This is the Bible in the News with Paul Billington back at the desk this week looking at his Bible, as well as at what is happening out there making the news.
Well, while Iran continues to develop the nuclear capability, and while Palestinians in the Gaza Strip continue to fire their rockets into Israeli territory, those who seek to turn the Middle East into a peaceful haven of co-operation and smiles are planning a get-together in Annapolis--about an hour's drive out of Washington D.C. It is not yet quite clear who will attend, and who will not attend this conference. Nor is it quite clear how the sought-after peace agreement can be reached if Iran, Syria, Hamas won't come to the party. Anything can happen of course, and George Bush desperately needs a success of some kind before he has to leave office.
We are left pondering the words of the prophet Isaiah when he wrote: "The way of peace they know not..." The rest of the verse, Isaiah 59:8, also seems to be appropriate to these would-be peace makers. It reads: "The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace."
But what about the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 which tells us of Israel dwelling safely just prior to the great invasion of the country by Gog?
Israeli leader Ehud Olmert and Palestinian leader Abbas prepare for a peace conference at Annapolis in the United States. Will these two succeed where others have failed?
There are various ideas put forward about this of course. Some say that "safely" really means "confidently," and so that is as much as we should expect. Personally, I find that argument less than convincing. In fact, I would say that such a reading is being less than faithful to the rather obvious meaning of the text. The words of Ezekiel 38:11 are: "And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates."
Manipulate and stretch the words however you like--the plain sense of the passage does not describe the situation in Israel today. This is not just a lull in violence--it is "dwelling safely," and nothing less.
Other, rather poorly informed individuals try to convince us that this phase is now past--that Israel has been dwelling safely. In the first place that is untrue. In the second place the words of Ezekiel require this situation to be in place at the time of Gog's invasion. The words are (Ezekiel 38:14),
"IN THAT DAY when my people of Israel dwelleth safely shalt thou not know it? And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts..."
No, we just cannot escape the words of Ezekiel. Some form of peace--a "dwelling safely" must be in place when the northern power invades the Land. It is simply a matter of believing what the words say.
So, back to the planned Annapolis conference. Will this bring about Ezekiel's dwelling safely? As I said earlier, anything can happen--but not too many would see a real break-through coming out of Annapolis. And in any case, the proposed two-state solution that calls upon Israel to withdraw from the West Bank (that is the mountains of Israel) would not bring about the situation that Ezekiel describes. His picture is of Israel dwelling safely upon the mountains of Israel. They are to be dwelling "in the midst of the Land" (see verses 8 and 12; also chapter 39:2).
All the pieces in the puzzle must fit, and the agenda for Annapolis does not provide for this--At least, not as it stands.
Now we may look at all this and conclude that the requirements of Ezekiel's prophecy are impossible to achieve. That there is just no way that a peace agreement can be reached which leaves Israel dwelling safely, at rest, without walls, having neither bars nor gates, upon the mountains of Israel--which is the so-called West Bank! We may feel that this is just too much to believe.
Well, I suppose that that is the difference between belief and unbelief. It is not a matter interpretation--the words are very clear and very plain. They mean what they say.
But is it impossible that such a situation could come into being?
According to an article in the Jerusalem Post, the columnist Michael Freund says:
"In recent weeks, Knesset Member Rabbi Benny Elon of the National Union party has been promoting a novel approach, one that may just mark an important turning point in the debate over the country's future.
"Known as "the Israeli Initiative," the plan is elegantly simple without being simplistic. It tackles the underlying challenges of the region head on, and offers some of the new thinking that our political discourse so desperately needs.
"Elon's plan rests on three core principles: rehabilitation of Palestinian refugees, strategic partnership with Jordan, and Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria."
It is not that this plan IS the solution, but it does show us that such possibilities are not beyond the realm of reality. It is not impossible that the picture given to us by Ezekiel could yet emerge.
Other possible future events could bring about the situation in other ways. For us, we believe the Word of God and patiently await its fulfillment. Perhaps even after Christ has returned.
As we watch this development, along with many others, we invite you to join us again for further editions of The Bible in the News on Thursdays here on www.bibleinthenews.com or www.biblemagazine.com