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What is a Signet Ring?

For us, in these days of DNA and fingerprints, signatures, endorsements and notaries, the idea of a signet ring is kind of odd. Different cultures have done different things to set official approval on documents. In China, today, they still use a chop. A chop is a rubber stamp that is uniquely designed for an individual. In order to "sign" something, instead of a written name, a chop is used.

My Chinese name is Tang Rong-Drew (though I could not spell it or write it). For a gift, a close Chinese friend had my name and Dawn’s Chinese name (Tang Chen-Xei) made into our own chops. If we were in Taiwan we would use these to endorse official documents, and it would carry the weight of a signature. We would guard these very carefully, because stealing one would be a powerful part of identity theft.

Signet rings in ancient days were used in a similar way. The raised design on the ring was used to stamp the king’s sign in clay on official documents. Signet rings were signs of power and affluence. They were used by kings and high officials to conduct official public business, but they were also used by rich merchants and powerful business concerns. In Moses’ day the wealthy gave up their signet rings as part of a great offering to God. In Isaiah’s day, signet rings were part of the luxury driven arrogance that God promised that he would take away. So, just like fine cars and big houses today, they became status symbols, owned by people who had no use for them.

In Biblical times, signet rings worked both ways too. Proud posers could have one made and try to look good. But a true person of power had signet rings and used them to exercise that power with care. An official of the king might be given the king’s ring, but it was a high honor and a sign of special trust.

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