Swift foot couriers or servants of a prominent person who ran before his chariot. The word is translated from the participial form of the Hebrew word ruts, “to run.” It is rendered “footmen,” “guard” and “post” in some translations. But there is another word for “footmen” or “men on foot,” namely ragh·liʹ, or, more fully, ʼish ragh·liʹ.
“Runners” can refer to any swift messengers or fleet-footed persons, such as Asahel the brother of Joab, and Ahimaaz the son of Zadok. (2 Sam. 2:18; 18:19, 23, 27) Elijah on one occasion ran some twenty-five miles (40 kilometers), to arrive from Carmel at Jezreel ahead of King Ahab’s chariot. This was because “the very hand of Jehovah proved to be upon Elijah.”—1 Ki. 18:46.
In an official sense, runners were fleet-footed men selected to run before the king’s chariot. When Absalom and, later, Adonijah, conspired to usurp the kingship, each employed fifty runners before his chariot to add prestige and dignity to his scheme. (2 Sam. 15:1; 1 Ki. 1:5) Runners served as the king’s personal force, somewhat like a modern-day bodyguard. (1 Sam. 22:17; 2 Ki. 10:25) They served as guards at the entrance to the king’s house and accompanied the king from his house to the temple. (1 Ki. 14:27, 28; 2 Ki. 11:6-8, 11; 2 Chron. 12:10) They carried messages for the king. (2 Chron. 30:6) In the days of Persian King Ahasuerus, foot couriers were apparently replaced by men riding fast post horses.—Esther 3:13, 15; 8:10, 14.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures there are a few references to running simply in haste. (Matt. 28:8; Mark 9:15, 25; 10:17; John 20:2) However, running is used illustratively by the apostle Paul. He wrote to the congregation at Corinth: “Do you not know that the runners in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may attain it. Moreover, every man taking part in a contest exercises self-control in all things. Now they, of course, do it that they may get a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible one. Therefore, the way I am running is not uncertainly; the way I am directing my blows is so as not to be striking the air; but I browbeat my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”—1 Cor. 9:24-27.
Contestants in the Greek games were strenuously trained and discipline was rigid; diet and behavior were closely observed. The rules of the race were strictly enforced by the judges. If one came in first but had violated the rules, his running was in vain, as the apostle expressed it: “Moreover, if anyone contends even in the games, he is not crowned unless he has contended according to the rules.” (2 Tim. 2:5) Runners directed their eyes toward the prize located at the finish line. Paul ‘ran’ in this single-minded wholehearted way. (Gal. 2:2; Phil. 2:16; 3:14) Near the end of his life he was able to say: “I have fought the fine fight, I have run the course to the finish, I have observed the faith. From this time on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness.”—2 Tim. 4:7, 8.
In discussing God’s dealings in connection with his choosing of those making up spiritual Israel, Paul explained that Israel according to the flesh counted on their fleshly relationship to Abraham. (Rom. 9:6, 7, 30-32) They thought they were the chosen ones, and ‘ran’ or pursued righteousness, but in the wrong way. Trying to establish their righteousness by their own works, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. (Rom. 10:1-3) Paul shows how God’s justice is vindicated as regards his action of rejecting fleshly Israel as a nation and forming a spiritual Israel. The apostle thereby throws light upon his statement that “it depends, not upon the one wishing nor upon the one running, but upon God, who has mercy.”—Rom. 9:15, 16.