Last modified: 2011-12-23 by rob raeside
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One of the names of God (used by Moses) in the Old Testament is "Jehovah Nissi" which means in English "the Lord our Banner" (Exodus 17:15).
In the New International Version (modern English translation) of the Bible, the
word "banner" or "banners" appears 18 times, and the word "flagstaff"
appears in Isaiah 30:17. In the King James Version (ancient English
translation), "flag" is used in the sense of the plant, but the word "banner"
appears 6 times. I haven't checked other translations, but the idea of a cloth
object as a means of inspiration and cultural cohesiveness appears
throughout the Old Testament.
Michael Wilson, 4 August 2004
The objects in question might not have been cloth, but rather some
form of solid vexilloid.
Nathan Lamm, 5 August 2004
"Standard" is used 18 times in the King James Version (KJV). In the KJV it refers to standards in the Vexi sense -- other translations also use "standard" in the sense of "standard measurements".
"Ensign" is used eight times, six times it translates the Hebrew "nes"; the same word is translated "standard" 7 times, "banner" twice, "sail" twice, and "sign" once.
The same word is the root of "Nissi" in "Jehovahnissi". The other Hebrew word, as Željko has pointed out, is "degel", which is translated "standard" 13 times, and "banner" once.
Many of the references to "standards" refer specifically to the symbols of the twelve tribes.
There are no vexi-references in the New Testament that I can find. Jesus
referred to "Eagles" twice, and He would have known (and His audience would
have known) that the Eagle was the Roman symbol. His references to Eagles
as carrion-birds /may/ have been a bit of a pun on the Romans. Several
modern translations translate the word as 'vultures', and lose this pun.
Dean McGee, 5 August 2004
The modern Hebrew word for eagle, "nesher" in fact means "vulture" in Biblical Hebrew. In Biblical times, it was the vulture who was considered the "king of birds."
Perhaps the arrival of the Romans with their eagle standards marked
the beginning of the shift in Hebrew. So Jesus may have been making a
pun that the same word referred to both vultures and eagles (i.e.,
Romans). But that would be hard to prove.
Nathan Lamm, 5 August 2004
Quickly checking the Greek Text of the New Testament I did not find any reference to flags there, either. The relevant word "sÍmeion" appears frequently, but only in the sense of "sign", usually in the context of "wonder", thus "signs and wonders".
The two instances, where the eagles are mentioned are Matthew 24, 28
("For wheresoever the carcass is, there will the eagles be gathered
together") and Luke 17, 37 ("Wheresoever the body is, thither will the
eagles be gathered together"). In both cases the Greek word used is
"aetos", which only means "eagle", As far as I know. The proper Greek word for
vulture would have been "gyps". However, the context of course would
rather demand "vulture".
Marcus E.V. SchmŲger, 5 August 2004