“I have set watchmen upon thy walls, O Jerusalem, which shall never hold their peace day nor night … till he make Jerusalem a praise in the earth” Isaiah 62:6–7
Coalitions form, evolve, decay and reform all the time. Nations that are now firm friends and staunch allies have in the past been bitter enemies, and the reverse is true. The only thing constant is change.
Mortal men and women, whose lives are time-bound and relatively short, often misread the significance of political events because their perspective is too short-term. The God of Israel, Who inhabits eternity and Who knows the end from the beginning, is not time-bound; God’s perspective is not short-term; it is not even long-term: God’s perspective is eternal. Thus, when God prophesied in ancient times of alliances that would exist and events that would transpire at the time of the end He did not describe scenarios that would be immutable throughout history. Rather, He described events as they would be at a crucial juncture in time. Our interpretation of such prophecies, therefore, must be soundly based on the text and need not be troubled by the day-to-day vagaries of geo-politics.
Prove all things
After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment in the Middle East of not just a Jewish state but also of a multitude of independent Arab states, some wondered whether we needed to reassess the prophecies relating to the time of the end and place more emphasis on the Arabs and their hostility towards Israel. When the United Kingdom joined the European Community some pondered whether we should review our understanding of Tarshish and her place in the last days. After the fall of the Soviet Union some looked at Ezekiel 38 and wondered whether we needed to revise our understanding of Russia and its role at the time of the end.
Let it be said that it always is healthy to have questioning minds eager to seek new facts and develop new insights. Keen students of Elpis Israel and Eureka will know that Brother Thomas’ thinking on several aspects of prophecy evolved as time went on. Given our finite minds it is impossible that we will ever plumb the depths of all God has revealed through the prophets. But in the spirit of 1 Thessalonians 5:21, having proved all things we must hold fast that which is true. And as we survey the world at the close of 2010, we may conclude that there is little to suggest that our longstanding understanding of issues relating to Israel and the nations at the time of the end needs to be fundamentally revised.
In September direct peace talks resumed between Israel and the Palestinians. Around the globe there is broad consensus that the only viable basis for peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is the establishment of two independent states in the Holy Land. Even nations like the USA and Australia which are traditional supporters of Israel have strongly endorsed this position. This presupposes, however, that both sides are interested in peaceful co-existence and it is clear that this is not the case for a large proportion of Palestinians. After all, this is exactly the scenario that the Arabs rejected after it was endorsed by the United Nations in 1947. In spite of this, the nations of the world are intent on partitioning the land of Israel, apparently oblivious to the fact that this is identified in Joel 3:2 as a trigger for Armageddon: “I will also gather all nations, and will bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat, and will plead with them there for my people and for my heritage Israel, whom they have scattered among the nations, and parted my land.”
At the time of writing the peace talks were on a knife edge because of the expiration of a moratorium on building activity in Jewish settlements on the West Bank, including parts of Jerusalem conquered by Israel from Jordan in 1967. It remains to be seen whether such building activity becomes the pretext for the abandonment of the talks, but it is hard to see how any amount of talking could reconcile groups whose positions are so irreconcilable.
There is no reason to doubt Israel’s willingness to trade land for peace – it did so when it handed back the Sinai to Egypt and when it evacuated its settlements from the Gaza Strip. It is interesting in the light of Ezekiel’s reference to the “mountains of Israel” (Ezek 38:8) that Jewish settlements in mountainous parts of the West Bank (referred to as Judea and Samaria by the Jewish settlers) should be at the heart of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But even if agreement could be reached about those settlements and territory in the West Bank the talks seemed doomed to founder on Jerusalem, for it is hard to see how Israel could agree to relinquish sovereignty of the Jews’ holiest city. It is not surprising, therefore, that Jerusalem is presented in end-time prophecies such as Zechariah 12 and 14 as being at the centre of the conflict surrounding Armageddon.
But the world’s obsession with peace between Israel and the Palestinians may have distracted it from the fact that in reality this is no longer the main game in the Middle East. Truly Israel remains at the heart of the tension in that region, but Israel’s main protagonists are not her immediate neighbours. Ehud Ya’ari, Lafer International Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the Middle East, recently made this observation: “Basically, the Israeli-Arab conflict is no more. In many ways we are late in realising that it is being replaced by conflict between Israel and the non-Arab Muslim states of the region. Instead of a conflict between Israel and the core, the heartland of Arabism, the Levant, it’s a conflict between Israel and the periphery … Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia” (Australia Israel Review, August 2010, pages 19 and 20).
This observation is remarkable, because there was a time when Turkey, Iran and Ethiopia were all well-disposed towards Israel – Turkey as recently as only a few years ago. Yet today they are increasingly hostile towards the Jewish state. And of course Iran (Persia), Ethiopia and Turkey (Togarmah) are all mentioned as allies of Gog when he attacks Israel (Ezek 38:5–6).
A new king of the north?
Turkey, which for many years was a good friend of Israel and of the West generally, has in the past few years drawn back from Israel. She has also turned her back on Europe and moved her focus to the Middle East. In what commentators are describing as a Neo-Ottoman foreign policy, Turkey is embracing Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Hezbollah in Lebanon. She is also rebuilding ties with Syria and Iran, nations which she once regarded with suspicion, and developing what some observers have described as a ‘Northern Bloc’. The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, wrote a book in 2001 entitled Strategic Depth in which he called for Turkey’s increased engagement in the Middle East, Asia, Russia and the Balkans – in other words, he yearned for all the regions once under the Ottoman Empire to again be under Turkey’s sphere of influence. And Russia is courting exactly the same friends.
Earlier this year President Medvedev of Russia made the first ever visit of a Russian head of state to Syria to discuss the Middle East peace process, Iran’s nuclear program and arms trading between Russia and Syria, including the proposal to build a Russian naval base on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. Curiously, this visit was followed almost immediately by visits from the Foreign Ministers of Spain, France and Germany, the Gomer and Magog of Ezekiel 38 verses 2 and 6.
Israel has been unnerved by Russia’s courting of Syria and particularly by her willingness to sell arms to Syria. In typically aggressive fashion, Israel responded to this development by resuming arms sales to Georgia, with which Russia fought a brief war recently. Israel had scaled back this trade after the Russian-Georgian war in the hope of fostering more friendly ties with Russia. Obviously Israel has decided that there is no point in pursuing that policy.
Change in Tarshish
The election of a coalition government in the United Kingdom has brought some uncertainty. It seems clear, though, that it will remain relatively friendly towards Israel. What is interesting, however, has been a decision of the new government to strengthen ties with trading partners in the Commonwealth as a priority, marking a shift away from its economic reliance on Europe and the United States. In August, Britain’s Minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Lord David Howell, visited Australia to promote investment in the United Kingdom by Australian companies. Only two weeks before that visit the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, visited India (the eastern Tarshish) with a delegation of six Cabinet Ministers to promote trade between the two nations.
Differences between the Conservative Party and the Liberal-Democrats over Britain’s involvement in Europe may mean that little is done either to strengthen or weaken European ties, but the efforts to strengthen ties with the Commonwealth will certainly redress the balance and move Britain closer to the position we might expect to see at the time of the end.
Hold fast that which is good
In the days before our Lord finally returns we might yet see unexpected alliances, unanticipated events and unlikely scenarios develop but, as in the past, this will not mean that our broad understanding of the prophetic plan needs revision. In any event, it is certain that we will be gathered to the judgment seat of our Lord Jesus Christ long before the final alignment of the nations in preparation for Armageddon is manifested. All that we see at present, however, suggests that events being shaped by the angels are broadly in conformity with the picture of the last days revealed by the prophets. “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”.