Ambassador a public minister sent from one sovereign prince, as a representative of his person, to another. At Athens ambassadors mounted the pulpit of the public orators, and there acquainted the people with their errand. At Rome they were introduced to the senate, and there delivered their commissions (Smith's Dict. of Class. Antiq. s.v. Legatus).
In the Old Testament, the word צַיר, tsir, one who goes on an errand, is thus rendered in Jos 9:4; Pr 13:17; Isa 18:2; Jer 49:14; Ob 1:1; and this translation is used for מֵלַיוֹ, melits', an interpreter, in 2Ch 22:12; also for מִלאָך, malac', messenger, in 2Ch 35:21; Isa 30:4; Isa 33:7; Eze 17:15. Ministers of the Gospel in the New Testament are said to be ambassadors (πρεσβεύω), because they are appointed by God to declare his will to amen, and to promote a spiritual alliance with Him (2Co 5:20; Eph 6:20). SEE ALLIANCE.
The relations of the Hebrew with foreign nations were too limited to afford much occasion for the services of ambassadors. Still, the long course of their history affords some examples of the employment of such functionaries, which enable us to discover the position which they were considered to occupy. Of ambassadors resident at a foreign court they had, of course, no notion, all the embassies of which we read being "extraordinary," or for special services and occasions, such as to congratulate a king on his accession or victories, or to condole with him in his troubles (2Sa 8:15; 2Sa 10:2; 1Ki 5:1), to remonstrate in the case of wrong (Jg 11:12), to solicit favors (Nu 20:14), or to contract alliances (Jos 9:3 sq.; 1 Maccabees 8:17).
The notion that the ambassador represented the person of the sovereign who sent him, or the dignity of the state from which he came, did not exist in ancient times in the same sense as now. He was a highly distinguished and privileged messenger, and his dignity (2Sa 10:1-5) was rather that of our heralds than of our ambassadors. It may have been owing, in some degree, to the proximity of all the nations with which the Israelites had intercourse that their ambassadors were intrusted with few, if any, discretionary powers, and could not go beyond the letter of their instructions. In general, their duty was limited to the delivering of a message and the receiving of an answer; and if this answer was such as required a rejoinder, they returned for fresh instructions, unless they had been authorized how to act or speak in case such an answer should be given.
The largest act performed by ambassadors appears to have been the treaty of alliance contracted with the Gibeonites (Joshua 9), who were supposed to have come from "a far country;" and the treaty which they contracted was in agreement with the instructions with which they professed to be furnished. In allowing for the effect of proximity, it must be remembered that the ancient ambassadors of other nations, even to countries distant from their own, generally adhered to the letter of their instructions, and were reluctant to act on their own discretion. Generals of armies must not, however, be confounded with ambassadors in this respect. The precept given in De 20:10, seems to imply some such agency; rather, however, that of a mere nuncio, often bearing a letter (2Ki 5:5; 2Ki 19:14), than of a legate empowered to treat. The inviolability of such an officer's person may perhaps be inferred from the only recorded infraction of it being followed with unusual severities toward the vanquished, probably designed as a condign chastisement of that offense (2Sa 10:2-5; comp. 12:26-31). The earliest examples of ambassadors employed occur in the cases of Edom, Moab, and the Amorites (Nu 20:14; Nu 21:21; Jg 11:17-19), afterward in that of the fraudulent Gibeonites (Jos 9:4, etc.), and in the instances of civil strife mentioned in Jg 11:12; Jg 20:12 (see Cunaeus de Rep. Hebr. 2, 20, with notes by Nicolaus in Ugolini Thesaur. 3, 771-774). They are mentioned more frequently during and after the contact of the great adjacent monarchies of Syria, Babylon, etc., with those of Judah and Israel, e.g. in the invasion of Sennacherib. They were usually men of high rank, as in that case the chief captain, the chief cup-bearer, and chief of the eunuchs were deputed, and were met by delegates of similar dignity from Hezekiah (2Ki 18:17-18; see also Isa 30:4). Ambassadors are found to have been employed, not only on occasions of hostile challenge or insolent menace (2Ki 14:8; 1Ki 20:2,6), but of friendly compliment, of request for alliance or other aid, of submissive deprecation, and of curious inquiry (2Ki 14:8; 2Ki 16:7; 2Ki 18:14; 2Ch 32:31). The dispatch of ambassadors with urgent haste is introduced as a token of national grandeur in the obscure prophecy in Isa 18:2. SEE MESSENGER.