By Frank Abel
Recently, I had reason to travel with the editor of the Bible Magazine and his son Timothy to the land of Israel. This was my first trip to Israel and we went for the purpose of producing a couple of video-tapes associated with the magazine. For many years I had been reading the Bible and building up a mental image of what the land was like and this proved to be the opportunity to test it out. In this article I would like to tell you about some of our experiences associated with the Dead Sea part of that visit.
Though many people have attested to the awesome feelings associated with seeing the city of Jerusalem for the first time, I was not so nearly impressed by that sight as I was by what awaited us in the area of the Dead sea. Prepared by the Biblical text that deals with the choice that Lot made when he looked from the highlands and saw "all the plain of Jordan that it was well watered everywhere ... even as the garden of the LORD" (Gen 13:10).
I guess, I expected that there might be a remnant view of what that may have been like. Also, from years of imagining how beautiful the plains of Jericho and surrounding hills must have been when Moses saw them for the first time, I had been conditioned to expect an impressive sight.
When we left the environs of Jerusalem and headed down towards Jericho the barrenness of the hillsides started to impress us very quickly. By the time we had witnessed the sign that reads "Sea Level the country was very hilly, largely devoid of trees and showing the marks of the animals that had grazed that area for past centuries. As we got lower in the plain of Jordan the impression of a wasteland grew. There were some date-palm groves and some greenery but my heart was much more impressed by the general desolation of the area. The words of the prophet were true for me, "...and the stranger shall come from a far land, shall say, when they see the plagues of that land, and the sicknesses which the LORD hath laid upon it; And that the whole land thereof is brimstone, and salt, and burning, that it is not sown, nor beareth, nor any grass groweth therein, like the overthrow of Sodom ... wherefore hath the LORD done thus unto this land?" (Deut.29:22-29)
As we travelled down along the Dead sea, things looked worse. At Engedi there was a little sign of life by a watercourse coming from a spring back up in the hills, but otherwise, it was just barren countryside. The tourist kiosk at Engedi proved to be most interesting and a welcome sight for both ourselves and a multitude of other tourists. What especially caught my eye in the kiosk was the way the mud from the Dead sea was being marketed for health purposes. Even our taxi driver was convinced that the mud from those waters had some medicinal value. Years of reading the Bible, however, had left me believing that the Dead Sea represents exactly what its name calls attention to, that is, Death. Since it is generally believed that the waters of the Dead Sea cover the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the thought occurred to me, "Why would anyone want to plaster themselves with the remnants of the death and destruction of a society condemned for their wicked lifestyle, especially in order to improve their own appearance and health?"
What we saw next, was astonishing. As we journeyed onwards to the southern end of the Dead sea, we continued to be impressed with the unbroken barrenness of the landscape. However, you can well imagine my surprise when we saw looming on the horizon, a very large building under construction, right on the edge of the Dead Sea. My knowledge of the Bible and pre-trip studies had not prepared me for this. Was Sodom being rebuilt?
When we were close enough, it was possible to identify the building as a huge hotel (18 stories), one of a number in the area. For me, it was astonishing to see this resort so far from civilization and at the lowest point on planet earth. Some of the names on the hotels amazed me, Paradise, Moriah, Nirvanoa group of names that represented such opposing thoughts that no mind could possibly entertain their combined imagery at the same time. I wondered whether the idea of having such a resort was really new, or was the idea behind this complex just that of the ancient inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, flourishing again.
Giving the subject more reflection it occurred to me that the lifestyle for which Sodom was once known, is rebounding again all over the earth. For instance, was not the Gay rights parade in 1995, in Toronto, the city of my birthplace, the biggest such parade in North America? Is it not true that the way of life that for centuries was considered shameful now being boldly paraded throughout the world7. Surely, I have no way of knowing whether there is any link between the lifestyle of the ancient people and that of those who are presently frequenting this area of the Dead sea. But thats not my point. The point is, what God-fearing person, knowing what His Word says about this area, would want to come here for pleasure?
The shore line of the Dead sea is encrusted with salt everywhere. In the Bible, salt is used figuratively as a preservative; as that which gives flavour, or meaning to what it is associated with. (See Lev.2:13). The abundance of salt in this sea therefore, lends strength to the eternal nature of Gods judgment upon the lifestyle of those who lived here before the overthrow. Without respect to the good intentions of the people who are developing this area for vacationers, I could not help but think that in a very real sense, Sodom lives again!
One of the important things to remember about Sodom is that God has recorded in His Word, a blunt and sobering message to all of mankind about His assessment of the actions that led to their demise. The record states in the epistle of Jude, verse 7, "...even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh are set forth for an example suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." The idea of example is worth pondering.
If the former site of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah was at the southern end of the Dead Sea, then for sure, the place is not still burning. The destruction is complete and the site more easily bears a resemblance to a morgue, or a monument of desolation. Eternal fire may well have been involved in the overthrow, but it is definitely not still burning. Therefore, to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire cannot mean that one will burn or be tortured forever. Just a quick look at the book of Lamentations, chapter 4 and verse 6 will verify that point, for the punishment of the iniquity of the daughter of my people is greater than the punishment of the sin of Sodom, that was overthrown as in a moment, and no hands stayed on her." The sinners in Israel suffered more because their punishment was by starvation and not so sudden and quick as Sodom. So the example of the fate of the inhabitants of the area by eternal fire shows that the destruction was quick, complete and final.
In the epistle that Peter wrote, the condemnation of Sodom is pictured as that which is typical of the future judgment of the wicked by God, "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an example unto those that after should live ungodly" (2 Pet. 2:6) This overthrow, which occurred some 4000 years ago, has been left as a warning for sinners of all subsequent ages. This is what God will do again to those who sin after the manner of Sodom. God has watched over this site so that no event of history over the last 4000 years has erased the evidence. The rocks on the hills in that area, still bear the marks of a former catastrophe by fire. All generations have had fair warning.
"Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?"
The sin of Sodom did not start with immorality. Rather, a process was involved of which immoral behaviour was the fruit, or result. The process we are told, started with pride and developed into arrogance before the immoral behaviour was manifested that finally brought the unleashing of the judgment of God. In Ezekiel 16:49,50 the record states, "Behold, this was the iniquity of her sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy. And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore, I took them away as I saw good." It is rather incredible to observe that modern history shows a similar development.
The clergy of many of the churches of Christendom are closing their eyes to this clear teaching of the Bible and are giving their blessing to the Gay community. The ancient city site and the Bible however, continue to speak quite decisively, "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God." (1 Cor.6:9,10) Although many so-called Christian people and organizations are either ambivalent or downright permissive to people who have a homosexual lifestyle, Gods word is clear, it not only says NO to the behaviour, it condemns unrepentant sinners to the vengeance of fiery obliteration. To say okay to homosexual behaviour one must reject the authority of the Bible.
In the last couple of years, there have been a couple articles in the news media that have suggested that the problem behind homosexual behaviour lies in the genetic material of our cells. The implication is therefore, that we can hardly find fault with those who have this inherited orientation. God, however, is wiser and really, more merciful. Rather than declaring that those who are caught up in this activity as being driven by the uncontrollable factor of inheritance, the Word of God says, they are without excuse (Romans 1:20). That is, because it is a voluntary act and one chooses the behaviour, there is no excuse to hide behind. Further, we are led to believe in Pauls letter to the Corinthians, that some of the Corinthians were at one time involved in this lifestyle, but upon learning about the moral discipline demanded in a Christian way of life, they were able to abandon the behaviour (See 1 Cor. 6:11).
Most people however, who are involved in a homosexual relationship, will not recover from the corrupting influence of their actions (Romans 2:28). The news media also reports that the lifestyle and companionship sought by the Gay community is turning into big business, especially in the state of Florida. This permissive society of ours, always bowing to the almighty dollar will not be able to reverse the tide of moral corruption which is now sweeping the world. The words of the Lord Jesus Christ are ominous, "Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all. Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of man is revealed." (Luke 17:28-30)
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