What is the Biblical symbolism of hair? You may ask. The Bible has numerous references to hair and in each instance, it could mean one thing or the other. For instance, it could mean wisdom, health and beauty, vitality and so forth. Join us as we look at different Bible verses that speak of hair and what they could mean.
What You'll Learn Today
Symbol of God’s Favor and Strength
Hair symbolizes virality and physical strength. It is often said that the properties and virtues of a person are concentrated in their nails and hair. In the Book of 2 Samuel 14:26, we encounter Absalom and his immense vitality. The Bible says,
“Whenever he cut the hair of his head—he used to cut his hair once a year because it became too heavy for him—he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard.”
However, it was unfortunate that for Absalom, the favor of the Lord depicted by his hair ended up in a tragic story when he rebelled against David.
Symbol of the Nazarite Vow
In Judaism, the Nazarite vow was one of the most significant practices. Nazarite is derived from a Hebrew word which means to separate or consecrate. In the Book of Numbers 6:1-21, the Bible lists the requirements to be fulfilled for anyone looking to become a Nazarite.
The vow is voluntary and both men and women can take it. In Numbers 6:5, the Bible mentions one of the requirements for a Nazarite;
“During the entire period of their Nazirite vow, no razor may be used on their head. They must be holy until the period of their dedication to the LORD is over; they must let their hair grow long.”
In his encounter with Delilah, Samson who was a Nazarite explained to her that his strength is in his hair. Delilah went ahead and shaved him while he was asleep and when he woke up, his strength was gone.
That was not just a broken vow, but as the Bible says God had left him. However, over time, his hair grew back and in a dramatic version his strength returned giving him immense power to pull down the Temple of Dagon.
Symbol of Mourning
In ancient Jewish origins, the practice of cutting hair was common during mourning. Looking at the prophetic writings, there are many instances where mourners would shave their heads and beards or even tear their clothes in mourning. Even the sackcloth they used to wear were made from fabric that was coarsely woven and mainly obtained from goat hair.
In the Book of Job 1:19-20, we see an instance where Job shaved his head. The Bible says,
“…and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people, and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you. Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head, and he fell to the ground and worshiped.”
In the prophesy against Moab in Isaiah 15, the prophet talks of the destruction of Moab. In Isaiah 15:2, the Bible says,
“Dibon goes up to its temple, to its high places to weep; Moab wails over Nebo and Medeba. Every head is shaved, and every beard cut off.”
Voluntary shaving of hair was an indication of loss, grief, mourning, and hopelessness. It depicted a reversal of the normal practice. Having said that, some people went ahead to gash themselves. This is a practice that the Bible does not advocate as it had its roots in the Canaanite practices.
It was a visible expression of the kind of pain that the victims felt inside. In Deuteronomy 14:1, the Bible says,
“Since you are the people of the LORD your God, never cut yourselves or shave the hair above your foreheads in mourning for the dead.”
A Symbol of Humiliation
In the ancient times, there was a practice where an enemy would forcefully shave the hair of their captives. This was a symbol of emasculation and humiliation of the victim. In the Book of Samuel, there is a passage that talks about a forced shaving incident. In 2 Samuel 10:4, the Bible says:
“So Hanun seized David’s envoys, shaved off half of each man’s beard, cut off their garments at the buttocks, and sent them away.”
David had enjoyed such a good relationship with King Nahash the Ammonite. However, after he died, his son Hanun took over. David sent a delegation as a friendly gesture, but Hanun thought that it was a spying mission hence humiliating them by forced shaving.
In Isaiah 7:20, the Bible says,
“In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by them beyond the river, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall also consume the beard.”
This was a foretelling of the invasion by Assyrians upon Israel.
A Symbol of New Life
In the Torah, hair plays a significant role. One of the practices used among the Jewish community was to cut all hair off to serve as a sign that a person had turned away from the past and they were on to a new life guided by the law of God.
Head shaving was an essential cleansing right that ensured a transition happened from the past to the new. In Leviticus 13 and 14, there are various ways illustrated on how people were to deal with skin diseases that defiled them.
In Leviticus 14:8-9, the Bible talks of the cleansing ritual where the old, defiled person is left behind and the new is welcome. This is what the Bible says,
“The one to be cleansed shall then wash his clothes and shave off all his hair and bathe in water and be clean. Now afterward, he may enter the camp, but he shall stay outside his tent for seven days. It will be on the seventh day that he shall shave off all his hair: he shall shave his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair. He shall then wash his clothes and bathe his body in water and be clean.”
In Biblical narratives, hair practices appear in many of the stories from Jacob and Esau all the way to Delilah and Samson. The hair was an indicator and symbol of something more complex than the plain usage of the term.
Whether it is mourning, beauty, strength, or humiliation, hair played a key role hence it is important to understand the context. If you are looking for more biblical symbols, here is our article about thorns.