Iraq in the Bible
By Thomas Williamson
I like to try to keep up with all current topics of interest, and at this time, Iraq seems to be the hot topic. Since ancient Babylon was located in what is now modern-day Iraq, this raises the question as to whether the current military actions in Iraq are a fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
The key Old Testament prophecy of the destruction of Babylon is found in Isaiah 13. At this time (713 BC) Babylon was beginning its rise to imperial domination, but Isaiah predicted that Babylon would be overthrown by the Medes. This prophecy was fulfilled in 538 BC (Daniel 5).
It should be clear that this overthrow of Babylon took place in ancient times, since conquerors are described as using swords, v. 15, and bows, v. 18. The Medes (v. 17) are a nation that no longer exists in any identifiable fashion today.
Some have objected that Isaiah 13 must refer to the destruction of a future Babylon to be rebuilt by Saddam Hussein or by the Antichrist. They point to Isaiah 13:20 which says that Babylon will never be inhabited after its overthrow. It is a known fact that Babylon continued to be inhabited for many centuries after the conquest by Darius the Mede in 538 BC. However, eventually the site was abandoned and became ruins, thus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy. There is no need to have Babylon rebuilt so that the prophecy can be fulfilled yet again.
Some have assumed that Isaiah’s reference to the “Day of the Lord” has to do with end-times judgment associated with Christ’s Second Coming. This is not correct. There are many “Days of the Lord” in the Bible. In Isaiah 34:8 and Obadiah 15 it refers to a judgment on ancient Edom. In Joel 1:15 and Amos 5:18 it refers to judgment on the northern kingdom of Israel, which was overthrown by the Assyrians in 722 BC. In Zephaniah 1:7 it refers to the destruction of Judah in 586 BC.
The “Day of the Lord” is whatever day in which God brings judgment on a nation that has rebelled against Him. For Babylon, that judgment fell in the year 538 BC.
Others insist that this destruction of Babylon must be future, because the constellations, sun and moon were not literally darkened when Babylon fell in 538 BC (Isaiah 13:10). However, no one would seriously believe that George W. Bush, Tony Blair and the “Coalition of the Willing” are capable of fulfilling this prophecy by literally extinguishing the sun, moon and stars as part of the campaign against Iraq.
We must realize that this apocalyptic language signifies the fall of earthly powers such as the rulers of Babylon, and is not meant to be taken literally. Such “lights out” descriptions are common in the Old Testament, referring to the overthrow of Egypt (Ezekiel 32:7-8), Edom (Isaiah 34:4-5), the northern kingdom of Israel (Amos 8:9) and the Jewish rulers of Judah in the 2nd Century BC (Daniel 8:10).
Since no one seriously expects to see the total dissolution of the sun, moon and stars as a result of the current military action against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, or at any time before the end of the Millennium, it makes no sense to maintain that Isaiah’s “lights out” prophecy against Babylon was not fulfilled in ancient times.
How about Jeremiah’s prophecy against Babylon in Jeremiah chapters 50-51 - could that refer to modern Iraq? The answer is no - these chapters are full of details that point to the fall of ancient Babylon. Jeremiah 50:2, 38, 51:17 mention Babylonian idols, which are no longer objects of worship in modern Iraq. Verses 50:14, 16, 29, 35-37, 42, 51:3, 11, 20, 56 mention ancient obsolete weapons that are no longer used in battle today. 50:42 says all the invaders will ride upon horses. The Medes and other ancient peoples, that no longer exist today, are mentioned in 51:27-28. The Israelite captives are released as a result of the fall of ancient Babylon, 50: 19, 33-34. This was fulfilled in 538 BC (see Ezra 1:3) and would not apply to modern Iraq, which is not holding any Jews captive.
Some will say, “What about the Babylon denounced in Revelation 17-18 - could that be modern Iraq?”
There are a multitude of interpretations concerning the identity of the Babylon of Revelation. Some say it is ancient Rome, others that it is modern Rome. Some say it is ancient Jerusalem, or modern Jerusalem. Some say it is a future One World government, or a One World Church, and many over the centuries have said it is the Roman Catholic Church. Some say it is the United States, and some say it is New York City (the “proof” is the existence of a suburb on Long Island called Babylon).
C.I. Scofield, with his usual talent for hairsplitting and “wrongly dividing the word of truth,” manages to come up with 2 entirely distinct Babylons in Revelation, one of them political and the other ecclesiastical.
Yes, there are those who believe that Revelation 17-18 refers to a literal Babylon to be rebuilt in Iraq so it can be destroyed again. As we have already seen, Babylon was already destroyed in the 6th Century BC, so there really is no need for “deja vu all over again” and to have Babylon literally rebuilt and destroyed again. Isaiah prophesied the overthrow of Babylon as a massive political world-system and superpower - he was not talking about Saddam’s rebuilt tourist attraction which is probably less substantial than your local Six Flags amusement park.
All too many of our prophetical speculations are based on the mistaken notion that past prophecies of mayhem and destruction were not fulfilled literally enough, so we have to go through those devastations again and again, until enough blood and guts have been made to flow through the deserts of the Middle East to satisfy the most enthusiastic prophecy buffs.
Some will ask, “Could this current invasion of Iraq be the Battle of Armageddon?” Aside from the fact that the literal valley of Megiddo is hundreds of miles from Iraq, we need to consider the fact that nowhere does the Bible say specifically that there is going to be a battle at Armageddon in the end times.
Here is the sum total of what the Bible says about Armageddon, in Revelation 16:16: “And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.” That’s it. Based on this slender reference, an elaborate mythology has been constructed about the battle of Armageddon, spawning a multi-million dollar industry of gruesome, terrifying doomsday videos. The Revelation reference may indicate that Armageddon will be a staging ground for the armies of the kings of the earth, but it does not state that any literal battle will be fought there.
When the previous Gulf War with Iraq was fought in 1991, a lot of folks got all excited and thought that this was a sign of the end. Since we are all still here and the Rapture has not taken place yet, this shows that the 1991 war was not a sign of the end, and therefore there is no reason to assume that the second war with Iraq will be a sign of the end either.
Another very good reason for caution in predicting the Rapture based on ongoing commotions in Iraq, is the fact that the Bible does not state nor hint that such activity in Iraq, or in the land of ancient Babylon, is a sign of the Rapture.
The Old Testament predictions of doom against Babylon were fulfilled in ancient times. As for the predictions against Babylon in the Book of Revelation, we need to admit that there is wide diversity and uncertainty of interpretations of some of the symbols of that book. To apply these predictions against modern Iraq is pure speculation, nothing more.
Also, the book of Revelation was never intended to give us a detailed rundown of future events in whatever decade we happen to be living in, after the style of Nostradamus, Jeane Dixon and Mother Shipton. Let’s leave that stuff for the supermarket tabloids, and recognize that the Bible does not give us any inside information on, or countdown to, the date of Christ’s Second Coming. “But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels of heaven, but my Father only.” Matthew 24:36.
(From Northern Landmark Missionary Baptist, May, 2003)