WASHINGTON – Science has lots of ideas about the ancient catastrophic climate change that almost all agree occurred to create the world’s biggest desert in Arabia.
There are as many theories about what happened as when it happened.
What’s not very well-known even by Bible scholars is what the Bible says – or at least suggests.
The Book of Isaiah chapter 21:13 references “the forest of Arabia shall ye tarry all night, even in the ways of Dedanites.” The Hebrew word behind the English “forest” is ya’ar, which generally means forest. Most every older Bible translation renders it “forest,” while some modern ones translate it to “desert” or “thicket” – probably because they can’t imagine there was once a forest in Arabia.
Yet, many scientists, including secular ones, are not only acknowledging that as a fact, some are suggesting it could have been so only a few thousand years ago.
That raises the question as to whether it was indeed a forest in the renowned Isaiah’s time. Even more interesting is the fact that another biblical prophet, Jeremiah, who lived about 100 years after Isaiah, has this to say in Jeremiah 3:2-3: “Lift up thine eyes unto the high places, and see where thou hast not been lien with. In the ways hast thou sat for them, as the Arabian in the wilderness; and thou hast polluted the land with thy whoredoms and with thy wickedness. Therefore the showers have been withholden, and there hath been no latter rain; and thou hadst a whore’s forehead, thou refusedst to be ashamed.”
In other words, Jeremiah, quoting what God spoke to him, wrote that the Arabian forest of Isaiah’s time became a desert because of a Divine judgment. And it’s not the only well-known, sprawling desert in the world that was previously forested.
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Jeremiah suggests rainfall in Arabia stopped in his time or before. Could the destruction of an Arabian forest have occurred only 2,700 years ago? Is this biblical evidence of just such a possibility?
It sparked popular news stories with 2015 headlines like this by the BBC: “Arabia was once a lush paradise of grass and woodlands.”
Some Christian scientists and theologians, however, have long believed what the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah said about the Arabian desert in their times was true. Bodie Hodge, a speaker, writer and researcher for Answers in Genesis, explains why.
“After the Flood, the Earth was obviously well watered,” he told WND.” Regrowth should have been abundant over most of the globe. Furthermore, the heat from which the Lord used to burst the springs/fountains of the great deep (Genesis 7:11), had to be a tremendous heat source. Couple this with continental scale movements, this generates immense heat, warming the oceans. Warm oceans produced more precipitation in the early years after the Flood to continue vegetation growth in places we normally wouldn’t see.”
Hodge continues: “This warming would have been the trend until the ice peaked in the Ice Age, with exceptions of course. Calculations by weather experts like meteorologists Mike Oard and Dr. Larry Vardiman put the peak of the Ice Age at about 500 years after Noah’s Flood. This would have been about 400 years after Babel. At this time, Arabia, the Sahara, Negev, and many other places were likely still highly vegetated. Many science articles have reported on the previously lush regions of Arabia, the Sahara, Negev and even Antarctica.”
Speaking of the Negev, today a vast desert, is also referred to as a forest in the underlying Hebrew in Ezekiel 20:46-48. The prophet ministered in the early 600s B.C., around the same time as Jeremiah and about a century after Isaiah.
While the King James Version of the Bible doesn’t specifically refer to the Negev by name, southern Israel is almost entirely desert today, completely occupied by what we call the Negev or Judean Desert. Here’s what Ezekiel wrote in his time about this vast desert: “Son of man, set thy face toward the south, and drop thy word toward the south, and prophesy against the forest of the south field; And say to the forest of the south, Hear the word of the Lord; Thus saith the Lord God; Behold, I will kindle a fire in thee, and it shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree: the flaming flame shall not be quenched, and all faces from the south to the north shall be burned therein. And all flesh shall see that I the Lord have kindled it: it shall not be quenched.”
According to this account, the Negev went from being a vast forest to becoming a desert because God burned it in judgment.
“At the time of Abraham and Lot, the Jordan Valley and the Dead Sea region, where Sodom and Gomorrah were located, were well-watered and lush with vegetation,” said Hodge. “I would suggest some deserts were already forming in Abraham’s day around 2,000 BC, and others much later, including into Isaiah and Jeremiah’s day. Today, the Dead Sea region is very desert-like. Sometimes deserts form relatively quickly. But that takes a significant catastrophe and long-term changes of climate. It makes more sense that deserts form in waves as different areas within the larger forest diminish and as other parts still have sufficient ground water (i.e., the oasis affect) and enough rain to sustain, until further weather changes occur. But the final desertification may take a little time. The Yatir desert in Israel is at the edge of the Negev desert. This shows how one area can be devastated into a desert while an area right next to it can remain lush.”
The specific area mentioned in Jeremiah and Isaiah may pinpoint the precise time for the formation of the desert of Arabia Petraea. Dr. John Gill, commentator and Hebraist in the 1700s, published notes on Isaiah 21:13 along these lines as have other well-known commentators. They all insisted the Arabian forest was no mere grove of trees, or a “thicket,” as some modern translations put it, but a thick wooded forest. Some modern translations have even “corrected” Isaiah by changing the word “forest” to “desert.”
“As Arabia no longer has such a place (a forest), this change had to occur since Isaiah’s day,” says Hodge. “It is reasonable and even scriptural to suggest that it happened within the 100 years to Jeremiah’s day.”
By the way, both Saudi Arabia and Israel are actively reforesting their respective deserts.