Middle East Update – February, 2012
There is a reason why we choose not to do weekly updates on the situation in the Middle East. The primary reason is that things tend not to change very much in a brief period of time. Indeed, things tend to move very slowly in that broad arena. For example, the situation on the ground in those nations where uprisings have succeeded in toppling despotic dictators, change has been both bloody and agonizingly slow.
The military government in Egypt, after more than a year, has not yet turned the reins of governance over to a civilian government. There are protests in the streets every day, and citizens are still being shot and killed by the military regime as the populace calls for the military to step aside and become an arm of the civilian government, as it must be in a democratic government.
Unfortunately, however, Egypt is not alone in having had a successful revolution that has failed to germinate and produce the sweet fragrance of Democracy that the people sought when they fought and bled in the streets. Yemen is moving slowly toward that end, as is Tunisia, but neither have settled into lives of freedom and equality and prosperity. Freedom is burning in the breasts of millions of people, and it is coming, and sooner rather than later. Tyranny must go the way of slavery!
The most explosive unrest recently has been in Syria, where both China and Russia have been aiding Syria’s existing dictator, Bashar Al Assad, whose family has ruled like the Oriental despots of ancient times. There is an “off-with-their-heads” mentality, as there has been in each of the nations who have participated in the Arab Spring revolutions; until the blood flowed so freely that the human race finally determined to put an end to it.
NATO took the leading role in Libya, deposing Muammar Gadaffi, but did not stay to help the transition from military to civilian rule. NATO presumed that the new Libyan military would move immediately to democratic elections, and they did not. Libya has now devolved into sectarian warfare, and is no closer to democratic reform or stability than it was before the revolution began. The people of Syria acted on the basis of NATO’s helping hand in Libya. At the end of the day, it is proving to be a sort of “Bay of Pig’s” moment. We indicate by our actions that we will help, but people imprisoned by tyranny are too quick to presume that NATO will always oblige. The plan didn’t even work in Iraq, and we were there for most of a decade. Iraq has a range of problems that mostly run along sectarian lines.
Wherever the United Nations has acted, it has acted through the participation of a coalition of its member states. That is, most member nations of the U.N. provide, in some measure great or small, some form of support for the actions of the U.N. Unanimity is rare, but most of the world seems to be united against the dictators, and all the more during this period that has come to be known as the Arab Spring. Pity it were not the Persian Spring as well. Ah, but there is a springtime coming!
Russia did not back Gadaffi, nor did China. When the U.N. agreed, NATO protected the civilian population from the government’s military tanks and air force, This has not been the case in Syria. Because Iran, Syria and to some extent Lebanon have strong trade and military alliances with the Russians and the Chinese, Geography is also a factor in the U.N.’s inaction.
Russia and China have blocked any action by the United Nations to intervene in Syria. This, because Russia and China are witnessing upheavals in their own nations, and they do not want revolutionaries among their allies to be seen as heroes.
While Russia and China joined the world against Gadaffi and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, where their influence was inconsequential anyway, if the Russians and the Chinese allowed the nations of the world to put down the existing regimes in Iran and Syria, they fear that it will only embolden the revolutionaries in their own nations; that it will be a mere matter of time before they face huge and violently opposed constituencies. The handwriting on the wall reads, “Mene Mene Tekel Upharsin.” Belshazzar, by the writing on the wall, knew that his days were numbered and the time had come for him to die. He had been weighed on the scales of Justice and been found wanting. China and Russia would avoid that judgment if they could. They surely will try, and with great violence themselves, against their own people.
We seem to be at a standstill in the blood-letting in Syria. The United States and others have called for Bashar al Assad to step down, but as long as he has the backing of his supporters in the far north, Assad can hold onto power, using heavy artillery against his own people. The same is true in Iran, where the populace is ruled not only by a political oligarchy, but by a religious monarchy of a sort as well.
People have a natural yearning to be free. They do not mind government, but they mind very much when either government or religion intrudes upon their freedom to be who they are. So, we see unrest continuing in most of the region and its peoples. And then there is Iran, and the bomb.
Again, Russia is against the use of force to stop, or even to hinder, Iran in its progress toward its unstated goal of producing an atomic weapon. Iran denies that its nuclear ambition is for any other purpose than the generation of electricity, but its political arm has stated unequivocally and repeatedly that its purpose and intent is the annihilation of the state of Israel. Since Iran can by no means defeat Israel in a conventional war, there can be but little doubt that their real intent is to produce and use a weapon that most of the world does not trust them to have. Many of the nations of the world have imposed strangling sanctions upon Iran, but her two primary allies have thus far refused to cooperate in those sanctions, continuing to sell arms to both Iran and Syria. Both nations put those arms into the hands of the men of Hamas and Hezbollah.
There is no secret that Iran is sponsoring two anti-Israel factions in the Middle East, Hezbollah and Hamas, both of which share Iran’s stated goal of eliminating the Jewish people from their homeland. The ancient antipathy – that began when Abraham cast out Ishmael in favor of Isaac, borne by his wife, rather than his first son, Ishmael, borne by her maidservant – is rapidly approaching another effusion of blood between those two half brothers.
The United States seems hamstrung by the stalemate in the Middle East. Ah, do not blink. It appears increasingly likely that President Obama will win reelection. If he does, he will be a different president than he was in his first term. In his first term, he tried to be accommodating toward the Republicans, who sought to obstruct everything that he tried to do, often enough to their own embarrassment. The rancor between the left and the right in our nation has finally spilled over into our own streets.
The group that calls itself “the 99%” is enraged over the outcome of the Reagan Revolution, which has seen the middle class driven into poverty. It was a real revolution, but the bullets were dollars, and those with the most bullets won, just as they do when the bullets are lead or steel.
We will refrain from discussing this phenomenon beyond what we have just said, except to suggest that what the “Occupy Movement” in the U.S. wants is the same thing that the revolutionaries in the Middle East want: a real opportunity to earn a living wage in a system where the one percent no longer controls the vast bulk of the nation’s resources.
On the right in the U.S., the “Occupy” movement is being called “class warfare.” And so it is. But the warfare did not begin with the “Occupiers.” It began when President Reagan turned the nation to supply-side economics, promising that its riches would trickle down to the masses if we only stopped taxing the hyper-rich and Corporate America. Especially the bankers. There was no trickle. Rather, the income gap between the top one percent and the rest of the nation grew alarmingly wider over a thirty year period, culminating in the same unrest in the cities of America that we are also seeing in the Middle East.
In the midst of it all, President Obama has done what he could when he could. Unlike in the Arab states and Persia, in the U.S. the protests are not against our president, but against the Congress, the sector of our government that controls the purse strings and writes the tax laws. Obama was seen as weak because he sought compromise. He was broadly accused of caving to the right on almost every issue, and it appeared that he was heading toward a one-term presidency.
In the last several months, however, his stance has shifted somewhat dramatically. He has taken unilateral steps to right the ship. He has stopped seeking compromise and begun to take actions that he can take to sidestep an increasingly obstreperous Congress. The economy is growing again, and the jobless rate is dropping, in spite of the political right’s attempts to thwart any sign of recovery. The U.S. was the first of the industrial nations to emerge from the financial crisis of 2008-2009, and it is again seen as among the most stable nations on the earth.
Due to obstruction by Congress, the nation’s credit rating was lowered for the first time in our history. Everywhere the right has turned, they have shot themselves in the foot, as the current primary process has demonstrated. We stated long before the approaching end of Obama’s first term that he would be reelected handily, if not overwhelmingly. Today, polls show that he would win easily over any of the major candidates who are vying to run against him in November of this year.
But what has this to do with an update in the Middle East? Ah, much in every way. For the sake of this update, let us assume that Obama will be reelected to a second term. How might that second term differ from his first term?
Any president who is facing reelection must take his constituents into his every decision. He cannot afford to alienate those who are most likely to vote for him. An extreme example of this would be Mitt Romney going into the state of Michigan, professing that he would not have bailed out the automotive industry. Since Detroit and Dearborn are both car-producing cities, jobless rates would have skyrocketed had GM and Chrysler not been given a boost by the Obama administration, it is political suicide to try to sell a doctrine that leaves countless families homeless and hungry. The right wing wants poor people. The larger the pool of the poor, the lower their wages sink.
Romney, saying that he would have let those two companies die, must necessarily alienate those workers who would have lost their jobs under his administration, and they would not vote for him. Those primaries have not yet been contested, so it remains to be seen whether this premise actually holds true. Michigan is Romney’s home state, where his father was governor for two terms. If he loses, it will most likely be on account of his slap in the face of the Michigan auto workers.
In that same manner, President Obama could not afford to lose the Jewish vote this November. When, then, the Palestinians requested U.N. recognition of their statehood, Obama could not support them. He was forced into a veto position, much as Russia is forced into such a position over Syria and Iran. President Obama has made a double handful of strong assertions of U.S. fidelity toward Israel. Every president must do so in order to keep the Jewish vote.
However, not seeking reelection in November of 2016, and assuming that he wins in 2012, Obama does not find it necessary to placate the Jews any longer, or even to curry favor with them, once he is reelected. He will then be able to reveal his real attitude toward Israel. And Israel knows it.
The Jews are caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place. They cannot afford to alienate President Obama right now, knowing that he is likely to win reelection with or without them, and realizing that working against him in the Jewish-American constituency will surely backfire if he wins, they must be supportive of him in this election cycle. But there have been a couple of instances in recent weeks in which one Israeli politician or another has made it clear that Israel knows that if Obama wins, things are going to be tough for Israel as Obama seeks the approval of the world over Israel.
Let’s stop talking politics for a moment and reflect on a single word in a key verse in Daniel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks of years. For those unversed in the convolutions of Christian and Jewish prophecy, let us take just a moment to explain that prophecy.
Daniel had spent much time in prayer on behalf of his people, and on behalf of the city called by God’s name, Jerusalem. An angel was summoned to Daniel by God to give him understanding of how things would progress over the coming millennia of God’s dealings with the Jews as a nation.
At the time, God had the Jews captive under Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon; for, among other reasons, they had violated the land sabbath. That is, the Jews were required by law to let their arable land lie fallow every seventh year, to allow it to rest. Being Jews, and with money to be made from the sale of their crops, they failed to observe this sabbath. In fact, they failed to observe it for seventy consecutive sabbaths. Since the sabbath only came around every seven years, and since they had failed to observe it seventy times, it was over a period of four hundred ninety years (7 x 70 = 490) that they dismissed God’s law and reaped their profits.
Daniel had come to understand that God was reclaiming all seventy of those sabbaths during the captivity in Babylon. The Jews would be there for a period of seventy consecutive years while the land lay fallow. So, he was bowing before God and making confession and presenting his petition for the people of Israel.
While he was praying, an angel came to him and told him that he had come to give Daniel understanding. While the Jews had spent four hundred ninety years not observing the land sabbath, God declared to Daniel that there would be another period of four hundred ninety years in which He would deal with Israel nationally. God specifically told Daniel that this prophecy concerned his people, the Jews, and his holy city, Jerusalem.
So far, it is pretty simple. God even told Daniel in very specific terms when those four hundred ninety years would begin. In chapter nine, verse twenty-five, God explained to Daniel that the four hundred ninety years would commence when the command went forth to return and rebuild the city and its wall, both of which were destroyed completely when Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to the city, and eventually tore it completely down, scattering the stones of the city over a wide area.
In 445-444 B.C., King Artaxerxes of Persia (the Persians and the Medes had conquered Babylon) told the Jewish prophet Nehemiah to return to the land of Israel and begin to rebuild the city and its wall. It is the only such decree in recorded history, so that we know for certain when this second period of four hundred ninety years begsn.
The first seven of those weeks of years were times of great trouble, as the people who had moved into the area during Israel’s captivity did not want to surrender it to the Jews. Seven weeks of years is forty-nine years (7 x 70 = 49). There was a period of four hundred thirty-four years during which Israel dwelt in the land, but always under the heel of one Gentile people or another. They were forced to pay tribute, or taxes, to the Persians, the Greeks and the Romans, in that order. Those four hundred thirty-four years constitute sixty-two weeks of years (7 x 62 = 434).
Now, add the first forty-nine years to the four hundred thirty-four years, and we see that sixty-nine weeks of years, or four hundred eighty-three years have elapsed by the time that the Jewish Messiah came.
Daniel is always very careful in his wording. Daniel laid out several momentous events that must take place between the 483rd and 484th years. That is, a gap in time must occur between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks of years. Messiah had to be “cut off, but not for Himself” (He was cut off for my sins and yours, paying the just penalty on our behalf that the Law demanded for sin, not grudgingly, but lovingly toward everyone who believes), and the people of a prince who was yet to come had to destroy the rebuilt city and disperse the Jews among the nations of the world, where they would stay for many years. Then would come the restarting of the clock on Daniel’s seventieth week of years.
The Jews were not told how long this gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks would be, but the Jews understood that there would be a gap in time of at least forty years, because Jerusalem was not destroyed until A.D. 70, when Titus came and destroyed the city and scattered the Jews. They dare not recognize today that through two millennia they have both seen and crucified their Messiah. Yet, they will recognize both it and Him near the end of that seventieth week.
The Jews were not told how long the gap would be, but they were told what would start the clock running again, to fulfill the last seven years of Daniel’s prophecy of that second four hundred ninety year period. After detailing in verses 25-26 the things that must occur between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks of years, Daniel prophesied in the next verse that the prince would come, whose people had destroyed Jerusalem, and would “confirm” a covenant, or treaty, between Israel and “many.”
From A.D. 70 until A.D. 1948 it was impossible for anyone to enter into a treaty with the nation of Israel, because Israel did not exist on the earth. The Jews existed, and they maintained their national identity, but it was an identity that was not recognized by the Gentile world until after the second world war, when Israel was granted statehood by the Gentile world, under the auspices of the United Nations.
From 1948 until today, it has been possible for the Jewish people to enter into such a covenant as Daniel described, but they have not done so. Yes, they made peace with Egypt, and with Jordan, but those two nations did not constitute the “many” of Daniel 9:27. Neither will the treaty that they will make with the Palestinians constitute that treaty unless many other peoples are involved in it. When Israel enters into the treaty that Daniel wrote about, it will involve the entire Gentile world, as embodied in the United Nations.
That brings us back to the present. For more than thirty years, the United States has served as the primary broker in the Middle East peace process. We remain in that role even today. Several presidents have worked assiduously toward the conclusion of the treaty that Daniel wrote about, but none has yet accomplished it. It has proved elusive.
The prince who is to come (of Dan 9:26) is the person who will broker that treaty. To date, it appears that it will be an American president, as no one else has stepped onto the world stage to unseat the U.S. as the nation that serves as the primary broker of Mideast peace. Furthermore, Revelation 13:4 tells us that the world will view the nation of this leader as completely insuperable in war. No nation or group of nations would dare to attempt to make war with that nation.
We have used the word “broker” a number of times in this essay. We used the word “confirm” once, because the NKJV (which is the primary text used in this discussion) uses the word “confirm.” However, it is an unfortunate translation of the Greek word “øáb" (gaw-bar'). This Greek word is a primitive root word, with a much stronger emphasis than the English word “confirm” would imply. Strong’s defines it thus:
“A primitive root; to be strong; by implication to prevail, act insolently:—exceed, confirm, be great, be mighty, prevail, put to more [strength], strengthen, be stronger, be valiant.”
Rather than to confirm this treaty, it might well be imposed upon Israel. Seeing that President Obama made a strong speech last spring (2011) in which he laid out his proposal for Middle East peace, and seeing that the United Nations, the European Union, the Arab league and many other entities endorsed his plan, it is not inconceivable that his plan will be imposed upon the people of Israel by the nations of the world. High Israeli officials have said as much themselves.
But what does all this mean to us? What difference can it possibly make what happens half way around the world between the Arabs and the Jews? Understand this: The “confirmation” of that treaty marks the beginning of Daniel’s seventieth week of years. Before that can happen, the Church Age must end. The rapture of the Church must occur before the confirmation of that treaty. It is possible that the Church will be on the earth until the very moment of the confirmation of that treaty, but it is equally possible that the Church may be raptured at some point prior to the actual signing of the treaty. We need not be on the earth during the last few days or weeks or months before God begins dealing with Israel nationally again. There is no relationship between those two events excepting only that the rapture precedes Daniel’s seventieth week..
So many preachers and theologians grab at any little thing to make a sensational headline, while ignoring altogether these monumental happenings. Their eyes are blinded by the supposition that the U.S. must decline or otherwise suffer some cataclysmic collapse so that whatever preconceived nation or group of nations can arise to become the nation of the beast. It is indeed possible that they are right and we are wrong, but the glaring fact remains that what we have laid out is what is already happening, whereas the conventional view was formulated four hundred years ago, before there was even a thought of a United Sates of America. It is past time for our Church leaders to take a fresh look at their interpretations of these tings and look at what is actually happening, both to Israel and among the Gentile nations today. The redemption of our bodies has never been so near.