“John wore clothes made from camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.” Mark 1:6
Mark’s gospel is fast-paced. Short, clipped descriptions and powerful verbs drive the story forward. Mark is fond of using the word ‘immediately’ where other gospel writers might have allowed for space and time to pass. He is laser-focused on Christ’s journey to the cross and its impact.
Thus, every details Mark does include should jump out to us as significant. The whole ministry of John the Baptist spans thirteen verses in Mark, but one of them is used to describe John’s clothing. “John wore clothes made from camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey” (1:6). Why include these details? What does it matter what John was wearing when he preached?
One of the most fundamental principles for interpreting the Bible is to ask: Where else does it show up in the text? Not all, but the majority of puzzling details can be illuminated by checking to see if it shows up in an earlier or later place in the Bible. The best interpreter of Scripture is Scripture itself. We interpret the difficult passages in light of the clearer ones, without ignoring the specifics of each passage. The Bible is filled to the brim with references and allusions to other parts of the Bible, and recognizing these connections can help bring confusing passages into focus.
So, where else does ‘camel’s hair and leather belt around his waist’ show up in Scripture? In 2 Kings 1, King Ahaziah receives words of doom from a prophet of the Lord (he will not recover from his injury). Upon receiving this message, Ahaziah questioned his messengers about who they saw:
He said to them, “What kind of man was he who came up to meet you and spoke these words to you?” They answered him, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.” 2 Kings 1:7-8
John was dressed as Elijah. A garment of hair, a leather belt, and even eating locusts (though in a less direct way) told people of the purpose of John’s ministry. In some way, John’s deportment was to remind people of the prophet Elijah and his place in redemption history.
See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He 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 4:5-6
When Malachi’s prophecy is placed alongside the angel Gabriel’s pronouncement (exact wording is repeated) and John’s choice of clothing, we are meant to see John as the forerunner of the Messiah. John is the prophet Elijah sent by God to prepare the people for the day of the Lord’s coming.
Mark’s inclusion of John’s attire is not accidental. It reveals the heart of God’s purpose for John the Baptist.