Middle East Flames

A Feature Article by Jack Kelley

(For those of you who weren’t able to attend the Steeling The Mind conference in Denver on October 5th, here’s a written version of the presentation I gave there.)

Over the last few months I’ve wondered how much of what I’m about to say would still be prophecy by the time this conference started. But as of today it still is, so let’s begin.

Much of the discussion about Israel in the end times revolves around the battle of Ezekiel 38-39. So let me start by offering my opinion as to why Ezekiel’s prophecy is not on the verge of fulfillment and cannot be the next battle on Israel’s horizon.

I think three verses from Ezekiel 38 support my conclusion.

(Ezek. 38:8) After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.

(Ezek. 38:11)You will say, “I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars.”

(Ezek. 38:14)“Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it?”

This is not the case today. By no standard of measure can Israel be described as living in peace. They are surrounded by enemies sworn to their destruction. They are under constant threat of attack, and have had to build a giant wall along their border to protect themselves. On any given day they could wake up to sirens and a barrage of rockets, and instead of being times when they can relax with family and friends their holidays are especially dangerous. They know that the day they let down their guard could be the day their enemies strike. They learned this in the fall of 1973 when for one of the few times in their history they did let down their guard and were almost overrun. So what will it take for these three verses in Ezekiel to become effective?

For Israel to believe that they are living in peace and are not subject to attack first requires the belief that they have nothing to fear from their next door neighbors. These neighbors are currently being used by Israel’s greater enemies to keep Israel on the brink of war. They will have to be neutralized to create the illusion of peace.

 Zechariah 12-14 is a three chapter overview of the end times that begins with two statements that I think bear closer inspection in that regard.

(Zechariah 12:2) “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup of trembling that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling.” Note the phrase “surrounding peoples”.

Then in Zechariah 12:3 the Lord said, “On that day, when all the nations of the Earth are gathered against her I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all nations.” Note the phrase all the nations of the Earth.

I think even though these two verses are adjacent to one another in the text, they describe two seperate operations that are at least 7 years apart. First, the surrounding peoples will be sent reeling, and sometime after that all the nations of the Earth will come against Jerusalem. These two verses are not part of the same thought and don’t even belong in the same paragraph.

I think Zechariah 12:2 will set the stage for Ezekiel 38 and the beginning of Daniel’s 70th Week,  while Zechariah 12:3 will take place at the end of Daniel’s 70th Week, just before the Lord’s return.

Between these two verses there will be over seven years of almost continuous warfare in the Middle East. Time does not permit us to go into any kind of detail in describing this entire period so I’m going to concentrate on just two prophecies, Isaiah 17 and Psalm 83.

These two prophecies provide the commentary on Zechariah 12:2, the events that send the enemies surrounding Jerusalem reeling. They are also the two prophecies that are in the forefront of every one’s thinking tonight.

Isaiah 17

Most of us agree that Isaiah 17 was given as a prophecy for our time. But I think like several other end times prophecies it combines a partial historical fulfillment with a complete future fulfillment. When this kind of staged fulfillment is the case, the partial fulfillment confirms that the complete fulfillment will also happen. I don’t think God leaves anything half done.

Isaiah 9:6-7 is a good example of this.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders.  And he will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.  Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end.

He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.

The Child was born, the Son was given, and the titles you see here are used by many in reference to the Lord.  But He’s never run a government, we don’t have peace without end, and He never sat on David’s throne. However, the fact that the first part of the prophecy has been fulfilled is confirmation that eventually it will all be fulfilled.

So as we go through Isaiah 17 we’ll see parts of it that were fulfilled in history and parts that are still in the future.

Isaiah began his ministry in 740BC. He was a contemporary of Amos, Hosea, and Micah. He died in 681 BC when according to Jewish tradition he was sawed in half. Hebrews 11:36-37 seems to confirm this.

Speaking of the great men and women of faith, the writer said,

Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— (Hebrews 11:36-37)

In Matt. 23:37 Jesus complained about the way Israel treated God’s prophets and He was justified in doing so. By and large they were not treated well at all, and some were even executed. It was not an office to which a normal person would aspire. But only Isaiah was sawed in two.

Now let’s read Isaiah 17.

An Oracle Concerning Damascus:

(Isaiah 17:1-2) “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid.

Because of the language here it’s obvious this prophecy was only partially fulfilled when the Assyrians defeated the Arameans and overran their capital, Damascus, in 732 BC. This was only one of the times the city of Damascus has been conquered. Throughout its history Damascus has been conquered by the Israelites (1000 BC), the Assyrians (732 BC), the Babylonians (606 BC), the Persians (530 BC), the Greeks (330 BC), the Nabateans (85 BC), the Romans (63 BC), the Byzantines (634 AD), the Mamelukes (1250 AD) and the Ottoman Turks (1516 AD). But the city itself has always survived and is now claimed to be the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. Its current population is close to 2 million, yet Isaiah 17:1 indicates that it will one day cease to exist. So that part is definitely still prophecy.

Some believe the phrase “cities of Aroer” refers to an area east of the Jordan around the Arnon River, which flows from the east into the Dead Sea in southern Jordan. However, the Jewish Encyclopedia claims that this phrase is probably translated incorrectly  because the geographical distance from Damascus to the Arnon River is too great (over 300 miles).  While they say it’s possible that there may have been another Aroer near Damascus, it is more likely that the passage should be rendered “the cities thereof shall be deserted.” That makes more sense to me.

(Isaiah 17:3-5) The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus; the remnant of Aram will be like the glory of the Israelites,” declares the LORD Almighty. “In that day the glory of Jacob will fade; the fat of his body will waste away. It will be as when a reaper gathers the standing grain and harvests the grain with his arm- as when a man gleans heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim.

This segment speaks of the defeat of Aram in 732BC and the destruction of Samaria, the capitol of the Northern Kingdom, 10 years later (722 BC).  Damascus continued to exist as part of the Assyrian Empire and is still here today, but the ruins of Samaria have only recently been excavated out of the sandy soil of Israel.

The systematic relocation of the ruling class to various places in the Assyrian Empire is also in view here, symbolized by the fat of Jacob’s body wasting away.  This was standard Assyrian policy. Separating the leaders from their people reduced the likelihood of a subsequent rebellion among their conquered nations.   Jacob and Ephraim are alternate names for the Northern Kingdom.

(Isaiah 17:6) Yet some gleanings will remain, as when an olive tree is beaten, leaving two or three olives on the topmost branches, four or five on the fruitful boughs,” declares the LORD, the God of Israel.

Not all the people were dispersed.  Farmers were left behind to tend the crops and prepare the harvest for their new rulers. They were joined by refugees who were brought in from other parts of Assyria and their combined descendants were known as the Samaritans in the time of Jesus.

(A quick reading of 2 Chronicles 11:16 shows that all the faithful from the 10 northern tribes moved south at the time of the civil war that divided the nation after King Solomon’s death 150 years earlier.  From then on, all 12 tribes were represented in the Southern Kingdom of Judah, so the 10 tribes from the North weren’t totally lost.  The Lord has always preserved a believing remnant from all the Tribes of Israel.)

(Isaiah 17:7-9) In that day men will look to their Maker and turn their eyes to the Holy One of Israel. They will not look to the altars, the work of their hands, and they will have no regard for the Asherah poles and the incense altars their fingers have made. In that day their strong cities, which they left because of the Israelites, will be like places abandoned to thickets and undergrowth. And all will be desolation.

There is simply no reason to believe that the Assyrians turned to God following their conquest of Aram and Israel. And far from abandoning their cities because of the Israelites, it was the Israelites who were defeated and dispersed.

I think the phrase “because of the Israelites” tells us the yet future attack on Damascus that brings about it’s destruction and the abandonment of Syria’s strong cities will come from Israel, not some one else, and will result in the eventual return of the survivors to their God. To me this is a much more likely fulfillment than the attack that almost took place recently.

(Isaiah 17:10a) You have forgotten God your Savior; you have not remembered the Rock, your fortress.

Genesis 10:22-23 gives us some interesting insight on the spiritual condition of the men who were the patriarchs of the Assyrian and Aramean peoples. Lets have a look.

The sons of Shem: Elam, Ashur, Arphaxad, Lud and Aram. The sons of Aram: Uz, Hul, Gether and Meshek. (Genesis 10:22-23)

Asshur was father of the Assyrians, and his brother Aram was the father of the Arameans. As you see, They were both sons of Shem, one of Noah’s sons. They were born after the great flood. Aram’s son Uz is the traditional founder of Damascus. (The setting for Job, the Bible’s oldest book, is the Land of Uz.)

Being the direct offspring of Shem, the knowledge of God in the memories of these patriarchs cannot be questioned. It wasn’t that their descendants never knew Him, but that they had forgotten Him, abandoned Him in favor of the Canaanite gods of the region.

(Isaiah 17:10b-11) Therefore, though you set out the finest plants and plant imported vines, though on the day you set them out, you make them grow, and on the morning when you plant them, you bring them to bud, yet the harvest will be as nothing in the day of disease and incurable pain.

Currently Syria is almost totally Muslim.   Until they return to their Maker and Savior none of their plans and schemes will prosper in the long run, no matter how promising they seem at the beginning.

(Isaiah 17:12-14) Oh, the raging of many nations- they rage like the raging sea! Oh, the uproar of the peoples- they roar like the roaring of great waters! Although the peoples roar like the roar of surging waters, when he rebukes them they flee far away, driven before the wind like chaff on the hills, like tumbleweed before a gale. In the evening, sudden terror! Before the morning, they are gone! This is the portion of those who loot us, the lot of those who plunder us.

Having conquered most of the Middle East including the Arameans and the Northern Kingdom,  the Assyrians set their sights on the Southern Kingdom, Judah. In 701 BC Assyria’s King Sennacherib brought his armies almost literally to the gates of Jerusalem, so close his commanders were within speaking distance of the Jewish defenders.

Isaiah 37:36-37 Then the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies!

On the night before they were to attack, the Lord sent His angel into the Assyrian camp on Mt. Scopus to single handedly defeat the Assyrian army. Before dawn they had packed up and fled, ending 44 years of conquest. This time in Israel’s history so closely parallels the Jewish view of the End Times that Sennacherib is seen by them as a type of the anti-Christ, while Hezekiah, Judah’s King at the time, models the Messiah.

But notice that Isaiah speaks of many nations raging against God’s people, not just Assyria, leading us to see Sennacherib’s defeat as only a partial fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.

The phrase “rushing of many waters” is often used to describe the sound of loud voices and today many nations are stirred up.   The cry of anti-Israeli sentiment can be heard around the globe.  The various Middle East “peace” conferences have pretty much left Israel standing alone against all but irresistible pressure to negotiate away its very existence. Because of the current turmoil in Syria and the arrival of so many Muslim extremists there, the whole Middle East could soon erupt in flames.

Now we’ll look at the other commentary on Zechariah 12:2, and that’s Psalm 83

Psalm 83

As I said, I believe Israel’s next door neighbors have to be neutralized before Israel can become a peaceful unsuspecting nation. Therefore I don’t think the phrase “and the many nations with you” from Ezekiel 38:6 can be used to include them, as some commentators insist. They say this is a “catch-all” phrase that is meant to include Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Palestinians, Hamas, and others, but I don’t buy it for several reasons.

First, the names listed in Psalm 83 all have their counterparts in our time. Second, no battle like this has ever happened, and third, some of the very words written there have been publically proclaimed by Israel’s current enemies.

Asaph, the author of Psalm 83, was a Levite, and one of the chief musicians during the time of King David. (1 Chron. 16:5). Today we might call him a minister of music. 2 Chron. 29:30 tells us he was also a “seer”. That means he had visions of the future. The Hebrew word translated “seer” comes from a root that means “to prophesy”. This lends credence to the view that Psalm 83 is a prophecy, perhaps resulting from one of Asaph’s visions.

OK, let’s read Psalm 83.

(Psalm 83:1-4) O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still. See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish.  “Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more”

Sound familiar? These words are frequently contained in the speeches of Israel’s enemies today.

(Psalm 83:5-8) With one mind they plot together; they form an alliance against you- the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, of Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon and Amalek, Philistia, with the people of Tyre. Even Assyria has joined them to lend strength to the descendants of Lot.

The language is out of today’s headlines and the countries lined up against Israel in this Psalm inhabited the lands of Israel’s current neighbors.

Edom was in land called the an-Nafud desert today. It stretches across Northern Saudi Arabia, southern Jordan, southern Israel, and into the Sinai peninsula.

Moab and Ammon were part of today’s Jordan, represented by the Palestinians.

(The same process that led to the rebirth of Israel as the Jewish homeland also created Jordan as the Palestinian homeland. Today about 1/3 of the people living in Jordan identify themselves as Palestinians. Personally, I don’t believe that Jordan will be officially involved. But I don’t think the government will prevent their Palestinian population from joining the attack.)

Some have tried to link the Hagrites to Egypt, saying they were the descendants of Hagar.  Remember, she was the Egyptian slave woman Abraham and Sarah acquired there who became the mother of Ishmael.

Other scholars say the names “Hagrite” and “Ishmaelite” are synonymous. If so, this aligns them with the desert tribes of Ishmael rather than with Egypt and locates them in the desert east and south of Israel.

(It’s important to note that the desert people of today, called Bedouins, don’t owe their alegiance to any country and don’t recognize anyone’s borders. Lately they’ve aligned themselves with various Muslim groups, all opposed to both Israel and Egypt. In fact the Sinai Bedouins are currently at war with Egypt.)

Gebal (also called Byblos) and Tyre are cities that can still be found in present day Lebanon, home of Hezbollah.

The Amalekites lived in Israel’s southern desert and Philistia settled in Gaza on Israel’s southern border, where Hamas currently reigns.

Assyria pretty much surrounded Israel and the phrase “descendants of Lot” is another reference to Jordan.  Remember, Moab and Ammon were the sons of incestuous unions between Lot and his two daughters. They and their families settled in land the Lord gave them east of the Jordan River (Deut. 2:9), land that today is called Jordan.

So here we have all of Israel’s next door neighbors.

(Psalm 83:9-12) Do to them as you did to Midian, as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon, who perished at Endor and became like refuse on the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let us take possession of the pasturelands of God.”

Midian was defeated by a vastly outnumbered force under the command of Gideon. It was another case of the Lord turning Israel’s enemies against each other and causing them to defeat themselves. Judges 7 records this.

Jabin was a king of the Canaanites and Sisera was the commander of his army. The Lord lured the Canaanite army into a trap and the Israelites destroyed them. Judges 4 is the reference.

Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah, and Zalmunna were all leaders of the Midianite army who were executed by Gideon and the Israelites in Judges 7-8.

(Psalm 83:13-18) Make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm.

Cover their faces with shame so that men will seek your name, O LORD. May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace. Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.

Asaph can’t resist telling the Lord exactly how he’d like Israel’s enemies to be dealt with. His prayer was that Israel’s current enemies will be just as soundly defeated as were the Midianites and the Canaanites, their armies scattered and their leaders executed.

Should this be the case, Israel will become larger, not smaller, with the contention over the ownership of Gaza, the West bank and the Golan put to an end. Israel will become stronger, not weaker, its military reputation vastly enhanced. The divided land would be divided no more, and Jerusalem would remain a unified city. The controversial security fence could even come down, since the land borders on all three sides would be considered safe and the threat of terrorist attacks diminished. In most people’s minds 60 years of war will have finally ended. It will be the perfect opportunity for Israel to be lured into a false sense of security and become a peaceful and unsuspecting people living in a land of unwalled villages as our verses from Ezekiel 38 require. This is a critical condition that must be met prior to Ezekiel’s battle and the fulfillment of Psalm 83 would go a long way toward meeting it


The current negotiations underway in the Middle East may result in a temporary settlement, or they may not. Only time will tell. But one thing we can be sure of, these prophecies will be fulfilled, if not today then another day soon. Leaders and even nations may come and go but the Word of the Lord is eternal.

All the prophets agree that Israel is in for a terrible time in the years to come. Between now and the 2nd Coming, at least half a dozen wars will be fought for control of the only place on Earth God has claimed as his own (2 Chron. 6:5-6).

One of God’s Old testament names for the End Times judgments is “the time of Jacob’s trouble” It comes from Jeremiah 30:4-11. In verses 10-11 He said,

I am with you and will save you,’declares the Lord. ‘Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you,I will not completely destroy you. I will discipline you but only in due measure; I will not let you go entirely unpunished.’

Here we can see the dual purpose of the Great Tribulation; to completely destroy all the nations among which God scattered His people, and to discipline them in preparation for their coming Kingdom Age.

In Ezekiel 36:22 He said He isn’t going to save them because they deserve it, but because He promised to do so .

And in Jeremiah 31:35-36, He repeated that promise in the clearest possible terms.

This is what the Lord says, he who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars

to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar — the Lord Almighty is his name:

“Only if these decrees vanish from my sight,” declares the Lord, “will Israel ever cease being a nation before me.”

When all of the mid-East flames are extinguished and the smoke clears away there will still be a nation called Israel. The God of the Universe has proclaimed it. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah 10-05-13