One of the most common questions we get is about cutting our hair and shaving our beards. This idea comes from Leviticus 19:27 and Deuteronomy 14:1. Context is crucial when it comes to subjects such as these. If someone chooses to not cut their hair, beard, or corners of their head and they are doing so in belief that it is pleasing to YHWH, even after we present the different places these things are mentioned in scripture, then we completely respect your doing so. Let’s look at the verses.
‘Do not eat meat with the blood. Do not practice divination or magic. ‘Do not round the corner of your head, nor destroy the corner of your beard. ‘And do not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor put tattoo marks on you. I am YHWH.
Each of these 15 points or subjects presented in chapter 19 all end or transition with “I am YHWH” before the next subject starts. In the case of Leviticus 19:26-28 these instructions are in regards to the dead. Deuteronomy 14:1 confirms this.
“You are the children of YHWH your Elohim. Do not cut yourselves nor shave the front of your head for the dead.
Notice the wording for the priests in Leviticus 21:1-5 is similar to what it was in Leviticus 14:9 and this passage is also in reference to the dead.
And YHWH said to Mosheh, “Speak to the priests, the sons of Aharon, and say to them: ‘No one is to be defiled for the dead among his people, except for his relatives who are nearest to him: for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother; and for his maiden sister who is near to him, who has had no husband – for her he is defiled. ‘A leader does not defile himself among his people, to profane himself; they do not make any bald place on their heads, and they do not shave the corner of their beard, and they do not make a cutting in their flesh.
Again in Jeremiah we see the same wording in reference to the dead.
For thus said YHWH, “Do not enter the house of mourning, neither go to lament or mourn for them, for I have withdrawn My peace from this people,” declares YHWH, “even the kindness and the compassions. “Both great and small shall die in this land. They shall not be buried, and no one shall lament for them, or cut themselves, or make themselves bald for them. “Neither shall they break bread in mourning for them to comfort them for the dead, nor give them the cup of comfort to drink for their father or their mother. “Do not enter the house of feasting to sit with them, to eat and drink.
Cutting your hair in a particular way or marring one’s beard was a ritual way of mourning the dead that was used in other surrounding cultures. Shaving or cutting your hair is not the issue at all. It was all about rituals of mourning the dead. The KJV uses the word mar in relation to beards. That word mar is Strong’s H7843, and it means “to destroy, corrupt, go to ruin, decay.” They would literally rip the hair out of their faces as a way to mourn the dead. It wasn’t about shaving your beard at all. As a matter of fact, there are several places where shaving one’s head or even the entire body was commanded. Let’s look at a few places where they shaved their entire body for different reasons.
We have an example of someone with a skin disease or leprosy that was to shave their entire bodies.
“This shall be the Torah of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest, and the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall look and see, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command, and he shall take for him who is to be cleansed two live and clean birds, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop. “And the priest shall command, and he shall kill one of the birds in an earthen vessel over running water. “Let him take the live bird and the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the live bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water. “And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the live bird loose in the open field. “And he who is to be cleansed shall wash his garments, and shall shave off all his hair and wash himself in water, and shall be clean. Then after that he comes into the camp, but shall stay outside his tent seven days. “And on the seventh day it shall be that he shaves all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shaves off. And he shall wash his garments and wash his body in water, and shall be clean.
Here we have the conversation of the Levites in which their bodies were shaved.
And YHWH spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the Levites from among the children of Israel, and you shall cleanse them, and do this to them to cleanse them: Sprinkle water of sin offering on them, and they shall shave all their body, and shall wash their garments, and cleanse themselves, and shall take a young bull with its grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, while you take another young bull as a sin offering.
Numbers 6:1-21 talks about taking a Nazarite Vow, part of which involved shaving one’s head.
“‘If someone dies suddenly in the Nazirite’s presence, thus defiling the hair that symbolizes their dedication, they must shave their head on the seventh day—the day of their cleansing.
In light of these scriptures, YHWH is not declaring that men must have a beard or that we cannot cut our hair. The context is all about not incorporating pagan rituals of mourning the dead. If it is a sin to shave our beards or cut our hair, then that would make YHWH double minded since He specifically commands certain people at certain times to shave all their hair off or to shave their heads. This is another example of why it is so important to understand the cultural context of scripture.
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