O Beard, Where Art Thou?

O Beard, Where Art Thou?

This article, with all its bearded banter, has nothing negative to say to you. We agree with Shakespeare that “he that hath a beard is more than a youth,” but not when he continues, “and he that hath no beard is less than a man” (Much Ado about Nothing, 2.1). For if you walk according to your God-given and God-matured masculinity, you are a bearded man, whether you have hair on your face or not. To understand that statement, consider the wonder of why God made beards.

Joab’s charge to play the man still endures, immortalized in Scripture. “Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him” (2 Samuel 10:13).

Joab, facing enemies from the front and from the rear, took some of his best men and faced the Syrians ahead. The rest of his army would turn with his brother, Abishai, to meet the Ammonites to their back. Here we find the iconic words of Joab to his brother:

If the Syrians are too strong for me, then you shall help me, but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will come and help you. Be of good courage, and let us be courageous for our people, and for the cities of our God, and may the Lord do what seems good to him. (2 Samuel 10:11–13)

This battle scene, equal to the best of BraveheartGladiator, or 300, began, if I may comb things out just slightly, with a man’s beard. Or, to be precise, the beards of several bushy men.

Sheared Like Sheep

David had sent several bearded messengers to meet the newly crowned King Hanun of the Ammonites, who succeeded his father, Nahash. David expressed his condolences for the deceased Nahash by dispatching these warm-chinned chums to “console [Hanun] concerning his father” (2 Samuel 10:2). Nahash had remained loyal to David — the neighboring kings kept the peace between each other. David’s delegates extended, as it were, the right hand of good will to Hanun.

A hand Hanun would not shake.

Led by the folly of suspicious counsel, the princes of the Ammonites convinced Hanun that these servants did not come to comfort but to conquer. “Has not David sent his servants to search the city and spy it out and to overthrow it?” (2 Samuel 10:3). And this is where things get rather hairy for the king. How should he respond?

He decides to shame David’s men and make them a spectacle. “Hanun took David’s servants and shaved off half the beard of each and cut off their garments in the middle, at their hips, and sent them away” (2 Samuel 10:4). He left multiple cheeks exposed.

Like sheep, Hanun sheared these men. These trees lost half their leaves; these lions, half their manes. When David heard of the barber-ous deed, he sent to meet them because they were “greatly ashamed.” The king acknowledged their humiliation and told them, “Remain at Jericho until your beards have grown and then return” (2 Samuel 10:5).

And what would David do next? Touch a man’s goat, and it’s time for court; touch a man’s beard, and it’s time for war.

Still Waiting in Jericho

In the twenty-first century, we might miss how hostile this act really was, how deeply shaming for an Israelite man in that day. If King Hanun cut off half of our beards today, it would be considered less shameful than strange. Also, not very effective — for each could just shave the other half off and still fit in with society. So why did this razor cut them to the heart? Why wait outside Jerusalem until it grew back? One historical commentary states, “What may seem like a ‘prank’ was in fact a direct challenge to David’s power and authority, and precipitated a war between the two nations” (336).

And beyond its spitting upon David’s outstretched hand of peace, consider the prominence of the beard in Israel.

First, in Israelite culture, the beard served as a sign of mature masculinity. All Israelite men grew beards; God commanded it: “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard” (Leviticus 19:27).

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