Root: עָטַר and נֶזֶר
Sounds like: a’tawraw and neh’zer
Two-hundred and one years ago (24 May 1819) a little girl was born at 4:15 am in Kensington Palace, London. She was named Alexandrina Victoria, and she would later become known as Victoria Regina, Queen of the United Kingdom and Empress of India. To this day, members of the Commonwealth still celebrate Victoria Day. Here, in Canada, the official celebration always takes place on the second last Monday in May.
Victoria had a keen interest in the Bible, as well as history and archaeology. Her friend, Angela Burdett-Coutts, had helped establish the Palestinian Exploration Fund, and Victoria supported it by commissioning an archaeological dig on the Temple mount, in Jerusalem. She sent Lieutenant Charles Warren of the British Royal Engineering Corps to oversee the project.
Warren was denied access to dig up the Temple mount which was, at that time, under the control of the Ottoman Empire and so he focused his attention on the grounds surrounding the mount. The wealth of findings was so rich that those archeological investigations are still active today.
Most people are aware that Victoria’s crown had great influence in the 19th Century… but those who possessed crowns in the Bible were equally influential. Some were great, God-fearing, monarchs… many were not.
There are two distinct Biblical Hebrew words for crown: atarah (part of a royal ensemble, coming from the root meaning circular and surrounding) and nezer (part of a priestly ensemble, associated with nazarite concept of separation and dedication).
King David stands out as the quintessential Jewish king. He was a powerful king, strong in battle, a conqueror and a builder, but he was also humble, penitent and God-fearing. Many queens and kings throughout history have only recognized their own authority and superiority, but David acknowledged that his kingly crown was given to him by YHWH:
David: O YHWH, in Your strength the king will be glad, and in Your salvation how greatly he will rejoice! You have given him his heart’s desire, and You have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah.
For You meet him with the blessings of good things; you set a crown [a’teret] of fine gold on his head. He asked life of You, You gave it to him, length of days forever and ever.
His glory is great through Your salvation, splendour and majesty You place upon him. For You make him most blessed forever; You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence. For the king trusts in YHWH, and through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken.
David received a crown of fine gold to represent his kinship, but the Proverbs identified many things that were like a crown:
- an excellent wife is the the crown [a’teret] of her husband (Proverbs 12:4)
- the sensible are crowned [a’teret] with knowledge (Proverbs 14:24)
- a gray head is a crown [a’teret] of glory (Proverbs 16:31)
- grandchildren are the crown [a’teret] of old men (Proverbs 17:6)
Above all, though, the crown given by wisdom was the most beautiful:
“Acquire wisdom! Acquire understanding! Do not forget nor turn away from the words of my mouth. Do not forsake her, and she will guard you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is: Acquire wisdom; and with all your acquiring, get understanding. Prize her, and she will exalt you; she will honour you if you embrace her. She will place on your head a garland of grace; she will present you with a crown [a’teret] of beauty.”
An Earthly Crown
YHWH was always meant to be the King of the earth but humans, very early on, rejected the concept. It was incredibly insulting for the Hebrew people to request, from God, an earthly king with an earthly crown. YHWH was their King, but according to them, He wasn’t good enough. Blinded by greed and ego, they wanted what everyone one else had… a militant king to lead them into battle. Samuel knew the request was wrong:
1 Samuel 8:6-7, 9
But the thing was displeasing in the sight of Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to YHWH.
YHWH said to Samuel, “Listen to the voice of the people in regard to all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me from being King over them… Now then, listen to their voice; however, you shall solemnly warn them and tell them of the procedure of the king who will reign over them.”
Samuel warned them that they would have to give a lot to have a king (1 Samuel 8:10-18). The king would take people from among them to be his horsemen, his farmers, his warriors; he would take the best craftsmen to make weapons and equipment for himself. The king would take some of the women to be his personal bakers and perfumers. Each family would have to hand over part of their crops from fields, vineyards and oil groves to the king. Essentially they would always be owing the king taxes in goods and human resources and would receive little to nothing in return. But the warnings did not dissuade them:
1 Samuel 8:19-20
Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”
The Proud Crown
And so the Israelites received what they desired, a human king to rule over them. Saul was the first to be appointed king, followed by David and Solomon. After Solomon, the kingdom was plagued by internal problems and around 930 BC the kingdom was split in two (the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah). External forces threatened both sides.
The prophet Isaiah lived during the time of the Assyrian invasion of Israel (732 BC). He warned the people that they would lose their crown:
Woe to the proud crown [a’teret geyut] of the drunkards of Ephraim, and to the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which is at the head of the fertile valley of those who are overcome with wine!
Behold, the Lord has a strong and mighty agent; as a storm of hail, a tempest of destruction, like a storm of mighty overflowing waters, He has cast it down to the earth with His hand.
The proud crown [a’teret geyut] of the drunkards of Ephraim is trodden under foot. And the fading flower of its glorious beauty, which is at the head of the fertile valley, will be like the first-ripe fig prior to summer, which one sees, and as soon as it is in his hand, He swallows it. In that day YHWH of hosts will become a beautiful crown [ts’vi la-a’teret] and a glorious diadem to the remnant of His people.
Ephraim (often synonymous with the kingdom of Israel) was one of the tribes of the Northern Kingdom which lost its crown when it fell to the Assyrians. But YHWH was still King and His crown would stand in for the remnant of His people who were now scattered and lost among the nations.
All was not lost, YHWH promised to redeem and rename His people so that neighbouring nations and kings would recognize the people under YHWH’s dominion. They would be a shining crown in His hand:
The nations will see your [Zion’s] righteousness, and all kings your glory; and you will be called by a new name which the mouth of YHWH will designate. You will also be a crown of beauty [a’teret tif’eret] in the hand of YHWH, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
The Fallen Crown
A couple hundred years after Isaiah, YHWH’s people in the Southern kingdom had fallen so far away from Him that destruction, by their own doing, was inevitable. The Babylonians came into Jerusalem in 597 BC and set up Zedekiah as a puppet king in Judah. When Zedekiah made an alliance with Egypt to fight back, the Babylonians returned and annihilated Jerusalem in 587 BC. Jerusalem and the Temple was razed to the ground. Zedekiah was captured, blinded, and imprisoned for the rest of his life; the crown of Judah was eliminated.
Say to the king and the queen mother, “Take a lowly seat, for your beautiful crown [a’teret tif’ar’tekem] has come down from your head.”
As a result of the Babylonian conquest, Jerusalem was seized and the people were exiled from their home and dragged as slaves to a foreign land.
The joy of our hearts has ceased; our dancing has been turned into mourning. The crown [a’teret] has fallen from our head; woe to us, for we have sinned! Because of this our heart is faint, because of these things our eyes are dim; because of Mount Zion which lies desolate, foxes prowl in it.
You, O YHWH, rule forever; Your throne is from generation to generation. Why do You forget us forever? Why do You forsake us so long? Restore us to You, O YHWH, that we may be restored; renew our days as of old.
Jeremiah’s contemporary, Ezekiel, also came to the same conclusion: Israel had lost its crown. The ancient Hebrew people took all the beautiful things God had given them and turned it all against Him:
YHWH: “I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown [wa-a’teret tif’eret] on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendour which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord YHWH.
“But you trusted in your beauty and played the harlot because of your fame, and you poured out your harlotries on every passer-by who might be willing. You took some of your clothes, made for yourself high places of various colours and played the harlot on them, which should never come about nor happen. You also took your beautiful jewels made of My gold and of My silver, which I had given you, and made for yourself male images that you might play the harlot with them.”
Essentially, the people removed their crowns of wisdom, melted them down, and made gods out of them. They took what was beautiful and good, tarnished it, warped and corrupted it, and dragged it down to the depths of depravity. In their perversion, God stripped them of any crowns they still possessed:
Ezekiel 21:24a, 26-27
Therefore, thus says the Lord YHWH, ‘Because you have made your iniquity to be remembered… remove the turban and take off the crown [w-harim ha-a’tarah]; this will no longer be the same. Exalt that which is low and abase that which is high. A ruin, a ruin, a ruin, I will make it. This also will be no more until He comes whose right it is, and I will give it to Him.’
The king of Judah was no more. The crown and turban imagery signified a priest-king, but those terms no longer belonged together. This crown would be removed until the rightful owner came to claim it; YHWH would give it to Him.
The Symbolic Crown of Joshua
The prophet Zechariah wrote after the Exile and the writings of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. He lived during the time when the Hebrew people were allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. At that time Joshua, son of Jehozadak, was the High Priest of the newly resurrected Temple. Joshua was a key individual in the visions that Zechariah received from YHWH.
In one of these visions (Zechariah 3:1-2) Joshua, the High Priest, was wearing shabby clothes and stood before the angel of YHWH; the Accuser (Ha-Satan) was also there, ready to accuse.
He [the angel of YHWH] spoke and said to those who were standing before him, saying, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” Again he said to him, “See, I have taken your iniquity away from you and will clothe you with festal robes.” Then I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments, while the angel of YHWH was standing by.
And the angel of YHWH admonished Joshua, saying, “Thus says YHWH of hosts, ‘If you will walk in My ways and if you will perform My service, then you will also govern My house and also have charge of My courts, and I will grant you free access among these who are standing here.”
It was an incredible vision: Joshua’s clothes were transformed. Like his clothing, his sin was removed and he was made new. Afterwards he was given instructions: follow YHWH and he would be put in charge of YHWH’s house and courts, and he would have access to those in the heavenly council. But the angel of YHWH also made something clear: Joshua and his friends were symbols of something yet to come… something, or someone, known as God’s Servant, the Branch.
Angel of YHWH/YHWH: ‘Now listen, Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who are sitting in front of you—indeed they are men who are a symbol, for behold, I am going to bring in My servant the Branch. For behold, the stone that I have set before Joshua; on one stone are seven eyes. Behold, I will engrave an inscription on it,’ declares YHWH of hosts, ‘and I will remove the iniquity of that land in one day. In that day,’ declares YHWH of hosts, ‘every one of you will invite his neighbour to sit under his vine and under his fig tree.’”
In Zechariah’s vision Joshua stood in for the rightful owner of the crown:
YHWH to Zechariah: “Take silver and gold, make an ornate crown [a’taroht] and set it on the head of Joshua the son of Jehozadak [Yehoshua ben Yehotsadak], the high priest. Then say to him, ‘Thus says YHWH of hosts: Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of YHWH. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of YHWH, and He who will bear the honour and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices.’
Joshua, the High Priest of the newly built temple, was a forerunner of the Branch, the Messianic Priest-King, who would build the future Temple and rule on YHWH’s throne.
Many have noted that Joshua [Yehoshua/Yeshua] the High Priest, shared a name with Yeshua (Jesus). The meaning of the name they shared (Joshua/Yeshua) was to save, or salvation. Yehoshua ben Yehotsadak, meant Salvation, son of God’s Righteousness (Yah meaning God, and tsadak/zadak meaning Righteousness). The man whose name was Branch would be the one who would branch out God’s kingdom, who would sit and rule on His throne, bringing the counsel of peace together under two offices: royal kingship and royal priesthood. The Messiah would be the forever Priest-King to reunite the Kingdom of God with earth. Joshua, son of Jehozadak was a symbolic forerunner of the Messianic Priest-King to come.
Now the crown [w-ha-a’taroht] will become a reminder in the temple of YHWH to Helem, Tobijah, Jedaiah and Hen the son of Zephaniah. Those who are far off will come and build the temple of YHWH. Then you will know that YHWH of hosts has sent me to you. And it will take place if you completely obey YHWH your God.”
The Nezer crown was associated with royal priesthood. It symbolized dedication and separation frequently connected to Nazarites. In the Torah, when high priests were anointed, they were crowned:
Exodus 29:5-7 (see also Leviticus 8:9)
“You shall take the garments, and put on Aaron the tunic and the robe of the ephod and the ephod and the breastpiece, and gird him with the skillfully woven band of the ephod; and you shall set the turban on his head and put the holy crown [et nezer ha-kodesh] on the turban. Then you shall take the anointing oil and pour it on his head and anoint him.”
The book of Exodus gave more detail of what this priestly crown looked like:
They made the plate of the holy crown [nezer ha-qodesh] of pure gold, and inscribed it like the engravings of a signet, “Holy to YHWH.” They fastened a blue cord to it, to fasten it on the turban above, just as YHWH had commanded Moses.
However, this kind of crown wasn’t just for priests. Saul’s crown, which was returned to David after his death, was identified as a nezer (see 2 Samuel 1:2-10) and one of Judah’s youngest kings, Joash, was identified as being crowned with a nezer at his coronation.
The Crown of Joash
Joash had a tumultuous childhood. When King Ahaziah of Judah died, his mother Ataliah had all royal offspring killed and claimed Queenship for herself. Although she was certain that no claim to the throne remained, one did survive: her grandson, Joash.
Ataliah’s step-daughter, (or possibly daughter), Jehosheba/Jehoshabeath, protected her little nephew, Joash (2 Chronicles 22:10-12). For six years Joash secretly lived in the Temple and was raised his aunt Jehosheba and uncle Jehoiada, a priest in the Temple. After Queen Athaliah was dethroned the young seven year old Joash was crowned with a nezer:
2 Chronicles 23:11 (see also 2 Kings 11:12)
Then they brought out the king’s son and put the crown [ha-nezer] on him, and gave him the testimony and made him king. And Jehoiada and his sons anointed him and said, “Long live the king!”
In the beginning of his reign, under his uncle’s guidance, Joash certainly acted like a priest king.
2 Chronicles 24:1-2, 4-5a, 7
Joash was seven years old when he became king, and he reigned forty years in Jerusalem; and his mother’s name was Zibiah from Beersheba. Joash did what was right in the sight of YHWH all the days of Jehoiada the priest… Now it came about after this that Joash decided to restore the house of YHWH. He gathered the priests and Levites and said to them, “Go out to the cities of Judah and collect money from all Israel to repair the house of your God annually, and you shall do the matter quickly.” …For the sons of the wicked Athaliah had broken into the house of God and even used the holy things of the house of YHWH for the Baals.
But when his uncle died, Joash rather abruptly turned against YHWH.
2 Chronicles 24:17-18
But after the death of Jehoiada the officials of Judah came and bowed down to the king, and the king listened to them. They abandoned the house of YHWH, the God of their fathers, and served the Asherim and the idols; so wrath came upon Judah and Jerusalem for this their guilt.
In a moment of shocking defiance, Joash, once the pride of his aunt and uncle, killed their son (his cousin) Zechariah on the steps of the Temple (2 Chronicles 24:20-22). Joash had gone from good to wicked in only a few short steps. When his kingdom disintegrated internally, he was open to attack externally:
2 Chronicles 24:24-25
Indeed the army of the Arameans came with a small number of men; yet YHWH delivered a very great army into their hands, because they had forsaken YHWH, the God of their fathers. Thus they executed judgement on Joash.
When they had departed from him (for they left him very sick), his own servants conspired against him because of the blood of the son of Jehoiada the priest, and murdered him on his bed. So he died, and they buried him in the city of David, but they did not bury him in the tombs of the kings.
Joash was a direct descendant of king David, but the Davidic dynasty had certainly fallen far from what it was meant to be. Regardless of the failure, YHWH never gave up on his promise to David that his throne would endure forever:
YHWH: “My covenant I will not violate, nor will I alter the utterance of My lips. Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David. His descendants shall endure forever and his throne as the sun before Me. It shall be established forever like the moon, and the witness in the sky is faithful. Selah! But You have cast off and rejected, You have been full of wrath against Your anointed. You have spurned the covenant of Your servant; You have profaned his crown [nizrow] in the dust.”
The idea of a priest-king didn’t last in the hands of humanity… it fell hard under the weight of idols. But YHWH remembered His promise to David. An Anointed one would come from David’s line, who would re-establish the Throne of Judah. This Mashiach (Messiah: Anointed One) would be a Saviour to the people, and salvation would come in an unexpected and heartbreaking way.
The Crown of Thorns
Yeshua ha-Mashiach (Jesus the Messiah) repeatedly claimed that He came to bring forth the Kingdom of God on earth:
Now having been questioned by the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God was coming, He [Jesus] answered them and said, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
But the Jewish people were expecting a very different kind of king and kingdom. They were expecting a Warrior Messiah who would challenge and defeat Rome, not a Humble Messiah who would willingly forfeit His life.
Being saved from Rome was a rather short-sighted hope. It would save a small amount of people in a fixed period of time. YHWH had much grander plans. He would save humanity from death itself.
But they couldn’t see the bigger picture, so they rejected Yeshua and mockingly dressed him up like a king before delivering him to the cross:
Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown [Greek: stephanon] of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face.
Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold, the Man!”
So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!”
Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.”
The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God.”
Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid; and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?”
But Jesus gave him no answer. So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?”
Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin.”
As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”
Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.
Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!”
So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!”
Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?”
The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
Yeshua was crowned, not with gold, but with thorns; only days before, He was anointed with oil, not for kingship but for His funeral (John 12:1-8); and now He was raised up, not onto a throne, but onto a cross.
Psalm 132 gave an outline of the mission of YHWH’s Anointed One. The Messiah, from the line of David, would spring forth in Zion, and there His nezer crown would shine, identifying Him as God’s chosen Priest-King:
For YHWH has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. This is My resting place forever; Here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her needy with bread.
Her priests also I will clothe with salvation, and her godly ones will sing aloud for joy. There I will cause the horn of David to spring forth; I have prepared a lamp for Mine Anointed. His enemies I will clothe with shame, but upon himself his crown [niz’row] shall shine.”
Yeshua opened up a way for us all to wear crowns, as royal daughters and sons of YHWH. Yeshua’s disciple Peter spoke of the “unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:4); James spoke of “the crown of life” (James 1:12); and Paul wrote to Timothy about the “crown of righteousness” (2 Timothy 4:8). All these crowns would be available for those who love and follow YHWH.
Yeshua’s sacrifice sent Him to the grave but He didn’t stay there. He paved the way for us to rise up from the grave and have life eternal. Through the Messiah the northern (Ephraim) and the southern (Judah) kingdoms would reunite and all of God’s people would be free, shining like the stones of His crown:
Zechariah 9:11-13, 16
As for you also, because of the blood of My covenant with you, I have set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to the stronghold, O prisoners who have the hope; this very day I am declaring that I will restore double to you. For I will bend Judah as My bow, I will fill the bow with Ephraim. And I will stir up your sons, O Zion, against your sons, O Greece; and I will make you like a warrior’s sword…
And YHWH their God will save them in that day as the flock of His people; for they are as the stones of a crown [nezer], sparkling in His land.
Yeshua brought the Kingdom to earth. He came to save us from the finality of death and to allow us to live, crowned in the presence of YHWH. As daughters and sons of YHWH, we bear the royal crown. Have you polished your crown lately? It’s not always easy to live as God’s image bearers on earth, but we are called to shine in this land, like sparkling stones of a crown. Let’s live up to our mission and shine a spotlight on YHWH for all to see!
Next Week: Bud, Sprout, Blossom, Flourish