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mother Mary was the cousin of his mother Elizabeth. As the former event may be considered the dawn which betokened the rising of the Sun of righteousness, we perceive the propriety of its being recorded by Luke in the beginning of his gospel. The circumcision of John took place, as was customary among the Jews, on the eighth day after his birth; and on this day his father Zacharias recovered the use of his speech, of which he had been deprived, as a sign of the truth of what the angel had told him. "He spake, and praised God;" and his joy burst forth in the words of that sublime and holy song, beginning "Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people." We are then told that "the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel." The meaning of this last clause is not that John, in his early childhood, lived alone in a wilderness, but that he passed his days, till he was called to the exercise of his mission, in the privacy of his parents' abode, which was in the deserts or hill-country of Judea, as we are informed in the former part of the same chapter. As Hebron was the capital of this hill-country, and was, moreover, one of the cities appointed for the residence of the priests,
it was probably the place where John passed his childhood with his parents, as Jesus did with his. Its distance south of Jerusalem was between twenty and thirty, and in the same direction from Nazareth about seventy miles.
Nothing more is related of John, till we hear of his call to commence his great work. The period of his entrance on his ministry is marked with great precision. "Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Cæsar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests-the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness. And he came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins." The call came to him in the wilderness, or thinly peopled hill-country, where his family resided, and beginning there, he advanced towards Jerusalem, confining himself to the same retired portions of Judea, and preaching to those who resorted to him in increasing numbers, till he reached Bethabara beyond Jordan, a few miles from the holy city, where he held his principal station. All this district of country
bordered upon the sacred river Jordan, in which he baptized those who were affected by his preaching, and enlisted themselves among his disciples. Bethabara was probably near a fordable part of the river, as the meaning of the word is "the house of the passage." It was therefore a convenient place of resort for his hearers.
The great doctrine which the Baptist preached, as preparatory to the Redeemer's kingdom, was repentance. "In those days," says the account of Matthew," came John the Baptist, preaching in the wilderness of Judea, and saying, Repent ye; for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. For this is he that was spoken of by the prophet Esaias, saying, The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his path straight." His custom, which was not a new one among the Jews, was to baptize those who believed his warnings, and joined themselves to him as converts or disciples, that he might signify the cleansing and renewing of mind which was necessary for the reception of the new state of things which was approaching, as well as essential to the repentance which he himself so earnestly insisted on. And the same meaning of moral preparation is to be attributed to the prophetic metaphors of filling the valleys and bringing
low the mountains and hills, making the crooked ways straight, and the rough smooth, which were duties belonging to the herald and forerunner of the anointed Prince of peace.
The appearance and habits of living which were assumed and practised by John, while he was preaching and baptizing, and to which he had no doubt accustomed himself from tender age, were consistent with his character as the representative of Elijah. His clothing was coarse, and his food such as the deserts yielded. "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."* Compare this acount of Matthew, with the description given in the second book of Kings, of Elijah. "What manner of man," inquired Ahaziah of his messengers, was he who came up to meet you, and told you these words? And they answered him, He was an hairy man, and girt with a girdle of leather about his loins. And he said, it is Elijah the Tishbite." This was probably a usual kind of dress with the ancient prophets, especially in times of distress or great excitement. The insect called the locust was allowed as food by the Levitical law, and travellers assure us that it is
† 2 Kings, i. 8.
Lev. xi. 22.
*Matt. iii. 4.
eaten in eastern countries at the present day, and that the bees of Palestine still deposite their stores in the holes of the rocks in such abundance, that the honey is sometimes seen flowing down the surface.
Living in this severe manner, and proclaiming on the wild banks of the Jordan the approach of the Messiah's reign and Israel's redemption, John drew. universal regard, and the desert became populous around him. "Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea, and all the region round about Jordan, and were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins."* I have already said that the ceremony of baptism, or washing with water, was not new among the Jews, as significant of change and renewal, on the reception of converts or disciples to proposed forms of faith or discipline. It may be added, that it was a current opinion among the Jews, founded as usual on prophecy, that the forerunner of the Messiah, or Messiah himself, or both, would use the form of baptism, when the time of Israel's redemption should come. A passage in Zechariah which was thought to warrant this opinion, is at least poetically descriptive of the office of John at his station of Bethabara
beyond Jordan. "In that day there shall be a
*Matt. iii. 5.