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The Dead Sea Is it really Dead?

September 20, 2005
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What error? you ask. Have you heard the sermon where the preacher tells you that the Dead Sea is salty because water flows in but there is no place for the water to flow out? It uses this reasoning: If you pour water into the sea, there has to be some place for the water to go. Since there is no exit from the Dead Sea, the only escape for the water is evaporation. When the water evaporates, there is residue left behind, which poisons the remaining water, and that is why the sea is dead. Using the same reasoning, each of us is like that sea. We want to have life-giving money pouring into our lives. If we never allow the money to escape, it tends to evaporate, leaving behind a poisonous residue. The best solution we can offer is to allow the money to flow into God’s plans and hands, leaving behind blessing instead of poison.

Back to the Dead Sea. The residue there is not the main reason that fish don’t live there. In fact, there are dozens of springs that flow into the sea. Many of them are full of strong mineral content, because they filter down over a thousand feet of rock to get through a crack and flow into the sea. Those waters bring sulfur, phosphorus, bromide, and many other strong-smelling mineral compounds with them.

So why is the Dead Sea salty? There are a couple of good reasons. It is salty because there is a huge salt deposit at the southern end of the sea. Huge! Miles wide, miles deep, and miles long. There is enough salt at the southern end of that body to keep it salty as long as there is a sea. By the way, the Bible doesn’t call it the Dead Sea in the Hebrew; rather, it is called Yam Hamelach (the Salt Sea).

While it is true that there is no outlet at the lower end of the sea, that is not what makes it salty. The reason may be that there is great wealth in the sea, providing the small life forms that do live in the sea. Actually, the Dead Sea isn’t totally dead. There are some forms of bacteria and plants that inhabit the shores of the sea.The sea is also a source of healing for several known ailments. Some forms of skin disease can be completely cured by spending a couple of weeks in one of the fine hotels along the shores of the sea.

Heart and asthma patients experience some relief because of the high density of the atmosphere. Here is a much better example of the sermon illustrations I’ve heard. Let me take you, instead, to the coastline of the Sharon plains.

After the Romans conquered the Holy Land, the Jewish population was decimated. The entire countryside lacked any significant population. Over a period of hundreds of years, the shoreline of Israel changed, due to the prevailing wind. About 90% of the time, that wind blows from west to east. That is to say, most of the time, the wind comes from the Mediterranean and blows toward the Jordan Valley. Each year, there may be one or two sandstorms. Probably less than half an inch of sand will be deposited along the coast. The beaches quickly return to normal, but sand may blow quite a distance inland as well. If nobody disturbs the sand, it will accumulate. In 100 years, that accumulation may mean there are sand dunes. In 400 years, the dunes will be quite large. In Israel, the dunes along the shore grew to such a height that they formed a barrier.

Rain falls mainly in the winter in Israel. It may fall daily for weeks at a time. When the rain falls on Jerusalem, the runoff flows toward either the Dead Sea or the Mediterranean. So you can see that water flowing toward the Mediterranean could be slowed or stopped by a band of sand dunes along the coast. And that is exactly what happened.

When Jewish people began to move to Israel in the 1800s, what they found there was a huge swamp between the coast and the inland hills. Somehow, the mosquitoes of the area became infected with malaria, and hundreds of those Jews died. The solution was obvious: They needed to drain the swamps. It took years to dig channels through the sand dunes and plant eucalyptus trees to help change the stability of the soil, but eventually, the swamps were eliminated. Now, there is rich farmland instead of swamps that once produced death.

The picture is eloquent: When the flow of the blessing of rain is stopped, swamps and death follow. When the flow is renewed, the result is life and prosperity. Now doesn’t that make a better sermon?

By Thomas J. Brimmer An ordained minister and a licensed tour guide in Israel.

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