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American Tract Society Bible Dictionary

Parched Ground

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In Isaiah 35:7 , translated by Lowth "the glowing sand," by Henderson "the vapory illusion," and in German sand-mer and wasserschein, sand-sea and water-show, is understood to refer to the mirage, an optical illusion described by almost all travelers in tropical deserts. The inexperienced wanderer sees at a distance what he thinks is an beautiful sheet of water; and imagination clothes the farther shore with herbage, shrubbery, buildings, etc.; but on hasting towards it he finds the delightful vision recede and at length disappear, and nothing remains but the hot sands. Quintus Curtius long ago gave an account of this wonder in his Life of Alexander the Great. It is thus described in St. John's "Egypt and Nubia:"

"I had been riding along in a revery, when chancing to raise my head, I thought I perceived, desertwards, a dark strip on the far horizon. What could it be? My companion, who had very keen sight, was riding in advance of me, and with a sudden exclamation, he pulled up his dromedary, and gazed in the same direction. I called to him, and asked him what he thought of yonder strip, and whether he could make out anything in it distinctly. He answered, that water had all at once appeared there; that he saw the motion of the waves, and tall palms and other trees bending up and down over them, as if tossed by a strong wind. This, then, was the mirage. My companion galloped towards it, and we followed him, though the Arabs tried to prevent us; and ere long I could with my own eyes discern something of this strange phenomenon. It was, as my friend had reported, a broad sheet of water, with fresh green trees along its banks; and yet there was nothing actually before us but parched yellow sand."

"Far as we rode in the direction of the apparition, we never came any nearer to it; the whole seemed to recoil, step for step, with our advance. We halted, and remained long in contemplation, of the magic scene, until whatever was unpleasant in its strangeness ceased by degrees to affect us. Never had I seen any landscape so vivid as this seeming one; never water so bright or trees so softly green, so tall and stately. We returned lowly to our Arabs, who had not stirred from the spot where we left them. Looking back once more into the desert, we saw the apparition gradually becoming fainter, until at last it melted away into a dim band, not unlike a thin mist sweeping over the face of a field."

The same phenomenon may be alluded to in the expression, "waters that fail," Jeremiah 15:18 . It is ascribed to the unequal refraction of the rays of light, caused in some way by excessive heat. The Savior and his proffered blessings are not, like earthly hopes, a deception and a mockery, but true waters of eternal life.


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These files are public domain and are a derivative of the topics are from American Tract Society Bible Dictionary published in 1859.

Bibliography Information
Rand, W. W. Entry for 'Parched Ground'. American Tract Society Bible Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/ats/p/parched-ground.html. 1859.

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Tuesday, January 28th, 2020
the Third Week after Epiphany
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