And the priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel; and of the dust that is in the floor of the tabernacle the priest shall take, and put it into the water: And the priest shall set the woman before the LORD, and uncover the woman’s head, and put the offering of memorial in her hands, which is the jealousy offering: and the priest shall have in his hand the bitter water that causeth the curse: And the priest shall charge her by an oath, and say unto the woman….
– Numbers 5:17-19
But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. …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 Corinthians 11
When the law is given for a jealous husband, how he can have God judge his wife, it specifies an interesting thing. The priest brings her into the presence of God and uncovers her head (v. 18). This assumes, of course, that her head would be covered. That assumption, in turn, rests on one of two scenarios: 1) that women in public were assumed to have their head covered or 2) that women entering the presence of God would have their heads covered.
To my mind, this presents pretty good supporting evidence that the practice of the churches of God was to have women’s heads covered.
The symbolism even seems to match. In 1 Co 11, a woman has a covering upon her head because she is under authority. In Numbers 5, her authority is stepping aside, removing his protection of her, exposing her to be judged directly by God. He is not interceding for her. She has no covering between her and God.
But there is something else interesting about this passage. The KJV, ISV, NET, and Young’s Literal render this as some form of “uncover the woman’s head,” but ESV, NASB, and HCSB have some form of “let down her hair.” If those ideas are one and the same, it gives a new reason why a woman is given long hair for a covering: if it isn’t long, it can’t be done up on top of one’s head.
Perhaps in 1 Corinthians 11 the question wasn’t whether women needed something upon their head other than hair, but rather about how they did their hair. Those who wanted women to pray and prophesy with their head uncovered wanted them to do so with their hair let down. If this is the scenario, then Paul would have been saying, “No, women have long hair for a reason. They should be using it to cover their head, not letting it down when they pray. If they don’t want to use it how it’s meant to be used, then they should just go ahead and cut it off.” That makes a lot of sense to me. It gives his argument force.