It was an extremely hot day when our weary little group looked over at the caves of Qumran. From our vantage point, we could see several of these caves where, preserved inside jars of clay, were discovered in the 1940s, 50s and 60s copies of many ancient texts. Most relevant to us was the fact that portions of every single Old Testament book, with the exception of Esther, were eventually found within these caves.
It all started in 1948, when a bedouin shepherd boy (a teenager), in an attempt to find a lost goat, tossed a rock down into a cave, to try and determine if there was life in the cave. The sound he heard from the cave was not the bleating of a goat, but rather the shattering of glass. The breakage was heard all around the religious world!
The significance of these manuscripts produced exultance in those who rejoice at all further evidence of the authenticity of the scriptures and it produced scorn in those who claim that the Bible is uninspired. This is because the copies of the Old Testament writings were about 900 years older than any known existing copies prior to 1948. 900 years!
The Isaiah scroll was the most complete Old Testament scroll found in the caves of Qumran. Almost the entire book of Isaiah was found. Amazingly, when compared to the manuscript that was previously known as the oldest one (written about 900 years later), it was very close to exactly the same text…word for word. Remember, we are talking about documents originally copied by scribes between the years 68 BC and 250 AD!
Our God has said “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my Words shall not pass away.” We, as His people believe we have the inerrant, plenarily inspired Word. But even the skeptics were aghast at the number of Dead Sea scrolls that contained Biblical text, the amazing way they were preserved, and the striking evidence they produced that what we are reading today is indeed the same text that was written by the original penmen.
As you can imagine, once the shepherd sold his new-found treasures (the first scrolls found) to an antiquities dealer (for about 28 dollars) and the world slowly caught on to the news about the scrolls, archaeologists wanted to dig (and they did, finding 800-900 documents and over 50,000 fragments, along with what many believe was a “writing room”). Discoveries led them to believe that the documents were written and preserved by scribes of the Essenes, one of four distinct Jewish groups of the Roman period. As conflict and war in the middle east interrupted the excavations, Jordanians seized the scrolls during the 6-Day War and kept them for a time. The government of Jordan is still attempting today to lay claim to the scrolls.
God’s timing is always perfect. I’m thankful that my childhood was the one era of time into which the scrolls were introduced. Why did God allow those scrolls to be hidden for 2000 years? I do not know all about His reasons, but I do know that the leading nations of the world, including the United States and European countries, were, in the 1950s and 60s, launching into an era of unbelief like no era they’d ever known; an era that would lead them to the widespread acceptance of the Darwinian theory of evolution and a swift resultant revolt against time-honored codes of morality. All the while, God was shouting from dry bedouin caves in the Judean desert, “My Word shall never pass away.” His providential timing is perfect!
Looking at these caves made me all the more excited to visit the Museum of Israel, where I would get to see some of the jars and some of the manuscripts found in them. That post will come soon!
Qumran lesson: Jars of clay were the preservation vessels. There were treasures awaiting discovery in the jars of Qumran. God can use an ancient scribe in exile, a young shepherd boy and a lost goat to reveal His powerful evidence. While I know that we are not the inspired writers (as in the passage below) who had the treasure in their miraculously empowered minds, He can still use you and me, in a sense, as jars of clay today, to put the preserved Word in the hands of those who desperately need it.
But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. So death is at work in us, but life in you. (2 Cor. 4:7-12)