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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Banner, or Standard, or Ensign, or Signal

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(q.v. severally). These words are probably used indiscriminately by the sacred writers. Some of the rabbins suppose that the ancient Hebrew tribe- standards were flags bearing figures derived from the comparisons used by Jacob in his final prophetic blessing on his sons. Thus they have Judah represented by a lion, Dan by a serpent, Benjamin by a wolf, etc. (Genesis 49:1-28). Sir Thomas Brown, indeed, observes (Vulgar Errors, v. 10), "The escutcheons of the tribes, as determined by these ingenious triflers, do not in every instance correspond with any possible interpretation of Jacob's prophecy, nor with the analogous prophecy of Moses when about to die." However, there may be some truth in the rabbinical notion after all. And as the tribe of Judah was represented by a lion, may not its motto have been, "Who shall rouse him up?" Thus the banner of the royal tribe would be an interesting prediction of the appearance and universal triumph of Christ, who is called "the lion of the tribe of Judah" (Hosea 5:14; Revelation 5:5). The four following Hebrew words signify banner, standard, ensign, flag, or signal:

1. DE'GEL (דֶּגֶל, as being conspicuous, flag, banner, or standard of a larger kind, serving for three tribes together, one of which pertained to each of the four general divisions. The four standards of this name were large, and ornamented with colors in white, purple, crimson, and dark blue. The Jewish rabbins assert (founding their statement on Genesis 49:3; Genesis 49:9; Genesis 49:17; Genesis 49:22, which in this case is very doubtful authority) that the first of these standards, that of Judah, bore a lion; the second, or that of Reuben, bore a man; that of Ephraim, which was the third, displayed the figure of a bull: while that of Dan, which was the fourth, exhibited the representation of cherubim. The standards were worked with embroidery (Numbers 1:52; Numbers 2:2-3; Numbers 2:10; Numbers 2:18; Numbers 2:25; Sol, Song of Solomon 2:4; Song of Solomon 6:4; Song of Solomon 6:10). (See CAMP).

2. OTH (אוֹת, a sign), an ensign or flag of a smaller kind. It belonged to each single tribe; and perhaps to the separate classes of families. Most likely it was originally merely a pole or spear, to the end of which a bunch of leaves was fastened, or something similar. Subsequently it may have been a shield suspended on the elevated point of such pole or spear, as was sometimes done among the Greeks and Romans. The Targumists, however, believe that the banners were distinguished by their colors, the color for each tribe being analogous to that of the precious stone for that tribe in the breast-plate of the high-priest; and that the great standard (degel) of each of the four camps combined the three colors of the tribes which composed it. They add that the names of the tribes appeared on the standards, together with a particular sentence from the law, and were moreover charged with appropriate representations, as of the lion for Judah, etc. Most modern expositors seem to incline to the opinion that the ensigns were flags distinguished by their colors, or by the name of the tribe to which each belonged (Number 2:2, 34). (See FLAG).

3. NES (נֵס, from its loftiness), a lofty signal, a standard. This standard was not, like the others, borne from place to place. It appears from Numbers 21:8-9, that it was a long pole fixed in the earth; a flag was fastened to its top, which was agitated by the wind, and seen at a great distance. In order to render it visible as far as possible, it was erected on lofty mountains, chiefly on the irruption of an enemy, in order to point out to the people a place of rendezvous. It no sooner made its appearance on such an elevated position than the war-cry was uttered, and the trumpets were blown (Psalms 60:4; Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 11:12; Isaiah 13:2; Isaiah 18:3; Isaiah 30:17; Isaiah 49:22; Isaiah 62:10; Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 4:21; Jeremiah 51:12; Jeremiah 51:27; Ezekiel 27:7; in this last passage it is the standard or flag of a ship, not the sail). (See WAR).

4. MASETH' (מִשְׂאֵת, from its elevation), a sign, a signal given by fire. Some writers have supposed that this signal was a long pole, on the top of which was a grate not unlike a chafing-dish, made of iron bars, and supplied with fire, the size, height, and shape of which denoted the party or company to whom it belonged (Jeremiah 6:1). (See BEACON).

There appear to be several allusions in Scripture to the banners, standards, or ensigns of ancient nations; a proper knowledge of them might aid us in understanding more clearly many of the sacred predictions. In Daniel, the various national symbols or standards are probably referred to instead of the names of the nations, as the he-goat with one horn was the symbol of Alexander the Great and the Macedonian people, and the ram with two horns Media and Persia, etc. (Daniel 8:3-9). (See MACEDON). The banners and ensigns of the Roman army had idolatrous, and, therefore, abominable images upon them, hence called "the abomination (q.v.) of desolation;" but their principal standard was an eagle. Among the evils threatened to the Hebrews in consequence of their disobedience, Moses predicted one in the following terms: "The Lord shall bring a nation against thee from far, from the end of the earth, as swift as the eagle flieth" (Deuteronomy 28:49; compare also Jeremiah 4:13). In Matthew 24:28; Luke 17:37, the Jewish nation, on account of its iniquity, is compared to a dead body, exposed in the open field, and inviting the Roman army, whose standard often bore the figure of an eagle, to come together and devour it. (See EAGLE).

It was customary to give a defeated party a banner as a token of protection, and it was regarded as the surest pledge of fidelity. God's lifting or setting up a banner is a most expressive figure, and imports his peculiar presence, protection, and aid in leading and directing his people in the execution of his righteous will, and giving them comfort and peace in his service (Psalms 20:5; Psalms 60:4; Sol. Song of Solomon 2:4; see the dissert. on the latter passage by Lowe, in Eichhorn's Bibl. 2:184 sq.). (See STANDARD- BEARER).

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Banner, or Standard, or Ensign, or Signal'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/b/banner-or-standard-or-ensign-or-signal.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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