Swallowing a Camel: Legalism, Elevators, and Thermostats

I have had the privilege of visiting Israel three times. Each trip was truly a powerful experience for me. There are some locations in Israel that are still very similar to how they were in the time of Jesus. Seeing them with my own eyes gave me a much clearer perspective on some of the things the Bible talks about. I highly recommend a trip to Israel for any followers of Christ who want to add some clarity to their study of the Bible.

In addition to the geography, I also noticed some other things that amplify some teachings of Scripture. In my hotel room, there was a “Sabbath” button on the thermostat. Essentially it allows you to preprogram your thermostat so you don't have to make any adjustments to it from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday (the Jewish Sabbath). Also in our hotel, there was a Sabbath elevator. On the Sabbath day, it automatically goes to each floor and opens/closes its doors entirely on its own with no need for anyone to press any buttons. In the minds of some Jews, adjusting a thermostat or pressing an elevator button is a violation of God's command to not work on the Sabbath day.

At first glance, this is just silly. The more I think about it, though, the more it grieves and frustrates me. I entirely understand that it can be difficult to apply the ancient Sabbath command to a modern and technological society. It seems abundantly clear to me that the intent of the Sabbath command is to give people a day of rest from their jobs and/or manual labor so they can focus on worshipping God. And, even to this, there are clear exceptions: “What is pikuach nefesh?”.

The idea that pressing a button is a violation of God's law to not work on the Sabbath is absurd. Modern day adherents of Judaism who believe this way are continuing the errors of the Pharisees in Jesus' day (Matthew 23:4; Mark 2:27). The heart of the Sabbath command is to, for one day, make lives easier, not exceedingly complicated. It is an affront to God for people to go to this degree of minutiae about Sabbath regulations, especially when the vast majority of them are not truly worshipping on the Sabbath, or any other day for that matter (Amos 5:21).

Jesus accurately described the heart of the Pharisees when He accused them of straining out a gnat but swallowing a camel (Matthew 23:24). If you ever wonder how Jesus feels about hard-hearted legalism, read Matthew chapter 23.

We are all prone to hypocrisy. We all have the tendency to focus on minor details instead of what is truly important. It is much easier to reduce the Christian life to a list of rules instead of a living relationship with the Savior.

Are we more concerned with being seen attending church or with worshipping God with all our hearts? Are we satisfied with giving 10% of our income to Christian causes while we waste 40% of our income on frivolous things? Are we quick to point out the sins of others while ignoring sin in our own lives? Are we more interested in arguing about inconsequential points of theology than in sharing the Gospel? Are we suffering from a bad case of plank-eye (see Matthew 7:2-5)? We all need to examine ourselves regularly (1 Corinthians 10:12; 11:28-32; 2 Corinthians 13:5; 2 Peter 1:3-11).

Would you like some milk with that camel?

S. Michael Houdmann

Return to:

GotQuestions.blog homepage

Swallowing a Camel: Legalism, Elevators, and Thermostats