Beards and Baldness

It is a belief among many believers in the faith that men should wear beards as did most Israelites throughout history. However, it is not considered mandatory to do so. The purpose of this study is to inform you of what the scriptures say concerning beards and to show that it is a law of Yahweh which should be obeyed.

Let’s begin by looking at the actual commandment in Lev 19:26-28; “You shall not eat any thing with the blood: neither shall you use enchantment, nor observe times. You shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am Yahweh.”

Notice that believers in Messiah Yeshua continue to obey verses 26 and 28 even today. The question is, do believers have to obey verse 27?

As we read in Lev  19:1,2, these commandments are for the children of Israel, of whom believers are through Messiah. In verse 27 the KJV uses two words which do not help in clearly understanding this verse, “mar” and “corners”. Unless you have a square head and a square beard you cannot have “corners”. The Hebrew for “corners” is “peah” which means the “region or extremity” according to Strong’s Concordance. A word study of such verses as Ex 36:25; Job 18:14,15; Nu 24:17; Ezek 41:12; and Lev 19:9 will reveal the correct meaning to be “border” or “the outline that forms the image”. Referring to the above references; the peah or border of a building is its’ walls; of the sea, its’ coastline; of a country such as Moab, its’ borders; of a field, its’ borders; of the beard, the outline which forms the image. In other words, the hairline along the cheeks, lower neck, below the lower lip, etc. Goatees, mutton chops, Hitler mustaches and totally shaven faces are all forbidden by Yahweh. Incidentally, the Jewish practice of not cutting the sideburns is based on an erroneous understanding of this scripture.

The word “mar” in Hebrew is “shachath” which means to decay or ruin. It was also translated “destroy, perish, cast off, corrupt and utterly waste”. So what this commandment is really saying is, “Do not utterly destroy the borders of your beard.” The only way to utterly destroy the beard is to remove the hair from your face. The most common way is by shaving which totally ruins and mars the beard. It creates baldness upon your skin and, as we will see later, baldness is associated with shame and defilement throughout scripture. Trimming the length of the beard is permitted because it does not create baldness. 

To “round the corners of your head” would mean to create baldness around one’s head, as certain people do, leaving only a circular patch of hair on top.

Lev 19:27 is among a long list of commandments extending to Lev 20:21. Verses 22-26 teach us to be sanctified from the unbelieving people around us. They tattoo their bodies, stretch their necks with metal rings, shave their heads bald or carve words and designs in their hair. This shows a total lack of reverence for their bodies. How much more should believers reverence their bodies which are the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Shaving for the dead

The most common misunderstanding of the issue of shaving the beard is the belief that it only concerns doing so “for the dead”. Since Lev 19:28 refers to cutting the flesh as a way of mourning for the dead, they apply that to Lev 19:27 as well. They say believers cannot shave off their beard for the dead, but that they can shave off their beard for any other reason including vanity. Does that make sense? A man cannot shave his beard to mourn for his dead father, but he can shave it to look more handsome? 

A similar commandment is found in Lev 21:1-6. These verses pertain to the priests, the sons of Aaron. Believers today are said to be priests as well, so this commandment could spiritually apply to believers. But even if it doesn’t we can see Yahweh’s feelings concerning creating baldness on ones head. Not only would the priest defile or profane himself but he would also profane the name of Yahweh (vs 6). It was holiness to a priest to remain unshaven.

Only something holy can be profaned or defiled. Ezekiel talks about profaning the sanctuary and the Sabbath day. Both are holy and both can be defiled. Believers are also holy; in fact, they are a holy priesthood and their bodies are holy temples. If believers eat pork they defile the temple of the Holy Spirit (Lev 11:44). If they create baldness on their head or face they defile the temple of Yahweh.

Let’s look more closely at three relevant passages. In Lev 21:11, we see the high priest could not defile himself for his dead father or mother. This is a declaration of the highest degree of holiness for anyone in Israel. In Lev 21:1-4, we see the priests, the sons of Aaron, were permitted to defile themselves in mourning for a dead close relative such as a mother or father. This is a declaration of a lesser degree of holiness than that of the high priest. In Lev 19:27-28, if we include the phrase “for the dead” as applying to verse 27 as well, then the passage is saying that the common people cannot defile themselves for any reason; not even for a dead relative unless we read that into the text. So, then, this would be a declaration that the common people have a higher degree of holiness than the priests! This cannot be. If we read the allowance of shaving for a close relative into Lev 19:27-28, then it puts the common people on the same level of holiness as priests. This is more feasible in that Ex 19:6 speaks of all Israelites as “a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation.” However, I believe we are reading things into the text that shouldn’t be there. I offer the following explanation to harmonize all three passages.

Lev 21:11 says nothing about shaving off the beard for the dead. It teaches us that the high priest is the holiest person in Israel. Lev 21:1-4 speaks of priests defiling themselves for close relatives that died. Verse 5 simply gives other ways that a priest can defile himself other than for the dead. This passage teaches us that priests had a lesser degree of holiness than the high priest. Lev 19:27 says nothing about the dead. It is separate from verse 28. Verse 27 is a commandment for all Israel at all times, not just during periods of mourning. This passage places the common people on a lesser degree of holiness than priests. This view, then, upholds the hierarchy of holiness from high priest, then priests, then common people. It also does not read anything into the text. In other words, Yahweh is teaching His people that no one should shave off his beard for any reason, not even for the dead.

Lev 21:16-23 tells us about the seed of Aaron that are blemished. Whenever something happens to a priest that alters the image that he was created with, he becomes blemished. That is why Yahweh told them not to create baldness on their head or face. They could not serve as priests until they were healed again.

Most commentators apply the last chapters of Ezekiel to the millennial kingdom. Notice in Ezek 44:20 the priests are not permitted to shave but they are permitted to cut their hair so it doesn’t grow too long. Yahweh does not want men’s head hair to be too long and He doesn’t want it or the beard to appear sloppy or unkempt. The Apostle Paul, in I Cor 11, says it is a shame for a man to have long hair. It was also a shame for a man to be bald or beardless. II Sam 10:4,5 recounts the time when King David’s men had half their beards shaved off by their enemies causing great shame. But notice what David said to do. He didn’t tell them to shave off the other half and return to Jerusalem. He told them to wait in Jericho until their beards grew back and then return.

Some people try to use Gen 41:14 to prove that men could shave if they wanted to. The most logical way to understand this verse is that the Egyptians made Joseph shave when he met Pharaoh just as they made him change his clothing. If a man is kept in a dungeon for two years and then is brought quickly out to meet Pharaoh, he is not going to put on his best clothing because he undoubtedly doesn’t have a change of good clothing. The Egyptians would have given him new clothes and they would have required him to clean up and shave. Almost all Egyptians had shaven heads and no beards.

Acts 18:18 and 21;23-26 show that Paul shaved his head because he had taken a Nazarite vow which is spoken of in Nu  6:1,13,18. Once the vow was fulfilled Paul’s head was shaved and his hair burnt for a peace offering. Samson was under a Nazarite vow as well, through which his long hair gave him great strength until it was shaved off by Delilah. There were only three reasons Yahweh allowed for shaving ones head: 1) A Nazarite vow 2) Leprosy or infection on the head 3) death of a relative. Shaving for any other reason, including to seemingly make oneself more attractive, would defile the person and profane Yahweh’s name.

Yahweh spoke two interesting prophesies concerning baldness. In Isa 3:16,17,24 baldness is spoken of as something negative and undesirable that Yahweh will bring upon the daughters of Zion because of their haughty attitude. Amos 8:9,10 shows that in the Day of Yahweh, He will cause baldness upon every head; in other words, shame and mourning.

Many people have been misled by today’s society into believing that a well shaved, smooth face is desirable and permissible when, in reality, it is against the law of Yahweh and defiles the temple. Yahweh created men to have beards and then commanded men to not destroy their beards. He desires men to maintain the same image that He created them with. He does not want His people to look like Egyptians, Romans, Hindus, or the other nations around them.

Even Yeshua the Messiah, who is the ultimate example for all believers, had a beard (Isa 50:6). In their attempt to disrespect and shame Yeshua, his persecutors tore out the hair from his beard.

There are certain commandments in the Old Testament which believers no longer observe because they have been fulfilled in some way. However, concerning beards and baldness, there is no fulfillment. If believers don’t have to obey these commandments anymore, then when and why did they cease?

Some brethren believe the law against shaving the beard was a cultural requirement for Israel alone. If that be the case, we could say the same for all the feast days and many other laws. The fact that Yahweh created men with beards, as a natural part of their body, shows that they are desired by Yahweh for all men, not just for Israelites. Since Galatians 6:16 calls believers “the Israel of Yahweh”, then we should be subject to the laws of Yahweh given to Israel.

Others will say that not all men can grow beards, therefore they don’t have to either. Not all believers can mark the beginning of Sabbath by the visual sunset, yet they must keep the Sabbath holy. Yahweh will not hold such a person accountable if he cannot grow a beard. Nor will He look away from a man who loses his hair naturally. However, the man who willfully shaves his beard or his head, aside from the scripturally permitted reasons, will be held accountable.

The evidence is conclusively in favor of the continued observance of these commandments and I, for one, will never put a razor to my face again. What about you?

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