24 June 2008

On camel's hair

Both Matthew and Mark explicitly say that John the Baptist “wore clothing made of camel’s hair and had a leather belt around his waist” (Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6). If both Evangelists make explicit reference to John’s clothing there must be something significant about it; but what?

There is another man who wore similar clothing in the Scriptures, one who lived many centuries before John’s birth. To this man the angel of the Lord said:

Go, intercept the messengers of Samaria’s king, and ask them, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baalzebub, the god of Ekron?’ For this, the Lord says: ‘You shall not leave the bed upon which you lie; instead, you shall die’” (II Kings 1:3-4).
Hearing these words, the king’s messengers returned to him. King Ahaziah asked them, “What was the man like who came up to you and said these things to you” (II Kings 1:7). “‘Wearing a hairy garment,’ they replied, ‘with a leather girdle about his loins’” (II Kings 1:8). Hearing this description, the king knew at once the name of this name and cried out, “It is Elijah the Tishbite” (II Kings 1:8)!

By donning a garment made of camel’s hair and securing it with a belt of leather, John the Baptist demonstrated in a clear way his prophetic calling. We learn through the prophet Zechariah that this form of dress was customary for the prophets: “On that day, every prophet shall be ashamed to prophesy his vision, neither shall he assume the hairy mantle: (Zechariah 13:4). But more than this, John showed through the use of his clothing, that he was Elijah.

The grandson of the wise Sirach wrote, “How awesome are you, Elijah! Whose glory is equal to yours” (Sirach 48:10)? Furthermore, he said to him,

You are destined, it is written, in time to come to put an end to wrath before the day of the Lord, to turn back the hearts of fathers toward their sons, and to re-establish the tribes of Jacob. Blessed is he who shall have seen you before he dies, O Elijah, enveloped in the whirlwind (Sirach 48:10-12)!
Sirach references and quotes the words of the Prophet Malachi:

Lo, I will send you Elijah, the prophet, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and terrible day, to turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the land with doom (Malachi 3:24).
So much so did John the Baptist’s life reflect that of Elijah, Jesus said of John:

All the prophets and the law prophesied up to the time of John. And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah, the one who is to come. Whoever has ears ought to hear (Matthew 11:13-15).
Saint John Chrysostom tells us, “John’s clothing itself was symbolic of nothing less than the coming kingdom and of repentance.”[1]

[1] Saint John Chrysostom, The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 10.4.


  1. That was a well researched article, thank for writing it. Would you happen to know anything about the quality and durability of the kind of camel's hair clothing that John the Baptist and the other prophets who wore back in those days?

    The scriptures also teach us that John did a lot of Baptizing. In your educated opinion, what do you think the liklihood would have been that John would have done all the baptizing that he did while wearing his camel's hair outfit? How well do you think an ancient times camel's hair garment would have held up under the stresses of getting wet and being in the water?

    Would a camel's hair outfit have been a good choice of clothing for someone who knows that they would be in the water and getting wet a lot?

    1. You're welcome, Matthew, though I'm afraid I don't know where to go to find the answers to the questions you ask.

  2. Hi Daren,
    Am I right in thinking when you say "But more than this, John showed through the use of his clothing, that he was Elijah." above, that you believe that John wanted to show people that he was Elijah?
    How does this relate to your interpretaion of John 1:21 : "And they asked him: 'What then, are you Elijah?' and he said 'I am not.' 'Are you the Prophet?' And he anwered, 'No.' "
    Am I missing something?
    Warm regards
    Yours because His,
    David Kelsall

    1. Thank you for the question, David (I didn't publish your earlier question because this one asks the same question).

      If you are asking if I am implying that John the Baptist was the physical reincarnation of Elijah, I am not. This is why the Forerunner or the Lord personally denies being Elijah in John 1:21.

      What I mean is, I think, what Jesus means, that John the Baptist fulfills the mission and the role of Elijah, who was supposed to return before the coming of the Messiah. John the Baptist took up, as it were the mantle of Elijah. So it is that Jesus says, "And if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah."

  3. Thanks for your reply! I thought there must have been more to it than that! (you'll get used to my feeble mindedness ha ha ) I look forward to reading more of your stuff with relish.