Q. I was reading in Jer. 16:6 this morning and wanted to know more about the significance of shaving the head in mourning. Was that just to show an outward sign of mourning, or was that God’s way of showing people that they should be in mourning until their hair and beard grew back? I would appreciate any insight you might have on this.
A. Shaving the head and cutting the skin were pagan rituals that although forbidden in the Mosaic Law, were practiced by some Jews.(See Lev. 19:28, 21:5, Deut. 14:1) The Lord is being sarcastic here, in effect saying, “When the judgment comes you’ll all die and there won’t be anyone left to shave his head or cut himself for you. That’ll put an end to your pagan practices.” Of course the judgment was made necessary by their very adoption of those pagan religions and customs. Read verses 10-13 in Jeremiah 16 where He confirms this.
Jewish custom was to put ashes on one’s head, and to forgo the normal daily routines of combing hair, trimming beard, applying oil to their skin etc. They also wore sackcloth instead of more comfortable clothing during mourning. Typical mourning period was 30 days.