What is the “hoary head” in the Bible?


by Shawn Brasseaux

God’s Word makes five references to the “hoary head.” Exactly what is it?

Overall, the King James Bible uses the term “hoar” nine times (including paired five times with “head”). Look at these nine instances and use context clues to gain the meaning:

  • Exodus 16:14: “And when the dew that lay was gone up, behold, upon the face of the wilderness there lay a small round thing, as small as the hoar frost on the ground.” What color is frost on the ground?
  • Leviticus 19:32: “Thou shalt rise up before the hoary head, and honour the face of the old man, and fear thy God: I am the LORD.” Did you see how the words “hoary head” and “old man” are used interchangeably?
  • 1 Kings 2:6,9: “[6] Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace. [9] Now therefore hold him not guiltless: for thou art a wise man, and knowest what thou oughtest to do unto him; but his hoar head bring thou down to the grave with blood.”
  • Job 38:29: “Out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of heaven, who hath gendered it?” Again, what color is frost?
  • Job 41:32: “He maketh a path to shine after him; one would think the deep to be hoary.”
  • Psalm 147:16: “He giveth snow like wool: he scattereth the hoarfrost like ashes.” Once more, what is the hue of the frost on the ground?
  • Proverbs 16:31: The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.”
  • Isaiah 46:4: “And even to your old age I am he; and even to hoar hairs will I carry you: I have made, and I will bear; even I will carry, and will deliver you.” Again, notice how “old age” and “hoar hairs” are connected.

According to The Oxford English Dictionary, “hoar” is archaic poetry/literary term meaning “greyish white; grey or grey-haired with age.” It is derived from the Old English hār, of Germanic origin; related to German hehr “majestic, noble.”

The word “hoary” refers to the color gray or white, so the “hoary head” is better known as a senior citizen or elderly person. Old age is not necessarily good, be sure to notice; it is not automatically bad either. It can be advantageous, as Proverbs 16:31 says: “The hoary head is a crown [distinguishing mark] of glory [honor or praise], if it be found in the way of righteousness.” However, there are plenty of people who are both aged and foolish. If they are unsaved, they are certainly not wise concerning spiritual matters. “Way” here is in the sense of “way of living, course of action, manner of conduct.”

As a final note, the Hebrew word rendered “hoary” is “seybah,” and was translated “old age” six times (Genesis 15:15; Genesis 25:8; Judges 8:32; Ruth 4:15; 1 Chronicles 29:28; Psalm 92:14), as well as “gray hairs” five times (Genesis 42:38; Genesis 44:29,31; Deuteronomy 32:25; Hosea 7:9), “grayheaded” once (Psalm 71:18), and “gray head” one time (Proverbs 20:29).

Also see:
» Does God suffer from Alzheimer’s disease?
» What happens after death?
» Why is the Bible Book of “Ecclesiastes” thus named?

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