The Relief Society teacher was teaching the lesson on the signs of the Second Coming, and she was writing these events on the board as fast as we sisters could shout them out. “Wars,” “Rumors of wars,” “Pestilence,” “Earthquakes,” she wrote. Then came an unusual one:
“The waters of the Dead Sea will be healed.”
(Yes, readers, I admit that contribution came from me.) It was interesting enough to capture my attention for quite a while, so if you want a report of the rest of her lesson, you will have to get it from someone else.
The reference to the waters of the Dead Sea being healed was from Ezekiel 47. I spent some time reading about the running water coming from the temple, going down into the desert, and then running into the sea, and healing its waters. This causes a great multitude of fish to come, and the fishers spread forth their nets to catch them.
Then, as I am wont to do, I looked at the symbolic nature of the scripture passage. Rather than reading this passage literally as it is described in our SS lesson, as the waters of the literal Dead Sea somehow being chemically changed, I looked at some of the symbolic meanings of the scriptural terms. Often in the scriptures the restored gospel is described as living water. Fishers of men are missionaries. At once, a greater meaning of Ezekiel 47 became clear. As I read it again with these things in mind, I saw a prophecy of the gospel (living water) flowing forth from the Temple of God. I saw it going into a desert wasteland of the earth without the restored truths of Jesus Christ. I saw a previously spiritually barren world now healed and full of people ready to hear the good news of the gospel of peace. There were missionaries and members of the Church ready and waiting to gather these converts with their nets of fellowship.
Of course, I’m sure I’m not the first to interpret this chapter symbolically. But I think that Latter-day Saints tend to gravitate more naturally toward a literal reading of the scriptures. Here’s how Joseph Smith described it:
Judah must return, Jerusalem must be rebuilt, and the temple, and water come out from under the temple and the waters of the Dead Sea be healed. It will take some time to rebuild the walls of the city and the temple etc.; and all this must be done before the Son of Man will make His appearance.
In the LDS Guide to the Scriptures, topic “Dead Sea,” this explanation is given:
The salt sea at the southern end of the Jordan Valley. It was also known as the Salt Sea. Its surface is approximately 1300 feet (915 meters) below the Mediterranean Sea. The cities of Sodom, Gomorrah, and Zoar or Bela were near its shores (Gen. 14: 2-3). In fulfillment of prophecy and as one of the signs of the second coming of the Savior, the waters of the Dead Sea will be healed, and life will flourish there (Ezek. 47: 8-9).
Often, interpreting the scriptures symbolically fits well with our doctrine and frees us from the cognitive dissonance we experience when prophesied events don’t happen exactly as they are described. Why do we have such trouble giving holy writ a figurative meaning rather than a literal one? What makes us prefer wild speculative theories about the desalination of a gradually shrinking body of water with modern technology in support of literalist exegesis? What literal interpretations do you tend to cling to?