BANNER (Heb. nēs, deghel, banner, ensign, standard). Banners were used in ancient times for military, national, and ecclesiastical purposes very much as they are today. In connection with Israel’s wilderness journey we read, “The Israelites are to camp around the
BANNER (דֶּ֫גֶל, H1840, נֵס, H5812, אוֹת, H253, banner, ensign, standard, flag, signal; LXX, σημείον, sign). A banner, standard or ensign, generally on a high pole on a promontory or carried on a staff which the army, nation, religion or community used to designate something or to call attention to a cause, rallying point, danger, etc.
Although banners and standards originated in Egypt and countries like Babylonia, Assyria and Persia to the E, they also made their way into Pal. during OT times. The children of Israel carried such standards on their march through the deserts to the Promised Land. Thereafter, standards or banners (depending upon how one conceives of them) must have been quite common on the Biblical scene because of the rather frequent use of such designations in the Scriptures.
The development of ensigns and standards no doubt, took place in a military context. In the countries surrounding Israel, including Rome, standards were carried by the various divisions of the army or attached to the masts of fighting ships. The early standards were not banners or flags made of some fabric, but figures, emblems or images of animals and birds, or of the gods made of wood or metal brightly painted and fastened at the end of a long pole or staff.
The eagle was a common emblem on a banner in all countries. Some of the ensigns or standards were connected with the religion of the country, and could be found at temples or other places of worship. The exact nature of the standards of Israel (
The purpose of standards always has caused discussion among Bible scholars. Were they simply symbolic identification marks, for example, of a regiment of the army? Or is a deeper meaning and purpose to be seen? This writer believes that such banners or standards certainly served as marks of identification, but they also represented the ideals and aspirations of the people bearing them, and were used as a means of arousing the emotions and devotion to a cause, person or nation. Images and inscrs. carried at the head of a group, or mounted in stationary manner on a hill, caused the people to “rally around the flag” in unified effort. All movements may be characterized by three common necessities: symbol, slogan and song. This is apparent also from the use of the terms in the Bible.
In the OT three different Heb. words are used to designate a standard or banner. Often they seem to be synonymous, but broader usage allows one to make certain distinctions between them. Degel is used for the standard or ensign of each of the four large divisions of the tribes of Israel encamped in the desert. “The people of Israel shall pitch their tents by their companies, every man by his own camp and every man by his own standard” (
The word nes is tr. “ensign” or “standard” in the Eng. Bible, but it refers more specifically to a rallying point for the people. It marks the center of attraction on which people should pin their hopes. Generally, such a signal was raised on some special occasion always on a high elevation and very conspicuous. Moses called the altar of thanksgiving after Amelek’s defeat, Jehovah Nisi, “Jehovah my banner.” Messiah Himself becomes such a standard and a rallying point of nations (
The third term, oth, is used less frequently than degel and nes and generally refers to lesser “banners” such as signals and signs. In
In a recent piece of research de Vaux states that these terms must be understood only in a military sense. Degel does not mean a sign or flag but a division of the army itself and this is the sense in
The NT does not speak of banners and ensigns in the specific sense of the OT. Luke designates the figurehead of the Alexandrian ship “
B. Meissner, Babylonien und Assyrien (1920) 82, 92, 93; J. Kromayer and G. Veith, Heerwesen und Kriegsführing der Griechen und Römer (1928) 128, 129; J. Pedersen, Israel, Its Life and Culture (1959), III-IV, 1-13; R. de Vaux, Ancient Israel (1961), 227-229; J. W. Wevers, IDB (1962), 347, 348.
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
The English word "banner" is from banderia, Low Latin, meaning a banner (compare bandum, Latin, which meant first a "band," an organized military troop, and then a "flag"). It has come to mean a flag, or standard, carried at the head of a military band or body, to indicate the line of march, or the rallying point, and it is now applied, in its more extended significance, to royal, national, or ecclesiastical "banners" also. We find it applied sometimes to a streamer on the end of a lance, such as is used by the Arab sheik today. "Banner" occurs in the following significantpassages:
(1) in the singular, "Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain" (
(2) in the plur., "In the name of our God we will set up our banner" (
1. Military Ensigns among the Hebrews:
The Hebrews, it would seem, like the Assyrians, the Egyptians, and other ancient nations, had military ensigns. As bearing upon this question, a very significant passage is that found in
In this noted passage a distinction seems intentionally made (another view is held by some) between "the ensigns of their fathers’ houses" (literally, "signs"; compare
2. A Distinction with a Difference:
The relation of these to the "standard" of
George B. Eager