This very short prophecy in the book of Jeremiah has been given scant attention over the years. Orthodox commentators have been content to trot out a few facts and figures but they have never truly come to a satisfying conclusion as to what it is actually talking about. A closer inspection allows us to see some exciting developments in the world today which show that God is working powerfully and mysteriously amongst the nations. Indeed they may have some relevance to the explosive events that have come to international notice late in June, 2014.
The terror group ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant or Islamic State in Iraq and al-Shām) have attacked Iraq and have captured the northern cities of Tell Afar, Mosul, and Tikrit. The Iraqi army basically cast off its uniform and ran away. The one part of Iraq that has really remained strong is the Kurdish Autonomous Region centred on Erbil. The Kurds have been pushing for an independent nation but all through the 20th century they have been unsuccessful. It appears with these latest events that their independence may be just around the corner. In reading this article you will see that this might be a fulfilment of the Prophecy concerning Elam that appears in Jeremiah chapter 49:39  [1]

“The word of the LORD that came to Jeremiah the prophet against Elam, in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, saying …”

This prophecy was given at the beginning of Zedekiah’s reign which was in 597 B.C.   To understand this prophecy, Elam has to be identified. However, what constituted Elam in ancient times is difficult to determine exactly. To the Assyrians and Babylonians it referred to any land controlled by the Elamite kings. This would be what is classified as ‘Greater Elam’. In the rock inscriptions the formula “Kingdom of Ansan and Susa” is seen, while in Archaemenid times the defi­nition covered a lesser area – namely any land ruled by Susa. Pliny the Elder in his book The Natural History in book 6, chapter 28 describes it as: “A district of Susiana, extending from the river Euleus on the west, to the Oratis on the east, deriving its name perhaps from the Elymæi, or Elymi, a warlike people found in the mountains of Greater Media.”

Given the things stated about Elam in this prophecy it would appear that there have to be inheritors of the Elamite name in our time. The prophecy carries through to the “last days”. This is   1 The NKJV of the Bible has been used in this article. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by per­mission. All rights reserved.   despite the fact that the ancient kingdom of Elymais disappeared in 221 AD.

The modern Kurds may well be the descendants of the Elamites of old. The history of the Kurds does show that they emerged from the ancient Elamites and Medes. Today many Kurds claim that modern Kurdistan which stretches from Turkey to Iran is derived from ancient Elam. They claim that “In Elam live only Kurds; Kurd-Lur and Kurd Faylis”. Other Kurds state that the Kurds are descendants of the ancient Medes which appears to be a con­tradiction. The truth is that both ideas are right. This becomes a possibility because the Medes and the Elamites lived adjacent to each other in the Zagros Mountains of Iran in ancient times. The Elamites supposedly lived in the southern part of the Zagros in the territory surrounding the city of Susa (Shushan) while the ancient Kurds lived just north of this region in the Zagros highlands. In Mesopotamian languages, Elam is said to mean “The Heights”. The word Elam probably derives from the Akkadian elû, “high.” In that case the Zagros highlands may well have been part of Elam.

kurdish_flagInterestingly, the modern Iranian province of Ilam is almost completely populated by Kurds. The population of its main city – Ilam City is predominantly Feyli Kurds. The absolute majority of the residents in the southern part of the Ilam province are also Kurds and speak Kurdish. There are also some tribes of Lurs (absolute minority and who are a sub-group of the Kurds) who live mostly in the southern and eastern parts of the province. So, in the southern part of the province, the main ethnicities are Kurds and Lurs respectively. The north is mostly inhabited by Kurdish tribes who speak two dialects: Kalhuri and Laki. The majority are Feyli Kurds.

Then there is Khuzestan – a province in Iran. Its territory in ancient times was part of what historians refer to as ancient Elam, whose capital was in Susa. Khuzestan is known for its ethnic di­versity. Significantly, half of its population is Lurs (a Kurdish group).

“Thus says the LORD of hosts: Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, the foremost of their might.” (Jeremiah 49:35)

This prediction tells us that God would destroy the military might of the Elamites. The expression “the bow of Elam” is appropriate because the Elamites of old used the bow in battle. They were famous as arch­ers. The prophecy of Isaiah (22:6) indicates this. The Roman historian Livy (1st century B.C.) spoke of how in 190 B.C. 4,000 mixed Cyrtii (i.e. Kurdish) slingers and Elymaean archers were among the forces gathered by Antiochus III for an invasion of Greece, which proved abortive. The historian Appian (2nd century A.D.) also described Elymaean archers as riding on swift camels and shooting arrows with dexterity from their high mounts.

A text in the Babylonian Chronicle records that in 596 BC, Nebuchadnezzar waged war against Elam. This battle was so decisive that the Elamites sued for peace and restored to Nebuchadnezzar the statue of the chief Babylonian god, Bel-Marduk. Some commentators suggest that this incursion fulfilled the words of Jeremiah 49:35.

However, historical records show that Elam did not cease to exist with that incursion. At the begin­ning of the Persian Empire Elam still had some sort of existence. Elam had been absorbed into Persia. as a province (Dan 8:2). On top of that, the available sources show that there existed in southwestern Persia, from the second century B.C. to the early third century A.D., a sometimes independent, occa­sionally vassal state of the Parthians, called Elymais.

The reference to Elamites in Acts chapter 2 backs up this notion. So we may conclude that most of the Elymaeans were probably descendants of the Elamites who had occupied these same territories in earlier centuries. We need to look elsewhere for fulfillment of the above words.

“Against Elam I will bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven” (Jeremiah 49:36)

We need not look any further for an explanation than the next sentence in the text. Here the figure of winds symbolizes armies – plural. It was not going to be a single army that was going to bring the Elamites to powerlessness. When the passage speaks of four winds it is indicating that armies from every direction were going to come against Elam. This indeed happened. Surprisingly though, it has been over a period of more than 2000 years. A series of conquests destroyed the people of Elam and their power. A close study of their history shows those conquests were brought about by:

  • Greeks (331 – 247BC)
  • Parthians (247BC – 221AD)
  • Sassanians (221 – 651AD)
  • Muslims (651 – 1219AD)
  • Mongols (1219 – 1335AD)
  • Timurids (1395 –1510AD)
  • Ottomans (1514 – 1860AD)

“And scatter them toward all those winds; there shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go.”

Many historians have looked for the scattering of the Elamites in the reign of Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BC and have therefore been very disappointed. They have admitted defeat and said things like, “There are no historical records of such exiles. Just accept that it probably happened.” A closer inspection of the text and the history of Elam show that there need not have been any such disappointment. The verse says that the scattering is a result of multiple invasions from different na­tions. The invasion by Nebuchadnezzar is only one such invasion.

The Elamites and the Kurds coexisted in the Zagros mountains in ancient times in what is termed ‘Greater Elam’. As the Bible makes no mention of the Kurds, only the Elamites, it is likely then that the Kurds are included under the Elamite name. It is said that historically the Faylee Kurds lived in Elam.

It is therefore fascinating to note that there exists a massive Kurdish diaspora. Today there is virtually no nation where there are not Kurds. This rings true with the prediction “There shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go.” Wikipedia lists over 50 nations where there are scattered Kurds today.

“For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies and before those who seek their life. I will bring disaster upon them, my fierce anger, says the LORD; and I will send the sword after them  until I have consumed them.” (Jer 49:37)

Over this 2000 year period the nation of Elam has taken many names and guises – for example Elymais, Susiana, and Khuzestan. In addition, the Kurds who appear to have in some way descended from Elamites have also had their own kingdoms from time to time.

The various invasions over a very long period brought disaster upon the inhabitants of Greater Elam. This became a reality at the hands of the Mongols and Tinurids. From 1219 to 1335, Mongols under Genghis Khan and then his grand­son, Hulegu, invaded the east of the Iranian pla­teau, reaching Palestine before they were stopped. Baghdad, the rich and fabled capital of the Abbasid caliphs, fell in 1258 to them. Their Middle Eastern Mongol Ilkhanate sustained itself for a century and then disintegrated and much of Khuzestan (part of greater Elam) was destroyed and left in ruins by their presence.

In 1393 Khuzestan was conquered by Tamerlane. Tamerlane conquered Baghdad and overran Mesopotamia. This Khan persecuted both Sunni Muslims and Christians and left mayhem every­where until his death in AD 1405. As Timurid rule decayed, Khuzestan was taken over by the Msha’sha’iya, a Shi’a millenarian sect who domi­nated the western region of the province from the middle of the 15th century to the 19th cen­tury. In 1510, Khuzestan was conquered by the Safavid dynasty. The province started being called Arabistan from this point on due to the increasing Arab population. At this time, the last vestige of Kurdish control of Elam and Susiana (Khuzestan) was occurring!

In the 10th and 11th centuries, several Kurdish principalities had emerged in the region: in the north, the Shaddadid (951–1174, in east Transcaucasia between the Kur and Araxes riv­ers) and the Rawadid (955–1221, centered in Tabriz and ruled all of Azarbaijan). In the east, the Hasanwayhid (959–1015, in Zagros between Shahrizor and Khuzistan) and the Annazid (990–1116, centered in Hulwan) and in the west, the Marwanid (990–1096, in south of Diyarbakır and north of Jazira).

In the course of the 16th to 19th centuries, however, vast portions of Kurdistan were systemati­cally devastated and large numbers of Kurds were deported to far corners of the Safavid and Ottoman empires. The magnitude of death and destruction wrought on Kurdistan unified its people in their call to rid the land of these foreign vandals. The lasting mutual suffering awakened in Kurds a strong nationalism that called for a unified Kurdish state and fostering of Kurdish culture and language. The Kurds in the meantime continued to struggle against the rule of Iran. The last Kurdish principal­ity was Ardalan. It kept its autonomy until 1865.

It would seem then that the words of verse Jeremiah 49:37 were finally fulfilled. There was no place on earth where descendants of ancient Elam ruled themselves. The work of the Mongols, the Timurids and the Ottomans had finally brought an end to Elamite (Kurdish) rule.

Jeremiah 49:38

“I will set my throne in Elam, and will destroy from there the king and the princes, says the LORD. “

In this verse God is speaking. It is referring to the idea that He is the one who controls who is king and who is not, as is stated in the quote, “The most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men”(Dan 4:17). Jeremiah is telling us that the time will come when God will no longer want any independent state for the Elamites. He will take charge of the descendants of the Elamites of old. The reason for this may be so that God can perform a miracle in the last days – namely create an Elamite kingdom and return the Kurds from their world-wide exile.

“But it shall come to pass in the latter days, I will bring back the captives of Elam, says the LORD.” (Jer 49:39)

It would seem that the clear intent of this is that the scattered descendants of Elam come back to an Elamite nation of some description. Some commentators say that this was fulfilled in the times of the Lagi and Seleucidæ, when the Elamites re­covered their freedom in the 3rd century BC. Others note that Elamites were present at Pentecost (Acts 2:9) and suggest this fact fulfills these words.

Some other commentators say that this refers to modern times and so they point to a prophecy like Jeremiah 25:25 which refers to “all the kings of Zimri, Elam and Media”. That prophecy concerns the last days and speaks of Christ’s campaign against the nations. It details the sequence of Christ’s campaigns against the nations at his return. The mention of the name “Elam” makes it clear that such a nation will exist in the last days. That idea is supported by another last days prophecy also mentioning Elam (Isa 11:11). The key verse there reads: “In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of his people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean.”

This prophecy is referring to the regathering of the Jews to their land by Jesus Christ but it may inadvertently point to a Kurdish restoration as well. The fact that Jews are returned from Elam tells us that an Elamite state may exist at the time of the second coming and be one friendly to Jews. This begs questions about the independence of the cur­rent Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq which is on friendly terms with Israel right now.

The Kurds, who we have worked out have claims to being derived from ancient Elam and who have been spread to every nation on earth, have an au­tonomous region in modern Iraq. However, since the 2nd Gulf War, it has almost become an indepen­dent state. The Kurdistan Regional Government has inaugurated a movement to distinguish itself from the rest of Iraq, entitled “Kurdistan – The Other Iraq”. It is quite possible that the KRG will become the Elam of the latter days. Given the closeness to the Lord’s return, it might actually be the case.

If this interpretation proves to be true, then there will be a substantial regathering of the Kurds from around the world back to the Middle East. This will be one of the grand miracles that usher in the Kingdom Age.

Simplified summary

Elam was destroyed gradually over 2000 years at the hands of the Greeks, Parthians, Sassanians, Muslims, Mongols, Timurids, and Ottomans. These invasions lead to the loss of self rule and lead to diaspora for the Kurdish people into most nations of the world. This diaspora will be reversed in the last days, presumably at the time of Christ’s return, after an independent Elam comes back into existence

Footnote

Events in June, 2014, have seen the terrorist group ISIS launch fearsome attacks on northern Iraq. Amid this descent into bloodshed in Iraq, the presi­dent of Iraq’s Kurdistan Region, Mr Barazani, has given the strongest indication yet that full Kurdish independence is a real possibility, so much so that the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has asked the international community, on the 29th June, to back the independence of Iraq’s Kurds.Vol20No5_web

[1] The NKJV of the Bible has been used in this article. Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by per­mission. All rights reserved.