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.

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48 COMMENTS

  1. As I learned in seminary, the cutting of the beards and the garments was to humiliate the men. My Hebrew/OT professor told us there is even a hint of captured men being sodomized when their garments are cut off.
    • Well, that is going a bit too far. It takes a lot of imagination to read the text this way. The Hebrew says that their robes were cut so short that their behinds were showing, but nothing about anything beyond destroying their garments. No actions beyond cutting were mentioned.
  2. 1) How many fruit of the Spirit would there be in Hebrew? (That is, would some be combined as a single word in Hebrew which would give the wrong impression when translated into Greek?) (2) Is there any indication Jesus is of the line of Phinehas, grandson of Aaron? (Mary was the cousin of Elizabeth, husband of Zachariah, who is a Levite - but does this indicate Levites in Jesus' ancestry - and, if so, what about the high priestly line?) Thank you and I am very much look forward to hear from you soon Lots of blessings
  3. I am not convinced that your article includes enough to prove the connection with integrity - though it is certainly true that the full beard was a sign of honour, and it half shaved off was a disgrace. There is a connection with Torah observance as there is a law that forbids trimming the corners of the beard. Something that some groups of Hasidic Jews still observe. I have not come across a Christian commentary or sermon that has anything to say about this aspect.
    • Well, Ronald, a three hundred word post is not supposed to convince anyone of anything serious, just enough to make people think.
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    • Shalom, Roland. Well, you know what they say about iron sharpening iron! Thanks for jumping into the discussion.
  4. The Teaching and Miracles audio lesson was truly beautiful and quite interesting. More of these enlightening and inspiring stories and lessons are very much welcome! Thank you so much, Dr. Eli and the team!
  5. Hello Dr. Eli. I have watched 5 out of 7 parts of the Roundtable Discussion with you and Professor Amy Jill Levine. It was quite interesting and I do agree with most of what was said. In regards to Jews and Christians being different in their outlook on life, with regards to Christians apparently just believing and not acting, and Jews doing good deeds, I must say, I disagree with your assessments the both of you. In all of the Christian circles I've been involved in, people were always encouraged to do good deeds and good works by their clergymen.
    • Yes, absolutely! Good works are not unimportant in Christian communities. But generally speaking, Christians tended over the years to emphasize doctrine (in comparison to Jewish communities). It is a matter of emphasis neither either/or, the way I see it.

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  6. As a continuation of my previous comment, many Christians I have known and heard of have done great deeds of charity and humanity towards their fellow women, children and men. We cannot generalize. I, for one, have always said that my purpose in life is to serve God, Humanity, Animals, The Environment, My Queen of Canada and the Universe, throughout my lifetime, and I have been a Christian woman since I was baptized, one month after my birth. I have known of certain churches who have women's and men's groups who do charitable deeds, as well.
    • Baptism, no matter at what age, does not make one a Christian. No sacrament (works) can forgive sin! Paul writes very clearly in Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.

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  7. 1) How many fruit of the Spirit would there be in Hebrew? (That is, would some be combined as a single word in Hebrew which would give the wrong impression when translated into Greek?) (2) Is there any indication Jesus is of the line of Phinehas, grandson of Aaron? (Mary was the cousin of Elizabeth, husband of Zachariah, who is a Levite – but does this indicate Levites in Jesus’ ancestry – and, if so, what about the high priestly line?) Thank you and I am very much look forward to hear from you soon Lots of thanks
  8. given that information, it must be hard on those men who could not grow a full beard, or perhaps, any beard at all. Not every human is hirsute.
    • Yes, Rick. But you see most men of middle eastern descent have no problem with that. Genetics is like that :) Some ethnic groups have entirely different heredity and may not be able to grow beards very well. Culture is very regional.
    • We are very happy that you’ve joined our discussion forum. Would you believe that these articles are only a taste of what Israel Bible Center has to offer? We also provide comprehensive teaching on a variety of biblical, historical, and cultural topics. You might begin with The Stories of Jewish Christ: Among the Rabbis or . You’ll be amazed at the Jewish world that awaits you. Don’t delay another minute: enroll now!
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