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Matthew 3:4 NIV

John’s clothes were made of camel’s hair, and he had a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey.

Similarly, the prophet in Zechariah is said to have worn a garment of hair

Zechariah 13:4 NIV

On that day every prophet will be ashamed of their prophetic vision. They will not put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive.

Was John wearing a prophet's garment?

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4 Answers 4

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The rather detailed description of John's clothing appears to provide a twin function:

1. Contrast with the finery of the wealthy

We have several gospel accounts of Jesus Eulogizing John and his prophetic office in Matt 11:7-14 -

As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swaying in the wind? Otherwise, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? Look, those who wear fine clothing are found in kings’ palaces. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:

‘Behold, I will send My messenger ahead of You, who will prepare Your way before You.'

Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet even the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subject to violence,f and the violent lay claim to it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come

We have a similar record in Luke 7:24-28. Both quote Mal 4:5 about the coming "Elijah"

2. John's connection with the actual historical Elijah

  • 2 Kings 1:8, They replied, "He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist." The king said, "That was Elijah the Tishbite."
  • Zech 13:4, “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of his vision when he prophesies. He will not put on a hairy cloak in order to deceive,

Most commentators have noticed the same thing. Ellicott says:

(4) His raiment of camel’s hair.—The dress was probably deliberately adopted by the Baptist as reviving the outward appearance of Elijah, who was “a hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather” (2Kings 1:8); and the “rough garment,” that had been characteristic of the prophet’s life even at a later period (Zechariah 13:4), as contrasted with the “long garments” of the Pharisees (Mark 12:38), and the “gorgeous apparel” of the scribes who attached themselves to the court of Herod (Luke 7:25). The Nazarite vow of Luke 1:15 probably involved long and shaggy hair as well.

Benson also agrees -

Matthew 3:4. And the same John — The following description of John is added, that it might appear he did not live in obscurity, but was sufficiently known to all: had his raiment of camel’s hair — Not, as some have supposed, a camel’s skin, raw and undressed, but a kind of sackcloth, coarse and rough, made of the raw long hair of camels, and not of their fine and soft hair, dressed and spun into thread. The difference between these two is as great as that between flax rude or unprepared, and the same dressed or spun; or between that which we now call hair cloth, made of undressed hair, and camlet, that is made of it when it is softened, and spun, and prepared; in imitation of which, though made of wool, is the English camlet. Elijah seems to have wore a similar garment, and therefore was called a hairy man; which expression is supposed to refer to his clothing rather than his body. Most of the ancient prophets wore such garments, whence we read of the false prophets putting on a rough garment to deceive, Zechariah 13:4; and of the witnesses prophesying in sackcloth, Revelation 6:12; and Revelation 11:3. And a leathern girdle about his loins — In this respect, also, being like Elijah, in whose spirit and power he came, Malachi 4:5; Luke 1:17.

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The roughness and irritation of the camel's hair was symbolic of how sin "irritates" us unto repentance. The leather belt (as opposed to a rope) symbolized animal sacrifice for sins.

The false prophets were NOT calling for repentance. Perhaps the Church today should pay more attention to the message.

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This is probably more of a literary device than a requirement since there is no reason to think that all the prophets did. It seems to be a way to establish that John was coming in "the spirit and the power of Elijah".

...The description of John the Baptist's clothing is believed by most scholars to be a deliberate echo that of the prophet Elijah, who in 2 Kings 1:8 is said to wear "a garment of hair and with a leather belt around his waist."[3] Nolland notes that nowhere outside the Gospels is camel hair mentioned as being the clothing of an ascetic. The only reference to camel hair clothing he knows of is in the Apollonius paradoxographus, which speaks of a luxurious garment made of smooth camel hair. More common for the very poor would have been clothing made of goat hair.[4] However, in the Old Testament, in Zachariah 13:4 it is written: “On that day every prophet will be ashamed of their prophetic vision. They will not put on a prophet’s garment of hair in order to deceive", so one can safely assume a garment of hair was the clothing of a prophet in Judaic tradition.[5] In modern times, the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers' Institute states that "camel hair garments are worn by native desert travelers to protect them from the heat".[6]...

From Wikipedia: Matthew 3:4

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Lev 11:4 labels a camel as an unclean animal. And, among a few others, it has become a domesticated unclean animal.

The "unclean" animals dog and pig are probably the animals most compared to sinners in the western world (Prov 11:22; Phil 3:2; 2 Pet 2:22; Rev 22:15). The Middle Eastern world probably added camels to that list. One of the amusing aspects of a camel seems to be its eyelashes. They correspond perfectly to the false eyelashes used by certain kind of women, and probably is were the idea to extend one’s eyelashes originated from.

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The camel hair garment worn by John could have been a mental trick to deceive the carnal Pharisees and Sadducees (Mat 3:7). To subtly demonstrate their impure lifestyle among the other sinful people in Israel.

So, yes, John the Baptist was probably wearing a prophetic garment. And likewise, the capture and crucifixion of Christ would also have been a mental trick played on all carnal people in the world. However, both the two acts would have incorporated the solution to the problem they displayed. John the Baptist’s solution was a baptism of repentance, and Christ’s solution was crucifixion of the flesh.

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