“Are you saying we can’t shave our beards?”, is the usual response one gets from a Christian who hears that “God’s Law is applicable to our lives today”. For some reason, Christians have been taught to counter any arguments made towards adherence to God’s Law, with this simple question, as if these words spoken by God, are illogical, irrelevant and even somewhat nonsensical in our eyes. Furthermore, it’s taken to simply prove that God’s Law as a whole is in fact inapplicable. I do not need to point fingers at anyone, as I would have asked the same question a few years ago! Lets admit it, it’s a fair question which needs to be answered. Is God’s Law illogical, or misunderstood?
The 2 key verses in question
Verse A. Lev 19:27 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard.
Verse B. Lev 21:5 They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.
A closer look at Verse A
It is important to note that Lev 19:27 should be read along with verse 28. Please refer the highlighted key words below:
Lev 19:27,28 Ye shall not round the corners of your heads, neither shalt thou mar the corners of thy beard. Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.
A closer look at Verse B
Similarly, it is important to note that Lev 21:5 be read with the 4 preceding verses. Please refer the highlighted key words below:
Lev 21:1-5 And the LORD said unto Moses, Speak unto the priests the sons of Aaron, and say unto them, There shall none be defiled for the dead among his people: But for his kin, that is near unto him, that is, for his mother, and for his father, and for his son, and for his daughter, and for his brother, And for his sister a virgin, that is nigh unto him, which hath had no husband; for her may he be defiled. But he shall not defile himself, being a chief man among his people, to profane himself. They shall not make baldness upon their head, neither shall they shave off the corner of their beard, nor make any cuttings in their flesh.
Comparison of the two key verses
Both of the passages we are studying today, contain 4 key points that are repeated in each other. These are:
1. Making Baldness/rounding the corners of one’s head
2. Marring/Shaving off the corner of one’s beard
3. Making any sort of cutting in one’s flesh
4. Defilement or doing such acts for the dead
Some of you may be hesitant to believe all of these acts, including “shaving the corners of one’s beard” were done for the dead. We need more proof to be certain. Let’s continue!
Ancient acts of mourning
Reading the verses provided below, should give you a basic idea of the mourning rites done by nations neighboring Israel and sometimes adopted by some of the Israelites.
Deu 14:1 Ye are the children of the LORD your God: ye shall not cut yourselves, nor make any baldness between your eyes for the dead.
Isa 15:2 He is gone up to Bajith, and to Dibon, the high places, to weep: Moab shall howl over Nebo, and over Medeba: on all their heads shall be baldness, and every beard cut off.
Jer 16:6 Both the great and the small shall die in this land: they shall not be buried, neither shall men lament for them, nor cut themselves, nor make themselves bald for them:
Jer 41:5 That there came certain from Shechem, from Shiloh, and from Samaria, even fourscore men, having their beards shaven, and their clothes rent, and having cut themselves, with offerings and incense in their hand, to bring them to the house of the LORD.
Jer 48:37,38 For every head shall be bald, and every beard clipped: upon all the hands shall be cuttings, and upon the loins sackcloth. There shall be lamentation generally upon all the housetops of Moab, and in the streets thereof: for I have broken Moab like a vessel wherein is no pleasure, saith the LORD.
The above verses make it abundantly clear that making oneself bald, cutting the corners of the beard & cutting the flesh were all done in mourning for the dead – especially by pagan nations. This is why the creator specifically said that “His people” were not to do such rituals. Deut 14:1 makes this differentiation very clear – the children of God were not to do such things.
Lamentation/weeping is directly connected to these acts in Isa 15:2, Jer 16:6 & 48:37,38.
Jer 41:5 needs to be highlighted here, as we see men who are participating in these rituals going to the temple in Jerusalem to offer incense, while disobeying God’s command against these rituals. No wonder prophets such as Hosea were led to proclaim “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hos 6:6).
Reading Lev 19:27 & 21:5 does sound like it contains a prohibition against shaving. But closer examination using context and comparison between the two verses does make it abundantly clear that these commandments were connected to mourning rituals. The Scriptures themselves shed light upon these rituals, connecting them to each other, as well as, lamentation and weeping specifically done for the dead by pagan nations. God’s commandment was not that His children could not shave or cut their beards, but that they should not take part in rituals done for the dead – with cutting flesh, making self bald and cutting the corners of the beard. God & His Word is never illogical, irrelevant or nonsensical. With proper context and understanding we can clearly see that there is a reason for every Word He spoke, and that it is misunderstandings such as this, which has led Christianity away from His instructions, to question the validity of His Words, using such questions as “Are you saying we can’t shave our beards?”