January/February 2000

Saddam Hussein: A Modern-Day Nebuchadnezzar?

Is There Prophetic Significance In Today's Middle East Events?

By Harold A. Sevener, President Emeritus, Chosen People Ministries, The Chosen People, Feb. 1991

There has been a rash of conjecture and speculation as to whether modern Iraq is revived Babylon or the Babylon spoken about in Revelation 17:18 -18:3. Articles have appeared depicting Saddam Hussein as a modern Nebuchadnezzar. Some writers have even gone so far as to equate the planned rebuilding of Babylon as a huge Disneyland with fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. All such speculation and conjecture find no place in the Word of God.

Babylon - Historical and Symbolical

Historic Babylon, its empire and kingdom under Nebuchadnezzar, came to an end. In fact, no prophecy in Scripture is more detailed than the prophecy and historic fulfillment of the fall of Babylon (cf. Jer. 50 - 51). In Jeremiah 51:64, the prophet wrote, "Just so shall Babylon sink down and not rise again, because of the calamity that I am going to bring upon her; and they will become exhausted."

Within Scripture, Babylon is used symbolically of the political, economic, and religious systems of the world that are in conflict with God's Kingdom. In short, Babylon represents the world system led by Satan and his forces. This is demonstrated in Revelation 17 - 18, where Babylon is pictured as a harlot riding on a great beast, a dragon, who is none other than Satan himself (cf. Rev. 17:5 - 18).

In Revelation 13:2, the beast is pictured as a composite of the world empires that have historically come against Israel and those that will come against Israel during the Tribulation Period. These are pictured as a leopard, a bear, a lion - the same symbolic language Daniel used to describe the nations, beginning with Babylon (under Nebuchadnezzar) and concluding with the Tribulation Empire.

The fact that Saddam Hussein and Iraq are on the front pages of our newspapers and the fact that his actions have upset the balance of the Middle East and perhaps will provoke war, does not equate Iraq with prophetic or symbolic Babylon in Scripture. These recent events do, however, require an examination in light of Biblical prophecy.

Iraq - Its Beginnings

Modern Iraq, like many of the other Arab countries in the Middle East, was made into a kingdom under Faisal I in 1921, by British mandate under the League of Nations. Colonial Secretary Winston Churchill cut away four-fifths of what was then Palestine (some 35,000 square miles) and created the country of Trans-Jordan (now called Jordan). Faisal's brother, Abdullah, was installed as emir or king. Interestingly, today it is the king o Jordan, King Hussein, who has supported Saddam Hussein, King of Iraq, in his invasion of Kuwait and especially in his anti-Israel polemics.

Thus, the struggles we see today in the Middle East among Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians are border disputes. These territorial disputes have been created by the establishment of artificial borders and political and economic kingdoms set up in the past by the British, the French, and others for the purpose of administrating the areas of the Middle East so that the West might prosper economically from the oil wealth of these countries.

Israel - Its Borders

Scripture tells us that God gave the land of Israel to the Jewish people. The boundaries given by God extend to include much of the land currently occupied by the Arabs (cf. Gen. 15:18 - 21). This was an unconditional promise made by God to Abraham.

Because of Abraham's and Sarah's willingness to have a child (Ishmael) by Hagar, God extended His promises to Hagar and to Ishmael (cf. Gen. 16:7 - 12; 17:20, 21; 21:12, 13, 17, 18). All Arabs are the descendants of Ishmael, and although God's covenant was reconfirmed through Isaac and Jacob, the descendants of Hagar (by God's promise) have a right to dwell in the land.

One day, when the Messiah returns and peace is established, Jew and Arab will live side by side in peace (cf. Isa. 19). Highways will flow from Jerusalem to Egypt, to Syria, and so forth. However, until that day there will be continual border disputes and acts of territorial aggression fueled by hatred and misunderstanding of both Jew and Arab because of man's sin and greed.

Satan will seek to use this hatred and greed to destroy the Jewish people, the nation of Israel, because they are the people unto whom the Messiah will return to establish His everlasting Kingdom.

What, then, is the prophetic significance of today's events in the Middle East? Centuries ago the prophet Balaam was called upon to curse Judah and Israel, but he could not. Instead, he uttered these significant and prophetic words: "As I see him from the tops of the rocks, and I look at Him from the hills; Behold, a people who dwell apart, and shall not be reckoned among the nations" (Num. 23:9). This unique prophecy of Balaam certainly describes the way in which Israel has existed throughout its history and currently exists today.

Since Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, and with the multinational forces arrayed and disperse in Saudi Arabia, Israel has been virtually isolated. Arab nations are united in their efforts to block Saddam Hussein's grab for power, but they are equally united in their policy toward Israel. Any involvement of Israel in the Gulf crisis would unite Arab forces with Iraq against Israel. An old Arab proverb has practical application to the situation in the Middle East today: "My brother and I against our cousin, but my cousin and I against a stranger."

Not content with just the invasion of Kuwait, Saddam Hussein sees himself as the savior of the Palestinians. He is using them as a means to involve Israel in this dispute and thus to break down the Arab alliance against him. The recent Palestinian uprisings at the Western Wall in Jerusalem were orchestrated by Saddam Hussein. The resulting action by Israel received swift and total U.S. Security Council condemnation, further isolating Israel and, in many ways, creating more anti-Semitic reaction to the Jewish people.

War and Tribulation

As war looms on the horizon - multinational forces present in the Middle East and threats of nerve gas, chemical warfare, and even nuclear missiles - all of the ingredients of a "doomsday" or "Armageddon" scenario exist. However, Scriptures indicate that before such an end-time battle like Armageddon can take place, certain other events must transpire.

The Scriptures describe a seven-year period called the Tribulation. At the end of the seven-year Tribulation, there will be a final battle - the battle of Armageddon - and the Messiah will return to establish His Kingdom (cf. Mt. 24; Rev. 6 - 9).

The Tribulation is described as a period of judgment, or the outpouring of God's wrath on unbelievers in the Messiah - both Jew and Gentile. It is the final judgment of the nations before God's Kingdom is established. Since the events of the Tribulation deal with the nation of Israel, in order for the Tribulation to take place, Israel must be established as a nation. This took place in 1948, and in 1967 Israel was able to reunite Jerusalem and to declare Jerusalem to be its capital.

A Covenant Confirmed

The next prophetic event given in Scripture is the confirming of a covenant between Israel and the nations (cf. Dan. 9:27). The word translated "confirmed" comes from the Hebrew word gebor, which means "mighty" or "strong". It is the same root word that is used of God, El Gibbor ("the Mighty One"). In other words, this covenant is a covenant that will be forced upon Israel. They will have to accept it. They will have no choice.

Current events in the Middle East have certainly set the mood for such a covenant to be made. Israel is being isolated more and more, while struggling from within with the Palestinian problem. The nations of the world are putting pressure on Israel to establish a Palestinian homeland within Israel or to return to the borders that existed prior to 1967. This would mean giving up Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

We have already seen the pressure that Saddam Hussein is putting on Israel by encouraging the Palestinians to aggressively cause revolution within Israel and in other Arab countries. If war does break out in the Middle East, a very possible scenario for peace would be an enforced covenant, or treaty, between Israel, the Palestinians, and the Arabs in conjunction with the Western nations. Under such an agreement, Israel would be forced to allow the establishment of a homeland for the Palestinians, perhaps in exchange for secure borders. The terms for such a covenant, or even a later covenant, might include the right of Israel to rebuild a Temple - the exchange of land and secure borders for the right to free access and worship in Jerusalem.

The Temple in Jerusalem

Another prophetic event in Israel's calendar is the rebuilding of the Temple. Whether it takes place before or after the Tribulation is not clear in Scripture. Jesus made it clear that a Temple will stand in that Tribulation Period (cf. Dan. 9:27; Mt. 24:15; 2 Thess. 2:4; Rev. 11:1, 2).

According to Jesus, when the abomination of desolation stands in the Holy Place, the Tribulation will have already begun. Other Scriptures indicate that this abomination of desolation will take place in the middle of the Tribulation (cf. Dan. 9:27), or after three and one-half years (cf. Rev. 11:1, 2).

In the midst of the events taking place in Iraq and the Middle East, some Orthodox Jews are quietly drawing up plans for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. They have hired architects. They have established a Temple fund. On the Via Dolorosa Rosa they have established a synagogue where young Levites who can trace their lineage back to the tribe of Levi are training themselves to be the priests in the Temple when it has been rebuilt. From time to time they have even attempted to lay a cornerstone on the Temple Mount, which has caused riots by the Arab Muslims, whose mosque sits near the site where these Orthodox Jews want to rebuild the Temple.

The Tabernacle at Shiloh

More recently, in the village of Shiloh, Benyamin Begin (son of Menachem Begin), who is now a member of the Knesset, has been working with a group that calls itself the Friends of Shiloh. This group of Israelis want to rebuild the ancient capital of Israel and to establish a permanent tabernacle there. The architects have already drawn up plans, following the specifications set forth in the Torah. The original tabernacle built by ancient Israel housed the two tablets of the Law given at Mt. Sinai, and it served as the center of religious worship for over 350 years. It was the main sanctuary and was replaced by the Temple built by King Solomon.

Monies have already been raised for the building of this new permanent tabernacle in Shiloh, and they are now waiting upon government action as well as support from the Arabs within the community before construction will begin. Perhaps this tabernacle will be the forerunner of a Temple that will be built in Jerusalem during the Tribulation Period. Or perhaps the tabernacle at Shiloh will be used of God to fulfill these prophecies. We have to wait and see.

In the meantime, there will be continual border disputes, threats of war, possibilities of armed conflict until the final day when our Messiah, the Lord Jesus, returns (cf. Ps. 83; Ezek. 38; Dan. 11). As a result, the nation of Israel will become more and more isolated, dwelling alone among the nations, until they are willing to cry out unto Him whom they have pierced (Zech. 12:10, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Mt. 23:39).

As the events in the Middle East unfold, it becomes ever more urgent to bring the Gospel to the Jewish people. It is only through faith in Messiah, the Lord Jesus, that individual peace can come; it is only through the return of Messiah that world peace can come. For those of us who hold that the next prophetic event for the Church is the Rapture, before the Tribulation Period begins, it makes these days in which we live even more exciting as we await the sound of the trumpet!

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