There are many reputable authorities that view Elijah's
"hairiness" as a reference to his garment or the mantle that is mentioned in
2kings 2:8 and 1 Kings 19:13, 19.
The men or rather (probably) the spokesman who reported to Ahaziah simply
described what was seen as making a visible impact on them. It seems that
there would be many men who were visibly hairy on arms and legs. This would
not make an impact. But a unique garment of animal hair would make an impact
on the observer.
Now unless Elijah was wearing a minimum of garments there is no way to
determine for certain whether he is actually "a hairy man." It certainly
would not characterize a beard since "everyone" sported a beard.
Of course, since the leather girdle MIGHT imply a minimum amount of
clothing, then "hairy" legs and/or arms would certainly be visible. And yet,
as mentioned, "hairy" men would probably not be uncommon.
It is interesting that the Hebrew construction here simply says, "a man of
owner of hair (characterized by hair). A rare use of the word baal (lord,
master, owner). Thus, ish (man of) baal (owner of) sear (hair).
True, it could refer to real hair all over his body, but it could also
characterize his appearance if he was wearing a large HAIRY cloak.
Ahaziah was pretty certain after hearing this description that this was the
It is a safe assumption that there would be many men who were hairy all over
their body (arms and legs). This would not necessarily get any one's
attention. So it seems that Ahaziah recognizes Elijah based on a familiar
It was a characteristic GARMENT of prophets as is seen at Zech. 13:4. The
false prophets in view will put on the hairy garment in order to present
themselves to the people as bona fide prophets, thus deceiving them into
There is significant symbolism involved with the hairy garment, and even the
leather girdle. It did not HAVE to be worn for ascetic reasons, but was a
symbol of the harsh message of judgment that would come on the nation if
they did not recover from their spiritual and moral errors.
When the man describes Elijah as "characterized" by hair and wearing a
leather girdle, the king would probably picture the characteristic garment
of the prophet, and make the correct guess that it was Elijah.
At Matthew 3:4 (Mark 1:5) John the dipper's garment of camel hair and
leather belt (girdle) would certainly provide an IMMEDIATE reminder to the
Jews of what they knew of Elijah's attire, and make the prophetic connection
between John and Elijah much more concrete and impacting.
And John's message, quoting Isaiah would (or rather SHOULD) remind the Jews
of Malachi's prophecy, that Yahweh's messenger will "prepare the way before
Me." Mal. 3:1a; 4:5-6.
And of course, it would make a strong impact on the disciples as well.
Heb. 11:37 might be telling us that the characteristic garb of the prophets
was some kind of garment of hair ("sheepskins, goatskins") - although camel
is not mentioned.
"They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put
to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being
destitute, afflicted, tormented."
However, context suggests that this is a reference to general deprivation
and limited clothing options.
It also might simply indicate a convenient attire for desert and wilderness
wandering, which the persecuted believers were forced into.