King Herod’s palace is in an uproar. Wisemen from the East, arriving on camels, are asking, “”Where is the child born to be King of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him?”
Jerusalem scholars have studied that incredible star, too. But they don’t tell Herod it means the birth of a new king, because that would mean, “Off with their heads!” Instead, the scribes deceive. Possibly they tell the paranoid King the star is a sign of God’s good pleasure on his reign. After all, hadn’t Herod recently restored their beloved temple?
Whatever mumble jumble the priests conjure up apparently appeases Herod until those pesky foreigners arrive. Assuming the new prince is at the palace, the visitors innocently ask, “Where is he?”
When Herod meddles, all hell breaks forth. He demands the truth, and his scribes quote Prophet Micah:
“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2, NIV version).
Exceedingly Great Joy!
Picture the wisemen’s “exceedingly great joy” when they leave the palace and see that the beautiful star has reappeared over Bethlehem. The caravan plods those final six miles. Then, camels kneel so the wisemen can dismount. The foreigners go into a simple home and worship the baby, offering gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
Of course this humble environment is acceptable. They recognize the King of kings is not meant just for Bethlehem or Judea but for everywhere. That night as they sleep they experience the same dream. It holds a command: “Do not revisit Herod and tell him about this baby. Go home a different route.”
In the morning those wisemen compare their dreams and hurriedly break camp. Their camels can run top speed for an hour if they need to, and without heavy loads some camels easily go 12 to 25 mph. Those long necks and adorable heads press into the journey home.
One Camel Problem
However, there is a caveat. Camels are not mentioned in the Bible’s Christmas story, but logic dictates these “ships of the desert” were the transportation of choice. The Bible doesn’t mention how many wisemen there were either. Church tradition reasons there were three gifts, therefore, three wisemen. But I sense there were more men and maybe more gifts. The wisemen, probably from Iran where Prophet Daniel lived long before, needed lots of camels and servants for protection and provisions on their long journey.
Like the donkey, the camel is not kosher food for the Jewish people. In the Old Testament, however, camels are counted as a sign of wealth. They are used mainly as pack animals and for farm labor.
Whether they possess one hump or two, camels daily eat about nine pounds of food and drink up to 50 gallons of water. Their tough tongues handle thorns and wood, but they prefer leaves, grass, and figs. Two sets of eye lashes protect their sight from desert wind and sand. Of course, those fatty humps of reserve allow them to endure thirst and starvation for many days.
Camels in the New Testament
Although the camel is rarely mentioned in the New Testament, notations are worthy.
The gospels tell us the Holy Family flees to Egypt to escape King Herod’s wrath. Can you imagine a toddler in Egypt pointing a chubby finger at camels? Perhaps some gracious Egyptian merchant allows the little boy to sit behind his camel’s hump and touch the fur.
The New Testament tells us the Holy Family returns to Nazareth after King Herod dies. Just before Jesus begins his adult ministry his cousin John the Baptist announces, “The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent!” John, in the tradition of Old Testament prophets, knows how to get people buzzing about his “brand.” Unlike the pharisees and scribes who flaunt the Versace and Dior of their day, John wears camel hair tied with a leather belt.
Teacher Jesus and Camels
In his teaching there are only two recorded times Jesus uses the camel as an outrageous picture to condemn Jerusalem’s spiritually blind leaders. Remember the camel stands seven feet high at its hump and can weigh over 1000 pounds:
Looking at his disciples, Jesus said, “Do you have any idea how difficult it is for people who ‘have it all’ to enter God’s kingdom?” The disciples couldn’t believe what they were hearing, but Jesus kept on: “You can’t imagine how difficult. I’d say it’s easier for a camel to go through a needle’s eye than for the rich to get into God’s kingdom.”
That set the disciples back on their heels. “Then who has any chance at all?” they asked.
Jesus was blunt: “No chance at all if you think you can pull it off by yourself. Every chance in the world if you let God do it.” (Mark 10:23-27, The Message)
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You pay tithes of mint, dill, and cumin, but you have disregarded the weightier matters of the Law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23-24, Berean Study Bible).
The only other New Testament connection I found about camels concerns Jesus’ follower James the Just, who also possesses an unusual nickname. This author of the Book of James writes much about prayer. Bible Gateway explains, “Because of his habit of always kneeling in intercession for the saints, his knees became calloused like a camel’s; thus he became known as ‘The Man with Camel’s Knees.’”
Camels and Us
As I think about the camels of Christmas I am drawn to their ability to endure
heavy loads and persevere. When resources are few, the camels have their built up fatty humps to help them survive. These animals develop calluses on bended knees. For us, too, preparation when possible and perseverance during hard times on praying knees are not shabby gifts to offer the Savior.
As Camel Knees writes, “My friends, follow the example of the prophets who spoke for the Lord. They were patient, even when they had to suffer….The prayer of an innocent person is powerful, and it can help a lot. Elijah was just as human as we are, and for three and a half years his prayers kept the rain from falling. But when he did pray for rain, it fell from the skies and made the crops grow” (James 5:10, 16-18 CEV).
Below is a two-minute Youtube video about a camel who recently won a weight lifting competition in Pakistan. Notice this animal’s calloused, bended knees; patient strength; and amazing height.