381. Letters

Nehemiah 6:5; 2 Samuel 11:14; 1 Kings 21:8; 2 Kings 5:5-7; 2 Kings 10:1; Isaiah 8:16; Isaiah 29:11; Daniel 12:4; Daniel 12:9; Revelation 5:4; Revelation 5:9; Revelation 10:4; Revelation 22:10
Nehemiah 6:55Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand; (Nehemiah 6:5). Then sent Sanballat his servant unto me in like manner the fifth time with an open letter in his hand.
1. The first mention that is made in Scripture of a letter is of that which David sent to Joab (2 Sam. 11:1414And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. (2 Samuel 11:14)). We also read of the letters which Jezebel wrote in the name of Ahab (1 Kings 21:88So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth. (1 Kings 21:8)). The king of Syria wrote a letter to the king of Israel (2 Kings 5:5-75And the king of Syria said, Go to, go, and I will send a letter unto the king of Israel. And he departed, and took with him ten talents of silver, and six thousand pieces of gold, and ten changes of raiment. 6And he brought the letter to the king of Israel, saying, Now when this letter is come unto thee, behold, I have therewith sent Naaman my servant to thee, that thou mayest recover him of his leprosy. 7And it came to pass, when the king of Israel had read the letter, that he rent his clothes, and said, Am I God, to kill and to make alive, that this man doth send unto me to recover a man of his leprosy? wherefore consider, I pray you, and see how he seeketh a quarrel against me. (2 Kings 5:5‑7)). Jehu also wrote letters (2 Kings 10:11And Ahab had seventy sons in Samaria. And Jehu wrote letters, and sent to Samaria, unto the rulers of Jezreel, to the elders, and to them that brought up Ahab's children, saying, (2 Kings 10:1)). Later on in the history more frequent mention is made of them.
On what substance those ancient letters were written it is now impossible to say. They may have been written on skins dressed for the purpose, on palm-leaves, or on papyrus, the use of which is now known to have been very ancient with the Egyptians, and from them neighboring nations may have learned it.
2. In Persia, as well as in some other Oriental lands, letters, when sent to persons of distinction, are generally, after being rolled up in a scroll, enclosed in a bag or purse, which is sometimes made of very elegant and costly material. The end of this purse is tied, closed over with clay or wax, and then sealed. See Isaiah 8:16; 29:1116Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples. (Isaiah 8:16)
11And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: (Isaiah 29:11)
; Daniel 12:4,94But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased. (Daniel 12:4)
9And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end. (Daniel 12:9)
; Revelation 5:4-5,9; 10:4; 22:104And I wept much, because no man was found worthy to open and to read the book, neither to look thereon. 5And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. (Revelation 5:4‑5)
9And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation; (Revelation 5:9)
4And when the seven thunders had uttered their voices, I was about to write: and I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Seal up those things which the seven thunders uttered, and write them not. (Revelation 10:4)
10And he saith unto me, Seal not the sayings of the prophecy of this book: for the time is at hand. (Revelation 22:10)
. For the mode of sealing, see note on 1 Kings 21:88So she wrote letters in Ahab's name, and sealed them with his seal, and sent the letters unto the elders and to the nobles that were in his city, dwelling with Naboth. (1 Kings 21:8) (#325). This is considered a mark of respect, and a recognition of the rank or position of the person to whom it is sent. When sent to inferiors, or to persons whom the writer wishes to treat with contempt, the letters are uninclosed. This custom probably existed among the Persians in the time of Nehemiah, since special emphasis is in the text laid upon the fact that the letter was an open letter; that is, as we understand it, that it was not enclosed in a bag, and therefore indicated the contempt which Sanballat had for Nehemiah. He treated him as a person of inferior position.