A single hair is thin enough to be overlooked at a passing glance. Chances are you do not even see the few filaments littering the headrest of an armchair or floating aimlessly in the air. Hair in its basic unit is insubstantial and unnoteworthy. It was quite an impressive display of marksmanship, then, when the men of Benjamin with the left hand slung their stones “at an hair breadth,” and did not miss (Jud. 20:16).
On the other hand, when a collective of single hairs populates the human head, the effect can be rather marvelous. One wonders what the head of Absalom looked like before and after his annual cut, when “he weighed the hair of his head at two hundred shekels after the king’s weight” (II Sam. 14:26). That he cut his hair seems to indicate even he understood the law of nature, “that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him” (I Cor. 11:14). But what is a shame to a man is the glory of a woman, “for her hair is given her for a covering” (I Cor. 11:15). Thus the lover’s song, intent to relish every fair detail of his bride, begins with the textured canvas of her head—“thou hast dove’s eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead” (Song of Solomon 4:1). No ostentatious braiding of the hair is necessary (I Tim. 4:9)! No expensive plaiting of the hair, either (I Pet. 3:3)! It is the simple elegance of creation that makes “thine head upon thee like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple” (Song of Solomon 7:5).
Outward beauty, however, is a transient thing, which might explain the shelves of products in the pharmaceutical section of the grocery store designed with hair in mind. Not only will you find gels and sprays for sculpting hair, soaps and shampoos for washing hair, clips and pins for bunching hair; you will also discover paints and dyes for obscuring hair. Not obscuring its presence, of course, but its color. Nothing invokes the fear of old age more than the single white hair standing resolutely in a sea of black or brown. If it cannot be removed with the tweezers, let it be hidden with the dye! But this is the human logic that exalts in the freshness of youth and deplores the wisdom of age.
As always, divine logic is quite the opposite, which is why we find a treasure verse hidden in the depths of Proverbs: “The hoary [silver-haired!] head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness” (Prov. 16:31). So how did John find the risen and exalted Lord Jesus when he fell into a trance on the Lord’s Day? Did a youthful jet of black grace the Lord’s brow? Not at all, but rather “his head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow” (Rev. 1:14). It was a whiteness of hair reflecting age, austerity, wisdom, and righteousness! A different kind of glory than the flowing locks of a woman, no doubt! But a glory nonetheless! It was the same glory as the Ancient of Days, whose snowy white garments blended brilliantly with “the hair of his head like the pure wool” (Dan. 7:9).
But if there is glory in the hairy head, it contrasts with the embarrassment, or in some cases even the fear, of losing one’s hair. One of the lesser known functions of the priests in the Old Testament was the regular inspection of hair. A tell-tale sign of leprosy was discoloration or loss of hair. Thus “the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white…it is a plague of leprosy: and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean” (Lev. 13:3). To be pronounced unclean was to be sent away from the village, away from home, away from family, and away from life. We can well appreciate the anxiety, then, with which a man approached the priest as the hair began to disappear from his forehead or crown. We can also appreciate his relief at the pronouncement of the priest after duly inspecting him: “And the man whose hair is fallen off his head, he is bald; yet he is clean” (Lev. 13:40). There is no uncleanness or genuine cause for shame in the mere baldness of the head, as the children of Bethel once learned to their peril (II Kings 2:23).
It is a different matter, however, when hair is removed on purpose. Hair might be painfully stripped away as a sign of sorrow, as Ezra at the news of Judah’s apostasy: “I…plucked off the hair of my head and of my beard, and sat down astonied” (Ezra 9:3). It may be the stigma of the now cleansed leper, who, though the leprosy itself has passed, must nevertheless “shave off all his hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows, even all his hair he shall shave off” (Lev. 14:9). It may be a sign of judgment, as the Lord who threatens against Israel, through the instrumentality of the king of Assyria, to shave “the head, and the hair of the feet” (Is. 7:20). It may even be the result of pride and misplaced trust, as the razor of Delilah that shore off the seven locks from Samson’s head (Jud. 16:19). In every case, the effect of hair removal is pain and humiliation. And it is thus that we can find the gospel even in a biblical word as innocuous as hair. For the Lord Jesus Christ, in addition to the wounds in his hands and feet, suffered the stigma and shame of the removal of his hair: “I gave my back to the smiters, and my cheeks to them that plucked off the hair: I hid not my face from shame and spitting” (Is. 50:6). Oh, it was a glorious head of snow that John saw on the risen Lord’s brow in his vision on the Lord’s Day! Indeed, all the more glorious since it was a crown of hoary hair found exclusively in the way of righteousness!
It is on the basis of that very gospel, then, that hair becomes one of the most unexpected symbols of comfort for every Christian who confesses belonging to Jesus Christ. The Christian may be compassed by evils and surrounded by enemies “more than the hairs of mine head” (Ps. 40:12; 69:4). With Eliphas the Temanite, he may tremble in the presence of the Almighty so that “the hair of my flesh stood up” (Job 4:15). He may even live to see the day when, looking up to the darkening sky, the sun itself turns black “as sackcloth of hair” (Rev. 6:12). Yet in the face of such troubles and fears, every Christian can be as calm and determined as Samson, gripping the two pillars in the temple of Dagon even as he felt “the hair of his head began to grow again after he was shaven” (Jud. 16:22). Every believer can be filled with the same gratitude and wonder as the Mary who wiped the anointed feet of Jesus “with her hair” (John 12:3). For as the Lord Himself taught us with another of His unforgettable aphorisms, “the very hairs of your head are all numbered” (Matt. 10:30). And, therefore, it is not without reason that our confession confidently proclaims the total certainty of our salvation, for “without the will of my heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from my head” (Heid. Cat., Q&A 1).