It so happens that John the Baptist’s daily menu was even more austere than that of others in his time. It was unusual enough to be mentioned in Matthew chapter 3, verse 4. In the King James Bible the relevant part of this verse says, “his meat was locusts and wild honey.”
What does that mean? And what if being a prophet or preacher like John the Baptist has nothing to do with the diet we may be compelled to live on at some point? Is John’s example one we may need to follow to survive one day? Could following it now be to our advantage?
Pastor Marvin Hunt has written an article to give us more insight into the diet and dress of John the Baptist, which I reproduce here with his permission
The Mystery of John’s Diet and Dress
Today’s article is a lot like extra padding in the back of a chair, it’s nice to have it, but the chair functions nicely without it. So too is our concrete knowledge about the lifestyle of John the Baptist, especially concerning what he ate and how he dressed. Matthew describes John thus, “And the same John had his raiment of camel’s hair, and a leathern girdle about his loins; and his meat was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4).
This description of John seems to picture a man dressed in a roughly woven robe made of camel hair that is held together at the waist with a leather belt. John’s food is described as grasshoppers and honey. Based on Matthew’s description, artists have often painted John the Baptist as resembling a wild-eyed caveman standing beside the Jordan River and shouting like a street-preacher at anyone who passed by.
I wonder. Would the Creator of the universe send a wild looking man who ate grasshoppers and dressed in an animal skin to announce that the Saviour of mankind had arrived? Is this a likely scenario? Would the Jewish leaders bother to send spies to hear this man? Would throngs of people be attracted to hear such a person–then or now? And, what kind of people would be attracted to such a man? We’ll proceed from here by looking at what we know, what we think we know, and what we wish we knew.
We think John dressed in the manner thought to be similar to the Old Testament prophets. This would have been a long flowing outer garment bound at the waist with a belt of goatskin or sheepskin. In John’s day, people seemed to have recognized this garb as a symbol of his prophetic office (a sort of prophets uniform). Anything else describing his physical appearance is speculation based on thinking that John was a Nazirite because he abstained from wine. “For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and shall drink neither wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15). The Encyclopaedia Britannica Online describes a Nazirite: (from Hebrew nazar, “to abstain from,” or “to consecrate oneself to”), among the ancient Hebrews, a sacred person whose separation was most commonly marked by his uncut hair and his abstinence from wine. Originally, the Nazirite was endowed with special charismatic gifts and normally held his status for life. Later, the term was applied to a man who had voluntarily vowed to undertake special religious observances for a limited period of time, the completion of which was marked by the presentation of offerings (Numbers 6; 1 Maccabees 3:49; Acts 21:24).
Now, about those grasshoppers! We begin with a quote from A Dictionary of the Bible by Hastings which states, “They [grasshoppers] are certainly used as food, and were doubtless part of the diet of John the Baptist (Matthew 3:4). The writer has seen them toasted and eaten. The Arabs stew them with clarified butter, after tearing off the head, legs and wings. They are said to be dried and ground to meal in some places.” Also, in Leviticus 11:22, the law of Moses gives specific permission to eat certain types of locusts as a clean food. However, if you think this closes the argument about what John ate–you would be very wrong.
It turns out that from very early Christian times a tradition states that John’s food might have been small wild birds, crabs, crayfish, wild pears or other fruit, cakes of bread, or–carob pods. The Encyclopaedia Britannica Online states: Carob (Ceratonia siliqua), tree of the pea family (Fabaceae), native to the eastern Mediterranean region and cultivated elsewhere. It is sometimes known as locust, or St. John’s bread, in the belief that the “locusts” on which John the Baptist fed were carob pods. The tree, about 15 metres (50 feet) tall, has pinnately compound (feather-formed), glossy evergreen leaves with thick leaflets. It has red flowers followed by flat, leathery pods 7.5-30 centimetres (3-12 inches) long. The pods contain 5 to 15 hard brown seeds embedded in a sweet, edible pulp.
A Bible commentary adds, “It is an interesting fact that carob beans were a food of the very poor in various Near Eastern lands, and still are. Anciently the Jews had a saying that “when a Jew has to resort to carobs, he repents” (Midrash Rabbah, on Leviticus 11:1, Soncino ed., p. 168). It is not irrelevant to remark in this connection that John was the great preacher of repentance, and that a diet of carob beans and wild honey would certainly be appropriate in the light of the then-current concept of what a preacher of righteousness would eat. As already noted, the austere diet of John may, like his rude clothing, have been intended to characterize him in the popular mind as resembling the prophets of old . . . . available evidence does not warrant a dogmatic conclusion as to precisely what foods John ate.” I would add that Matthew doesn’t state that John’s “only” food “was locusts and wild honey” (Matthew 3:4).
And, lest we forget, the most important thing about John was neither what he wore, drank or ate–the most important thing was his message that prepared the way for the Messiah. Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11). It would be nice if we knew more details about John’s lifestyle, but like the extra padding in a chair, we can get along quite nicely without it.
Blessings in your study of God’s Word!