Volume 11, Issue 3: Husbandry
Before addressing our subject directly, we must begin with a number of apparently disconnected data.
Throughout his book, the prophet Isaiah described the days of messianic glory in many magnificent ways. In one place, he says, "And the LORD will create upon every dwelling place of mount Zion, and upon her assemblies, a cloud and smoke by day, and the shining of a flaming fire by night: for upon all the glory shall be a defence" (Is. 4:5). In the NKJV, "defence" is rendered as "covering." John Newton rendered this passage wonderfully in his hymn "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken." "Round each habitation hov'ring, See the cloud and fire appear For a glory and a cov'ring, Showing that the Lord is near!"
For a glory and a covering. The Shekinah glory that accompanied Israel was a beautiful shelter, a magnificent fortress, a glory and a covering. Given this wonderful image, the apostle Paul makes a profound application.
"For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man.... For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels... Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering" (1 Cor. 11:7,10, 14-15). As we see, the words glory and covering go very well together indeed. Given the background in Isaiah, this cannot be a coincidence.
Paul teaches that a woman should cover her head with long hair precisely because she is the glory of her husband. Her hair is her glory, and in turn she is his glory. Thus, her hair, when a covering, is the glory of her husband. This glory is manifested to all, in the presence of angels. Further, her long hair is placed upon her head, not just to show that she is under authority, but also to show that she wields it. Several chapters earlier, Paul has reminded married couples that a wife exercises sexual authority over her husband (1 Cor. 7:4). And the nature of this submission and authority is displayed to the world in a wife's hair.
But we are sophisticated moderns, and this is all too weird. Most Christians today dismiss this passage as "just a cultural thing." And those few Christians who do believe that the passage is binding today, think that it is talking about women of severe countenance dressed in gray with a doily on top of their heads. No one thinks of it in terms of a biblical eroticism.
We can first dismiss the idea that this passage simply reflects first-century mores and nothing else. Paul says that these truths are taught by nature itself, which is quite a different thing than being required by Graeco/Roman customs. The appeal to nature is an appeal to the creation order, and not an appeal to time-bound customs. Paul clearly intends this teaching to be normative in the church throughout all generations. He teaches us that this is the way things are in the very nature of the world, and we must learn to conform to it. And if hair is a woman's glory, the question before us should surely not be how short it can be before it stops being a glory. There is a good answer to this question, but why are we asking it?
But of course those who "obey" the passage with all appropriate reactionary glumness are missing the point equally. We are talking about declaring glory, and not about being dour.
The marriage relationship is a private sexual relationship, but one publicly recognized and honored (Heb. 13:4). Those things which are public emblems of this relationship should reflect the nature of it accurately, but this is particularly the case with emblems which are given to us in Scripture. Rings are nice (and lawful), but God has assigned another way of making the declaration.
A woman's hair is designed by God to make a statement to the world. When she wears her hair the way she should, it demonstrates her submission and her authority, it shows her gentleness and her power. A godly woman is sweet, gentle, submissive, terrible as an army with banners. Her glory shows that she is her husband's sexual covering, a formidable defence and wall of protection for him.
Husbands, what is your wife to you? If you have a decent marriage, you could probably answer in greeting card terms. "She is my best friend." "She is a wonderful mother to my children." But if you have a biblical marriage, the answer should be quite different. "She is my glory."