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Milepost 8: Israel's Birth Pangs

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Milepost 8: Israel's Birth Pangs

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Generally, birth pang prophecies show Israel subduing various enemies. During this time, Israel fights a progression of wars against increasingly stronger armies. These wars culminate with two cataclysmic battles during the seven-year tribulation but even prior to this, Israel successfully contends with many regional adversaries.  Zechariah 12:5-8 alludes to Israel’s military prowess in defending themselves:

And the governors of Judah shall say in their heart, The inhabitants of Jerusalem shall be my strength in the LORD of hosts their God.  In that day will I make the governors of Judah like an hearth of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire in a sheaf; and they shall devour all the people round about, on the right hand and on the left: and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem.  The LORD also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem do not magnify themselves against Judah.  In that day shall the LORD defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that is feeble among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as God, as the angel of the LORD before them.

These verses contain several clues pointing these passages to Israel’s birth pangs.  The phrase ‘In that day’ appears several times in this passage and marks this as an end-time prophecy.  In addition, Israel did not fulfill them in either their first or the second incarnation so they must represent a fulfillment during their third incarnation.  Since Jesus’ return ends all wars, the events must occur before this and the fulfillment window is effectively restricted to the Israel’s birth pangs.  Key prophecies in these verses include:

  • Jerusalem shall be inhabited again
  • Judah shall devour all its enemies
  • God saves Judah first
  • In battle, each inhabitant of Jerusalem shall be as David
  • In battle, the house of David shall be as the Angel of the Lord

Zechariah’s focus on Judah and Jerusalem, and not Israel as a whole, helps fuel speculation of Israel’s possible end-time division into two nations especially since Revelation 6 clearly shows that at least twelve of the thirteen tribes are present in Israel during this time.

Passages such as this one show Israel has many end-time enemies and fights many wars but provide precious few specifics about these wars (e.g., who, when or where).  What they do show is the Jews are valiant fighters as these passages compare Israel’s fighting abilities to David who single-handedly defeated a lion, a bear and Goliath.  As mentioned earlier, there are striking similarities between David’s conquests and three of Daniel’s four beasts.  These similarities become even more interesting when Hosea declares that all four afflict Ephraim, an alternate name for Israel’s northern kingdom:

According to their pasture, so were they filled; they were filled, and their heart was exalted; therefore have they forgotten me.  Therefore I will be unto them as a lion: as a leopard by the way will I observe them:  I will meet them as a bear that is bereaved of her whelps, and will rend the caul of their heart, and there will I devour them like a lion: the wild beast shall tear them. (Hosea 13:6-8)

By directing these pronouncements against Ephraim, Hosea seems to support the proposition that the end-time nation of Israel again divides into two parts and that Israel must face each of Daniel’s four beasts.  Interestingly, Hosea states that the leopard only observes and does not attack (at least individually).  This seems to be consistent with both the story of Goliath and Amos 5:18-19, which omit references to the leopard.  From these passages, it appears that the leopard is the most reluctant of the four beasts to attack the nation of Israel while the other beasts each take their turns afflicting Israel: the lion in Israel’s war of independence, the bear in Ezekiel’s future battle of Gog of Magog, and the last beast in the battle of Armageddon.

Today, Israel’s attention is not on these great beasts but on numerous smaller adversaries but scriptural references to them and their disposition is sketchy at best.  A couple of clues appear in Ezekiel’s description of the tribulation battle of Gog of Magog (Ezekiel 38-39) where none of Israel’s regional enemies appear in either the lists of invading armies or allies.  Their omission is even more striking when one realizes that invasion forces must pass through these countries to reach Israel.  Also intriguing is Israel’s belief they finally have peace and safety.

This combination suggests Israel’s neighbors such as Jordon, Lebanon, and Syria have either been eliminated or rendered impotent. While the modern names for most of these nations do not appear in the Bible, several ancient nations such as Ammon, Moab, Edom, Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Ekron, and the Philistines are present and may provide clues Israel’s current unrest. For example, Gaza and the Philistines appear in the following potential birth pang prophecy:

Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Gaza, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they carried away captive the whole captivity, to deliver them up to Edom: But I will send a fire on the wall of Gaza, which shall devour the palaces thereof: And I will cut off the inhabitant from Ashdod, and him that holdeth the sceptre from Ashkelon, and I will turn mine hand against Ekron: and the remnant of the Philistines shall perish, saith the Lord GOD. (Amos 1:6-8)

Today, this area in the Gaza strip is an armed camp filled with people full of irrational hatred aimed at Israel. Daily, it threatens to embroil the entire area in escalating violence potentially leading to another regional conflict. This passage suggests these people’s destruction, perhaps through war, comes after their fourth major infraction. Ezekiel 25:15-17 seems to pronounce similar judgments:

Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because the Philistines have dealt by revenge, and have taken vengeance with a despiteful heart, to destroy it for the old hatred; Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I will stretch out mine hand upon the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethims, and destroy the remnant of the sea coast. And I will execute great vengeance upon them with furious rebukes; and they shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall lay my vengeance upon them.

Here both the Philistines and their ancient allies, the Cherethims, fall under God’s vengeful wrath for their hatred driven actions against Israel. While these prophecies may have been fulfilled millennia ago, it is curious that this area is such a huge trouble spot today. As with all the prophecies in this section, it is difficult to determine whether they have current end-time applications. Current events in Israel certainly point in that direction, but careful, disciplined application of prophetic rules of interpretation is necessary to keep from stretching prophecy to match the desired outcome. For now, it is sufficient to note the similarities between these verses and current conditions and leave the question of whether these are birth pang prophecies unanswered. Syria is another country covered by potential birth pang prophecies:

And he said, The LORD will roar from Zion,and utter his voice from Jerusalem; and the habitations of the shepherds shall mourn, and the top of Carmel shall wither. Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Damascus, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they have threshed Gilead with threshing instruments of iron: But I will send a fire into the house of Hazael, which shall devour the palaces of Benhadad. I will break also the bar of Damascus, and cut off the inhabitant from the plain of Aven, and him that holdeth the sceptre from the house of Eden: and the people of Syria shall go into captivity unto Kir, saith the LORD. (Amos 1:2-5)

Again for four major infractions against Israel, Damascus is destroyed and Syria suffers God judgments. In fact, similar pronouncements against the ancient nations of Tyrus, Edom, Ammon, and Moab can be found throughout Amos’ prophecies and each may or may not apply to last days events. Ezekiel pronounced similar prophecies against Israel’s ancient enemy Idumea (Edom):

Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Surely in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Idumea, which have appointed my land into their possession with the joy of all their heart, with despiteful minds, to cast it out for a prey.  Prophesy therefore concerning the land of Israel, and say unto the mountains, and to the hills, to the rivers, and to the valleys, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I have spoken in my jealousy and in my fury, because ye have borne the shame of the heathen: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I have lifted up mine hand, Surely the heathen that are about you, they shall bear their shame.  But ye, O mountains of Israel, ye shall shoot forth your branches, and yield your fruit to my people of Israel; for they are at hand to come. (Ezekiel 36:5-8)

Notice that these prophecies occur when the mountains of Israel sprout their branches, implying the time following Israel’s rebirth. Though omits Ezekiel details of God’s wrath, it appears that both Idumea and the heathen suffer greatly in the last days. Egypt is another ancient country apparently appearing in birth pang prophecies. Isaiah 19:1-2 shows the the burden of Egypt:

The burden of Egypt. Behold, the LORD rideth upon a swift cloud, and shall come into Egypt: and the idols of Egypt shall be moved at his presence, and the heart of Egypt shall melt in the midst of it. And I will set the Egyptians against the Egyptians: and they shall fight every one against his brother, and every one against his neighbour; city against city, and kingdom against kingdom.

Here Egypt suffers great internal conflicts, perhaps even civil war. Next, a fierce king rules over them:

And the Egyptians will I give over into the hand of a cruel lord; and a fierce king shall rule over them, saith the Lord, the LORD of hosts. And the waters shall fail from the sea, and the river shall be wasted and dried up. And they shall turn the rivers far away; and the brooks of defence shall be emptied and dried up: the reeds and flags shall wither. The paper reeds by the brooks, by the mouth of the brooks, and every thing sown by the brooks, shall wither, be driven away, and be no more. The fishers also shall mourn, and all they that cast angle into the brooks shall lament, and they that spread nets upon the waters shall languish. (Isaiah 19:4-8)

Some suggest King Gamal Abdel-Nasser this drying up of the Nile prophecy when he dammed up the Nile River. As with most dams, the dam stopped the normal flow of the river and adversely affected fish and plants living in and depending on the normal flow of the river. Egypt’s also figures prominently in the following last days prophecy from Isaiah:

In that day shall Egypt be like unto women: and it shall be afraid and fear because of the shaking of the hand of the LORD of hosts, which he shaketh over it. And the land of Judah shall be a terror unto Egypt, every one that maketh mention thereof shall be afraid in himself, because of the counsel of the LORD of hosts, which he hath determined against it. In that day shall five cities in the land of Egypt speak the language of Canaan, and swear to the LORD of hosts; one shall be called, The city of destruction. In that day shall there be an altar to the LORD in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar at the border thereof to the LORD. And it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the LORD of hosts in the land of Egypt: for they shall cry unto the LORD because of the oppressors, and he shall send them a saviour, and a great one, and he shall deliver them. (Isaiah 19:16-20)

At this time, Israel terrifies Egypt. Today, this fear is pervasive and even affects Egypt’s visitors as those arriving overland from Israel must already have a valid visa before trying to enter the country. At any other entry port (except Rafah and Taba, both on the eastern (Israeli) side of the Sinai Peninsula), a visitor can obtain a 30-day tourist visa as they enter the country. Many stories exist of problems encountered by Middle East tourists not sensitive to the Egyptian’s fear and sensibilities. Considering the damages Israel’s military has inflicted on them, the fear is understandable. Interestingly, Isaiah claims five Egyptian cities will speak Israel’s language, Hebrew, and Egypt’s border will have a pillar and altar in the land to the Lord. Some believe the Camp David accords fulfilled these prophecies where Egypt received the Israeli controlled land of the Sinai Peninsula in a phased multi-year handover. During this time, Israel dismantled seventeen Jewish settlements of various sizes and relocated their inhabitants to Israel. For a short time, these settlements may have fulfilled Isaiah’s Hebrew, prophecy. Also, in tribute to the peace accords and Anwar Saddat, the Egyptians constructed a monument on the Israeli border and this monument might be Isaiah’s border pillar.

In addition to these prophecies, the ancient accounts of Israel’s interactions with her neighbors yield clues to the birth pang obstacles she faces. In particular, Joshua experienced it when Gibeon’s neighbors attacked and destroyed them for enacting a peace treaty with Joshua and Israel:

Now it came to pass, when Adonizedek king of Jerusalem had heard how Joshua had taken Ai, and had utterly destroyed it; as he had done to Jericho and her king, so he had done to Ai and her king; and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel, and were among them; That they feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, as one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all the men thereof were mighty. Wherefore Adonizedek king of Jerusalem sent unto Hoham king of Hebron, and unto Piram king of Jarmuth, and unto Japhia king of Lachish, and unto Debir king of Eglon, saying, Come up unto me, and help me, that we may smite Gibeon: for it hath made peace with Joshua and with the children of Israel. Therefore the five kings of the Amorites, the king of Jerusalem, the king of Hebron, the king of Jarmuth, the king of Lachish, the king of Eglon, gathered themselves together, and went up, they and all their hosts, and encamped before Gibeon, and made war against it. (Joshua 10:1-5)

Today, history repeats itself as dissidents and nations hating Israel use these same tactics to intimidate anyone wanting to work with the Jews. There have been reports of Arabs killing Arabs who sold land to Jews to terrify others who may want to profit by trading with the Jews (or just want to live with them in peace).