The books of Samuel and Chronicles both tells the story of how Ammonites did something strange to provoke a war with King David. The King of Ammonites died and David sent a party from Israel to express his condolences. The men of the court told the king’s son that David did not send this delegation to bring condolences, but rather to gather intelligence, so he could later conquer them. The prince reacted in anger. “So Hanun took David’s servants and shaved off half of their beards (וַיְגַלַּח אֶת־חֲצִי זְקָנָם), and cut off their garments in the middle as far as their hips, and sent them away. (2 Sam 10:4 NASB) Why did he do it?
A “beard” in Hebrew is זָקָן (zakan). The word can translate it as a “chin” sometimes, but the Bible usually means the “hair which grows from the chin”. The noun “beard” is related to זָקֵן (zaken) which means “to become old”. The same word means “an elder” (man or a woman). And זִקְנָה (ziknah) or זְקֻנִים (zekunim) means “old age” The root expresses the idea of maturity that comes only with age. (Basically: one way to become wise is to live longer). This is in fact the same Hebrew word that lies behind New Testament’s presbyter/overseer/elder. The beard is sign of honor with a proven track-record of integrity. In the story, Hanun openly accused King David of lack of integrity by shaving half of his men’s beards. Knowing this fact, these seemingly bizarre actions make sense.