At the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea lies a land endowed with nature’s richest gifts. Fertile and well-watered, it enjoys a congenial climate. Breathtakingly scenic in places, it could support a vast population with ease. Several fine harbours dot her shore and since ancient times she has enjoyed a pre-eminent position for international trade. It is not surprising, therefore, that one of the great trading powers of antiquity, the Phoenicians, sprang from this land. The land is Lebanon.

The name of the land is taken from the mountain range running north-south parallel to the coast. Lebanon means ‘white, snowy’; the peaks of the Lebanon range frequently are snow-capped. This range and another that parallels it further inland, the Anti-Lebanon range, are responsible for much of the beauty and natural fertility of the land.

Scripture makes several incidental references to the fertility of Lebanon. Isaiah 40:16 portrays Lebanon as a land of plenty—well-wooded and abundant in livestock. In Jeremiah 22:6 Lebanon along with Gilead is used in a word picture to epitomise prosperity.

The natural glories to which the prophets alluded were still evident in the nineteenth century. WM Thomson visited Lebanon in the 1850s and 1860s and used rhetorical language to rhapsodise over its beauty: “How is it that you never told me in any of your letters that Beirut is such a beautiful place? I did; but you could not understand, and no wonder. Neither pen nor pencil can do justice to Beirut.”1 To the south of Beirut on the Lebanese coast lies Sidon, an area which also impressed Thomson: “But here we are upon the banks of this fine mountain stream, with the rich orchards of Sidon spread out before us. All this verdure depends upon the river, and should its fountains fail or be diverted, the whole fair scene would quickly vanish. But such a calamity is not likely to occur.”

In their Bible Cyclopaedia Lawson and Wilson paint a glowing picture of the Lebanon range: “Lebanon is not a barren mountain range, but it is well cultivated and well peopled. Corn of all kinds of pulse are grown on the summits of particular parts of the ridge. Its numerous streams and rivulets of excellent water diffuse on all sides, even in the most elevated regions, freshness and fertility. The soil of the declivities and hollows is excellent, and brings forth corn, oil and wine, which are reckoned among the best in Syria.3” (Until the mid-twentieth century Syria was a term that referred to all the area of Lebanon and Syria and, at times, Israel or Palestine.)

The economic prosperity of the ancient powers based in Lebanon is evident in the majestic ruins with which the land abounds, most notably at Baalbek. It is also obvious from Ezekiel’s description of the might and influence of Tyre in Ezekiel 27. The prophet even speaks of Tyre as the perfection of beauty (Ezekiel 27:3), a description that seems incredible today.

How did such a wonderfully blessed and prosperous land become a political and economic disaster so quickly? Will it always be such a mess? What does the future hold for Lebanon? And what might the current stirrings in that land mean for the future of the wider Middle East, in particular Israel? This article will suggest some answers to these questions.

French Influence

Around the world, wherever the French exercised considerable influence often there is found a legacy of instability. Lebanon is no exception. Until World War I Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire. In an article entitled “Sharon, the Middle East and the Sixth Vial” in The Lampstand in May–June 2001 (pages 126 to 128) I drew attention to the link implied by the Sixth Vial between the influence of the French and the break up of the Ottoman Empire. Lebanon is a particularly direct example of this.

Towards the end of World War I allied troops invaded Lebanon after they had conquered Palestine. After the war, when Britain was awarded a League of Nations mandate to administer Palestine, the French were given a similar mandate over Syria and Lebanon. To this day French remains the preferred language of the upper class in Lebanon and the French maintain an interest in Lebanese affairs.

Even under the Ottoman regime Beirut was a wealthy centre and home to affluent people from across the Middle East. Under French administration Beirut became a hub of commerce and trade. It was a centre for international finance and an outpost of western culture. Beirut was a highly desirable destination for much of the twentieth century.

In 1943 the French divided their mandate territory and created two new independent states— Syria and Lebanon. The Syrians never supported this split. Essentially artificial, this division has been a source of tension ever since; it is at the root of the political woes that have consumed Lebanon since the mid 1970s.

Although small, Lebanon is home to at least three distinct cultural or ethnic groups divided along religious lines. There are large numbers of Arab Christians, many of whom are members of the upper class. There is also a large Muslim community in Lebanon, most of who are quite poor. In addition, there is a sizable minority Druze community that exercises considerable influence.

Moslem Agitators

In the early 1970’s, after its expulsion from Jordan, the Palestinian leadership fled to Beirut, which was home to many thousands of Palestinian refugees. There the PLO established a government-in-exile and a state-within-a-state. The authority of the Lebanese government, which until this time had been largely dominated by the Christian community in Lebanon, was severely compromised as the PLO leaders effectively placed themselves beyond the control of Lebanese authorities. This emboldened the Muslim community, many of whom felt downtrodden by the Christians, and tension began to build in Lebanon.

The Syrian government, which had never accepted the legitimacy of an independent Lebanon, sent troops into Lebanon ostensibly to help to restore order, but in fact to bolster the influence of the Muslim faction while reasserting Syria’s right to dominate the affairs of Lebanon. Thirty years later Syrian troops remained in Lebanon and the Lebanese still exercised only a modicum of control over their affairs.

In 1979 the Shah of Persia was overthrown and an extremist Moslem regime took over in Iran. Virulently anti-western and especially anti-Israel, the Iranian authorities started to lend support to the Hizbullah terrorist organization active in southern Lebanon and the perpetrators of many terrorist attacks on Israel to their south. Syria has also been a strong supporter of Hizbullah.

Prior to the civil war the US enjoyed a very strong and positive relationship with Lebanon. This was when the nation was led mainly by the Christian minority that was pro-western in its outlook. As conditions deteriorated during the civil war, however, US interests in Lebanon came under increasing threat, culminating in a devastating terrorist attack on a US marine barracks in Beirut in the 1980’s, after which the Americans largely pulled out of Lebanon.

As conditions deteriorated in Lebanon, Israel invaded in 1982 in an attempt to bring a degree of stability to her northern border. The objective was to root out the terrorist infrastructure entrenched in the south of Lebanon. Although successful to some degree, Lebanon became a quagmire from which Israel found it difficult to escape. Eventually, under Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the Israelis withdrew from Lebanon in 2000. The Hizbullah claim credit for forcing Israel to withdraw and this perception has strengthened its position among the more radical Moslem elements in Lebanon.

A New Era for Lebanon?

On 14 February 2005 a former Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafik Hariri, was assassinated by a car bomb in the centre of Beirut. Forces loyal to Syria were widely suspected of being behind the outrage. At first this might have been seen as merely another atrocity in 30 years of violent upheaval. The attack, however, sparked a series of protests that quickly led to the downfall of the pro-Syrian Lebanese government and calls from the Christian, Druze and Sunni Moslem communities for Syria to pull out of Lebanon. Under intense pressure from the United States, the usually truculent President Assad of Syria subsequently announced that Syrian troops would withdraw from Lebanon, although he was ambivalent about committing to a detailed timetable and, of course, he avoided making any commitment about Lebanese security forces operating in the country.

Many media commentators responded to these developments by claiming that this was another manifestation of a new spirit sweeping across the Middle East, building on the relative success of recent elections in Iraq and the Palestinian territories and concessions towards democracy announced by the Egyptian government. Some saw in these events the promise of a new era of peace for the Middle East.

During March, however, Lebanese forces loyal to Syria struck back, and in particular the more radical Shia Moslems mounted counter-protests in support of Syria. It soon became obvious that this is a conflict between pro and anti-western forces for control of Lebanon. Which coalition of forces might triumph in the current tussle in Lebanon remains to be seen. Certainly there would seem to the best chance in thirty years of a truly independent Lebanese government taking office in Beirut. But will this mean that Israel might at last enjoy peace with one of its northern neighbours as it does with Jordan and Egypt?

A Pricking Brier

The Hizbullah has no interest in compromising with any regime that establishes itself in Beirut. It retains control of the region immediately to the north of Israel and it remains implacably opposed to Israel. A report in The Economist (26 February 2005) reported that Hizbullah’s deputy secretarygeneral, Sheikh Naim Kassem, “explained that the establishment of the Israel ‘entity’ was a mistake that could not be allowed to continue, and that although ‘Jewish Palestinians’ might remain in a liberated Palestine, those who came from abroad would have to return to their homelands. Destroying Israel is also the official policy of Iran, Hizbullah’s mentor, which with Syrian connivance has supplied the group with thousands of rockets and missiles, some of them capable of reaching deep inside Israel. … For Hizbullah and its sponsors in Tehran the idea of disarming it is almost unthinkable.”

Isaiah 33:9 speaks of Lebanon as being ashamed (“shrivels in shame” jb phill ips) at the time of the end. This surely suggests a nation that at the very least is unstable. Joel 3:4 identifies southern Lebanon as an area from which hostility is directed against Israel at the time of the Gogian invasion. Ezekiel 28:21–24 describes the judgments of God upon southern Lebanon at the time of the end. These judgments mark the final elimination of “pricking briers” and “grievous thorns” (verse 24) that torment Israel. This seems to suggest that whatever might happen in the short-term in Lebanon, at the time of the end at least southern Lebanon will be controlled by forces hostile to Israel. It will be interesting to monitor events in Lebanon over the next few months and to note in particular the extent to which any regime that establishes itself in Beirut is able to exercise control over the south of the country.

Lebanon’s Glorious Future

Lebanon’s recent past has been so lamentable and its short-term future remains uncertain, but the longterm future of the land is glorious. In Deuteronomy 1:7–8 Lebanon is promised by God (through Moses) to the Israelites. In the days of Joshua the Israelites were unable to secure Lebanon (Joshua 13:1–6), but that could not invalidate God’s promise.

When Christ returns Lebanon will be restored to a peaceful and fruitful state (Isaiah 29:17–24), no doubt largely because it is finally to be possessed by Israel. Israel is spoken of as returning from exile to inhabit Lebanon and Gilead in the Kingdom age (Zechariah 10:9–10). In Song of Solomon Christ and his glorified bride are presented as viewing the land from the peaks of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon ranges (4:8). A glorious future indeed awaits this troubled land, but in the interim we might expect much more turmoil and intrigue as competing forces of men, seeking to influence the future of the Middle East, vainly use this land as a pawn in games that really are focused on Israel and the Jews.

Death of an Emperor

“It’s like a funeral for an emperor.” Those were the words of an ABC reporter in Rome as he described the funeral rites for Pope John Paul II on 8 April. And he was right, for the man who died was more than just a high-ranking clergyman—he was the head of the Roman Catholic Church: he was widely acknowledged as the world’s most influential man of the last twenty-five years: he was a latter-day Roman Emperor.

Pope John Paul II ascended to the Papal throne in October 1978. Plucked from relative obscurity in Poland he became the first non-Italian pontiff in 455 years, the first Slavic Pope ever and the first Pope from a communist state. These three facts suggested that his pontificate might prove eventful. In fact it was momentous: Pope John Paul II was a major force in transforming Europe and the wider world. Working with conservative political forces in the west, dissidents behind the Iron Curtain like Lech Walensa, and the incredible intelligence network of the Roman Catholic Church in Eastern Europe, the Pope was able to foster the demise of communism and the Soviet Union. He was a major influence for the integration of Eastern and Western Europe to a degree never seen before.

I Sit a Queen, and am No Widow

Remarkably, John Paul II’s influence and power was no more evident than in his death. The Babylonish system is portrayed as saying in her heart, “I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow” (Rev 18:7). The world witnessed just such a statement in April when the Pope’s death brought an outstanding outpouring of public grief from the masses, but was quietly celebrated in the Vatican as an opportunity to underline the Church’s power and influence in the modern world.

Four kings, five queens, at least seventy presidents and prime ministers joined religious leaders from various faiths at the Pope’s funeral service in Rome. Not surprisingly, the leaders of many Roman Catholic dominated countries such as King Juan Carlos of Spain and President Chirac of France travelled to Rome for the funeral. They were joined by Royalty from Protestant kingdoms such as Britain’s Prince Charles and Denmark’s Queen Margrethe and even the Moslem King Abdullah of Jordan. At least 155 countries were formally represented at the funeral. “All nations have drunk of the wine of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her” (Rev 18:3).

Sworn enemies were brought together at the funeral service. President George Bush of the USA (accompanied by his two immediate predecessors) found himself in the same section of the audience as President Khatami of Iran—a nation he once described as part of an axis of evil. President Katsav of Israel shook hands with his Syrian counterpart President Assad both before and after the service and also met the Lebanese leader. The Palestinian leader also attended the funeral. What other event could have brought this group of leaders together? Will these meetings pass as a mere flash in the pan or will they trigger wide-ranging changes in the Middle East? Might they help to reduce tension and promote peace in the Middle East? Who can say, but it is possible that John Paul II’s influence even in death might be a tool in the hand of God for even more significant changes in world affairs, helping to align the nations for the events leading up to Armageddon.

The charisma of Pope John Paul II is a conundrum. Even when in his prime at the start of his reign he was not a captivating speaker. His statements in English (admittedly not his native tongue) were delivered in a halting monotone and rarely contained anything profound. His writings and official pronouncements were very conservative. His views on the role of women, birth control and sexuality were routinely derided in the West as being out-of-touch and irrelevant. At a political level also his advice often was ignored, such as when he appealed so forcefully to the United States and the United Kingdom not to invade Iraq.

Curiously, many of those people who chose to ignore his advice when he was alive were prominent in mourning his passing. Unprecedented numbers flocked to Rome to view the body and to mourn in other ways. Over 14,000 people, including both government and opposition political leaders, attended a memorial service for the Pope at the Adelaide Oval, and similar events were held around the world. Among these mourners must have been vast numbers who wilfully turned their back on “infallible” authoritative statements issued ex cathedra by the Pope. And they were joined by the Protestant President Bush and Prime Minister Blair even though they had snubbed his peace-making efforts. Respect in death for a man treated with such contempt in life is a sad indictment of the morality of the mourners, but it is also a testimony to the influence and significance of this man.

The Great

Already there are moves to designate the late Pope as “John Paul the Great”, an appellation awarded to only two other Popes in history. A man in Mexico has come forward claiming that Pope John Paul II was responsible for the miraculous healing of his cancer and there is hope that this might expedite John Paul’s canonisation as a Saint. But in reality John Paul II is no saint. In addition, rather than being great in any worthwhile sense he is in fact the “man of sin… the son of perdition” (2 Thess 2:3), and these moves to elevate John Paul II are entirely consistent with the description of the “man of sin” system.

The funeral rites that attracted so many to Saint Peter’s demonstrated that this system “exalts itself over all that is called God, or is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the Temple of God, shewing himself that he is God” (2 Thess 2:4). His alleged healing miracle notwithstanding (cp 2 Thess 2:9), John Paul’s true miracle is the way he has repackaged the Roman Catholic as a respected and pre-eminent power on the world stage. This is what makes this man great in the eyes of men. His successor has big shoes to fill; they are shoes that stride the world stage as one of the forces gathering the nations to Armageddon.