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Ships Of The Desert
by Wayne Blank
When necessary, camels can survive on just about any food, including dry, sparse grass or even thorns. During such times they live mainly off the fat stored in their humps. They don't actually store water, but use it and lose it slowly, which enables them to go without drinking for several days. When water is found, they can take in up to 25 gallons (100 liters) at one time. Their ability to cross vast deserts earned them the nickname "ships of the desert."
Camels are found throughout Bible History, where they were considered very useful and valuable. They were used for personal transportation (Genesis 24:61), as a beast of burden (Genesis 37:25), and in war (1 Samuel 30:17). The number of camels someone owned was sometimes used as a measurement of personal wealth (Genesis 30:43), and were considered to be a respectful gift (Genesis 32:15). However, unlike cattle which were acceptable for food according to the Levitical dietary regulations (see Clean and Unclean), camels (along with horses) were not to be eaten (Leviticus 11:4).
Jesus Christ sometimes used the camel in parables (see Parables Of Jesus Christ). To those who saw worldly wealth as more valuable than obeying God (e.g. Lazarus and the Rich Man), He said, "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" (Matthew 19:24 RSV), and to the hypocritical Pharisees who placed great importance on observing minor religious regulations while at the same time living a life of sin, He said, "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you tithe mint and dill and cummin [see Herbs Of The Bible], and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith; these you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!" (Matthew 23:23-24 RSV).
Camels continue as beneficial working animals in parts of the world today, and are often seen in tourist and publicity photographs in the Middle East.
Fact Finder: Of what material was John The Baptist's clothing made?