I am apparently a safe and quick reference resource for some people who need a ready answer to something they remember from Scripture but may not have a Bible close at hand or may not be adept at use of Bible search applications or concordances. I am happy to fill that role, especially if I happen to be close to my desk or a computer where I can access the concept, quote, or chapter and verse they are seeking quickly, too. Sometimes the question leads to more in depth discussion to assure that we have the right verse for the moment’s application and the verse we’ve identified is well-understood.
I got a call today from someone needing a quick confirmation of a quote attributed to Jesus and to know the precise source and wording used in Scripture. The caller had heard the phrase from a friend whose funeral was today and wanted to remember exactly what it was this deceased friend had been heard to say often through the years.
To “strain a gnat and swallow a camel” is to focus on straining out or dismissing the seemingly smaller more numerous specific sins of the conduct of others that are viewed as annoying but represent little perceived threat to one’s health…..the minutiae (the “gnats”)… while ignoring and swallowing the larger more obvious choking risks being taken in through disregard for the bigger heart sin problem (the “camel”) without noticing or acknowledging it.
To me this is the more significant part of the context of this aphorism: you…have neglected the weightier matters of the law: judgment, mercy, and faithfulness.”
Jesus’ ridiculed the Pharisees for their emphasis on the LETTER OF THE LAW, at the expense of the SPIRIT OF THE LAW. Christ emphasized the spirit of law, not that the letter of the law was not important, but that it was not sufficient for one’s attention in and of itself. (i.e. adultery/lust, murder/slander or gossip, eating grain in the field on Sabbath/ remembering the purpose of Sabbath for man not man for the Sabbath, etc.) The first in each couplet is a reference to the focusing on the LETTER, the second in each couplet is a reference to the SPIRIT of the law. The spirit of the law reveals the broader, more common and problematic day to day values and conduct that should be considered and supported by the letter of the law. The Pharisees judged those who broke the letter of the law, but excused themselves for their own violations of the spirit of the law.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel! “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.
There are a wealth of resources available for Bible research and study….Biblegateway.com is one I use regularly. Most online Bibles have a concordance and search function. GotQuestions.com is a quick resource, too. One of the best and most highly recommended tools, however, is Bible reading, note-taking, and memorization. The old fashioned way may take more time and effort, but it is still the most trustworthy, informative, intimate, and relational with The God Who Guides! Until you get around to it, I and others who enjoy the old-fashioned way of learning will love to talk to you about the Bible!