Face Painting - The Bible Witness
A detachment of personal interest, and from whatever reflection a conclusion may make upon one's own person, confessing that self is not an idol worthy to be served, but with a single eye set upon the one Lawgiver of Israel, seeking nothing but the knowledge of His will, declaiming to find it in popular custom, looking only to Him, with a readiness to thankfully adhere in practice lo whatever His mercies may disclose, without the double-mindedness of a Mrs. Lot, the falsehood of a Saphira, nor the enmity of a Jezebel. May such a spirit be given to those who read on, if they have it not already. Our course will be to assess the practice by the scriptures, and next to briefly sample the mind of the church on the subject, and conclude with an exhortation.
The Biblical Witness
First, then, the scriptures... It is perhaps thought, as it is with many sins which the Bible does not mention by name, that this one of face painting is among them. But it is not. In fact, it is mentioned three times in the Bible. Let us start, then, by looking at these, and deducing what conclusions we can from them. Then let us go on to notice but a few of the more blatant principles of scripture which condemn this practice more soundly than where it is mentioned by name.
"And when Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face, and tired her head, and looked out at a window. And as Jehu entered in at the gate, she said, Had Zimri peace who slew his master? And he lifted up his face to the window, and said, Who is on my side? who? And there looked out to him two or three eunuchs. And he said, Throw her down. And they threw her down: and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and on the horses: and he trode her under foot. And when he was come in, he did eat and drink, and said Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her for she is a king's daughter. And they went to bury her: but they found no more of her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands. Wherefore they came again, and told him. And he said, This is the word of the Lord which he spake by his servant Elijah the Tishbite, saying, In the portion of Jezreel shall dogs eat the flesh of Jezebel: And the carcass of Jezebel shall be as dung upon the face of the field in the portion of Jezreel; so that they shall not say, This is Jezebel." (2 Ki. 9:30-37)
"The whole city shall flee for the noise of the horsemen and bowmen; they shall go into thickets, and climb up upon the rocks: every city shall be forsaken, and not a man dwell therein. And when thou art spoiled, what wilt thou do? Though thou clothest thyself with crimson, though thou deckest thee with ornaments of gold, though thou rentest thy face with painting, in vain shalt thou make thyself fair; thy lovers will despise thee, they will seek thy life. For I have heard a voice as of a woman in travail, and the anguish as of her than bringeth forth her first child, the voice of the daughter of Zion, that bewaileth herself, that spreadeth her hands saying, Woe is me now! for my souls is wearied because of murderers." (Jer. 4:29-31)
"The Lord said moreover unto me; Son of man, wilt thou judge Aholah and Aholibah? yea, declare unto them their abominations; That they have committed adultery, and blood is in their hands, and with their idols have they committed adultery, and have also caused their sons, whom they bare unto me, to pass for them through the fire, to devour them. Moreover this they have done unto me: they have defiled my sanctuary in the same day, and have profaned my Sabbaths. For when they had slain theu children to their idols, then they came the same day into my sanctuary to profane it; and, lo, thus have they done in the midst of mine house.
And furthermore, that ye have sent for men to come from far, unto whom a messenger was sent; and, lo, they came: for whom thou didst wash thyself, paintedst thy eyes, and deckedst thyself with ornaments, And satest upon a stately bed, and a table prepared before it, whereupon thou hast set mine incense and mine oil. And a voice of a multitude being at ease was with her: and with the men of the common sort were brought Sabeans from the wilderness, which put bracelets upon their hands, and beautiful crowns upon their heads. Then said I unto her that was old in adulteries, Will they now commit whoredoms with her, and she with them? Yet they went in unto her, as they go in unto a woman that playeth the harlot: so went they in unto Aholah and unto Aholibah, the lewd women. And the righteous men, they shall judge them after the manner of adulteresses, and after the manner of women that shed blood; because they are adulteresses, and blood is in their hands. For thus saith the Lord God; I will bring up a company upon them, and will give them to be removed and spoiled. And the company shall stone them with stones, and dispatch them with their swords; they shall slay their sons and their daughters, and burn up their houses with fire. Thus will I cause the lewdness to cease out of the land, that all the women may be taught not to do after your lewdness. And they shall recompense your lewdness upon you, and ye shall bear the sins of your idols: and ye shall know that I am the Lord God." (Eze. 23:36-49)
Let us now consider these passages. The first is the bloody end of the career of the most notorious female in the Bible, whose very name is become synonymous with whoredom, lewdness, and all feminine dishonor. The second is a prophecy which God makes against Judah, the sum of which is that in the day of her judgments her adulteries which served her in time past will fail her in the day of her visitation, the practice of painting being one particular similitude relating her adulterous practices. The third is a comparison between the sin of Israel and that of Judah, likening them both unto whorish women, and likening their spiritual adulteries with false gods as the enticements of a whore luring a prey, one such lure being her painting of the eyes. Such is the scripture witness on face painting.
Now I ask candid minds: Is it really difficult to see the mind of God in this? Is His will hidden here? Is God likening these practices as fit representations of female whoredom somehow indicative that they are indifferent practices upon which He has made no express indication of His will? How will you be thought sincere, man, woman, if you so badge yourself with self-interested hypocrisy? Can you not be made to acquiesce in matters so biblically plain? What further argument were necessary to communicate beyond controversy that a practice is forbidden in the scriptures than to prove that God likens it to the arts of whoredom? No higher degree of biblical evidence could be submitted as proof of it's unlawfulness, and if this is insufficient then the Bible is meaningless as far as being the foundation of a moral code of ethics. What answer will men make to this?
And if, after such a conspicuous display of biblical dishonor, painting still be pleaded for as lawful for women, then upon what ground shall we deny this art as unlawful to men? Is it responded that scripture associates painting only with women, and that it is therefore only a feminine art, and hence forbidden to men? But scripture equally associates painting only with infamous women, and is therefore forbidden to virtuous. But I must quickly retire from this inquiry, lest I be the cause of provoking some new fad in the world, and, therefore, in the church.
But secondly there is the ethics of the entire Bible that are against this practice. Sins such as hypocrisy, the desire to appear what you are not, which is the hand of pride and a lie too; the haste of unbelief, in being discontent with God's creation of yourself, and striving in gain of creature, rather than divine, praise; intending by all these nothing but to bewitch and cheat men that you are what you only paint yourself to be.
But let us come to specifics. Ladies are commanded in the scriptures to be "shamefaced" (1 Tim. 2:9). And what can shamefacedness mean if it is reconcilable with face-painting? Give that an answer if you can. If painting is shamefaced, then what isn't shamefaced? The confessed aim of face painting is to attempt by artifice and deceit to make the face look more attractive (than God has made it). Ladies, is luring attention to your face by deceit and fraud a character of being shamefaced? Women who paint have simply calculated that there is not enough admiration of their face. Is that a motive consistent with your God's commandment to you to be shamefaced? Is it? Is not the desire for the admiration of painted qualities the core of hypocrisy? Are you not, then, guilty of shameless sin on all these accounts?
Again, was painting reckoned to be "shamefaced" in the culture in which this precept was written? Women indeed practiced this art in new testament times; lewd women. Mary didn't stain Christ's feet with mascara when she washed them with her tears, or if she did, it was surely a goodly witness to the power of His grace that she washed, not just his feet of the dust, but her eyes of mascara, with her own tears of gratitude and repentance. Tears of true repentance are not long mingled with paint. Christ's disciples find of Him repentance. And what else could Paul have meant in 1 Tim. 2:9 commanding women to be shamefaced, but what was then the standard of that virtue? And was face-painting then considered even lawful? No it was not. How much less then would it have been considered shamefaced! And is your practice, ladies, of painting, then, consistent with this precept of God's word?
Look next at 1 Pet. 3:4 "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; But let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price." Again, but ask yourselves candidly if this aspect of your "outward adorning" is consistent with this rule. Take the time to examine yourself, and ask yourself these two questions. Is your painting consistent with this commanded carefulness for the spiritual adorning of the inward man of the heart which is esteemed by God, and hence sought by those with faith toward Him? Is it consistent with that emphasis? Or is it a practicing of this forbidden tediousness of preening the outward man, by unbelief seeking creature esteem?
Now, have I brought out some deep and mysterious truth that laid obscured in types and figures, such that only a Daniel could pick them out? No, I have only made the most rudimentary and simple deductions from a few particulars of the biblical witness pertaining to this subject. As we noted earlier: the awesome authority of custom is all the exegesis people seem to concern themselves with. If they may do a thing with popularity, then it is, to them, biblical. If with peculiarity, it is extreme. But peculiarity is the mark of God's people; obviously in more than just the matters of their outward appearance; but certainly in at least this much.
But how this fact increases the guilt of those in authority over others! How it aggravates their provocation that something so plain they are actually blind to, only because popularity is their morality. Their eye is not single, and thus they grope in the dark. This pertains to pastors, but especially to husbands. As if it were not enough to merely allow their wives in this sin, they will even encourage them in it to make them, as much as art will allow, the public spectacles of unlawful admiration. Thinking men, sir, wilt not be thinking "lucky man to have such a wife"; they will be thinking "poor woman to have such a husband"! Husbands, is this consistent with your duty to your wife to "wash her with the water of the word", to be encouraging her in what that word condemns her to be? Men, you who allow or encourage your wives in this practice, besides the incomparable want of due jealously over your wive's person, can you tell God in prayer just now that you sincerely think that this practice is consistent with His command to her to be shamefaced? Is it not your duty to uphold all of God's commandments in your home? Your authority over her is not arbitrary. It is given only that you would wield it in the interests of that God who granted it to you. But you have taken and owned that authority for personal and ungodly ends, and rather than require the standard of biblical modesty for your God, you require the biblical standard of whoredom! Poor woman under your husbandry!
Ladies, stop for just a moment and really judge your motives candidly and see what they look like before God's eyes. What is it that you are thinking when you paint? Why do you fear to be seen out of your paint? Because you will look like an old woman? Well, what are you? Are you an old woman? Is there so much dishonor in that that you would wish to cover it up? Who has it been that has convinced you that your aged face is cause for shame? It was surely not the scriptures! These speak just the opposite. Isn't it really just the old man Adam that convinced you that popular fleshly honor was more an object of desire than the divine, and the scripture truth of honoring the aged, having fallen into disrepute and lust carrying all before it, that you have fallen into the popular shame of hopelessly attempting to fix the irretrievable air of youth upon your aged brow with a strokes of paint? You are not young. You are old. You will never be young again, and you only publicly humiliate yourself in trying to by thus displaying both the hopelessness and the vanity of your ends and morals. You may have thought that it brings you honor, but it brings you shame. Recede into your aged years with equanimity, virtue, and nobility of mind, and do not so display such a sorry example of Christian liberality as to shame yourself in the pursuit of what is only the world's prize. You are admonished in scripture to flee from such ends, motives, and actions, all. You are old, and paint can never change that, nor should it be changed if it could. Man's decline into an aged condition is a pan of man's punishment, and to seek to avert it in this way is only rebellion against "the judge of all the earth" who so ordered it. (Gen. 18:25)
What lawful satisfaction is there in supposing to paint youth upon your aged brow? You might as convincingly try to paint the sky on your ceiling. It is but a painted mask, and a mask will fit on a monkey as well as on a woman. So what is gained? Are such utterly shallow and ridiculous gains worth the sinning against your God? Just in case you hadn't noticed, it is your paint that is being admired, if you be not admired without it. Is that a praise you would so deceive yourself as to take as your own? Those who think look in a different mirror, and see through your handiwork.
Perhaps you are yet in your youth or prime, and would simply look as good as you can. Again; a painted beauty you may not own. You may perhaps own it as a painter, but not as a woman. And for what reason do you wish to look your best? For your husband? Do you then wake up before him, and rush to the sink and mirror to ply your paint before he sees you, so that you can please him, or at least not be embarrassed before him without it? This is far, far from the case. No, you serve him in your worst condition, and are concerned for your paint only when you go out into public. At what times are you the most conscientious to paint your face? Is it not when you are going out into the public? Yes that is so, and your husband will see you in the morning without it, and in the evening when it is worn thin. Is it really then for your husband? And if not for yours, then for whose?
Perhaps you have no husband, and would look your best to get one. As Richard Baxter has said, this is far worse than the man that sells a lame horse for a sound. If this is your motive, then you mean to cheat that man, and conceal from him your real qualities. It is also to seek to lure him into your snare with unlawful motives, as well as means. It is fraudulent.
Still others might feel that they need to paint as a matter of self-esteem, because they feel ugly without it. And how do you feel with it? Pretty? That is a fool's beauty. Paint does not make you look pretty, it makes you look embarrassed. If you are not given that attribute by your God in His good creation of you, then you may never attain it by seeking to paint it on. Which of you can make one hair of his head white or black? Take no thought, then, for this. Is it not enough to concern you that the ugliness of sin is upon you? It may not be open before all, but is this not embarrassing enough before God, if not before seeing men? Is not sin unsightly to a renewed soul? Is it not the chief concern of the gracious? Is it not enough to busy yourself with it's real mortification? Does not the mere painting of your rotting corpse merely demonstrate, advertise and increase this real ugliness, while it fails to reduce the other? Paint will only make you look discontent, not beautiful.
Perhaps this really is mortifying to some. Well, then, mortify the deeds of the flesh, not to fulfill them in the lusts thereof. Remember all the goodly words which you have likely spoken, and others so often speak, of how "beauty is only skin deep". Remember all the words about how only sin is ugly, but God's creation is good. If that is so, then weigh your actions and motives; mortify pride, vain glory, envy, self importance, etc, by the Spirit of God, (Rom. 8:13), and go in the adorning which God gave you in creation, keeping it but neat, clean, and modest; but concern yourselves rather with the adorning of the inward man with a meek and quiet spirit which is in the sight of God of great price. If it is this God whom you desire to please, then concern yourself with what He esteems, and turn from the pursuit of creature admiration. This is the ugly part to be renewed, not with the paint of hypocrisy, but with the renewing of your mind by the word of God, and manifested in the fruits of a pious life spent in communion with God. You may do nothing in the true renovation of your outward body. It will decay more and more, and at length rot in the earth and be eaten of worms; and as it decays, so it's honor decays and perishes with it. But the ugliness of sin may be renewed into the image of Christ day by day by God's Spirit and Word, at length making a moral beauty out of the meanest outwardly, and such as will never decay or loose it's reward and honor throughout an endless eternity.
If God gives you beauty, then don't mar it. If not, then what is it to attempt to paint some on? What is that but both a rebellion to His good will and providence, and as well the bowing down to worship at this temple of lust, supposing that "self-worth" does not exist where a woman is not prized as a youthful floozie. The truly godly know that it is their sin that is their ugly part, and as they walk in God's sight it is his nakedness of sin that gets their attention; God's works, their bodies, they will care for only to make neat and modest, and as it is consistent with nature and decency, comely. If women only had faith, they would see the ugliness of their sin in God's mirror, the Bible, and busy themselves in it's mortification, rather than looking after their carnal rotting corpses with such carefulness in the bathroom mirror busying themselves to find the admiration they had at 20 years when they are 40.
Excel in virtue, prudence, a sanctified passion, wisdom, discretion, simplicity of motive, charity, kindness, love of children, holding your house in authority, by wisdom, self-sacrifice, and judgment, and do you really suppose that you will lack a good report, and praise before God and good men, even for that which is honorable, and not for that in which a whore may excel you? What is this but a cheap and fast way to honor; even the honor of the fool? Just as it is folly for a man to glory in his wisdom or in his strength because he is thus only glorying in that in which devils and beasts excel him, so is it folly for a woman to glory in her outward beauty, being that wherein a whore may excel her. "But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord which exercise lovingkindness judgment, and righteousness, in the earth, for in these things I delight saith the Lord." (Jer. 9:23-24)
Yet our sensual society has taught women that if she is to be praised it will be for this, and this only. They reserve their highest praise, honor, and admiration only for outward beauty. The platitudes run high, but the reality is very, very low. Perhaps there are exceptions, but this is the sorry rule. This disposition tries a woman's character, to where she will plainly manifest to the whole world who's praise she is seeking by the means she employs to gain it, whether that of the creature by pandering to their folly, or of her Creator by faith and virtue. However, if there were better examples to be had of feminine virtue, it could not but be hoped that it might gain the public sentiment away from their sensual baseness, whether by admiration, envy, or shame. Ladies, did you excel in virtue, you would not fail of due honor. This praise is so rarely seen only because it is so rarely merited. Now this is a hard business, and painting is easy, it's true. But cloth yourself with humility, and let a sanguine hope color your complexion, and the bright hues of faith adorn your brow; let simplicity deck your countenance, sobriety and gravity your manner, and though you be fifty pounds overweight and not gifted with a flask equal to the perfume, the odor will ascend to the pleasure of God and good men, and will stand to mock the morals of that empty and ungratifying sensualism which can never satisfy the real needs of man. You have a battle to wage against the world the flesh. Overcome here. That will be true praise. If you lack praise here, what you gain by paint is but a by-passing of godliness to gain in the stead of it's honorable report, a reputation not worth having.