Why John the Baptist was so Different? 

January: Matthew 3; Mark 1; Luke 3

In both the books of Matthew and Mark, John the Baptist is described as “clothed with camel hair…and he did eat locusts and wild honey.” (Matt.3:4; Mark 1:6) Most biblical scholars believe that John the Baptist had taken a vow to be a “Nazarite,” a holy man set apart for a particular mission who has made a temple covenant with God. This concept established by Moses (See Deut. 6:2-21 and Lev. 11:22) included three stipulations. The first was that no razor would touch the man’s hair during his time of covenant. He would drink no wine, which is an area of little water that was rare, and would touch no dead body. This may have included the dead body of animals which is probably why John the Baptist’s diet consisted of locusts and wild honey. 

For many, the vow to become a Nazarite was for a specific period of time where they would solely focus on personal righteousness and calling others to repentance, but a few Bible personalities had this vow made by their parents, and it lasted their entire life like John the Baptist. The most well-known is probably Samson who was given strength by not cutting his hair. Hannah’s long-awaited son Samuel was another lifetime Nazarite. Elijah was also described as “a hairy man, girt with a girdle of leather about his loins.” (1 Kings 1:8) 

John the Beloved tells of the Levites and priests sent to question John about his preaching and they ask him if he is Elijah. (John 1:22) At the Passover a chair is left vacant in preparation for Elijah’s coming as prophesied in Malachi. John replies, “I am not.” Perhaps the confusion came from the fact that he dressed like the ancient prophet, to remind them of the promise of restoration to come. Interestingly, the two had more in common. According to one Biblical scholar, Elijah like… “John the Baptist lives in the wilderness, eats a primitive diet, wears animal skins, dies through the agency of a woman, and, above all, functions as the secondary, wild counterpart to the primary hero.” (Mobley, see https://pearlofgreatpricecentral.org/enochs-teaching-mission-enoch-and-the-other-wild-man/#_ftn18) Just as Herodias cut the ministry of John the Baptist short, Jezebel hampered Elijah until he was translated. Elijah did prepare for Elisha’s fifty-year reign as a prophet, healing Namaan and doing great miracles, but John the Baptist was a special preparer for the Lord. All four gospels use Isaiah’s words in describing John the Baptist as “the voice of one crying in the wilderness.” (Isa. 40:3-5) Preparing the way for Christ. 

After John’s death, the vow of the Nazarite continued and according to Alfred Edersheim, James the Just, the brother of Jesus, took this vow as did Paul for a time. (Acts 18:18; 21:23) “In the Court of the Women there was a special Nazarite’s chamber. After the various sacrifices had been offered by the priest, the Nazarite retired to this chamber, where he boiled the flesh of his peace offerings, cut off his hair, and threw it in the fire under the caldron.” (Edersheim, https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edersheim/temple.xxi.html

At the end of a Nazarite’s time of service, they were expected to go to the temple with a large sacrifice of a ram, a ewe, and a lamb, flour, and oil. The Nazarites also shaved their head and burnt their hair in the fire of the temple altar before returning to normal life. In Amos 2:11, Amos is calling Israel to repentance and says, “I raised up of your sons for prophets, and of your young men for Nazarites.” LDS Scholar and BYU professor, Robert L. Millet, has said, “we operate from a perspective that all the Old Testament prophets held the Melchizedek Priesthood.” (Millet, see  https://rsc.byu.edu/sperry-symposium-classics-old-testament/prophets-priesthood-old-testament) Even as Amos reminded us, we would hope that all men in the church were worthy of this higher priesthood, and therefore would be a prophet in the Old Testament meaning of the word. But how can our young men be Nazarites? 

Just as the ancient Nazarites wore their hair differently, dressed differently, and kept themselves separate from the world, even today full-time missionaries make a very similar covenant. During the time of Christ, the Romans kept their hair short and so growing your hair long set you apart. Today, cutting your hair short does the same thing. Rather than camel skin, missionaries wear a suit and a name badge so that people from afar can recognize them as missionaries. At the conclusion of their mission, they report to their priesthood leaders and return to normal life, but as the Nazarites of old, they have increased strength. What a gift for our young men to have an equivalent vow to serve that can change their life. 

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