In Matthew 11:7-9 (NIV), Jesus asks the crowd:

What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.

Why are the alternatives to a prophet a "reed swayed by the wind" or a "man dressed in fine clothes"? What is the intended rhetorical force of those two rhetorical questions? They just seem a bit coming out of left field for me.

  • John the Baptist was certainly not dressed in fine clothes, nor did he lack strength of character, fearlessly criticizing soldiers, rulers, and religious leaders to their faces. – Lucian Jan 13 '19 at 16:11
  • John the Baptist had more in-common with Abraham than with Lot. That's for sure. – Constantthin Feb 12 '19 at 22:26

John was not wavering in his message, as a reed swayed by the wind:

Verse 7. [...]
A reed shaken with the wind?] An emblem of an irresolute and unsteady mind, which believes and speaks one thing to-day, and another to-morrow. Christ asks these Jews if they had ever found any thing in John like this; was he not ever steady and uniform in the testimony he bore to me? The first excellency which Christ notices in John was his steadiness; convinced once of the truth, he continued to believe and assert it. This is essentially necessary to every preacher, and to every private Christian. He who changes about from opinion to opinion, and from one sect or party to another, is never to be depended on; there is much reason to believe that such a person is either mentally weak, or has never been rationally and divinely convinced of the truth.

Commentary on the New Testament. Volume 1. Adam Clarke. London, 1817.

Adam Clarke goes on to say John's clothing was another excellency. His simple clothing was a constant reminder that John did not try to ally himself with the world. He did not try to augment his preaching by wearing fine clothes in order to help sway public opinion in his favor. John was not worldly-minded, which showed most clearly in his choice of simple clothing.

Verse 8. [...] Let it be well observed, that the preacher who conforms to the world in his clothing, is never in his element but when he is frequenting the houses and tables of the rich and great.


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