For 165 years Christadelphians have watched events in Russia and the Middle East for signs that the alliances described in Ezekiel 38 are emerging. Although there have been false starts, bypaths and detours during that period it must be recognised that, in broad terms, events have unfolded largely in accordance with the expectations of Brother Thomas as set forth in Elpis Israel.

Crimea again!

In 2014, the eyes of students of prophecy have very much been fixed on the machinations of President Putin as he brazenly seized the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine and annexed it to Russia. Many have been reminded of these well known words based on Ezekiel 38, Daniel 2 and several other New Testament passages from the Author’s Preface to Elpis Israel:

When Russia makes its grand move for the building-up of its image-empire then let the reader know that the end of all things, as at present constituted, is at hand. The long expected, but stealthy, advent of the King of Israel will be on the eve of becoming a fact; and salvation will be to those who not only looked for it, but have trimmed their lamps by believing the gospel of the kingdom unto the obedience of faith, and the perfection thereof in “fruits meet for repentance”

(14th edition, page xx).

The preface to the first edition of Elpis Israel is dated 1 January, 1850. Later in the book, Brother Thomas made an observation about the forces that would one day precipitate a war between Russia and Turkey:

“It is not to be supposed that the Autocrat (Russia) would attack the Porte (Turkey) without some provocation, real or pretended. It is therefore the mission of the Frogs … to bring about such a state of things as will involve the Autocrat and Sultan in war.”

(14th edition, page 419).

This expectation was vindicated a few years after it was penned. In 1853, Turkey declared war on Russia. She was supported by several allies including France and the United Kingdom. One of the pretexts for this war was a dispute between France and Russia concerning the privileges of Catholic and Orthodox monks in the holy places in Palestine, then under Turkish dominion. Conflict started in provinces near the mouth of the Danube, but the fiercest fighting took place in Crimea, hence it became known as the Crimean War. One hundred and fifty years later we find that the Holy Land remains at the heart of emerging tensions that will lead eventually to the battle of Armageddon. Perhaps even more surprisingly, we also find Crimea once again a source of tension between Russia and those we would expect to oppose her when she leads the northern confederacy in its invasion of Israel and the Middle East.

In 1869 Brother Thomas commented on this suggestion he had made twenty years before:

In 1850, I remarked, that (he cites the quote above and refers to the Crimean War)… it could not be proved that the sign was to spread itself over twenty years; though it might have been conjectured, that it would continue in manifestation until the thieflike coming of the Ancient of Days… My present conviction is, that the Frogs will continue to work even after the Ancient of Days comes, and until the gathering into Armageddon; and that their working is a Providential element of the means to be employed, in bringing the armies of the Dragon, the Beast, the Ten Horns and their False Prophets, into collision with the King of the Jews, and the kings of his rising

(Eureka, Volume 3, pages 563-565).

Destabilising forces

In light of these comments and the evident links between Ezekiel 38 and Revelation 16 and the events of the Sixth Vial it was interesting to note the following comment in a recent essay seeking to explain the culture that underpins the actions of Russia in its current dispute with Ukraine:

Just as many liberal Western democracies trace their histories of tolerance and a sharp separation of church and state back to the Enlightenment, so Russia still seems to be fighting the French Revolution, the political climax of that period. Russian conservatism has its roots in resistance to the modern momentum of individualistic liberation. There was never a Russian Edmund Burke to make a sophisticated plea for the powers of tradition and community over rationality as a guide to how to live. But there was always the Orthodox Church to bluntly dismiss reason as anathema. And for three and a half centuries there was a Tsar to rule by divine authority

(Lesley Chamberlain, “A different freedom”, Standpoint magazine, April 2014, reprinted in Australian Financial Review, 11 April 2014).

The Frog-like spirits continue to destabilise Russia, led as in Tsarist times by an unbending autocrat, and her neighbours. We may expect them to do so until after the thief-like advent of our Lord, as it will be those spirits that agitate Russia and other nations at the time of the end and “gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (Rev 16:14) at Armageddon.

Those who oppose the northern host

Recent events involving Russia and Ukraine are so exciting that there is a risk that we might miss other concurrent developments which also are consistent with the scenario painted in Ezekiel 38. In a recent article an Israeli journalist drew attention to strengthening ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia and other Arabian powers, nations that are the modern-day representatives of Sheba and Dedan who, along with the merchants of Tarshish, challenge the northern invader when Israel is attacked (Ezekiel 38: 13).

Writing in the April, 2014 issue of AIR (Australia-Israel Review), journalist Yehonathan Tommer, observed that Saudi Arabia and Israel appear to be forging a strategic alignment in response to emerging trends in the Middle East which threaten both states. He wrote:

Both countries place top priority on restoring stable governance to a region where state borders are crumbling, and where the revolutionary upheavals of the past three years have divided Arab societies religiously, politically, ethnically and nationally. Both countries view Iran’s clandestine program to acquire a nuclear military as an existential threat. Both countries are vulnerable to Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks from the militant anti-Western Shi’ite bloc (Iraq, Syria and Lebanon Hezbollah); and both countries are concerned that as the United States grows self-sufficient in domestic energy Washington’s commitments to underwriting the region’s order and stability is growing less certain. ❞

It seems entirely consistent with our long-held expectations of the prophetic plan that, as the Frog-like spirits destabilise the Middle East, the western powers would be becoming less inclined to intervene in Middle East conflicts at the same time that nations like Iran are acting in ways which Joel describes: “let the weak say, I am strong” (Joel 3:10). No wonder that Israel and Saudi Arabia, the nations with most to lose should conflict engulf the Middle East, are determined to take action to counteract these trends.

It is widely understood that in November, 2013, there was a secret meeting between the Saudi Deputy Defence Minister, Salman Bin-Sultan, and Israeli defence officials. It is also understood that the Saudis have agreed that Israeli jets may use Saudi airspace in any military strike it might launch to neutralise Iran’s nuclear installations. A number of commentators speculate that the Jerusalem-Riyadh axis is at the heart of a wider alliance involving Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates in the inner circle, with an outer circle which includes Jordan and Egypt. In other words, all the nations which prophecies such as Ezekiel 38 and Daniel 11 suggest will oppose the northern invader may well be aligning now.

Saudi Arabian proxies

Current tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran are most clearly evident in the proxy war they are waging in Syria. Iran is backing the regime of President Bashar al-Assad while the Saudis are backing moderate rebel opposition Islamist forces challenging the government in Damascus. Saudi Arabia has spent more than $13 billion on aid and arms for its allies in Syria in a bid to give them an edge over not just forces loyal to President al-Assad but also over the extreme fundamentalist groups in Syria backed by Al-Qaeda and other Jihadist militias. In Syria that is any number of players who could be described as the weak saying they are strong. It is significant that Russia also is up to its neck in the Syrian civil war, at present on the side of the al-Assad regime and therefore in opposition to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia was always worried by the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt following the ousting of President Mubarak. Since the 2013 military coup in Egypt, which overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime, the Saudis have provided more than $15 billion in economic aid and a further $5 billion in arms to help stabilise the regime of Army Chief Field Marshall Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi. It is interesting that one of the successes of the el- Sisi regime in Egypt has been a reduction in the terrorist activity of extremist groups that had been using the Sinai Peninsula as a haven; these groups were threatening both Israel and Saudi Arabia. The military regime in Egypt has also reduced Egypt’s support for the Hamas-led administration in the Gaza Strip, thus hampering the efforts of Palestinian terrorists to attack Israel from Gaza.

We may take heart from recent events that the alliances that we would expect to exist at the time of the end are coming together. Being so encouraged, these signs ought to have a moral impact on our lives as we prepare for the return of our Master. As Brother Thomas wrote in the Author’s Preface to Elpis Israel when speaking of the day when these signs would be evident: “The long-expected, but stealthy, advent of the King of Israel will be on the eve of becoming a fact; and salvation will be to those who not only looked for it, but have trimmed their lamps by believing the gospel of the kingdom unto the obedience of faith, and the perfection thereof in “fruits meet for repentance”. The question each of us must ask is “are we ready”?