Unthinkable atrocities in our so-called civilized world abound in Ukraine as I write. Yesterday, for example, Russian forces bombed a maternity ward in Mariupol. News reports showed surviving mothers who were giving birth being carried out of wards on stretchers.
I speak daily to three places in Ukraine where we have worked with many Sabbath-keepers, a rehabilitation center for children in Chernihiv, and my cousins who live in Kharkiv. My cousin Victor called me at 3 a.m. this morning to tell me that he is still alive, but there is much fighting in his neighborhood.
In the far west of Ukraine, where there is relative safety, the Sabbath-keeping churches are helping refugees coming in from cities in the east, particularly where there are nuclear power stations that are prime targets for rockets and warplanes. One of our former ABC students, Vlad Yurishko, and his father, Ivan, actively help with relocation efforts. So far, more than two million Ukrainians have become refugees inside and outside of Ukraine. Many charitable agencies are getting relief supplies to the Ukrainian border. LifeNets and Good Works are getting money inside of Ukraine to feed and transport refugees. We thank all of you for helping in this monumental humanitarian effort as we work directly with people that we have known for decades. You can read up-to-date reports at lifenets.org.
A Goat, a Bedouin, and the Truth of Prophecy
One of the greatest biblical discoveries of all time started with a goat. In November 1946, a little over a year after World War II ended, three young Bedouin cousins were combing the barren hills northwest of the Dead Sea trying to find their lost goat. The hills were pockmarked with small cave openings, which local legends said contained hidden gold and other treasures.
One of the cousins wedged his way into a small gap. If the goat wasn’t there, perhaps he would instead uncover fabled treasure.
He did discover incredible riches, but not the kind he was looking for. In the cave, the young Bedouin found several old clay jars that were stuffed with ancient scrolls. He gathered up several and carried them back to their camp.
A number of the scrolls that were miraculously found 75 years ago are today carefully preserved at the Shrine of the Book repository at the Israel Museum. A breathtaking replica of the most magnificent—and possibly the most important—scroll serves as the centerpiece for the Shrine of the Book. Like many of you, I have personally seen this marvelous exhibit.
Today called the Great Isaiah Scroll, the original manuscript represents the only complete book of the Old Testament found among the first seven scrolls from what is now known as Cave 1. The scroll includes all 66 chapters of Isaiah and is written on 17 amazingly preserved sheets of parchment. The original is too delicate and sensitive for display, so a faithful copy serves in its place for viewing in a giant enclosed circle.
Why is this important to us? Remarkably, the Hebrew of the Great Isaiah Scroll only has a few minor variants from other authoritative Hebrew texts which we use today. At the time it was discovered, it was at least 1,000 years older than other Hebrew copies.
The Great Isaiah Scroll dramatically confirms the accuracy of God’s Word.
On the 75th anniversary of the discovery of the now-famous Dead Sea Scrolls (so called because Cave 1 is about one and one half miles from the northwest shore of the Dead Sea), we are persuasively reminded of the power and purpose of God in safeguarding His written word. All of the scrolls hold great historical, religious and linguistic significance.
I believe that God deliberately preserved this particular complete book of Isaiah (as well as other Dead Sea scrolls) to emphasize how carefully the Old Testament has been preserved across millennia to us today. It also underscores how important the prophecies are that it contains and, perhaps most importantly, how we can have absolute confidence in the veracity of these written prophecies!
The existence of the Great Isaiah Scroll lays out an important lesson and focus for us in the Church of God today, especially as we approach the Passover. Let’s consider why.
The discovery of these astonishing initial texts led to widespread archeological interest. After the 1948 war following the founding of Israel as a modern nation, intense excavations took place across the sun-scorched landscape. A total of 12 caves ultimately yielded 981 additional manuscripts and partial copies of Old Testament books and other writings. Thousands of written fragile fragments were recovered in the region.
With the help of Google, some of the Dead Sea Scrolls have been digitized and are available free to view and study. You can view the Great Isaiah Scroll here: dss.collections.imj.org.il/isaiah.
We can authoritatively know for certain that the Hebrew words of Isaiah we read today are the same as what the apostles and the first century Church could access.
Why is this important at the time of Passover? The book of Isaiah is sometimes called the “fifth gospel” because it authoritatively proclaims many prophecies of the Messiah and of the Kingdom of God. Isaiah is sometimes called the “Shakespeare” of the prophets for his prose and poetry, and likened to Paul for his eloquent and deep statements. Consider these facts:
- Isaiah is among the most-quoted books of the Old Testament by Jesus, the apostles and the Gospel writers.
- Matthew quotes Isaiah 7:14 as proof of the Messiah. “All this was done that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet [Isaiah], saying: ‘Behold a virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,’ which is translated, ‘God with us’” (Matthew 1:22-23).
- In the book of Acts, Philip was directed to a prominent Ethiopian “of great authority” outside Jerusalem. “Sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet,” specifically the prophetic section of Isaiah 53 that precisely described the suffering of Jesus Christ. You will likely read or hear those words as you prepare for and take the Passover in a few weeks.
- No other book describes in such a detailed spectrum of the greatness of God (Isaiah 40 and 43), the terrible nature of the coming Great Tribulation (Isaiah 24; 2:5-22), the astonishing details of the Messiah (Isaiah 42; 53), the suffering of the Messiah (Isaiah 52:13-15), the Messiah being “a light to the gentiles” (Isaiah 49:6; 56; 60), the truly awesome role of the Messiah as King (Isaiah 2:1-4), the future Kingdom of God (Isaiah 32; 35; 40) and much more, including many, many prophecies yet to be marvelously fulfilled, many of which you will be a part of!
- Jesus powerfully launched His ministry by publicly proclaiming Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD” (Luke 4:18-19).
- The book of Revelation ends with the coming of the new heavens and the new earth (Revelation 21). The book of Isaiah ends by prophesying the same incredible event (Isaiah 66:22-23).
These are critical, pivotal prophecies, ones that we all hold dear and deeply believe.
About a century or so ago, the Old Testament and the book of Isaiah, in particular, came under attack by secular humanists. They tried to undermine the veracity of the Old Testament.
Then God sent a goat and a few teenage Bedouins, who found extraordinary treasure that unknown servants of God had hidden away safe millennia ago—safe from war, safe from heretics, safe from destruction.
In one fell swoop, the attackers were cut down. The truth of prophecy and the word of God stood victorious, its inspiring words fixed timelessly on dusty ancient manuscripts, found only 75 years ago.
That’s how powerful God is.
This Passover season, even as this planet is beset with the war in Ukraine and many fears of the unknown, let us be emboldened, encouraged and grateful that, as Isaiah proclaims, our Savior is “God with us.”