Thursday, March 25, 2010

More About Signets and Sealing

Hebrew expression: hotam
Pronunciation: hoh TAWM
Strong’s number: 2368

The technology revolution of the past two decades has made the use of passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers) commonplace in homes and the marketplace. Verification of one’s personal identity is now essential for both accessing and protecting computer files, bank accounts, and credit cards. The seal served the same function in the ancient world, the equivalent of a signature or similar mark of personal identification.

The Hebrew verb hatam means to “affix a seal” to a letter or a document (as in Esth. 8:8; Dan 12:4) or to “seal shut” (used metaphorically in reference to chastity, Song 4:12; or referring to God’s control of the celestial lights, Job 9:7). The noun hotam is usually translated “seal(1 Kgs. 21:8) or a “signet ring(Hag. 2:23). Most often the “seal” was a small cylinder of stone engraved with individual and clan symbols. Typically, a hole was bored through the stone cylinder so that it could be tied with a leather cord and worn around the neck. We read that Judah gave his “signet and cord” to Tamar as a personal pledge (Gen. 38:18). The book of Job describes the dawn of a new day like clay spread out and imprinted under the pressure of a cylinder seal being rolled over its surface (Job 38:14). Elsewhere, the seal is mentioned in connection with witnesses to a business transaction (Jer. 32:44).

The “signet ring” was associated with nobility and royalty in the ancient world. Like the cylinder seal, the signet was a metal or stone ring engraved with writing and personal symbols. Affixing the royal seal to an object was an official act that placed the object under the king’s jurisdiction and the legal purview of the state (Esth. 3:12). The prophet Haggai’s reference to Zerubbabel as the Lord’s “signet ring” symbolizes the divine authority vested in Zerubbabel as the leader of the Hebrew community in Jerusalem (Hag. 2:23). Theologically, the signet ring hearkens back to God’s rejection of King Jehoiachin as His “signet” and the curse of the Davidic line (Jer. 22:24). Haggai’s blessing of Zerubbabel in this fashion has the effect of overturning Jeremiah’s earlier curse upon the house of David and restoring the promises connected with the Davidic covenant (2 Sam. 7).

The cultural practice of affixing seals continued into the New Testament era, most notably in the “sealing” of the tomb of Jesus by Pilate (Matt. 27:66). Theologically, Paul uses the symbol of sealing to describe the work of the Holy Spirit in marking the Christian formally and permanently as a child of God (2 Cor. 1:22; Eph. 1:3). The book of Revelation employs the imagery of breaking seals when opening the scroll of divine judgment (Rev. 6:1, 3). The writer also mentions the “seal” of God upon the foreheads of the righteous protecting them from divine wrath during those “last days (Rev. 9:4).

(Carpenter, Eugene E., and Philip W. Comfort. 2000. Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers,pg 173)


  1. "The writer also mentions the “seal” of God upon the foreheads of the righteous protecting them from divine wrath during those “last days” "
    I hadn't thought of this in this context. I like it. It makes sense that that seal would be upon those with their calling and election made sure, and that it would be a sign like the blood on the door posts at Passover.

  2. Good post. Likewise Satan "seals" his followers: