Jerusalem Journal # 181
Computer perched securely on my lap as I typed, I was rocked by the breeze in a colorfully striped hammock strung across my balcony above Jerusalem’s Old City. Beyond the rusting railings I saw flags representing Greek Orthodox, Catholic, Israel, and various soccer teams like Real Madrid and Brazil. The gusting winds allowed the flags to flash their loyalty.
Did you ever play the game Capture the Flag? Popular as a camp activity, it was a surefire way for counselors to wear us out in order to have a quiet cabin at night. Teams were chosen and two territories assigned with each team having a flag hoisted and guarded from the opposing team. The goal–capture the flag of the other team, thereby claiming their territory. Birthed in military history as rallying points for common cause or identification, flags send a powerful message. They give hope to some; spread fear and intimidation to others.
Quietly, in the past few months, there has been an introduction of new flags in the Muslim Quarter which proclaim the growing boldness and longing by some Palestinians for a revised reality on the ground. The Palestinian flags flying in Jerusalem are illegal according to Israeli law which says Jerusalem is undivided territory. With both sides claiming the territory as their own it is a volatile recipe pitting kingdom against kingdom.
Our neighborhood in the Muslim Quarter is experiencing its own version of Capture the Flag. Roiling in the aftermath of a war just hours south of Jerusalem in Gaza, tensions in the Old City are high as Jews, Christians, and Muslims watch the deteriorating situation along with photos of recent structural and human casualties on television. Violated ceasefires add to the drama which is impacting tourism, economy, daily life, and hope.
Like the specter of death, other flags have arisen from nearby rooftops to announce jihad or “Holy War”. In Islamic thought the black stands for the death of kuffar (or kafir) which translates “infidels, all non-Muslims.” Between the Real Madrid and Brazil flags, just a hundred feet from our terrace, a black flag has now announced a battle cry to neighbors. For them it may mean only a struggle against the State of Israel due to anger about the Gaza conflict, but as the Islamic saying goes, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People.”
I counted seven black flags flying over various houses. Some have white writing in Arabic saying, “There is no deity but Allah and Mohammed is his divine messenger.” The recently declared Islamic State flag is also a black flag with white writing, appearing briefly on the Temple Mount. I am surprised to see a new white flag with black Arabic writing. The website “Know Your Terror Flags” tells me it is the flag of the Islamic Caliphate. Muslim eschatology speaks of an Islamic redeemer called the Mahdi who will be ushered in with black flags. A quote from dailyhadith.com says, “When black flags emerge from the east nothing will be able to stop them until they are planted in Eelia (Bait-ul-Maqdis/Jerusalem).” Wake up!
Early Hebrew-Canaanite pictographs portray two figures used to communicate the word “flag” as you read from right to left–a sprouted seed with a long tail (meaning continuation of the family line or seed) understood to be the Hebrew letter nun and a thorn (tenaciously grasping or catching hold) understood to be the Hebrew letter samech. Together (reading right to left) they form SN. The word in Biblical Hebrew is nes.
In Biblical Hebrew there are three different words used in Scripture for flag, banner, standard, or ensign and one of them isnes (which can also mean the sail on a boat). Ask a Hebrew speaker today about the word nes and you immediately are told it means “a miracle, something supernatural…only God can do.” I was intrigued by the thought of how the ancients interpreted the word as a flag when moderns viewed it as a miracle. I love the interwoven symbolism.
As war holds its breath in Israel and rages in our neighboring countries, we are fighting our own war with an enemy who seeks to kill and destroy. Gary’s recent diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancer took the wind out of our sails. Our grip has tightened on the One whom the prophet Isaiah describes as the root of Jesse, who will stand tenaciously as a banner…a nesfor the people, and His resting place will be glorious (Isaiah 11:10). Believe with us that God’s breath of healing will surge with supernatural power throughout Gary’s body. He says, “I the Lord, am your healer.”
As we left Jerusalem a few days ago all of the Hamas flags in the Old City had been captured, the banner of their cause gagged for now. North in the Galilee, an Israeli flag billows then snaps in the torrid summer gusts whipping across our terrace, hoisting a tribute to the life of a young soldier from our small village who was missing then declared dead after clashing with Hamas in Gaza. This flag, a gift from our son-in-law, Navy Lt. Commander Jason Tew, flew with the American flag on the mast of the U.S.S. Vella Gulf as it ported in Haifa during more tranquil times, when joint U.S. and Israeli military teams conducted exercises for war scenarios like these tempestuous ones in which we are now living.
Under whose banner are you choosing to live? Like Solomon, I choose the One whose banner over me is love (Song of Songs 2:4). No enemy we face can capture His flag.
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