The Lowest Spot on Earth
Last week we studied the Jordan river which begins at Israel’s highest peak, Mt. Hermon (elevation 9,232 ft. ), flows down what is called the Jordan Rift Valley and empties into the Dead Sea (elevation – 1,200 feet below sea level). The name ‘Dead Sea’ is the English name while the Hebrew is: יָ֥ם הַמֶּֽלַח – ‘yom HaMelach’ – ‘salt sea’. It is first mentioned in the T’nakh in Genesis 14:3 as the general area where the king of Sodom, Gomorah and Zoar among others lived. Previously in Genesis 13, Abram had given Lot the choice of land. Gen. 13:10 says, “And Lot lifted up his eyes, and beheld all the plain of Jordan, that it was well watered every where, before the LORD destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, even as the garden of the LORD...”. God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their wicked ways in Genesis 19, but since the salt sea is mentioned in Gen. 14, we know the location of Sodom and Gomorah was not the current spot of the Dead Sea, but it was very close to the area. Some archaeologists believe Sodom was at the north east tip of the Dead Sea. Numbers 34 tells us that the Dead Sea was the eastern border of the promised land.
In the ancient world, salt (Hebrew: מֶּֽלַח – melach) was often used as currency because it was precious. The Latin word ‘salarium‘ designates a type of payment using salt as the currency – which is how Roman soldiers were sometimes paid. The English word ‘salary’ derives from this Latin word and the saying, “he was worth his salt” refers to this idea. Ancient Jewish commentaries say that Lot went to Sodom “for the salt” (ie, the economic value) and this explanation fits with Genesis 13:10 and helps us to understand the clear symbolism of God’s punishment to those who looked back at Sodom (like Lot’s wife) by being turned into a pillar of salt.
As you can see in the computer image at right, the Dead Sea lies in the Jordan Rift Valley which extends from Mt. Hermon to Eliat (and actually continues on underneath the Red Sea towards Africa). The water that flows into the Dead Sea is trapped and has no outlet and therefore has a very high salt content. The salinity of the water of the Dead Sea is about 32%, much higher than the ocean. Even though this is too high for any life to inhabit the waters (hence its name), the mud of the Dead Sea contains great healing properties for those with skin diseases and Dead Sea skin care products are famous worldwide.
Sometimes God’s path for our life includes “low spots” and maybe we also feel “trapped” – like there is no way out. A good Bible example is found in the life of Elijah who was no doubt the greatest of the prophets. The New Testament book of James specifically mentions Elijah as being a man of prayer and a man whose prayers were answered. But when this great prophet and man of prayer was in a very “low spot” in his ministry, he asked God to take his life! (see 1 Kings 19) However, Elijah was one of only two people (Enoch being the other) that would never die, but would be taken directly to heaven. God intervened in Elijah’s life and sent an angel who cared for him so that eventually he not only continued his ministry, but it was even larger than what he had before the ‘low spot’. Ezekiel 47:8-9 is a future prophecy that one day, God will heal the waters of the Dead Sea so that it will bring forth “a very great multitude of fish”. As God did for Elijah of old, and as He will do for the Dead Sea in the future, God can bring healing and great productivity out of the ‘low points’ in our life if we trust Him with them.