The year was 1947.
A young Bedouin goatherd called Muhammed ed-Dib was searching for a goat that had strayed in the craggy terrain of the Judean Desert, near the Dead Sea.
No one knows whether or not he ever found the goat because, while he was looking, he happened to stumble upon one of the most exciting historical and biblical finds in world history.
In one of the many desert caves in the region, Muhammed ed-Dib discovered a collection of large clay jars, most of them still intact with their lids on. Inside the jars were rolled-up scrolls.
When these scrolls were later examined by a team of specialists, and over the coming years as further scrolls were discovered in other caves in the region, a fascinating story emerged.
The scrolls were written between the 3rd century BC and 1st century AD. Most were written in Hebrew, although a small number were written in Greek and Aramaic.
Most scholars believed these scrolls formed the library of the Essenes, a Jewish sect living in Qumran in the Judaean Desert at the time. The writings fell into three main categories: texts from the Hebrew Bible, apocryphal Jewish religious writings that were never included in the canon of scripture, and writings about the rituals and daily life of the Jewish group that wrote them.
The discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls was a watershed moment in the history of biblical interpretation and understanding. Sections of all the books of the Hebrew Bible, except for Esther and Nehemiah, were found in the caves of Qumran.
These manuscripts are the most ancient copies of the Hebrew scriptures that have ever been found.
Up until this point, the oldest surviving Hebrew scriptures were from the 10th century Masoretic text, and the oldest complete biblical text was the Septuagint (LXX), a 4th century Greek translation.
The Dead Sea scrolls contained Hebrew scriptures 1000 years older than the Masoretic text. Most of them were written before the time of the New Testament. The high level of convergence between the scriptures inscribed on the Dead Sea scrolls and those found in the Masoretic text 1000 years later reinforces the credibility of scripture and the high level of accuracy with which it was preserved from generation to generation.
Most impressive of all was the scroll that contained the book of Isaiah in its entirety. The scroll was 734 cm long and dated back to 100 BC.
Some biblical scholars and critics of the Christian faith have argued that the prophecies from Isaiah addressing the virgin birth, and the Lord’s life and crucifixion were inserted after the time of the Lord. Others have said that the book of Isaiah is a collection of writings from several different authors.
But here in a cave in the middle of the Judaean Desert was a single scroll written more than half a century before the birth of the Lord containing all 66 books of Isaiah in a single manuscript, including the awe-inspiring Messianic prophecies that have become cornerstones of the Christian faith:
“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” – Isaiah 9:6
“Surely He has borne our griefs And carried our sorrows; Yet we esteemed Him stricken, Smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” – Isaiah 53:4-5
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the Book of Isaiah is one of the most (if not, in fact, the most) important books in the Bible for understanding the Gospel in context.
Isaiah shows us how Jesus, the Saviour of the world, is the same Jewish Messiah of Israel depicted in the Old Testament. Isaiah provides us with a framework for the first and second comings of the Lord. Isaiah gives us a geographical context for our faith and teaches us the role of Israel and the nations in God’s salvation plan. I believe that a clear understanding of Isaiah is essential in giving believers a compass for these days we are living in.
So, is it a coincidence that these scrolls with a particular focus on the book of Isaiah were found in 1947 after remaining buried for nearly 2000 years?
Is it a coincidence that these scrolls should be found the very year it was voted that Israel should be re-formed as a nation after 2000 years in exile?
Is it a coincidence that this very restoration of Israel was prophesied in the book of Isaiah, as inscribed on the Dead Sea scrolls?
“He will set up a banner for the nations, And will assemble the outcasts of Israel, And gather together the dispersed of Judah From the four corners of the earth.” – Isaiah 11:12
I don’t believe it was a coincidence. I believe the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls less than a century ago was the Lord speaking in our day to remind His people of their ancient foundations, calling us to heed the days we are living in and return to Him with all our hearts.