was a sign carried to give a group a rallying point. Hebrew terms translated with the English word banner are “degel” and “nes.” A third term, “oth (“sign”),” seems related to these, as “degel” and “oth” appear in the same verse (Numbers 2:2), “Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard (“degel”), with the ensign (“oth”) of their father's house…”. The terms may describe two different banners, or the terms may be in parallel, expressing the same thing in different words.
A banner was usually a flag or a carved figure of an animal, bird, or reptile. It may have been molded from bronze, as was the serpent in
Numbers 21:8-9. Each tribe of Israel may have had some such animal figures as their standard, or banner. The banner was used as a rallying point for groups with a common interest, such as a call for an army to assemble, or as a signal that a battle was to begin. When the Israelites left Sinai for the land of Canaan, they marched under the banner of four major tribes: Judah, Reuben, Ephraim, and Dan (Numbers 10:1). The prophet Isaiah used the term in reference to a signal God would raise against Babylon as a warning of impending destruction (Isaiah 13:2). In
Isaiah 49:22 God's upraised hand is a signal (“nes”) for the nations to bring the sons of the exiles home to the land of Canaan. The practice of using banners, or standards, was widespread in ancient times in many cultures and lands. Israel probably borrowed the custom from her neighbors.