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 ?

7 Answers 7


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.

  • 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, 2021 at 17:00

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.

  • 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, 2021 at 11:19

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.


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

  • 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, 2021 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, 2021 at 20:41

The garment of hair was not a religious punishment of the flesh. Prophets are ostracized by those they speak to. Therefore both Elijah and John needed to live in the wilderness and slay beasts to wear as skins for clothing. God said the false prophets come wearing rough clothing to deceive. The mark of a true prophet is a life of ostracism and affliction brought on by those claiming to do the will of God. Jesus said if a true prophet comes they will turn the people back to God, which is what John did, that was his power. Jesus said they are never accepted in their own country. John prepared a people for Jesus to save. Elijah was the last prophet standing after Jezebel killed Obadiah and the hidden prophets, after Elijah told Obadiah to tell King Arab a message. Then the only prophet left was Elijah as he lamented to God at Mt Sinai. Elijah was the prophet to northern Israel before they were carted away to Assyria.

All prophets come to warn and bring judgment. Today that concept is lost on the church. Prophets do not bring good things. Jesus was a prophet, and he meted out judicial blindness in the temple upon the Jewish leaders, and he confirmed that Jerusalem would be desolate and that Daniel’s prophecy about its destruction was coming soon.

Elijah and Moses were with the Lord when Daniel was at the River. They were the two other men who asked how long they would prophesy, and the Lord told them 3.5 years, but told Daniel to go his way.

These are the two witnesses of Revelation chapter 11, who will preach to Satan’s kingdom in Jerusalem as a last ditch effort to see if there are any others who want salvation.

These two Moses and Elijah appeared on the Mt of transfiguration with Jesus. They are the two witnesses. They aren’t named in Revelation because you should already know who they are.

Stop praying for the days of Elijah, he was a prophet of Judgment. The church is so dumb today. Honestly, read your Bible!

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    – agarza
    Aug 11, 2022 at 2:56

The clearest reason for John wearing a garment of camel's hair with a leather girdle or belt is not the mortification of the flesh, but to demonstrate his connection with Elijah. He may have done so in response to revelation given to his father in Lk 1:17:

  • and he will go before him in the spirit and power of Eli′jah

The outer garments were thus an external manifestation of the inner unity of the two men.

Prophets did indeed perform symbolic actions that involved physical suffering but there was no concept of "mortification of the flesh" per se in Judaism. In Christianity mortification of the flesh implies an act of atonement for personal sin and sharing in the suffering of Christ. In Judaism and the O.T. scriptures the prophets suffered because they were instructed to do so by God, with various purposes. For example, Ezekiel lay on his side for 390 days not to mortify his flesh but to "bear the sin of the house of Israel" (Ezek. 4:5). Isaiah walked naked and barefoot for three years "as a sign and a portent against Egypt and Ethiopia." (Isaiah 20:3) It's possible to understand these suffering as mortifications of the flesh, of course, but to do so is to impose a Christian concept on their actions retroactively. They were not repenting for personal sin or seeking to participate vicariously in Christ's Passion.

Thus the best way to understand John's camel-hair garment and leather belt is to see it as a sign that he understood himself to be fulfilling the mission of Elijah as prophesied in Mal. 4:4, and so he imitated Elijah's appearance.

Regarding a connection to Jacob's wearing goatskins (Gen. 27:17), I don't see it. Jacob wore these to deceive his father into giving him the blessing intended for Esau. The Baptist wasn't trying to fool anyone into thinking he was actually Elijah in order to gain Elijah's blessing, he was affirming his unity with Elijah in spirit.

  • Thanks for the answer. I think it's key to distinguish between a prophetic "sign act" and a mortification of the flesh.
    – Marshall
    Aug 15, 2023 at 10:57

I do not believe that the hairy covering on Jacob and the hairy costume of John the Baptist are connected in a significant way and I'll explain why. The disguise of Jacob is part of a motif running at least from Genesis 3 through 2 Samuel.

Examples of the "disguised deceiver" motif include:

The Serpent
Genesis 3:13

Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

Genesis 27:15-16

Then Rebekah took the best clothes of Esau her older son, which she had in the house, and put them on her younger son Jacob. She also covered his hands and the smooth part of his neck with the goatskins.

Genesis 38:14

she took off her widow’s clothes, covered herself with a veil to disguise herself, and then sat down at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the road to Timnah.

Genesis 42:8

Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.

And later examples include Saul (and others)
2 Samuel 28:8

So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. “Consult a spirit for me,” he said, “and bring up for me the one I name.”

As you can see from the above sampling of verses, the theme of the disguised deceiver quickly moves on from the covering of animal skins to other forms of disguise. Therefore it's plausible to see the animal hair garment as predominantly part of the disguise theme rather than as part of the prophetic costume theme.

In fact, if there is a connection between Jacob's hairy garment and Elijah's hairy garment, it makes the most sense that this is a (very) vague reference to belief in Jacob's role as a prophet, rather than as a reference to Elijah as a deceiver.

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