Ambassadors of Ancient Times
DURING the time of Biblical history a king’s ambassadors were persons of rank whose office was greatly respected. Like present-day ambassadors they delivered important messages between their king and the heads of other governments. While in the territory of another country they were given safe conduct, as is done with ambassadors today. But there the similarity ends.
Unlike modern-day ambassadors, they did not reside in a foreign capital and maintain a staff of secretaries, clerks, counselors and various other employees. They did nothing more than carry communications between their king and other rulers. No power of negotiation was granted to them nor did they have the right to make decisions for their king. When they delivered a message to a ruler and the reply was not what had been expected, they had to return home for further instructions. The exception to this would be in the event that their king had anticipated the reply and had given them advance instructions on how to respond to it. The ambassadors sent to Joshua by the Gibeonites were apparently instructed in advance to make a treaty with the Israelites.—Josh. 9:3-15.
Mistreatment of an ambassador could result in war. This happened in the time of King David. He sent some ambassadors to the Ammonites on a peaceful mission to convey his condolences over the death of their king. They misinterpreted his intentions and insulted his ambassadors by shaving half their beards off and cutting their garments in half at the buttocks. This violated the accepted policy of respecting the person of ambassadors and granting them safe conduct. A war resulted, and the people of Ammon were defeated.—2 Sam. 10:2-19.
USE WHEN WAR THREATENED
Contrary to the modern-day practice of recalling an ambassador when diplomatic relations are broken with a government, the people in times of Biblical history sent ambassadors to one another during periods of strain in an effort to reestablish peaceful relations. Thus ambassadors were sent when war threatened. Jesus Christ used this practice as an illustration, saying: “What king, marching to meet another king in war does not first sit down and take counsel whether he is able with ten thousand troops to cope with the one that comes against him with twenty thousand? If, in fact, he cannot do so, then while that one is yet far away he sends out a body of ambassadors and sues for peace.”—Luke 14:31, 32.
An example of how ambassadors were used in an effort to prevent war can be seen in the historical record about Jephthah, who was a judge in Israel. He dispatched ambassadors to the king of the Ammonites in an effort to clear up a dispute over territorial rights. The record says: “The king of the sons of Ammon did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he had sent to him.” (Judg. 11:28) In the war that resulted, Jehovah gave Jephthah the victory.
During the time the Israelites were in the wilderness, they made use of ambassadors in an effort to obtain permission to pass through the territories of the Edomites. Those sent to the king of Edom said, among other things: “Let us pass, please, through your land. We shall not pass through a field or a vineyard, and we shall not drink the water of a well. On the king’s road we shall march. We shall not bend toward the right or the left, until we shall pass through your territory.” (Num. 20:17) Although the Edomites rejected this reasonable request and refused to grant permission to the Israelites to pass, even sending out soldiers to prevent it, there is no indication that they harmed the ambassadors. Their refusal was brought back to Moses by the ambassadors, and he then took the Israelites around the territory of Edom.
Ambassadors were also used to carry challenges and declarations of war. Amaziah the king of Judah, for example, sent ambassadors to Jehoash, the king of Israel, challenging him to battle. (2 Ki. 14:8) Rabshakeh was one of the ambassadors sent by King Sennacherib of Assyria to declare war on King Hezekiah in Jerusalem. In the Assyrian royal court “Rabshakeh” was a title that meant “the chief cupbearer.” This prominent official was used by the king of Assyria as his personal messenger or ambassador to King Hezekiah. Despite the boasts made by the Assyrian ambassador, the Assyrians failed to take the city of Jerusalem, because Jehovah God fought for his people, killing 185,000 Assyrians in one night.—2 Ki. 18:19; 19:35.
In the Christian Greek Scriptures the term “ambassador” is used in a figurative sense in connection with Christ’s anointed followers. Because Christ was made ambassador of God’s kingdom, his followers who proclaim to the nations his message about the Kingdom are spoken of as ambassadors. Unlike official ambassadors that were sent out by kings, they are not sent specifically to the heads of governments. Their message is one of reconciliation for all people in order to bring them into good relations with the heavenly King, Jehovah God, through his Son Jesus Christ.
Speaking of Christ’s anointed followers, Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, said: “We are therefore ambassadors substituting for Christ, as though God were making entreaty through us. As substitutes for Christ we beg: ‘Become reconciled to God.’” (2 Cor. 5:20) People who respond to their plea by making peace with Jehovah God through his royal Son will avoid conflict with God and Christ at the coming battle of the great day of God the Almighty. (Rev. 16:14, 16) In this manner Christ’s anointed followers fulfill today the role of ambassadors of the King, Jehovah God.