When Empires Die: Thoughts on the Centennial of World War I

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When Empires Die was originally published June 28-July 28, 2014, as a six-part series.  The original six part format is accessible here.


Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie with their three children in 1910
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and Duchess Sophie with their three children in 1910

The world took a giant step toward death on June 28, 1914.  On that day a young atheist shot and killed a prominent Catholic and his wife in an obscure Southeast European city.  Within five years, four world empires were dismembered and two new ones arose in their place.  Within 40 years, three more global empires breathed their last as the new world system spawned in 1914 grew to maturity.  Today, one hundred years later, that world system wheezes with its own death rattle, soon to expire in the process of giving birth to yet another global system which may be the last – and worst – of its kind.

As a historian, a political scientist, a soldier, and an intelligence professional, I cannot let the centennial of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s assassination pass without pausing to remember what his life and death meant to the world.  The circumstances that brought the Archduke and his wife, the Duchess Sophie, to Sarajevo, Bosnia, are not difficult to explain, but to understand the significance of their deaths, both in their day and in ours, requires a detailed explanation.  If that explanation seems too focused on Europe, the simple reason is that Europe in 1914 ruled the entire world.  No nation outside Europe – neither ancient India, nor populous China, nor even the rising powers of America and Japan – was immune to events that shook the state system of the Continent.  If we are to know why the world went to war in 1914, we must look at the major players of that state system.  Only then can we begin to discern what happened to the world in the summer of 1914, and what is happening to the world now in the summer of 2014.

Iron and Clay

Franz Ferdinand was Crown Prince of Austria-Hungary, one of six European Great Powers that determined the fate of the globe.  At one time Austria commanded the attention of all Europe.  In 1772 Austria had joined with Russia and Prussia to begin slicing off pieces of Poland, a process that resulted in the disappearance of that nation from the map just over 20 years later.  That was in the same era Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Joseph Haydn painted in music the supremacy of Austrian culture.  Then came the French Revolution and the regicide of Louis XVI and his Austrian-born queen, Marie Antoinette.  Naturally Austria led the way in seeking retribution for this revolt against what was perceived as the God-given natural order, but a new reality dawned in the person of a diminutive revolutionary officer born on the island of Corsica.  Napoleon Bonaparte’s humiliation of Austria in the Battle of Austerlitz at the end of 1805 was the beginning of a century of geriatric woes for the House of Hapsburg.  Austria declined as the centrifugal forces of ethnic nationalism, together with the meteoric rise of the German Empire, eclipsed the ability of the House of Hapsburg to hold together the realm they had ruled for a 600 years.  In 1867 the Austrians were compelled to share power with the Hungarians, bringing into existence the Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary.  At best it was an uneasy power-sharing deal, a Band-Aid approach to balancing the aspirations of Hungarians, recalling their own proud national legacy, with the reality of centuries of Austrian dominance.  It was not long before Italians, Czechs, Poles, Croats, Slovenes, Slovaks, and Bosnians began to agitate for their own share of power.  By the turn of the 20th century, Austria-Hungary very much revealed that image of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream – not so much the head of gold, but the feet and toes of iron mixed with clay (Daniel 2).

"Dropping the Pilot" Kaiser Wilhelm II Dismisses Chancellor Bismarck Sir John Tenniel, 29 March 1890
Dropping the Pilot
Kaiser Wilhelm II dismisses Chancellor Bismarck
Sir John Tenniel, 29 March 1890

As Austria waned, another Power grew up in Central Europe.  In a series of wars from 1862 to 1872, “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck elevated the fortunes of the House of Hohenzollern, transforming the Kingdom of Prussia into the Empire of Germany.  Bismarck’s masterful manipulation of alliances and dynastic wars united much of German-speaking Europe, initially at the expense of Austria, and later as the senior power in German-Austrian cooperation.  Having won Germany’s central place on the continent, Bismarck concluded a bewildering series of overlapping (and sometimes conflicting) agreements with the other European Powers to ensure that place.  But then in 1890 a new king arose who did not know Bismarck.  Young Kaiser Wilhem II disagreed with the Chancellor’s assessment that Germany was a “sated power”.  Proclaiming that Germany would claim its own “place in the sun”, Wilhelm removed the elder statesmen and pursued policies more to his liking and that of the aggressive younger men who advised him.  Those policies brought greater prestige to Germany, but at the price of alarming France and Russia with the construction of the largest land army on the planet, and alarming Great Britain with a naval building program that threatened Britannia’s rule of the sea.  As for Bismarck’s carefully-constructed international order, it, too, came to resemble those feet of iron mixed with clay.

HMS Dreadnought The world's first battleship became the symbol of the naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain.
HMS Dreadnought
The world’s first battleship became the symbol of the naval arms race between Germany and Great Britain.

Germany’s rise came at the expense not only of Austria, but of the three Entente Powers:  Great Britain, France, and Russia.  After nearly a thousand years of conflict, Britain and France had emerged from the imperial struggles of the 18th century as the military, economic, and cultural leaders of the Great Powers.  Britain enjoyed supremacy at sea, as well as a small, but highly effective, army.  Powered by a well-entrenched commercial establishment, led by some of the greatest statesmen of history, and ruled by the wise and long-lived Queen Victoria (r. 1837-1901), Britain could boast by 1900 that its flag flew over one-fourth of the globe.  What the United Kingdom lacked in manpower was easily offset by calling on the multitudes of India, Egypt, and Africa, as well as the Commonwealth states of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.  With these strengths Great Britain served as the great balancer of Europe, siding first with one set of powers and then with another to ensure that none gained an insurmountable advantage.  And yet Britain had weaknesses, chief being its dependence on maritime trade.  When Germany threatened to challenge Britain for control of the sea lanes, the world’s first arms race occurred.  Both powers strove to out-build one another with more and larger battleships.  While Kaiser Wilhelm nourished a dream of building his empire into a sea power the equal of Britain, he failed to see that the very possibility of such a thing would ensure British enmity.

Napoleon III President of France 1848-1852 Emperor of France 1852-1870
Napoleon III
President of France 1848-1852
Emperor of France 1852-1870

There was nothing Germany could do to avoid the enmity of France.  The tribulation of the Napoleonic wars had left France at the mercy of the other Powers at the Congress of Vienna in 1815.  From the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789 to the defeat of Napoleon I, France had been the catalyst for the irrevocable changes in Europe.  And yet France remained an indispensable part of the European state system.  Loss of France as a Great Power would introduce an imbalance that could not be overcome.  For that reason, the Powers welcomed France back into the fold as an equal, albeit chastened, partner.  France became a monarchy again, at least initially.  The political history of France during the 19th century reflected the schizophrenic nature of the state.  Revolution came again in 1830, bringing a new monarchy, and then again in 1848, bringing a new Republic.  Just four years later, the president of that Second Republic, a nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte, became Emperor Napoleon III, sovereign of the Second French Empire.  Napoleon III aggressively – perhaps recklessly – pursued French territorial expansion overseas and influence in Europe.  His efforts set France on a course of acquisition second only to that of Great Britain, bringing the Tricolor to power over much of Africa, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and even Mexico.  It was French power that ensured the rebirth of a united Italy, and that checked the attempts of Russia to expand its influence over the Ottoman Empire and the Holy Land.  Yet French power was brittle:  an unstable mixture of autocratic monarchy blended with republican nationalism.  For all the appearance of strength, France was a hollow shell waiting only for some astute observer to notice that her emperor was naked.  Otto von Bismarck noticed, and in 1871 took action.  The Franco-Prussian War was a humiliating defeat for France.  It ended the Second French Empire, birthed the German Empire, and created a deep-seated demand for revenge.  Overcoming the disgrace and regaining the lost territories of Alsace and Lorraine consumed the consciousness of the men who established the Third French Republic.

The Third Republic found a willing ally in Russia.  Both were continental Powers who had experienced severe internal unrest, humiliation in wars with lesser-rated powers, and obstacles to their imperial ambitions, as well as a fear and distrust of the growing German threat.  Centuries of expansion toward the south and east had brought Russia to the shores of the Black Sea and the Pacific, and yet the empire of the Tsars still lagged behind the wealthy and technologically superior West.  In 1812 Russia became the graveyard of Napoleon’s famed Grande Armée, ensuring his defeat and Russia’s prominence in the restructuring of Europe.  For the rest of the 19th century Tsar Alexander I and his successors walked a tightrope.  One on hand they required a rod of iron to rule their far-flung empire, stretching from Central Europe to Korea.  Without that strong hand, Poles, Ukrainians, Cossacks, and other nationalities would rise up to demand their rights, and quite likely states of their own.  On the other hand, promoting nationalism at the expense of imperial rivals had its potential rewards.  Russia required access to capital and technology to turn its largely medieval empire into a modern force that equaled the highly advanced British, French, and Germans.  That, in turn, required a warm-water port with unhindered access to the world’s sea lanes.  Russia’s Pacific ports at Vladivostok and Port Arthur did not fit the bill, being nine time zones removed from Europe.  Neither did St. Petersburg, hemmed in on the easily-interdicted Baltic Sea.  That left the Black Sea, with Sevastopol on the Crimea as the premier Russian port.  Yet since the Ottoman Empire straddled the entrance to the Black Sea, the only way Russia could ensure unhindered access to the Mediterranean was by somehow neutralizing the Ottoman Turks.  Balkan nationalism provided the key.

Tsar Nicholas II and Family, 1913
Tsar Nicholas II and Family, 1913

France had unleashed the genie of revolution in 1789.  The French experiment in democracy spawned nationalist movements from Ireland to Greece, kindling the flames that eventually overwhelmed the old state system.  Like all the Great Powers, Russia sought to harness nationalism as a weapon.  Serbs, Bulgarians, and others found patrons in the Tsars, and before long Russia became the champion of a Pan-Slavism movement that sought to free the peoples of the Balkan Peninsula from centuries of Ottoman domination.  In 1878, these efforts succeeded in a war that pushed the Ottoman border back to the very walls of Constantinople (Istanbul) and won independence for Romania, Serbia, Montenegro, and Bulgaria.  However, Russia had gained too much, not only against the Ottomans, but also against the Austro-Hungarians.  The massive defeat left the Ottoman Empire vulnerable to disintegration, and Russia’s success encouraged the Slavic populations of Austria-Hungary to renew their efforts at national recognition.  The entire system teetered on the brink of disintegration until Chancellor Bismarck intervened, facilitating the Congress of Berlin in which the Great Powers adjusted Russia’s gains to a more manageable level.  Humiliated and stymied in the Balkans, Russia had nowhere else to turn.  Internal forces demanding changes to the oppressive and inefficient imperial order compelled Tsar Nicholas II to launch a disastrous war against Japan in 1904.  Russia’s loss catapulted both Japan and the United States into the ranks of the Great Powers – Japan because of the astounding demonstration of first-class military and naval might, and the United States as the diplomatic power who ended the Russo-Japanese War through mediation by President Theodore Roosevelt.  Checkmated again, Russia turned inward on itself, looking for an opportunity to repair its sagging prestige.

The opportunity would come in the Balkans, of course.  Nowhere else did Russia enjoy such esteem as in the capitals of Serbia and Bulgaria.  Those nations owed their independence to Russia, although in truth they might eventually have freed themselves as the Ottoman Empire sank into ever deeper disrepair.  Turkey was “The Sick Man of Europe”.  From its height in 1683, when Ottoman forces nearly captured Vienna, Turkey had fallen further and further into decline until, by 1878, it was truly on life support.  Like Russia, Turkey required foreign investment and technology to kick-start a medieval imperial system.  Unlike Russia, Turkey could not call upon a vast hinterland with easily-exploitable resources and untold millions of servants.  The Ottoman sultans simultaneously held the title of caliph, and thus had at least the nominal allegiance of all Muslims regardless of their nationality, but in reality the sultans wielded little power.  The Ottoman Turkish ruling class retained its privileged position at least in part thanks to Greek and Armenian public servants, as well as a military tradition featuring the much-feared Janissaries.  These tools of empire kept Turkey’s multiethnic empire functioning, albeit on life support.  Ironically, all of them were Christian in origin.  The Orthodox Greeks and Armenians merely continued in the roles their ancestors had played before 1453, when the Ottomans ended the thousand year legacy of the Byzantine Empire.  The Janissaries were Christian conscripts forcibly converted to Islam in service of the sultan, Turkey’s ruler.  All of them served the sultan more-or-less willingly as long as it was profitable.  For the Greeks, a war of independence beginning in 1821 ensured the end of their usefulness to the Ottoman state.  Greek independence in 1830 secured lasting animosity, manifested in atrocities and massacres on both sides and a series of wars up to and including the division of Cyprus in 1974.  At the same time, the Janissaries’ influence on the sultan ended rather abruptly.  Having dominated the government for centuries – even to the point of choosing the new sultan – the Janissaries became an obstacle to the reforms introduced in the reign of Sultan Mahmud II.  Consequently, the sultan and his advisors engineered a plan to eliminate the Janissaries, which they carried out rather brutally in 1826.  As for the Armenians, when their simmering nationalism threatened to erupt after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78, the Turks took ever harsher measures at suppressing them.  By 1915, with Turkey engulfed in World War, the Armenian final solution arrived.  Within two years, nearly a million and a half Armenians perished in the genocide perpetrated by the Turks and their Kurdish accomplices.

Sultan Mehmet VI Last ruler of the Ottoman Empire, 1918-1922
Sultan Mehmet VI
Last ruler of the Ottoman Empire, 1918-1922

But no amount of repression could save the Ottoman Empire from oblivion.  The only reason it survived as long as it did was so that the other Great Powers could enrich themselves from its decline, and because the Powers deemed the dissolution of the Ottoman realm as too difficult to manage.  For over a century the Powers sliced off pieces of Ottoman territory here and there:  France in Algeria and Lebanon, Britain in Egypt, Kuwait, and the Gulf States, Russia in the Caucasus, and Austria-Hungary in the Balkans.  Yet by 1900 the sultans stilled ruled the core Middle East.  Millions of Arabs, Kurds, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Yezidis, and others dwelt under Ottoman lordship from Gaza to Basra and from the Black Sea to the Gulf of Aden.  In the process of attempting to educate this diverse population, the Turks permitted Western missionaries to establish schools, such as the American University of Beirut.  These institutions had the unintended effect of transplanting the ideas of nationalism to the peoples of the empire, including the Arabs, Kurds, and Armenians.  Before long they, like the Balkan peoples, began to agitate for national self-determination.  As the 19th century drew to a close, another national voice was heard:  the Jews.  With the advent of the modern Zionist Movement under the leadership of Theodore Herzl and others, Jews began in the 1880s to flee the rising anti-Semitism of Europe and return to their hereditary homeland in what had by that time come to be called Palestine.

It would be another generation before the Jewish presence in Palestine became strong enough to reach toward statehood, but by 1900 the Balkan states were already viable and growing.  Late in 1912 they were strong enough to take matters into their own hands.  Serbia, Montenegro, Greece, and Bulgaria united in that year to wrest from Turkey almost all its remaining European possessions and assist Albania in gaining independence.  A dispute among the Balkan allies led to a second war in 1913 in which Turkey regained territory to what are now its present European borders.  By 1914, all of the Balkan states were relatively stable, except for one:  Bosnia.


II.  TOD UND VERKLÄRUNG (Death and Transfiguration)

Sarajevo:  Still a Smoldering Wick (Isaiah 42:1-4)

Europe on the Eve of World War I
Europe on the Eve of World War I

Bosnia-Herzegovina was and is something of an anomaly.  All the other peoples of the Balkans dwell in relatively homogenous regions.  With the exception of the Albanians and Greeks, all those other peoples are Slavs, akin by language and culture to the Russians.  By religion these Southern Slavs (or Yugoslavs) are either Roman Catholic (Croats and Slovenes) or Orthodox (Serbs, Montenegrins, Macedonians, and Bulgarians).  Islam claims the majority of Albanians and a large portion of Macedonians, although there are many Roman Catholics (including the revered Mother Theresa) and Orthodox Christians among the Albanian population.  Greeks, the other non-Slavic people, are also Orthodox Christians.  By 1914 most of these Balkan peoples had emerged from centuries of Ottoman domination with states for themselves.  Greece, Bulgaria, and Albania remain to this day largely within the borders they held a century ago.  Serbia incorporated Macedonia and was a close ally of Montenegro.  Croatia and Slovenia fell under the dominion of Austria-Hungary.

And then there was Bosnia.  For nearly 600 years Bosnia was a frontier between the shifting borders of the Islamic Ottoman Turks and the Catholic Austrians and Hungarians.  Those centuries brought many changes in population, resulting in a mixture of Catholic Croats, Orthodox Serbs, and Muslim Bosniaks.  All are Slavs, but while the Croats and Serbs in 1914 could look to Great Power patrons and protectors in Austria-Hungary and Russia, respectively, the Bosniaks as Muslims were essentially on their own – a reality that became all too apparent to the world when Yugoslavia disintegrated in the 1990s.

By that fateful summer of 1914, Bosnia had been under Austro-Hungarian occupation for 26 years, thanks to a decision of the Congress of Berlin that awarded administration of the region to Vienna.  In 1908 Austria-Hungary announced its intention to bring Bosnia permanently into the empire through formal annexation, an action that roused great anger among the Serbs and their Russian patrons.  Already a smoldering fuse of seething ethnic and religious tensions, Bosnia became an armed bomb ready to explode.  The Archduke Franz Ferdinand’s goodwill visit on June 28 to Sarajevo, Bosnia’s capital provided an opportunity the Bosnian Serbs could not ignore.  The assassination plot was concocted by the Black Hand, the Bosnian Serb secret organization that hoped to break Bosnia away from Vienna and join it with Serbia.  They had help, if not full cooperation and direction, from Serbian military intelligence officials.  The plan almost failed, but a chance turn of events and a wrong turn by the chauffer placed the Archduke’s car directly in front of one of the would-be assassins, Gavrilo Princip.  Seizing the opportunity, Princip jumped onto the car and fired two shots, killing both the Archduke and Archduchess in short order.


Conflicting War Plans:  Germany's Schlieffen Plan aimed at a quick conquest of France.  French plans for an offensive toward the Rhine aimed at regaining Alsace and Lorraine.
Conflicting War Plans: Germany’s Schlieffen Plan aimed at a quick conquest of France. French plans for an offensive toward the Rhine aimed at regaining Alsace and Lorraine.

What happened next was predictable.  There was no more room in the old state system to expand or let off steam.  The conflicting alliances left the actors with little choice if they were to preserve their national and imperial positions.  The best laid plans of mice and men quickly went astray and events took on a life of their own.  The Hapsburgs buried their heir apparent with full honors, and then pondered how to ensure this outrage received proper attention.  It seemed the main culprit was Serbia, which had provided assistance to Princip and his accomplices.  Retribution against Serbia could restore Vienna’s flagging prestige and provide another advantage over the Russians and Turks.  Germany willingly offered advice and assistance, seeing in the crisis an opportunity to settle scores with Russia and France simultaneously.  Indeed, the Germans had planned for almost a generation to wage war with both neighbors at once, seeing opportunity to defeat France quickly before turning on the much larger Russian Bear.  The German strategy was called the Schlieffen Plan, and the Kaiser’s army was itching to execute it.  At German urging, Austria-Hungary issued a humiliating ultimatum to Serbia on July 23, demanded a reply with full compliance within 48 hours, and began mobilizing its army.  The Serbian reply agreed to all but one of Vienna’s demands, but that one point of disagreement (refusing to allow Austro-Hungarian law enforcement officers to operate on Serbian territory) was enough to justify a declaration of war on July 28.  That same day Russia ordered a partial mobilization of its forces on the Austro-Hungarian border, but on July 30 Tsar Nicholas order a full mobilization.  Germany responded on August 1 with declaration of war on Russia, full mobilization, and initiation of the Schlieffen Plan to invade Russia’s ally, France.  Since that plan involved the transit of German troops through neutral Belgium, Germany demanded Belgium grant free passage of its armies on the way to France.  The Belgians refused.  Luxembourg did not even get the courtesy of an ultimatum.  The result was the same nevertheless:  Germans poured over the borders of both small states.  On August 3, in the midst of that process, Germany and France declared war on one another.  The violation of Belgian neutrality on August 4 prompted a declaration of war from Great Britain, bringing the last of the major Powers into the fray within one week.  Seeing great opportunity, Japan joined the Allied side on August 23 and soon gained control of Germany’s Asian colonies.  Thanks to German diplomatic initiatives and intrigue, Turkey entered the conflict when Russia declared war on the Ottoman Empire on November 4.

Two Powers remained aloof from the fray, but only temporarily.  In 1915, Italy cast its lot in with the Allies, opening a new front on Austria-Hungary’s Alpine frontier.  In 1917, after three years of neutrality, the United States finally succumbed, thanks to a German diplomatic blunder.  President Woodrow Wilson shared the sentiment of the American people that the war was a European problem, and therefore the United States should remain neutral.  Besides, Wilson was concerned with more immediate problems in America’s backyard:  unrest in Haiti, and civil war in Mexico, both of which required U.S. military intervention.  Germany hoped to keep America distracted, and Mexico offered an opportunity.  In January 1917, Foreign Secretary Arthur Zimmerman instructed Germany’s ambassador in Mexico to persuade the Mexican government to declare war on the United States, in return for which Germany would promise recovery of Mexico’s lost territory in Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona.  British intelligence intercepted the Zimmerman telegram and advised the Americans, prompting President Wilson’s request that Congress declare war on Germany.  With that declaration on April 4, 1917, the entire world truly was at war.

And Then the World Changed

"Death Is the Victor" Robert Lindneux Reproduced from the original painting in Forward-March!  The Photographic Record of America in the World War and the Post War Social Upheaval, Disabled American Veterans of the World War, Chicago, 1934
“Death Is the Victor”
Robert Lindneux
Reproduced from the original painting in Forward-March! The Photographic Record of America in the World War and the Post War Social Upheaval, Disabled American Veterans of the World War, Chicago, 1934

There is no need to delve into great detail on the worldwide military and naval actions of World War I, all of which are ably documented in print and in film.  The scale of the conflict does require some comment.  As immense as it was, the Great War to end all wars was eclipsed by its sequel, World War II.  Consider these statistics as a measure of the conflict:

  • On one single day, July 1, 1916, at the Battle of the Somme, Britain lost 60,000 men, about one-third of them killed.  On April 21, 1836, the Republic of Texas won its independence after a decisive victory over Mexico’s forces at San Jacinto.  The estimated population of Texas at the time, including Anglo-American Texians, Hispanic Tejanos, African-Americans, and American Indians, was 52,670.
  • Between 1915 and 1923, Turkey initiated a policy of genocide against the Armenian people, during which the commonly accepted estimates hold that 1,500,000 Armenian men, women, and children died through murder, starvation, dehydration, disease, and brutality.  The estimated population of San Antonio, Texas, in 2013 was 1,409,019.
  • For ten months, from February 21 to December 18, 1916, France and Germany fought the longest and largest battle of the war at Verdun.  Recent estimates place the number of casualties at 714,231 (377,231 French; 337,000 German), of whom 299,000 were killed (156,000 French; 143,000 German).  On an average weekday in July 2013, the Washington, DC, Metro carried 758,489 passengers to their destinations.
  • The abortive Gallipoli Campaign of April 25, 1915 to January 9, 1916, is still remembered in Australia and New Zealand on ANZAC Day (April 25), honoring the thousands of fallen from those nations.  Total killed and wounded on all sides are 343,955 (180,305 Allied; 164,650 Turkish), of whom 113, 350 were killed (56,707 Allied; 56,643 Turkish).  Great Britain, Australia, and New Zealand contributed the bulk of the Allied forces at Gallipoli.  Today the combined strength of their armies, active and reserve, is 313,361.  Turkey’s army today numbers 290,000.
  • Total casualties during four years of war, both military and civilian, numbered 37,000,000, of whom nearly 17,000,000 were killed (10,000,000 military; 7,000,000 civilian).  From 1973 to 2013, an estimated 54,559,615 unborn children have lost their lives in the United States through abortion.

The stark figures of killed and wounded do not take into account the millions upon millions of others who survived somehow, and yet remained forever changed.  An entire generation of young men left wives, sweethearts, and parents, never to be seen again.  How many Hemingways, Churchills, Tolkiens, and Remarques were among them?  How many, like Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini, translated their war experience into visions of glory for their nations – at the price of yet more suffering and death for untold millions?  How many forever lost home, livelihood, nationality, and identity in the displacements of war and its aftermath of political adjustment?  How many endured the remainder of their lives bearing the scars of bayonet, bullet, shell fragment, gas, rape, brutality, malnutrition, and debilitating disease?  And how much of the world’s wealth disappeared into the bottomless pit of war, famine, death, and the beasts of the earth?

There is no way to calculate this human cost.  All we can do is calculate the means by which that cost mounted higher and higher.  Armies and navies embarked on the Great War equipped with essentially the same complements of arms they had carried for the previous century, albeit with considerable technological improvement.  By war’s end these forces had added to their arsenal aircraft, submarines, tanks, poison gas, aerial bombardment, railroad artillery, motor transport, and massive government bureaucracies to manage the business of war.  The combatants impoverished one another, mortgaging their national fortunes for the hope of victory.  For Britain and France it was a reasonably safe exchange:  in 1914 they were lender nations; by 1918 they were in debt to the United States.

Europe After World War I
Europe After World War I

Germany lost its economy for a generation, not only through its own war expenses, but through the exorbitant reparations demanded by the allied powers in the Treaty of Versailles.  By the terms of that treaty the German Empire ceased to exist, its overseas colonies given to Great Britain, France, South Africa, Portugal, Japan, and Australia.  The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine reverted to France, and Germany’s Rhineland became a demilitarized zone.  Even more humiliating, the vaunted German Army was limited to a mere 100,000 men, and the Kaiser’s prized Navy was interned at Scapa Flow in Scotland.  Rather than endure that shame, most of the German crews scuttled their ships in June 1919.

The Big Four at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919.  Left to right:  Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (United States).
The Big Four at the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. Left to right: Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (United States).

Yet Germany came off better than other empires; at least it survived largely intact.  That was more than the Russians, Austrians, and Turks could say.  When the Allied Powers met at Versailles in 1919 to reconstruct the world, they had a framework at their disposal:  President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points.  At the heart of Wilson’s plan was a call for establishment of states for ethnic nationalities.  In other words, the Fourteen Points placed nationalism over imperialism as the means for organizing nation-states.  Wilson also set forth his vision for an international body to mediate disputes among nations and prevent further war.  That body, the League of Nations, came into existence in 1919 at the conclusion of the Treaty of Versailles, yet ironically without U.S. participation.  After making a decisive contribution to the defeat of Germany, Americans were ready to return to their comparative isolation and leave the other Powers to administer the world.  The United States never ratified the Treaty of Versailles, never joined the League of Nations, and never took up the protection of ethnic nationalities (the Armenians in particular) which the world asked Washington to embrace.  The League of Nations and the postwar world order, being flawed and weakened from the outset, had no hope of dealing with the forces unleashed by the Great War.

Those forces began to manifest even before the war ended.  The stress of war proved unendurable for Russia.  In February 1917 a revolution overthrew the Tsar and established a provisional government, which was itself overthrown by the Bolshevik Revolution in October of the same year.  After concluding a separate peace with Germany, Russia proceeded to tear itself apart in a civil war that lasted until 1922.  Thereafter the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics attempted to carry out the utopian vision of Karl Marx, as modified by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin.  Millions more died in the process, through war, purges, exile to Siberia, starvation, and disease.  Somewhere in the process, Poland, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Ukraine gained their independence, although Ukraine became incorporated into the Soviet Union as soon as the Bolsheviks were able to consolidate their power.  The Baltic States suffered the same fate in 1939, the year Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany agreed on a new partition of Poland that began World War II.  Ukraine and the three Baltic republics would not see independence again until 1991, when the Soviet Union followed the Russian Empire into oblivion.

Unlike Russia’s empire, which died loudly and painfully, the Austro-Hungarian Empire faded away with barely a whimper.  The exhausted House of Hapsburg had little hope of standing any longer against the overwhelming forces of nationalism.  Bereft of empire, Austria and Hungary shrank to their current borders, leaving in their wake the new states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, an enlarged Romania, and a reborn Poland.  Polish independence was itself something of a miracle.  Since its disappearance from the community of nations in 1795, no one saw any possibility of reassembling the Polish as long as its pieces remained under the domination of Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary.  The death of those empires in the Great War introduced a new reality that gave Poland a chance at national resurrection.

Field Marshal Sir Edmund Allenby entering Jerusalem, December 11, 1917.
Field Marshal Sir Edmund Allenby entering Jerusalem, December 11, 1917.

Similar aspirations at resurrection inspired the peoples of the Ottoman Empire.  Arabs, Jews, Armenian, and Kurds all aspired to statehood, and all saw their aspirations dashed.  In the course devising schemes to defeat the Ottomans, and anticipating a dismemberment of that empire after the war, the Allies negotiated a series of agreements that achieved astounding tactical results, but left in their wake a legacy of bad seed that is even now bearing fruit.  In 1916, Britain’s commanders and diplomats on the ground in Egypt sought help from the Sherif and Emir of Mecca, Hussein bin Ali, promising to make him king of the Hejaz (western Arabia) and make his sons kings of territory liberated from the Turks if they would rise in revolt.  They did, and under the leadership of the remarkable Lawrence of Arabia the tribes conquered Aqaba and Damascus.  The Arab Revolt paralleled the Palestine Campaign of British Field Marshall Sir Edmund Allenby, which succeeded in capturing Jerusalem on December 9, 1917 (by coincidence – or not – Chanukkah began that evening).  In the process, Australian mounted troops under Allenby’s command executed the last successful cavalry charge in modern military history when they captured Beersheba on October 31.

The Sykes-Picot Agreement:  Original plan devised in 1916 gave Area A to France and Area B to Britain.  Subsequent adjustments (1917-1922) created the borders of Syria, Iraq, Trans-Jordan (Jordan), Lebanon, and Palestine,  Current borders of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan resulted from and the Arab-Israeli wars of 1947-48, 1956, 1967, and 1973.
The Sykes-Picot Agreement: Original plan devised in 1916 gave Area A to France and Area B to Britain. Subsequent adjustments (1917-1922) created the borders of Syria, Iraq, Trans-Jordan (Jordan), Lebanon, and Palestine, Current borders of Israel, the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan resulted from and the Arab-Israeli wars of 1947-48, 1956, 1967, and 1973.

As these events transpired in the Middle East, British diplomat Mark Sykes and his French counterpart François Georges-Picot concluded an agreement in 1916 that divided the Middle East between their two nations, with France gaining Syria and Lebanon and Britain gaining what became Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine.  As if that were not confusing enough, on November 2, 1917, Foreign Secretary James Balfour issued a letter to Baron Walter Rothschild, a leader of Britain’s Jewish community and patron of the Zionist Movement, which stated:

His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.

Abdülmecid II Last Caliph of Islam (1922-1924)
Abdülmecid II
Last Caliph of Islam (1922-1924)

The Balfour Declaration proved a major step forward in the rebirth of Israel, but the conflicting agreements of World War I ensured that Jewish statehood, as well as Arab independence, would have to wait another generation.  So, too, would independence for the Armenians and Kurds.  The Ottoman Empire was indeed dissolved, succeeded by the new, secular, Republic of Turkey led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.  The Caliphate endured for a short time, but in 1924 Atatürk abolished it and sent the last Caliph into retirement.  Thus, for the first time since 632 AD, Islam had no recognized head.  As for the former Ottoman provinces, the Sykes-Picot Agreement determined the borders of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Transjordan (now Jordan), and Palestine (now Israel) according to the convenience of its authors’ governments, not according to the realities on the ground.  Jordan and Iraq came into existence as political creations with little basis in history, and Lebanon was separated from Syria in deference to centuries of French relations with Lebanon’s Maronite Christians.  As for Palestine, Jewish immigration (Aliyah) accelerated under the postwar British Mandate, bringing with it a rise in the Arab population seeking the jobs and economic improvement Jewish development promised.  The arrangements worked for a time, but by the eve of World War II the pot of ethnic, religious, and nationalist turmoil was boiling again.[1]

Britain and France survived the Great War, and for a time their empires continued to function, but they, too, had suffered a death blow.  The second round of global conflict from 1939 to 1945 brought an end to their world domination.  In 1947 Britain surrendered control of the Jewel of the Empire to the new republics of Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.  Within fifteen years British and French colonies in Africa and Asia would follow suit.  With the death of these western mercantile empires, a bipolar world took shape, divided between the two ideological superpowers of the United States and the Soviet Union.  The seeds of their rise to power, and of their decline and fall, were sown in the blood-soaked battlefields of the Great War.



Nothing Lasts Forever But the Earth and Sky

Israeli soldiers capture Jerusalem on the second day of the Six Day War.
Israeli soldiers capture Jerusalem on the second day of the Six Day War.

My link to World War I is my grandfather, Garland Victor McCarn, a veteran of the American 31st Infantry Division.  He arrived in France five weeks before the Armistice of November 11, 1918 brought an end to the fighting on the Western Front.  Two days before the Armistice the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II brought an end to the German monarchy.  Kaiser Wilhelm had ruled Germany for 30 years, having taken the throne in the year of my grandfather’s birth, 1888.  My grandfather passed from this earth in 1967, the year Israel regained control of Jerusalem in the Six Day War.

Consider the immense changes during the lifetime of this one man.  In the world where he took his first breath Indians were still a problem for America.  Geronimo, the last of the great Apache chiefs, had surrendered but two years earlier.  Two years later, the Ghost Dance offered to the tribes one last breath of the free life their fathers had known, only to be extinguished under the vengeful guns of the Seventh Cavalry at Wounded Knee.  In that era there was no Israel, no Poland, no Albania, and no Iraq.  The United States was ten years away from joining the Great Powers, a status America would gain in 1898 through the mercy killing of Spain’s empire and the acquisition of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Philippines, and a controlling interest in Cuba.  In that world a handful of men in Berlin or Paris or London could decide the fate of the entire world with no regard for the religions, ethnicities, histories, and preferences of millions of darker skinned peoples in the “barbaric” and “uncivilized” regions of Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.  Superior European wealth, technology, and religion, demonstrated in lopsided victories at places like Omdurman, Rourke’s Drift, and Beijing, made it possible for Europe and her offspring to take up the “White Man’s Burden” of bringing civilization to the globe – and in the process enrich themselves at the natives’ expense.  Nationalism was an important topic for Europe’s ethnic groups seeking statehood, but not for Arabs, Kurds, Malays, Bantus, Zulus, Filipinos, Hawaiians, Navajo, or Vietnamese.  Such peoples were not ready for self-government, regardless of the fact that they had governed themselves for centuries.  Great empires ruled the globe, and that was the reality of the day.

Such was my grandfather’s world.  It was far different from the world of 1815, the year his grandfather Neal McCarn was born, and the year Napoleon Bonaparte suffered his final defeat at Waterloo.  Neal’s grandfather Daniel was born into a yet more different world in 1746, one year after English bayonets triumphed over Scottish claymores at the Battle of Culloden and broke the power of the Highland clans.  That English victory over the Jacobite Uprising of 1745 brought an end to the dream of Scottish independence, compelling my ancestors and many others to seek a new life in England’s American colonies.  And yet on September 18, 2014 Scots will vote in a referendum to determine whether they want their nation to be independent once again.  A “yes” vote would mean that sometime in 2015, after 270 years and eight generations, Scotland’s voice will again be heard among the community of nations.[2]

My family history illustrates a vital point:  nothing of human creation is permanent.

Every generation suffers from a myopia which hinders it from recognizing this truth.  Our tendency is to believe that what we see before us is unalterable reality.  Things do change, and change frequently, but change usually catches humanity unaware.  Only a tiny fraction of us actually take the effort to step back from our day-to-day interests and try to understand the trends so that we can at least recognize the inevitable changes on the horizon, and perhaps alter them somewhat for the better.  As that classic song by Kansas reminds us, “nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky”.  And yet even the earth and sky will pass away at some point (Matthew 5:17-19II Peter 3:10-13Revelation 21:1-4).  Perhaps King Solomon’s observation is more accurate, “That which has been is what will be, that which is done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”  (Ecclesiastes 1:9 NKJV)

Cycles or Birth Pangs?

The global shifts that occurred beginning in 1914 were but the latest in a series of such shifts that seem to happen roughly every hundred years.  The aftermath of the Great War brought change in the political, military, economic, and religious order of the earth which had grown out of the old Great Power system of the 19th century.  That system itself had sprung from the defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1814-15.  Napoleon and the French Revolution were the transition from the old autocratic regimes that governed Europe and the Americas from the end of the War of the Spanish Succession (1702-1713).  Before that, the early modern state system developed out of the transition from the religiously-dominated orders of the Reformation/Counter-Reformation which clashed in the culminating conflicts of the Thirty Years War (1618-48) and English Civil War (1642-51).  This rough analysis is Euro-centric for a reason:  it was Europe that determined the global world order in which we live today.  Since the 15th century Europe has sought to impose its will on the rest of the world.  Now it seems we are about to see that European order come apart.  The events of 2014 already constitute a massive shift in the global system on a greater order of magnitude than what shook the world 100 years ago.

What have we seen since 2014 began?  A review of lead stories is in order.

BFB140707 After CrimeaRebirth of the Russian Empire.

A popular uprising in Ukraine that brought down the government of the pro-Russian president resulted in Russia’s intervention in and annexation of Crimea.  Thinly-disguised Russian assistance now enables pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine to continue to battle the new government of President Petro Poroshenko.  Russian President Vladimir Putin plays a masterful game of chess with the European Union and with NATO, knowing that he holds the advantage.  It is Russian natural gas flowing through pipelines across Ukraine that meets much of Europe’s energy needs.  Moreover, Ukraine is at the very edge of the Western European and American spheres of influence.  The real question is not whether Putin will become the puppet master over all of Ukraine, but where he will draw the line in his quest to rebuild Russian power.  The old Russian Empire of the Tsars included half of Poland and extended to the borders of Romania and Hungary.  The borders of the Soviet Union included the current independent states of Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and, after World War II, incorporated a large swath of Poland.  Moreover, the Soviet Bloc held sway over all of Eastern Europe from the Baltic to the Adriatic, including the former German Democratic Republic (East Germany).

The current Russian expansion does not need to reunite that entire realm under one flag.  Moscow has at its disposal economic and cultural tools which, when backed by battle-tested military forces, become potent weapons capable of compelling other nations to submit to Russian domination.  Indeed, the Russian empire now taking shape before our eyes is far stronger than either the Tsarist empire or the Soviet empire.  The Tsars enjoyed the advantages of skillful diplomacy and centuries of unbroken conquest over the peoples of the east and south, but lacked the economic and technological advantages of the West.  The Soviets learned the art of diplomacy and enhanced it with propaganda, the art of manipulating public opinion through distortion of facts, yet they, too, lagged behind the West in economic and technological terms.  The reborn Russian empire has no such disadvantages.  Russian technology is on par with the West, and the Russian petroleum industry alone provides enough economic clout to compete with any rival.  However, Russia is still recovering from a demographic crisis in which the ethnic Russian birthrate fell below that required to maintain its population.  At the same time, the birthrate of Russia’s Islamic people groups is on the increase.  Russia is not likely to become a Muslim nation in the near future, but two decades of experience with Islamists – particularly Chechens, with their penchant for viciousness – provide ample motivation to reign in potential Muslim extremism in Russia’s southern regions.  Russia’s expansion, therefore, is a matter of national security to circumvent the growth of radical Sunni Islam within its borders.  That is why Russia has taken steps over the last generation at cultivating relations with Iran and at neutralizing Turkey.  These efforts have paid off in an axis of power with Tehran that enables Moscow to project its influence far afield into the once-contested regions of the Middle East.  It is Russian weapons, equipment, advisors, and financing that have enabled Bashar al-Assad to remain in power in Syria, and which are even now beginning to intervene in Iraq to save the discredited government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.  How far this power projection shall continue is as yet uncertain, but for it to continue Russia must have unhindered access to and across the Black Sea, the Caucasus, and into the Mediterranean.  Consequently, the governments of the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary, Moldova, Romania, and Georgia are rightly concerned that they may well fall under Russian domination once again.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the 65th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 23, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addresses the 65th United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, September 23, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Segar

Rebirth of the Persian Empire

Russia’s cooperation with Iran constitutes an odd marriage of convenience.  The two nations have been at odds for generations, particularly when the Soviet Union and Great Britain partitioned Iran during World War II to forestall Nazi Germany’s efforts to make inroads in the country.  When the Iranian Revolution of 1979 brought a radical Shi’a Muslim regime into power, the atheist Soviet Union faced a potentially insidious threat on its southern frontier.  Since the collapse of the USSR, Iran and Russia have found common ground in standing against the West and their Sunni partners.  The real power in Iran is the Shi’a religious order, led initially by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and now by his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.  With the backing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the ayatollahs have created a state based on the Shi’a vision of Islam, and have succeeded in exporting their revolution.  There is an apocalyptic component to the Iranian regime’s policies, as the world witnessed during President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s (2005-2013) repeated declarations of the imminent arrival of the Mahdi, the world leader whom Muslims expect to arrive at the end of the current world order and usher in an era of total Islamic domination.  This Islamic zeal, a demographic crisis of their own (e.g., too many unemployable young people), and a hefty dose of Persian nationalism, have led to Iran’s confrontational policies.

The ayatollahs have based their foreign policy from the beginning on opposition to the “Great Satan” (the United States) and Israel.  Since the Iranian regime from the beginning has suffered from crippling economic sanctions and isolation, Tehran has had to find alternative means to build and project power.  These means include building Shi’a Islamist resistance organizations like Hezbollah, cooperation with other “rogue states” like North Korea, transnational criminal enterprises to skirt economic sanctions, and unswerving pursuit of nuclear weapons capability.  The cumulative effects of these efforts have placed Iran on the cusp of becoming the power broker of the Middle East.  With the drawdown of U.S. forces from Iraq in 2011, Iran has begun to exercise considerable influence over the Arab Shi’a population and Prime Minister Maliki’s government.  Maliki’s cooperation was essential for Iran’s intervention in the Syrian Civil War, providing troops, equipment, funding, and expertise that have kept President Bashar al-Assad in power.  One of Iran’s greatest successes is the creation of Hezbollah.  That entity now has a controlling interest in Lebanon, having grown from an indigenous Shi’a terrorist cell to a network of jihadist and transnational criminal enterprises, a political party with a legitimate stake in the Lebanese government, and a conventional army.  At Iran’s direction, Hezbollah has contributed significant forces to Syria, where it has boosted the flagging strength of President Assad’s army.

All of this these developments have served to increase Iranian prestige, but they pale in comparison to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions.  Even in the face of economic, political, and covert efforts to derail the Iranian nuclear program, the ayatollahs have succeeded in bringing their nation to the threshold of the nuclear club.  On November 24, 2013, Iran concluded a Joint Plan of Action with the P5+1 powers (United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany).  The agreement essentially marked a capitulation of the Western powers to Iran, leaving the Iranian nuclear infrastructure intact while easing the economic sanctions that have crippled the nation for decades.  The JPA specifies a first step of confidence-building measures to be completed within six months of its implementation.  That deadline arrives on July 20, 2014, but judging from the record of negotiations thus far, we should not expect any breakthrough, nor any rollback to the Iranian nuclear program.  In the meantime, Iran continues to inch closer to nuclear capability, if it has not already achieved that goal.

Map of the Syrian Civil War and Iraqi Insurgency Wikimedia Commons
Map of the Syrian Civil War and Iraqi Insurgency
Wikimedia Commons

Death of the Old Middle East

The Iranians seek nuclear weapons so they may threaten Israel with annihilation and project power to Europe and beyond, but they already have the capability to alter the balance of power in the Middle East.  That has been abundantly clear in the success of Iran, Russia, and Hezbollah in upholding the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.  The Syrian Civil War has erupted far beyond the borders of that beleaguered state, and its repercussions are sure to impact the entire world.

The immediate cause of Syria’s troubles was the Arab Spring.  The popular uprisings against entrenched Arab regimes began in Tunisia in December 2010.  One month later they had brought down Tunisia’s government and spawned protests in Oman, Yemen, Egypt, Syria, and Morocco.  In February, Egyptian ruler Hosni Mubarak resigned, followed shortly thereafter by the onset of a civil war in Libya that would bring down strong man Muammar Gaddafi.  Syria’s civil war began in March.  In Yemen, President Ali Abdullah Saleh narrowly escaped an assassination attempt in June, and finally relinquished power in February 2012.  Other revolts flared up in Bahrain, Jordan, and Kuwait, but the regimes succeeded in hanging on to power, often with help from Saudi Arabia, which was dealing with its own problems from a Shi’a minority and a restless population resentful of the long monopoly of power held by the House of Sa’ud.

The initial shock of the Arab Spring has abated somewhat, but its effects are escalating.  The popular uprisings testify to the oppressions of ruling elites placed and maintained in power by the world system that developed from World War I.  It began with the borders drawn by Messrs. Sykes and Picot in the agreement they made on behalf of the British and French governments.  Those borders created the states of Jordan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Kuwait, and led to the borders that define Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Palestinian territories.  Before World War II France and Great Britain kept those borders intact through the mandates awarded to them by the League of Nations.  Afterward the United States stepped in, concluding agreements with the House of Sa’ud and other ruling elites to keep the oil flowing in return for stability.  The Soviet Union played along, always seeking to balance U.S. influence in the Middle East.  The result was a regional balance of power in which the rulers directed the frustration and anger of their peoples toward Israel as the means of keeping dissent in check and ensuring the survival of their regimes.  At times there was a need for harsher measures, such, and brutal dictators like Hafez al-Assad in Syria, Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, who had no problem ruthlessly eliminating opposition.  The rest of the world stepped in as necessary to ensure things did not get out of hand, such as when Israel waged wars of self-preservation in 1956, 1967, and 1973, but for the most part the Arab world was left to its own devices as long as the oil continued to move to the world’s markets.  And as long as the oil flowed, it was traded in U.S. dollars, guaranteeing the American economy would remain afloat and continue to serve as the engine of the global economy.

The system began to fall apart when Muslims started to consider alternatives to their situation.  Osama bin Laden was a pioneer in this regard, taking jihad to a new level through the 9/11 attacks on the United States.  Bin Laden’s Al Qaida touched off a lengthy war on terrorism that saw the U.S. lead the way in upending the balance of power, most notably by removing Saddam Hussein and seeking to bring popular democracy to Iraq and the rest of the Middle East.  The election of a terrorist Hamas government in Gaza in 2006 should have demonstrated the dangers of such a policy, but apparently the lesson was lost.  For whatever reason, the Obama Administration continued and accelerated the processes begun by the G.W. Bush Administration, paving the way for the Arab Spring and its yet-to-be-determined aftermath.

What has happened already is the irrevocable dismemberment of Syria and Iraq, a fact that the world seems to have realized only with the shocking advances of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  The ISIS story is evolving even as of this writing.  It has also been known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), and as of June 29, 2014, is called the Islamic State (IS).  This in itself is a testimony to the irrevocable changes that have occurred in the Middle East.  The IS has grown out of an ultra-jihadist branch of Al Qaida which has fought the existing powers in Iraq and Syria since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.  In Syria it has warred as well against other Sunni opposition groups, including other Al Qaida affiliates.  Somehow IS has come out ahead, no doubt thanks to its uncompromising hardline Islamist message backed by ruthless application of Sharia (Islamic law) and brutal repression of dissent.

These factors have helped the IS gain control of much of Iraq and Syria, but what made the world take notice was the capture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, on June 9, 2014.  Since then IS forces have routed Iraqi government opposition wherever they have met, prompting the government of Prime Minister Maliki to plead for help from Iran, Russia, and the U.S., and to accept help from Shi’a militias such as that led by Ayatollah Muqtada al-Sadr.  As IS continues its advance, it becomes more clear that if Maliki survives in power, he will be prime minister only over a rump Iraqi state based on the Shi’a majority areas of the south and east, and only at the sufferance of his Iranian patrons.  The U.S. is at an impasse on how to respond, not knowing whether to prop up Maliki, whose policies have led to the alienation of both the Arab Sunni and Kurdish segments of Iraq’s population.  Fighting against IS is also a problem for the U.S., which is not willing to return to another lengthy engagement in Iraq where the only real choices of allies are varying degrees of jihadist Shi’a or jihadist Sunnis.

This, too, is the dilemma of Saudi Arabia, which has led the way in arming the opposition against Syria’s Assad.  In a way, the Saudis have done their job too well, creating the conditions by which the IS has gained its advantages.  Now the Saudis face trouble on their very own borders as IS has turned its attention southward and westward.  The monarchies of King Abdullah in Saudi Arabia and King Abdullah II of Jordan both face existential threats as the IS gains momentum.  The military and security forces of both nations have proven equal to all challenges thus far, but they face in the IS a transnational jihadist revolution that could topple the regimes from within.  For that reason, Jordan has leaned heavily on the U.S. and Israel for help.

As Amman and Riyadh dig in, Baghdad is for the moment safe.  There is no need for IS to take Baghdad, with its large Shi’a urban population.  So, too, is Kurdistan safe for the moment.  If there will be a big winner out of this transition, it is the Kurds.  The long dream of a Kurdish state is even now about to be realized.  The IS advance on Mosul and the rout of Iraq’s army gave the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) an opportunity to take charge of Kirkuk, the ancient Kurdish city at the center of rich oil fields.  Kurdish Peshmerga forces have advanced as well into Diyala province and other contested territories vacated by the Iraqis, and are well able to defend their territory against the IS.  With the recent commencement of Kurdish oil exports through Turkey, and with over 20 years of autonomy, the Iraqi Kurds are ready to embark on independence.  They will likely include their Syrian Kurdish brethren in this adventure.  Syria’s Kurds have carved out an autonomous region of their own thanks to the opportunities afforded by the civil war, and they have successfully defended their territory against the IS and other jihadist forces.  It is virtually certain that Kurdistan will span what are now the Kurdish regions of Iraq and Syria.  Although there are difficulties still to iron out with Turkey, Kurdistan has already entered into a mutually-beneficial relationship with its neighbor to the north.  This new country will provide a safe haven for Christians and other refugees form the war-torn regions around them, and will serve as a buffer against what is shaping up to be a Sunni-Shi’a struggle for dominance in the core Middle East.

Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first appearance on video when he gave a sermon in Mosul on July 4, 2014.
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his first appearance on video when he gave a sermon in Mosul on July 4, 2014.

Rebirth of the Caliphate

Kurdish independence, however, is as of now only the second most significant development out of this massive transition.  The greatest development occurred on June 29, 2014, with the establishment of the new Caliphate in Syria and Iraq.  This long-awaited event was made possible by the immense success of the IS in carving out a new state.  The announcement that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is now Caliph Ibrahim has already resulted in pledges of support from Sunni tribes in Iraq and Syria, as well as Hamas and other Palestinians.  It remains to be seen whether his claim to be commander Amir al-Mu’minin (Commander of the Faithful) will be widely accepted throughout the Muslim world.  Most certainly the Shi’a of Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria will reject him, as will the Saudis and the Jordanians, seeing that the presence of a caliph threatens their very reason for existence.  However, each IS victory adds to momentum, regardless of the atrocities and excesses carried out in territories the Islamic State has “liberated”.  The very fact that there is now a caliph who can make a substantial claim to the title for the first time in 90 years is significant beyond words.  Moreover, Ibrahim is the first Arab to lay claim to the title since the Ottoman Turks ended the Abbasid Caliphate of Cairo in 1517.

The fact that Ibrahim has succeeded in forging this caliphate has resurrected a long-dead dream in the hearts of Muslims.  Even if he does not succeed in perpetuating this dream, someone will.  Do not expect the IS to seek recognition from the United Nations, nor establish diplomatic relations with other nations – particularly non-Islamic states.  That is the old order the IS and other jihadists intend to destroy.  Their vision is not a community of nations working out their differences through peaceful dialogue, but rather a single Islamic overlord demanding and receiving submission from all others.  For the moment the IS continues to gain ground, and their momentum will continue for the foreseeable future.  It is quite possible, perhaps even likely, that they will bring down the monarchy in Jordan and destabilize the Arabian Peninsula.  However, they will come up against a brick wall in Iran, and will suffer significant damage from the Israelis if they make a wrong move too soon.

"The Kidnapped Boys Affair" Dry Bones
“The Kidnapped Boys Affair”
Dry Bones

Isolation of Israel

Israel has already been drawn into this struggle, and it is only a matter of time before Israeli forces are engaged on multiple fronts.  Peace continues to elude Israel and the Palestinian Arabs.  The U.S.-brokered peace talks that ended in April 2014 were doomed from the start, irrevocably broken on Palestinian intransigence at accepting the existence of the Jewish state.  With the Palestinian Authority (Fatah) seeking UN assistance in obtaining statehood, and with its acceptance of a unity with the terrorist government of Hamas in Gaza, there is currently no common ground for further peace efforts.  Israel has endured much provocation through cross-border incidents and rocket attacks from Gaza, Lebanon, and Syria, but it seems that Israel’s patience has at last been stretched to the breaking point with the abduction and murder by Hamas of teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel on June 12.  The subsequent murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, possibly in revenge for the deaths of the Jewish teens, has sparked Arab riots in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel that have yet to see resolution.  In the face of it all Israel has arrested hundreds of Palestinian suspects, and has launched airstrikes against Gaza.  An invasion of Gaza may be in preparation as Israeli troops take up positions on the border.  On the northern borders, Israel has already engaged in air and artillery strikes in response to cross-border attacks and other provocations from Syria and Lebanon.

Israel enters this period of tension increasingly isolated in the international community.  The once-certain support from the United States is now questionable, leaving Israel alone to deal with existential threats from a potentially nuclear-armed Iran and from Arab enemies both surrounding the nation and within its borders.  The rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere brings the threat home to Jews the world over and underscores the need for a Jewish state to remain in existence.  It was the lack of a Jewish state which contributed materially to Hitler’s success in murdering two thirds of Europe’s Jewish population during World War II.  For that reason alone Israel will take whatever measures it deems necessary to survive.

BFB140707 FireworksDecline and Fall of the United States and the Western Powers

In the face of all of this the United States of America has withdrawn on itself, content to enjoy an orgy of bread and circuses while turning a blind eye to the collapse of the world order.  The U.S. has walked off the world stage, leaving the bad guys to do as they please.  Whether it is war weariness, selfishness, arrogance, ignorance, wishful thinking, or some diabolical design, the result is the same:  the lack of U.S. presence has opened the way for all manner of evil.  It is because there is no clear U.S. policy that Russia has grown bold, Iran has waxed strong, and the established world order has unraveled.  The Arab Spring could not have happened if not for U.S. encouragement of popular revolt and abandonment of old allies.  Without U.S. leadership, NATO withers and becomes nothing more than a paper tiger.  And without U.S. attention to the existing economic order, nations like Russia, China, and Iran have the incentive and means to begin trading in their own currencies rather than the oil-backed dollar.  With the dollar no longer the currency of choice, the U.S. economy will collapse under the weight of unsustainable debt, bringing in its wake worldwide depression and global competition for resources.  Already China flexes its muscles against Japan, the Philippines, and Korea, and in South Asia India and Pakistan threaten to reignite their perennial conflict, only this time with nuclear arsenals of their own.  On top of that, the ethical and moral standards of millennia fall by the wayside as the world embraces a culture of lawlessness.

Where it will all end is as yet anyone’s guess, but it is certain that the global order born in the struggle of 1914-1918 is now at the end of its life.  It appears that the focus of the entire globe this time around will be on the Middle East simply because that is where the world’s energy supply exists.  Purely economic and political reasons dictate that the declining West will have to do something to prevent Caliph Ibrahim from taking control of the oil fields, refineries, and ports of the Persian Gulf.  Already Iran has intervened in Iraq out of necessity; failure to do so means Tehran will lose its ability to influence Syria, Lebanon, and Gaza.  However, it will stretch Iran to the breaking point and put on hold whatever plans exist for Israel.  At the same time, the Sunni elements will continue their own struggle for mastery while simultaneously engaging Iran and its allies in the Sunni-Shi’a war now being fought in Iraq and Syria.  This multi-faceted struggle is on the same order of magnitude as that which happened on those same grounds 1,000 years ago, when each side bled the other white and opened the way for Crusaders and Mongols to divide the Middle East.  Only this time the antagonists have weapons of mass destruction.  It is as if the prophecy spoken long ago of Ishmael, father of the Arabs, has come home to roost:

He shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man’s hand against him.  And he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.  (Genesis 16:12 NKJV)



The reverse of the Great Seal of the United States of America proclaims the "New Order of the Ages" approved by Providence.
The reverse of the Great Seal of the United States of America proclaims the “New Order of the Ages” approved by Providence.

The Not-So-New World Order

What are we to make of the upheaval happening around us in this centennial summer since World War I began?  There are only a few possibilities.  Either it is a restructuring of the current world order to some new equilibrium, or it is the destruction of the current world order and the establishment of something new, or it is the end of the world as we know it.  If asked which of these is correct, my answer is, “Yes”.

The restructuring of the current world order would mean realignment of the relative powers within the nation-state system that has ordered global affairs for the last 500 years.  The order established after the First World War organized the nations of the earth around a collective security apparatus called the League of Nations.  However, since the two major powers of the 20th century initially opted out, that system required significant correction.  The United States, which alone among the Great Powers escaped the war with relatively little damage, decided that it would be better to use its war wealth and start a national celebration that continues to this day.  The rest of the world was permitted to drift as Americans indulged their tastes for baseball, movie stars, and investment plans, as well as social behavior that continuously pushed the envelope of moral decency according to the biblical standards that had guided America’s rise to prominence.  On the other side of the globe, Russia fell into disarray as Bolshevism violently transformed the tsars’ empire into the Soviet Union.  With neither of the future superpowers available, and with Germany, Austria, and Turkey defanged and out of the picture, it fell to an exhausted Britain and France to police the world.  They were not able to do so of course, leading to the significant corrective action of World War II.  The system following those years of turmoil featured a new United Nations in which all the nations of the earth at least had a voice, but generally lined up with whichever of the superpowers offered the best deal.  The rise of China and the disintegration of the Soviet Union made the game more interesting, yet through it all the hand of American leadership and petrodollars ensured the balance of power.  Thus the greatest development in this summer of 2014 is the prospect of America relinquishing its prominent place.  As the new order takes shape the United States will be at best an equal among other Great Powers, vying for advantage in a nation-state system that is itself on life support.

The end of the nation-state system seems to be the goal of the “new world order” which academics, visionaries, and conspiracy theorists have proclaimed for the last two generations.  I am not one to take conspiracy theories at face value, yet I can see an intellectual link between Woodrow Wilson’s Progressive vision of an age of peace among nations and the vision of a one-world government divided into regional economic spheres.  The European Union has arguably demonstrated the viability of such a vision, and it is quite likely similar regional unions are in the preparation for the Americas, Africa, Asia, and Oceania.  Whether nation-states can survive the transition to such a system is problematic.  Their national sovereignty certainly would not, but their character as national ethnic and cultural entities just might.  Until, that is, the inevitable transfer of populations seeking better opportunities elsewhere eventually changes the very nature of these national entities.  For examples of this we need look no further than Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and other states of Europe where Islam has made significant inroads and where languages and cultures other than those of Europe have become commonplace.  Yet such transformations apparently do not concern the visionaries who seek to implement such a global order.  What they value most may be whatever serves to manage the earth efficiently, but as with all idealistic dreams this one will come up against the hard truth of subjective reality.  Simply put, the nations will not die easily.  Consequently the only way this new order can come into existence is with a tremendous amount of bloodshed.  In this respect the “new world order” shall be no different than every order which preceded it, except in the amount of blood to be shed.  I would argue that that bloodshed has already begun.

And this brings us to the third possibility:  are we at the end of the world?  It is at this point that we investigate what the Bible says about this topic.  However, there is no need to go to Scripture to assert that the entire human population is now at very great risk.  Weapons of mass destruction, which made their debut in the form of chemical weapons on the battlefields of World War I, have now become commonplace.  Since 1945 we have understood that nuclear weapons held the potential to eradicate human life from the planet.  That understanding shaped the foreign and domestic policies of the United States, the Soviet Union, China, and their respective allies for nearly fifty years, pushing each to arm themselves to the point that they could guarantee their opponents’ destruction, but never daring to push too far lest they unleash forces of their own undoing.  Nuclear proliferation since then has placed these weapons in the hands of less scrupulous actors, such as North Korea, and those living next to mortal enemies, such as Pakistan and India.  Now Iran is on the threshold of nuclear power, leaving the world to wonder whether the ayatollahs are willing to trust to Allah’s protection as they unleash what would surely be an apocalyptic backlash.  When we add biological weapons to the mix the prospect of the next global war becomes truly frightening.  Those not killed outright by the tools of war will suffer from the inevitable evils that follow every conflict:  hunger and disease.  Thus even without resorting to any biblical analysis we come to this dire biblical prediction:

When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come and see.”  So I looked, and behold, a pale horse.  And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him.  And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.  (Revelation 6:7-8 NKJV)

"Death on the Pale Horse" Gustave Doré
Death on the Pale Horse
Gustave Doré

This is where we get to the ultimate difference between the plethora of secular humanist Western-style explanations of human existence and the various religious traditions.  Secular humanist views, having taken root in the Enlightenment, hold that human society is continuing to improve itself and that one day we shall reach utopia, however that may be defined.  The world’s religious traditions (at least the Christian, Jewish, and Islamic traditions I have studied) generally hold to the belief that at some point God (or gods) will intervene and establish direct rule over the earth, saving humanity from certain destruction in the process.  In considering this current round of conflict, the secular humanist would argue that the world is now entering the next iteration of systemic change or evolution, and quite likely shall come out of it with the utopian global order firmly established.  The Christian or Jewish observer might say that, if this is indeed the end of the age, we should expect Messiah to arrive (either returning or coming the first time) and establish God’s rule over the earth.  A Muslim, whether Sunni or Shi’a, would be expecting the same thing, only in his understanding Allah would be sending the Mahdi to put down all resistance.  Each of these views (secular humanist, Judeo-Christian, and Islamic) entails the very disturbing prospect of death and destruction on a scale never before seen, even to the point of threatening the extinction of humanity.

Given the dire outlook of each of these viewpoints, it is in everyone’s best interest to take notice and try to understand what is happening in this summer of 2014.  Are we really on the verge of the Apocalypse?  If so, which one?  How is one to know which is right?  How is one to survive?  Or is this all just a bunch of nonsense?

It is most certainly not nonsense.  Something unprecedented is happening in the world, and it will cost the lives of many millions before it is complete.  As for which viewpoint is correct, it just so happens that the Bible has much to say on each one.  In fact, what the Scriptures tell us about this end of the age incorporates both the secular humanist and Islamic end times scenarios.  Let us assume, therefore, that we are at the end of time as we know it.  Somehow the things that happen from now on will be different from the things that have happened before, going back to the beginning of recorded history.  What is so different?

We are about to witness the destruction of the Babylonian global order.

"The Tower of Babel" Pieter Bruegel the Elder
The Tower of Babel
Pieter Bruegel the Elder

Babylon v6.66?

Babylon originated at the dawn of current human history, after the Flood which destroyed the first global civilization.  The first nine chapters of the Bible explain how God created the heavens and the earth, but that He had to destroy the population of the earth with a global Flood because the wickedness of humanity had grown too great (Genesis 6:1-8).  Nevertheless, God made a way for salvation by instructing Noah and his family to build an ark in which representatives of all animal species, as well as any humans who chose to come in, could escape.  Sadly, there were only eight human survivors:  Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives.  After the Flood these eight people repopulated the earth, seeking to build a new human civilization that obeyed the Lord God and followed His commandments.  It was not long, however, before rebellion against God began once more.  That rebellion became institutionalized within three generations of Noah, when his great-grandson established the first world kingdom:

Cush begot Nimrod; he began to be a mighty one on the earth.  He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod the mighty hunter before the Lord.”  And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, Accad, and Calneh, in the land of Shinar.  From that land he went to Assyria and built Nineveh, Rehoboth Ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah (that is the principal city).  (Genesis 10:8-12 NKJV, emphasis added)

Nimrod is often equated with the ancient Babylonian heroes, usually Gilgamesh, but also Marduk.  He established Babylon as the world system to govern human society in rebellion against the Most High God.  Babylon has been with us ever since, and will remain with us until God Himself brings it down.  God has blocked Babylon’s advances on numerous occasions, starting with the frustration of Nimrod’s efforts at building the Tower of Babel.  Yet He has often used Babylon to further His own plans, such as when He brought judgment on the kingdom of Judah through Nebuchadnezzar, ancient Babylon’s greatest king (Jeremiah 25:1-14).  Babylon represents both the best and the worst of humanity.  It is the ultimate fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – humanity’s best effort at ruling this earth according to our own standards rather than the standards of God.

Ultimately these human standards of conduct have their origins in God.  He, after all, is the Source of all life.  Although we humans are fearfully and wonderfully made in His image, our powers of creation are limited since they must draw on His power and revelation.  And, of course, God wisely chooses what He will permit His creatures to do, if for no other reason than because He desires that we not destroy ourselves.  The sad truth is that the desires of our hearts are still wicked; we want to rule our own little worlds as our own little gods, and thus we take what the Father Creator has given us and reshape it in our own image.  That is the true meaning of Babylon.  Whether it is an outright rejection of the very existence of God, or the syncretistic mixture of God’s revelation with paganism or humanistic philosophy, the nature of the Babylonian system is to divert humanity from God’s ideal and keep us in pursuit of some other vision of reality.  This insidious Babylonian system pervades every realm of human endeavor:  government, economics, philosophy, religion, art, science, warfare, and more.  It is the tares which the enemy of our souls has sown among the wheat God planted.

Scripture contains abundant explanation of how the tares of Babylon will be judged in the last days.  For now, God allows those tares to grow up beside His good seed for two very good reasons.  First, if He were to pluck up the tares now, He would uproot the wheat.  The good seed is so entwined with the Babylonian tares that it would be destroyed should God do anything before both crops ripen to maturity.  Second, God has plans through this wheat and tares experience to teach humanity the folly of following any wisdom other than His.  Like any good parent, He wants to make sure His children learn by experience so that they do what is right of their own free will rather than by coercion.  That means He must leave us to make our own mistakes and reap the woes we have sown so that we have direct understanding of why His way is best.  Yet God’s parenting plan is far grander than anything human parents ever attempted.  Through poor choices a child may suffer burnt fingers and broken limbs, or loss of privileges, friends, or opportunities before a parent steps in to avert total disaster.  In the same way, God has promised to step in before we destroy ourselves, but He will allow us to get to the brink of that destruction.  Lest there be any doubt about this, consider the consequences of our poor choices up to this point.  The tale of human suffering through death, disease, warfare, economic collapse, oppression, slavery, and more is readily apparent through even the most casual study of history.  In the final cataclysm the seeds of our destruction will bear their final fruit.  Yeshua explained it this way:

For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved, but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.  (Matthew 24:21-22 NKJV)

What Yeshua describes is the end of this current age, when God brings judgment on the Babylonian system.  Much of His judgment is merely allowing the natural consequences of human rebellion to play out to their logical conclusion.  In contrast to the secular humanist perspective, humanity is not evolving into ever better states, but rather is devolving into more and more depravity.  This is evident in Nebuchadnezzar’s vision recorded in Daniel 2, in which the king sees a giant statue with a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron mixed with clay.  These are the successive world empires that will govern humanity until God establishes His kingdom over the whole earth.  Babylon is the head of gold.  The subsequent kingdoms, which Bible scholars generally associate with Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, and Rome’s successor kingdoms, are not world orders different from Babylon, but rather progressively more depraved expressions of it.  This is apparent in the prophesied judgment on Babylon given through Jeremiah:

Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord‘s hand, that made all the earth drunk.  The nations drank her wine; therefore the nations are deranged.  (Jeremiah 51:7 NKJV)

When we consider the record of human history, we can see that each world system is still essentially Babylonian.  At its root is the intent to dominate every aspect of life through persuasion, cooptation, or coercion, and all in the understanding that the particular people conducting the domination have the best idea for ordering human affairs.  Ultimately these expressions of Babylon contain the seeds of their own destruction simply because the desire to dominate leads to competition that tears the system apart.  In recognition of this, America’s founders developed the ingenious Federal system of checks and balances that pitted competing factions against one another to ensure that none gained dominance over the others.  This experiment worked very well, and in fact has been reflected in the various collective security arrangements instituted over the last two centuries, particularly after World War I.  Thus the Babylonian system has indeed been a “golden cup in the Lord‘s hand”, acting as a check on the outrageous passions and ambitions of humanity.  That check, however, is about to be removed.

The Harlot of Babylon 19th Century Russian Engraving
The Harlot of Babylon
19th Century Russian Engraving

“Babylon is fallen, is fallen!”[3]

The ultimate battle at the end of this age is between God the Creator and Satan the Usurper.  Isaiah 14 explains the rebellion of Satan as a cosmic power grab:

How you are fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning!  How you are cut down to the ground, you who weakened the nations!  For you have said in your heart:  “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation on the farthest sides of the north;I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.”  Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, to the lowest depths of the Pit.  (Isaiah 14:12-15 NKJV)

Interestingly, this description of Satan’s (Lucifer’s) rebellion comes in yet another chapter of the Bible detailing the judgment on Babylon.  Satan’s rebellion in heaven is the same as that which he sowed in the Garden of Eden, when he persuaded our ancestors that they could be “like God, knowing good and evil” (see Genesis 3:1-5).  Ever since, humanity has had to deal with these two seeds growing up inside of us:  the good seed of God’s image, and the tares, or bad seed, of Satan’s rebellion.  Both of them have played out in the Babylonian world system.  God and Satan have both used Babylon for their purposes, either to save and preserve humanity from its worst excesses, or to drive humanity to destruction and leave Satan in control of the earth.  The Apostle Paul refers to this Babylonian system, apparent in his day as the Roman Empire, in his instruction to the congregation at Thessaloniki:

 As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here.  Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless oneis revealed, the one destined for destruction.  He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God.  Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?  And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes.  For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed.  And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming.  The coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.  For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.  (II Thessalonians 2:1-12 NRSV, emphasis added)

The “one who restrains” is the Babylonian system, which asserts a measure of lawful order over the earth.  God has used many nations and empires in this capacity, including the United States of America.  Now, however, it appears that the last shred of lawful order is leaving the world system.  This is inevitable and necessary.  It is inevitable because the Babylonian system is, after all, a human invention established in rebellion against God, and ultimately rebellion consumes itself.  In other words, the poisonous fruit of the tares eventually kills its host.  It is necessary because God must eventually judge all sin, which the Bible defines as rebellion against His Law (I John 3:4).  It appears that His judgment of Babylon comes by removing His hand of protection from the Babylonian system, thus allowing the seeds of Babylon’s own destruction to bear fruit, and allowing Satan to have his way and establish his own world order for a time.  This is most clear from the Apostle John’s account in Revelation:

Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”  And another angel followed, saying, “Babylon is fallen, is fallen, that great city, because she has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication.”  Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation.  He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”  Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.  Then I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, “Write:  ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.’”  “Yes,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, and their works follow them.”  Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and on the cloud sat One like the Son of Man, having on His head a golden crown, and in His hand a sharp sickle.  And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to Him who sat on the cloud, “Thrust in Your sickle and reap, for the time has come for You to reap, for the harvest of the earth is ripe.”  So He who sat on the cloud thrust in His sickle on the earth, and the earth was reaped.  Then another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.  And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, “Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.”  So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.  (Revelation 14:6-20 NKJV, emphasis added)

"Babylon Fallen" Gustave Doré
Babylon Fallen
Gustave Doré

Consider the first part of this passage, in which three angels make proclamations to the entire population of the earth.  The first angel calls all humans to fear God and worship Him, and announces that God’s judgment has come.  This is in line with Yeshua’s explanation that, “this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.”  (Matthew 24:14 NKJV)  The Lord God will ensure, by multiple means, that His glory is evident over all the earth.  Consequently, the entire population of the globe will be without excuse if they make the wrong choice in response to these three proclamations.

The second angel pronounces the fall of Babylon, which is recorded in great detail in Jeremiah 50 and 51 and Revelation 17-18.  After a description of Babylon’s wickedness in Revelation 17, the Apostle John opens the next chapter with this cataclysmic event:

After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory.  And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird!  For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury.”  And I heard another voice from heaven saying, “Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues.  For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.  (Revelation 18:1-5 NKJV, emphasis added)

Everything of Babylon is undergoing judgment – not just the political, economic, and philosophic portions, but the religious as well.  God expects His people to come out of this system, regardless how familiar and comfortable it is, and regardless how difficult the transition will be.  He will no longer tolerate mixture of His ways with man’s ways, and therefore He demands full allegiance from His people.  The alternative for staying in Babylon is certain destruction.

There is, however, a third alternative:  pledging allegiance to the New World Order.  That new order is the subject of the third angel’s pronouncement.  It is nothing less than the world government of the Beast, or Antichrist (Antimessiah), which will have dominion over the earth for a short (3 ½ year) period between the fall of Babylon and the return of Messiah Yeshua (see Daniel 7:23-2712:5-13Revelation 12).  If the book of Revelation depicts a chronological unfolding of events in the last years of this age, the Beast government will take shape even as Babylon is in its death throes (see Revelation 13), and for a time will empower Babylon (Revelation 17), until the Beast finds the Babylonian system is no longer useful.  Then the Beast will have a hand in the destruction of Babylon so that he can exercise dominion over the earth.  Interestingly, the characteristics of the Antimessiah seem to match the characteristics of Islam’s Mahdi, indicating that this Beast government could be Islamic in nature.  Thus we have come full circle at last:  the biblical view of the last days does indeed incorporate both the secular humanist and Islamic end times scenarios.

Understand the great dilemma facing the peoples and nations of the earth at this point in future history.  They are given three stark alternatives:  follow God, stay with the doomed Babylonian system, or pledge allegiance to the Beast and suffer the eternal consequences.  It is a frightening prospect.  Two choices carry with them the certainty of destruction.  The only choice that offers the promise of life is the one that requires turning away from everything a person has known in life – career, religious tradition, political preference, favorite pastimes, and even family ties.  It just so happens that Yeshua had something to say about this as well:

When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.  For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.  For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?  Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”  (Mark 8:34-38 NKJV, emphasis added.  See also Mark 10:29-31.)



"Interview Between Jesus and Nicodemus" James Tissot Brooklyn Museum
Interview Between Jesus and Nicodemus
James Tissot
Brooklyn Museum

A Matter of Life and Death

In truth God has placed the choice of life or death in front of every person from the beginning of time.  Consider what He said to our ancestors.  In the Garden of Eden there was the stark choice between the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, which brought death (Genesis 2:8-16).  When the Lord spoke through Moses to explain His standards of righteousness to our fathers and mothers on the edge of the Promised Land, He said,

I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the Lord your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life and the length of your days; and that you may dwell in the land which the Lord swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give them.  (Deuteronomy 30:19-20 NKJV, emphasis added)

On another occasion, as the Lord used Babylon to bring judgment on the House of Judah, He presented the choice through Jeremiah:

I also spoke to Zedekiah king of Judah according to all these words, saying, “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live!  Why will you die, you and your people, by the sword, by the famine, and by the pestilence, as the Lord has spoken against the nation that will not serve the king of Babylon?  Therefore do not listen to the words of the prophets who speak to you, saying, ‘You shall not serve the king of Babylon,’ for they prophesy a lie to you; for I have not sent them,” says the Lord, “yet they prophesy a lie in My name, that I may drive you out, and that you may perish, you and the prophets who prophesy to you.”  (Jeremiah 27:12-15 NKJV, emphasis added)

Yeshua Himself outlined this simple choice when He spoke with Nicodemus, one of the greatest Torah teachers of His day:

No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.  And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.  He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.  And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.  For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.  But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”  (John 3:13-21 NKJV, emphasis added)

This same choice shall confront us all at the end of this age.  The Lord will make it easy for us because He will clear away all the ambiguity and “gray areas” that have allowed us to hide from or put off the choice.  This can mean outright rejection of the things of the Lord, but usually it means mixing God’s Truth with human error (pagan and other religious traditions and secular humanism are the biggest culprits).  We are adept at giving lip service to God while all the time seeking our own way (Proverbs 14:12Isaiah 29:13-14Matthew 15:3-9).  As this age winds to a close there will be no “wiggle room”; everyone will have to choose one of the alternatives.  The choice will be very clear to everyone who is paying attention.  But, tragically, the Scripture indicates that very few people will actually be paying attention and understanding the eternal consequences of their choice.  The Babylonian system is what we have known all our lives.  Many will choose to keep that system alive if for no other reason than because they fear the alternative of a world without Babylon.  The Beast system is also familiar, but terrifying; it offers a chance at survival at least in the short term, but at the cost of all personal freedom.  The third choice, the Way of the Lord, is also perilous.  Those who choose it must expect hardship, persecution, and death, and yet believe that God Himself will somehow, even if by miraculous means, meet all needs in this life and come through with His promise of eternal life in the Kingdom (Matthew 5:1-12Mark 10:29-3114:9-13Revelation 14:13).  Those with shallow faith likely will not choose wisely.  As Yeshua told us in the Parable of the Sower, only those with deep roots in good soil can withstand the distractions and assaults of Satan, the persecutions and hardships that come with following Yeshua, and the cares of this world that draw us away (Matthew 13:1-23Mark 4:1-20Luke 8:4-15).

"The Prophecy of the Destruction of the Temple" James Tissot Brooklyn Museum
The Prophecy of the Destruction of the Temple
James Tissot
Brooklyn Museum

What Time Is It Really?

But are we actually at the end of this age?  How are we to know?  That is the same question Yeshua’s disciples asked Him.  His answer is recorded in three of the four gospels:  in Matthew 24Mark 13, and Luke 17:20-37.  Here is what He said according to Matthew:

Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple.  And Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things?  Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”  Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to Him privately, saying, “Tell us, when will these things be?  And what will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?”  And Jesus answered and said to them:  “Take heed that no one deceives you.  For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars.  See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.  For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.  And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places.  All these are the beginning of sorrows.  Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake.  And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.  Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many.  And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.  But he who endures to the end shall be saved.  And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.  Therefore when you see the ‘abomination of desolation,’ spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place” (whoever reads, let him understand), “then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.  Let him who is on the housetop not go down to take anything out of his house.  And let him who is in the field not go back to get his clothes.  But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days!  And pray that your flight may not be in winter or on the Sabbath.  For then there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be.  And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.  Then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There!’ do not believe it.  For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.  See, I have told you beforehand.  Therefore if they say to you, ‘Look, He is in the desert!’ do not go out; or ‘Look, He is in the inner rooms!’ do not believe it.  For as the lightning comes from the east and flashes to the west, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For wherever the carcass is, there the eagles will be gathered together.  Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.  Then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And He will send His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they will gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  Now learn this parable from the fig tree:  When its branch has already become tender and puts forth leaves, you know that summer is near.  So you also, when you see all these things, know that it is near—at the doors!  Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things take place.  Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.  But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, but My Father only.  But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.  Then two men will be in the field: one will be taken and the other left.  Two women will be grinding at the mill: one will be taken and the other left.  Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming.  But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into.  Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.  Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season?  Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing.  Assuredly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all his goods.  But if that evil servant says in his heart, ‘My master is delaying his coming,’ and begins to beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites.  There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (Matthew 24:1-51 NKJV)

Yeshua provides signs, or indications, of when the Great Tribulation marking the end of the age is coming.  He then provides a lengthy discussion of what to do when it comes.  He completes the instruction with a parable that explains what we are to do until the end of the age.  The parable can be summarized quite easily:  watch and pray.  Yeshua wants us to be serious about this life in Him, which means studying and living out His Word (all of it, from Genesis to Revelation) rather than getting sidetracked in things that satisfy our fleshly desires (e.g., eating, drinking, building up bank accounts, or dropping everything to watch the World Cup final).  The instructions of what to do when the end comes is also easy to summarize:  move when the Lord tells you, and if you’re in the land of Israel pray you’re not moving during winter or Sabbath.  There will be more to say about this later.  For now, let us concentrate on the signs that the end is very near.  They are:

Complete Destruction of the Temple (v. 2).  This has already happened.  The Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD during the great Jewish revolt of 66-70, and then razed Jerusalem during the Bar Kochba Revolt of AD 135.  However, Israel will build another Temple which will factor into the signs of the end.

Many Saying Yeshua is Messiah (Christ) and Deceiving Many (vv. 4-5, 11).  This, too, is already happening.  Often this statement is interpreted as meaning that many will come claiming to be Messiah, which has indeed happened from time to time.  However, even more have come claiming Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, but have taught false doctrines that have deceived many.  One thinks immediately of those traditions labelled “cults”, such as Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Unification Church.  However, the “mainstream” churches, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant, are also filled with error that has led many astray from full obedience to the Word of God.  The Hebrew Roots Movement is a response to this widespread, and largely unacknowledged, error of divorcing Messiah Yeshua from His Jewishness and from the Hebraic nature of His call to all His disciples.

Wars and Rumors of Wars (vv. 6-7).  When has this not been happening?  Yeshua said nation would rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom, indicating a state of continuous conflict or threat thereof.  Certainly human history has never been without conflict since the days of Cain and Abel, but there is something different about our current time.  In this summer of 2014, the nations and kingdoms of the earth seem to be in a greater state of unrest than since World War II.  As noted earlier, the conflicts associated with the rise of Russia, Persia, and the Caliphate, the isolation of Israel, and other changes in the map of the Middle East portend war as great or greater than the one that changed the world in 1914.  And yet, Yeshua said these and the next series of signs are but the “beginning of sorrows”.

Famines, Pestilences, and Earthquakes in Various Places (v. 7).  These things, also, are happening, and the earthquakes at least are coming with greater frequency and intensity.  A simple review of the United States Geological Survey website will verify the increase of seismic activity in recent years.  As for famine, there is no shortage of images of starvation in many places around the world, most recently South Sudan and North Korea.  There is also a recurring theme of pestilence, or disease, most recently the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa.  The international media is able to report more such events, so we are learning now about things that in past years would have gone unnoticed.  However, that in itself may be a part of the sign.  After all, Daniel prophesied that travel and knowledge would increase greatly at the time of the end (Daniel 12:4).

Persecution and Hatred of Yeshua’s Disciples (v. 9).  Yeshua’s followers have suffered persecution since His resurrection and ascension.  Is it any different now?  Yes, it seems so.  Until recently, the Christian values of the Great Powers held persecution in check, but not anymore.  Europe is a post-Christian civilization, Islamic persecution is increasing in frequency and violence in many places, and even in the United States, the champion of Christian freedom, there is tremendous bias against traditional values and even the name of Jesus Christ.  When courts of law compel Christian business owners to serve same-sex couples in wedding ceremonies, even though such practices clearly violate the standards of righteousness God expressed throughout His Word, then something is seriously wrong.  When those courts also negate amendments to state constitutions over the issue of same sex “marriage”, overriding the will of the people in the process, then we can expect even further erosion of freedom of religion.  If the United States, arguably the world’s most Christian nation, is no longer willing to let Yeshua’s followers live according to their beliefs, then the time of great persecution is indeed upon us.

Lawlessness and Lovelessness Abound (vv. 10, 12).  The fabric of society is coming apart.  Every report of a school shooting or of a parent who has killed their child tells us that.  The stark numbers of abortions in America and worldwide indicate that our love has grown cold.  Our preference is to sacrifice our children on the altar of convenience rather than have them interrupt our self-indulgence.  As the world’s societies have thrown out God’s Torah standards, the only remaining standard of conduct is that of the jungle.  Since each one of us prefers to be the god of his or her own little world, offense, betrayal, and hatred become far more common than forgiveness, integrity, and selflessness.  Scripture says it will only get worse.

The Gospel of the Kingdom Preached in All the World (v. 14).  And yet even in the midst of growing darkness, the Word of the Lord will go out into all the earth.  The angels themselves will preach it as the Tribulation progresses (Revelation 14:6-7).  In the meantime, we have global media and the internet.  Consider this blog, for example.  In just seven months The Barking Fox has had views from people in 70 countries, and has regular views from the United States, South Africa, Canada, Great Britain, Australia, and the Philippines.  This is one small Hebrew Roots blog.  Consider the impact of major Christian and Messianic ministries, working for decades through radio, television, print media, the internet, and many other means, especially sending people to the ends of the earth with the message of salvation in Yeshua.  If the Gospel of the Kingdom is not yet preached in the all the world, then it cannot be long before it is.

The Temple Mount, Al Aqsa Mosque, and Dome of the Rock viewed from the southeast. Photo by Andrew Shiva
The Temple Mount, Al Aqsa Mosque, and Dome of the Rock viewed from the southeast.
Photo by Andrew Shiva

The Abomination of Desolation Appearing in the Holy Place (15).  Here is something that has not yet happened.  Yeshua refers to a specific act of the Antimessiah:  he puts an end to the daily sacrifices in the Temple at Jerusalem, and then goes into the Holy of Holies and proclaims himself to be god (Daniel 12:11-12II Thessalonians 2:1-5).  Something close to it has happened twice.  The first time was in the days of the Maccabees, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes put an end to the sacrifices and banned Torah observance in the year 168 BC.  The second time was when the Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 AD.  Yet what we are looking for now is the great satanic world leader who will end the sacrifices and demand the world worship him.  Before that can happen there must be a third Temple, or at least a functioning altar on the Temple Mount.  Are we close to it?  Yes, indeed.  All it takes is a political decision by Israel to permit Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, even if that means dividing the Mount so that the Dome of the Rock and other Islamic holy sites remain undisturbed.  In fact, that is precisely what the Apostle John foresaw:

Then I was given a reed like a measuring rod.  And the angel stood, saying, “Rise and measure the temple of God, the altar, and those who worship there.  But leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city underfoot for forty-two months.”  (Revelation 11:1-2 NKJV, emphasis added)

As for construction of the Temple, or at least the altar for sacrifices, the Temple Institute has been preparing for decades.  They have already assembled the materials and trained priests to restart Temple sacrificial worship as soon as there is unhindered access to the Temple Mount.  That access may come at any time.  Already Israel’s Knesset has debated a proposed measure that would open the Temple Mount to non-Muslims for prayer and worship.  Perhaps the next major Arab-Israeli war would clear away any remaining restrictions.  As for reinstating the sacrificial system, one element was missing:  the red heifer.  According to Numbers 19, the ashes of a red cow are necessary for preparing the water of purification for Temple ceremonies and other purposes of ritual cleansing.  That requirement may have been satisfied with the birth of a red calf in the United States, as reported by the Temple Institute on June 12, 2014.  If this animal is proven to satisfy the requirements when it reaches the right age (three years), then the last obstacle for Temple worship will have been removed.  Once Temple sacrifices begin again we can expect great opposition to the practice worldwide, not only from the Muslim world which will consider the existence of the Temple an affront to Islam, but also from Christians who believe erroneously that the sacrificial system is somehow made irrelevant and abominable by the death and resurrection of Messiah.  Consequently, when Antimessiah is ready to put an end to the sacrifices, he will find much public support.

Life Continues as in the Days of Noah (vv. 37-40).  This sign is another that can only happen at the very end, once the Abomination of Desolation has signaled the beginning of the Tribulation.  Although Yeshua, as well as the prophets and apostles, have given us many specific things to expect, even when all these things come about, and even after Antimessiah has put an end to the sacrifices and proclaimed himself as god, most of the people on this planet will have no clue what is happening.  They will continue with their lives as if nothing were different.  No doubt the wars, famines, pestilences, crime, and economic woes will impact their lives considerably, but they will make do the best they can in hope of better times around the corner.  As in the days of Noah, they will miss the boat, thinking that everything continues as it has since our ancestors walked the earth.

"Building the Ark" James Tissot The Jewish Museum
Building the Ark
James Tissot
The Jewish Museum

The New Ark

As in the days of Noah, God will provide an “ark” for salvation of all who choose to get aboard.  That ark is already visible:  it is called Israel.  Contrary to popular belief, the division of the peoples of the earth is not between Jew and Gentile, but between Israelite and Gentile.  Jews are indeed the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and are very much Israelites.  At the moment Jews are largely blinded to the identity of Messiah, but that blindness will be removed in time.  For now Jews continue to be the keepers of the oracles of God – the Torah.  And yet, the world’s Jews are only one part of the nation of Israel.  The other part consists of millions of people from the nations of the earth who have a testimony of faith in Yeshua of Nazareth, some of whom may even be descendants of the “Ten Lost Tribes” of the northern kingdom of Israel.  Whatever their ancestry, these people, commonly known as Christians, are grafted into the nation of Israel by virtue of the work of Messiah and their faith in Him (Romans 11:11-32Ephesians 2:8-22).  In time God will reunite and restore the entire nation of Israel to the land He promised to our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but for now it is essential that Christians come to understand their identity not as Gentiles, but as Israelites and fellow-citizens with Jews.

This Israelite identity is what helps us understand the true nature of the conflict in this world.  If Babylon is the system of rebellion against God and His ways, then Israel is the system of obedience to God.  The Babylonian system and all the nations that are part of it shall be destroyed completely.  The only hope of salvation is by joining with Israel.  That is why Satan has attempted to destroy Israel from the beginning.  According to Jewish tradition that pattern began when old King Nimrod himself tried to kill young Abraham, knowing that God had a call on his life to bring down Nimrod’s kingdom.  The Bible tells of many other efforts to destroy Israel, including the rebellion of 10 tribes against the House of David.  Those tribes became the northern kingdom of Israel, known also as the House of Ephraim after the tribe that led the rebellion, and have been scattered throughout the nations since the Assyrian Empire conquered them in 720 BC.  With those physical descendants of Israel dispersed and forgotten, presumably forever, Satan’s attention turned toward the House of Judah, the Jewish kingdom which constituted the remaining portion of Israel.  The accounts of Jeremiah, Daniel, Esther, Nehemiah, and the Maccabees inform us of attempts to destroy the Jews, and of God’s salvation in each case.  In later times we have seen many others try and fail, including Rome, the Christian states of Europe, the Muslim states of North Africa and the Middle East, and, worst of all, Nazi Germany.  Through it all God has preserved a remnant of Jews to carry on the name of Israel, and has expanded the nation through Christian evangelism – albeit often in ignorance of true Israelite identity.

With this understanding we can take another look at the events of World War I and their parallels in 2014.  If the prophecies of the end of this age focus on Israel, then the patterns up to that point should also focus on Israel.  And indeed they do.  Most of the attention given to World War I over the years has been to the Western Front in Europe, where millions died senselessly, or to the tumultuous Eastern Front, where Russia fell to pieces and reemerged as the Soviet Union.  Yet in biblical terms the most significant front was the Middle East, where the seventh great empire to control Israel came crashing down.

That empire was the Ottoman Empire of Turkey.  To understand where Turkey fits in the prophetic picture, we must take a quick survey of the apocalyptic prophecies of Daniel and John.  Daniel records several prophecies of the march of world empires, each having control over Jerusalem and the land of Israel.  We can identify these empires easily enough:

  1. Babylon.
  2. Medo-Persia.
  3. The Greek Empire of Alexander the Great.
  4. Ptolemaic Egypt, a successor to Alexander’s empire.
  5. The Seleucid Empire of Greco-Syria, another successor to Alexander’s empire.
  6. Rome and its successor European states, but especially the Byzantine Empire.
  7. The various Islamic caliphates, the last being the Ottoman Empire.

Daniel first presents these empires through Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the Golden Image in Daniel 2.  The prophet himself saw other perspectives of these empires in his visions of the Four Beasts in Daniel 7, the Ram and Goat in Daniel 8, the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9, and the wars of the kings of the North and South in Daniel 10-12.  What Daniel did not see clearly was the world after the fall of Rome.  That is where John’s revelation picks up the tale.  For his account we turn to Revelation 17:

Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, “Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication.”  So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness.  And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.  The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication.  And on her forehead a name was written:





I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus.  And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement.  But the angel said to me, “Why did you marvel?  I will tell you the mystery of the woman and of the beast that carries her, which has the seven heads and the ten horns.  The beast that you saw was, and is not, and will ascend out of the bottomless pit and go to perdition. And those who dwell on the earth will marvel, whose names are not written in the Book of Life from the foundation of the world, when they see the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.  Here is the mind which has wisdom:  The seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman sits.  There are also seven kings.  Five have fallen, one is, and the other has not yet come.  And when he comes, he must continue a short time.  The beast that was, and is not, is himself also the eighth, and is of the seven, and is going to perdition.  The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast.  These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast.  These will make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, for He is Lord of lords and King of kings; and those who are with Him are called, chosen, and faithful.”  Then he said to me, “The waters which you saw, where the harlot sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues.  And the ten horns which you saw on the beast, these will hate the harlot, make her desolate and naked, eat her flesh and burn her with fire.  For God has put it into their hearts to fulfill His purpose, to be of one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God are fulfilled.  And the woman whom you saw is that great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.”  (Revelation 17:1-18 NKJV, emphasis added)

Our attention here is on the Beast, which is the engine of the world empires that have controlled Jerusalem.  The Beast is also the transportation for the Harlot of Babylon, that great world system which has governed all these empires.  In John’s time Rome, the sixth in the line, was the ruling empire.  Although the last emperor in Rome was deposed in 476 AD, Rome actually continued in the form of the Byzantine Empire until 1453, when Ottoman Turks captured the city of Constantinople (Istanbul).  Jerusalem and the Holy Land had fallen under the dominion of the Islamic realm long before then.  It was the Caliph Omar, the second caliph after the death of Muhammad, who captured Jerusalem from the Byzantines in the year 637.  Aside from a brief period of Crusader control from 1099-1187, Jerusalem remained in Muslim hands until 1917, when the British took it from the Ottoman Turks.  It would appear, therefore, that this king who, in John’s time, had not yet come, is the Islamic caliphate, both in its Arab and Turkish manifestations.  There is one school of thought which considers the Ottoman Empire as the seventh king of John’s vision, and Mecca as the city of the harlot of Babylon.  I am inclined to agree, with one exception:  the seventh king would not be the Ottoman Empire alone, but all the caliphates which controlled Jerusalem.

We should expect, therefore, that the “beast that was, and is not” is an Islamic empire as well.  Whether it is the reborn Ottoman Empire, or the caliphate of the newly proclaimed Islamic State, or even the Shi’a empire of Iran, we shall see in time.  What is certain is that the Islamic empire received a death blow to the head in 1924 when the last caliph was deposed.  That beast may have climbed out of the bottomless pit even now, in this summer of 2014.  We can be certain, nonetheless, that this beastly empire will be the instrument of Antimessiah through which Satan will exert his last strength in an attempt to blot out every vestige of Israel.



"Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse" Viktor M. Vasnetsov
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse
Viktor M. Vasnetsov

Is the Apocalypse Nigh?

If this truly is the beginning of the end of this age, then we should expect wars and rumors of war to increase until the entire globe is consumed, just as it was in the Great War of 1914-1918, and again in the Second World War of 1939-1945.  Depending on one’s perspective, the Tribulation either begins with or is immediately preceded by this period of escalating war.  This is the time of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, the rider of a White Horse going out to conquer, the rider on the Red Horse who takes peace from the earth, the rider on the Black Horse bringing famine, and the Pale Horse bearing Death and Hades.  In short order these Horsemen bring an end to the lives of one fourth of the population of the planet.  The Horsemen are followed by the revelation of multitudes of martyrs slain for their adherence to the Word of God who ask how long before the Lord will judge the world and avenge their blood.  They are told to wait until the number of martyrs yet to die is complete.  Then comes a great earthquake and many signs in the heavens, followed by the selection of the special servants of God (12,000 from each tribe of Israel, 144,000 total) and the deliverance of multitudes from the Great Tribulation.  After that comes silence in heaven for a short time, and then the judgment of God begins in earnest.

The events described above are the Seven Seals of Revelation.  They are followed by Seven Trumpets, and then Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath.  Those events are not the subject of this writing.  By the time they begin, all the people of the earth shall either be dead, in a place of safety guarded by God Himself, or fully exposed to the judgments as they fall.  What I intend to investigate is the prelude to these events, specifically the wars leading to the Tribulation.  Humanity has expected the Apocalypse ever since Yeshua returned to the Father.  Such was the expectation in some circles one hundred years ago as World War I plunged our civilization into darkness.  Today is no different, except for one thing:  Israel exists as a nation, and the peoples of Israel, Jewish and non-Jewish, are awakening to their identity.  Yeshua advises us that the generation who sees the things He foretold of the end of the age would not pass away until all these things take place (Matthew 24:32-35).  A common understanding of His meaning is that the generation which sees the nation of Israel reborn shall not pass away until the end of the age and Yeshua’s return.  The State of Israel came into existence on May 14, 1948, and in May of 2018 will celebrate 70 years of independence.  Since a generation is often counted as 70 years, there is speculation that 2018 could mark the end of this age, either with the beginning or end of the Tribulation, or the return of Messiah.

It is still too soon to say with certainty where we are on this timeline of judgment and redemption, but it appears that we are indeed in the window for Messiah’s return.  We will never know the exact day or hour, but we can and must know the season.  That is why God explained His calendar to us and told us to observe His appointed times (Feasts of the Lord) throughout all our generations.  Today the world revolves around a man-made solar calendar that begins in January and ends in December, but God’s calendar, which is often called the Jewish calendar, operates differently.  His calendar begins in the first month (March/April) with the feasts of Passover, Unleavened Bread, and First Fruits, continues to the third month (May/June) with the Feast of Shavuot (Pentecost), and moves on to the seventh month (September/October) with the fall feasts of Rosh Hoshana/Trumpets, Yom Kippur/Atonement, and Sukkot/Tabernacles.  Any attempt to interpret biblical prophecy without resorting to His calendar and these appointed times is doomed to failure because it starts from the wrong reference point.  And yet even in Jewish and Messianic circles there is confusion about the calendar, with the result that we cannot be certain exactly which day is which.  Even so, we can know the season, and we can be certain the Lord Himself will reveal what we need to know at the time we need to know it.  That is why we watch and pray, studying the signs He explained through Scripture.

Those signs include events in the heavens.  The first chapter of the Bible explains that God made the sun, moon, and stars for “signs and seasons, and for days and years” (Genesis 1:14 NKJV).  Regarding the end of this age, or Day of the Lord, we can expect these signs:

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.  And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days.  And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: blood and fire and pillars of smoke.  The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the LordAnd it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.  For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be deliverance, as the Lord has said, among the remnant whom the Lord calls.  (Joel 2:28-32 NKJV, emphasis added; see also Acts 2:14-21)

The Blood Moon Sequence of April 14-15, 2014
The Blood Moon Sequence of April 14-15, 2014

It just so happens that some of these signs are appearing in the heavens even now in our day.  A few years ago, Pastor Mark Biltz of El Shaddai Ministries identified the phenomena of Blood Moon Tetrads that will occur during the Feasts of the Lord in 2014 and 2015.  These are lunar eclipses in which the appearance of the moon turns red, which is why they called blood moons.  Four of these lunar eclipses (a tetrad) occur on the feasts of Passover and Tabernacles in 2014 and 2015 (April 15 and October 8, 2014; April 4 and September 28, 2015).  Similar tetrads occurred in 1949-50, just after Israel won its independence, and 1967-68, at the time of the Six Day War when Israel regained control of Jerusalem.[4]  It is easy to make too much of these signs, but we cannot let them pass as mere coincidence.  After all, the first Blood Moon of 2014 has been followed by a season of war for Israel which is still in its early stages.  It is interesting to note that the first Blood Moon Tetrad marked the independence of Israel, and the second Tetrad marked the reestablishment of Israeli control over Jerusalem.  Perhaps this next series of Blood Moons will see Israel regain complete control over the Temple Mount.[5]  If that happens, then we could expect Israel to make an effort at rebuilding the Temple and reestablishing sacrificial worship according to the commandments of Leviticus.  Admittedly that is just speculation at this point, but it is plausible.  As we know, the reestablishment of Temple sacrifices must occur before the Abomination of Desolation which marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation.  It is with this in mind that we watch and pray, as Yeshua commanded us.

An Expanding Series of Conflicts

Perhaps the most significant developments for which we should watch are the wars surrounding Israel.  Prophecy scholars have identified three great wars culminating prior to Yeshua’s return:  the last great Arab-Israeli war (Psalm 83 and Isaiah 17), the Gog/Magog War (Ezekiel 38-39), and the War of Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16).  The War of Armageddon is as yet too far off to describe in any detail, but the first two seem to be taking shape even as we watch.  Let us take a closer look at each.

The Confederation to Annihilate Israel and the Destruction of Damascus

The Great Middle East War, Part I
The Great Middle East War, Part I

The events of Psalm 83 and Isaiah 17 often get combined in Bible commentary.  Psalm 83 concerns a conspiracy of Arab peoples against Israel, and Isaiah 17 foretells the destruction of Damascus.  Together these passages point to an astounding Israeli victory, although at great cost.  Consider the opening verses of Psalm 83:

Do not keep silent, O God!  Do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, O God!  For behold, Your enemies make a tumult; and those who hate You have lifted up their head.  They have taken crafty counsel against Your people, and consulted together against Your sheltered ones.  They have said, “Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be remembered no more.”  For they have consulted together with one consent; they form a confederacy against You:”  (Psalm 83:1-5 NKJV)

This is the invocation of God’s help against the confederacy.  The psalmist says the confederates are enemies of God.  They have lifted up their heads against God, but since they cannot get at Him they lash out in their anger against the people God has protected.  The target of their anger is the State of Israel – the Jewish state.  God’s esteem for Israel is a major topic of the Bible, beginning with God’s solemn promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (renamed Israel by God Himself) to give them and their descendants the land now called Israel.  God has called Israel the apple of His eye, and has promised to deal with the nations that have plundered the land and people.  It is well known that Hamas, Fatah, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaida, Syria, and other Arab entities have spoken consistently about demolishing the Jewish state.  These are all members of the Psalm 83 confederacy.  Iran also has spoken out vehemently against Israel, even voicing the sentiment of cutting Israel off from being a nation.  Although Iran is not mentioned as part of the Psalm 83 confederacy, it is part of the Gog/Magog alliance, and its former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad drew global attention throughout his presidency for his vocal anti-Israeli sentiment and policies.  But who, exactly, is in this Psalm 83 confederacy?  It is a familiar list, and all of them are identifiable in Scripture:

The tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites; Moab and the Hagrites; Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek; Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre; Assyria also has joined with them; they have helped the children of Lot.  Selah.  Deal with them as with Midian, as with Sisera, as with Jabin at the Brook Kishon, who perished at En Dor, who became as refuse on the earth.  Make their nobles like Oreb and like Zeeb, yes, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let us take for ourselves the pastures of God for a possession.”  (Psalm 83:6-12 NKJV, emphasis added)

  • Edom:  Descendants of Esau (Edom) (Genesis 36), whose hereditary land is southern Jordan, and who include Palestinian Arabs in the West Bank and Israel.
  • Moab and Ammon:  Descendants of Lot’s sons (Genesis 19:30-37).  Their hereditary lands are the rest of Jordan.  The capital of Jordan, Amman, even retains the name of the Ammonites.
  • Ishmaelites and Hagrites:  Descendants of Abraham’s first son, Ishmael, whose mother was Abraham’s Egyptian concubine, Hagar (Genesis 25:12-18).  Many of the Arab peoples descend from Ishmael, including those of Saudi Arabia.  The Hagrites (I Chronicles 5:18-22) are the people living east of Gilead in southern Syria.  Since Hagar was Egyptian, it is possible Psalm 83 includes at least part of Egypt in the confederacy.  If so, it may mean only the inhabitants of Sinai since the psalm would likely name Egypt specifically if that nation were rising against Israel.
  • Gebal and Tyre:  This is Lebanon.  Tyre, along with Sidon, were prominent cities of the Phoenicians (Mark 7:24-30), a seafaring Canaanite people who built the ancient world’s greatest commercial empire.  Although King Hiram of Tyre was an ally of David and Solomon (I Kings 5), Ezekiel 28 names the king of Tyre as a symbol of Satan.  As for Sidon, its great biblical significance is as the hometown of wicked Queen Jezebel, the woman who induced King Ahab of Israel to make Baal worship the official state religion.  Gebal (modern Jubayl; Joshua 13:5; Ezekiel 27:9) is also in Lebanon and was another Phoenician city.  Today Lebanon is a divided land, split between the powerful Shi’a Hezbollah terrorist army and less organized Sunni militias.  All of them, however, harbor enmity toward Israel.  Whether it is Hezbollah alone or the various factions united against a common enemy, all of Lebanon will be involved in this war.
  • Amalek: A grandson of Esau (Genesis 36:12), Amalek and his descendants populated southern Jordan, the Negev, and northern Arabia.  They are the only people God commanded Israel to hold as enemies forever and wipe out completely (Deuteronomy 25:17-18).   It was the Amalekites who ambushed Israel on the way out of Egypt, and Haman, a descendant of King Agag of Amalek, came close to destroying the Jews in the days of Esther.
  • Philistia:  Philistia is the ancient territory of the Philistines, hereditary enemies of Israel who originated on the island of Crete.  The five cities of the Philistines were Gaza, Ashkelon, Ashdod, Ekron, and Gath (Joshua 13:3).  The only major city of the Philistines not currently under Israeli sovereignty is Gaza.
  • Jabin and Sisera:  In the days of Israel’s judges, Jabin was king of Canaan and Sisera was his general.  They were defeated by Deborah and Barak (Judges 4).  This reference in Psalm 83 indicates that the war will include the present-day Canaanites:  the Palestinians who live in Israel among the Israelis, as well as those living in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria).  Already there have been two Intifadas (uprisings) against Israeli control over the Palestinian territories (1987-93; 2000-05), and there have been calls for a third Intifada in light of the recently failed Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the current Gaza war.
  • Oreb, Zeeb, Zebah, Zalmunna:  These were Midianite kings defeated by Gideon (Judges 7-8).  Midian is the territory of northwest Saudi Arabia next to the Red Sea.  This reference to Midian indicates that Saudi Arabia, or at least portions of it, could be involved in this war.
  • Assyria:  The heartland of Assyria is northern Iraq and eastern Syria, precisely the territory now claimed by the Islamic State of the newly proclaimed Caliph Ibrahim.  Considering the stated goals of the IS, it is certain that they will be involved in this war as it escalates.

What happens to this confederacy?  Psalm 83 tells us:

O my God, make them like the whirling dust, like the chaff before the wind!  As the fire burns the woods, and as the flame sets the mountains on fire, so pursue them with Your tempest, and frighten them with Your storm.  Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O LORD.  Let them be confounded and dismayed forever; yes, let them be put to shame and perish, that they may know that You, whose Name alone is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth.  (Psalm 83:13-18 NKJV)

The psalmist does call for the Lord to bring destruction on the antagonists, but note the reason:  “that they may know that You, whose Name alone is the LORD, are the Most High over all the earth”.  This war against all of Israel’s immediate neighbors will result in a resounding victory, and it will bring glory to God.  The peoples of the earth will begin to sit up and take notice that something unusual is going on:  Israel will survive against all odds, just as it has done since becoming a nation again in 1948.

The current Gaza war may be the precursor to the wider Psalm 83 war.  There is prophesied judgment and destruction on Gaza, as well as other cities of the ancient Philistines, in the first chapter of Amos:

Thus says the Lord:  “For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they took captive the whole captivity to deliver them up to Edom.  But I will send a fire upon the wall of Gaza, which shall devour its palaces.  I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and the one who holds the scepter from Ashkelon; I will turn My hand against Ekron, and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish,” says the Lord God.  (Amos 1:6-8 NKJV)

Some of that prophecy is already fulfilled, but it certainly seems that the part about the “fire upon the wall of Gaza” is happening even now.  In any case, the final disposition of the Philistines and Canaanites (Palestinians) is the subject of another prophecy, which we will address shortly.

But what of Damascus?  There is still the Isaiah 17 dimension to this conflict.  Syria is already dismembered and bleeding from the civil war now in its fourth year.  Already Israel has exchanged fire across the northern border with forces of the Syrian government and with various rebel factions.  Isaiah 17 indicates that Syria will be decisively engaged in this coming conflict:

The burden against Damascus.  “Behold, Damascus will cease from being a city, and it will be a ruinous heap.  The cities of Aroer are forsaken; they will be for flocks which lie down, and no one will make them afraid.  The fortress also will cease from Ephraim, the kingdom from Damascus, and the remnant of Syria; they will be as the glory of the children of Israel,” says the Lord of hosts.  “In that day it shall come to pass that the glory of Jacob will wane, and the fatness of his flesh grow lean.  It shall be as when the harvester gathers the grain, and reaps the heads with his arm; it shall be as he who gathers heads of grain in the Valley of Rephaim.  Yet gleaning grapes will be left in it, like the shaking of an olive tree, two or three olives at the top of the uppermost bough, four or five in its most fruitful branches,” says the Lord God of Israel.  In that day a man will look to his Maker, and his eyes will have respect for the Holy One of Israel.  He will not look to the altars, the work of his hands; he will not respect what his fingers have made, nor the wooden images nor the incense altars.  In that day his strong cities will be as a forsaken bough and an uppermost branch, which they left because of the children of Israel; and there will be desolation.  Because you have forgotten the God of your salvation, and have not been mindful of the Rock of your stronghold, therefore you will plant pleasant plants and set out foreign seedlings; in the day you will make your plant to grow, and in the morning you will make your seed to flourish; but the harvest will be a heap of ruins in the day of grief and desperate sorrow.  Woe to the multitude of many people who make a noise like the roar of the seas, and to the rushing of nations that make a rushing like the rushing of mighty waters!  The nations will rush like the rushing of many waters; but God will rebuke them and they will flee far away, and be chased like the chaff of the mountains before the wind, like a rolling thing before the whirlwind.  Then behold, at eventide, trouble!  And before the morning, he is no more.  This is the portion of those who plunder us, and the lot of those who rob us.  (Isaiah 17:1-14 NKJV)

There is much in this passage that is unclear, but it begins with the unmistakable prediction that Damascus will be destroyed and the sovereignty of Syria removed.  There is also mention of judgment on Israel – not on Judah, the current State of Israel, but on Ephraim, the northern kingdom of Israel which is still dispersed among the nations.  Perhaps what the Lord means in this word given through Isaiah is that the power of Ephraim as it now exists in the various nations of the earth will be broken, compelling Ephraim to trust in the Lord alone.  There are various schools of thought that Ephraim today exists largely within the United States and/or Great Britain.  If that is so, then perhaps this indicates a complete dissipation of the strength of those nations.  That would be consistent with God’s intent to regather the dispersed tribes and their companions (those grafted into Israel) at the end of this age.  It is consistent as well with this historical note from the Psalms that may also be prophetic:

The children of Ephraim, being armed and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.  They did not keep the covenant of God; they refused to walk in His law, and forgot His works and His wonders that He had shown them.  (Psalm 78:9-11 NKJV)

This passage brings to mind the non-action of the United States in response to the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons on August 13, 2013.  After calling chemical weapons use a “red line” which the Assad government had crossed, the Obama administration made every indication it would commit to limited U.S. military intervention in Syria.  Yet rather than carry through with this threat, the US ceded the initiative to Russia, permitting Moscow to negotiate a protocol that left the Assad regime unpunished in exchange for handing over most of its chemical arsenal.  That was, quite possibly, a mortal blow to US credibility, and certainly a decisive blow to any ability of the US to exert leadership, power, and influence in the Middle East or anywhere else in the world.  If the US and the West, therefore, are in any way connected with the House of Ephraim, than this statement from Psalm 78 describes what happened with Syria in August 2013.

Time and further study will tell whether the dissipation of the strength of the US and the West is part of the meaning of Isaiah 17.  What does seem to be clear is that Israel will face a war of annihilation with the Arab peoples, and that the Lord will come through to bring victory.  Perhaps this war has already started.  Those coming against Israel will be Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, the Palestinian Arabs, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, and perhaps Saudi Arabia.  Jordan and Saudi Arabia are yet missing from the conspiracy, but it would not take much to bring them into it.  Already Jordan is facing a threat from the Islamic State.  The IS hopes to topple King Abdullah and bring his realm under the sway of Caliph Ibrahim, and has similar designs on Saudi Arabia.  It would seem, however, that Jordan is the real indicator; as long as King Abdullah’s throne is intact, the Psalm 83 confederacy is incomplete.

God’s Glory, Israel’s Expansion, and Russia’s Demise

The Great Middle East War, Part II The Gog-Magog Alliance Joel Richardson (Note:  The Barking Fox contends that Russia is the senior partner of this alliance)
The Great Middle East War, Part II
The Gog-Magog Alliance
Joel Richardson
(Note: The Barking Fox contends that Russia is the senior partner of this alliance)

Israel’s victory in the Psalm 83 war will bring glory to God and vindication for Israel, but it will leave Israel exhausted.  Most likely the Israel Defense Force will have to occupy much of the lands of its defeated foes, particularly Lebanon, Gaza, Jordan, and southern Syria.  This will leave Israel vulnerable to a determined enemy.  In fact enemies abound for Israel.  The destruction of Damascus alone will be enough to gain worldwide condemnation.  Already Israel’s actions in Gaza have fueled the flames of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere.  It is not hard to imagine that after the next war Jews will find it very difficult to remain in their current homes.  Many are even now fleeing France, Ukraine, and other increasingly inhospitable nations where they have lived for centuries.  As Jews return in greater numbers, Israel will be replenished, but condemnation of the Jewish state will only grow louder.

Scripture indicates the opposition to Israel will come from a larger alliance than the Arab confederation.  Ezekiel 38 and 39 speaks to an alliance led by Russia and including Turkey, Iran, Libya, and Sudan or Ethiopia.  It is worthwhile to review the passage in detail:

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God:  “Behold,  I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.  I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords.  Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you.  Prepare yourself and be ready, you and all your companies that are gathered about you; and be a guard for them.  After many days you will be visited.  In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely.  You will ascend, coming like a storm, covering the land like a cloud, you and all your troops and many peoples with you.”

“‘Thus says the Lord God:  “On that day it shall come to pass that thoughts will arise in your mind, and you will make an evil plan:  You will say, ‘I will go up against a land of unwalled villages; I will go to a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates’—to take plunder and to take booty, to stretch out your hand against the waste places that are again inhabited, and against a people gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell in the midst of the land.  Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish, and all their young lions will say to you, ‘Have you come to take plunder?  Have you gathered your army to take booty, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to take great plunder?’”’”

“Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, ‘Thus says the Lord God:  “On that day when My people Israel dwell safely, will you not know it?  Then you will come from your place out of the far north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army.  You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land.  It will be in the latter days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you, O Gog, before their eyes.”  Thus says the Lord God:  “Are you he of whom I have spoken in former days by My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied for years in those days that I would bring you against them?”

“’”And it will come to pass at the same time, when Gog comes against the land of Israel,” says the Lord God, “that My fury will show in My face.  For in My jealousy an in the fire of My wrath I have spoken:  ‘Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel, so that the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all men who are on the face of the earth shall shake at My presence.  The mountains shall be thrown down, the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.’  I will call for a sword against Gog throughout all My mountains,” says the Lord God.  “Every man’s sword will be against his brother.  And I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed; I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.  Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations.  Then they shall know that I am the Lord.”’”  (Ezekiel 38:1-23 NKJV, emphasis added)

“And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal; and I will turn you around and lead you on, bringing you up from the far north, and bring you against the mountains of Israel.  Then I will knock the bow out of your left hand, and cause the arrows to fall out of your right hand.  You shall fall upon the mountains of Israel, you and all your troops and the peoples who are with you; I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured.  You shall fall on the open field; for I have spoken,” says the Lord God.  “And I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in security in the coastlands.  Then they shall know that I am the Lord.  So I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel, and I will not let them profane My holy name anymore.  Then the nations shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel.  Surely it is coming, and it shall be done,” says the Lord God.  “This is the day of which I have spoken.

“’“Then those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and bucklers, the bows and arrows, the javelins and spears; and they will make fires with them for seven years.  They will not take wood from the field nor cut down any from the forests, because they will make fires with the weapons; and they will plunder those who plundered them, and pillage those who pillaged them,” says the Lord God.

“’“It will come to pass in that day that I will give Gog a burial place there in Israel, the valley of those who pass by east of the sea; and it will obstruct travelers, because there they will bury Gog and all his multitude.  Therefore they will call it the Valley of Hamon Gog.  For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them, in order to cleanse the land.  Indeed all the people of the land will be burying, and they will gain renown for it on the day that I am glorified,” says the Lord God.  “They will set apart men regularly employed, with the help of a search party, to pass through the land and bury those bodies remaining on the ground, in order to cleanse it.  At the end of seven months they will make a search.  The search party will pass through the land; and when anyone sees a man’s bone, he shall set up a marker by it, till the buriers have buried it in the Valley of Hamon Gog.  The name of the city will also be Hamonah.  Thus they shall cleanse the land.”’

“And as for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God, ‘Speak to every sort of bird and to every beast of the field:  “Assemble yourselves and come; gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal which I am sacrificing for you, a great sacrificial meal on the mountains of Israel, that you may eat flesh and drink blood.  You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams and lambs, of goats and bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan.  You shall eat fat till you are full, and drink blood till you are drunk, at My sacrificial meal which I am sacrificing for you.  You shall be filled at My table with horses and riders, with mighty men and with all the men of war,” says the Lord God.’

“I will set My glory among the nations; all the nations shall see My judgment which I have executed, and My hand which I have laid on them.  So the house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day forward.  The Gentiles shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity; because they were unfaithful to Me, therefore I hid My face from them.  I gave them into the hand of their enemies, and they all fell by the sword.  According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions I have dealt with them, and hidden My face from them.”

“Therefore thus says the Lord God:  ‘Now I will bring back the captives of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name—after they have borne their shame, and all their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, when they dwelt safely in their own land and no one made them afraid.  When I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and I am hallowed in them in the sight of many nations, then they shall know that I am the Lord their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land, and left none of them captive any longer.  And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ says the Lord God.”  (Ezekiel 39:1-29 NKJV, emphasis added)

Much commentary has focused on the alliance of this prophecy.  A traditional interpretation is that Gog and Magog refer to Russia, and that is worthy of consideration if for no other reason than the fact that God says He will draw Gog and his people from the far north.  However, all of the peoples originally identified as Rosh, Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, and Togarmah lived in what is now Turkey.  As for the other members of the alliance, Persia is still Persia (Iran) and Libya is still Libya (or perhaps a North African confederation with Libya at the center).  Ethiopia, or Cush in Hebrew, could mean the entire Horn of Africa, but particularly Sudan.

According to Ezekiel’s prophecy, somehow an alliance of anti-Israel nations comes into being to crush the expanded Israeli state after the Psalm 83 war, and that God Himself brings about the defeat of this alliance just as their invasion of Israel is on the verge of success.  My opinion is that Russia is indeed the senior partner, or at least a major contributor, to this effort.  Even if Russia is not Magog, Russia gives the alliance a large amount of credibility and muscle, which may be the point of the phrase, “Prepare yourself and be ready, you and all your companies that are gathered about you; and be a guard for them” (Ezekiel 38:7 NKJV, emphasis added).  Events playing out in the Middle East even now, as well as Russia’s historic interest in the region, seem to bear this out.  It is Russia that has bolstered Iran, improved its military capabilities, and brought it closer to the nuclear threshold.  Russia, with Iran, has kept Bashar al Assad in power in Syria, and Russia even now is working with Iran to keep the Islamic State at bay and preserve a remnant of Iraq.  Russia has stepped in to assist Egypt in throwing off the Muslim Brotherhood and combating Sunni terrorists, and has filled the void left when the United States turned away both from Israel and from its traditional Arab allies.  Russia has also exerted influence over Turkey, ensuring that Istanbul does not go too far in its quest to restore Ottoman greatness.

Some observers consider Turkey as Gog based on this Ottoman legacy and on the efforts of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to restore Turkish power and influence.  However, considering the powers that could fill the role of Gog and the land of Magog, Turkey is a poor contender.  Unlike Iran and Russia, the Turks seem to vacillate in their foreign policy and have proven unable thus far to sustain any ability to project power far beyond their borders.  Prime Minister Erdoğan has indeed led Turkey into a more Islamist path, and unless there is another secularist coup led by the military, Turkey will become increasingly more Islamist.  However, Turkey has not been the senior partner in any Great Power venture for over 330 years, and it does not seem likely to fill that role anytime soon.  I assess, therefore, that Turkey will indeed go along with the Gog/Magog invasion plan, but not lead it – just as Turkey in World War I was but the junior partner in the Central Powers alliance with Germany and Austria-Hungary.

And how, exactly, will this invasion come about?  The preparations are already in development thanks to the rebirth of the Russian Empire.  Aggression toward Ukraine is just the latest and most blatant example of Russian resurgence.  As of this writing, allegations of Russian military support to the insurgents in eastern Ukraine grow more strident in the aftermath of the downing of Malaysian Airlines flight 17.  MH17 may indeed be the Lusitania of our day – the single great atrocity which brings the condemnation of the world onto the greatest aggressor among the Powers.  However, that condemnation will ring hollow as the Western nations find themselves impotent to do anything to keep Moscow from justifying an incursion to protect “oppressed” ethnic Russians.  As the prophecy indicates, the only opposition to this invasion is a feeble diplomatic protest (Ezekiel 38:13), not unlike the impotent floundering of the US, EU, and NATO even now in the face of not only Russian actions toward Ukraine, but the Gaza war.  We have seen such things before; Western inability to stand up against Adolf Hitler resulted in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

Already the Russian government is preparing its people for war, as one will see with a quick review of the headlines in Pravda.  A recent story in Pravda indicates preparations for further intervention in the Middle East.  In “Iraq:  US and Israel Plan Destruction of the Nation State“ (July 19, 2014), columnist Michel Chossudovsky refers to the Zionist invocation of God’s promise to Abraham to give his descendants the land from the River of Egypt to the Euphrates.  His contention is that the US and Israel plan to dismember the current Arab states and make them smaller, more controllable entities, with the help of an independent Kurdistan.  It is not difficult to see how such a train of thought could lead to Russian intervention on behalf of beleaguered Arab peoples to rescue them from Jewish aggression, particularly after the Psalm 83 war brings about what looks like the fulfillment of this plan.

There remains much uncertainty about this Gog/Magog War.  It may even be identical to the War of Armageddon, although that is by no means clear.  If the two wars are not one and the same, then the Gog/Magog War will open the way for Antimessiah to establish his global regime.  After the defeat of God’s alliance, there will be no one else to contest the Beast, other than the Kings of the East who will come against him later (Revelation 16:12-16).

BFB140224 ARI One StickHowever it occurs, the Gog/Magog War will bring about something that most commentators have failed to notice:  the restoration of all Israel.  Ezekiel says that, “the house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day forward.”  (Ezekiel 39:22 NKJV)  He is not referring to the Jewish people, the House of Judah.  Judah is already in the land, and will continue to return as Jews around the world make Aliyah in the face of growing anti-Semitism.  The remaining exiles are those of Ephraim, the House of Israel, and their companions.  In fact, the Ezekiel 38-39 prophecy follows on the greatest prophecy in Scripture about the return of all Israel:  the prophecy of the Two Sticks of Judah and Ephraim in Ezekiel 37:15-28.  It may be that Psalm 83, Isaiah 17, and Ezekiel 39:6 indicate that the rest of the world becomes inhospitable for those who have a testimony of Yeshua and keep the commandments of the Lord (Revelation 12:17; 14:12).  Indications as of now are that these will be the Torah-keeping Christians; non-Jewish Messianic believers who have awakened to their grafted-in Israelite identity and are determined to return in obedience to the Lord.  To some extent they could be called “Christian Zionists”, but that term is not entirely accurate.  Not all Christian Zionists are willing to turn from Sunday worship back to God’s Sabbath, nor shun Christmas and Easter in preference for His appointed times of Passover and Tabernacles.  Exactly who are these people is still not entirely clear, but we can be sure from Ezekiel’s prophecy that they are the companions both of Judah and of Ephraim (Ezekiel 37:15-17).  Their return, no less than the miraculous destruction of the Gog/Magog forces, will proclaim the greatness of the God of Israel to the entire world.

The timing of all of this is still unclear.  It may be that the regathering of all Israel, and particularly of Ephraim, will accelerate with the Psalm 83 and Gog/Magog wars, but will not be complete until after Messiah returns.  However it occurs, the regathering of Israel will result in the fulfillment of yet another prophecy through Isaiah – the final victory over Israel’s longstanding enemies:

And in that day there shall be a Root of Jesse, Who shall stand as a banner to the people; for the Gentiles shall seek Him, and His resting place shall be glorious.  It shall come to pass in that day that the Lord shall set His hand again the second time to recover the remnant of His people who are left, from Assyria and Egypt, from Pathros and Cush, from Elam and Shinar, from Hamath and the islands of the sea.  He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth.  Also the envy of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim.  But they shall fly down upon the shoulder of the Philistines toward the west; together they shall plunder the people of the East; they shall lay their hand on Edom and Moab; and the people of Ammon shall obey them.  The Lord will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; with His mighty wind He will shake His fist over the River, and strike it in the seven streams, and make men cross over dry-shod.  There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will be left from Assyria, as it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of Egypt.  (Isaiah 11:10-16 NKJV, emphasis added)

How much of this is now in play?  Only time will tell.  What is certain is that in this summer of 2014, the echoes of 1914 sound louder each day from the embattled cities of eastern Ukraine, from the tunnels under Gaza, and from the empty houses of Christians in Mosul.  The world has changed.  Only those who watch and pray with discerning spirits will know how much.

[1] An astounding post-script occurred on June 29, 2014, the day after publication of Part I of this series.  On that day, jihadists of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) declared a new caliphate in the state they are carving out of the existing Sykes-Picot borders.  This comes 90 years after abolition of the last caliphate, and coincides not only with the beginning of World War I, but the beginning of Ramadan.  It remains to be seen whether this new caliphate will survive, and whether Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi can attain legitimacy as caliph and “leader for Muslims everywhere”.  Nevertheless, the deliberate timing of this event is highly significant and relevant to the fate of the current world order, which is in fact the subject of this series.

[2] The vote on September 18, 2014, resulted in 55% of Scots choosing to remain united with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.  However, the fact alone that the question of Scottish independence came up for a vote, and that a large minority of Scots voted in favor of it, indicates the seriousness of the question and underscores the point that nothing of human origin is permanent (and certainly no political arrangement, no matter how many centuries it has been in existence).  The repercussions of the Scottish Referendum have yet to play out, as noted in George Friedman’s editorial, “The Origins and Implications of the Scottish Referendum”, published by Stratfor.com two days before the vote.

[3] My good friend Thad Moe deserves much credit for helping me understand the Babylonian global order.  Through many lengthy discussions he acquainted me with his considerable meditation on the subject, particularly the various manifestations of Babylon in every realm of human endeavor.  The thoughts presented here reflect the development of our mutual understanding on the Scripture’s meaning about the destruction of Babylon.  Although it is difficult to distinguish which contributions are his and which are mine, it is Thad who first acquainted me with this perspective of the three angels’ proclamations in Revelation 14 and the consequences thereof for every person and nation on earth.  I probably would not have embarked on this line of reasoning without his inspiration.

[4] For further study on the meaning of the Blood Moons, see “End of Days:  The Blood Moon Tetrads and the Greater Exodus” by 119 Ministries, available both in video and written format.

[5] This observation came to my attention through a weekly Shabbat teaching by Monte Judah of Lion and Lamb Ministries.  I recall the comment having come at some point in late March or early April 2014, at the season of the first Blood Moon, but to date have been unable to locate the exact reference.

© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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