We frequently disagree with each other here at On The Rocks blog. Generally, it’s over minor issues, yes; but every now and then a topic is broached which raises the hackles and has us hashing out the breadth of the issue. Typically, these arguments are explored during one of our frequent trips to Sunny’s Café here in Sidney, MT, over breakfast plates and bottomless cups of coffee. These are nearly always friendly arguments. We’ve even been complimented by other diners who overheard our conversations.
Garrett referenced one such meeting in his March 10 article: “On Beards, And Why Men Should Grow Them“. On that morning he outlined his view that you can now read in his published article. It is often my way to grow silent and contemplative when I am thinking through an issue seriously. Such was the case on that morning as Garrett outlined his view on beards. I did not respond then, but I wanted to take the time to respond now.
In short, I disagree with his primary conclusion. Men do not need to grow beards just because other men who do grow beards question their manliness.
No Biblical Support
In contrast to Garrett’s views on gender and women’s hair length – which I happen to agree with in principle – there is no biblical command, exhortation, or other form of commendation stating men should grow out their beards. There is no biblical support as a sign of authority, nor as a sign of manliness, nor as a sign of anything else.
In fact, given that the Bible does have specific things to say about hair length and how men and women should dress like men and women respectively, one would think that a command regarding beard growth is a conspicuous omission.
What Is Actually Being Claimed?
Perhaps one of the reasons I object to Garrett’s beard claims is that I don’t exactly know what the claims are!
The article claims in the opening section that men should grow beards but argues later that beards don’t make you any holier. It says that beards are not a sign of piety; but earlier argues that they are majestic and preferable in the same way a lion’s mane is more majestic and preferable to a tiger’s mane-less visage.
The notion of the lion as King of the Jungle is a cultural construct, not a universal one. I doubt, for example, that people in India, China, or any other region of the world where the tiger holds sway would argue that the lion is more majestic simply because of his mane.
And that is really the point. Growing a beard or not growing a beard is a cultural preference, not a matter of biblical authority or manliness. Think of the ten most godly leaders you know. How many of them have beards and how many are clean shaven? There is really no correlation.
Yes, for any man who grows a good beard and wears it well, and whose wife likes it as well, it is probably not hard to imagine that your beard gives you a little extra something in the manliness department. But the Bible has some very definite warnings against judging anything by something so arbitrary as beards.
Jacob And Esau
In Genesis 25, we are told the story of Jacob and Esau, twin brothers born to Isaac. Though twins, Jacob and Esau were opposites. Esau was a man’s man: full of hair (v.25), a skillful hunter and a man of the land (v.27); but Jacob was not: he was smooth skinned and stayed at home among the tents (v.27). In fact, apparently because of these traits, Esau was favored by his father, Isaac, whereas Jacob was favored by his mother.
In Chapter 27, as Isaac is dying and wishing to give Esau a blessing, their mother, Rebekah, devises a plan to trick Isaac into giving his blessing to Jacob. When Esau leaves to go hunt Isaac’s favorite game, Jacob will enter the tent pretending to be Esau, and since Isaac is blind he’ll give Isaac the blessing. But Jacob sees a flaw: “But my brother Esau is a hairy man while I have smooth skin. What if my father touches me? I would appear to be tricking him and would bring down a curse on myself rather than a blessing.” (v.11).
But Rebekah skirts this little problem. Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with goatskins. (v. 14-15). The ruse worked. Isaac, deceived by the goatskins and roughness of Jacob’s skin, blessed Jacob with the blessing of the firstborn.
This example is relevant because it is used over and over in the Bible as an example of God not making His choices based on human measuring sticks. Esau, the firstborn of Isaac, the mighty hunter, and the man who subjects the land around him is the logical choice to father and lead God’s people in a hostile world. Yet Esau is rejected by God and his descendants become a thorn in the flesh of God’s people. Jacob, the smooth-skinned man of the tents, is accepted by God and becomes one of the Patriarchs of God’s chosen people, Israel.
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.” – Malachi 1:2-3 (ESV)
As it is written, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.” – Romans 9:14 (ESV)
Man Looks At The Outside
In First Samuel, we are told the nation of Israel sought a king to rule over them. Initially, God chose Saul. We are told Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else. – I Samuel 9:2 (NIV)
From this brief description it is clear that Saul was the type of king and leader that people look up to (figuratively and literally). Tall and handsome, this is exactly the type of thing we like in a ruler. But don’t miss that even though God gave the people the exact type of ruler they desired, he chose him from a lowly position. Saul responds to Samuel: Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?” In other words, if you’re going to choose a king, how is it that you’re choosing a king from the lowliest of tribes?
Later, because of Saul’s sin, God rejects this tall and handsome leader in favor of someone even more lowly. Samuel is told to go to the house of Jesse, a lowly Shepherd also from the tribe of Benjamin. He parades his seven oldest sons in front of Samuel, yet each one is rejected by God. Finally, Jesse is told to go fetch his youngest son, David, who was thought unworthy to bring before the great prophet. And, as we say, the rest is history.
A revealing exchange takes place between God and Samuel after Samuel sees the eldest son. When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” – I Samuel 16:6-7 (NIV)
I am all for manliness. The culture around us decries any masculinity as “toxic masculinity”. It is certainly a ploy to destroy the beauty of God’s original design for the two genders. However, we must be careful not to swing the pendulum too far the other direction, creating a counter-movement where arbitrary measuring sticks become the standard of manliness.
The biblical view of man as a protector turns into a showcase of who has the biggest and best personal armory, or who is the better huntsman. The biblical view of man as a provider turns into a vehicle showcase as to who owns the best pickup truck. And the biblical view of man as the head of his family deteriorates into a contest of beards. Is any of this wrong, per se? I would say no. But if it’s used to elevate one’s own pride or vanity, or used to look down on others, then I would say those who hold these views may need to take a step back and reconsider.