Rodger Dalman writes (Genesis in the 21st Century 2016 p 36) that Abraham arrived in Canaan at the end of a 300 year drought, a period of ecological disaster that brought the early bronze civilization to an end. The land God promised to Abraham was a barren waste and in no sense was a land of “milk and honey,” as Moses described 400 years later or had been 300 years earlier at the end of the bronze age.
Abraham’s journey away from the watered valleys of Mesopotamia was based upon his faith in God and nothing more. Hebrews 11:10 tells us that Abraham sojourned in a barren land because he looked for a city “with foundations whose builder and maker was God.” Dalman describes the 300 year drought as God’s judgment upon the violence and ungodliness of the early Bronze Age, a period of history that came to an end during the devastating 300 year drought.
Is Dalman right? Was the 300 year drought God’s judgment, a quirk of nature, possibly caused by a fluctuation of energy from the sun or the result of human activity, perhaps overgrazing and excessive draining of water resources for expanding agriculture and industry? If humans had understood science and applied it more intelligently, might they have prevented the climate change that occurred? The Bible consistently insists that a Creature’s purposes are at work behind the vicissitudes of nature, unobservable to the empirical methods of science alone.
Science is a gift from God, but science apart from God will destroy us. New solutions create new problems that multiply exponentially as years pass. Recently my neighborhood discovered beneath its soil a lake of toxic chemicals produced by a cereal factory, a factory that decades ago enriched the city and the neighborhood. The fancy new cereals I ate as a child became a cause of sickness and loss of property values by the time I reached retirement. Did I and my contemporaries really experience better health and well being because we ate those cereals? I doubt it. In the end, even science and technology need the guidance of God for both public and private applications that serve more than temporal advantage. Ignore God’s commands, and lust, greed, arrogance, and mutual blame will take over. This was true 4000 years ago and is still true today.
During Abraham’s time, the low water level of the Dead Sea exposed a series of tar pits described in Genesis 14:10. This geologic feature of the ancient world has been described by J. Penrose Harland publishing in 1961 and William Dever in “New Vistas on the EB IV(“MB I”) Horizon in Syria-Palestine.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 237 (Winter 1980): 35-64. Dalman (Genesis in the 21st Century, pub. 2016 pp) suggests that a cooking fire or a lightning strike could well have ignited a methane irruption within those pits to produce the effects of fire and brimstone described in Genesis 19. If this is correct, then we have a scientific basis to understand how the story originated; however, Dalman goes on. The record of Sodom, a city God destroyed, was one of cruelty against hungry refugees who would have come to the Jordon Valley where Sodom was located (See Ezekiel 16:49-50). Dalman suggests also that the fire of God’s Presence fire could have ignited the methane around the Dead Sea. (This would be the holy fire that ignited Mt. Sinai at the time of Moses, lit the fire on the altar at the dedication of the Tabernacle in the wilderness as well as at the first sacrifice in Solomon’s temple, and we might add that could have lit the fire of Elijah’s sacrifice in 1 Kings 19.)
While we look for technologies and ways of living that respect the earth’s integrity as a life giving planet, we look in vain if we do not recognize that we did not create ourselves or science. Our human nature can be bent either towards God or towards self destruction, and how we orient our attention, whether first of all towards God, or primarily towards science, that choice alone will determine whether our use of technology results in bane or blessing for posterity.