While we almost always think first of marriage when the subject of rings comes up, the Bible records no instances where a ring is used as a symbol of marriage or wedding vows. But surprisingly, the first time a ring is mentioned in Scripture involves an interesting account of surrogate courtship. When Abraham’s servant Eliezer arrive in Haran on a mission to find a wife for young Isaac, he met a young woman at the city well whose name was Rebekah (Gen. 24:1-67). Discovering that Rebekah’s parents were relations of
Abraham, he knew he had found a match for his master’s son. According to verses 22 and 47, Eliezer began his proposal to Rebekah on Isaac’s behalf by putting a golden ring in her nose!
Gold was highly valued, and wearing one’s worth in the form of rings was considered part of displaying wealth attractively. Before coins were widely used, precious metals were kept in this practical way, and lists of offerings, taxes, or gifts have rings among the items given (Num. 31:50).
Symbols of Authority
Rings, whether worn in the nose or on the fingers, were popular as jewelry throughout Scripture. When they were given as gifts, they symbolized honor. One of the most touching pictures of forgiveness is seen in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15), whom the father welcomes home and restores. “The father said to his servants, “Hurry! Bring out the best robe, and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet'” (Luke 15:22).
Kings would often wear rings to symbolize their status and power. These were decorated with distinct carvings or shapes that became official signatures when the king pressed his ring into wax that sealed a document or letter. The term signet ring indicates a particular object that was used for making a royal sign. When Joseph graduated from prison to prince of Egypt, the Pharaoh publicly affirmed his new role: “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I now put you in charge of Egypt; Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring and put it on Joseph’s finger. He had Joseph dressed in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck” (Gen. 41:41-42). This designated Joseph’s position and status in the kingdom. Someone wearing the king’s ring could exercise the king’s authority.
In the story of Esther, King Xerxes’ ring became a central symbol for danger and delivery for the Jewish people. First, Haman received the ring and immediately set about to use its authority to pass a law dooming the Jews (Esther 3:8-14). Later, when Haman’s scheme was exposed, the ring was taken from him on his way to the gallows and presented instead to wise Mordecai, who then devised a way for the Jewish people to lawfully resist the previous law that would have meant their death. He had to do this because the law passed by haman could not be canceled. As the king himself noted:
King Xerxes said to Queen Esther and Mordecai the Jew, “I have given Haman’s property to Esther, and Haman’s dead body was hung on the pole because he tried to kill the Jews. You write what you think is best for the Jews in the King’s name. Seal it also with the King’s signet ring, because whatever is written in the king’s name and sealed with the king’s signet ring cannot be canceled.” (8:7-8)
Several times in Scripture God describes his chosen people as his signet ring, a visual reminder of his power and the value he placed on them (Jer. 22:24; Hag. 2:23). In this way, God was telling his people that he “wore” his promises to them and would not forget them.