Monday, August 13, 2012

John the Baptist: Camel's Hair, Locusts, and Honey - Matthew 3:4 Bible Commentary

Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. (Matthew 3:4)
John the Baptist didn't care much for fashion. He was a prophet, and his clothing matched his mission. John's clothing was similar to his predecessor Elijah, who wore "a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist" (2 Kings 1:8, also see Zechariah 13:4).

John was not a king, nor did he pretend to be one. Jesus, later in his ministry, spoke to the crowds about John, saying, "What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings' houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet" (Matthew 11:8-9).

The gospels portray John as a rough kind of man. He didn't live in a king's house, but in the wilderness. He didn't eat kingly food; instead he ate locusts and wild honey.

Locusts are not something I eat for dinner, and if you live in the West, I'm guessing you don't either. But in the East, locusts don't have the same stigma attached to them. In fact, locusts are listed as one of the allowable foods in the Levitical Law (and if you're still not so sure about eating locusts, don't worry, grasshoppers are also permitted): may eat: the locust of any kind, the bald locust of any kind, the cricket of any kind, and the grasshopper of any kind (Leviticus 11:22).

John also ate raw honey. The Old Testament makes many references to Israel being a land "flowing with milk and honey." As such, John must have had plenty of fructose and glucose to digest in between his locust feasts. Perhaps sometimes he combined locusts with honey for his main dish. You can imagine the vast (well, sort of...) number of recipes he must have had: honey roasted locusts, honey dipped dried locusts, maybe even a honey-locust flavored drink.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure John ate something other than locusts and honey. However, for at least the time of his ministry, he was known for having a diet primarily consisting of locusts and honey.

The words that Jesus spoke later in His ministry were true. John certainly "did not come eating or drinking" (Matthew 11:18). John's diet was simple. He was a voice, calling out in the wilderness, and what he ate and wore matched his mission.

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  1. The idea of a garment is very important in the Bible. Adam and Eve were naked, and their self-fashioned garments were not good enough in God's eyes, and indeed betrayed that they had disobeyed Him. A man-made garment is, in a way (types and shadows, metaphorical, allegorical), like a conscience that is made clean by man's own attempt at morality and goodness. The ten commandments and the entire law of Moses are meant to illustrate to mankind that we are not capable of attaining unto God's righteousness. God also commanded that an altar to Him should be built with stones that have not been touched by the tools of men, nor hewed/carved. This is all significant to why John the Baptist was wearing camel's hair. His food had similar allegorical meaning, but that gets into a whole other issue. Try to read up on "meat," "bread," "milk," and even "wine" and "water" throughout the Bible, and do some searches on online Bibles if you need to. You will see that the Bible often mentions food in such a way that it sounds like food for the flesh, but is really referring to food for the spirit. An example would be, obviously, that Jesus said His body would be broken like the bread, and that one must eat of His flesh and drink of His blood. He also turned water into wine at a dinner. I could go on for a while explaining this stuff, but the Holy Ghost will explain it much better than I could if you ask of Him. Just bury your nose in the Word for a while and think metaphorically (but don't go crazy with it, make sure you don't use a word this way unless you see it defined elsewhere in the Bible, like when Jesus explains that His words benefit the flesh nothing, but feed the spirit). God bless!

  2. i liken the eating of crickets and honey to the sweet crunch of Cap'n Crunch cereal. my fav!