My Dear Shepherds,
Corporal Joseph H. DeCastro carried the flag of the 19th Massachusetts Infantry on the third and decisive day of the Battle of Gettysburg. Flag bearers enabled a unit to stay together amidst the chaos of battle. Seeing the flag was crucial for morale and losing a flag to the enemy was humiliating. And as you can imagine, the flag bearer was a prime target, defenseless but for his flag. In DeCastro’s case, in the hand-to-hand fighting on Cemetery Ridge, he came up against the flag bearer for the 19th Virginia infantry. They went at it with their flags and DeCastro knocked out his adversary, stole his flag, raced back to present the Confederate flag to his general, and then resumed his position at the battlefront. You can see why one of the most popular songs during the Civil War was, “Rally ’Round the Flag.”
Pastors are flag bearers, like Pastor Moses long before us. It was shortly after the Israelites’ encounter with the Lord at Mt. Sinai, and immediately after God brought water from the rock despite Israel’s faithless complaining, that the army of Amalek began picking off the stragglers of Israel (cf. Deut. 25:17-18).
Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. (Exodus 17:9-11)
Moses was the flag bearer for Israel that day but instead of a flag he held high the staff of God, the instrument that had parted the Red Sea and brought water from the rock. Seeing that staff may have inspired Joshua’s army but more significantly, it determined God’s own presence and aid. In the previous story, when they had no water (vv. 1-7), Israel had groused to Moses, “Is the Lord among us or not?” (v. 7). So God gave a vivid demonstration in that battle. This is what it is like when I am among you … (and the army surged forward) and this is what it is like when I’m not (the staff was down and the Amalekites prevailed).
Pastors, like Moses, are standard bearers, holding high the Lord Jesus Christ. Our church advances when Christ is held high in their midst but should our energy flag or we lose our faith or focus, our people will fall back, defenseless. We hold Christ high when we preach, of course, but also in all the other ways we shepherd a church; indeed, in the very way we carry ourselves among them.
During the Civil War regimental flags were so important in battle that designated teams of soldiers surrounded them—the color guard, much like Aaron and Hur, who held up Moses’ arms, assuring that that the banner of the Lord was not dropped. As I have written in the past, you have your color guard as well.
When Israel’s battle was over, Moses built an altar—a monument—which he called, The Lord is my Banner, my Battle Flag. Brothers and sisters, we hold high the flag of the Lord while his people are in the fray. They look to us, or rather, to the banner of Christ that we hold high, in order to find the surge of faith and strength they need. We dare not let them down!
Be ye glad!