Beliefs of the Khirbet Qumran Sect

From the Scroll of the War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness and from the Scroll of the Manual of discipline it is clear that these people of the scrolls were convinced that they were living in the very last days. They expected the day of God’s judgments against the world of the ungodly would come at any moment. They understood from the writings of the prophets that the purged and purified among the Jews would be the instruments God would use in the impending final war which would destroy the wicked and bring in times of blessedness and righteousness.

Having this conviction they felt that the rigid lives they led and their endeavours to observe the laws of Moses, would he counted for righteousness and that they would be among the Sons of Light in the time of trouble. Further, they felt it was incumbent on them to he prepared for the war, and in the War Scroll they set out in great detail the general plan for the conflict. The details of tactics are decided, together with the weapons and the army organisation. Also there is an enumeration of the Biblical rules for the conduct of war and their application to the last decisive war which would exterminate the wicked from the earth and exalt the Sons of Light.

A careful study of Bible prophecy would enable us to make a correct assessment of these anticipations. These Dead Sea Essenes could see plainly enough from the writings of the prophets that the final conflict between God and the nations is foretold with great clarity. Where they went wrong was in expecting the event to happen in their day and in their assumption that it was for them to outline the strategy and tactics to be carried out and to prepare the fighting equipment.

How close were these Essenes in their beliefs to what the Bible really teaches? According to the scrolls, it appears that they held a number of wrong views. The very fact that they avoided all possible contact with the outside world and led a monastic life indicates an erroneous outlook The true servants of God cannot discharge their duty of shining as lights in a dark world [Phil 2v15] if they shut themselves away as did the Qumran sect. While they were there in rigid seclusion John the Baptist was preaching repentance, and multitudes were coming to he baptised.

The Qumrans were expecting two Messiahs, one priestly and the other kingly. Had they come out and listened to John the Baptist they would have learnt that the Messiah had already come and was the Lamb of God, to take away the sin of the world. Had they listened to Jesus as he preached in the towns and villages of the Holy Land, they would have learnt that he was the true Messiah promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets and was of the House of David and appointed by God to be both priest and king.

John came ‘to bear witness to the light, that all men through him might believe”. “That was the true light, which lighteneth every man that cometh into the world.” (John 1v7&9) But the Qumran monastics had shut themselves away, and while they were bent on establishing their own righteousness they excluded themselves from the opportunity to submit themselves to God’s righteousness.

Members of the sect believed that all creatures were divided into the Lot of Light and the Lot of Darkness: that God Himself created Belial the Angel of Darkness to lead all the forces of Darkness, and created Michael the Angel of Light to lead the forces of Light.

We can see here the similarity between this view and that of the Agnostics and the later church doctrine of Satan or the Devil as a fallen angel, the antagonist of God and the leader of the forces of evil. It is not clear whether the Qumran sect believed in the immortality of the soul. It is quite possible they did not, for they speak of the ultimate destruction of the wicked. and one of their psalms in the ‘Thanksgiving Scroll’ starts:

‘I thank thee, O Lord, because thou hast put my soul in the bundle of life; thou hast fenced me off from all the snares of the pit’ (Compare 1 Samuel 25v29)

Another commences:

‘For what is man? He is earth, a cut of bit of clay, and to dust is his return.’

Their Psalm 6 opens:

‘I thank thee, O Lord, because thou hast redeemed my soul from the pit; from the sheol of Abaddon.’

The grounds on which they based their conviction that there would be the ‘battle of the great day of God Almighty’ and their conviction that it would be in their own time are interesting.

We learn from outside writers that at the time of the births of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus Christ there was a general expectancy that one would arise out of Judea who would rule the world. A belief which no doubt sprang from a partial understanding of Daniel 9v24-26. The Qumran sect knew from the prophets that it would be at a time of great trouble and we can well appreciate that when they saw the Roman armies advancing to the siege of Jerusalem and spreading over the land, they felt that surely this was the long foretold ‘time of trouble’ when God would intervene on behalf of His great Name, His Land and His people.

One should not judge them hardly in these premature anticipations. The disciples themselves. knowing that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, were shocked beyond measure when he was taken and crucified. They had been promised they would sit on twelve thrones reigning over the restored tribes of Israel and they expected that he was about to redeem Israel and reign as king then and there.

Jesus explained their misunderstanding to the two disciples on the road to the village of Emmaus. They did not recognise Jesus and did not know that he had risen from the dead. They were sad because, they said:

“We trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, today is the third day since there things were done.” Luke 24v21

Jesus then went on to tell them that they had only understood some of the Old Testament prophecies. The prophets had foretold that the Messiah was not only to be the eventual king over the whole world when the kingdom of God was established, but that he had also to suffer first as the sacrifice for sin. “And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” Luke 24v27

The people at Jericho (not far from the Khirbet Qumran settlement) crowding round Christ, thought that the kingdom of God would immediately appear. The disciples and the people, just before the triumphant entry into Jerusalem and like the Qumran sect, felt they were living in the last times. They believed that God would intervene as in the past, wrest all power from the Gentiles and “restore again the kingdom to Israel”.

The Qumran sect, to support their convictions, quoted passages from the writings of the prophets, which however refer to the time yet future when Jesus Christ will return from heaven in great power to overturn the kingdoms of men and set up in their place the Kingdom of God. In their scroll of ‘The War of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness’ the belief is expressed that the day of victory was near because it would come ‘at a time of mighty trouble for the people to be redeemed by God. In all their troubles there was none like it.’

These words were based on Daniel 12v1:

“And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall he a time of trouble such as never was since there was a nation to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book.”

And also on the words of Jeremiah:

“Alas for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” Jeremiah 30v7.

Jesus did not say that the people of his day were wrong in expecting the Messiah to establish the kingdom of God but he did explain that there was to be a delay first. Jesus said:

“A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return.” Luke 19v12. NIV

The parable goes on to describe the way in which his servants were to work while waiting for the king to return. There is no doubt that the story taught that Jesus himself would go away and that there was to be a delay before his return to establish the kingdom. Luke introduces the story by saying that Jesus told his followers a parable, “because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the Kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” Luke 19v11 NIV

The Qumran sect was not wrong in thinking that the establishment of the kingdom would be at a time of very great trouble. But, again speaking of the gap in time between his first and second appearances, Jesus described a long period of desolation for the land of Israel. Jerusalem he said, would be trodden down by Gentiles. Then at the time appointed by God, that treading down would end. At the same time there would be a period of great trouble for the world. In figurative Jesus says:

“And there shall be signs in the sun and in the moon and in the stars: and upon the earth distress of nations with perplexity: the sea and the waves roaring; Men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth. For the powers of heaven shall be shaken” Luke 21v26

The comfort for the followers of Jesus is that he immediately said:

“And then shall they see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” Luke 21v27

There are many Old testament prophecies which also speak of the coming of the Messiah and the fulfilment of God`s purpose after a long period of desolation for Israel.

In the same passage just quoted, Jesus told his disciples that the long ‘down treading’ of Jerusalem would begin when the Roman armies came against the city:

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will that its desolation is near” Luke 21v20

Following the warning given by Jesus [Luke 21v21] some were able to flee from Judea. The scrolls were hurriedly hidden away in the caves as the Roman soldiers destroyed the Qumran settlement. Some fled down to the great rock fortress of Masada and joined with the Zealots in a last stand against the Romans. The Romans built a great earthen and stone ramp up the 1,200 ft. high rock and assembled a huge battering ram. When the Jewish defenders found resistance was hopeless, rather than the men and women being taken as slaves or worse, the whole number, close on 100,000 men, women and children perished in a mass suicide. A great expedition excavating the ruins during 1964-5 under the able direction of Dr Yigael Yadin found some grim relies in the form of skeletons and skulls, some with hair still attached.

For Bible students, the greatest prize found, in addition to more than 1,000 coins, was more scrolls. These scrolls consisted of fragments of Psalms, Leviticus, Genesis and some apocryphal books. The importance of the find is this. There are some ‘experts’ who have argued that the Dead Sea Scrolls are of a later data. But here is the conclusive evidence to the contrary. Masada fell to the Romans in AD 73 a date not to be disputed. So here, in the ruins now excavated, have been found Biblical documents earlier than AD 73. Among the scroll fragments is one identical to a scroll found in the Qumran cave.

The finding of this scroll is important, because for the first time a Dead Sea Scroll has been found outside Qumran and in a place which was a Zealot stronghold. It seems to indicate that one of the Qumran Essenes took the scroll with him when he joined in the defence of Masada. This is supported by the list of area commanders mentioned by Josephus, one of whom is given as a certain John the Essene.

The main conclusion to be drawn from the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they confirm that the Scriptures we hold in our hands today are a faithful translation of the original manuscripts penned by men divinely inspired to record God’s message to mankind. Our readers may he quite confident that whatever ancient Biblical documents are found and whatever evidences are turned up by the spade of the excavator, they will but confirm the integrity of the Bible, the word of God, upon which we may safely build all our hopes of salvation at the coming of Christ from heaven and from which we may draw day by day for comfort and instruction.

Very soon the Light of the world will he here and our unshaken confidence in the Bible will be gloriously vindicated.

So we conclude with the noble words to be found in the Isaiah Scroll:

“All flesh is grass …… The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” Isa 40v6-8