Sunday, October 16, 2011

Syria and the burden of Damascus

I worked on the prophecy newsletter yesterday all day yesterday and sent it out at around 8:00 pm. Then I turned to good old Hal Lindsey to see this week's prophecy newscast, and what do you know, he spent time on exactly the same thing I did, Syria and the first few verses of the burden of Damascus. I love when that happens because it tells me that we are both correctly tuned in to the same source: the Holy Spirit, and correctly listening to what He wants to tell us. To me, it is a confirmation of where we should be placing our attention and prayers.

Syria is a present day problem we haven't discussed in a while. Prophetically, it figures prominently in the oracle of Isaiah in Chapter 17 verse 1-3. Lindsey went on to discuss through to verse 5.

"A prophecy against Damascus"-- “See, Damascus will no longer be a city but will become a heap of ruins. The cities of Aroer will be deserted and left to flocks, which will lie down, with no one to make them afraid. The fortified city will disappear from Ephraim, and royal power from Damascus;"

The plain meaning of the verse, especially verse 1, is clear. And even if a person left it at that with a surface reading, the verse's integrity would remain. Damascus will be destroyed. Since this city never has been destroyed it's obvious that this is a prophecy yet to be fulfilled. But a deeper question remained in my mind: what is the size and location of the geography the LORD is describing here? A cursory reading would seem to indicate a surgical strike against Damascus will destroy it, with surrounding land intact. Is this so? Is it all the verse is saying to us? Thus, I looked into the geographical locations of Ephraim, Aroer and Damascus in biblical history to seek a wider context.

Damascus is the longest continuously inhabited city in the world. It has been inhabited as a city for 5000 years. It is one of the first cities mentioned in the bible. Before Abram was Abraham, when Jerusalem was still Salem, Damascus is mentioned (Genesis 14:15). As we know, Damascus is the capital of the Arab country of Syria and about 130 miles northeast of Jerusalem.

Aroer mentioned in verse 2 is a city (in ruins now) on the north side of the Arnon River, in the southern border of the tribe of Reuben, De 2:36 4:48 Joshua 13:9. It was in the territory of the Amorites, Joshua 12:2, but seems to have fallen at a later day into the hands of Moab, Jeremiah 48:19. (source- Bible Atlas). Initially I thought that the city was close to Damascus but I could be wrong because there is an Aroer halfway down Jordan’s eastern border still showing on the maps. Present-day Jordan is a long, tall nation with a huge square jut-out at the northeastern end. The length of the nation goes from its northern boundary near Irbid to the south portion bordering the Gulf of Aqaba at the Red Sea. A great north-south geological rift, forming the depression of Sea of Galilee, the Jordan Valley, and the Dead Sea, is the dominant topographical feature.

To the east of this long mountain range that forms the border of Israel-Jordan is the King's Highway, a trade route of vital importance to the ancient Middle East and a major highway now. It began in Egypt, and stretched across the Sinai Peninsula to Aqaba. From there it turned northward across Jordan, leading to Damascus and the Euphrates River. The Highway is referred to in Numbers 20:17-21. Given the topography and geography of the region, I believe this highway will figure prominently in the Tribulation. More on that in a moment.

Where is Aroer, exactly? Ha ha, good question. We all know where Damascus is. It is where it has always been. Here the interpretation of "cities of Aroer" in verse 2 gets complicated. Some scholars believe that it represents the city of Aroer midway down Jordan. If you were at Jerusalem and headed due east about 30 miles across the top of the Dead Sea and into Jordan, and picked up the King's Highway and headed south for about 30 miles you'd hit Aroer. If you continued south along the King's Highway for another 120 miles to the very southern portion of Jordan you'd hit the ancient city of Petra. That Aroer is on the river Arnon, the one mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:36.

However that Aroer is a good distance from Damascus, giving the impression that the devastation the prophecy speaks of is widespread. So other scholars believe that the 'cities of Aroer' is closer in proximity to Damascus. Clarke's Commentary asks, "What has Aroer on the river Arnon to do with Damascus? and if there be another Aroer on the northern border of the tribe of Gad, as Reland seems to think there might be, this is not much more to [say]". I have an opinion on this which I'll share below.

So why is part of ancient Israel included in this overthrow Isaiah prophesies, remember, Ephraim is mentioned as also being destroyed. "Barnes Notes explains, "Ephraim was the name given to the northern kingdom of Israel, or to the ten tribes, because Ephraim was the largest of the ten, and was a leading tribe in their councils. Ephraim, or the kingdom of Samaria, is mentioned here in connection with Damascus or Syria, because they were confederated together, and would be involved in the same overthrow." Samaria is shown on the map below in blue. This part of the prophecy, I believe, has already been fulfilled. Samaria was defeated and destroyed in 722BC.

So as we can see, if we believe the area being destroyed in the future is Damascus and nearby city of forgotten Aroer, the area is quite small. If we believe the Aroer mentioned is the ancient city midway down Jordan, then the area destroyed will be quite large. Included would be most of Jordan and the southern part of Syria. Think on the part of the verse that says the 'flocks will lie down, there will be no one to make them afraid'. Sheep scare easily. If they can lay down and rest or slumber is a feeling of safety, the area must be truly desolate, with no people, no activity and no predators.

I believe the prophecy is saying that the area from Damascus to Aroer mid-way down Jordan will be destroyed. I think this for several reasons. First, the Principle of Occam's Razor applies. This is also known as the 'law of succinctness, a principle that generally recommends, when faced with competing hypotheses that are equal in other respects, selecting the one that makes the fewest new assumptions.' Just because Aroer on the Arnon river is far from Damascus (but not really that far in terms of today's miles and ease of travel) doesn't mean we must dispense with it. It is only approximately 150 miles. God can and might decide easily to destroy that length of land.

Secondly, I believe this because of military strategy. The terrain is inhospitable, being steep and mountainous. The King's Highway has been since ancient times a vital route. If there is a battle, and we know from Revelation 6 and Matthew 24 that the Tribulation will be characterized by total war, then it makes sense that an opposing party would want to destroy a vital trade and military route.

Third, the Tribulation will be a time when ancient hatreds come to their full fruition. Jordan, the ancient lands of Ammon, Moab and Edom have always hated Israel. Obadiah prophesied against them, in a series of prophesies I discussed here. With ancient hatreds and total war, why is it hard to believe a swathe of land 150 miles long would become desolate, especially in the face of all the weapons of mass destruction currently available, and mostly pointed at Israel?

Fourth, Syria and Jordan seem to fade away as an end time player. They are not mentioned in the Gog Magog confederacy. We know from prophesies in Daniel that Jordan is not delivered into the Antichrist's hands. "He will also enter the Beautiful Land, and many countries will fall; but these will be rescued out of his hand: Edom, Moab and the foremost of the sons of Ammon." We also know that in Matt. 24:16 the Lord told those in Judea to flee to the mountains when the Abomination of Desolation occurs. The mountains are directly to the east in southern Jordan where Petra is. Rev. 12:14 tells of Satan chasing them across the desert as they flee to a place prepared for them. This desert is between Israel and the mountains of southern Jordan around the northern and eastern shores of the Dead Sea. And in Isaiah 63: 1-6 there’s a verse telling of the Lord coming from Bozrah in Edom after single handedly defeating His enemies there. Bozrah is the region of Edom (Jordan) where Petra is. If the fleeing Jews head across the mountains at the top of the Dead Sea and down the King's Highway to Petra and if the area is already desolate AND undelivered to the antichrist's control, it clears a bit of a path for them to run without those obstacles in the way at least.

Anyone can disagree with my assessment. I'm not saying I'm a scholar nor am I given special insights. But these are the conclusions I came to after study of the verses, examining the biblical atlases, and much prayer and thought.

So that is the long introduction to what is happening in Syria and Jordan today, so we can keep a watchful eye on coming prophecy and how these nations figure into the news of the future.

Syria has been engaged in conflict, some say civil war already, since March 2011. The NY Times article of the timeline reports: "The wave of Arab unrest that started with the Tunisian revolution of January 2011 reached Syria in mid-March, when residents of a small southern city took to the streets to protest the torture of students who had put up anti-government graffiti. President Bashar al-Assad, who inherited Syria’s harsh dictatorship from his father, Hafez al-Assad, at first wavered between force and hints of reform. But in April, just days after lifting the country’s decades-old state of emergency, he launched the first of what became a series of withering crackdowns, sending tanks into restive cities as security forces opened fire on demonstrators." It has only gotten worse since then.

"But by the fall, Syria’s economy was crumbling under the pressure of sanctions and the unrest, with its currency weakening, its recession expanding and its tourism industry wrecked — a serious blow to a regime whose legitimacy has relied on economic success." And by today, a semblance of civil war erupted in Homs, Syria’s third-largest city, where armed protesters were calling themselves revolutionaries.

Syria's Assad threatened to strike Tel Aviv if NATO comes in. He said, "If a crazy measure is taken against Damascus, I will need not more than six hours to transfer hundreds of rockets and missiles to the Golan Heights to fire them at Tel Aviv."

In response, Israel said, that if Tel Aviv is attacked they will bomb the Gaza and also the whole of Lebanon. In addition, "NFC reported Israeli military circles as saying that the Jewish state’s message to Assad “is clear in that Damascus’ fate, should it be targeted, will not be different than Lebanon’s.”

In yet another escalation, Assad replied, "Syrian dictator Bashar Assad is now threatening to ignite the Middle East and destroy Israel if NATO attacks his country, while his mufti is threatening to dispatch suicide bombers to Europe and the United States." The Hudson NY paper asked, "If They Are Like This Now, What Will They Be Like With Nukes?"

That is why the oracle Isaiah delivered was a burden. One comment Lindsey made is that the news was a heavy burden on Isaiah. It was really bad news to have to deliver, even to an enemy. Damascus is a thriving city and the level of devastation prophesied indicated that there would result in mass deaths. Damascus is currently home to 2.3 million people. Isaiah 17 nears the end of the prophecy at verse 14, saying that "Then behold, at eventide, trouble! And before the morning, he is no more." A nighttime strike so catastrophic and complete that the city is wiped out by morning? What can do that? A nuclear bomb.

Syria is a proxy for Iran, and home to the Middle East's most sophisticated chemical and biological weapons development labs, as Consultant to the NATO Defense Establishment in bio-warfare and counter terrorism expert Dr. Jill Dekker describes here. Damascus's strategic alignment with Iran, means also that they along with Iran funds the terrorist group Hezbollah. So Damascus is a mere 150 miles from Jerusalem, is well-funded by Iran, has a nest of Israeli-hating terrorists waiting to obliterate the nation, and is home to the most advanced bio-and chemical weapons facility in the Middle East. And now it is on the brink of civil war and figures prominently in unfulfilled prophecy. Oh, Lord, these surely are perilous times for those who do not know you and do not know what is coming!

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