Ahaziah, the King of the Northern Kingdom of Israel, took a nasty fall. He sent messengers to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron, regarding his recovery. The messengers met Elijah on their way and were sent back to Ahaziah with a frightening message. 2 Kings 1:4-8 tells us that the messengers brought the message from God’s prophet back to Ahaziah, “Now, therefore, thus says the Lord, ‘You shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’ So Elijah went. The messengers returned to the king, and he said to them, ‘Why have you returned?’ And they said to him, There came a man to meet us, and said to us, Go back to the king who sent you, and say to him, Thus says the Lord, ‘Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are sending to inquire of Baal-zebub, the god of Ekron? Therefore, you shall not come down from the bed to which you have gone up, but you shall surely die.’ He said to them, ‘What kind of man was he who came to meet you and told you these things?’ They answered him, ‘He wore a garment of hair, with a belt of leather about his waist.’ And he said, ‘It is Elijah the Tishbite.’”

Ahaziah knew Elijah the Tishbite. Elijah had been the nemesis to his father Ahab and his mother, Jezebel. The description of Elijah by the messengers was in and of itself a harbinger of bad news. Prophets that looked like that seemed to always bring word of God’s judgment and always seemed to point out sin and call for repentance. The Hebrew phrase translated as “A garment of hair” in the English Standard Version, has some discussion in the commentaries. The Handbook for translators says the phrase “is literally ‘[He was] a man master of hair.’ This expression has two possible meanings. It may mean that he was a hairy man, that is, he had a long, bushy beard and long, uncut hair. Or it may mean that he was a man wearing a cloak made of hair.”[1] Some translations say “he wore a garment made of camel hair.” This is not uncommon for prophets of this nature as we read in Zechariah 13:4. The false prophets would put on “hairy cloaks” for the purpose of deceiving people. That’s the way prophets of doom dressed. Twice in the New Testament, John the Baptist is described in very similar ways. Matthew 3:4 says, “Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist.”  Just as Ahaziah knew that a condemning prophecy would come from Elijah, so too did Herod know that John would bring a condemning prophecy against him.

God’s message doesn’t often find its way to us through the majority or through the fineries of wealth and opulence. It comes it brash, harsh words at times. The prophets of the Old Testament present these messages. What the religious leaders of Jesus’ day didn’t readily understand was that John the Baptist wasn’t only addressing the sinful rulers of the day. He was addressing them as well. Jesus confirmed this when he spoke of John the Baptist in Matthew 11:8-11. Jesus inquires of the crowds who went into the wilderness to see John the Baptist, “What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing. Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist.” Repentance is the theme of Elijah’s call. Repentance is the theme of John’s call as well. We need to turn from our pursuit of the gods of this world and turn to the one true God for salvation. Baal-zebub cannot save us. Peter put this thought in one of his early sermons. It is recorded for us in Acts 4:12. He says, speaking of Jesus, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

[1] Slager, Donald. 2008. “Preface.” In A Handbook on 1 & 2 Kings, edited by Paul Clarke, Schuyler Brown, Louis Dorn, and Donald Slager, 1–2:699–700. United Bible Societies’ Handbooks. New York: United Bible Societies.