John the Baptist


Many of the greatest names of the Bible belonged to men who spent a long period of their life in quietness. The great prophet and lawgiver, Moses, spent forty years of his life, one third of it, in the quiet solitude of the Peninsula of Sinai. He knew all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and in that wilderness region he sat and thought of all that he had heard. But he thought still more deeply of his people in bondage, contrasting their misery with the promises God had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In that solitude God had really been preparing a man who should be capable of leading forth a people of slaves, of receiving from God, and impressing upon this people, the finest code of laws any nation has had. Moses is not only a great name in Bible history, but a great name in the world’s history. In the quietness of the deserts God had molded him.

The greatest king of Israel was David. David spent all his youth in the fields around Bethlehem, minding his father’s sheep. When he fought with Goliath, he carried with him the healthy, sun-tanned countenance of one whose life is in the fields; and his weapon was the weapon of the countryside. When Samuel went to anoint him king in place of Saul, where was he? With the sheep. All through his life, when he ย was king in Jerusalem and lived in a house of cedar, he remembered this quiet restful time. One of the most beautiful poems or songs he wrote and sang speaks of it:

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”

We are familiar with the whole of it. Repeat it, and see how beautiful it is; how quiet, trustful, patient it is. In the quiet countryside the shepherd-king had learned this.

And now, two greater than these were living quiet, thoughtful lives, being silently prepared by God for great work. Jesus was among the quiet hills of Nazareth, and John among the barren hills of Judea.

Come, and we will see where John stayed in the wilderness. From Jerusalem we journey towards the sun-rising. Soon after leaving the wooded Mount of Olives and the villages of Bethany and Bethphage the land grows more and more desolate. Great valleys, narrow, long and deep, are on either hand, whilst we ourselves plunge down on in front of us. We can hardly proceed in safety, so steep is the slope, and treacherous with stones and boulders. Tough plants manage to thrive in scattered bunches, but soon we enter thickets of broom, bearing, in spring, multitudes of small white flowers, whilst the sound of the faint trickling of water can be heard. It is a little stream (or wadi) winding, jumping down the valley, causing low bushes, rushes, thickets of thorn to thrive. Now the valley widens a little, and we notice that the stones and flints have given place to white chalk and grey limestone, containing here and there deep holes and caves. This is the wilderness in which John lived. In these caves he had probably sought shelter from the heat of the sun, drinking the water of the brook, eating the honey gathered by the wild bees, and the locust.

And in this howling wilderness, called Jeshimon (“or the dreadful desolation”), John lived until he was approaching thirty years of age. During that time he had read deeply of all the scriptures, and, perhaps, especially of the prophets.

In this dreary solitude “the word of the Lord” came to him. He was filled, like the great prophets of old, with words which he could not keep back. But John did not fear. He had lived for years by himself, with little food and shelter and clothing, where wild animals roamed, and vipers and scorpions glided over the rocks. Why would he be afraid of what man could do to him?

Under the guidance of God, John moves into the country about Jordan. Upon the banks of the river, near to Jericho, John stood, speaking first to those who were fording the river. His peculiar appearance soon drew attention. Dressed in the garments worn by the prophets of old, a garment made of camel hair, with a leathern girdle or belt; his hair long, never having been cut; his body and limbs thin and tanned, he could not fail to attract notice. His words too, were not soft and smooth ones, pleasing to the ears of his listeners; they were like the words of the old prophets, harsh and stern, for they pointed out the wrong-doing of Israel, and the need for a change.

Excerpt from The Life of Jesus Christ by W.R. Mitchell

Read what happens next in Matthew 3:1-12.


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