The latest Mideast conflict adds to long-term tensions roused by the anti-Israel fulminations and nuclear ambitions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Observers say the president is preparing for the return of Shiism’s Hidden Imam, a Muslim equivalent of Jesus’ Second Coming.
Iran, which aids Lebanon’s Hezbollah, is ‘‘the number one terrorist nation in the world,’’ writes the Rev. Mark Hitchcock of Faith Bible Church in Edmond, Okla., in ‘‘Iran: The Coming Crisis’’ (Multnomah).
What’s more, he believes the Bible and the news tell us ‘‘the final showdown between Israel, Iran and the other Muslim nations could be very near. . . . It looks like the curtain could go up at any moment.’’ Again, ‘‘the earth appears to be on the verge of entering into its most dangerous and difficult days.’’
Hitchcock advocates ‘‘Dispensationalism,’’ which sees the Bible’s prophetic passages as highly literal depictions of coming events. This outlook is popularized by ‘‘Left Behind’’ novels and many American radio and TV preachers.
Contrary to a common stereotype, however, many conservative Protestants disagree and share a less literal outlook with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.
Iran (known as Persia until modern times) is important in the Old Testament because it conquered Babylon and allowed exiled Jews to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple. But Hitchcock focuses on one mention of Persia, in Ezekiel 38:5.
He believes the prophet’s vision in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is ‘‘a key part’’ of ‘‘God’s master plan for history’’ and that Iran’s current rise in power points ‘‘toward the end-time scenario presented in the Bible.’’
This theory involves one of the Bible’s most complex books, and one of its most difficult passages, which describes a multination attack upon Israel.
Some Jews and Protestants believe that Ezekiel portrays eschatological events or the future messianic age. Others see mere symbolic warnings about evil in the world, or evils that threaten Israel or God’s people generally.
In the New English Bible translation, the nation in 38:5 is ‘‘Pharas,’’ a place cited elsewhere in Ezekiel and located by some in Africa.
But assuming that ‘‘Persia’’ is the correct understanding, then which are the other countries attacking Israel? The alliance is led by Magog, which Hitchcock identifies with the Islamic republics in central Asia and possibly Afghanistan. Other conservatives link Magog with ancient Assyria. (Magog is a tribe mentioned in two sections of Islam’s Quran.)
Hitchcock identifies Meshech, Tyubal, Gomer and Beth-togarmah with modern Turkey, Cush with Sudan, and Put with Libya. In other words, several Muslim nations will rally against Israel. For some reason, Israel’s current Arab antagonists in Syria, Lebanon and Palestinian territory are not on the list.
Russia is also involved, though again, many conservatives dispute Dispensationalists on this point.
Sometimes the Hebrew word involved here is translated as the proper name ‘‘Rosh,’’ claimed to be the root word for Russia, though that name and nation didn’t exist in biblical times. However, the Hebrew word means ‘‘chief,’’ so modern Bibles usually render the phrase as ‘‘chief prince’’ and not ‘‘prince of Rosh.’’
As Hitchcock’s scenario continues, Israel will be totally overwhelmed by the invaders until God intervenes and destroys the ‘‘godless’’ invaders.
This great conflict, by the way, is considered a different one from the famous battle of Armageddon depicted in the Book of Revelation.
Dispensationalists believe that during the ‘‘rapture,’’ all true believers in Jesus Christ will be immediately swept into heaven. Hitchcock is convinced that their disappearance will produce a United States ‘‘devastated beyond comprehension.’’