Sunday, August 28, 2011

Coming Soon? (updated 8/30/11)

One of the questions I get asked the most in relation to current events in the Middle East is what, if anything, does the Bible say about what is happening right now? My response is that I am extremely concerned with the events in Syria, especially as they relate to the prophecy given to us in Isaiah 17 where we are told that at some point in time, Israel will destroy the city of Damascus.

As I have studied prophecy and how it relates to the current situation we see in the Middle East today, I believe strongly the destruction of Damascus is the next major fulfillment of biblical prophecy that the world will see. Because of that belief, and the unrest in Syria today, I thought it might be helpful to explore the subject of this prophecy a little today. At the end of this blog there are also links to a couple of articles published just this weekend that you may wish to read which are very relevant to this discussion as well.

Many might say that since the establishment of the state of Israel, although attacked often and with increasing intensity, Israel has responded with notable restraint. Certainly many would state emphatically that Israel is a peaceful nation, simply defending herself and wishing only to be left alone, living securely without the fear of attack. However, since it would appear that its neighbors have been reluctant to embrace that position, and seem determined to be preparing for another conflict, the logical question that must be asked is how would Israel respond to the ultimate attack; an attack with the use of weapons of mass destruction?

It should surprise no one by now that the intent here is to explain why I believe Isaiah 17 tells us exactly how Israel would respond to such an attack, and that it seems very clear that the result is the total and complete destruction of the city of Damascus, the capital of Syria. So let's first look at what the Bible has to say and examine the clues that might lead us to such a conclusion. The seventeenth chapter of Isaiah begins by stating;

The burden against Damascus. "Behold, Damascus will cease from [being] a city, And it will be a ruinous heap.
Isaiah 17:1 NKJV

So here we learn about "The Burden of Damascus". Now if we look up "burden" in the Hebrew dictionary we find it's the word "massa" which is defined as "a doom, prophecy, tribute, prophetical speech of a threatening nature". From that definition, the obvious conclusion is that what we are about to read is not going to be pleasant to the inhabitants of Damascus for God says that He is about to reveal a prophecy of the future doom of Damascus. Why future? Simply explained, if you research the city of Damascus you will find that all resources will tell you that it is the "oldest continually inhabited city" in the world. From that it is easy to conclude that there has been no time in the past when this prophecy could have occurred, because if we read the next sentence in Isaiah 17, we see that the prophecy states that "Damascus is taken away from being a city, and it shall be a ruinous heap".

Now I think it would help if we look at some of the individual words contained in this prophecy, because as I have studied the Bible I have often found that it helps to understand the "what and the why" if you do. There are two words in this sentence I think are important for us to examine in order to understand what is happening here. The first is the word "taken". In the Hebrew, "suwr" is defined as to "depart, lay away, pluck away, remove", and by that it would certainly seem to imply the removal is involuntary. The second word is "ruin", or "mappalah", which means "something fallen, ruin, (from "naphal"-fallen by judgment)". Now there are a couple of ideas that come to me as I think about these two definitions. One is the idea of to "pluck away", which to me at least, gives the impression of happening very quickly, even instantaneously. Two, Damascus ceases to be a city because, according to this definition, they receive a judgment from God. Most people understand the principle that God judge’s wrongdoing, so we are left to wonder what Damascus does in order to bring Gods judgment down on them in such a complete and total way.

In the book of Amos, we may just have the answer to that question. This passage also talks about the judgment that will fall on Damascus, and it says;

Thus says the LORD: "For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away its [punishment], Because they have threshed Gilead with implements of iron.
Amos 1:3 NKJV

What we are told here specifically that the judgment is received in response to four "transgressions" against "Gilead". Again we should look closer at these words in order to better understand what is actually being said here. Transgression, or "pesha" in Hebrew means "sin, or trespass", and Gilead, although at certain times refers to a specific location, most often is used in a general sense to refer to the region east of the Jordan River, which as most people know would include the city of Jerusalem.

Now if you recall we have said previously that Syria has gone to war against Israel three times since 1948 when the modern state of Israel was established. Is it possible that what God is telling us here is that the destruction of Damascus will be His judgment upon them for attacking Israel the fourth time? I believe it’s not only possible, but likely considering all the other factors we can take into account concerning the situation we find in the Middle East today. I believe there are several other conclusions we can safely arrive at here by looking closer at these two passages. If God tells us this judgment is a result of something Damascus has done, I think it's safe to assume that Syria is the aggressor here, and that what occurs is in response to their actions. Also if Damascus is the city that receives the judgment, regardless of what form the aggression takes, Israel obviously believes that whatever decisions are made must originate there. So we are left to conclude that Syria moves on Israel in one form or another, and God judges them by allowing Israel to destroy Damascus. Now let’s look at how God might accomplish that event given what we know about Israel and its military capabilities.

It should not surprise anyone that given its history of being surrounded by hostile countries, and having to endure not only several wars of aggression but incessant terrorist attacks as well, not to mention the holocaust of the second world war, its hardly a surprise that Israel would pursue defensive technology that would insure the upper hand in any future conflict. As early as 1949, Israel began searching for uranium reserves in the Negev with an eye to beginning a nuclear program. In 1952 the Israel Atomic Energy Commission was created, and its chairman publicly said the best way to avoid a repeat of the holocaust was the possession of nuclear weapons. By design, however, not very much is known about Israel’s nuclear capabilities for from the beginning, Israel has pursued what has been called a “policy of nuclear ambiguity”. This of course, is simply a fancy way of saying that they aren’t about to tell anybody if they have nuclear bombs or not, they simply refuse to “either confirm or deny”. But from the beginning, we know much about their pursuit of nuclear technology because they needed help from other countries that already had the knowledge and expertise.

Sometime in the mid-1950’s, France agreed to help Israel construct a nuclear reactor and processing plant located outside the Negev city of Dimona and by1964, with their assistance, the facility was completed and production of plutonium began. In the mid-1960’s, several countries shipped materials to Israel for use at Dimona, and the most interesting one might be a shipment of highly enriched lithium-6, used to boost the yield of fission type thermonuclear devices. However it wasn’t until 1986 that the world discovered Israel’s possession of bombs thanks to information released by a former employee at Dimona, Mordechai Vanunu. In response to his revelations, Vanunu was convicted of espionage and treason, and sentenced to 18 years in prison. As far as nuclear weapons are concerned though, Israel has never admitted to possessing any, and no proof of their existence has been revealed, as to the world’s knowledge, Israel has never tested one.

There have been, however, incidents that could have been small tests of the different parts needed for a bomb, such as the trigger device, and others. Also there was an incident in September of 1979 off the coast of South Africa which may have been an underwater nuclear explosion conducted jointly by Israel and South Africa. Israel has publicly declared that they will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons in the Middle East; however, Israel has also never signed the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which would require them to submit to inspections. World opinion though, is that there is more than enough circumstantial evidence to not only confirm their existence, but to also have a fairly good idea of what kind, how many, and most of all, the conditions that would provoke their use.

It has been widely reported, and generally accepted that Israel possessed approximately 100-200 nuclear devices by the 1980's, and could deliver them with their Jericho missiles. By the year 2000, that number had risen to about 400. It is also known that Israel has submarines equipped with both U.S. "Harpoon", and Israeli "Popeye Turbo" missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead within a distance of up to 2400 kilometers. This effectively gives Israel not only a "first strike" capability, but a "second strike" one as well, which should be sufficient to deter anyone interested in attacking them. The world at present is more than a little concerned about Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and the possibility that it is really seeking to produce its own nuclear weapons. No nation is more concerned than Israel, for as most know, Iran’s president has repeatedly called for the destruction of Israel.

As they move closer to achieving their goals, speculation is rampant that either the United States or Israel will strike Iran’s facilities with a pre-emptive strike aimed at crippling their program. There have been repeated calls in Israel by both politicians and the media to act quickly and decisively by striking Iran, and interestingly enough, these calls advocate the use of Israel’s own nuclear weapons in the attempt. In February of 2007, then President Chirac of France made the following statement concerning Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon, and what Israel might do if Iran were so foolish as to try to launch one at Israel. Speaking of Iran he said; "Where will it drop it, this bomb? On Israel? It would not have gone 200 metres into the atmosphere before Tehran would be razed". So although Israel has never gone public with any of the details of their nuclear capabilities, the world knows they have them, and more importantly, would use them if sufficiently provoked. But this raises the obvious question, what would it take to provoke Israel to use them, and are they really prepared to do so? The answer to this question can be found by examining what the world has come to know as the Sampson Option.

Most people are familiar with the story of Sampson found in the Old Testament, and the fact that in the conclusion of the story, rather than give in to his captors, Sampson was willing to commit suicide if the result was also the destruction of his enemies as well. The term "Sampson Option" is one of the terms the Israeli Defense Force uses in planning for their worst case scenarios, and what their response might be. So make no mistake about it, Israel is prepared to use its entire nuclear arsenal on its enemies even if it results in its own destruction. Is it really possible that Israel would use its nuclear arsenal on an attacker? Consider then the occasions that intelligence agencies know for sure that Israel has actually armed the devices and declared a nuclear alert. The first time was at the beginning of the Six Day War in 1967 when, reportedly only possessing two devices, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol ordered them armed and prepared for use.

The second time was during the Yom Kippur War of 1973. An attack by Israel’s enemies when most of the Israeli Army was on leave to celebrate their most holy day resulted in the swift overrunning of Israel’s front lines. Their enemies were advancing so rapidly that Prime Minister Golda Meir directed that the nuclear strike force of jets at the air base at Tel Nof, as well as the Jericho missiles located at Hirbat Zachariah be armed and ready for launching. The third time was in 1991 on the first day of Desert Storm, when as American forces attacked Iraq, seven scud missiles were launched at the cities of Tel Aviv and Haifa. Fortunately these missiles carried only conventional warheads, because Yitzhak Shamir, Israel’s Prime Minister was reported to have threatened an Israeli response if any of the scuds contained chemical warheads. Many believed this was a declaration of intent to use their nuclear option as those forces were on alert for the duration of the war.

So if Israel has a nuclear capability, and has a plan to use it if sufficiently provoked, does the passage in Isaiah provide us with a modern day scenario that would accurately describe such a conflict? Take note that Isaiah says that Damascus will be "taken away from being a city", and also says that "it shall be a ruinous heap". Many would claim this accurately describes the effects of using nuclear weapons, because not only would the city be destroyed, it could not be rebuilt and repopulated due to the radiological contamination. Now you might ask the question, "wouldn't the contamination spread to Israel or other unintended locations"? That is certainly possible, and probably a cause for concern to many in Israel's government should the use of such weapons be considered. There is, however, a way around that as well, and that is by use of a neutron or enhanced radiation bomb.

These bombs are different from a typical nuclear bomb in that the neutrons are released at the time of detonation, as opposed to being contained inside and enhanced which occurs in a conventional thermonuclear device. Using this technology, the "blast effects" are smaller, but the effect on the population is deadly. In a normal nuclear explosion, the population is killed by heat and blast effects, where in a neutron detonation the population is killed by intense ionizing radiation which though lethal, is quickly absorbed by the air with no radiological fallout left behind. A common misconception, however, is that a neutron bomb kills the population but leaves the buildings intact. This effect is possible if a very small device is used, such as those intended for use in a battlefield environment. But as you increase the yield of the weapon to enlarge the killing zone, you begin to produce more heat and blast effects. There are now neutron weapons reportedly in the kiloton range, which would probably be enough to reduce any structures in the lethal range to rubble.

Does this technology answer the questions raised in Isaiah when he describes the destruction of Damascus? It would certainly seem to, because if Israel were to be attacked by Syria with a weapon of mass destruction, they could respond with a weapon of their own without the fear of collateral damage to themselves caused by the proximity of Damascus to Israel proper. It is known that by 1995, Israel possessed neutron bombs, but the type, size, and yield are unknown. Would Israel resort to using this technology if attacked? Would they risk offending the entire civilized world by using nuclear weapons on another country?

I think Isaiah answers that question quite emphatically when he states that sometime in the future, Damascus ceases to be a city. If that isn't enough to get your attention, a close reading of this oracle shows we have one more part that we need to examine, for it states there is another location that suffers from the effects of this conflict. This may be the most controversial part of this story for, according to some, what it describes is possibly the prophetic future of the United States.

I hope this helps your understanding of the prophecy of Isaiah, and as always, I encourage you to keep watching.

8/30/11 ...note the last paragraph!