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"'Beauty is Skin Deep' - and Other Hair-esies"

Jan.5, 2014 Lk.7:36-50


Though 'hair' may seem an unusual sermon topic, a search in the NIV (for 'hair*') turns up some 99 references! That suggests this is not an insignificant topic.

And it's certainly not a trivial topic judging by our pocketbooks. An article from 2010 reported, "According to a British survey conducted by Tresemme, the average woman spends a staggering $50,000 on her hair over her lifetime.Each year, we spend an average of $160 on shampoos and conditioners, $120 for styling products and $520 for haircuts.And for those of us who color our locks, add in another $330 a year."

Hair is obviously a priority for a lot of people. For Christians, our priorities revolve around the Great Commission and Great Commandment. What do they have to do with hair? The Great Commandment is about loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbour as ourself. In other words, love God with ALL YOU ARE - including your mind and strength, your body. How do we 'love God' with our hair?

The apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:13, "Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness." So the parts of our body (including our hair) are to be 'tools' or instruments of righteousness offered to God, rather than used for wicked purposes.

So, 'hair' is more than just a 'surface' topic: it also reveals deeper matters. It's tied in subconsciously with our perception of ourselves, who we are.

Before we went to Africa as missionaries, the denomination sent us and other prospective missionary candidates off to a group retreat with some psychologists who were to help determine our suitability. At one point on the retreat, the psychologist playfully reached over and mussed my hair. Instinctively, without even thinking about it, as if in a reflex action, my hand went immediately toward my back pocket to get out my comb. The psychologist pointed this out and made a connection with my need to control, being an "obsessive-compulsive" that has to have things neat and orderly, "just so". Our hair can reveal much about us that's "under the hood".


Hair is very closely related to our overall state of health: a person's hair reflects much about their physical condition. Chapter 13 in Leviticus has about 15 references to hair as a means of diagnosing a person's degree of wellness in relation to leprosy or other skin diseases. The priest draws various conclusions depending on whether the hair's colour in the affected region has turned white, black, or yellow.

In Daniel 3:27, when the government officials examine Shadrach Meshach and Abednego who've been kept safe in the fiery furnace, "They saw that the fire had not harmed their bodies, nor was a hair of their heads singed; their robes were not scorched, and there was no smell of fire on them." So hair here is associated with health, wholeness, being protected by God.

As examples of health - let's meet some of the 'hairy men of the Bible'! These guys epitomize being 'buff' and virile. The manly "lover" in Song of Songs is described thus: "His head is purest gold; his hair is wavy and black as a raven." (So 5:11) Mr.Studly.

First up on our list of named hairy men is Esau, twin brother to Jacob, both sons of Isaac: Genesis 25:25 / 27:11, "The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau." [later when they're grown men] "Jacob said to Rebekah his mother, "But my brother Esau is a hairy man, and I'm a man with smooth skin." (Ge 27:11) We hear you Jacob, feeling you missed out on the extra hormone dose. All that would come back to haunt him when he hears Esau is coming to meet his trickster twin with an army of 600 men! But hormones don't necessarily correlate with holiness - God in mercy chooses Jacob, not Esau, to be the Messiah's ancestor.

Perhaps the hairiest man was Absalom, David's son. In 2Samuel 14(26) we're told, "Whenever he cut the hair of his head-- he used to cut his hair from time to time when it became too heavy for him-- he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard." That's about 5 pounds (2.3 kg) every haircut! Absalom must have had turbo-hormones. No wonder he was a shoo-in to challenge his father for the throne.

Absalom won for quantity, but Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon won for coverage. God judged Nebuchadnezzar for overweening pride by depriving him of his faculty of reason for a time, so he essentially turned into a wild beast. Daniel 4:33, "He was driven away from people and ate grass like cattle.His body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair grew like the feathers of an eagle and his nails like the claws of a bird." Here hairiness reflects wildness, being God-forsaken and even beastly. Yet God is merciful and eventually restores the king's faculties and position.

Speaking of the 'wild' side - let's not forget two prophets of note, Elijah (in the Old Testament) and John the Baptist (in the New). Elijah is described as a man with a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist." (2Ki 1:8) John the Baptist, likewise, "wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey." (Mr 1:6) Hair garments, not your typical wool or cloth material; both prophets sound edgy, counter-cultural, standing out as a "holy man" not conforming to social norms. They didn't let the world squeeze them into its mould. The text doesn't mention hair length, but barbers wouldn't be too common living out in the wilderness!

Ezekiel was another prophet with whom hair played an important role. He was commanded by God to lay on his side as a symbol of Israel's disobedience. He was to shave his head and beard with a sharp razor, divide up the hair, burn a third with fire, strike a third with the sword, and scatter a third to the wind - after taking a few strands and tucking them away in the folds of his garment. Ezekiel's hair came to symbolize the people and their fate when judgment came at the hand of the Babylonians.

In the Old Testament, a special class of holy men were set apart and recognized by their hair and their non-consumption of alcohol. These were called "Nazirites" - from Hebrew 'nazar' = to separate or consecrate. Numbers 6:5, "During the entire period of his vow of separation no razor may be used on his head.He must be holy until the period of his separation to the LORD is over; he must let the hair of his head grow long." After the period of the special vow or separation ended: "Then at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, the Nazirite must shave off the hair that he dedicated.He is to take the hair and put it in the fire that is under the sacrifice of the fellowship offering." (Num 6:18) So the hair of the Nazirite became a symbol of his being set-apart or consecrated through his vow.

Thus we come to perhaps the most famous and certainly the strongest of the 'hairy men' of the Old Testament - Samson. The angel who announced his conception to his formerly childless mother said, "No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will bring the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines." (Judges 13:5) He was doing just that so successfully that his enemies coerced his girlfriend, Delilah, into revealing the secret of his supernatural strength. Judges 16:19, "Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him." The Philistines captured him and gouged out his eyes and set him to grinding grain in the prison. V22 "But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved." And later, he was avenged for the loss of his eyes by killing many of Israel's enemies when he too died. Samson's hair symbolizes the power of dedication to the Lord, being set-apart or consecrated to serving Him.

One's hair, under the Mosaic Law, was also a sign of fidelity to the Lord. Leviticus 19:27 commanded, "Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard." This would set them apart from the pagan nations around whose hairstyle croppings reflected adherence to false gods. Orthodox Jews still observe this custom today.


For women, in addition to health, hair was associated with beauty, a woman's "glory". In the Song of Songs, the 'lover' praises the beauty of the woman thus: "How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind your veil are doves.Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead." (Song 4:1) And later, "Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses." (So 7:5) Hair so lovely it has the power to hold a monarch prisoner by its captivating beauty! (See also Ezek 16:7) In the new Testament, Paul acknowledges the reality of the important role hair plays especially for women - 1Corinthians 11:14f, "Does not the very nature of things teach you...that if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?" It's her doxa - glory, praise, honour, dignity.

Hair is also significant for the elderly. The Bible teaches that the gray-haired are to be honoured, not shut away or dismissed. Proverbs 16:31 & 20:29, "Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life...The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old."

Here's a quiz question for you: what's the hair colour of THE most beautiful and powerful person in the Bible? Not black; not blonde or brunette (sorry!). Daniel 7:9 "...The Ancient of Days took his seat.His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool." Then John writes in Revelation about his vision of Jesus, "His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire." (Rev 1:14)


Hair is really such a wispy, flimsy, fragile thing - Jesus picks it to highlight the extent of God's care for those who are His children through faith. Jesus says in Matthew 10:30, "And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered." In Luke 12:7 we read Jesus again saying, "Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered.Don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows." God cares about you enough to know your hair-count, your fingerprint, your retinal scan code! Jesus is saying you're precious to Him, you are valuable, "worth more", you are significant to God as a uniquely created and fashioned individual.

Luke's gospel records Him saying that although His followers may be put to death and hated by all, "But not a hair of your head will perish." (Lu 21:18)

God's protection of us, keeping us whole and healthy, will be reflected in the condition of our hair. Someone in our congregation trained professionally as a hairstylist educated me a bit about how one's hair reflects a person's health. "Your body cannot produce healthy hair without the proper nutrients.The body can produce 11 of the 20 amino acids that make up the hair, but the remaining nine must come from your diet...Hair is 91% protein.A sluggish scalp due to poor circulation, infection, injury, improper diet, or poor personal hygiene contributes to dandruff...Usually women who have experienced anorexia or bulimia will have very dry hair; people taking certain medications and undergoing certain medical treatments will have dry hair and even hair loss.A lot of people who have experienced a very traumatic emotional or physiological event will have hair in very poor condition, as well as anyone who just underwent surgery...So basically the gist of it is - if you're not taking care of yourself, your hair will suffer..."


There are also some NEGATIVE things about hair that come through in Scripture. While it's a person's 'glory', it can lead to shame if it's lost; a lack of hair can indicate something's wrong.

From early on, hair was allowed to become unkempt if people were mourning (Lev 10:6; 21:10). Isaiah 22(12) "The Lord, the LORD Almighty, called you on that day to weep and to wail, to tear out your hair and put on sackcloth." Ezra 9:3 "When I heard this, I tore my tunic and cloak, pulled hair from my head and beard and sat down appalled." It could be a means of public shaming and punishment, as Nehemiah shows: "I rebuked them and called curses down on them.I beat some of the men and pulled out their hair..." (Ne 13:25)

At some times, hair played a part in deception, fooling or tricking others. Jacob covered his arms with goat skins to mimic Esau's hairy body (Gen 27:23). David's wife Michal used an idol and goat's hair to pretend David was sleeping in his bed and so he could evade his enemies (1Sam 19:13). But the 'queen' of evil ladies in the Old Testament was Jezebel: 2Kings 9:30, after she'd heard her husband had been killed by Jehu, "When Jezebel heard about it, she painted her eyes, arranged her hair and looked out of a window." The murderous, conniving ol' gal maybe hoped she could win over her husband's killer by her womanly wiles. Here hair is used to deceive, to manipulate or seduce.

So the apostles in the New Testament caution believing women about placing undue emphasis on one's hair. Paul writes to Timothy: "I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes," (1Tim 2:9) - but with good deeds. Likewise Peter directs, "Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes.Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God's sight." (1Pe 3:3f) See what he's getting at? Beauty is not "skin deep"! Real beauty, unfading beauty, is that of the spirit, not the flesh. A spirit that's been quieted, gentled, responsive is very precious to Him, of "great worth"! Dress modestly, decently, look after yourself appropriately, but don't feel you need to lay on the fancy clothes or sensational makeup. Besides, if you're single, any guy worth getting is going to be looking past those exterior camouflages to the inner person, the 'real you'! He won't want a 'Jezebel' (or dare we say a 'Miley') who dresses to manipulate and seduce.

The famous 'head covering' passage in 1Corinthians 11 deserves careful interpretation. The cultural context was significant: women were poorly educated at that time; and having a covering on one's head signified authority in a way it doesn't in our culture today. Paul argues for a woman to pray without her head covered is as disgraceful as if she had her head shaved off (1Cor 6:6,14f). The upshot of the passage beyond that local context is that there IS a marked difference between the genders, between the roles of men and women - it's not about superiority, but orderliness, leadership, responsibility, and serving each other, while honouring God's ultimate authority. For those churches at that time and place, the 'sign of authority' of a head covering helped there not be confusion about genders, losing identity about what it means to be a woman or a man, preserving a sense of how God has made us different or special.

This past week our daughter Emily posted a status that's a good illustration of 'real men' loving their wives: "There's nothing like a husband who says I Love You by the salads he makes for supper: the chopped onion when it makes his eyes water, the grated cheese and carrot, the peppers and the bacon bits.It's the small things, men - they make us fall hard."


How do we use even our HAIR for God's glory? Hair is part of our bodies, our members, and is a "tool" or instrument as Paul puts it (Romans 6:13). Sinful passions are "at work in our bodies" when the flesh is in control (Rom 7:5). If we live according to the flesh, the sinful nature, then the minds set on the flesh is DEATH, he says (Rom 8:5f). BUT if we have the Spirit of God living in us (by trusting in Jesus), our mind is controlled NOT by the flesh - not by those ads for glossy hair we see on TV or in print - but our mind is controlled by the Holy Spirit, bringing us life and peace (Rom 8:6). The Bible promises that, if that's the case, God will give life to our mortal bodies (including our hair!) through His Spirit who lives in us (Rom 8:10f). Then, offering our bodies (including our looks and hair) as "living sacrifices", we'll be transformed - changed - by the renewing of our mind, and so prove God's good, pleasing, and perfect will - HIS original design. Beauty is MORE than what's on the surface, MORE than skin deep: the beauty Christ gives is deep on the inside, renewing us from within to be like and in tune with the most beautiful Being in the whole universe. The "inner beauty" of spirit which is of "great worth" to God (1Pet 3:3f).

Remember hairy Absalom, who shed five pounds of weight every time he got his hair cut? Wanna know where he ended up? While making war on his own father in an attempt to become king, his donkey took him under a tree where his flowing hair got tangled in the branches...His donkey kept on going and left him there dangling, where David's troops found and killed him - though against David's orders (2Sam 18:9,14). His hair, of which he was so proud, became his downfall.

Far better to use your hair as an instrument to bring God glory, like the woman in our gospel lesson: though she'd lived a sinful life, she wept at Jesus' feet, washing them with her tears, wiping them with her hair, then anointing His feet with perfume. Her hair became a tool highlighting the forgiveness she found in Jesus. By her hair she 'rolled up her sleeves' and did the humble dirty work of foot washing the proud Pharisee-host had neglected to do.

Or Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus raised from the dead. In John 12 they gave a dinner in Jesus' honour, where His feet would already have been washed as a matter of custom. Yet Mary anointed His feet with expensive perfume "and wiped His feet with her hair.And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume." (Jn 12:3) Mary's use of her hair was not so much in repentance as in gratitude and worship: an act of devotion, deeply loving her Lord, giving sacrificially in a costly way through the expensive perfume - which, incidentally, would have infused her own hair in the process! She became identified with Him as she worshipped, caught up in Jesus' own wonderfulness and beauty. Let's pray.