Since the rise of the power of ISIS, Bible students have been pondering if the Bible hints at the rise of such a power in the Middle East before the return of Christ. Will this group be a small stepping stone in order to gather the nations to Armageddon? Or is there a larger part for ISIS to play? Time of course, will be the interpreter. However it is interesting to consider some of the Bible prophecies which could link to the rise of ISIS and how this could bring about the great crisis of events in the latter days that prelude the manifestation of the Lord Jesus Christ to the world.
Who are ISIS?
ISIS are a group of Sunni Muslim militia fighting to establish a Caliphate in the area around Syria and Iraq. They believe in Shia law and that infidels should be destroyed. They are led by an Iraqi called Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and were originally an al-Qaida group in Iraq which joined in the Syrian civil war. They are incredibly violent and were so blood thirsty and brutal that even al-Qaida have now disavowed them.
Having gained control of territory in Syria and Iraq they are well armed obtaining weapons from the areas they have taken. They are also quite wealthy as they have in their possession oil refineries which are still operational.
So does this group have a part to play in the unfolding of events towards Armageddon? One cannot be 100% certain but there are some interesting things in our scriptures that this group could relate to.
Ezekiel 38 and the pending crisis
The first prophecy we want to consider is that of Ezekiel 38 which helps to set the scene of the great crisis soon to unfold onto the world stage. Here, we have a prophecy which is specified to take place "in the latter days" v16 and also v8. This time period is helpfully defined in the prophecy to leave us in no doubt that these are the days we live in - for it states in v8 that the prophecy is to do with "the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them." In other words the "latter days" is a period when the Jews have returned to their land.
The prophecy speaks of a great war which takes place against the people of Israel before God acts to save them (v18). The reason for this action is also stated by God "Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD" v23.
In the prophecy we read of two sets of nations. Unlike other prophecies which can be quite general, we are given the specific names of them. They are ancient names contemporary with Ezekiel though and so we have to look back into history to try and define what areas these ancient names now correspond to in modern times.
One set is headed up by a man called "Gog" v2. He is the "prince" of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal - all ancient names for the territory of Russia. Allied with Gog are also other nations: Persia (modern Iran), Ethiopia (modern day Sudan) and Libya of North Africa are mentioned in v5. In v6 we read of Gomer a nation of Western Europe out of which the Gauls came around the area of modern France. Also Togarmah which is the area of Armenia and Southern Turkey.
Therefore Bible students have long watched Russia as we expect to see it gathering its military might so that these events can take place. It has been exciting to watch the military reforms which are ongoing in Russia and the huge increase in military spending and development that Putin has instigated. The crisis in Crimea and in the Ukraine witness to the fact that Russia does have the stomach for conflict.
Its also been exciting to witness the recent alliance of Russia and Iran. A recent news article (dated 12th Nov 2014) in ICEJ was entitled “Russia sends west warning by signing nuclear deal with Iran”. The article began "In a development that stunned many observers in Israel and the West, Russia signed an agreement with Iran on Tuesday which could possible see the Islamic Republic enriching domestically produced fuel for its own nuclear reactors, undercutting Western efforts to discourage the practice.” This alliance between Russia and Iran is exactly in accordance with Bible prophecy and we can see Russia also allied with Libya and the Sudan.
The other set of nations we read of in verse 13 "Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof”. This set of nations challenges Gogs advance and so they are clearly not part of the alliance which Gog sets up. Sheba and Dedan are the ancient names of peoples in the Gulf. Tarshish is an ancient trading power which has been identified with Britain and her now independent colonies such as the USA (see Bible in the news Jan 18th 2013 http://www.bibleinthenews.com/Podcasts/355). It is interesting to note that it is these nations who are currently collaborating against ISIS under the leadership of the USA.
This week the Guardian reported on Wednesday: "US-led forces conduct 23 air strikes against Isis positions in Syria and Iraq”. Last week airstrikes had been carried out and it was thought in the media that the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, may have been killed. However in the news on 13th of November the BBC reported that Baghdadi was alive and had issued a message. In an article entitled “Islamic State: 'Baghdadi message' issued by jihadists” the report stated "The recording calls on IS supporters to "erupt volcanoes of jihad" across the world. He disparages opponents of IS as "Jews, Crusaders, apostates... [and] devils", and says the US and its allies "are terrified, weak and powerless”."
Not only are the US alliance against ISIS but so are the Russians. Last month the independant had an article entitled "Chechen Isis fighters under Omar al-Shishani threaten to take fight to Putin”. The article stated "Isis' Chechen military commander has threatened that Russia will be the group’s next target. Omar al-Shishani phoned his father back in Georgia’s Pankisi Gorge saying that he would have “revenge” on Vladimir Putin…”
On Monday 13th of October Al Arabiya had a news story entitled "ISIS’s Chechens pose a serious threat to Russia”.
Ezekiel 38 though does not mention another power, such as ISIS, in the middle east at the time of the invasion of Gog into Israel. We get the idea of two separate sets of nations and so this must be the state of things just before this invasion takes place. However we do seem to have a prophecy which indicates perhaps a that a third power will exist in the outworking of events that lead up to Ezekiel 38 taking place. That lead up to the outworking of events before God acts to save His people. This is the prophecy found in Numbers 24 and the words of the unwilling prophet Balaam.
ISIS and the prophecies of Balaam
The story of Balaam is an unusal one. It does not seem he was of God’s people of Israel but it does seem God was working with him, compelling him through inspiration to speak God’s words.
Balaam was invited by a Midian king - Balak, to curse Israel. However Balaam was unable to speak words of cursing as God only allowed him to utter words of blessing upon Israel. Amongst the things Balaam speaks of, is a set of propehcies about the surrounding nations of Israel which connect with the same time period we have looked at in Ezekiel 38 - the latter days.
In chapter 24 v 14 we read
"And now, behold, I (Balaam) go unto my people: come therefore, and I will advertise thee (Balak) what this people shall do to thy people in the latter days."
The prophet then utters a prophecy about various events connected with Balak's people. But in connection with what we have been looking at here he states:
"Alas, who shall live when God doeth this! And ships shall come from the coast of Chittim, and shall afflict Asshur, and shall afflict Eber, and he also shall perish for ever." Numbers 24:23-24
Now in this verse, as with most Bible prophecy about the latter days, ancient names of places are used. Chittim is an ancient name for Cyprus. Eber was the ancestor of the race of the Hebrews - Israel.
The name Assur is what is of most interest to us though. According to Smiths Bible Dictionary, Asshur, "was a great and powerful country lying on the Tigris, (Genesis 2:14) the capital of which was Nineveh. (Genesis 10:11) etc. It derived its name apparently from Asshur, the son of Shem, (Genesis 10:22) who in later times was worshipped by the Assyrians as their chief god.”
Map showing the location of Asshur and the ancient territory of Assyria.
In the Hebrew the word translated Asshur is the same word translated elsewhere as Assyria. Asshur is an actual city located 110km south of Mosul and 280 km north of Baghdad. It was one of the capital cities of Ancient Assyria and it’s remains are situated today on the Western bank of the river Tigris in modern day Iraq in the Al-Shirqat District.
Putting this together then, we can interpret the meaning of what God (through Balaam) has said would happen in the latter days:
"Alas, who shall live when God doeth this! And ships shall come from the coast of Cyprus, and shall afflict Assyria, and shall afflict Israel, and he also shall perish for ever." Numbers 24:23-24
The interesting thing is that here we have an invading force, taking Cyprus, afflicting Israel and Assyria. This invading force surely connects with Ezekiel 38 and the hords of Gog.
The ancient Assyrians held the territory between the Tigris and the Euphrates - the exact same territory that ISIS is dominating today. Do we have a reference here to ISIS as a power which sits on the territory of ancient Assyria? Are we being told that Russia will invade this territory before Gog has an “evil thought”(Ezek 38:10) to come against Israel? When Gog takes this territory of Assyria as this prophecy seems to indicate he will, he will then become the Assyria of the latter days and also the ‘King of the North’ of Daniel chapter 11.
Daniel 11 & the invasion with “many ships"
When we turn to Daniel chapter 11 we get more details given to us of these events .
"And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps. But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many. And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.” Dan 11:40-45
So we see here the same story. An invasion from the north - the invasion of Gog. "Many ships" we are told will be coming with him and this surely links in with the Numbers 24 prophecy as the island of Chittim or Cyprus in the Mediterranean becomes the naval base of the invasion of Israel and Asshur.
We also see here the invading force takes “the land of Egypt” which “shall not escape”. The question 'why would Russia invade Egypt' is one which we look forward to being answered if we are privileged to see events unfold. However perhaps this will also have a connection to ISIS somehow. This week, on Monday the 10th of November, the Guardian ran a report entitled "Egyptian jihadis pledge allegiance to Isis”. It stated:
"Egypt’s most active jihadi group, Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, has disclosed its allegiance to Islamic State, becoming one of the largest militant bodies to pledge loyalty to Isis outside its strongholds in Iraq and Syria. In a nine-minute audio recording released early on Monday, a spokesman for ABM said: “In accordance with the teachings of the Prophet, we announce our allegiance to the Caliphate, and call on Muslims everywhere to do the same.” The message attempted to justify its pledge by alluding to violations by the Egyptian state, which has cracked down on most forms of opposition over the last year, in particular in the region where ABM is based.”
It’s also interesting to note that this week that the Guardian reported on Monday 10th Nov 2014,"the leaders of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt signed an agreement in Cairo on Saturday to boost energy cooperation.” We all know how Russia likes to control the energy markets so this may be another reason for them sweeping down, as Daniel has prophesied to take take Cyprus and Egypt.
However we know this invasion will not be successful. In Numbers 24 we read that "he also shall perish for ever”. In Daniel 11 we read "yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.” and in Ezekiel 38 we read that "they shall know that I am the LORD”.
The just shall live by faith
We hope then that we have shown, that maybe, hidden in the pages of the scriptures for thousands of years the current situation we see in the world today, with an antagonistic power sitting on the territory of ancient Assyria, was foreseen by the prophets. Indeed the scene is being set for the great climax of events which will end with the visible intervention in human affairs by God Almighty through the work of His Son and saints.
This is the end picture we know will come to pass for we have the assurance of God himself through the wonderful promises He has caused in His mercy to be recorded in His holy scriptures.
"For the vision is yet for an appointed time, but at the end it shall speak, and not lie: though it tarry, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. Behold, his soul which is lifted up is not upright in him: but the just shall live by his faith.” Habbukuk 2:3
Indeed the signs abound as we look up from our Bibles. Let us therefore live by our faith in humble service to God and not lift up ourselves in pride.
This has been Matt Davies. Join us again next week for another 'Bible In The News' God willing.