The March cover story of Jerry Falwell's National Liberty Journal says the world may be on the brink of a major war foretold in the Bible as a precursor to the return of Christ.
The story, headlined "Are We on the Precipice of War in Iran?" by contributing editor Edward Hindson, compares current events in the Middle East to prophecy in the Old Testament book of Ezekiel about a cataclysmic battle involving Israel and "Gog, of the land of Magog."
Most Bible scholars consider the passage to be written in apocalyptic language, which might mention actual people and places but was not intended to be taken literally. Some biblical literalists, however, view the passage as predicting future events indicating today's Christians are living in the period just prior to the return of Christ. Last year best-selling author John Hagee published a book Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World suggesting a nuclear showdown involving Iran could signal the beginning of the end of the world.
The ancient land of Persia, a world power when Ezekiel wrote in the 6th century before Christ, became known as Iran in 1935, Hindson, assistant to the chancellor at Falwell's Liberty University, noted. Today it is called the Islamic Republic of Iran and is a sworn enemy of the modern state of Israel.
"As one can see, the stage is indeed being set for the invasion of Israel as outlined in Ezekiel. With the exception of Russia (Rosh), all of the countries identified in Chapter 38 are controlled by openly anti-Semitic, Muslim-controlled governments whose primary goal seems to be focused on the annihilation of Israel," he wrote. "The five former Soviet republics (Magog) along with Iran (Persia) already have, or are desperately trying to secure, nuclear weapons. The attack against the tiny country of Israel will come from all sides. This vast network of enemy nations will extend from Russia and its associated republics in the north, to Iran in the east, Sudan in the south and Libya in the west. To say that Israel's army will be grossly outnumbered would be the understatement of the century. However, this will only serve to highlight God's divine intervention when Israel's enemies are supernaturally defeated."
Hindson suggested "the prince of Rosh" in Ezekiel 38:2 refers to Russia, even though the name of that country wasn't used until the Middle Ages.
"One thing is very clear in Ezekiel's prophecy, the invading host will come from the 'north parts' (38:15)," he said. "Magog will be the foremost nation in this invasion from the distant north, which will include: Meschech and Tubal (the ancient Muski and Tabal peoples of Assyria); Gomer, the ancient Cimmerians of Turkey; and Beth Togarmah ('house of Togarmah,' a region in northern Turkey.)"
Hindson noted that Iraq, ancient Babylon, is not mentioned in Ezekiel's prophecy, even though the prophet was living there in exile at the time of his writing. He speculated that in light of current events of the Middle East, Iraq will either break into fragmented warring pieces, be taken over by Iran or become an international zone under auspices of the United Nations.
Regardless of the parties, he said, God "will be the primary player in this End Times drama."
"He will rise up himself to defend Israel and display His glory to the world," he wrote. Ezekiel, he said, "predicts the total defeat of the Russian-Islamic allies by both natural and supernatural means."
Hindson said details described by the prophet like "pestilence" or "plague" might refer to biological or chemical weapons. Whether the prophesied "fire and brimstone," he said, the same weapons used by God to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, "will supernaturally fall from heaven or as the result of a nuclear blast, only time will tell."
The foretold fiery destruction of Magog, Hindson said, gives the impression "of either divine destruction or the equivalence of a nuclear blast on the homeland of the enemy perpetrator."
"No such battle as the one described in Ezekiel's prophecy has ever occurred in history," Hindson wrote. "Therefore, those who take biblical prophecy seriously believe this battle of Gog and Magog will yet occur sometime in the future. As we compare Ezekiel's prophecy to the events shaping up in the Middle East today, we have great reason to believe that an Iranian-Russian alliance of some type could very easily come together in the near future."
"The present unstable situation in Iraq, the animosity of Iran and the general tenor of Islamic extremism all point to the possibility of a major war between Israel and Iran and her allies in the near future," Hindson concluded. "The only real question is: 'When?'"
LeAnn Snow Flesher, a professor at American Baptist Seminary of the West and author of Left Behind? The Facts Behind the Fiction, says stories like the defeat of Gog contained important theological concepts for Israel during exile following the fall of Jerusalem in 587/6 B.C.E., but they do not literally describe events in the modern world. Their enduring message, she wrote in a column for EthicsDaily.com, is "the hope that God is at work in our world to bring peace, and hope and healing."
In its 13th year of publishing, the monthly National Liberty Journal describes itself as "the Conservative Christian's Newspaper" claiming readership of more than 200,000 pastors and 100,000 alumni of Liberty University.
Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press, a mystic rabbi has called on thousands of children to say prayers to prevent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from harming Israel. Israel fears Iran's nuclear program is intended to produce weapons that could be used against Israel. Iran says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes only.
Israel denied a report in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph that it was preparing to bomb Iran's nuclear facilities and negotiating with the United States for permission to fly over Iraq in preparing for such a strike.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Ezekiel, Revelation and Iran
'Left Behind?: The Facts Behind the Fiction'
Preachers View Middle East Conflict Through Lens of Bible Prophecy