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It is accepted in the NT that the prophet Elijah and John the Baptist are prophetically connected. (Mark 9:11 Matt 17:10)

I have noted that both are described as wearing the same very specific outfit. In 2 Kings 1:8 Elijah outfit is described:

They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.”

Similarly in Matthew 3:4 John the Baptist is described as wearing the same outfit.

John himself wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist.

What is the significance of the "outfit of hair with a leather belt around the waist" ?

Is this related to Jakob using the animal hair to disguise himself as his brother and steal Esau’s birthright ? (Genesis 27:14-30) If so how was that related to the actions or role of Elijah / John the Baptist ?

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The hair-cloth shirt is a tool for mortification of the flesh.

The hair shirt, or cilice, is an article of clothing that has been used by Christian ascetics since the early days of Christianity, and it's likely that John the Baptist and Elijah wore something similar; the Wikipedia article notes that evidence of their use dates back to prehistoric Turkey. Besides affecting the appearance of poverty and asceticism, it should be noted that the rough fabric of these shirts, when worn close to the skin, results in painful rubbing and chafing, and the belts mentioned in these accounts were worn to ensure that the cloth remained in contact with the skin.

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  • Oh wow really great -thanks for the links. In the one for Cilice it states that the "hair shirt" is also called the "sackcloth". I'm familiar with the sackcloth being used extensively in scripture as a sign of repentance - but I had never realized that traditionally this was made from animal hair. I kind of just pictured a coarse material like our current sacks are made out of. So really the outfit of the prophet could essentially be considered one of perpetual repentance. They were constantly in sackcloth . That definitely makes a lot of sense for John. Thanks for the post.
    – Marshall
    Nov 7 '21 at 17:00
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The significance was the outward appearance of the prophets of God, that they were not wordly, nor dressed to appear as wealthy or upper class people. Heb. ch. 11 speaks of this.

"36 And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: 37 They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; 38 (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth." (Heb. 11:36-38. KJV)

Excerpt from Adam Clarke's Commentary on 2 Kings 1:8:

"Verse 2 Kings 1:8. He was a hairy man — That is, he wore a rough garment, either made of camels' hair, as his successor John Baptist's was, or he wore a skin dressed with the hair on. Some think that the meaning is, he had very long hair and a long beard. The ancient prophets all wore rough garments, or upper coats made of the skins of beasts: They wandered about in sheep-skins and goat-skins, says the apostle, Hebrews 11:37." Source: here

Their clothing was a mark of the prophets of old.

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  • Ok thanks for the response. So essentially this was considered to be the official "garment" of the prophet. Any idea if it was in some way related to Jacobs story or was it just something seperate and distinct ? Also Would the garment of hair have been the "mantel" or cloak that dropped from Elijah which Elishua picked up when he was taken up in the whirlwind (2 Kings 2:13) ... Or is that an additional clothing item
    – Marshall
    Nov 7 '21 at 11:19
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The OT ends with Malachi 4:

5“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. 6He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

Malachi prophesied the 2nd coming of Elijah.

Matthew 17:

10The disciples asked him, “Why then do the teachers of the law say that Elijah must come first?”

11Jesus replied, “To be sure, Elijah comes and will restore all things. 12But I tell you, Elijah has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” 13Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about John the Baptist.

John the Baptiser was linked to Elijah.

What is the significance of the "garment of hair with a leather belt around his waist" worn by both Elijah and John the Baptist?

This provided a visual linkage between these two prophets.

What is the significance of the outfit of hair?

Zechariah 13:

4 “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.

Matthew 3:

4 John himself wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist.

John the Baptiser fulfilled Zechariah 13:4 as a true prophet.

Is this related to Jakob using the animal hair to disguise himself as his brother and steal Esau’s birthright ?

No. This would contradict Zechariah 13:4.

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What is the significance of the "outfit of hair with a leather belt around the waist" ?

Others have written regarding the significance of the outfits of hair.

Just thought I'd like to add some thought to the second half of your question.

Is this related to Jakob using the animal hair to disguise himself as his brother and steal Esau’s birthright ? (Genesis 27:14-30) If so how was that related to the actions or role of Elijah / John the Baptist ?

Skins of an animal were placed on all three for a specific covering. Jacob is the only one that was used to deceive his father. Of course we all know outer coverings quite often be deceptive.

God does not see what man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, 1 Samuel 16:7

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  • Yes true - but as with all of the pentateuch many of the stories have much deeper symbolic and prophetic meanings. The older shall serve the younger is a repeating motif Ishmael and Isaac, Esau and Jacob. The transfer of blessing I've heard linked with prophecising Jesus and him "imputing his rightousness" and right standing with God to others. I've also heard people link these to the ritual of Yom Kippur with one of the animals "cast out" into the wilderness and the other designated for the Lord. Was curious if something similar was potentially being played out with John / Jesus
    – Marshall
    Nov 7 '21 at 18:42
  • Marshall, Totally agree with you that many stories have much deeper symbolic meanings. Have not heard of the links you mentioned. Interesting.
    – Sherrie
    Nov 7 '21 at 20:41

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