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What Does Jesus Mean by 'The Hairs on Your Head'?

What Does Jesus Mean by 'The Hairs on Your Head'?

Artists often but not always picture Jesus Christ with longer hair. The earliest artistic depictions of Jesus do the same. In those depictions, His hair appears to be black or dark brown.

Of course, what hair looked like and meant in biblical times are far different from what it can look like and mean today. We see this when it comes to colors, lengths, and abundance. We also see this when it comes to the phrase “the hairs on your head.” We might just encounter a few surprises about the Lord God and us along the way!

The Meaning of Hair Color in Bible Times

As a toddler, I had bright blonde hair. By kindergarten, however, my hair had turned dark brown. I got my first noticeable patches of gray hair when I was 26. As I got older, I kept wanting a full head of gray hair in order to look more distinguished, or so I thought. My wife, Renee, disagrees. She has beautiful red hair and wants to keep it until she’s “at least 70.” I don’t mind!

Of course, hair colors have expanded greatly in recent decades. Countless times I’ve seen orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink. I’ve also seen a number of colors I can’t even name. Again, I don’t mind.

In biblical times, hair colors were pretty limited. Jesus cautioned His followers, “Do not promise by your head. You are not able to make one hair white or black” (Matthew 5:36 NLV).

Throughout the Bible, we find a couple of dozen verses referring to hair color: black, gray, and white. What did the hair colors signify?

Black hair was the rule.

Gray hair was a glorious crown of the old (Proverbs 16:31 and Proverbs 20:29).

White hair meant one was aged and likely to die sooner than later (Genesis 44:29-31 and Ecclesiastes 12:5).

Jesus had black or dark brown hair during His 33 years on earth, but since ascending back to heaven has brilliant white hair (Revelation 1:14). He probably had the same bright white hair on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-2, Mark 9:2-3, and Luke 9:28-29). Such hair strongly suggests Jesus truly is God’s Son (Daniel 7:9).

So, in biblical times, hair color could but didn’t always mean something. Looking to the future, I’m not sure hair color will mean much for most of us in heaven, let alone in the new heavens and new earth.

The Significance of Long Hair in the Bible

As a young boy, my mom made sure my hair was kept short. Then the Beatles and other bands rocked new lengths. I asked for longer and longer times between haircuts and “not too short, please!” For three of those childhood years, we lived on a remote island, which helped.

Of course, not everyone was happy about variable hair lengths for men – or women, for that matter. Mostly, I just wanted to be comfortable.

In Bible times, hair length was variable too. That is unless you were dedicated to the Lord’s service.

Since the days of Moses, Jewish men and women who took Nazirite vows never cut their hair, at least not until they completely finished their vows (Numbers 6:5). Their long hair was a “symbol of their separation to God” (Numbers 6:7 NLT).

This was true of Samson all of his life (Judges 13:5) ...that is, until Delilah got ahold of him (Judges 16:17-19). This also was true of Samuel (1 Samuel 1:11). Both were dedicated to the Lord from before birth.

One other Old Testament leader, Absalom, was known for his long hair. He wasn’t a Nazirite, however, and cut his hair when it grew too heavy and uncomfortable (2 Samuel 14:26). During his insurrection against his father King David, Absalom’s thick long hair led to his downfall and death (2 Samuel 18:9-15).

Again, some of the best early depictions of Jesus Christ show Him with longer hair. I can imagine John the Baptist (another lifelong Nazirite, Luke 1:13-15) had even longer hair.

Then again, Paul favored the Greek and Roman styles of medium to somewhat short hair for men and longer hair for women.

I’m pretty sure hair lengths won’t matter much in heaven.

The Abundance of Hair in Bible Times

The prophets were eclectic. Like Esau (Genesis 25:25), Elijah was a particularly hairy man (2 Kings 1:8). His assistant, Elisha, was bald (2 Kings 2:23). And, at one point the Lord told Ezekiel to cut off his hair and beard (Ezekiel 5:1).

Again, let’s picture Jesus with abundant shoulder-length black or dark brown hair here on earth. What did He mean when He talked about “the hairs on your head”?

United Monarchy

The use of this phrase as a metaphor dates back to 1000 B.C. and the start of the united Israelite monarchy under Saul, David, and Solomon.

A Metaphor for “Safety”

Example #1 (Jonathan): “But the people broke in and said to Saul, ‘Jonathan has won this great victory for Israel. Should he die? Far from it! As surely as the Lord lives, not one hair on his head will be touched, for God helped him do a great deed today.’ So the people rescued Jonathan, and he was not put to death” (1 Samuel 14:45 NLT).

Example #2 (Absolom): “Then she said, ‘Please swear to me by the Lord your God that you won’t let anyone take vengeance against my son. I want no more bloodshed.’ ‘As surely as the Lord lives,’ he replied, ‘not a hair on your son’s head will be disturbed!’” (2 Samuel 14:11 NLT).

Example #3 (a son of David): “Solomon replied, ‘If he [Adonijah] proves himself to be loyal, not a hair on his head will be touched. But if he makes trouble, he will die’” (1 Kings 1:52 NLT).

A Metaphor for “Huge Number”

Example #1 (David): “For troubles surround me— too many to count! My sins pile up so high I can’t see my way out. They outnumber the hairs on my head. I have lost all courage” (Psalm 40:12 NLT).

Example #2 (David): “Those who hate me without cause outnumber the hairs on my head. Many enemies try to destroy me with lies, demanding that I give back what I didn’t steal” (Psalm 69:4 NLT).

Babylonian Exile

Centuries later, during the Babylonian captivity, the use of this phrase became literal.

Literal meanings included “safety.”

Example (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego): “Then the high officers, officials, governors, and advisers crowded around them and saw that the fire had not touched them. Not a hair on their heads was singed, and their clothing was not scorched. They didn’t even smell of smoke!” (Daniel 3:27 NLT).

Time of Jesus

During His public ministry here on earth, Jesus Christ used this phrase literally and metaphorically.

His literal meanings included “divinely known in exact detail.”

Example #1: “And the very hairs on your head are all numbered” (Matthew 10:30 NLT).

Example #2: “And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid; you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows” (Luke 12:7 NLT).

Jesus Christ’s metaphorical meanings included “safety.”

Example: “But not a hair of your head will perish!” (Luke 21:18 NLT).

Like Jesus, Paul also used this phrase metaphorically to mean “safety.”

Example: “Please eat something now for your own good. For not a hair of your heads will perish” (Acts 27:34 NLT).

Bottom line: Jesus uses the phrase “the hairs on your head” in two different but connected ways.

Literally, He speaks of divinely knowing in exact detail. The Lord can and does the humanly impossible, all the time. It’s what the Triune God does and will do for all eternity.

Metaphorically, Jesus speaks of safety. The Lord alone is our Savior, Rescuer, Protector, Guardian, and Deliverer, now and forever. Again, it’s what He does and will do eternally.

Worry about the future? Remembering Jesus Christ’s brilliant white hair in heaven should calm our hearts and minds, wouldn’t you agree?

Photo Credit: Unsplash/Element5 Digital

headshot of David Sanford new 2020The late David Sanford’s book and Bible projects were published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, Barbour, and Amazon. His latest book was Life Map Devotional for Men published concurrently with his wife Renee’s book, Life Map Devotional for Women.