We know we are living in the time of the end. Israel is restored as a nation; half of world Jewry has returned to the land; Jerusalem is controlled by Israel; the times of the Gentiles are at an end. As our Lord revealed: “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Ezk. 38:8; Luke 21:24). There is “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.” Further, knowledge has increased at an unbelievable pace and travel of great distances has become common to many (Luke 21:25-26; Dan. 12:4)
In general terms, there can be no doubt where we are in God’s plan for mankind. But the details drive us to distraction. Just when we think we’ve got the prophecies figured out and have a handle on coming developments, world circumstances radically change and we feel like adopting a whole new understanding of prophecy.
- From 1945 to 1989 we felt the U.S.S.R. was the great northern power which would form the heart of the Gogian host that would sweep down on Israel. Then the Soviet Union disbanded and Russia went through a period of weakness and disarray. Suddenly there was not a great northern power.
- In the 1970’s and 80’s Israel became prosperous; had control of the West Bank (“the midst of the land” Ezk. 38:12); made peace with Egypt and Jordan; occupied half of Lebanon; looked like it was militarily secure and headed for “dwelling safely without walls, and having neither bars nor gates” (Ezk. 38:11). We thought events were lining up just the way we had expected from our traditional view of Ezekiel 38-39, Daniel 11, Habakkuk 3, etc. Then Israel gradually withdrew from Lebanon completing the withdrawal in 2000; faced two Palestinian terrorist uprisings which led to construction of a planned 700 mile long wall and has begun shutting down Israeli settlements in the West Bank in preparation for turning control over to the Palestinian authority — so much for Israel dwelling without bars and gates in the midst of the land.
Things are changing again
For the past 15 years, we have watched our own understanding not supported by current events. But, as Bro. Rayner notes in his “Signs of the Times” section, radical changes may be occurring.
- Russia is again asserting itself as a major force in the Middle East. For example, a day after meeting with the president of the United States, Russia’s president Putin announced an agreement for Moscow to supply fuel to Iran’s new nuclear reactor. The deal goes directly against U.S. pressure for Russia to cut nuclear co-operation with Iran. And we remember that Iran (“Persia”) will be allied with the great northern force of Ezekiel’s prophecy (Ezk. 38:5). Once again there is a northern presence in the area.
- With the gradual move to democracy and the heavy presence of U.S. forces, Iraq is evidently no longer a threat to Israel.
- he change of leadership for the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank seems to be opposing terrorist activity against Israel. This could make a great difference in Israel’s sense of security.
- As Bro. George points out, current developments in Lebanon could result in Syria’s withdrawal from that country and a resultant undermining of Hezbollah’s determined effort to destroy the state of Israel. Suddenly we could be headed to peace and security for Israel.
What to look for
From prophecies of the last days, there are some points to note about the immediate neighbors of Israel, namely: Egypt, the Palestinians, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Arabia and Iraq. In Psalm 83 they are referred to as “Amalek” and “Edom” (Egypt as occupiers of the Sinai), “Philistines” (the Palestinians as occupiers of Gaza), “Ishmaelites” (Arab tribes), the “Hagarenes,” “Moab” and “Ammon” (Jordan), “Gebal” and “Tyre” (Lebanon), “Assur” (Syria and Iraq). They are prophesied to comprise a coalition that declares their determination to utterly destroy Israel: “Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance” (Psa. 83:4). This prophecy has already been fulfilled in the vitriolic pronouncements of these nations from 1948-1973 when, for example, they declared about their war on Israel: “This war will be a war of extermination and a momentous massacre [of the Jewish inhabitants of Israel].”
In Ezekiel 38-39 this group of immediate neighbors is notable by their absence. While God through Ezekiel names many nations – Magog, Meshech, Tubal, Persia, Ethiopia, Libya, Gomer, Togarmah – none of the inner ring is included. Where are they in this massive invasion of Israel? Have they been conquered by Israel? Are they at peace with that nation? They are all named in Psalm 83, now what has happened to them?
We could say that Egypt and Jordan have already made peace with Israel and that Iraq is restrained by America. But what of Lebanon and Syria? What of Hezbollah referred to in Bro. George’s article. These are the backers of Palestinian terrorism and the hostile arm of Syria against Israel.
According to BBC News, “Hezbollah was conceived in 1982 by a group of Muslim clerics after the Israel invasion of Lebanon…It emerged with financial backing from Iran and began a struggle to drive Israeli troops from Lebanon. In May, 2000, this aim was achieved.” But this has not satisfied Hezbollah as “The party’s rhetoric calls for the destruction of the state of Israel. It regards the whole of Palestine as occupied Muslim land and it argues that Israel has no right to exist.”
Hezbollah is headquartered in the eastern part of Lebanon, the Bekaa valley, under the protection of Syria. If Syria pulls out, can Hezbollah survive? If Syria is forced to leave Lebanon can the present Syrian regime survive?
Watch Lebanon and Syria. Very quickly Israel could find itself surrounded by non-hostile neighbors with a Palestinian element forced to live at peace with the Jews.
In scripture, the term “Lebanon” is most often linked with Carmel, Sharon, Gilead and Bashan as highly productive areas of Israel, because the northern tribes encompassed some of the eastern slopes of the mountains of Lebanon. In biblical terms, the area of modern Lebanon appears as “Tyre” and “Zidon.” In the last days, Lebanon (“Tyre” and “Zidon”) will be punished along with the Palestinians (“the coasts of Palestine”) for their hatred and ill-treatment of Israel (Joel 3:2-8). We have witnessed the hatred and may have witnessed part of God’s punishment.
Evidently, even before the return of Christ, Lebanon’s treasures will sustain Israel (Isa. 23:18). Here is something to look for in the days ahead. In the kingdom age, Lebanon will bring gifts to the Lord Jesus (Psa. 45:12) so we know it will be one of those nations which survives into the Millennium.
Living as we are without the benefit of hindsight, right in the midst of the unfolding events of the last days, let us watch with fascination as the Lord brings the times of the Gentiles to its close. And let us not become frustrated or allow our faith to waiver when our ideas seem out of step with current events, for world circumstances can change with remarkable rapidity. Watch Lebanon and Syria for we may well be seeing the next great step in preparation for the kingdom age.