Molly Hunter danger sign
Hiking along the northern shoreline of the Dead Sea is one of the most dangerous things you could ever do. (Molly Hunter photo)

It’s impossible to miss the warning signs.

At first glance, the barren landscape looks like an extended beach for the Dead Sea. But the signs leave no option. This is not the place for a family stroll!

There are open pits in the salty sand, sinkholes with an evil bent. They open suddenly, perhaps with little more than the weight of a man’s next step. The sand pours in, and the more the man struggles, the more the sand pours in. It’s a dry version of quicksand, a Dead Sea prison for anyone foolish enough to ignore the warnings.

Add the unbearable heat to the mix, and a trapped hiker could lose his life within hours.

The only way such a person will be rescued is to have someone on solid ground who’s got a good rope and the ability to pull really, really hard.

Today’s proliferation of sinkholes is caused by the receding shoreline of the Dead Sea. As Israel and Jordan irrigate as much water as possible from the Jordan River, very little water actually empties into the Dead Sea. As a result, the water level is dropping about three feet a year, leaving more than 30 feet of new, exposed land around the body of water … each year. The lake was about 50 miles long in the 1950s, but is roughly 30 miles long today. (Check out this 2005 article from the Smithsonian Institution.)

An ariel view of several sinkholes near the Dead Sea. Because Israel and Jordan are using most of water from the Jordan River for irrigation purposes, water levels of the sea have receded dramatically in recent decades. (Friends of the Earth Middle East Photo)

Since the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth, the water can’t escape. Over time — lots of time — an amazing collection of minerals has saturated the water and the dirt in the basin. Case in point? The Dead Sea is eight times saltier than water in the ocean!

But I digress. It’s the sinkholes that give us the pits.

Has it always been this way? Did David the shepherd ever wander too close to dangerous land as he roamed Judean Wilderness?

Maybe he did. Listen to the words of a very grateful man …

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And forget none of His benefits;
Who pardons all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases;
Who redeems your life from the pit … (Psalm 103:1-4)

Maybe David had run into a different pit. Maybe it was just a bad Monday.

Or maybe he felt the ground giving way, his sandals tearing loose, and his heart racing with the first pangs of panic.

Whatever the case, David knew what you and I know. There are some pits where nothing less than a savior will rescue us. And so we call 911. We yell for help. We pray for someone to come quickly. Even an unbeliever will call out to God in those moments. There’s just something about a pit that makes us search for God.

And when help comes? We are grateful beyond description.

It’s why we join the ancient song. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me!”

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