What Can We Learn from the Dead Sea Scrolls?
A Lesson on Restoration
The Word of God is a book on restoration. The first two chapters of the Bible are about God’s original plan for the world and humanity. The last two chapters are the fulfillment of His ultimate intention. Everything in between these first two and last two chapters is about the restoration of His intent and how He plans to do it, on every level.
According to the Scriptures, the nation of Israel is and will be a primary player and example of this epic drama unfolding through the ages. So today, when things that have been lying dead or hidden for 2 millennia are coming back to life in Israel, it is time to take notice.
There are three stunning and interconnected examples of this: the Dead Sea, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hebrew language.
Right near the heart of Israel, the capital city of Jerusalem, a desert road leads to the lowest place on earth. It is what the Bible calls the Salt Sea. At 30 miles long and 15 miles wide at its widest point, it’s a good name for a body of water that is ten times saltier than any ocean on earth. Since extraordinarily little can live in that environment and no vegetation can grow with saltwater, the Romans aptly named it “the Dead Sea”.
1800 years later, Mark Twain visited the land in 1867. He described the Dead Sea as “a funny bath” that left him with “a splendid brand-new smell”. Yet his final thoughts ultimately agreed with the ancient Romans. He wrote, “A silence broods over the scene that is depressing to the spirits. It makes one think of funerals and death.”
Today the Dead Sea is beginning to change.
In the last 20 years and for the first time ever, sinkholes are beginning to appear around the Dead Sea. As geologists started investigating, it was discovered that the sinkholes were formed by underground freshwater springs. The fresh water was diluting the mineral content and weakening the soil structure, causing it to cave in. Hundreds of sinkholes continue to appear, partially swallowing formerly popular beaches, gas stations and even portions of the highway.
At the same time, green marshes are starting to grow, facilitating small aquatic life and inviting wildlife and locals alike. Today, through irrigation techniques that they are the best at, Israelis are planting orchards and fields near the seashores. A lifegiving green color is starting to appear more and more near the Dead Sea. And yet, Ezekiel predicts something much greater than this – that the Dead Sea will be filled with freshwater and men will fish out of it:
“Then he said to me, “These waters go out toward the eastern region and go down into the Arabah; then they go toward the sea, being made to flow into the sea, and the waters of the sea become fresh. …”And it will come about that fishermen will stand beside it; from Engedi to Eneglaim there will be a place for the spreading of nets. Their fish will be according to their kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea, very many.” Ezekiel 47:8-10
After thousands of years, the restoration of the Dead Sea is slowly happening.
Dead Sea Scrolls
On the shores of the Dead Sea sat an ancient Essene community called Qumran. Today is it but an archeological excavation site. But it was here that in 1947 a Bedouin shepherd boy was tossing stones into desert caves when he heard unusual sound of shattering clay. This sound echoed around the world. It led to one of the most stunning archeological discoveries in modern history, of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
The very existence of the scrolls silenced biblical critics and verified the accuracy of our current day biblical translations, dating back over 2000 years. The story of their discovery and the subsequent smuggling, intrigue and black-market purchases rival any bestselling spy novel. But the timing of their unveiling was the most stunning.
Back in 1940s at the UN in New York, the forum spent months of arguing about the partition plan of the British Mandate of Palestine. It involved a few postponements of the general assembly vote, but finally they secured the date of November 29, 1947. Yet unknown to the rest of the world, a lot was happening also on the other side of the globe.
In Jerusalem, in a small modest home study, Hebrew University professor Eliazer Zucanis was carefully unfolding the Dead Sea scrolls. While the professor was engrossed in these ancient Jewish scripts, his son Mati was listening to UN vote on the radio. There came the report that the vote on the Jewish State had passed.
An unlikely coincidence was about to change history.
For 2000 years the precious scrolls were hidden in the close proximity to the Dead Sea. This treasure on Jewish culture and Scripture was now verified for accuracy by a Jewish professor in Jerusalem. And on that very same day the nations of the world confirmed the need of a Jewish State in their ancient homeland.
Isaiah asked, “Who has ever heard of such things? Who has ever seen things like this? Can a country be born in a day or a nation be brought forth in a moment?” Isaiah 66:8
The answer is: Yes, it can, and yes, it was! After 1800 years of desolation, the restoration of Israel’s ancient and modern history was happening all at once. For the first time in thousands of years, someone was reading the Dead Sea Scrolls. And what was just as amazing is that the professor was reading them in Hebrew!
In 1881, a young Jewish man stepped off the boat in what was then known as Palestine. His name was Eliezer ben Yehuda and he had a drive to change the world. He had been studying biblical Hebrew and was convinced that it could be revived. He also believed that it would become a unifying language for the young Zionist movement – the Jewish people returning home. To that end, as he and his wife Devora left Europe for their ancient homeland, they committed to only speak Hebrew from that point on.
Eliezer and Devora were so devoted to this purpose that in the coming years they wouldn’t allow their young son to play with other children, to not pollute his first language of Hebrew. This made their son the first regionally born Hebrew speaker in centuries! Eliezer’s research and his first Hebrew dictionary caused controversy, including literal fist fights over what language should be taught in the Jewish schools. Nevertheless, Ben Yehuda’s devoted studies changed the young nation for the better.
The Hebrew language was about to make history.
Hebrew is the only language in history that was practically dead and then revived to become a common, unifying language for the people who originally spoke it. Whether Ben Yehuda recognized it or not, his work was a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Zephaniah 3:9 states, “For then I will restore to the peoples a pure language, That they all may call on the name of the Lord, To serve Him with one accord.”
What is amazing about this specific promise is that in the preceding verse (v. 8) we find every character of the Hebrew alphabet – or Aleph-Bet, as it is called in Hebrew – including the 5 final forms, called sofit. There is not another verse like it in the entirety of scripture that would use every single Hebrew letter. Imagine, 100 years ago the world considered Hebrew to be a dead language that was used only in religious and liturgical settings. And today, it is being studied by millions of people around the world. You can even download it on your phone!
The Bible is a book on restoration. These few tangible examples mentioned above demonstrate that God is in the process of keeping His promises and will restore all things. This process of restoration will include us as well, and the things in our lives that have been dead for seemingly centuries. This is not difficult for Him.
If the examples of the Dead Sea, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Hebrew language can teach us anything, it is that God is the one who restores life to the dead. He can take the most dead water on earth, the most hidden and fragile scrolls, and an archaic language, and use them as a sign to the nations. The same promise of restoration holds true for us.
“For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it.” John 5:21
Your restoration is coming.
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