Bible Gem 1119 - The Definition of Impossibility: Putting a Camel Through the Eye of a Needle (Luke
Yesterday we looked at the nature of the Rich Young Ruler's question. We pulled apart Jesus answer to it. What he lacked in order to enter eternal life would certainly not be found in keeping the law as he was reminded by Jesus. He thought he was home free when Jesus omitted the commandment that spoke to his problem. That of covetousness. But when Jesus brought it out and hit him with it, all of this made him very sad. Upon which Jesus looked at him and said, "How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Well yes like those who heard it said effectively, "Then its impossible to be saved." Jesus said you may think it is impossible. But what's impossible from your point of view is entirely possible with God.
I think they misunderstood a few things in this encounter. Sometimes when we are so set in our ways we miss the point in the things being said to us. They would have interpreted Jesus words. In the light of their understanding of the Law. They did not yet have the perspective we have from walking through all the teaching and comments of Jesus through the book of Luke from chapter 12 until now. Their understanding of the Law and the Coming Messiah would also have been coloured by the traditional interpretation. They have not yet understood the New Order. They are still trying to put new wine into old wineskins. It doesn't work. It would seem that Jesus is talking about it being hard for rich men to get to heaven simply because they possess money. We have learned already that God is not opposed to you having money. What is He is opposed to, is money having its hold on you to the point of greed, avarice or covetousness.
On the basis of all of that thinking and the teaching or input Jesus has been giving over six or more chapters of Luke Jesus comes up with a fascinating illustration. On the face of it, it is impossible to push a camel through the eye of a needle. I don't think you would even get a camel's hair to fit through the eye of a needle. Camel hair is very coarse. It would not easily go through the eye of a needle. Let alone the whole camel. The saying isn't concerning a hair of a camel going through the eye of the needle, it is actually the whole camel. Now that surely is an impossibility. If that is what it means.
There are two classic ways of explaining this statement. One seeks to change the camel into a rope. If we can't enlarge the hole let's change the thing we have to push through it. [Kamelos] is the word for camel, while [kamilos] is the word for rope. By appealing to the word switch the job is made easier. It is much easier to get a rope through the eye of the needle than it is to fit a camel through it. Well not really. You see kamilos refers to a large hawser or cable used for tying up ships. Try getting that through the eye of a needle. You will have the same success that you would have had with the camel. Zilch.
Well it must the second option then. This second explanation is dependent on the historical local geography of Jerusalem in the time of Jesus. It is said one of the gates in the city of Jerusalem was supposedly called the Eye of the Needle Gate. This gate was said to be a smaller gate in the walls of Jerusalem that was opened at night after the main gate was shut. The gate was reputedly so small that only the camel itself would fit through while the entire load the camel was carrying had to be taken off and carried through the gate by hand then reloaded on the camel again on the other side of the gate. What a fitting illustration! Yes you have to unload or dispense with all of your stuff to be able to get into heaven. It is very apt isn't it. A stroke of brilliance. But does that mean you can load it all again on the other side. Well we have already talked about this. The only way of storing up riches in heaven is to send it on ahead by using your riches to blesses others. Look at 2 Cor 9:11 which says: "God will make you rich enough so that you can always be generous. Your generosity will produce thanksgiving to God because of us."
In fact there is no documentary support for the idea of the Eye of the Needle Gate. Neither is there any archeological evidence either. That is not to rule it out completely but the genuineness of the solution is suspect. Many have referred to this over the years, even as far back at the 15th Century but there is certainly no evidence coming out of 1st Century Jerusalem attesting to it.
So where does that leave us? I think Jesus is just using a rather humorous illustration of people trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle to say, yes it is indeed impossible. It is not possible for a rich man to manipulate his way into heaven via his riches. That might work in earthly society but it won't get you anywhere near heaven. You can try all you like, you won't succeed. Like this man in the spotlight at the moment, if your focus and your trust is in money, such that you can't part with it then you will not get to heaven. Remember the lesson of the unjust steward. He realized in the end that he had to use his earthy riches for making friends. So he spread his wealth around to bring benefit to others. Dives on the other hand (the rich man in the Lazarus story) didn’t learn the lesson until it was too late. This man's false trust will keep him from truly trusting in God's grace. His first question was what is it I lack doing to enter eternity. Nothing you do will get you there! You can't do anything to get you there. God must do it for you. But for many of us our pride gets in the way and we will keep striving to earn our way to heaven till our dying day whereupon we will find ourselves in Abraham's bosom with Dives.
Remember we have noted already the Pharisees taught riches were a sign of God's blessing. Imagine the shock of Jesus' answer in this case. It is clear the rich don't have any advantage at all. In fact their riches are an obstacle. The world system says "get" by whatever means possible; the end justifies the means. Step on everyone else to get up the ladder. So those looking on who don't have, aspire to possess wealth. But wealth is most often fatal to your soul and your eternal well being. The love of riches is the root of all evil. You might as well start cutting up the camel.
So stop unpacking your camel, thinking you will load it again on the other side.
Don't go in search of a harbour side hawser to try poking it through your needle.
By all means unpack your camel and then give all your goods away. You can't take them with you at death's gate.
Money doesn't change men, it merely unmasks them. If a man is naturally selfish or greedy, it merely brings that out. Rick Godwin
I've had people borrow sugar, clothes, and even my car, but only Jesus can borrow a grave and give it back! Darrell Patrick