Or is history's final conflict just around the corner?
Many Christians grew up hearing that the Bible foretells of one final war between Israel and many of the nations of the world. Popular interpretations of Old Testament prophecies filling the Internet leave little doubt that Israel – as “God’s chosen people” – will win.
The Prophet Isaiah by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo
For example, Isaiah 17 tells of a war that results in the capital of today’s revolt-torn Syria, Damascus, the world’s oldest continually inhabited city, ceasing to exist and becoming a “ruinous heap.”
So, is this the beginning of the end?
A number of Internet commentators have also thought it relevant to report strange, trumpet-like noises heard around the world, citing such scriptures such as Ezekiel 7:14: “They have blown the trumpet, even to make all ready; but none goeth to the battle: for my wrath is upon all the multitude thereof.” They cite a number of such trumpet reports on YouTube, that do-it-yourself video website where anybody with a video camera can post their homemade news report, movie or a video of their baby dancing with their cat.
They also pass along Bible prophecy tidbits, such as a 2009 report by Campbell Robertson in the New York Times: “The Euphrates is drying up. Strangled by the water policies of Iraq’s neighbors, Turkey and Syria, a two-year drought and years of misuse by Iraq and its farmers, the river is significantly smaller than it was just a few years ago.” Even the Times acknowledged the biblical relevance, calling the river “so crucial to the birth of civilization that the Book of Revelation prophesied its drying up as a sign of the end times.” Indeed, Revelations 16:12-14 foretells: “And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”
But does a lack of water in Iraq’s main waterway mean Armageddon is on the horizon? And do the much-cited Bible prophecies foretell a nuclear Iran wiping Isreal off of the map? For that matter, is the
Islamic Republic of Iran even mentioned anywhere in, say, Isaiah 17, Psalm 83 or Zechariah 12?
The Prophet Daniel
The prophet Daniel describes Persia as having a major role in world events. Iranians will tell you they are modern-day Persia. But there’s no Persia in such key end-of-times prophecies as Psalms 83:8, which tells us that “even Assyria has joined them; they lend support to the sons of Lot.” Assyria? It ceased to be a world power about 2,500 years ago. But, get out your atlas of the ancient world and you’ll see that it included parts of Iran.
Psalm 83 predicts defeat for those who will attack Israel, particularly those intending to “wipe her off the map.” Iran’s president, Mahmoud Amadinijad has repeatedly made that specific promise. In fact, he has repeatedly lectured the General Assembly of the United Nations during his annual addresses to that body, telling them that the Shi’ite messiah, the “Hidden Imam” is about to return to Earth to establish worldwide Islam – but cannot return until Iran has eliminated Israel.
In the Bible, the prophet Jeremiah doesn’t specifically mention Iran or Persia in his visions of the end. However, he does mention Elam – an ancient power which included Iranian territory. Jeremiah 49:34-39 says Elam will experience devastation and the scattering of her population to many other nations as a result of the same attack that devastates Damascus.
The Prophet Jeremiah by Michaelangelo
Could there actually be such a war? Is Damascus at risk?
Throughout the Cold War, a policy of “Mutual Assured Destruction” kept NATO and the USSR from going at each other with nuclear weapons. It was well understood that automatic systems and official policies were in place that would trigger a massive response– even if the attacked nation was in ashes. Had the Soviets wiped out U.S. leadership and command, the consequences would have been submarine-launched total devastation of Russia.
So why should Iran expect anything less? A senior official in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard a few days ago told a Tehran newspaper that the United States is within reach of Iranian attack. If the U.S. hits key targets in Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program, “we will have a crushing response,” said Massoud Jazayeri, quoted by Reuters, the British news agency. “We will not only act in the boundaries of the Middle East and the Persian Gulf; no place in America will be safe from our attacks.”
Surely he knows that the U.S. response to an Iranian attack – particularly a nuclear strike – would be cataclysmic. If Iran somehow managed to nuke Washington, D.C., no Russian or Chinese veto in the United Nations could prevent Tehran and every other major Iranian city from becoming smoking, radioactive ruins two or three times over. Mutual assured destruction has been U.S. policy for 50 years and even the most peace-minded leadership in the White House would have an impossible time tempering a response to a nuclear Pearl Harbor.
But Iran has indicated that they don’t fear such a fate.
“Are Iran’s Leaders, Well…Crazy?” ask Kimo Quaintance and Bernd Kaussler on The Diplomat magazine’s website. “The most vocal supporters of preventative military strikes against Iran’s nuclear weapons program claim that Iran is developing nukes to use them,
rather than to deter the United States and its allies from invasion.
Israel Defense Forces
“This inversion of the Cold War theory of nuclear deterrence assumes that Iran doesn’t have the capacity for rational choice. After all, as the argument goes, if the Iranians are crazy, then the certainty of national suicide won’t stop them from seizing the opportunity to unleash their new nuclear weapons on Israel.
“A state that believes the end of the world is coming (never mind thinking it has the special responsibility to usher in Armageddon) can’t be considered likely to weigh costs and benefits in any rational, self-preserving way.”
Or perhaps does Iran disbelieve the U.S. would retaliate? Just days ago, not 24 hours after Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov warned the United States that any pre-emptive strike against Iran by the U.S. or Israel would violate international law, Moscow put muscle into his warning. On April 3, the Russian guided missile destroyer Smetliviy and its support group arrived in the Syrian port of Tartus from its Black Sea base for a naval exercise.
Just the day before, the Israeli news analysis website DEBKAfile reported that Russia and Iran are set to counter any U.S. Israeli strike against Iran. Lavrov’s comments, made during a visit to Armenia, stopped short of threatening any consequences.
“But,” reported Reuters, “they backed up and were in tune with the explicit threat from Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei of strong Iranian resistance to foreign intervention in Syria and a vow to defend Damascus as the ‘center of resistance against Israel.’”
So, does Iran think Russia would protect them?
All this comes as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have established an international fund to pay a regular wage to rebel fighters in the Syrian Free Army, which is trying to depose the current pro-Iranian regime in Damascus. Meanwhile, Reuters reported that the U.S., Israel and Greece have engaged in a “shadowy air-naval exercise” in the Mediterranean codenamed “Noble Dina.”
“It appears to range across a broad sweep of sea up to Crete and including the waters off Turkey, Cyprus, and Israel Navy bases in Haifa and Ashdod ports,” reported the British news agency. The American, Israeli and Greek fleets are reportedly led by the USS Enterprise strike force and supported by a British Royal Navy flotilla.
So, are we dancing around the edge of the abyss? Is Armageddon around the corner? Internet prophecy enthusiasts are certain of it. They cite Luke 21:20, which tells us “And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.”
How about the repeated warnings from Russian and China that the U.S. should not intervene in the Syrian civil war? Or reports that the U.S., France, Great Britain, Turkey and Italy are planning to implement an aerial blockade of Damascus without United Nations backing?
Turkey? Why would anybody give any thought to Turkey? Historians would remind that Turkey was the Ottoman Empire that defeated the Crusaders and for almost 1,000 years held onto Palestine until those same former crusaders won World War I? Turkey also ruled Syria during that time period. And Iraq. And Iran.
Some who enjoy end-of-the-world debate would say that the United States is not mentioned in Bible prophesy. Others respond that a great “he goat” from the West will retaliate against the Medians (modern Syria) and Persia (today’s Iran) in the final battles. Daniel 8:5-6 foretells: “And as I was considering, behold, a he-goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes. And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing before the river, and ran unto him in the fury of his power.”
What will be the result of such super-powers butting heads? Prophecy enthusiasts cite Isaiah 17:1, which tells us that “Behold, Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap” and Isaiah 17:3, which predicts victory for Israel: “The fortress also shall cease from Ephraim, and the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria: they shall be as the glory of the children of Israel, saith the Lord of hosts.”
Isaiah 17:7 goes on to say, “At that day shall a man look to his Maker, and his eyes shall have respect to the Holy One of Israel.
They predict Ahmadinejad will hit Israel with nuclear weapons, but that Jeremiah 49:34-39 describes his failure – that any such attack
will backfire and cause his own people to evacuate the smoking ruin that will be Iran.
Iran's Mahmoud Amadinejad
Without a doubt, whether you believe in Bible prophecy or not, today the Middle East is the most keenly watched area of the world. And little wonder – it is central to the economic stability of the world. Conflicts in the Middle East inevitably draw in the major powers. As a result, for many years it has been the most likely place for World War III to begin.
Why do the superpowers care about the Middle East? The same kinds of conflict in Indonesia’s East Timor or South America’s Andes or between nations along Africa’s Great Rift seldom drag in the super-powers or prompt worries about Armageddon.
What is it about the Middle East that holds our attention? An easy answer is: Oil. The world’s economies are dependent upon Middle Eastern petroleum. After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the Arabs used the oil weapon to devastating effect. Western economies were severely disrupted. The developed nations suffered crippling burdens of inflation, recession, debt and unemployment.
So, what’s next? The battle of Armageddon is described in part in Ezekiel 38: the prophet foresees a massive confederacy of nations invading Israel. The leader of the confederacy is called Gog of the land of Magog. Many Bible students have expected Russia to fulfill the role of Gog. Magog was an ancient name for the land of the Scythians in the southern part of what is now Russia. This invader unites other enemies against Israel.
Israel is referred to in Ezekiel 38:8 as: “The land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations.”
Ezekiel 38:5 adds that in league with Gog (Russia) will be “Persia (Iran), Ethiopia, and Libya.” Impoverished Ethiopia? A player in the final battle? In the Old Testament, “Ethiopia” often refers to the Nile valley south of Egypt, including Nubia (today’s Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan) and Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia and Somalia). Ethiopia in Bible times was an influential country – home of the legendary Queen of Sheba.
Today, the former Ethiopian province of Somalia is frequently in the news as a collapsed state with no government. Its anarchy has spawned ruthless pirates stalking the busy shipping lanes in and out of the oil-rich Persian Gulf, constantly taking ships and crews hostage – and holding them for multi-million-dollar ransoms. And Sudan has been the site of a horrific genocide – as the Arab north has attempted ethnic cleansing of the predominantly black population of the oil-rich south — with the West and China squaring off, hoping to be the recipients of that oil.
What about Libya? This oil-rich nation for years financed worldwide terrorism and was responsible for one of the worst mass-murders of civilians, the bombing of a PanAm 747 airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.
Jeremiah 3:17 foretells that all these enemies of Israel “shall call Jerusalem the throne of the Lord; and all the nations shall be gathered unto it, to the name of the Lord, to Jerusalem.” Indeed, Jerusalem is at the meeting point of three continents. Ezekiel 5:5 says: “Thus saith the Lord God; This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations and countries that are round about her.”
Ancient cartographers, taking this passage literally, placed Jerusalem at the center of their maps, an example of which is the famous Mappa Mundi in England’s Hereford Cathedral.
Hereford Cathedral's Mappa Mundi
As the Daily Telegraph newspaper commented, “It is interesting to note, in the affairs of the proposed sale of Hereford Cathedral’s Mappa Mundi, all those superior smiles at the childish medieval way it shows Jerusalem at the center of the world. But Jerusalem is the center of the world. We may be overwhelmingly reminded of this in due course – and sooner than we may think.”