Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Word "Banner" in the Bible

BANNER

ban'-er (ENSIGN, STANDARDS): 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 significant Old Testament passages:

(1) in the singular, "Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain" (Isaiah 13:2 the King James Version); "a banner to them that fear thee" (Psalm 60:4); and

(2) in the plur., "In the name of our God we will set up our banner" (Psalm 20:5); "terrible as an army with banner" (Songs 6:4).

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 Numbers 2:2: "The children of Israel shall encamp every man by his own standard, with the ensigns of their fathers' houses." "Standard-bearer" in Isaiah 10:18 the King James Version, "They shall be as when a standard-bearer fainteth," is not a case in point, but is to be rendered as in the Revised Version, margin, "as when a si ck man pineth away."

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 Psalm 74:4, where the reference is thought by some today to be to the standards of Antiochus' army), and "the standards" of the four great divisions of the Hebrew tribes in the wilderness (compare the "banner" of Songs 2:4 and Songs 6:4, 10).

2. A Distinction with a Difference:

The relation of these to the "standard" of Numbers 21:8 f (Hebrew nec, the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) "standard") is by no means clear. The word nec, here translated "standard," seems to have meant at first a pole set up on an eminence as a signal for mustering troops (compare "mast" Isaiah 30:17 the English Revised Version, margin). But it occurs frequently in the prophets both in this literal and original sense, and in the figurative or derived sense of a rallying point for God's people (see Isaiah 5:26; Isaiah 11:10 Jeremiah 4:21 and elsewhere). Here the rendering in English Versions of the Bible alternates between "ensign" and "banner" (see HDB, 1-vol, article "Banner").

George B. Eager

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