Lessons from the Dead Sea

“I have overthrown some of you, as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning: yet have ye not returned unto Me, saith the Lord” (Amos 4:11).

You never read of the Dead Sea in the Bible; it is never mentioned under that name. It is spoken of on a number of occasions in the Old Testament as the Salt Sea, and it is also called the Sea of the Plain, and again it is designated the Eastern Sea, in distinction from the Mediterranean, which was the Western Sea. But the Dead Sea, as we know it today, is near the site of Sodom and Gomorrah, and we cannot think of the one very well without thinking of the other. So you will at once see the connection of this passage from Amos with my subject.

The Dead Sea is one of the most unusual bodies of water in all the world. The day we went down to its shores we left Jerusalem by auto and started down the Jericho road. About three miles out from Jerusalem our driver stopped the car and just pointed to the scene below, and we found ourselves looking upon one of the most remarkable views we had ever beheld. A little bit to the north we could see the Jordan rolling down from the Sea of Galilee, and below was the Dead Sea. It is forty-seven miles long and three to nine miles in width. We could see the mystic mountains of Moab rising right up from the very shores of the sea on the eastern side, the wilderness of Judea on the western side, and a number of strangely-shaped cone-like low hills along the western slopes and down to the south. As we went nearer we found that these conical hills were almost mountains of sulphur or of salt; the sun was blazing down upon that valley in which the sea lay, the water shone there in all its deep blue brilliance, and the hills around presented a strange appearance, being colored something like the Grand Canyon of Colorado.

We could not help but realize that we were looking upon that which to the Hebrews symbolized the doom of the lost, and when in the book of Revelation John wrote of a lake of fire and brimstone into which the wicked would be cast, he undoubtedly had before his mind’s eye that Dead Sea with the brilliant midsummer sun shining upon it, the whole scene seemingly marked by the hand of destruction.

As we went down the Jericho road we came to a sign marked, “Sea Level.” We took the road from Mt. Olivet and had gone down nearly three thousand feet to reach that sign, and then we went on deeper and deeper down until by-and-by we reached Jericho, nearly nine hundred feet below sea level. We spent the greater part of the morning clambering over the ruins of the Jericho of Joshua’s day; that Jericho which has been covered by a great mound of earth for centuries and has within the last few years been excavated. It was a very strange sensation to get down into the city and walk along some of those old circular streets (for the ancient city of Jericho was a great oval set upon a hill), and as we saw the broken walls on every side to realize that we were probably looking upon the actual ruins that were brought into that condition through the overthrow of the city in the days of Joshua so long ago.

I happen to have at home something given to me several years back which I rather value. It is a little tube filled with grains of wheat, and these are black, blackened by smoke, so that they look like large grains of gunpowder. But if you examine them carefully, particularly under a microscope, you can see that every one is a perfectly formed grain of wheat. Where did they come from? When they uncovered this city of Jericho and had dug down through the debris to the original city, the city of Joshua’s day, they found in many of the houses great jars filled with this old corn of the land. We are told that the manna ceased after the people of Israel entered into the land, and they fed upon the old corn. The corn had been gathered in, and Jericho was destroyed at the very time the old corn was stored m so many of these homes. Archaeologists found it just a few years ago, bearing mute testimony to the truth of the record given in the Word of God.

We left the ancient city of Jericho and went over to the new city of Jericho. It used to be called “the city of palm-trees,” but long ago practically all the palm-trees were destroyed. They are now planting more, and there are great plantations of banana-palms all around the city, and cocoanut-palms are beginning to thrive, so that Jericho is once more becoming a city of palm-trees. It was intensely hot, although we were there early in the season. Because it is so low down folk who are used to living above sea level find it difficult to breathe easily there. We decided to go over to the Dead Sea to have our lunch. At the north-western shore of the Dead Sea a very fine sanitarium has recently been built. A kind of open-air restaurant is attached to it, and so we went the five miles from Jericho to the Dead Sea, passing the slime pits of which we read in the Word of God. Reaching this place we went on to the porch, and as we sat overlooking the Dead Sea we were served with refreshments there. Right to the north we could see the rather disagreeable-looking (by that, I mean there was nothing attractive about it) plant of the chemists who are endeavoring to extract bromides and phosphates and chlorides from the Dead Sea.

It is a remarkable fact that the Dead Sea has now been discovered to be of inestimable value. In fact, British scientists who have carefully analyzed its water, figure there are minerals of different kinds which, if they could all be taken out of the water of the sea, would be worth in our money, over twelve hundred and fifty billions of dollars. That is the hidden wealth of the Dead Sea. How did it all get there? There was a time when the Dead Sea was not dead. You remember the day when Lot stood on the heights of the land and looked out over it, and Abraham said, “You are complaining that the land is not able to bear us both. Take whatever part of the land you want.” God had given it all to Abraham, but with magnificent unselfishness he said to his nephew Lot, “If you go to the right hand, I will go to the left, and if you go to the left, I will go to the right.” And Lot looked out upon the well-watered plain of the Jordan, down toward the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, a beautiful country, and said, “It is like the garden of the Lord.” And then I think he whispered, “It is like the land of Egypt.” He had been there, and though he had come back he had brought Egypt in his heart, and he still longed for a land like that of Egypt.

Egypt is a type of the world. Lot was like some professing Christians who still have the love of the world in their hearts. “Like the garden of the Lord” sounded very pious, but he chose the valley of the Jordan and pitched his tent toward Sodom. There is no hint that the land was then in the desolate condition it is now. From Lot’s choice it was evidently the very opposite. When Lot moved into Sodom, he found himself among perhaps the most ungodly people living in the world at that time. A striking paragraph in George Adam Smith’s magnificent volume on “The Historical Geography of the Holy Land,” deals particularly with the Valley of the Dead Sea:

“In this awful hollow, this bit of the infernal regions come to the surface, this hell with the sun shining into it, primitive man laid the scene of the most terrible judgment on human sin. The glare of Sodom and Gomorrah is flung down the whole length of Scripture history. It is the popular and standard judgment of sin. The story is told in Genesis; it is applied in Deuteronomy, by Amos, by Isaiah, by Jeremiah, by Ezekiel and Zephaniah, and in Lamentations. Our Lord employs it more than once as the figure of the judgment He threatens upon cities where the Word is preached in vain, and we feel the flame scorch our own cheeks. Paul, Peter, Jude make mention of it. In the Apocalypse the city of sin is spiritually called Sodom.

Sodom and Gomorrah were luxurious cities, cities where plenty reigned and where God was forgotten; and when God is forgotten, men allow themselves to fall into all kinds of sensual indulgences. And so the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah became so vile that it reached up to Heaven, and you remember how God is said to have come down to see if it were really as bad as the report that had reached Him. That, of course, is what theologians call an anthropomorphism. An anthropomorphism means, a speaking of God after the manner of men. Of course God knew all about Sodom and Gomorrah, knew all about its sin just as He knows all about your sins, your iniquity, knows the things you are keeping under cover, hiding from your closest friends, knows them all; and you might as well recognize it and say like Hagar, “Thou God seest me” (Gen. 16:13). You may try to cover your sin, you may try to hide it, but “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23).

God knew what was going on in Sodom, but when it says that He came down to see whether it were really as bad as the reports had been, it simply means this, that God is infinitely long-suffering and of tender mercy and was waiting if perchance there might be the least evidence of man’s repentance. No matter what the sin that has blighted your life, no matter what the hidden sin, the secret sin, sins that some of your dearest friends never dream would be tolerated in your life, if you will turn to Christ, if you will turn to God in repentance owning your guilt, confessing your sin and putting your trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, there is forgiveness with Him that He may be feared. I would that men and women whose consciences tell them that they are living in sin, whose consciences accuse them of violating God’s holy law, would turn to Him as David did when at last his conscience was awakened, and he cried, “O Lord, pardon mine iniquity; for it is great” (Ps. 25:11). The reason a great many people never have their iniquity blotted out is because they are trying to underestimate it all the time. You might have thought David would have said, “O God, blot out my iniquity, for it is not very great, and so forgive it.” No; David does not try to cover it now. He had been doing that before. He said that when he tried to cover it, his “bones waxed old;” but, “I acknowledged my sin unto Thee,” he says, “and mine iniquity have I not hid” (Ps. 32:3-5). It takes a great God to forgive great iniquity, and our great God delights to blot out great sins, to save great sinners and change them into great saints.

Well, God came down to see the actual condition of things in Sodom and there was no repentance, no grief because of sin, no sense of guilt. They flaunted their iniquity before the very angels of Jehovah’s presence who came down to deliver Lot and his family from those awful conditions. We are told in Peter’s epistle that Lot was a righteous man, and “that righteous man in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds” (2 Pet. 2:8). I do not have very much sympathy for him. He need not have been vexed like that, for he moved into Sodom when he had no business being there. He was a saint in the wrong place, and because of that he was continually vexed and troubled by conditions all about him. Abraham was not vexed; his soul was not troubled by their ungodly deeds. He was up yonder with God, breathing the pure air of fellowship with the Almighty, but Lot had allowed himself to get down into the midst of this worldliness and unspeakable corruption. He was saved, but we read that it was “so as by fire.” You remember how the message came, “Hast thou any here besides? Son-in-law, and thy sons, and thy daughters, and whatsoever thou hast in the city, bring them out of this place” (Gen. 19:12). And we remember Lot went out and called to his sons-in-law and said to them, “Up, get you out of this place; for the Lord will destroy this city” (Gen. 19:14). But we are told, “He seemed as one that mocked unto his sons-in-law.” The trouble was he had lived too near their own level for so long, that now when at last he was dead in earnest his testimony had no power. Some of you as Christians know what that means. You go on with the world, participating in the same things as worldlings, and then try to witness for God, and see what your testimony amounts to.

The story is told of a Christian young woman who had gone to a ball but she had made up her mind to be true to Christ. There as she danced around the floor with an ungodly young man, she said to him, “Pardon me, are you a Christian?”

“I should say not,” he said; “you are not; are you?”

“Yes, I am,” she said.

“Well, what in the world are you doing here?”

Even the worldling could see the incongruity of a Christian being in such association. Lot’s sons-in-law had no confidence in him. “He is a fine old chap, but queer; yet he is easy-going, easy to get along with. And he has some nice girls, and we would rather marry girls like these after all,” they might have said. But his testimony had no power, and they would not heed when he called them to leave, and in the morning the angels hastened Lot and said, “Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed” (Gen. 19:17). They were hardly outside before the judgment storm fell.

What actually happened? Archaeologists have been making a great many investigations in that low valley, and have come to the conclusion that in the hills around there had been through the centuries great deposits of sulphur and petroleum. If God on that morning that Lot left the city caused a great earthquake to take place, and there was an electric storm, and those stores of petroleum were set on fire by lightning from heaven, there would surely be fire and brimstone rained upon that place. Professor Kyle tells us that they have discovered in the south-western end of the Dead Sea what evidently were the actual foundations of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. A great many people, following the account of Josephus, have supposed that those cities were buried under the waters of the sea, but at the south end of the sea is a great hill of salt which is called Mount Usdum, and archaeologists have little difficulty in recognizing in that word “Usdum” the Biblical “Sodom.” When investigating they found the ruins of an ancient city underneath, evidences that there had been a great city there long years ago.

You remember how the word of God tells us that when Lot’s wife got safely out of the city, she turned around and became a pillar of salt. “Oh,” the skeptics say, “that is an Old Testament legend; no one could believe that!” Dr. Kyle tells us he has no difficulty about it, for while making their investigations one day there blew up a tremendous storm which lifted the waters of the Dead Sea into the air, and before they knew it they were so encrusted with salt that they might have been rendered utterly incapable of motion, and would soon have been so covered with it that they too would have been pillars of salt if help had not come. Something like that may have happened to Lot’s wife, but our Lord Jesus Christ points us back to that woman and says, “Remember Lot’s wife.”

Why should we remember her? Because she was almost saved, but lost! She had heard the Word of life, she had started to obey it, but looked back and perished. The Lord Jesus Christ practically says, “Be careful that the same thing does not happen to you. Remember Lot’s wife.”

But what makes the Dead Sea dead? It is dead. No fish can live in it. Fish coming down from the fresh water of the Jordan and entering into the Dead Sea, in a very few minutes are found drifting on the top of the water with their white bellies upward, and in a little while they are thrown out on the shores encrusted with salt. The only creature that scientists have found that lives in the sea is an infinitesimal shrimp; otherwise there is no life in the Dead Sea. Evidently down beneath that sea there are hidden sources from which certain chemicals are constantly being absorbed into its waters. And then the River Jordan pours down into it over seven million gallons of water every day, bearing into the sea different minerals that it collects as it comes down from near Mount Hermon right on through that mysterious cleft of the earth until emptied at last in this Sea of the Plain.

The Dead Sea has no outlet. It is constantly receiving water, and yet nothing apparently goes out except by evaporation. It does not rise any higher. The sun is so intensely hot that the water is evaporated and the minerals remain. The water of the Dead Sea contains nearly twenty-six per cent of solid matter. The waters of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans contain four to six per cent of solid matter. So you can see how much more dense the waters of the Dead Sea are. What a lesson is there—constantly receiving and never giving out! I have an idea some of you have been attending services for years, listening to the Gospel all this time and yet you never talk to other people about Christ. You are constantly receiving and never giving out. But then think of the worldling, how terribly true of him! Think of the blessings that God is continually lavishing upon this poor lost world, and yet there are millions of people who never recognize His goodness, never give back to Him the love and worship that He should have, and who are absolutely indifferent to the needs of those around them. If you want to have a fresh, bright, happy experience yourself, then as you receive the goodness of the Lord, pass it on to others.

“Have you had a kindness shown?
Pass it on.
Twas not meant for you alone;
Pass it on.”

And as you pass it on, you give back to God the glory due to His name, and your own life is freshened and sweetened and gladdened.

There came a time in Israel’s history when God had to deal very strenuously with them because of their sin, and He called to their mind His ancient dealings with Sodom and Gomorrah saying, “I have overthrown some of you as God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah, and ye were as a firebrand plucked out of the burning; yet have ye not returned unto Me.” That is, God had permitted certain calamities to come upon the people of Israel and He meant them to be exercised by them. I know people like to rule God out of His own world. We talk about conditions in this country and the drought and other adverse conditions, and men do not like to think that God has any part in it, but He has not abdicated His throne. He is still the Ruler of the universe, and we are suffering for our forgetfulness of Him. No land has been more blessed of God than this, and so it was with Israel, but He had allowed famine and earthquake and, “Yet,” He says, “have ye not returned unto Me—therefore there is just one thing more, I will have to deal with you directly. Because I will do this unto thee, Prepare to meet thy God.

The greatest lesson that the Dead Sea, that awful memorial of a ruined civilization, brings to us today is this warning, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). As I stood there looking upon its waters, it seemed that I could hear the word of the prophet saying again, “Prepare to meet thy God.” “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Men get the idea that they can sin with impunity because sentence against an evil work is not immediately executed, and they go on flaunting their iniquity in the face of God, who may wait with long patience but who eventually strikes in judgment.

Dear unsaved friend, “Because there is wrath, beware lest He take thee away with His stroke: then a great ransom cannot deliver thee” (Job 36:18). Even the ransom of the cross will not avail if you persist in rejecting the One who hung upon that cross. If you won’t have Jesus, God has no other salvation for you, and you will have to meet Him in judgment if you won’t meet Him in grace. Have you trusted Him? Are you ready to trust Him? Do you feel the weight of your sin and do you long for deliverance? If so, flee to Him who waits to hear your penitent cry and to save your guilty soul.