Power Alignments for the End of the Age
(A New East/West Standoff for a New Century)
Throughout the second half of the 20th Century the paradigm, or model that defined 'how the world worked' was the great East/West alignment based on ideology; the Communist, Authoritarian East versus the Capitalist, Democratic West. Now, in the 21st Century, current events are beginning to suggest the evolution of a new East/West alignment, but one based on Muslim culture and religion.
It is an alignment lifted from the Bible, if not in the details, then in the larger scope of End Times prophecy.
As America withdraws from its Middle East entanglements, the Shiia Muslims of Iraq, with the help of Iran (a largely Shiia Muslim nation) are beginning to consolidate their hold on Southern Iraq and on Baghdad. The Shiias may eventually suppress the Iraqi Kurds (who are largely Sunnis) in the North with Iranian and Turkish help (as both these nations have large Kurdish populations and fear Kurdish independence in Northern Iraq). The Sunni Muslims of Western Iraq may hold out against the Shiia with Syrian, Jordanian and Saudi Arabian help (all three are predominately Sunni). It is quite conceivable that the Sunnis of Lebanon and Syria may suppress the Shiias of Southern Lebanon, with the help of Israel.
Shiia Iraq and Iran, together with Turkey, may then square off with Sunni Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Israel may then make peace with, and support, the Sunni coalition. Russia will most likely ally itself with the Shiia Iraq – Iran – Turkey coalition (it currently has good relations with Iran and is developing relations with Turkey). Egypt, Libya and Sudan remain on the periphery, but may eventually align with the Shiia Iraq – Iran – Turkey coalition, as a counterweight to the Sunni coalition. The European Union, to counterbalance Russian influence in the Middle East, would most likely back the Sunni coalition.
Below is a map suggesting how this could work out:
The Gog/Magog War
(All roads lead to Jerusalem)
The Book of Revelation tells us how the Seven Year Tribulation will unfold; but other books of the Bible record the short and brutal war that rockets the antichrist to the heights of world domination. The details of this war are found primarily in two sources: the Old Testament Books of Ezekiel and Daniel.
Both Ezekiel and Daniel were Israelites living at the time of the Babylonian captivity. This was a very hard time in the history of Israel, a time when the nation had drifted far from obedience to God. He had continually warned them of the pending consequences of their disobedience, and He continually pleaded with the Israelites to return to their proper relationship of trust in, and obedience to, Him. To these ends, God sent them prophets, who warned the Israelites of their folly and encouraged them to decide rightly to return to Him. When they refused and suffered the consequences of their rebellion (all of which they brought upon themselves) the prophets comforted them in their captivity, gave them encouragement that their sufferings would one day end, and declared that the Israelites would again inhabit the land God had given their ancestors. Ezekiel and Daniel were two of these prophets.
In the Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 38 and 39, the prophet recorded a prophecy of a great (but brief) war waged against Israel at the end of the age, when Israel is again restored and its enemies once more seek its destruction. That this war occurs at the end of the age is implied by two things: this war is like no other in history regarding the mix and scale of forces arrayed against Israel, and it occurs at a time when Israel lives within its borders in seeming peace and safety.
That Israel is again living within its ancient borders as an independent nation has been an 'official' fact since the Jewish people in Palestine declared their independence and sovereignty in 1948, a declaration quickly sanctioned by most nations shortly thereafter. But not all nations recognize Israel as a legitimate state, and at no time since its reestablishment has Israel known peace. At this writing Israel is surrounded by nations that seek its destruction – it is quite literally an armed camp with enemies at its gates. To secure the nation's continued existence Israel maintains military and civilian security forces on constant alert, fights a running battle with terrorists and its Palestinian neighbors, and builds walls along its borders to protect its citizens from attack. Peace for Israel is elusive; even Israel's attempts to surrender land for peace backfires, encouraging Israel's enemies to make greater demands on its territory, its sovereignty, and its security.
The prophet Ezekiel received a vision of a time in the future when Israel has returned to its homeland and is living in peace within its borders (Ezekiel, Chapter 38, verse 8). At that time, a great coalition of nations will conspire to attack Israel. The leader of this coalition is Gog, the ruler of the land Magog and the chief prince of the lands Meshech and Tubal. Other nations associated with Gog are identified as Gomer and Togarmah.
Bible scholars have tried to determine the identity of Gog and the locations of his kingdom and allied nations, but with little success. It seems the best anyone can determine is that these lands lie to the utmost north of Israel, perhaps in what is the modern nation of Turkey, the nations of the Caucasus region, Russia, Ukraine and Belarus (Ezekiel, Chapter 38, verse 6 and verse 15). Other nations who join Gog in his attack on Israel may be easier to identify. These include Persia (modern Iran) and Cush (the land of the Nile region, or Egypt and Sudan) and Put (North Africa, perhaps Libya), together with their allies (verse 5). And as I write these words, we may be seeing the beginning of the gatheri+ng of the nations that will comprise the Gog/Magog coalition.
Today a highly vocal advocate of Israel's destruction is Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who threatens to wipe Israel off the map even as his nation rushes to develop nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. A man who believes strongly in the Shi'ia Muslim equivalent of the End Times, in September of 2005 President Ahmadinejad ended a speech at the United Nations with the following words:
"O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, the pure and perfect human being, the one that will fill the world with justice and peace. O lord, include us among his companions, followers and those who serve his cause."
Address by H. E. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad President of the Islamic Republic of Iran before the Sixth Session of the United Nations General Assembly – New York 17 September 2005 www.un.org/webcast/ga/60/statements/iran050917eng.pdf
One could almost mistake this as a Christian's prayer to God for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. But it is not. President Ahmadinejad was appealing to Allah for the return of the Twelfth Imam, or the messiah that many Shi'ia Muslims anticipate will arrive at the end of the age during a period of widespread warfare and epidemics. According to Shi'ia beliefs, the Twelfth Imam will destroy Israel and establish Islam as the world's only religion. No doubt, President Ahmadinejad and many of his countrymen would prefer this be the Shi'ia version of Islam widely practiced in Iran, as opposed to the Sunni version widely practiced in the Arab nations of the Levant, Mesopotamia and Arabia.
Ancient Persia was master of empires long before the founding of Islam, and at times Persian kings ruled most of the Middle East. But in the seventh century A. D. the Arabs, united by a new religion (Islam), forged an empire of their own and eventually conquered Persia, and many Persians converted to Islam. Not long after Islam's founding differences of belief arose regarding the manner of succession of leadership and sources of religious authority, resulting in several schisms, the greatest of which was the Sunni/Shi'ia schism. Over the succeeding centuries the centers of Sunni Islam gravitated to Arabia (Saudi Arabia) and Anatolia (Turkey) and the centers of Shi'ia Islam gravitated to Southern Mesopotamia (Iraq) and Persia (Iran), setting the stage for a cultural tug of war between Sunni Arabs and Turks and Shi'ia Persians.
Persia (now Iran) for centuries sought to control what is today Southern Iraq with its large Shi'ia population, Shi'ia holy sites and prominent Shi'ia schools. From the seventeenth century the Ottoman Turks frustrated Persian ambitions in the region. In the nineteenth century British and Russian imperial ambitions in Central and Southern Asia kept the Iranians off balance. When the Ottoman and Russian Empires fell in the first decades of the twentieth century, lingering British influence and power in the region kept the Persians at bay. Throughout the last decades of the twentieth century Saddam Hussein and his secular Ba'athist regime in Iraq held the line against Iran.
In 1979 Iran was thrown into turmoil when Shi'ia fundamentalists overthrew the pro-Western, American-backed Shah and seized control of the government, a development that raised the prospect of a religious war between Shi'ias and Sunnis that would engulf the Middle East. The Iranian revolution gave Saddam Hussein an opportunity to settle old border disputes between Iraq and Iran, and in 1980 Iraqi armies invaded Iranian territory. After initial successes, the Iraqi invasion bogged down into a war of attrition. Fearing a possible Iranian victory and the prospect of Shi'ia fundamentalism spreading throughout the Middle East, the United States gave Saddam Hussein limited support against the Iranians, until the two sides negotiated an end to the war in 1988.
In the last decade of the twentieth century Ba'athist Iraq served as a brake on the spread of Shi'ia fundamentalism from Iran, as well as a growing Sunni fundamentalism (Wahhibism) originating in Saudi Arabia. The situation remained stable until America and its allies invaded Iraq in 2003, toppled Saddam, and promoted democracy in post-Saddam Iraq.
America had already invaded Afghanistan on Iran's eastern border and toppled the Taliban regime in the opening salvo of the war on terrorism. With America now on Iran's eastern and western borders, it seemed that yet another world power had arrived on the scene to frustrate Iranian ambitions to dominate the region. But in the 2005 Iraqi national elections the majority of Iraqis – who happen to be Shi'ias – established a Shi'ia dominated government. This generated much criticism for America and alarm among Sunni Arabs throughout the Middle East, who feared that Iraqi Shi'ias would align themselves, and their nation, with Shi'ia Iran.
Iran supports Shi'ia militias in Iraq (even as Saudi Arabia and Syria support Sunni militias), helping to fan the flames of the sectarian conflict as Iraq struggles to pull itself together in the post-Saddam era. Iran also supports Hezbollah and other Shi'ia-terrorists organizations in Southern Lebanon that continually threaten or attack Israel, most recently with large barrages of Iranian-made rockets and missiles – weapons of relatively short (but increasing) range and tipped with conventional (non-nuclear) explosives – for now. All of this suggests that Iran's ancient appetite for empire has survived into the twenty-first century, fully whetted.
In contrast to the tensions between Sunni-Arabs and Shi'ia-Persians, Iran's relations with other nations on Ezekiel's list have proved to be mutually beneficial: Turkey, Russia and Pakistan, in particular, maintain good relations with Iran. Both Russia and Pakistan are instrumental in Iranian progress toward developing nuclear and missile technologies.
Another ongoing development in the region that might suggest a convergence of alliances among the nations comprising the Gog/Magog coalition is the issue of Kurdish independence. The Kurds are an ethnic group whose homeland includes Northern Iraq, Eastern Syria, Eastern Turkey and Western Iran. Since the fall of Saddam the Kurds have gained considerable autonomy in Iraq, fueling long suppressed desires among Kurds for independence and a nation of their own.
Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Iran have for decades acted to suppress Kurdish autonomy within their respective territories. An independent Kurdistan, carved out of Northern Iraq, would certainly fuel unrest among Kurds throughout the region and give Turkey and Iran common cause. If a Kurdish nation carved out of Northern Iraq and possibly Eastern Syria should become a part of the antichrist's kingdom (perhaps as one of the ten kings who will comprise the antichrist's confederacy) Turkey and Iran would have additional motivation to join forces.
But before the Gog/Magog coalition attacks Israel in the End Times, Israel must be living in peace in its own land. This is something that can only occur when Israel's peace is secured. God has always called upon Israel to trust Him for its security, but throughout its history Israel has trusted in treaties with other nations, to its downfall.
In the End Times, Israel will once again make a treaty with other nations (this time with the antichrist and his confederacy) to secure its peace. This will occur at the beginning of the Seven Year Tribulation, and Israel will think it has at long last achieved the peace it desires. But this peace will have dire consequences for the nation. The rise of the antichrist may seem an answer to regional instability – the arrival of a strong man who will somehow defuse the sectarian powder keg threatening to explode in the Middle East. But his success will be fleeting. Israel's treaty with the antichrist will tempt the nations beyond the antichrist's ten-nation confederacy to conspire against Israel. As noted previously, the antichrist's confederacy may include the predominantly Sunni Arab nations in the Levant, Mesopotamia and on the Arabian Peninsula. Turkey borders these nations to the north, Iran to the east, and Egypt and Sudan to the south. All of these nations will be principal members of the Gog/Magog coalition. The Gog/Magog attack could be triggered by the antichrist's peace treaty with Israel and Israel's rebuilding of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem – that, together with Kurdish independence and the on-going rivalry between Sunni Arabs and Shi'ia Persians for dominance of Islam and of the Middle East, could provide plenty of motivation.
What some call an insurgency in Iraq, and others call a civil war, is nothing less than the latest manifestation of a centuries-old intra-civilizational clash between Sunnis and Shi'ias, Arab and Persians, for dominance of Islam and the Middle East. The regional war that many see on the horizon between Sunnis and Shi'ias (and which today is building in war-torn Iraq) may be nothing other than the war envisioned by Ezekiel over 2,500 years ago.
It is sobering to think that America's decision to invade Iraq, and overthrow Saddam, could serve as a catalyst for this prophesied war. If this proves to be the case, the blowback (unintended consequences) of America's actions would literally be of Biblical proportions.
The Gog/Magog attack will take Israel and the antichrist, as well as the European Union and America, by surprise. This can be inferred from Ezekiel, Chapter 38, verse 13, which suggests that the merchants of Sheba, Dedan and Tarshish will question why Gog has attacked. Sheba and Dedan are names associated with ancient trading centers on the Arabian Peninsula. Tarshish is a name associated with the lands of the Western Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines, or modern-day Europe, and by extension America. The question's reference to who is attacked could apply equally to Israel and the antichrist's kingdom, as both at the time will be at peace.
But God will not be taken by surprise. He will intervene and destroy the bulk of the invading armies, destroying five-sixths of the forces attacking from the north in the mountains of Israel (Ezekiel, Chapter 39, verses 1 through 8). So great will be the destruction of the invading armies that the Israelis will require seven months to bury the dead (verses 11 through 16). As a consequence of God's intervention against Israel's enemies, many in Israel and around the world will begin to understand that He will always honor His covenant with Israel. They will also begin to realize that the relationship with Israel God had intended from the beginning will, in the end, be realized (verses 22 through 29).
Often in prophecy, the events in the visions of the prophet seem to be sequential, with no times or events between. Some have suggested this is a phenomenon similar to looking up at a near mountain peak and seeing the mountains beyond, without seeing the valley between. That may be the case here. The visions of the Gog/Magog attack and of God's intervention, and the vision of Israel's restoration to its proper relationship with God, when taken as a whole, appear directly connected when the prophecy is read alone.
But to read the vision by itself may be to read it out of context with the whole of the End Times prophesies. If the attack occurs at the beginning of the Seven Year Tribulation (when Israel has made its treaty with the antichrist and believes falsely that it is living in peace and safety) then there must be the times of trouble of those seven years yet to unfold before the final restoration of the nation which, according to prophecy, will occur after the end of the Tribulation period.
Scripture also suggests that the antichrist will play a part in the Gog/Magog war. This seems logical in that, at the time of the Gog/Magog attack, he has a treaty with Israel and his confederation and power base surrounds Israel. To attack Israel, the Gog/Magog coalition (which surrounds the antichrist's confederacy) must attack the antichrist. If this logic holds, then the antichrist must react. This may be the meaning of a prophecy about the antichrist recorded in the Book of Daniel.
In Daniel, Chapter 11, verses 40 through 44, the prophet records a vision of a war that the antichrist wages against his enemies. In this vision, he is attacked by Egypt (from the south) and by enemies to the north. The antichrist counterattacks to the south, defeating Egypt, Libya and Sudan (ancient Nubia). But before he can engage his enemies attacking from the north, he receives 'reports from the east and the north' that 'will alarm him' (verse 44). This news could be that the northern and eastern armies of the Gog/Magog coalition have already been destroyed. The prophecy ends with a suggestion that he will invade Israel, but there 'he will come to his end' (verse 45).
Again, here we may have a prophecy of events that are contracted, without a record of times and events between the news of the defeat of Israel's (and the antichrist's) enemies, the antichrist's invasion of Israel, and his ultimate destruction. Israel will think it is living in peace at the beginning of the Tribulation, having secured a treaty with the surrounding nations. But the antichrist will not break this treaty and invade Israel until three and a half years later, in the middle of the Tribulation, and he will not be destroyed until three and a half years after he breaks the treaty, at the end of the Tribulation.
The antichrist will claim, and most of the world (including most Israelis) will believe, that he is responsible for this miraculous victory. With the surrounding Gog/Magog coalition defeated and weakened, he will be the undisputed power in the Middle East and beyond. Most of the world will submit to his dominion out of fear and admiration for his (supposed) unequaled military strength and prowess. Yet how can this be? Is there a basis for this interpretation is scripture?
Much of End Times prophecy warns of false messiahs who will deceive many into thinking 'this is the one who will save humanity'. Jesus warned his first followers that these deceivers will appear in the End Times and fool many (Matthew, Chapter 24, verses 23 through 28; Mark, Chapter 13, verses 21 through 23). Later prophets also warned of this (II Thessalonians, Chapter 2, verses 1 through 12; Revelation, Chapter 19, verse 20).
A study of Christian, Jewish and Muslim End Times beliefs suggests how this could happen. Each of these faiths has different concepts of the End Times. There are also different beliefs about who and what the messiah will be, and what the messiah, or deliverer of mankind, will do, even within these faiths. It is no stretch of the imagination, or of interpretation, to suggest that the antichrist will indeed fool those who do not have correct understanding in these matters.
The warning is clear, and it is repeated throughout the Bible, that we must be vigilant and avail ourselves to correct understanding, or we allow ourselves to be deceived (2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2, verses 1 through 12). Unfortunately, too few bother themselves, or even care, to take the time or make the effort to learn the truth, but are satisfied to be fed lies by liars and imposters. This has been the case throughout history, even among the ancestors of the Jewish people who refused to recognize their Messiah in Jesus Christ and instead followed after false messiahs until the Romans destroyed their nation and scattered them as a people.
And how many messiahs-of-the day plagued the last century alone? Lenin, Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot and their like come to mind. The end result of this folly has always been the same and remains the same up to the present – confusion and destruction. It can only get worse as the End Times approach.
Green, Oliver B. Daniel: Verse by Verse Study (The Gospel Hour, Inc., South Carolina, 1968)
Haggith, David End-Time Prophecies of the Bible (Berkley Publishing Group, New York, 2000)
Harvey, Robert Global Disorder: How to Avoid a Fourth World War (Carroll & Graf Publisher, New York, 2003)
Lewis, Bernard The Middle East, A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years (Scribner, New York, 2003)
Unger, Merrill F. Unger's Bible Dictionary (Moody Press, Chicago, 1976)
Library of Congress, Country Studies http://rs6.loc.gov/frd/cs/ (Iraq, Iran)