Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Middle East conflict

The recent conflict between Israel and Lebanon has attracted a great deal of attention, as expected, from Bible readers who are interested in prophecy. I recently shared some thoughts about Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 38 with some friends, and I thought I'd post them here as well for a wider audience.

I was born at about the time of the ‘56 Suez Crisis (so I don't remember it!), but I do recall very vividly the 6 day war in 1967. As part of a Christadelphian family I remember hearing throughout the war that Jesus was about to return any day (and I wondered at the time why I still had to go to school if the Kingdom was about to begin!)

I also remember that during the Yom Kippur war in 1973 there was a great deal of excitement again, and an expectation that the end might be near, although the excitement was less intense than in 1967.

It’s interesting to see in all these conflicts how the 10 nations of Psalm 83 are lining up for an invasion of Israel, as well as the ‘outer circle’ of Ezekiel 38 getting ready for the next wave of attack. I believe that every conflict in the middle east has been significant as the nations are positioning themselves ready for Armageddon.

By “the 10 nations in Psalm 83” I mean the 10 tribes/nations which are listed in the Psalm, and not 10 corresponding modern nations. I believe a mistake made by some interpreters of prophecy (including many Christadelphians) is to look for the modern descendants of peoples mentioned in prophecy, rather than trying to identify the land they occupied. So, for example, some Christadelphians follow John Thomas’s error in identifying “Gomer” in Ezekiel 38 as France, on the reasoning that the descendants of Gomer, the Gauls, migrated westwards and settled in France, or “Magog” as Germany because the decendants of Magog, the Scythians, later settled along the banks of the Danube (or even more unlikely is his identification of ‘Tarshish’ as Britain). In my opinion, prophecy should be interpreted by looking at the territory the named tribe or nation occupied at the time the prophecy was given, and to identify the modern nation occupying the same territory.

By following this hermeneutic we don’t need to find modern-day descendants of the Amalekites, for example – we need to identify who occupies the territory which the Amalekites occupied at the time the Psalm was written. By the same rule, we won’t find any Philistines living anywhere today, but we do find a hybridised group of Egyptians/Syrians/Jordanians living in the territory of Philistia and calling themselves by the latinised/anglised name for Philistia (Palestine).

The territories occupied by the nations/tribes named in Psalm 83 are roughly as follows:

1. Edom – in modern Jordan
2. Ishmaelites – in modern Saudi Arabia
3. Moab – in modern Jordan
4. Hagrites – the territory bordering modern Jordan and Saudi Arabia
5. Gebal – probably modern Golan Heights and nearby in Syria
6. Ammon – in modern Jordan
7. Amalek – in modern Sinai peninsula and the Negev
8. Philistia – modern Gaza Strip, part of the Palestinian authority
9. Tyre – in modern Lebanon
10. Assyria – modern Syria and Iraq

The important thing to notice, I think, is that the Psalmist here lists a group of nations/tribes which immediately surround Israel on all sides. The nations of Ezekiel 38, on the other hand, are a great distance from Israel, although they too are found in all directions. While the “Gog and Magog” of Revelation 20:8 is probably a prophecy about a different event, John picks up the point from Ezekiel that this confederacy comes from “the four corners of the earth”. There is no correspondence or overlapping between the nations of Psalm 83 and Ezekiel 38.

What I see by comparing the main prophecies of the final conflict is this sequence:

  1. An invasion of Israel by her immediate neighbours (Psalm 83; Zechariah 14; Ezekiel 35; Joel 3) - an ‘inner circle of nations’
  2. Jerusalem is taken captive (Zechariah 14 and Ezekiel 35)
  3. The Lord returns and delivers Jerusalem, and rescues Israel from its surrounding enemies, and establishes His Kingdom.
  4. Israel dwells in peace, “safely” and “without walls or gates” (Ezek 38:8,11).
  5. An invasion of Israel by an ‘outer circle of nations’ - “from the four corners of the earth” (Ezekiel 38)
  6. The outer circle of invaders is defeated.
  7. The Kingdom expands peacefully (Psalm 72).

It’s significant that both the ‘inner’ and ‘outer’ circles of nations described above are all Islamic nations.

It’s also interesting that the only list of 10 confederate nations or tribes anywhere in Scripture is in Psalm 83. These may be the ‘10 toes’ of the image in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, or the ten heads or ten horns mentioned elsewhere, but I wouldn’t push the point.

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