NKJV - 24 Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!
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In this passage (Matthew 23:13-32), commonly known as "The Seven Woes", Jesus was pronouncing His repeated judgments against the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law for their selective, self-interested, hypocritical application of guidance given by God, and the manner in which they were thus deceiving the people who looked to them (because of their education and learning) as the authoritative interpreters of Scripture. To make His points more forcefully, He used hyperbole (exaggeration). In the particular case in question, He condemned the Pharisees for taking care to give a tithe (one-tenth) of everything they owned or earned, as had been commanded by God (Leviticus 27:30), even going so far as to measure out their spices (such as mint, dill, and cumin) for that purpose. However, at the same time that they were taking such extreme care in small details, they were completely overlooking or intentionally ignoring in their own conduct the larger reasons or purposes for which the Law had been given, such as to insure the treatment of people with justice and mercy, and to emphasize the importance of faithfulness to God. Instead, they were pursuing personal power or riches for themselves at the expense of the common people, while hypocritically appearing to comply with the Law's smallest details. To memorably emphasize the point that the Pharisees and teachers of the Law were doing this, Jesus said that they were straining out a gnat (as one would do if there were a gnat in something that one was about to drink, even though the gnat would do little if any harm), but then being as willfully oblivious as if they were swallowing a camel to the way in which they themselves were violating or ignoring the intent of the Law, which would be fatal to them spiritually just as surely as swallowing a camel would be fatal to a person physically. (Jesus also used hyperbole for the same purposes on other occasions, such as when he said that it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God (Matthew 19:24). or when He spoke of people wanting to remove a speck from someone else's eye (in other words, to correct someone else's small fault), while being completely unaware of the log that was in their own eye (that is, the much greater fault of which they themselves were guilty)(Matthew 7:4-5).)
The Pharisees strained their water so they wouldn’t accidentally swallow a gnat—an unclean insect according to the law. Swallowing the camel is a monstrous supposition, but relevant, the camel being unclean, chewing the cud but not parting the hoof (Leviticus 11:4). The proverb clinches the lesson of the previous verse, Matthew 23:23. Meticulous about the details of ceremonial cleanliness, they nevertheless had lost their perspective on inner purity—in essence, they would then swallow a camel and not even notice. Ceremonially clean on the outside, they had corrupt hearts. “Gnat” according to the late Dr. Warren Wiersbe in his book, Index of Biblical Images, means “Hypocrisy, Overscrupulousness,” and this is his only entry for “gnat.” Further, he goes on to say that “Camel” can symbolize 3 things: 1. Lusting after sin (Jer. 2:23) 2. Impossibility (Matt. 19:24; Mark 10:25; Luke 18:25) 3. Hypocrisy (Matthew 23:24) and that’s what it means here.
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