Iraq and Babylon in Prophecy
By Todd Strandberg and Terry James
Are the dramatic events we have witnessed in Iraq--since “Iraqi Freedom” brought about dramatic changes there--the ignition of Armageddon? With the many signs of the biblically prophesied end of the age now storming at our generation on history’s horizon, we must examine the things involving the place called the “cradle of civilization” carefully.
"Armageddon" is the biblical term most everyone thinks of whenever war begins to look imminent in the Middle East. Even the mainstream news organizations bring this troubling name into their reportorial mix at times when war seems to loom. Armageddon is prophesied in Revelation to be an incrementally stepped-up war, rather than a single battle. It will be a conflict that progressively involves more and more nations until the military forces of all nations of the world come together in a triangular valley called Jezreel, near an ancient place called Megiddo.
The worry among many who watch troubles in the Middle East is always that the next military conflict might ignite Armageddon, mankind’s final war, according to how most view Bible prophecy. Major wars in that region will, many mistakenly believe, mean the end of the world.
What about Iraq, the war dubbed “Iraqi Freedom,” the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, the insurgent terrorism, and the democratic election that followed? What have the dramatic developments of late in this long past part of biblical history to do with prophecy yet future?
To begin examining the facts and possibilities, we must start with the nation Israel. Modern Israel, as much as ancient Israel, is a key to understanding Iraq’s inevitable part in the wrap-up to human history.
Obstacle to World Peace
All prophecy yet future must be considered in light of this one fact: God’s chosen nation is back in the land of promise. Understanding that country’s position in the arena of Middle East and world affairs is critical to understanding all other geopolitical realities. That is, to know where the dramatic changes in Iraq are leading, one must carefully study that tiny, though militarily powerful state called Israel.
Israel is prophesied to become an intolerable problem that world leaders think must be eliminated before there can be peace in the Middle East and in the world. God, himself, will see to it that Israel will be a major obstacle to sin-flawed, man-made peace. This is because only God’s Son--Jesus, the Prince of Peace--can establish true peace on Planet Earth.
"Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of trembling unto all the people round about, when they shall be in the siege both against Judah and against Jerusalem. And in that day will I make Jerusalem a burdensome stone for all people: all that burden themselves with it shall be cut in pieces, though all the people of the earth be gathered together against it" (Zech. 12:2-3).
Do we see a volatile situation today with regard to the modern nation of Israel? Is the world community of nations, especially the United States, fretting over problems between Israel and its neighbors? The answer is, of course, a resounding "yes!" The on-again, off-again “Roadmap to Peace” is irrefutable evidence that the world is extremely nervous about Israel and its enemy neighbors.
The Problem is Supernatural
A reasonable question for those who truly seek world peace is this: Why is Israel always at the center of the problem that threatens to involve the whole world in thermonuclear war?
World leaders cannot understand the answer God’s Word, the Bible, gives to this “reasonable” question. This is because the leaders of the world reason in line with Satan’s thinking, not in line with God’s thinking, which comes from His perfect foreknowledge. Today’s world leaders believe they can find the formula for peace totally apart from taking into consideration God’s explanation of the supernatural causes involved.
Concerning the obstacles Israel presents to Middle East and world peace in our time, God, through revelation given in symbolic language to the prophet John, tells about ancient hatred that spawned and perpetuates the problem:
"And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: And she being with child cried, travailing in birth, and pained to be delivered. And there appeared another wonder in heaven; and behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars of heaven, and did cast them to the earth: and the dragon stood before the woman which was ready to be delivered, for to devour her child as soon as it was born. And she brought forth a man child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron: and her child was caught up unto God, and to his throne. And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she hath a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and threescore days" (Rev. 12:1-6).
Revelation, chapter 12, tells about a “woman,” which refers to Israel, the Jewish people out of whom the Deliverer, Jesus Christ, will come. The great red dragon with seven heads, ten horns, and seven crowns, whose tail draws one-third of the stars, refers to Satan. The stars are the angels who rebelled and followed Lucifer, who was cast out of Heaven.
Satan hates Israel because it is the nation chosen by God to bring the Savior into the world. The Devil, as he is also called, is prophesied to do all within his considerable power to destroy that people. Antichrist will be the Devil’s world dictator who will try to carry out Israel’s destruction, as outlined in Daniel, chapters 7, 8, 9, and 11, and in Revelation chapter 13.
So again we ask the question: Are the dramatic events we have witnessed in Iraq since “Iraqi Freedom” brought about dramatic changes there the ignition of Armageddon? Saddam Hussein and most all other dictators in the Middle East have long been blood-vowed to completely destroy Israel. They have stated they want every Jew drowned in the Mediterranean or to meet an even more terrible fate.
In that sense, Iraq and the other enemy nations of God’s chosen people bring history tick after tick of the prophetic clock ever closer to that final battle in the valley God’s Word calls Armageddon.
At the same time, the answer is “no;” the dynamic drama playing out in Iraq won’t be the thing that sets the Armageddon war campaign in motion. We have God’s Word on it. Jesus Christ, who was and is God the Son, said, ““And ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet” (Matt. 24:4).
The world has been in this time of “wars and rumors of wars” throughout history. Jesus here did, however, strongly imply that there will be a great increase in the number of wars and rumors of wars as the end of the age draws near. There will be, Jesus prophesied, wars and rumors of war with greater frequency and intensity. Certainly, the 20th century was the bloodiest of all centuries, with millions of people killed in war. Certainly, too, with the fear of thermonuclear war and the horrific destruction it would bring, “rumors of wars” were more pronounced than at any other time. “But the end is not yet,” Christ said. The war with Saddam’s genocidal forces was but one more of the “rumors of war” that became a war in fact.
Is there anything of prophetic significance we can make of the second war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq? Does the Bible have anything to say about end-time Iraq?
As a matter of fact, yes. Quite a bit. But Bible prophecy speaks of Iraq as being in an apparently changed form from the Iraq of today. Prophecy again calls that region Babylon, and it is in big trouble with God. Jeremiah the prophet foretold Babylon’s end-time plight:
"The word that the LORD spake against Babylon and against the land of the Chaldeans by Jeremiah the prophet. Declare ye among the nations, and publish, and set up a standard; publish, and conceal not: say, Babylon is taken, Bel is confounded, Merodach is broken in pieces; her idols are confounded, her images are broken in pieces. For out of the north there cometh up a nation against her, which shall make her land desolate, and none shall dwell therein: they shall remove, they shall depart, both man and beast" (Jer. 50:1-3).
The prophet said further:
"Therefore, behold, the days come, that I will do judgment upon the graven images of Babylon: and her whole land shall be confounded, and all her slain shall fall in the midst of her. Then the heaven and the earth, and all that is therein, shall sing for Babylon: for the spoilers shall come unto her from the north, saith the LORD" (Jer. 51:47-48).
Babylon's Last-Days Role
It becomes obvious, if one believes Bible prophecy should be taken literally, that the area now called Iraq is mentioned prominently as having a role to play in history yet to unfold. We can be sure the prophetic Scriptures haven’t yet been fulfilled because the region has never been rendered completely uninhabitable like foretold by Jeremiah:
"And the land shall tremble and sorrow: for every purpose of the LORD shall be performed against Babylon, to make the land of Babylon a desolation without an inhabitant" (Jeremiah 51: 29).
Does the prophecy above indicate that nuclear devastation is prophetically scheduled for the area presently occupied by the nation called Iraq? Radioactivity that contaminates the land to the point it cannot be inhabited seems to fit such a scenario.
Prophecy Scholars Differ On Babylon
When it comes to the subject of Babylon in prophecy, excellent prophecy scholars hold different views. Some believe that an actual city will be rebuilt on the very real estate once occupied by ancient Babylon. This, they believe, will be the great religious and commercial center that will be destroyed in one hour, as indicated in Revelation:
"And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come" (Rev. 18:9-10).
Other prophecy scholars believe prophecies about end-time Babylon found in Revelation and Jeremiah refer to the entire world religious and economic system that will have developed by the time of the end. These prophecies, they believe, involve ancient Babylon only in that it was the matrix out of which all of the religious and commercial evils began to grow and infect mankind’s activities throughout history. These prophecy students believe that the city destroyed in a single hour might be the greatest center of commerce at that time. For example, in our day, that city would be New York City, because it has the most influence over world trade, etc.
Iraq Today - The Bottom Line
Although Saddam Hussein began rebuilding a city on the site of ancient Babylon, it is at this time many, many years away from even having a chance of again becoming a great world commercial and/or religious center. It is scarcely more than a tiny, token symbol of the magnificence that once occupied that area.
The war that removes Hussein perhaps has disrupted that rebuilding effort. But some prophecy watchers suggest that with Saddam removed, the world community might think to come together and make the present effort to rebuild Babylon into a true symbol for world unity and world peace. A major city with towering skyscrapers could, with today’s technologies, be erected in mere months. This has already been done in another Mid-East nation. Some believe that even the United Nations might be moved to a rebuilt Babylon as a gesture of world community and harmony.
Whether Hussein’s removal will bring about the prophesied end-time Babylon cannot be known for sure at this point. We can be certain, however, that the war that kicked the dictator off his deadly throne did not start Armageddon, as feared by some. However, if war reignites because of unforeseen causes in the region and becomes severe enough (with nuclear weaponry introduced, inflicting damage to major populations), that conflict could be the catalyst that helps bring about the event that will start the Armageddon campaign of war in motion. Here’s how.
The Tribulation Era
Already the world community is demanding that peace be made between Israel and its Middle Eastern neighbors. The world’s leaders see the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as holding the greatest potential for igniting all out war. Additionally, the Jewish/Islamic differences are seen as explosive fuel that might be thrown on any war that might erupt in the region. Global leaders intend to do all within their collective power to force peace upon Israel and those who want to push the Jewish people into the Mediterranean.
Daniel the prophet foretold a peace that will destroy many people, both Israel’s and its enemies’ people (Dan. 8:25). The Antichrist will, according to Daniel 9: 26-27, be the leader who guarantees that seven-year covenant of peace. When this “man of sin,” as Antichrist is also called, brings together Israel and her foes for that peace treaty, the tribulation era will begin.
The tribulation is prophesied by prophets such as Daniel, Jeremiah, and Jesus to be a time of God’s judgment upon rebellious earth-dwellers. This judgment will last seven years and will conclude with Christ’s return, when the last battle of the Armageddon war is taking place in the Middle East.
Peace Agreement Brings on Armageddon
It will be Israel’s agreement with the Antichrist to sign that peace covenant that will begin the tribulation, or apocalypse. This also sets in motion a progressive series of conflicts that grows into the war called Armageddon.
So, war with Iraq didn’t start Armageddon. But war, reignited by the nuclear threat posed by Iran or some other hostility in that volatile region, could, if destructive enough to major populations, be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Such conflict could hasten the world community into forcing Israel and her enemies to finally agree to the so-called peace which has proved so elusive throughout the great diplomatic efforts since Israel’s rebirth in 1948. In that sense, the ejection from power of the "Butcher of Baghdad"--Saddam Hussein—and the American-led rearrangement for Iraq might fit significantly into the prophetic picture.
Reading Zechariah Chapter 5 leads the believer in Bible prophecy to observe that wickedness/evil is scheduled to return to the place called “Shinar.” That’s present-day Iraq!
With the ancient biblical prophecies involving the city of Babylon for the wrap-up of human history, it is incumbent upon every student of Bible prophecy to examine news coming out of that land where God said the first human beings were created.
Chronology of a Civilization
5000 B.C.: Farming spreads into southern Mesopotamia, the ancient name for the territory of Iraq. The world's first great cities develop along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Two regions become dominant: Akkad in the north and Sumer in the south.
3500-3000: The Sumerians develop the wheel, writing, counting and calendars.
2334-2279: Sargon the Great establishes the Akkadian Empire.
1792-1750: Hammurabi establishes Babylon as the region's power center. Hammurabi is best known for a code of laws that bears his name.
1400: Assyrian, Babylonian, Hurrian and Elamite kingdoms flourish and vie for ascendancy.
722-705: Sargon II strengthens Assyrian rule and builds a palace-temple complex near Nineveh.
612: The Assyrian Empire collapses suddenly; Chaldeans take control.
597: Nebuchadnezzar II captures Jerusalem. Under Nebuchadnezzar, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, are built. Nebuchadnezzar's is the last home-grown government in Mesopotamia until the 20th century.
539: King Cyrus of Persia captures Babylon.
331: Alexander the Great seizes Babylon, declares it his capital and dies there in 323.
226: The Persian Sassanid dynasty is established.
637: The Arabs defeat the Sassanids in the battle of Qadisiya and bring Islam to Iraq.
762-63: Mansur founds Baghdad. Probably the world's first completely planned city, Baghdad becomes the center of Islamic civilization.
1258: Mongols sack Baghdad.
1534: The Ottoman Turks, under Suleyman the Magnificent, seize Iraq.
1800s: Britain begins to exert its influence in the Persian Gulf to protect trade routes with India.
1914-18: The Ottoman Empire sides with Germany against Britain, France and Russia in World War I.
1919: The League of Nations gives Britain a mandate over Iraq.
1921: Prince Faisal, who had fought with T.E. Lawrence against the Ottomans, is brought to Iraq and chosen king in a referendum.
1932: Britain grants Iraq its independence.
1958: Gen. Abdel Karim Qassem topples the monarchy in a military coup.
1979: Saddam Hussein becomes president.
1980-88: Iraq-Iran war.
1990: Iraq invades Kuwait.
1991: Persian Gulf War.
1998: UN weapons inspectors leave Iraq.
2002: President Bush calls for a 'regime change' as he seeks to disarm Saddam Hussein.
2003: American-led coalition defeats Iraq’s armies and overthrows Saddam Hussein.
2005 Democratic elections take place on January 31 in Iraq.
Sources: The New York Times, Knight Ridder Tribune, Associated Press, CIA World Fact book 2001, Iraq: Enchantment of the World and Iraq: Old Land, New Nation in Conflict