God’s Word for You
Mark 1:6 Strange clothes, strange food
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, May 29, 2021
6 John was clothed in camel’s hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. He ate locusts and wild honey.
Four items are brought before our eyes by Mark about the baptizing preacher: His clothes, his belt, the locusts, and the wild honey.
First: The clothing made of camel’s hair. In the Old Testament, a similar description is given of the prophet Elijah: “He was dressed in clothing made of hair, with a leather belt tied around his waist” (2 Kings 1:8). The description is of a garment like a robe woven of camel hair (not just cut from camel hide). This would be a coarse, rough, worse-than-burlap robe. Whether John wore anything else at all is not mentioned (commentators often spend time wondering), but such a robe would have been unbearable without something else next to the skin.
Second: The leather belt. Men of the time often wore a belt that was more of a sash made of some nicer fabric, if not always silk. Some translators prefer “girdle” for this word, which in Greek is zoney (ζώνη, also in 2 Kings 1:8), but belt or sash makes better sense as our translation. Acts 21:11: “He (Agabus) took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it (etc.).” A belt of leather instead of a nicer fabric would have been a poor man’s item.
Third: Locusts. This would seem to mean any of the locusts’ relatives, as well. The Law of Moses allowed locusts, katydids, crickets and grasshoppers as food (Leviticus 11:22). Actually, locusts themselves are nothing more than grasshoppers that have been subjected to certain chemical changes when their environment is caught in a drought followed by a sudden rapid growth in vegetation. The bugs, which normally do not congregate, will be subjected to increased serotonin and begin to gather into swarms. The swarms will then move to descend upon any food source. Whether John ate true locusts because of such conditions in his years of ministry or simply found crickets and grasshoppers, should not trouble us. Poor people ate them in large numbers, pulling off the legs and wings and (usually) roasting them. The resulting ‘jerky’ would last, dried, a very long time.
Fourth: Wild honey. Honey is one of God’s most remarkable creations, for it never spoils. The Hittites and Hurrians included bees and “magical honey” in certain resurrection myths. Wild honey had a set value among the Hittites of one tub (zipittani) worth 1 shekel, the same value as a live sheep or the hide of an ox (the size of such a tub is unknown, but the same value was given to butter and lard). Jacob called honey “one of the best products of the land” of Israel (Genesis 43:11), and of course Canaan’s description was “a land flowing with milk and honey” beginning in Exodus 3:8 and then more than a dozen other times in the Pentateuch (especially Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy). Honey is easily spoiled, but when untouched, its sweetness lasts. “Long suffering patience is very sweet, surpassing honey, and is valuable to the Lord… but a bad temper is bitter and useless” (Shepherd of Hermas Hm 5,1,6).
John ate the delights of the land, fed directly by God’s providence, with meat that flew into his hands and honey that was dripping along the paths where he walked and taught. His clothing was simple but easy to clean and care for, tough and enduring, like the animal skins God provided for Adam and Eve while they were still in Eden (Genesis 3:21). John’s life in the wilderness was simple, but he knew the details of Herod’s court (Matthew 14:3-4).
This passage teaches us the usual clothes and diet of the prophet John. It does not teach or command us to become ascetic, or to take up a simple and strange life in the wilderness. And there are few places left for any of us to do such a thing without being arrested for trespassing. What we should do here is recognize the similarities between John and the Old Testament prophets, especially Elijah, and the connection of their messages: Repentance, for the forgiveness of sins. But just as John kept himself apart, Jesus went into the cities and towns and houses of the people. John was the finger that pointed to Christ, the same as all of the fingers that pointed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. We cannot possibly listen to John without being pointed to Jesus. If there is an element of John’s preaching that we all should take up, let it be this: That no one could ever listen to us without being pointed to Jesus.
Pastor Timothy Smith