their grandeur and esprit de corps seemed intertwined. When great armies display gallantry against the odds, when they counterattack bravely in the face of defeat, it always ignites admiration and a certain awe of dignity.
As God’s Church and as individuals, when we nobly fight against the odds and refuse to quit, when we counterattack, when we display royal dignity and excellence, when we adopt the spirit of attack and charge ahead en masse to advance the Work, Christ says it’s romantic and truly awe-
inspiring to Him personally! Like an awesome bannered host!
When I first noticed the phrase “awesome bannered host,” it quickly brought to mind one frequently used image of an army that captures an idea thrilling to contemplate. It is an epic sketch of Robert E. Lee’s vaunted, tough-as-nails Confederate Army sprawling out to the horizon, fording the Potomac River—invading the North—one battle away from winning the American Civil War. Merely a pencil drawing of ragged troops, it captures a powerful moment: Somewhere beyond those banks is the Union Army carrying a weighty responsibility—and possessing a glorious opportunity. Everything was on the line: the nation’s survival, the slavery question, even the Constitution.
When the armies set out on the march, the stakes could not be higher; men of valor were willing to die for something larger than themselves, and it would all end with either a nation’s freedom or subjugation, honor or dishonor, imperial glory or dreadful collapse. God’s Church is an army marching in a military campaign that will usher in the restitution of all things! (Revelation 19:11-15; Acts 3:19-21).
Army of Liberators
Here is one final, inspiring thought to sing and march to as we finish our war together. In this evil world, armies sometimes set people free from oppression. The most famous case in living memory is the Allied conquest of northwestern Europe, ending the Nazi menace. American journalist Andy Rooney said the day the Allies liberated Paris was probably the happiest day the world has ever known. The liberation of the Dutch city of Nijmegen by British Grenadier Guards was vividly and accurately depicted in the film A Bridge Too Far. Throngs of deliriously happy people pressed in on the tanks, offering flowers, kisses and hugs, waving Royal Union and American flags, singing in English, “The war is over!” Seeing this film as a boy, I was enthralled. I wished I could jump on a tank and liberate a third-world country from a dictator!
Is that not the role of God’s Church in the near future? Like those troops, we have to fight heroically to be there for those people!
Maybe you have straggled behind at times as this awe-inspiring army, the Church of God, conducts its “forced march” (no resting) to battle. We all have. But we do not want to be remembered as a straggler in the coming battle. As Gerald Flurry writes in How to Be an Overcomer, “What hope we can deliver to the world! We have the opportunity to win a glorious victory that we can savor for all eternity! We will never regret what we did for God … in this end time. That will be our joy forever.”
Song of Songs teaches us that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, bigger than our problems and desire for comfort! Empowered by God, this army delivers hope. We rescue entire nations! We fight in an epic war that shakes the heavens and the Earth! (Isaiah 13:13; Haggai 2:6). We march in lockstep, in unity and purpose, fighting together against all odds with valor and heroism.
No wonder Christ inspired the words “awesome bannered host” amid a book of sweet poetry to His Church.
The courage in an epic cause, overcoming self and Satan, our esprit de corps are all truly romantic! When we fight for God, when we rally in prayer for the Work, when we gather and form ranks for fundraisers, singles events, ministerial conferences and the holy days, we are an awe-inspiring army!
Unlike the French cuirassiers who were thought to be invincible, if we do our part individually, we cannot be beaten. The dazzle of our righteous breastplates will be replaced by a shine that could light up galaxies! (Isaiah 60:1).
As Mr. Flurry wrote in the last sentence of How to Be an Overcomer, “Let’s all be noble knights together and thank God that we have the opportunity.” We have the chance to fight as one for Christ and the Father and be an awesome bannered host!