Hanging on many walls inside public places are glass boxes containing fire extinguishers. These boxes are usually accompanied by a sign that says, “In case of emergency, break glass.” The idea is that if a fire started roaring down a hallway, someone could crack open the case and free an agent that could stop the blaze. Though I have seen these many times, thankfully, I have never had to use one.
I was thinking about those glass encased fire extinguishers today as I reflected upon the monumental archaeological finding in the caves of Qumran near the Dead Sea. Throughout the 1800 and 1900’s, modern scholarship and textual criticism had sought to discredit the biblical texts by saying they were poorly copied and full of errors. Up until the time of World War II, the oldest copy of the Hebrew Scriptures known in existence had dated to around 1000 AD. This long gap between the authorship of the Old Testament and its oldest copy (a gap of at least 1,500 years) had fueled the fire of biblical criticism, filling the halls of Christianity and Judaism with the smoke of modern critics. Then, in 1946, a Bedouin shepherd boy kicked a rock into a cave at Qumran . . . and heard a piece of pottery break. This led him to pursue what was in that cave, and the discovery of what we know of now as the Dead Sea Scrolls. This discovery suddenly gave the world copies of virtually all the Old Testament books that dated back to the first century BC — traveling our oldest manuscripts back in time 1,000 years!! Even more significant, the Dead Sea Scrolls showed great integrity to the Biblical text over 1,000 years, revealing no major content changes. This inspired a much greater sense of confidence that the Old Testament, indeed, had avoided corruption and was reliable.
It is almost as if God put the scrolls in the halls of Qumran behind glass waiting for the fire of modern criticism to crack them open and thus extinguish the skeptics flames. Had the scrolls been found 1,500 years earlier, they would not have been preserved and would have been lost to future generations. God kept them hidden just for our generation’s crisis.
Our God is good, isn’t He? It may have seemed strange to angelic onlookers why God did not allow those scrolls to be found before He did, but (like always) God had the scrolls show up just in time. As a good friend of mine often reminds me, “God is never late and seldom early.”