Sunday, November 19, 2017

No Condemnation



O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?    Romans 7:24  NKJV

Does it seem to you that the apostle Paul sounds just a little frustrated in this passage?  One of the reasons I enjoy studying the life of Paul and reading his letters is the fact that he is experiencing much the same things we all as believers experience.  In the seventh chapter of Romans, Paul’s lament is having to live his life as a believer in a body controlled by a sin nature.  Of course, as a believer in Christ, Paul and anyone else who has made the same decision to accept Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins is forgiven, yet the frustration of wanting to live up to God’s standards while trapped in this worldly body is evident not only in Paul’s letters, but to us every day.

Paul spends the entire seventh chapter of Romans explaining and expounding on the struggle all believers face attempting to live up to the standards God has set for us.  In terms that often resemble an argument in a court of law, Paul not only shows us why we struggle, but explains in no uncertain terms that although at times the struggle seems hopeless, there is in fact hope for all who believe in Jesus Christ.

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. For apart from the law sin was dead. I was alive once without the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died. And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death. For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me. Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good. Has then what is good become death to me? Certainly not! But sin, that it might appear sin, was producing death in me through what is good, so that sin through the commandment might become exceedingly sinful.  Romans 7:7-13  NKJV

In his own way, Paul tells us that the law shows us how high a standard God has set before us.  Unfortunately, the result is the knowledge that we can never live up to that standard.  Although the law is good, and we can use it as a guide for our actions, because of our sin nature we also realize the ultimate futility because sooner or later we will stumble and fall because of the sin which lives inside of us.  We often think that if we can control our actions we somehow have achieved success but Paul makes it clear here that our thoughts condemn us as well.  No matter how hard we try, because of our sin nature it is impossible to live a sinless life.

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me.  Romans 7:14-20  NKJV 

Did you know Paul was a sinner?  As holy of a life as he tried to live, and in spite of all the good he accomplished in his lifetime, in the end Paul was a sinner just like all of us.  Have you ever wondered just what types of sin Paul was struggling with?  I believe most of us tend to think godly people struggle with different sins than the rest of us, but in reality all of us share the same sin nature and are tempted by the same sins.  Have you ever had these same thoughts go through your mind that Paul shares with us here?  You want to do good, you try to do good, but in the end you fail. Yet Paul also sheds some light on this struggle we all share by the revelation that it is our sin nature that is responsible for the sin we commit.  We sin because it is our nature, and it is for this reason Jesus forgives us of our sins whenever we ask Him to.

I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.  Romans 7:21-25  NKJV

Do you notice how Paul differentiates between our inward mind and our outward flesh?  Inside we desire to do right, but outwardly the sinful body just keeps on sinning.  The one thing the law will always do is show us that we cannot save ourselves.  Knowing that, God has made a way for all to be saved from the penalty of death by having His own Son, Jesus Christ, pay that penalty for us.  Yet because He was the Son of God, he defeated death and rose again so that we might spend eternity with Him, in a new body devoid of this sin nature.  This then, is the hope that lives in all of us as believers.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.  Romans 8:1-2  NKJV

Have you ever seen the reaction of accused people when they hear the words “not guilty”?  Think about that for a minute and then tell me why there will be so much rejoicing in Heaven.  Shouting, praising God, singing and dancing, it all makes perfect sense when you consider that not only will we be saved and forgiven, but we will also receive a new body that has no sin nature.  In the twinkling of an eye, we will all be changed.  Come quickly Lord Jesus.

Keep watching.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Living in the Last Days



“But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. “Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. “It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning— “lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”   Mark 13:32-37 NKJV

By now I am sure you understand I consider it very important for us as believers to do exactly as this passage commands; watch! Whenever I teach on this subject I inevitably get questions relating to what should we be watching for and what exactly will we see? My answers to those questions reveal my belief about the origin of many of the events we will observe, and while many are aware that it was God in His inspired Word who has foretold what will happen, the truth as I see it is that most of the events we will see occur come from Satan himself because he too, is watching.

The truth is, nobody knows scripture better than Satan. After all, who has been around to study it as long as he has? He quoted it when he tempted Jesus in the wilderness, and he most assuredly uses it against us. So do you think with what he knows about the end of the age, he wouldn't have a clue as to when God was preparing to take us home?  Satan knows what God has in store for him, and when he believes the end times are approaching it would make sense that he would do anything in his power to release all the evil on this earth at his control in order to take as many down with him as he could.

I believe much of what we will see happen before the rapture is a direct result of Satan increasing his efforts as he sees the day approaching. I truly believe this is exactly what we can see right now in the world around us. So many events are occurring on a daily basis that it simply seems unbelievable that we could not be close to the time Jesus commanded us to watch for.  Yet as believers, what do these times mean for us and what does God expect from His children in these last days before the rapture? 

But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience;    Titus 2:1-2  NKJV

Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you    Titus 2:6-8  NKJV

For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age,    Titus 2:11-12  NKJV

Now like most of us, when I see the word sober my first thoughts are about drinking, and not being intoxicated, but if you look at the Greek you come up with something a little more complex than that.  The word translated sober comes from the Greek word “sōphrōn” which means “of a sound mind, sane, in one's senses, curbing one's desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate”.  As you read Titus, it seems clear that the issue of self-control applies to just about every facet of a believer’s life, especially as it affects and influences what others see when observing our words and deeds.

“The Church is full of hypocrites!”  Have you ever heard those words?  Isn’t it amazing that believers are so carefully observed and held to such a high standard?  Of course not, yet somehow there are many who ignore the fact that the world will watch us closely to see if what we are trying to sell is really as life changing as we claim.  If we don’t live up to the standard set forth in the Word of God, we become liars and the world rightly considers us to be hypocrites.  In the believers life, being “sober” includes being of a “sound mind” which would certainly include being honest about how we choose to live out our faith.

“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; “and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.”    Luke 12:35-37  NKJV

In this passage from Luke, Jesus explains what we are expected to do, and the benefit we will receive if we choose to do so.  His desire for us can be summed up in just four words; working, waiting, watching, rewarded.  Let’s briefly look at these expectations in order to better understand what our Lord wants from us.

Working; “Let your waist be girded”.  Most of us have seen pictures or images of the way people dressed in Jesus’ time, and in truth, some in the Middle East still do.  Generally speaking, you wore an undergarment covered by an outer garment of long, usually ankle length flowing material.  If one was to engage in physical labor, the common practice was to “gird” your outer garment around your waist to facilitate the ease of movement while working.  When Jesus tells us to “gird”, there are two results which become apparent.  One, we are prepared to do His work, and second, anyone who sees us will know we are working because we are dressed for it.  Our work is summed up nicely in this passage from Peter, who also uses the word “gird”.

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.”     1 Peter 1:13-16  NKJV

Waiting; “and your lamps burning”.  If we are instructed to wait with our lamps burning, it follows that it is possible to wait without our lamp burning.  Obviously it does no good at all to be waiting with a lamp that is not lit because you can’t see who is coming, and they certainly can’t see you.  First of all, when our spiritual lamp is lit, not only will we be looking for our Lord to appear, we will recognize the events which signify He is near.  Secondly, because our lamp is lit, others will see the light and we will have an opportunity to glorify God by sharing the reason we are watching and waiting.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.     Matthew 5:16  NKJV

Watching; “be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately”.

I have always been somewhat amused by discussions concerning the question of will we know when the rapture will occur?  My response has always been that why would Jesus spend so much time, and give so many illustrations concerning watching, if He did not intend to allow us to see and recognize the time of His appearing?  Understand I am not saying it is possible to predict the day it will happen, but rather if we are watching and waiting for His return, just like these men waiting for their master to come, we will see Him coming for us.  Have you never been watching for a friend or relative to come for a visit?  Do you not see them arrive and open the door and go out to greet them?  That is what Jesus is telling us here, and I firmly believe that any believer, who is faithfully watching for our Master to come, will see Him as He appears and not be at all surprised when He does.

“Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. “It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. “Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—“lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!”      Mark 13:33-37  NKJV

Rewarded; “Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them.”

 Is this not the ultimate role reversal?  Instead of the servants serving the master, as a reward for watching diligently for His return, the Master assumes the role of the servant and rewards His servants by serving them at the feast.  Can you picture in your mind the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Savior, sitting us down in Heaven at the Marriage Feast of the Lamb and then girding up His royal robes and serving us our first meal in Heaven?  I can see many of us feeling exactly as Peter did when Jesus went to wash his feet and protesting that He should not do it.  Yet this is exactly the reward Jesus has promised we will receive if we follow His commandment to watch for His return.  There is, however, an alternate reward for those who do not.

As believers, servants of God the Father, we have been commanded to watch for His appearing.  We do that by girding ourselves to work, to wait, to watch, and ultimately to receive our reward.  I don’t know about you, but I choose to watch, and do.

And the Lord said, “Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? “Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes.     Luke 12:42-43  NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Russia; Looking for Spoil



The prophecy known as the Gog Magog War found in the book of Ezekiel is what the vast majority of Bible teachers consider to be the seminal event which immediately precedes the start of the seventieth week of Daniel, otherwise known as the tribulation.  Many are watching the moves we see occurring in the Middle East by Russia and Iran with a keen eye considering what we are told by the prophet Ezekiel.  Many have no doubt, myself included, that the stage is now set and this war could happen at a moment’s notice. Although we have discussed this before here, I want to share with you today a wonderful article written by Dr. Steve Elwart of Koinonia House which should serve as a primer for anyone desiring to understand this future, if not imminent event.

Russia; Looking for Spoil  
Dr. Steve Elwart

This message from the LORD came to me: “Son of Man, turn your attention toward Gog, from the land of Magog, the chief noble of Meshech, and Tubal. Prophesy this against him: ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: “Watch out! I’m coming after you, Gog, chief ruler of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal. I’m going to turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and bring you out—you and your whole army—along with your horses and cavalry riders, all of them richly attired, a magnificent company replete with buckler and shield, and all of them wielding battle swords. Persia, Cush, and Libya will be accompanying them, all of them equipped with shields and helmets. Gomer with all its troops, and the household of Togarmah from the remotest parts of the north with all its troops—many people will accompany you.”
Ezekiel 38:1–6, ISV

World events have made many people turn to this passage and see if current events mark the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophecy. As events unfold, these verses take on more meaning than at any other time in history.

Ezekiel’s Prophecy

The meaning of the name “Gog” is uncertain. The name appears only here and in 1 Chronicles 5:4 in the Old Testament where it identifies one of the sons of Reuben. In the New Testament it appears only once in Revelation 20:8. The associated place name, Magog, appears in the table of nations in Genesis 10:2 with Gomer, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras, all sons of Japheth. It also is found in Revelation 20:8.

Modern Day Players

The above passage describes an invasion of Israel from the north. Later verses describe its destruction once they reach the area of the mountains of Israel. To fully understand the prophecy, one needs to identify the major players in this divine drama.

In verses 1–4, Gog is first mentioned. He is described as the leader of the land of Magog. He is the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal. This leader was as unknown to Ezekiel as he is to us today. We do know “Gog” is not a proper name but a title for the ruler of Magog, just as the terms “pharaoh,” “kaiser,” and “czar” were titles for rulers and not proper names.

The tribes identified as Magog, Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal can be identified by Scripture and other ancient writings as peoples who once occupied the areas of modern-day Russia. Magog, Meshech, and Tubal were between the Black and Caspian Seas, which today include parts of Iran, Turkey and southern Russia. Some historians[1] believe the tribes of Meshech and Tubal later gave their names to cities that today bear the names of Moscow, Russia’s capital and Tobolsk, a major city in the Urals in Siberia. Rosh was in what is now northern Russia. The name Rosh is the basis for the modern name Russia. These names, then, cover the modern territories of northern and southern Russia in Europe and Siberia to the east in Asia. The modern nation of Russia encompasses all these areas mentioned in Ezekiel. To highlight the point, verses 38:15 and 39:2 state these areas lay in the farthest parts of the north. If one would head due north from Israel, a traveler would find themselves in Russia, with Moscow being almost a straight line due north from Jerusalem. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume modern-day Russia is the country that leads this northern confederacy, with Gog as its leader. This has also been the rabbinic view. The Artscroll Commentary on Ezekiel states:

The Gaonim had a tradition that these controls were indeed located in Russia… One tradition passed down from the Vilna Gaon states: When the Russian Navy passes through the Bospores [Bosporus Strait] (that is, on the way to Dardanelles), it will be time to put on Sabbath clothes (in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah).

In the rabbinic view, during the Magog war, Messiah, the son of Joseph will be killed which will then bring the coming of the Messiah, the son of David.

Persia

In this scenario Russia is not alone in the invasion of Israel. She is the leader of a confederation. The other nations involved are listed in verses 5–6. Iran (ancient Persia) is also part of that confederacy. Once a pro-West, pro-Israel bulwark against the Arab States, Iran made a 180-degree turn in the aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Iranian Revolution. Iran drew closer to the atheistic Soviet Union and its successor, Russia. Make no mistake. This is only a marriage of convenience as far as Iran is concerned. Jihadists may chant “Death to America, Death to Israel,” but they hate the Russians just as much. Iran allies with Russia only because it serves their immediate purpose. Iran, along with Sudan and Syria, has been classified as state sponsors of terrorism according to the U.S. Department of State.

Cush & Phut

Another one of the players is the land of Cush. The term is used both for a person (son of Ham) and a place (Gen. 2:13; Psa. 68:31; Isa. 18:1.) Phut is mentioned next. This nation is also descended from a son of Ham, but as a nation is commonly identified as Libya, although it has been argued it was the Punt of Egyptian records, somewhere along the northeast coast of Africa, perhaps Somalia. Its association with Egypt, Cush, and Canaan and the usage of the name in the Old Testament makes the Libyan location probable.

Gomer and Togarmah

Next comes Gomer. Gomer was a Son of Japheth (Gen. 10:2, 3; 1 Chr. 1:5, 6) The Midrash calls Gomer Germania as does the Talmud. Last in the list is Togarmah, which is present-day Armenia. Verse six adds the phrase, with all its troops—many people will accompany you. This trope may simply define the numbers of the nations already mentioned, or it may include other nations not previously mentioned. In all probability, it is the former that is implied.

From the text, it would appear the nations involved in an attack against Israel include, but may not be limited to, an alliance involving Iran, Ethiopia, Somalia, Germany and Armenia, with Russia as their leader.

One thing that should stand out to the reader is not a single Arab nation participates in this invasion. While some of the nations listed here are Moslem, they are not Arab. Another observation is these nations are geographically located both north and south of Israel, but it is Russia that is the controlling nation and allied with Moslem, but non-Arab, states.

Before 1991, this passage of Ezekiel had been interpreted as being a communist invasion. With the fall of the Iron Curtain and the dissolution of the Soviet Empire, many have had to rethink this passage. One can find many works on the bargain book table that became passé in view of modern events. While there is no longer an “Evil Empire,” as President Reagan termed it does not mean the “Russian” interpretation of the passage has to be completely abandoned. One needs to remember a system of government was never mentioned in Scripture, merely geographic areas. Place names may change, but geography does not.

The Orthodox Jewish commentary Artscroll on Ezekiel 38:2 make this observation:

“Yerushalayim Megillah 3:7, which renders Magog as Gutiya (or Gutya, …) the Goths, a group of nomadic tribes who destroyed the Scythians and made their home in Scythian territory.

Considering that the Goths were a Germanic people, the identification of Magog’s descendants as the Goths in accord with Targum Yonasan to Genesis 10:2, which renders Magog as Geramemia, which in Bereshit Rabbah 37:1 is given as Germanya.”

The Nature of the Attack

The next section of this passage, Ezekiel 38:7–9, answers the question as to where the invasion takes place:

    Be prepared. Yes, prepare yourself—you and all of your many battalions that have gathered together around you to protect you. “Many days from now—in the latter years—you will be summoned to a land that has been restored from violence. You will be gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which formerly had been a continual waste, but which will be populated with people who have been brought back from the nations. All of them will be living there securely. You’ll arise suddenly, like a tornado, coming like a windstorm to cover the land, you and all your soldiers with you, along with many nations.
 Ezekiel 38:7–9, ISV

Verse 7 continues to name Gog as the leader of this confederacy and verse 8 names the specific location of where the invasion takes place: the Land of Israel, more specifically in the mountains of Israel. Verse nine goes on to describe the size of the invasion. It is absolutely massive, painting a picture of a storm cloud that covers the entire land. These verses introduce a concept that was not true until recent times: a modern Jewish state.

Later on is another passage that shows the necessity of the establishment of the Jewish State and a regathering in unbelief. Israel has to be a state before this invasion can occur. Regardless of one’s viewpoint as to when this invasion occurs, each viewpoint does require the preexistence of the Jewish State. Verse eight describes this Jewish State as:

    A land that has been restored from violence.
    A land that will be populated with people who have been brought back from the nations.
    A land with mountains that have been a continual waste. and
    A land that is brought forth out of the peoples.

Ezekiel is not describing an Israel that ever existed in ancient times, but all these statements are true of present-day Israel. This began occurring toward the end of the nineteenth century, culminating with statehood in 1948. It was a nation as Isaiah described being born in a single day.

Before the formation of the State of Israel, what was known by many as Palestine was indeed a wasteland. As Mark Twain wrote in The Innocents Abroad:

Nazareth is forlorn … Jericho the accursed lies a moldering ruin today, even as Joshua’s miracle left it more than three thousand years ago: Bethlehem and Bethany… have nothing about them now to remind one that they once knew the high honor of the Savior’s presence;… Bethsaida and Chorzin have vanished from the earth, and the “desert places” round about them, where thousands of men once listened to the Savior’s voice and ate the miraculous bread, sleep in the hush of a solitude that is inhabited only by birds of prey and skulking foxes.

Since then, the waste places have been rebuilt and resettled on a more massive scale.

Furthermore, Israel in this passage is regathered in unbelief, for only after the invasion do many in Israel turn to the Lord. So yet another passage demands a restored Jewish State in unbelief.

The Purpose of the Attack

Ezekiel 38:10–13, answers the question as to why this invasion takes place on the part of Russia:

    This is what the Lord GOD says: ‘This is what’s going to happen on the very day that you begin your invasion: You’ll be thinking, making evil plans and boasting, “I’m going to invade a land comprised of open country that is at rest, its people living confidently, all of whose inhabitants will be living securely, with neither fortification nor bars on their doors. I’m going to confiscate anything I can put my hands on. I’ll attack the restored ruins and the people who have been gathered together from the nations, who are acquiring livestock and other goods, and who live at the center of the world’s attention. Businessmen based in Sheba, Dedan, Tarshish, and all of its growling lions will ask you, “Are you coming for war spoils? Have you assembled your armies to carry off silver and gold, and to gather lots of war booty?” ’
Ezekiel 38:10–13, ISV

The Spoils of War

The reason for the Russian-led invasion is to take spoil (booty). What Russia is exactly looking for is not stated in the text. The text mentions livestock, goods, silver and gold. However, these are general Old Testament references for the spoils of war. Much speculation has been involved in what it is Israel has that Russia would want. Given what a traveler would find in the land before the formation of the State of Israel, one would think Russia was in dire need of sand and rocks.

Closer investigation of the region led to the realization that the answer could have been found in the Dead Sea. The waters of the Dead Sea contain over 45 billion tons of sodium, chlorine, sulfur, potassium, calcium, magnesium and bromide. These chemicals have their uses; indeed, magnesium has been called “The King of Minerals” because of its varied medical uses. Going to war, however for a bunch of salt is unlikely.

After the 1967 Six-Day War another explanation was offered for a Russian invasion of the Promised Land. Scientists searching the Sinai Peninsula in the five years after Israel captured it from Egypt found signs of copper, tungsten, and feldspar deposits under the shifting sands of the desert. Tungsten is an expensive, rare metal used for hardening steel and other high-grade metals. Some believed these ores could be part of the spoils the Magog alliance would try to wrench from the Israel.

The year 2009, however, brought further clarity of the passage, for it was in January of that year the Tamar gas field was discovered. The Tamar gas field was a major gas find in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel. The field is located in Israel’s exclusive economic zone, roughly 50 miles (80 km) west of Haifa in waters over one mile (1,700 meters) deep. People’s interest was really piqued the following year when in December 2010 another gas field was discovered. The Leviathan gas field is a large natural gas formation in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Israel, 30 miles (47 km) southwest of the Tamar.

What could be the final piece of the puzzle may have been supplied in October 2014 when oil was discovered in the Golan Heights.

Because of these three discoveries Israel has become a much more attractive target for supplying the spoils of war. Together, the Tamar and Leviathan fields are estimated to contain 1 trillion (1,000 billion) cubic feet of natural gas, enough to supply Israel’s energy needs for the next 50 years. (Though those of us who take the Bible seriously doubt it will need natural gas for that long.)

The oil field in the Golan Heights is also looking to be a major energy find. Israeli business website Globes quotes Yuval Bartov, chief geologist of Afek Oil and Gas as saying:

We are talking about a strata [sic] which is 350 meters thick and what is important is the thickness and the porosity. On average in the world strata are 20–30 meters thick, so this is ten times as large as that, so we are talking about significant quantities. The important thing is to know the oil is in the rock and that’s what we now know.

The estimated size of the field, if found to be true, would make Israel a world player in the oil market.
Enter Russia

This is where things get interesting.

Assuming Israel can get around its own bureaucratic morass and develop these fields, it has a few export markets it can service. If they decide to export some of their production, the only viable markets available to them are in Egypt, Jordan and possibly Turkey. Given those countries current energy needs and the price they would pay, those markets do not look very attractive.

There is one other place, however, that could prove lucrative – Europe.

Europe is starving for hydrocarbons. That continent was on a program of going nuclear, but after the nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan, the EU has cooled to using atomic power for its energy needs. In fact, several countries, Germany in particular, is shutting down their nuclear power plants. The EU is trying to replace nuclear power with alternative energy sources, but they cannot bring these sources on-line fast enough to make up the energy deficit. That leaves hydrocarbons to fill in the breech.

Much of the EU’s oil needs came from Libya, but since the Arab Spring, much of that oil has dried up. That has left the three largest oil suppliers to Europe being the Russian Federation, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. (Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan are largely under Russian influence.) As for gas, Russia has supplied Europe with the lion’s share of its needs, which has left Europe beholden to Russian interests. This became painfully clear in January 2009 when Russia shut off natural gas supplies to Europe in the wake of the Ukrainian Civil War. Europe imports about half its natural gas from Russia (about 15% of its total imports) through the Ukraine pipelines. When Russia expressed its displeasure at the European sanctions against it by closing the gas valves to the EU capitals, the only thing Europe could do was shiver in the dark.

Russia likes having this giant energy stick to use against the Europeans and will try mightily hard to keep it.

That is one reason Russia is in Syria.

The Syrian Card

Even before the Ukrainian gas embargo, Europe had been looking at alternative gas pipeline routes bypassing Russia. There were two routes proposed, one through Iran and Iraq, the other through the more pro-western Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Both pipelines however pass through Syria. President Assad, wanting to curry favor with his Russian patron (and realizing there was a major Russian naval station sitting in his backyard in the port of Tartus,) would not approve either pipeline, hence keeping Russia the dominant player in Europe’s natural gas mix.

Many believe that refusal bred the start of the Syrian Civil War. The natural gas exporting countries, both Sunni and Shia, decided they needed Assad out of the way to open an avenue for their gas to enter European markets.

Vladimir Putin jumped into Syria with both feet to assure Assad stayed in power and Russia’s dominance in the EU remained in place.

Here comes Israel

Imagine the Kremlin’s concern when huge gas and oil fields were found in Israel in an area where both gas and oil could be transported under the Mediterranean to Europe, bypassing Russia.

It doesn’t take a large stretch of the imagination to see Russia moving in to stabilize the situation in Syria and then moving further south into Israel.

Ezekiel’s prophecy does not lay out Magog’s entire battle plan and maybe Russia only would see a move on Israel as Act One of a bigger play of gaining a solid foothold on the entire Middle East hydrocarbon supplies. A Russian takeover of Israel would give Russia such a foothold without overly upsetting the Arabs since they would be in favor of the destruction of Israel even though they would be very nervous if it means a Russian army in the area.

Regardless of the publicly stated reasons for Russia’s interest in Syria, the main reason for their involvement is self-interest. It is stated in verse ten that the invasion is premeditated by the Russians, for they will be thinking, making evil plans and resolve to invade for the purpose of spoils (vv. 11–12). (And whether the others admit it or not, self-interest is the reason for the involvement of the other players, both East and West. If the main export of Syria were mangoes, no one would be there.)

In verse 13, a second group of merchant nations are listed as protesting this invasion, for they recognize it to be an invasion for spoil and for nothing else Businessmen based in Sheba, Dedan, Tarshish, and all of its growling lions will ask you, “Are you coming for war spoils? Have you assembled your armies to carry off silver and gold, and to gather lots of war booty?”(ISV) Sheba and Dedan are countries in northern Arabia, which shows that at least some of the Arab states will not favor the Russian presence in the Middle East. Another nation named is Tarshish, followed by the phrase with all the growling lions thereof. This phrase is a Hebrew idiom meaning nations that have come out of Tarshish. (The Revised Standard Version translates the idiom as all its villages).

So Where Is Tarshish?

While the idiom may be clear, the identity of Tarshish and those other “growling lions” are not. Some scholars place Tarshish as a place as distant from Israel. Many countries have been proposed as the site for Tarshish, from Sardinia to Great Britain. The most commonly accepted identification is Spain where the name Tartessus hints at Tarshish. If Spain is the Tarshish of Ezekiel, the nations spawned would include those of Central and South America, and possible even Brazil if one accepts the texts as describing geography rather than political systems. (Brazil was settled by Portugal, not Spain, but the two countries share the Iberian Peninsula.) Another proposed location was in England, and if this is what was meant by Tarshish, the growling lions could include the United States of America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other present-day western democracies. (This would answer the question some ask, “Where is the United States in End-Time Prophecy?”)

Regardless of the exact identity of Tarshish, it is this group that issues a protest. However, it does not go beyond the protest stage. Russia invades, and then the invading army is disposed of with no help from the protestors.

God’s Rebuke

In Ezekiel 38:14–16, the invasion is seen as having begun and further answers the question why, but this time it is seen from God’s viewpoint:

    Therefore, Son of Man, prophesy to Gog and tell him, ‘This is what the Lord GOD says: “When the day comes when my people are living securely, won’t you be aware of it? You’ll come in from your home in the remotest parts of the north. You’ll come with many nations, all of them riding along on horses. You’ll be a huge, combined army. You’ll come up to invade my people Israel like a storm cloud to cover the land. In the last days, Gog, I’ll bring you up to invade my land so that the world will learn to know me when I show them how holy I am before their very eyes.” ’
Ezekiel 38:14–16, ISV

In verses 14–16a, the invasion begins and the confederate army covers the land like a storm cloud in massive swarms. Hence, there is initial success by Russia. In verse 16b, God’s reason is given for allowing this invasion to occur, as over against Russia’s reasons given in the preceding verses: that He might be sanctified in the eyes of the nations in light of what is about to occur.

The Final Act

In the final demonstration of God’s power in the prophecy, Ezekiel 38:17–23 describes how God moves out in judgment (vv. 17–18) to destroy the invading army. This is followed by the answer to the question of how the invading army is disposed of and destroyed. Several causes are listed: earthquake (vv. 19–20); civil war breaking out among the invading soldiers themselves (v. 21); pestilence, blood, flood, hailstones, fire and brimstone (v. 22). Since these things destroy the invading army without the aid of other nations, God’s purpose is seen as succeeding in its objective. God will show His holiness and make Himself known in the eyes of many people (v. 23).

Watching from the Mezzanine

However these events unfold, if the pre-Tribulation view is correct (and we believe it is), we will watch these events, the gathering, the final battle and the aftermath from the mezzanine. All of these events will have been preceded by the Harpazo, commonly called the Rapture.

In the meantime, we are undoubtedly living in exciting times, times in which prophecy is being fulfilled before our eyes. If the events seem too trying all we need to do is look up and remember the last verses John wrote in Revelation:

    “The one who is testifying to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!” Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with all the saints. Amen.”
Revelation 22:20–21, ISV

Keep watching.