The top of the human body; the location of the brain and the senses of sight, hearing, smell, and taste. The head (Heb., roʼsh; Gr., ke·pha·leʹ) figures prominently in the Bible in both a literal and a figurative sense.
Crushing or Bruising. The book of Ecclesiastes contains a metaphoric description of the effects of old age, terminating in death. (Ec 12:1-7) The ‘crushing of the golden bowl’ describes the breaking down at death of the brain and its functions in the bowllike cranium of the head. Death or destruction are represented by the expression ‘breaking the head.’ (Ps 68:21; 74:13, 14) The Bible’s first prophecy (Ge 3:15) states that the ‘seed of the woman,’ after himself suffering a bruising of the heel, will bruise the serpent’s head. In fulfillment, other texts show that the Serpent, Satan the Devil, is to be put into an abyss where he will be immobile for a thousand years and shortly thereafter is to be annihilated forever in “the lake of fire,” “the second death.”
‘Lifting Up the Head.’ King David, bowed in humiliation and trouble, looked to Jehovah as his Shield and the One ‘lifting up his head,’ enabling him to hold his head high again. (Ps 3:3; compare Lu 21:28.) In fulfillment of Joseph’s interpretation of a dream, Pharaoh ‘lifted up the head’ of his chief cupbearer by restoring him to his former office. But Pharaoh ‘lifted up [the] head from off’ his chief baker, putting him to death.
Blessing, Anointing, Swearing. The head was the member of the body on which blessings were placed. (Ge 48:13-20; 49:26) God’s favor, guidance, and wisdom are likened to a lamp shining on the head and a wreath of charm on the head. (Job 29:3; Pr 4:7-9) Anointing oil was poured on the head. (Le 8:12; Ps 133:2) In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus counseled to ‘grease the head’ when fasting, so as to appear well groomed and not make a sanctimonious show of self-denial for public acclaim. (Mt 6:17, 18) Greasing the head of a guest with oil came to be one of the essential marks of hospitality. (Lu 7:46) The Jews developed a custom of swearing by their head (or life), a practice Jesus condemned.
Representing the Person. The head as the governing member of the body was also used to represent the person himself. Jesus Christ’s having “nowhere to lay down his head” meant he had no residence that he could call his own. (Mt 8:20) The head of a Nazirite was under a vow, his long hair attesting to the fact. (Nu 6:5, 18-20) The sins or errors of a person were spoken of as being over his head. (Ezr 9:6; Ps 38:4; compare Da 1:10.) David showed appreciation for reproof from the righteous, calling it oil that his head would not want to refuse. (Ps 141:5) When judgment catches up with the wicked person, he is said to be recompensed by having his evil or his punishment come upon his own head. (Jg 9:57; 1Sa 25:39; Jer 23:19; 30:23; Joe 3:4, 7; Ob 15; compare Ne 4:4.) One’s blood being on his own head meant that an individual pursuing a wrong course of action worthy of bringing the death sentence was personally responsible for the loss of his life. (2Sa 1:16; 1Ki 2:37; Eze 33:2-4; Ac 18:6) To bring back on his head the blood of those a person killed would be to bring him to judgment for bloodguilt.
Each year, the sins of the people were confessed by Israel’s high priest, with his hands on the head of the goat for Azazel (transferring the sins to the goat), after which the animal was led into the wilderness to carry these errors off into oblivion. (Le 16:7-10, 21, 22) As other texts show, Jesus Christ personally ‘carried our sicknesses and bore our pains’ and ‘bore the sins of many.’
Exaltation, Humiliation, and Contempt. Among some of the nations, soldiers were buried with their swords under their heads, that is, with military honors. (Eze 32:27) The wise man’s “eyes are in his head,” that is, he sees where he is going. (Ec 2:14) Dust, earth, or ashes put on the head signified distress, mourning, or humiliation. (Jos 7:6; 1Sa 4:12; 2Sa 13:19) The psalmist, in recounting the testings and hardships on God’s people, says that men had ridden over Israel’s head. He apparently refers to the subjection under which God’s people were brought by mere worldly men (the Hebrew word used is ʼenohshʹ, “mortal man”) who were powerful, cruel, and haughty. (Ps 66:12; compare Isa 51:23.) To bow down the head was a sign of humility or of mourning (Isa 58:5), and to wag, or shake, the head was symbolic of derision, contempt, or astonishment.
Kindness to Enemies. The Bible recommends that a person treat his enemy kindly, “for by doing this you will heap fiery coals upon his head.” (Ro 12:20; Pr 25:21, 22) This metaphor is drawn from the ancient process of smelting, where coals were heaped on top of the ore as well as being underneath. So exercising kindness will tend to soften the person and melt his hardness, separating evil impurities and bringing out the good in him.
Ruling Position. “Head” could refer to the chief member of a family, tribe, nation, or government. (Jg 11:8; 1Sa 15:17; 1Ki 8:1; 1Ch 5:24) “Family head” is, literally, “patriarch” (Gr., pa·tri·arʹkhes). (Ac 2:29; 7:8, 9; Heb 7:4) “At the head” was used in the sense of leading. (Mic 2:13) Israel itself, if obedient to God, was to be at the head of the nations, on top, in that the nation would be free and prosperous, even having the people of other nations in their debt. (De 28:12, 13) If the Israelites disobeyed, the alien resident would lend to them, becoming head over them.
Seven heads of the dragon. The “dragon” seen in heaven in the apostle John’s vision had seven heads. It is identified as the Devil. (Re 12:3, 9) Additionally, the “wild beast” on earth, which receives its power from the dragon, and also the “scarlet-colored wild beast” are both depicted as having seven heads, and these heads are clearly used to represent world powers. (Re 13:1; 17:3, 9, 10; compare Da 2:32, 37, 38, where King Nebuchadnezzar’s dynasty is called a “head.”) Hence, the seven diademed heads of the Dragon would evidently point to Satan’s headship over the seven world powers of Bible prophecy.
Head of the Christian Congregation. In the Christian congregation Jesus Christ is the Head of the congregation, which is his “body,” of 144,000 members. (Eph 1:22, 23; Col 1:18; Re 14:1) Having immortality, he is the ever-living liaison member of the body of spirit-begotten Christians on earth at any given time, supplying all necessary things for them to grow spiritually and function to God’s glory. (1Co 12:27; Eph 4:15, 16; Col 2:18, 19) As the material temple had a “headstone” (Zec 4:7), so Jesus is the headstone of a spiritual temple (Ac 4:8-11; 1Pe 2:7) and the head of all government and authority under God, who is the Head over all. (Col 2:10; 1Co 11:3) The Bible likens Christ’s position as head of the congregation to that of a husband toward his wife, to impress upon human married couples the direction, love, and care the husband must exercise and the subjection that the wife must manifest within the marital union.
The apostle Paul, drawing on the principle of the primary headship of God, the Head of Christ, and the relative headship of the man over the woman, sets forth the principle governing the Christian congregation, namely, that the woman should recognize the God-ordained headship of man by wearing a head covering, “a sign of authority,” upon her head when praying or prophesying in the congregation.
Other Uses. The Hebrew word for “head” is used to refer to the tops of pillars of the tabernacle, the courtyard, and the temple (Ex 36:37, 38; 38:17; 1Ki 7:16), as well as to the tops of mountains (Ge 8:5), of bushes or trees (1Ch 14:15), of a ladder (Ge 28:12), and of a scepter (Es 5:2), to cite a few examples. It is also applied to that which is the head of or the beginning of something, such as the head of rivers and of roads (Ge 2:10; Eze 21:21) as well as the first month (“the start [head] of the months” [Ex 12:2]). The Jewish name for their new year’s day is Rosh Hashanah, literally meaning, “Head of the Year.”