Several prophetic passages of Scripture paint a vivid picture of events in our days as well as those in days to come. But they use imagery and descriptive names of God that can be hard for contemporary readers to understand. These images, however, are truly astounding, and understanding them better will help us to see God’s hand at work in our world.
In the first passage the prophet Jeremiah is encouraging the people of Israel with news of a coming King who will be called Jehovah Tsidkenu, “the Lord our Righteousness”:
“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord, “that I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; a King shall reign and prosper, and execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell safely; now this is His name by which He will be called: THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS [Jehovah Tsidkenu],” (Jer. 23:5–6).
Jeremiah wrote his book after Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed and the children of Israel taken into exile in Babylon. The prophet casts a glimmer of hope to the exiles: though banished to a foreign land, God would one day raise a leader out of the lineage of David who would execute judgment, righteousness and bring His people back to dwell safely in the land promised to them through Abraham.
A Branch of David
There is much to unpack in this passage, but let’s focus on the prophet’s use of the word “Branch” to describe this descendant of David. To grasp what Jeremiah is describing, we must understand a little about the olive tree prevalent in Israel at the time.
An olive tree’s root system could be much larger than the tree itself. And even though an olive tree might look dead, the roots could still be alive. Even today you can cut an olive tree down to the stump, and little shoots can come out of its root system—one little branch can grow into a whole new tree. So, too, is the “Branch” of David, who will one day shoot out from the root of a tree—the house of David—that looks to be cut down and dead.
Similar imagery shows up in Isaiah’s prophetic writings:
“And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious,” (Isa. 11:10).
This verse echoes what Jeremiah prophesied: Even though it looked like God’s covenant promises to David of an everlasting kingdom would never come to pass, a future King would indeed come from the lineage of David (Jesse was David’s father). Then Isaiah introduces yet another image—the branch to come out of the root of David would be a “banner to the people” and Gentiles will seek Him.
The Lord My Banner
In ancient biblical times, a banner was a sign of victory in war. When enemies fought, the winning side would erect their flag, or “banner,” as a declaration of victory and a claim to that territory; the banner became a rallying point of celebration.
This verse is not the first time the word “banner” is used in reference to God. In Exodus 17, after leaving Egypt and while wandering in the desert, the Israelites were attacked without provocation by the Amalekites, a powerful, nomadic people. While Israel fought, Moses stood on the top of the hill—the Israelite armies below him—with “the rod” of God in his hand. As long as he held up his arms, the Israelites advanced; when he lowered them, the Amalekites started to win. Moses’ brother Aaron and a man named Hur supported Moses’ arms until the Amalekites were defeated.
In response, Moses built an altar and named it “The-Lord-Is-My-Banner,” or Jehovah Nissi. It’s the only time this name for God appears in the entire Bible. Moses knew that victory over Israel’s enemy had nothing to do with Israel’s might, but only because God fought for them and was victorious.
A Banner to the People
Both Jeremiah 23 and Isaiah 11 are beautiful prophecies of the coming Messiah who will come to execute righteousness and will be as a banner to the people. When Jesus, a descendant of David, came to Earth the first time, He indeed came as “the Lord our Righteousness” to pay the price for our sins—Jews and gentiles alike—so that those who believe in Him can have right standing before God.
This “Branch” of the root of David became a banner to the people just as Isaiah prophesied, and over the last 2,000 years, millions of individuals have come to faith in Him.
Jesus’ final words in the book of Revelation affirm that He is the fulfillment of these prophecies: “I am the Root and the Offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16). One day, Jesus will return as the royal heir to David’s throne, and this time, He will execute judgment and establish the victory He has already won on the cross.
A Banner to the Nations
But Isaiah continues in chapter 11 to use this same imagery of a banner when speaking of another great act of God:
“It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea. He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth,” (Isa. 11:11–12, emphasis added).
That banner or sign to the nations, Isaiah tells us, is the second gathering of the “outcasts of Israel” back to their ancient homeland. Miraculously, we see this regathering happening in our day—a testament to God’s faithfulness to His promises.
Throughout the Old Testament, God had warned Israel that if they disobeyed Him, He would take them out of their land. However, He also promised to bring them back, and we read about the first return from exile in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
But Isaiah says God will recover the remnant of His people a second time, and that miraculous event will be a “banner for the nations”—a sign declaring that the Almighty God is faithful and is moving to fulfill His Word and His promises to His people. While that should be a cause for celebration by Christians around the world, it carries an ominous warning to the nations because His Word also promises a day of reckoning for those who oppose His people.
This is our victorious God. He has raised a banner in our day, proclaiming to the world His greatness—He is faithful and is fulfilling His promises. Nothing can stop Him, and His Word will triumph victoriously over all. The wise will rally to Him and celebrate His faithfulness demonstrated in the miraculous regathering of His people to their homeland. That great event heralds the soon-coming Root and Offspring of David—the Lord our Righteousness.