The Hebrews regarded a thin, scanty beard as a great deformity; while a long, full, flowing beard was esteemed the noblest ornament of personal beauty and dignity. A man's honor was lodged, as it were, his beard. To insult it by word or act was the grossest indignity; to take it respectfully in the right hand and kiss it, was a mode of expressing high esteem and love permitted only to the nearest friends. It was cherished with great care, Ps 133:2; Da 10:3. To neglect, tear, or cut it, indicated the deepest grief, Ezr 9:3; Isa 15:2; Jer 41:5; 48:37; while to be deprived of it was a mark of servility and infamy. Many would prefer death to such a mutilation. These facts explain many passages of Scripture: as the gross insult offered to David's ambassadors, 2Sa 10:4-14; the zealous indignation of Nehemiah, Ne 13:25; the mode in which the feigned insanity of David was expressed, 1Sa 21:12, and the grief of Mephibosheth, 1Sa 19:24; the treachery of Judas; also several passages in the prophets, Isa 7:20; 50:6; Eze 5:1-5.
The mode of wearing it was definitely prescribed to the Jews (Le 19:27; 21:5). Hence the import of Ezekiel's (Eze 5:1-4) description of the "razor" i.e., the agents of an angry providence being used against the guilty nation of the Jews. It was a part of a Jew's daily toilet to anoint his beard with oil and perfume (Ps 133:2). Beards were trimmed with the most fastidious care (2Sa 19:24), and their neglet was an indication of deep sorrow (Isa 15:2; Jer 41:5). The custom was to shave or pluck off the hair as a sign of mourning (Isa 50:6; Jer 48:37; Ezr 9:3). The beards of David's ambassadors were cut off by hanun (2Sa 10:4) as a mark of indignity.
On the other hand, the Egyptians carefully shaved the hair off their faces, and they compelled their slaves to do so also (Ge 41:14).
Illustration: Modes of Wearing Beard
With Asiatics, a badge of manly dignity. The Egyptians mostly shaved the hair of the face and head, except in mourning. In consonance with this Egyptian usage, Scripture, with the undesigned propriety of truth, represents Joseph as having "shaved his beard," which he had allowed to grow in prison, before entering Pharaoh's presence (Ge 41:14). Many Egyptians wore a false beard of plaited hair, private individuals small ones, kings long ones square below, the gods one turning at the end. Their enemies are represented bearded on the monuments.
The Jews were forbidden to "round the corners of their heads or mar (i.e. shave off) the corners of their beards" (Le 19:27; 21:5). Baal worshippers rounded the beard and hair to make their faces round, like the sun. The Arabs trimmed their beard round in sign of dedication to some idol. Possibly the Israelites retained the hair between the ear and eye, which the Arabs shaved away (Jer 9:26 margin; Jer 25:23; 49:32; compare Herodotus, 3:8).
The beard is sworn by in the E. as an object of veneration. Not to trim it marked affliction, as in Mephibosheth's case during Absalom's occupation of Jerusalem (2Sa 19:24). An insult to it was resented as a gross outrage, as David did when Hanun shaved off half the beards of his ambassadors (2Sa 10:4). Compare God's threat of "shaving" away His people as "hair" with the Assyrian king as His "razor" (Isa 7:20). This was one gross indignity to which Jesus was subjected: "I gave My cheeks to them that plucked off the hair" (Isa 50:6). It was shaved in mourning (Isa 15:2; Jer 41:5; 48:37). Only the nearest friends were permitted to touch the beard, which marks the foul treachery of Joab in taking his cousin Amasa's beard to kiss him, or rather it (2Sa 20:9). The precious ointment flowed from Aaron's head at his consecration, upon his beard (Ps 133:2). The leper, at purification, had to shave his head and beard and eyebrows (Le 14:9).
The Israelites always cultivated the beard, and highly valued it. The law forbade them to 'mar the corners of their beards,' Le 19:27, and a priest must not shave off the corner of his beard as a sign of mourning. Le 21:5. King Hanun inflicted a sore indignity when he marred the beards of David's ambassadors. 2Sa 10:4. Ezra in great grief at the sin of the people plucked off the hair of his head and of his beard. Ezr 9:3: cf. Jer 41:5. God's judgement on Israel is compared to the beard being consumed by a razor, Isa 7:20; and they were to be scattered as hair that is cut off. Eze 5:1-2,12. Of Moab it was said, every beard should be cut off. Isa 15:2; Jer 48:37.
Western Asiatics have always cherished the beard as the badge of the dignity of manhood, and attached to it the importance of a feature. The Egyptians, on the contrary for the most part shaved the hair of the face and head, though we find some instances to the contrary. The beard is the object of an oath, and that on which blessing or shame is spoken of as resting. The custom was and is to shave or pluck it and the hair out in mourning,
Bar. 6:31; to neglect it in seasons of permanent affliction,
and to regard any insult to it as the last outrage which enmity can inflict.
The beard was the object of salutation.
The dressing, trimming, anointing, etc., of the beard was performed with much ceremony by persons of wealth and rank
The removal of the beard was a part of the ceremonial treatment proper to a leper.
BEARD. The Hebrews wore their beards, but had, doubtless, in common with other Asiatic nations, several fashions in this, as in all other parts of dress. Moses forbids them, Le 19:27, "to cut off entirely the angle, or extremity of their beard;" that is, to avoid the manner of the Egyptians, who left only a little tuft of beard at the extremity of their chins. The Jews, in some places, at this day suffer a little fillet of hair to grow from below the ears to the chin: where, as well as upon their lower lips, their beards are long. When they mourned, they entirely shaved the hair of their heads and beards, and neglected to trim their beards, to regulate them into neat order, or to remove what grew on their upper lips and cheeks, Jer 48:37. In times of grief and affliction, they plucked away the hair of their heads and beards, a mode of expression common to other nations under great calamities. The king of the Ammonites, designing to insult David in the person of his ambassadors, cut away half of their beards, and half of their clothes; that is, he cut off all their beard on one side of their faces, 2Sa 10:4-5; 1Ch 19:5. To avoid ridicule, David did not wish them to appear at his court till their beards were grown again. When a leper was cured of his leprosy, he washed himself in a bath, and shaved off all the hair of his body; after which, he returned into the camp, or city; seven days afterward, he washed himself and his clothes again, shaved off all his hair, and offered the sacrifices appointed for his purification, Le 14:9. The Levites, at their consecration, were purified by bathing, and washing their bodies and clothes; after which, they shaved off all the hair of their bodies, and then offered the sacrifices appointed for their consecration, Nu 8:7.
Nothing has been more fluctuating, in the different ages of the world and countries than the fashion of wearing the beard. Some have cultivated one part and some another; some have endeavoured to extirpate it entirely, while others have almost idolized it; the revolutions of countries have scarcely been more famous than the revolutions of beards. It is a great mark of infamy among the Arabs to cut off the beard. Many people would prefer death to this kind of treatment. As they would think it a grievous punishment to lose it, they carry things so far as to beg for the sake of it: "By your beard, by the life of your beard, God preserve your blessed beard." When they would express their value for any thing, they say, "It is worth more than a man's beard." And hence we may easily learn the magnitude of the offence of the Ammonites in their treatment of David's ambassadors, as above mentioned; and also the force of the emblem used Eze 5:1-5, where the inhabitants of Jerusalem are compared to the hair of his head and beard. Though they had been dear to God as the hair of an eastern beard to its owner, they should be taken away and consumed, one part by pestilence and famine, another by the sword, another by the calamities incident on exile.