Throughout history rings have been used to symbolize affinity, devotion, and authority, as well as stores of value. Hebrews gave earrings, nose rings, and bracelets as signs of betrothal. Egyptians and Canaanites both wore earrings and nose rings to symbolize devotion to their deities. Lifelong slaves wore earrings as symbols of their master’s authority. Tribes wore rings of various kinds to advertise their belonging. Rulers wore signet rings, crowns, and torques as statements of wealth and authority.
In the Bible, a nezem (earring or nose ring) can be functional as a store of value, ornamental, or symbolic. Some examples of symbolic uses of rings:
- Genesis 24:22 Eliezer gave Rebekah an earring and two bracelets as a sign of betrothal to Isaac.
- Exodus 32:2-3 Aaron told the Israelite men to surrender the earrings of their wives and children for use in the golden calf. He did not ask for bracelets, necklaces, or other jewelry which would have contained a much greater amount of gold.
- Judges 8:24-26 Gideon asked for the earrings of the slain Ishmaelites and used them to make an idol.
- Ezekiel 16:11-12 God gave bracelets, a nose ring, earrings, and a crown to his bride.
- Hosea 2:13 God used earrings in a double entendre to refer to the ornamentation of a harlot and the symbols of idolatry.
- Job 42:11 According to the Septuagint, each of Job’s friends gave him an “unstamped” gold earring. Most translations only say “earring.” I suspect the ancient translators of the Septuagint meant to emphasize that these were not religious tokens. The need for such an emphasis would be significant in itself.
- Proverbs 25:12 A wise authority figure is a carved earring in an obedient ear.