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God’s Unchanging Word
"Your word, Lord, is eternal;
it stands firm in the heavens." — Psalm 119:89
When a young Bedouin shepherd followed his errant goat into a cave in the hill country around the Dead Sea, he did more than recover his lost goat – he unearthed a treasure that would substantiate the accuracy of the Hebrew Bible, or what Christians call the Old Testament.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, which were discovered in 1947, are a collection of more than 900 pieces of parchment upon which manuscripts from every book of the Hebrew Bible, except for Esther, were recorded and preserved. The most complete of these scrolls is the entire book of Isaiah.
Until this discovery, the Hebrew Bible in use today was translated from what is called the Masoretic Text. The Masoretes were Jewish scholars who between 500 and 950 CE gave the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, the form that we are most familiar with today. With the discovery of the scrolls, scholars now had in their hands manuscripts that predated the Masoretic Text by one thousand years!
For many years, the present day Hebrew Bible had been criticized for being corrupted over time and not well preserved. Now here was the opportunity to see how well the Dead Sea documents would match up with the Masoretic Text. The book of Isaiah was used as the test. After years of careful study, the results were nothing less than amazing: Scholars found that the two texts were practically identical. Most variants were minor spelling differences, and none affected the meaning of the text.
Hebrew scholar Millar Burrows wrote, “It is a matter of wonder that through something like one thousand years the text underwent so little alteration. As I said in my first article on the scroll, ‘Herein lies its chief importance, supporting the fidelity of the Masoretic tradition.’”
While that certainly is a remarkable discovery for biblical scholars, it also is significant for us – devoted readers and students of God’s word. It means, as the Psalm writer affirmed thousands of years before the Dead Sea scrolls were even written, that God’s word “is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens.”
We can come to the Bible assured of God’s promises, assured that what the patriarchs and the prophets recorded is true today as it was then. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever” (Isaiah 40:8).
While all else may fail around us – relationships sour, economies flounder, health declines – God’s word endures. Let that be a comfort to you today in whatever situation you are facing.
With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein