BIBLE STUDY SERIES #305, 306 and 307

28 September, 1997

TRIBES ON THE MARCH - PART IV

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram, in Genesis 12, has continued the examination of the succeeding scriptural passages in succession, down to our recent focus in Numbers, chapter 1. Today, we are looking at some of the words in the closing passage of that chapter. A sub-heading to today's study might be "The Standard, or Ensign." We can begin our study by reading Numbers 1:52.

52. And the children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts.

So ancient Israel used standards. The use of banners, flags and standards forms a commonplace, colourful and yet extremely symbolic means by which people and entities down through history have proclaimed their identities. These symbols can identify ancient nations or new ones. They can be associated with clubs, or with families, through the processes of genealogy transferred into heraldry. They can change with a change of government, to symbolise the motives and aspirations of victors in wars, or the new directors of affairs. They can advertise or they can convey covert messages. They can be just about the shortest, and most concise form of visual communication possible, short of electronic media, and even there, they are abundant in their varied manifestations and derivatives.

We are probably all familiar with the meaning of a Union Jack flown up-side down, as a distress signal, a flag flown at half mast to indicate mourning, and the white flag of surrender or the red flag of danger. There are flags of convenience which indicate a transfer of ship ownership to an economically profitable haven in some convenient registry.

Companies, especially those with international connections and world-spanning dimensions, favour what is called a "logo" which is an uncomplicated design, easily identifiable by the market population, and which shows the company is present and ready to do business. Such logos usually indicate a brand name with supporting product integrity. This is a modern derivative of the ancient totem, a symbolic representation of the power of the group, which might have arisen in a tribal or military society to identify the aspirations and cohesive will of the people.

Insignia of various kinds show up in archaeological digs which seek clues to the forms of religion and rulership in ancient civilizations. Dignitaries or military leaders would naturally exhibit their own insignia of office or rank, frequently of religious nature in wall carvings or battle tokens of the armies of ancient middle eastern nations like Egypt, Babylon and Medo-Persia. Several standards of the Egyptian troops of Chuen'eten and a wadded coat of mail with embroidery picturing two dogs and two lions, from the tomb of Ramses III exemplify the Egyptian usage, while a mosaic showing Alexander the Great battling Darius at Issus reveals a portion of a banner held aloft by the latter's troops. The Greeks' shields bore insignia, and the labarum, held aloft, led the tramping legions of Rome.

Flags have historically been essential as a means of organizing massed troops on the field of battle, and the ceremony of Trooping the Colours reflects this corporate focus. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, item "Colours, Military", has over a page of interesting material on the topic. It reveals that "from the earliest time at which men fought in organized bodies of troops, the latter have possessed some sort of insignia visible over all the field of battle, and serving as a rallying-point for the men of the corps and an indication of position for the higher leaders and the men of other formed bodies. In the Roman army the eagle, the vexillum, &c. had all the moral and sentimental importance of the colours of to-day. During the dark and the middle ages, however, the basis of military force being the individual knight or lord, the banner, or other flag bearing his arms, replaced the regimental colour which had signified the corporate body and claimed the devotion of each individual soldier in the ranks... ."

Here we find the relationship of heraldry and specifically of coats of arms to the process of military organization. The Crusaders covered their armour with a surcoat in order to keep the sun from creating excessive heat on the metal, and distinguishing heraldry was thus required. When in the dust and activity of battle, even down to more recent times, the presence of the colours on the field of battle displayed the advancing front of friendly forces so that their own distant artillery would not shatter their ranks.

Ships at sea required flags to signal the order of battle as an engagement approached, and we are probably familiar with the famous message from Admiral Nelson, when about to enter the Battle of Trafalgar, in which he gave his own life. The message read "England expects that every man will do his duty." Incidentally for the technically minded, the words in that message were all listed in a numeric code book and were capable of being sent by flag code numbers with the exception of the last word, D-U-T-Y of which each letter had to be spelled out by individual flags.

In the Introduction to "Guide to the Flags of the World by Mauro Talocci, Edited and revised by Whitney Smith, we find that Vexillology, a word which comes from vexillum, the Latin word for flag, "is a science in the making." The term itself dates from 1957, and the field embodies a serious scholarly approach to the study of flags. Had I time, I would read more from that Introduction.

Standards are things to which other things are compared, and by which these others are rated or judged. They are examples which demonstrate some characteristic or relationship. In the Guildhall, in London, England, there were, when I last visited, and probably still are, preserved some metal Standards of Length which historically have been used for the checking of other instruments of measurement used in trade. All measuring devices, when in agreement with this standard, would be deemed to be of agreeable quality, and approved. Due to the exigencies of usage, and consequent abrasion such instruments required, from time to time, a comparison check by way of re-testing to justify continued usage for their task.

There can be human ensigns; people who are widely and favourably recognized as exemplary individuals as was Churchill in the Second World War, and more recently, Diana who represented Britain before the world in areas as diverse as fashion, and demonstrable sympathy and kind interest within the intense glare of the media. The media is the interpreter of the picture, but there has to be some substance to make it all come together and work. Such ensign people make their lives an example for multitudes to follow. Ideally, that is what the Monarch ought to be, within the national family, and towards the world beyond.

Standards are by extension, symbolic of the character (hopefully exemplary) of some person or body of people, or a corporation. Our Monarch has a personal Standard which is flown whenever the Monarch is in residence, or present in a vehicle. It is a colourful design which is widely recognized, and as the whole world has recently observed, the casket of the late, and much beloved Diana, Princess of Wales, when flown home from the disastrous scene of traffic carnage in Paris, was draped in that Standard, marking the acceptance of relationship by the Queen. That the casket of the dead mother of Prince William and Prince Harry should be shrouded by this mark of honour, The Queen's Standard, rather than the more widely used Union Jack, was a mark of recognition much appreciated by the masses, and one generally approved by all, and was taken as an indication of recognition of the person thus honoured as a part of the immediate family of the Royal personage. Certainly, the effects of her compassionate support for good causes, throughout the world touched multiplied millions, and in addition to family relationship, doubtless marked with common consent one worthy of that agreeable honour.

The Standard which draped the coffin is a design which pertains to the historic roots of the institution of our Monarchy from Biblical times and ancient days, and it embodies in its several parts and colours the roots of the British Nation from such verses as those in Genesis 49, and these which I have just been reading in the Book of Numbers. The Standard represents the present occupant of the Throne of Great Britain, and thus it can also find extended use when a relationship to the Monarch is to be demonstrated. The quartered triplets of lions are taken as an heritage from earlier occupants of the Throne. According to "A complete Guide to Heraldry" by Arthur Charles Fox-Davies, the seal of King John, when he was prince, displayed two lions passant, while the English Royal crest, which originated with Richard I, is depicted as a lion. We would however, draw attention to the book entitled "Symbols of our Celto-Saxon Heritage" by W. H. Bennett, which contains the most ancient derivations of symbols which appear in our heraldry. It is available through our book rooms, and, for anyone interested in the matter, it is, I believe, well worth acquiring. The Red Lion of Scottish Royalty is taken as the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, while the Harp, with its winged female figure represents the transferred house of King David to Ireland under guidance of Jeremiah. The female figure represents the princess who was the oldest daughter of King Zedekiah, the last monarch reigning in Judah. She is represented as coming west, on the wings of the wind (that is to say, by ship) across the sea, bringing the harp of her ancestor, King David.

Isaiah 59:19 speaks of a standard which the spirit of the LORD shall lift up in the end time, when the enemy comes in like a flood upon God's Israel people. In the Christian context, that is a point worthy of our meditation this week.

5 October, 1997

TRIBES ON THE MARCH - PART V

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram, in Genesis 12, has continued the examination of the succeeding scriptural passages in succession, down to our recent focus in Numbers, chapter 1. Today, I will simply repeat the verse at which we were looking in the closing part of that chapter and add a brief transitional comment, because I feel moved to digress for this programme into a more topical item. Numbers 1:52 states:

52. And the children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts.

Ancient Israel used such standards as are here mentioned in this verse, and bearing in mind the fact that, as we of the British-Israel-World Federation continually aver, the present-day descendants of these same Israelites are, for the most part, the Anglo-Celto-Saxon and kindred peoples of the world, we would suggest that the study of such emblems of heraldry among these people will prove a most fascinating pursuit, especially to these descendants of ancient Israel.

As I have indicated, we will be continuing our examination of the passage in Numbers next week. However at present, we want to cover something which is more topical in today's presentation. I shall for this programme move into a somewhat tenuously related digression from the topic of those banners and leave for the succeeding lessons those more detailed considerations regarding the individual banners and insignia of each of the ancient tribes of Israel which will be of interest in order to read unbroken, for the consideration of our listeners a remarkable editorial which has come to hand, and which will be more topical if drawn to view without undue delay. It may arouse some deeper thoughts and comments in you as it did for myself.

Since there is of necessity a time lag of some weeks between the events of the moment and the presentation of the recordings of our radio Bible Studies, any attempt to comment upon current affairs will of necessity always be inhibited by that constraint. What I say now will perhaps thus seem out-dated by the time these words are aired.

The comments which immediately follow will appear to be a digression, it is true, but they are related to our ongoing topic, none-the-less. I think the sudden removal, from the scene of current events, of the efforts of Princess Diana to elevate the public consciousness concerning some deplorable conditions in our present world will have important consequence. The moving ceremonies attending her funeral received additional underscoring in the minds of many as her death was immediately followed by the passing of another world renowned personality in the death of Mother Teresa whose life spoke of compassion to many. The events surrounding the deaths of each will inevitably be sorted out by the flow of news as night follows night and the flow of daily media output erodes the attention of the public. I sense, however, that there will have been initiated deep currents and consequences which will bend the course of history from its present downward heading to gradual degradation, and which may have the lasting effect of moving multitudes towards an unconscious preparation of Christian people to meet their God.

Certain such insights as I have myself expressed have recently appeared in some of the more perceptive writings in the media, following the death of the Princess. I would like to close today's lesson by reading in its entirety an Editorial printed in The Weekly Telegraph which presented deep insights in that connection. That Editorial, found in issue No. 320, reproduced the words of the paper's Editorial for Saturday, Sept. 6, and it reads as follows:

"It has been said many times that the outpouring of grief at the death of the Princess has been enormous, and so it has. But it is the character, rather than the scale of the grief which has been unique. Millions mourned just as deeply the death of Queen Victoria or King George VI or Winston Churchill, but none of these deaths caused pain. Each came with a sense of work completed. The death of the Princess of Wales is different. It is premature, sudden, horrifying, and so its effect has been traumatic. The sorrow is shared by almost all, but so far, that sharing has not been as comforting as it should have been. Feelings have been too raw. Acceptance of death brings peace. This death is hard to accept, and so our hearts are restless.

"This restlessness has been made worse by the fact that this is the first such trauma to afflict Britain as a post-Christian society. There are, of course, millions of practising Christians, and millions more who declare their belief in the Christian God. But these numbers no longer achieve critical mass. There are millions, also, who are estranged from or ignorant of Christianity, and of all religion. This means that there is little common language; and it is in the presence of death, perhaps more than at any other time, that the language of religion speaks the greatest truth and the greatest comfort.

"How many misunderstandings this week could have been avoided in a more religious society! The suggestion that it was wrong for the young Princes to go to church on the morning of their mother's death (an attendance insisted on, by the way, by Prince William himself) betrays a horrifying gulf between those who believe and those who do not. Many of the cries for a public display of grief from the Royal Family came from people who simply do not know that, for a Christian, the funeral in church is that public display of grief. The most characteristic action of the believer, even more than loving communication with others, is prayer, and prayer that does not take place in church is usually private. It is God, not man, who hears the true voice of those that mourn. Would that Mohamed Fayed had recognised this instead of choosing the eve of the funeral to authorise a press conference full of bizarre claims and tasteless requests.

"Today, at last, is the chance to put so much confusion to rest. Today, the Princess of Wales will receive a Christian funeral and a Christian burial. The Order of Service is admirable, combining what expresses the current mood with what is imperishably true. It is inspiring to think that today more than two billion people across the world will hear it proclaimed, in the first words of the service from the Book of Common Prayer: 'I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord: and he that believeth in me though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whoso liveth and believeth in me shall never die.' For once, the nation and the world are hearing what the Prayer Book elsewhere calls words of 'unspeakable comfort'.

"The Princess was not, as some are loosely saying, a saint. She was full of frailty, and it was precisely that frailty which gave her her strange power to do good. Her sympathy for the unhappy and unfortunate was a gift of imagination bestowed by her own unhappiness. Her desire for perfection and her acknowledgment of imperfection inspired millions and made it possible to excuse her acts of wilfulness.

"In St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus describes the Last Judgment. He says that God will separate the sheep from the goats. The souls at His right hand will be those who discerned Him in human suffering: 'for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat ... I was a stranger and ye took me in: Naked and ye clothed me: I was sick and ye visited me ... Inasmuch as ye did it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.

"The Princess of Wales was not better than the rest of us, but she had special gifts of dramatising these forms of goodness and a special chance to practise them. She took that chance. She helped 'the least of these my brethren'. In that vital way, she set a Christian example.

"The Christian consolation as we grieve is that such goodness cannot be lost, for it is not dependent on any human life and cannot be snuffed out by any human death. It is the gift of the God who died and rose again, a gift that can be discovered in every human being, and put to good use."

That is the end of the Editorial. No-one who watched could avoid the feeling that the attitudes of the mourners were those of a people brought to confront the ways of our generation and the loss of the attempts by someone who held the attention of the media to do something constructive about them.

I think that the passing of the late Princess Diana, followed almost immediately by that of Mother Teresa will have left a lingering aftermath of religious and cultural change in the attitudes of many people, and the thoughts expressed now may thus contribute some beneficial insights. I trust that the thought will provide food for meditation to our listeners in the days ahead. We shall, on the next study, be looking at how flags were used in ancient Israel's encampments in the wilderness of Sinai, and beyond that we will have some words concerning the Union Jack which received prominence when flown over Buckingham Palace.

12 October, 1997

TRIBES ON THE MARCH - PART VI

By Douglas C. Nesbit, B.A.

Our ongoing series of Bible Studies, which began several years ago with the Call of The Almighty God to Abram, in Genesis 12, has continued the examination of the succeeding scriptural passages in succession, down to our recent focus in Numbers 1. A sub-heading to today's study and that immediately following might be "Ancient standards and a modern derivative" We can begin our study by reviewing once again, as in our last study, Numbers 1:52:

52. And the children of Israel shall pitch their tents, every man by his own camp, and every man by his own standard, throughout their hosts.

Now we ought to address some attention to those particular banners or ensigns which were assigned to each tribe in order that the people might be organized as they camped and as they moved on the march under the guidance of the towering pillar of fire and cloud which cloaked The LORD's presence among them.

Some indications of the tribal insignias which were carried by each of the tribes may be derived from an incident which happened to the inhabitants of Shechem back in Genesis 34:25, and another which happened to Joseph in Genesis 37, and from the words of Jacob in Genesis 49, the words of Balaam in Numbers 23 and 24, and of Moses in Deuteronomy 33. It might be profitable to mention that reference in Genesis 37 first, as it will apply to all the tribes together. You may remember that this Scripture told the story of the two dreams of Joseph regarding wheat sheaves and the sun, moon and stars of his brethren bowing down to him. His recounting of those dreams angered his half-brothers and led directly to his being sold as a slave into Egypt, and his later rise to eminent position under Pharaoh where the prophetic dreams took effect. The indications are that each of the brothers was assigned one of the twelve main constellations of the zodiac as one of their insignias, and some attempts have been made to render the matter intelligible, particularly with regard to the four chief tribes on the four sides of the encampment. A few associations seem plausible. Leo equates to Judah's lion, Taurus to Joseph's bull, Scorpio to Dan's serpent and Reuben's water symbol to Aquarius. Other associations are studied with a view to clarification of the details as one moves around "Mazzaroth", as the Book of Job terms the Zodiac according to Young's Concordance.

Dr. Bullinger, whose Bible Study Notes are contained in The Companion Bible, wrote a book which shows that the whole course of the Biblical story is actually most anciently encompassed by, and contained in that Zodiac and the three related constellations appended to each of the twelve primary signs. The band starts and ends at the divide between the woman, Virgo, and the coming Lion of the Tribe of Judah, at a station for which, a symbol was anciently created combining the two, in the symbol form of the sphinx! The title of the book is "The Witness Of The Stars", and I think that copies may still be obtained through our book rooms for those who might want to look further into the matter. I should explain that it is not based on any type of Babylonian astrology, but simply on ancient star charts with the prominent star names in ancient languages and their meanings, and similar historic sources. To a Christian mind, he makes a surprisingly convincing case for a pre-corruption knowledge of the truth.

We shall make reference to each of these tribal insignias as the tribes are successively mentioned in our present chapter, Numbers 1, and in Numbers 2. We are now reading from verse 53:

53. But the Levites shall pitch round about the tabernacle of testimony, that there be no wrath upon the congregation of the children of Israel: and the Levites shall keep the charge of the tabernacle of testimony.
54. And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD commanded Moses, so did they.

The tribe of Levi had the central position in the encampment, surrounding the Tabernacle. As this tribe has some particulars parallel to the tribe of Simeon, perhaps we might leave the symbolism encountered here until we consider Levi and Simeon together. Numbers 2 continues the account of the tribal assembly in the Camp of Israel and we will herein find that The Almighty, Who designated the order of march, designated thus likewise the order of encampment as the various tribes would need to be directed in an orderly manner to form the square of which Israel's camp was comprised about the central Tabernacle with its Levitical compliment of attendants.

1. And the LORD spake unto Moses and unto Aaron, saying,
2. Every man of the children of Israel shall pitch by his own standard, with the ensign of their father's house: far off about the tabernacle of the congregation shall they pitch.

Here I should explain what we are to envision, as the tribes are listed. This will be the order of march and encampment, beginning with the three tribes which are to camp to the east side of the Tabernacle, led by Judah:

3. And on the east side toward the rising of the sun shall they of the standard of the camp of Judah pitch throughout their armies: and Nahshon the son of Amminadab shall be captain of the children of Judah.
4 And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were threescore and fourteen thousand and six hundred.
5. And those that do pitch next unto him shall be the tribe of Issachar: and Nethaneel the son of Zuar shall be captain of the children of Issachar.
6. And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were fifty and four thousand and four hundred.
7. Then the tribe of Zebulun: and Eliab the son of Helon shall be captain of the children of Zebulun.
8. And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were fifty and seven thousand and four hundred.
9. All that were numbered in the camp of Judah were an hundred thousand and fourscore thousand and six thousand and four hundred, throughout their armies. These shall first set forth.

It may assist us if we note the traditional insignia for each tribe. Judah was represented by the Lion, as chief of these three, and at the shoulders of Judah, so to speak, were Issachar to the north, with a burdened ass and also sun, moon and stars as emblems, perhaps indicating the lot of their descendants in Finland, between major powers of East and West, and some now found in Switzerland, with an interest in creating time-pieces, and Zebulun to the south holding aloft the sign of a ship. Many of Dutch descent are thought to be descendants of that tribe. Now let us look at those three tribes forming the southern perimeter.

10. On the south side shall be the standard of the camp of Reuben according to their armies: and the captain of the children of Reuben shall be Elizur the son of Shedeur.
11. And his host, and those that were numbered thereof, were forty and six thousand and five hundred.
12. And those which pitch by him shall be the tribe of Simeon: and the captain of the children of Simeon shall be Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai.
13. And his host, and those that were numbered of them, were fifty and nine thousand and three hundred.

From Jacob's words in Genesis 49 concerning the chronologically eldest son, Reuben, we find that, as firstborn, he might have provided proper leadership to his brothers, but he "went up to his father's bed" and had intercourse with Bilhah, so he was, so to speak, deposed. His symbol was a man, but, answering to his character, Jacob described him in these words: "Reuben, thou art my first-born, my might, and the beginning of my strength, the excellency of dignity, and the excellency of power: Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel; because thou wentest up to thy father's bed; then defilest thou it: he went up to my couch." Reuben's secondary symbol thus became the wavy symbol for water. Parts of France would appear to be of Reuben, incidentally.

Regarding Simeon and Levi, back in Genesis 34:25 we find the account of the vicious attack made by Simeon and Levi in defence of the honour of their despoiled full sister, Dinah, by the Prince of Shechem. Their use of the sword on that occasion led Jacob, in Genesis 49:5, to say "Simeon and Levi are brethren; instruments of cruelty are in their habitations. O my soul, come not thou into their secret; unto their assembly, mine honour, be not thou united: for in their anger they slew a man, and in their self-will they digged down a wall. Cursed be their anger, for it was fierce; and their wrath, for it was cruel: I will divide them in Jacob, and scatter them in Israel."

We shall not have time to complete the study of Simeon and Levi at this time, so we will postpone the remainder of the study of those two tribes until our next study. There is much to learn from the clues provided in ancient Scriptures concerning their tribal descendants today, and we will discover more as we proceed. All which we discover tends towards a glorification of God as it shows us that He is ever faithful to those with whom He has made agreement. This provides assurance in regard to Salvation promises, and it is thus, for us, a field of knowledge which brings comfort and a sense of participation in God's ongoing plans. May that thought serve as a point of meditation during the coming week.

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