Can you explain, “Strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel?”


by Shawn Brasseaux

In Matthew 23:24, we find the Lord Jesus Christ voicing a bizarre censure: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” How should we handle such unusual language?

Verily, verily, Matthew chapter 23 and John chapter 8 are Christ’s harshest words directed toward corrupt religious leaders. The Jewish nation to which He is ministering is largely deceived—and that is because its spiritual leaders have been willing participants of Satan’s policy of evil! He calls them “blind guides” because they lack spiritual eyes to guide Israel in the Word and ways of JEHOVAH God. These very religious leaders will, in rank unbelief, soon encourage the nation to demand Jesus’ crucifixion because they view Him as nothing but an imposter. Ironically, they are the men perverting the nation and leading it astray. The best word to describe them is “hypocrites” (a word Jesus uses seven times in Matthew chapter 23). Despite their nice external features, they are evil and faithless inside. Parading their “ceremonial cleanness,” they are still internally soiled!

So, what of the “gnat” and the “camel?” How do they factor into this matter? Why would the Lord mention them at all? According to the Mosaic Law, the gnat was the smallest of the unclean or non-kosher creatures in Palestine. Leviticus chapter 11: “[23] But all other flying creeping things, which have four feet, shall be an abomination unto you. [24] And for these ye shall be unclean: whosoever toucheth the carcase of them shall be unclean until the even. [25] And whosoever beareth ought of the carcase of them shall wash his clothes, and be unclean until the even.” The camel was the largest unclean animal in Palestine, as seen in verse 4: “Nevertheless these shall ye not eat of them that chew the cud, or of them that divide the hoof: as the camel, because he cheweth the cud, but divideth not the hoof; he is unclean unto you.”

In an effort to be as ceremonially clean as possible—not accidentally consuming the corpse of a tiny gnat—the Jews were careful to strain their drinks. However, Jesus pointed this out in sarcasm and hyperbole. They had the discernment to avoid eating a puny unclean gnat but lacked sense to prevent themselves from eating a whole camel! That is, they were more fixated on minor issues than major ones. Their priorities are mixed up. They cannot see the greater error! Hence, they were rightly termed “blind guides.” (The same could be said of religionists today.)

Also see:
» Did the Lord forbid public prayer?
» Can you explain, “They be blind leaders of the blind?”
» Should we be “fruit inspectors?”