Gnats & Camels: In Matthew 23, Jesus spends an entire chapter blasting the religious leaders (Pharisees) about their fanatical attention to detail on the smallest of matters in the Levitical laws of cleanliness, tithing, etc. and their subsequent lack of attention to the things that matter. In verse 23, He talks about their tithing from the “harvest” in their herb gardens. If anyone has seen a garden of this type, even large ones will produce a very small amount. Then, Jesus points out that they have “neglected the more important matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness”. Rob goes into the Hebrew and Greek meanings of these three words, and then gives some excellent scriptural examples of each. Jesus goes on to tell them that they “should have practiced the former without neglecting the latter”.
Here is where it gets funny. First, some background: these Pharisees are so anal about the law that they actually strain their wine into their cups to prevent flying insects (gnats) from accidentally getting eaten (see Leviticus 11:20), which would make them unclean. Camels also fall into the category of unclean animals (v.26). So… Jesus accuses the Pharisees of “straining the gnat while swallowing a camel.” In other words, they are so careful not commit a sin violating the law, they commit sins of omission by ignoring the injustices around them like the orphan, the widow, and all the other things they walk by without ever noticing (See the Parable of the Good Samaritan). Here’s where the funny part comes in. Jesus would have been speaking in Aramaic to these Pharisees. The Aramaic word for gnat is pronounced “lamla”, and the Aramaic word for camel is pronounced “gamla”. So Jesus used a play on words and a rhyme to insult them. When I heard that, I thought it was encouraging that even Jesus can make a point with a joke.
In each of the messages I have listened to by Rob Bell, he uses the original words and their in-depth meanings to draw out more than I could ever get studying the Bible in english alone.