Eight dollars,” the Arab quoted me in perfect English.
The stinking camel he held beside him shifted its weight, and I could have sworn the beast smiled at me.
Hard to believe, but a short ride on a smelly camel outside of Jericho will set you back eight bucks. I wanted to walk away, but with my daughter eager to ride, I forked over the cash.
Clinging to carpets strapped on as a makeshift saddle, she hung on.
The beige beast got up rear first, hurling my daughter forward and tilting the horizon to 45 degrees. The owner began leading the camel on a quick lap around the parking lot with my daughter, now six feet higher, hanging on with all four limbs.
It’s almost as if God created the camel for comic relief in life.
But that’s not all. Jesus used it to teach us something.
The Biblical Hybrid
As I watched what looked like my daughter riding the swells of the ocean, I marveled at God’s design of this remarkable animal—the camel.
- In a land where water is life, the camel was like driving a hybrid: you surrendered speed, style, and acceleration for economy.
- Camel humps bulge with fat, which allows them to live without food for a time. (I wish the same were true of our bulges.)
- Even with all its drawbacks—including biting, spitting, stubbornness, odor and ugliness—the camel was the transportation of choice in biblical times. It could travel farther on less water than any other beast of burden.
Just looking at the animal proves God’s sense of humor.
Jesus Cracks a Joke
Jesus once used the camel to highlight the humor and hypocrisy of people who nitpick holiness in small areas of life but neglect godliness where it counts, such as “justice and mercy and faithfulness.” Jesus demanded:
These are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! —Matthew 23:23-24
I would love to have seen Jesus’ gestures as He said this. Here’s what He meant:
- “You strain out a gnat”—this means you are really good at being holy in the little details that matter to you.
- “You swallow a camel”—this means you completely sidestep holiness in the major areas of life.
Uh, That’s Not So Funny
The Lord’s hyperbole hits me square between the eyes as I consider how often I strain out the gnats of foul language—but I still manage to choke down the camel of bitterness and swallow the camel of unforgiveness when people offend me.
- I’m holy where it’s easy and convenient. No gnats there, thank you!
- But in key issues of the heart, I open wide and swallow a camel of hypocrisy. A whole herd of camels.
Take a second and ask yourself:
Do I think holiness in one area of life covers my hypocrisy in other areas? Let’s be real. (Tweet that.)
Sometimes the truth comes hard to swallow. But it’s worth choking down.
Question: Why do you think it’s so easy to ignore those camels in our lives? Please leave a comment.
Adapted from Wayne Stiles, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus: A Devotional Journey Through the Lands and Lessons of Christ (Ventura, CA: Regal, 2008), pages 102-103.