Locusts and Wild Honey

Matthew 3:4 And John himself was clothed in camel s hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.

Q.  What is the significance of John the Baptist eating locusts and wild honey?

A. I can think of two things. John’s food is described in two verses:

  • Mt 3:4 Now John himself had a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey.
  • Mk 1:6 John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist, and his diet was locusts and wild honey.

Winged insects that walk on all fours are detestable to Israelites, except those with jointed legs with which to jump on the earth:

  • Lev 11:22  These of them you may eat: the locust in its kinds, and the devastating locust in its kinds, and the cricket in its kinds, and the grasshopper in its kinds.

Wild honey is honey that is not farmed, found in tree trunks or rock crevices:

  • 1 Sam 14:12 All the people of the land entered the forest, and there was honey on the ground.

Both foods are found in nature and cost nothing, and were eaten by the poorest people. So point one may be John’s simple lifestyle, depending on what God provides for his sustenance.

The second thing relates to his dress, a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt. This was what Elijah wore:

  • 2 Kings 1:8 (NIV) They replied, “He had a garment of hair and had a leather belt around his waist.” The king said, “That was Elijah the Tishbite.”

When the angel announced to Zechariah that God will give him a son called John, he said:

  • Lk 1:17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers back to the children, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.

So point two is that John is the fulfillment of Elijah who was to come even in minute details:

  • Mt 11:14 And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.

Hope this helps.

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Angelic Announcements

Q. In Luke 1 the angel Gabriel announced to Zacharias the priest that his wife Elizabeth will bear him a son to be named John. Zacharias doubted and was unable to speak until John was born. Gabriel also announced to Mary that she will give birth to Jesus. Mary also questioned him but was not punished. Why?

A. Both asked a similar question:
Lk 1:18 Zacharias said to the angel, “How will I know this for certain? For I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years.”
• Lk 1:34 Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”

But the thinking behind each is very different.

What do we know about Zacharias from the text? We know that he:
1. was righteous in the sight of God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and requirements of the Lord (v6)
2. had no child, his wife was barren, and they were both advanced in years (v7)
3. had been praying for a son (his petition has been heard, v12)
4. asked for a sign (how will I know this for certain v18)
5. looked at his circumstances (I am an old man and my wife is advanced in years v19)
6. did not believe Gabriel’s words (v20)

Although Zacharias was a priest and ought to know better, he did not believe Gabriel’s words.
Lk 12:48b From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.
He prayed but did not believe when God answered his petition. He did not accept God’s messenger’s words at face value, but asked for a sign similar to what Gideon did (Jdg 6:36-40). And unlike Abraham who did not waver in unbelief (Rom 4:20), he contemplated his own body and the deadness of Elizabeth’s womb, and he became weak in faith (contrast Rom 4:19).

What about Mary? We know that she:
1. was a virgin engaged to Joseph (v27)
2. was very perplexed at Gabriel’s statement (v29)
3. was puzzled about her conception as she was a virgin (v34)
4. accepted Gabriel’s announcement without further objection (may it be done to me according to your word v38)

Even though she was only a country girl and not as highly trained as Zacharias was, she received the angelic announcement by faith, despite the impossibility of a virgin conception. Her Magnificat showed that her focus was entirely on God, not circumstances:
1. the Lord (v46)
2. God my Savior (v47)
3. He has had regard for His bondslave (v48)
4. the Mighty One, holy is His name (v49)
5. His mercy toward those who fear Him (v50)
6. He has done mighty deeds with His arms, He has scattered (v51)
7. He has brought down rulers (v52)
8. He has filled the hungry (v53)
9. He has given help to Israel His servant, in remembrance of His mercy (v54)
10. He spoke to our fathers (v55)

This is in stark contrast to Zacharias. No wonder she was blessed and he got his sign of being struck mute.

John the Baptist Shirking Responsibility?

Q. Why did John the Baptist go to live in the desert instead of with his parents? It seems like he had not observed the commandment to take care of his parents. Was he allowed to weasel out of his Levite duties? or maybe he left the priesthood because of the Pharisees.

A. I believe he lived in the wilderness to fulfill his calling as prophesied in:
Isa 40:3-5 A voice is calling,
“Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness;
Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.
“Let every valley be lifted up,
And every mountain and hill be made low;
And let the rough ground become a plain,
And the rugged terrain a broad valley;
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
And all flesh will see it together;
For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”

I think maybe you assumed too much. The word of God came to John in:
Lk 3:1-2 Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene, in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness.

Tiberius was the stepson of Augustus, whom he succeeded on the throne AD 14 according to Roman history. The 15th year of his reign was AD 29. Since John the Baptist was only about 6 months older than Jesus (Lk 1:26 ff), he was already a grown man at that time. His parents Zacharias and Elizabeth were not mentioned again in the NT after Luke 1. They might have already died by that time, after John had fulfilled his filial duties to care for his parents.

John did not weasel out of his duties as a priest. When God called him to be the Messiah’s herald, he obeyed, just as Samuel was raised by Eli to serve in the tabernacle, but responded to God’s call to become both a judge and a prophet. There is no evidence that John left the priesthood because of the Pharisees.

John the Baptist and Elijah

Q. Is there any connection between Lk 1:17 and Malachi 4:5-6 ? Why is John the Baptist compared to Elijah? Is Malachi talking about the 2 witnesses before the Millennium ?

A. Yes, Lk 1:17 is a quotation from Mal 4:5-6. The wording is not identical as the former is in Greek while the latter in Hebrew:
Lk 1:17 It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.
• Mal 4:5-6 Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.

Some are puzzled over why John the Baptist was compared to Elijah, especially in the power of Elijah. Elijah performed many miracles, but John did not perform any. Where is the power? The similarity is in the spirit or nature of their ministry.

Elijah was God’s prophet who called Israel to repentance:
1 Kgs 18:21 Elijah came near to all the people and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.” But the people did not answer him a word.
• 1 Kgs 18:39 When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The LORD, He is God; the LORD, He is God.

His ministry truly turned hearts to repentance. He restored the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their.

When John the Baptist came, the focus of his ministry was also repentance:
Mt 3:1-2 Now in those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
• Lk 3:3-6 And he came into all the district around the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins; as it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, “THE VOICE OF ONE CRYING IN THE WILDERNESS, ‘MAKE READY THE WAY OF THE LORD, MAKE HIS PATHS STRAIGHT. ‘EVERY RAVINE WILL BE FILLED, AND EVERY MOUNTAIN AND HILL WILL BE BROUGHT LOW; THE CROOKED WILL BECOME STRAIGHT, AND THE ROUGH ROADS SMOOTH; AND ALL FLESH WILL SEE THE SALVATION OF GOD.’”

John’s ministry fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecy in Isa 40:3-5. Even Jesus acknowledged that John came in the spirit & power of Elijah:
Mt 11:14 And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come.
• Mt 17:12 but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands. (Also Mk 9:13)

The power was in turning hearts to repentance, not performing miracles.

A second confusion over the quotation from Mal 4:5-6 arises because it applied to both Comings of Christ. The fulfillment in Christ’s First Coming was in John the Baptist. Elijah’s presence during Christ’s Second Coming will be in:
Rev 11:3-6 And I will grant authority to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire flows out of their mouth and devours their enemies; so if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this way. These have the power to shut up the sky, so that rain will not fall during the days of their prophesying; and they have power over the waters to turn them into blood, and to strike the earth with every plague, as often as they desire.

Elijah is not mentioned by name, but the description of calling down fire from heaven and shutting up rain fitted him:
2 Kings 1:10 Elijah replied to the captain of fifty, “If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty.” Then fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. (Also 2 Kgs 1:12)
• 1 Kgs 17:1 Now Elijah the Tishbite, who was of the settlers of Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the LORD, the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, surely there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word.”
• Lk 4:25 But I say to you in truth, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the sky was shut up for three years and six months, when a great famine came over all the land;
• Jas 5:17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months.

The references to turning water into blood and plagues fitted Moses (Ex 7:17-21). Interpreters differ whether these are two literal witnesses modeled after Elijah and Moses, or symbolic of God’s servants during the great and terrible day of the LORD. My humble opinion is the former.

Least in the Kingdom of Heaven?

matthew-5-19-b

Q. Are Mt 5:19 & 11:11 talking about different kinds of people? Who is the least in the Kingdom? What are these least commandments?

A. The kingdom of God or heaven is not a physical kingdom, but the rule of God on earth:
Lk 17:21 the kingdom of God is in your midst.
Those in the kingdom are the kingdom’s subjects.

Both Mt 5:19 & 11:11 refer to the least in the kingdom i.e. the lowest rank within the kingdom, and are talking about the same kind of people:
Mt 5:19 Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
• Mt 11:11 Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. (Also Lk 7:28)

The least in the kingdom of heaven are those who:
• annuls one of the least of the commandments, &
• teaches others to do the same.
“Annuls” translates the Greek verb “lyo” and literally means “loosens” or “relaxes”. It does not mean “breaks”, in which case the perpetrator would be transgressing the law and become a “sinner”, which would disqualify him from the kingdom. It means he complies with the commandment, but not fully, barely meeting the minimum requirements.

Which are the least commandments? The Bible did not say, but note:
Mt 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
The weightier provisions of the law, or the more important commandments, are justice, mercy, and faithfulness. In comparison, tithing, ceremonial cleansing (Mt 23:25-26), outward appearance (Mt 23:27-28) are lesser matters of the law. Whether they are the least, the Bible did not specify.

Lastly, we can also get some clues from the converse:
Mt 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and said, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”
• Mt 18:4 Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

The opposite of “the least” is “the greatest” in the kingdom. Who are the greatest? They are the ones who humble themselves like a child:
Mt 23:12 Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.
• Lk 14:11 For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted. (Also Lk 18:14)
• Jas 4:10 Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.

They are greatest because God exalts them. The value system in God’s kingdom is upside-down from the world’s!

Are You the Expected One?

Lk 7 19 a

Q. When John the Baptist baptized Jesus he already knew He was the Savior. If that is the case why then did he have to send his own disciples out to ask if He is the One again?

A. Yes, John already knew Jesus is the Lamb of God and Son of God:
Jn 1:29, 34 The next day he saw Jesus coming to him and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! … I myself have seen, and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

However, in Lk 7 he sent his disciples to ask Jesus whether He was the Expected One:
Lk 7:19-20 Summoning two of his disciples, John sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?” When the men came to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, to ask, ‘Are You the Expected One, or do we look for someone else?’”
Why?

The first clue is in the parallel account in Mt 11:
Mt 11:2-3 Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”

John had been put in prison by Herod since Mt 4:12 (see also Mk 1:14; Lk 3:20), so he had been languishing in jail for months. The Jewish expectation of the Messiah at that time was that He would be a political deliverer, rescuing Israel from Roman oppression. Being in prison, John was discouraged and confused. If Jesus were the Messiah, why hasn’t He destroyed the forces of evil, delivered Israel, and judged all unrighteousness? As a minimum, why has He left His forerunner (Lk 1:17) in prison? It is the same with us, when we are going through difficulties and discouraged, we often forget and doubt what we knew to be true. So John sent his disciples to seek reassurance.

Jesus reminded John of the works of the Messiah predicted in the OT:
Isa 29:18 On that day the deaf will hear words of a book,
And out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind will see.
• Isa 35:5-6 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped. Then the lame will leap like a deer, And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.
• Isa 61:1 The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;

Even someone as great as John was influenced by expectation of the masses. The remedy is always to go back to Scripture – What does the Bible say, not what everyone thinks. Furthermore, when studying the Bible, look at the total picture, not just what some passage say, or you might misinterpret by leaving out key elements. When you are in the dark, don’t doubt what you knew as truth in the light.