from the Hebrew _gamal_, "to repay" or "requite," as the camel
does the care of its master. There are two distinct species of
camels, having, however, the common characteristics of being
"ruminants without horns, without muzzle, with nostrils forming
oblique slits, the upper lip divided and separately movable and
extensile, the soles of the feet horny, with two toes covered by
claws, the limbs long, the abdomen drawn up, while the neck,
long and slender, is bent up and down, the reverse of that of a
horse, which is arched."
(1.) The Bactrian camel is distinguished by two humps. It is a
native of the high table-lands of Central Asia.
(2.) The Arabian camel or dromedary, from the Greek _dromos_,
"a runner" (Isa. 60:6; Jer. 2:23), has but one hump, and is a
native of Western Asia or Africa.
The camel was early used both for riding and as a beast of
burden (Gen. 24:64; 37:25), and in war (1 Sam. 30:17; Isa.
21:7). Mention is made of the camel among the cattle given by
Pharaoh to Abraham (Gen. 12:16). Its flesh was not to be eaten,
as it was ranked among unclean animals (Lev. 11:4; Deut. 14:7).
Abraham's servant rode on a camel when he went to fetch a wife
for Isaac (Gen. 24:10, 11). Jacob had camels as a portion of his
wealth (30:43), as Abraham also had (24:35). He sent a present
of thirty milch camels to his brother Esau (32:15). It appears
to have been little in use among the Jews after the conquest. It
is, however, mentioned in the history of David (1 Chr. 27:30),
and after the Exile (Ezra 2:67; Neh. 7:69). Camels were much in
use among other nations in the East. The queen of Sheba came
with a caravan of camels when she came to see the wisdom of
Solomon (1 Kings 10:2; 2 Chr. 9:1). Benhadad of Damascus also
sent a present to Elisha, "forty camels' burden" (2 Kings 8:9).
To show the difficulty in the way of a rich man's entering
into the kingdom, our Lord uses the proverbial expression that
it was easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle
To strain at (rather, out) a gnat and swallow a camel was also
a proverbial expression (Matt. 23:24), used with reference to
those who were careful to avoid small faults, and yet did not
hesitate to commit the greatest sins. The Jews carefully
filtered their wine before drinking it, for fear of swallowing
along with it some insect forbidden in the law as unclean, and
yet they omitted openly the "weightier matters" of the law.
The raiment worn by John the Baptist was made of camel's hair
(Matt. 3:4; Mark 1:6), by which he was distinguished from those
who resided in royal palaces and wore soft raiment. This was
also the case with Elijah (2 Kings 1:8), who is called "a hairy
man," from his wearing such raiment. "This is one of the most
admirable materials for clothing; it keeps out the heat, cold,
and rain." The "sackcloth" so often alluded to (2 Kings 1:8;
Isa. 15:3; Zech. 13:4, etc.) was probably made of camel's hair.