A Banner for the Nations

February 15, 2024

He will raise a banner for the nations, and He will gather the outcasts of Israel; He will assemble the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth. (Isaiah 11:12)

The verse just before this one described the ingathering of the dispersed exiles of Israel to their homeland. This verse continues that theme. However, the opening phrase of this verse is unclear. Let’s look at the two verses together.

It shall be on that day that the Lord will continue, setting his hand a second time to acquire the remnant of His people that will remain from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Kush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean. He will raise a banner for the nations, and He will gather the outcasts of Israel; He will assemble the scattered of Judah from the four corners of the earth.

“He will raise a banner”?

Every word of these two verses, both before and after the phrase “He will raise a banner for the nations,” describes the ingathering of the exiles of Israel and Judah. What is the meaning of this phrase? Here is a phrase-by-phrase summary of the verses to illustrate the point.

  1. The Lord will continue to acquire His people
  2. From Assyria, Egypt, Kush, etc.
  3. He will raise a banner for the nations
  4. He will gather the outcasts of Israel
  5. He will assemble the scattered of Judah

What does “He will raise a banner for the nations” mean? What role does this play in the ingathering of Israel? What is the purpose of this “banner”?

The Hebrew word for “banner” is nes. In several passages in the Bible, nes is translated as a “sign”, while clearly not implying an actual physical banner or flag. Consider these examples. The translations of nes are underlined:

The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them along with Korah, whose followers died when the fire devoured the 250 men. And they served as a warning sign. – Numbers 26:10

Raise the signal to go to Zion! Flee for safety without delay! For I am bringing disaster from the north, even terrible destruction.” – Jeremiah 4:6

From these examples, we see that the meaning of nes is a signal or sign from which those who witness it are supposed to take instruction. This is also the meaning of nes when translated as “banner.” The purpose of a banner is to attract the attention of the viewer to whatever the banner signifies.

What is the role of raising a banner for the nations in our verse? What does God want from them? As I mentioned earlier, all the active verbs in these verses describe God gathering the dispersed of Israel. The passage is certainly not saying that the nations are also being gathered, as the verse plainly states that God is gathering the “outcasts of Israel” and the “scattered of Judah.”

Israel’s universal mission

To answer this question, we must recall that the mission and purpose of Israel is not Israel itself. Beginning with God’s call to Abraham to bring blessing to all the families of the earth (Genesis 12), to the designation of Israel as “a kingdom of priests”, with the mission of ministering to the world, Israel’s purpose is to bring knowledge of God to all humanity on the face of the earth. Israel’s particularistic history is meant to serve a universalistic purpose.

God chose Israel so that He could reveal Himself to the world through them. The miraculous survival during over 2000 years of exile and the rebirth of Israel as a nation in our times is a great revelation of God. Through the story of Jewish history, the whole world can see that God keeps His promises. Precisely due to the impossibility of Jewish survival as a tiny percentage of the world’s population, scattered and persecuted for centuries, we can see the hand of God in history.

This is the meaning of the phrase “He will raise a banner (a sign) for the nations” in our verse.

God will gather in His nation from the four corners of the earth. He will bring them into the land. But most importantly, He will make sure that the nations of the world see and understand what He is doing. “He will raise a banner for the nations.”

This verse is a reminder to all people of faith to pay close attention to the history of Israel. It is through Israel that God shows us all that He is in control and that He keeps His promises.

God uses the miraculous history of Israel and the fulfillment of Biblical prophecies in our times to reveal Himself to the entire world. We must pay attention to the signs that God provides for us.

 

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Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki

Rabbi Pesach Wolicki is the Executive Director of Israel365 Action and the author of Verses for Zion and Cup of Salvation: A Powerful Journey Through King David's Psalms of Praise. He is a frequent guest on Erick Stakelbeck's The Watchman and a regular contributor to Israel365news.com and The Jerusalem Post.

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