“Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:24)
Some of the Pharisees would use a fine cloth and strain their beverages so as not to mistakably swallow a gnat. Jesus was saying to them that they strain out the gnat from their beverages to avoid swallowing the smallest of unclean animals (Leviticus 11:23), but then would swallow a camel, the largest of unclean animals (Leviticus 11:4).
Now obviously no one can swallow something as large as a camel, so what did Jesus mean by this? He was chastising them for “nit-picking” the Law while totally missing the point of the Law.
For example, they were instructed to rest one day in seven, but then this was taken to ridiculous extremes. On one occasion, they tried to trap Him by asking Jesus which did He think was the greatest commandment of the Law? Again, they missed the point. Jesus responded by saying, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Many of the Pharisees were well-versed in the Law, but they were lacking in spiritual enlightenment due to their own pride. Pride is a demanding and unforgiving taskmaster. If we are not careful, we can fall into the same trap.
The Lord tells us in 2 Timothy 2:15, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” A good disciple of Jesus is expected to examine the Scriptures carefully, taking note of the context, the times, the wording, etc. However, sometimes we may get so wrapped up in the details, we miss the message. Because of this every study session should begin and end with earnest prayer, asking for the Holy Spirit’s guidance and for our eyes to be open and our ears to hear the message for us at that moment. Proper handling is imperative.
Some today seem to be stuck in the mold of the Pharisee. They are quick to criticize, and slow to listen. They always have an opinion, but never an ear to hear. They know more than you, so they think, and feel compelled to address your ignorance. These gnat-straining Pharisees never see the beauty of the forest because they are too busy swinging the axe against the trees.
I learned a long time ago, you can’t please everyone. Therefore I make no attempt to please anyone except the King of kings and Lord of lords. Jesus Christ is my Master and His Spirit is my Guide. If Jesus couldn’t please everyone, we would be a fool to try. If Jesus was crucified for speaking the Truth, the few snide remarks we occasionally receive are nothing.
The Pharisees number one goal was to hinder the preaching of Jesus. They did not want people to hear what He had to say. They were so legalistically minded their eyes were blind to the Truth. The Son of God stood right in front of them, and they hated him, because His message totally conflicted with their idea of God’s Word. They were unwilling to recognize that the Author of the Word stood in their midst. It was their way or no way, so they murdered Him.
Some today, as the Pharisees of old, personally attack others with their tongue or a keyboard, but Jesus said to “Love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) It seems to me the Pharisees among us need to take those words to heart and start practicing them. Instead of personally attacking others, why not rejoice that Jesus saved us, and spend our time spreading the Gospel, instead of berating others over pet peeves and all too often, with mean-spirited attitudes?
King David said in Psalms 26:2, “Examine me, O LORD, and prove me; try my reins and my heart.”
The Apostle Paul said in 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?”
Are we straining out the gnats and swallowing camels, and thereby missing the message Jesus wants us to hear? Perhaps some have been guilty of this at one time or another, but others have made a profession of it. If we are guilty, let us listen to what Jesus says in the entire chapter of Matthew twenty-three, and I do not exempt myself. That chapter is for us all. Those who will listen and heed, will greatly improve their spiritual relationship with Almighty God. Those who won’t will continue to berate others just as the Pharisees of Jesus’ day.
False teaching should be addressed, but let us make sure we know what we’re talking about and that we are not attacking the person. Due to their pride, some or most of the Pharisees thought they were doing God’s business, but they were wrong. Their belief, instilled by their pride, totally conflicted with God and they were attacking not just His messenger but God Himself.
“And David said unto him, Thy blood be upon thy head; for thy mouth hath testified against thee, saying, I have slain the LORD’S anointed.” (2 Samuel 1:16)
“But Abishai the son of Zeruiah answered and said, Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the LORD’S anointed?” (2 Samuel 19:21)
Today’s “gnat strainers” would be prudent if they would heed the advice of Jesus when He said, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Either how canst thou say to thy brother, Brother, let me pull out the mote that is in thine eye, when thou thyself beholdest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to pull out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.” (Luke 6:41-42)
Today’s Pharisees could learn from this if they would. Extreme caution should be observed before we open our mouth. We may remove the gnat, but yet swallow the camel.
I believe some of the Pharisees were eventually saved by the Gospel of Jesus, but most of them probably left this world without Jesus in their life. What a terrible ending for those who could find nothing more to do than feed their pride and lose their soul! Now they await judgment from the very one they crucified. Are today’s 21st century Pharisees any different? Not really. It’s still the same old story. They are still so full of pride their throats are layered with camel hair.