It's 2 p.m., and after another day of work at the Young Muslim Women's Association I'm on my way home. Half an hour from the center, the bus turns to the right off a main road and up a steep hill, the other side of which is my favorite part of the ride. Once we crest the hill, an amazing panorama comes into view. Descending steeply into a deep valley, this is the first of many high hills that drop unevenly, one after another, from the mountainous country around Amman to the distant Jordan valley.
One can just make out the high silhouette of the mountains of Israel on the other side of the Jordan Valley. The sight is beautiful, yet something mars its beauty. With the exception of the occasional olive grove, the rare field or the thin green line surrounding the Jordan River, everything is a dull and lifeless brown. A few minutes later, the bus turns another corner and the view is lost, but I continue thinking on what I've seen.
Today, most of the Holy Land is desert or semidesert, but it hasn't always been that way. After arriving in the land of Canaan, Abraham spent a great deal of time living at a place called Mamre, which my Bible margin points out means "fatness" (Genesis 13:18). At that time the land was "fat" enough to support Abraham, his many servants and a multitude of livestock.
Some decades later, we find that Jacob returns to the same general area with livestock and gives his brother Esau, who lived in the land of Edom, many of these animals (Genesis 32:13-15). The land of Edom, located in the southwest of modern-day Jordan, is now almost completely barren with no natural vegetation; however, in Esau's day conditions must have been better, otherwise a gift of livestock, doomed to starvation, would have seemed a cruel joke.
Fast-forward a couple hundred years. As God prepares to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and into the land of Canaan, notice what He says about the land: "I have come down to deliver [Israel] out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up from that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey" (Exodus 3:8).
Also, read Joshua chapters 12 and 13 and notice the long lists of kings and cities conquered on both sides of the Jordan River. A land of deserts, as exists today, couldn't possibly have supported that many people.
From Promised Land to Desert
So what happened to the Promised Land to turn it from abundance to desert? One may point out the thousands of years of continuous habitation and the strain that agriculture and industry put on the land. One may also point out the devastation from the many wars that were waged for control of the land. One might also (as a tour guide of ours did) point to the deforestation in more modern times caused by the building of the Hijaz railway, linking Syria with Arabia. Ultimately, however, a desert is caused by a lack of rain.
Regarding the lack of rain, we find an explanation in Scripture. In Deuteronomy God warns His people about the state of the land. "For the land which you go to possess...is a land of hills and valleys, which drinks water from the rain of heaven... And it shall be that if you earnestly obey My commandments...then I will give you the rain for your land in its season...that you may gather in your grain, your new wine, and your oil. And I will send grass in your fields for your livestock, that you may eat and be filled. Take heed to yourselves, lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, lest the Lord's anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain, and the land yield no produce, and you perish quickly from the good land which the Lord is giving you" (11:10-17).
Scripture also reveals that the land will not remain in this condition forever, but it will be healed after the return of Christ. In Isaiah 35 we read: "And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice" (verses 1-2). "For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert. The parched ground shall become a pool, and the thirsty land springs of water" (verses 6-7).
Thinking about the view from the bus, I can't help but imagine what the land will look like at that point, when the thirsty soil finally gets rain in due season—lush forests and groves on the tops of the hills, terraced gardens and vineyards on the slopes and fields of grain in the valleys, all watered by clear mountain streams. Although this vision is currently only in my mind, I pray that the day may come soon when it is a reality. UN