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The Danger of Prophetic Inevitability

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In a 1979 message, Jerry Falwell presented his views on the end-times using Ezekiel 38 as a backdrop to his interpretation of the passage. Falwell asked why Russia would want to invade Israel. Quoting Ezekiel 38:12, he said the purpose is “to seize spoil and carry off plunder.” Here’s what he said next: “If one removes the first two letters from this word ‘spoil,’ he soon realizes what Russia will really be after—obviously, oil. And that is where we find ourselves today.”[1] Of course, “spoil” is the translation of a Hebrew word that has no linguistic relationship to the English word “oil.” Moreover, what possible reason does Falwell give for removing the s and p from “spoil”? What if he had been using a Dutch or German Bible?

It might surprise you, but the Bible does mention oil, and I’m not talking about olive oil. There were pools of an asphalt-like material often translated as “pitch” or “tar” (KJV: “slime”): “Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits. . .” (Gen. 14:10). The “pitch” or “tar” was used for waterproofing (Gen. 6:14; Ex. 2:3) and as a binding mortar (Gen. 11:3). If God wanted to identify a future discovery of crude oil in Ezekiel 38 and 39, He could have chosen any of the Hebrew terms already in use at that time to make the point. If God could use arrows to symbolize missiles, as some futurists claim, then He could have added “pitch” to gold, silver, cattle, and goods (Ezek. 38:13). These commodities, less the “pitch,” are what the Jews brought back with them from their Babylonian captivity (Ezra 1:4). This is another interpretive indicator that tells the reader that an ancient battle is in view.

“Before the great, final battle of Armageddon,” an end-time prophecy enthusiast states, “we are destined to fight other wars, among them a ‘Gog-Magog’ war” where “five-sixths of the Russian people” will be destroyed “with millions of corpses prey to ravenous birds of every sort.”[2] Destined is the key word. Those who promote the view that Ezekiel predicts a future war encompassing a number of nuclear nations led by Russia consider it to be a prophetic inevitability. It will happen, and no amount of prayer, gospel proclamation, Christian discipleship, and biblical reconciliation can do anything to change it. Comments like the following are typical and dangerous:

There is no doubt that the drama is mounting in the Middle East, and the eyes of the world are again focused on this volatile region. As a Christian, I look at these reports with thoughts geared on biblical prophecy, which foretell of an invasion against Israel during the “last days.” Most specifically, Ezekiel 38:16 forecasts the following: “You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. …” There has been ongoing speculation as to who all of these nations are that will rise up against Israel in this future event. One thing is certain, as Dr. Ed Hindson of Liberty University has pointed out: “They are united in their determination to destroy Israel.” And so, as wars and rumors of wars persist in the Middle East, we are reminded that the Bible appeals to Christians to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem” (Psalm 122:6, NKJV). . . . I believe that the prophetic “last days” are rapidly approaching. As Christians, we are instructed to be about the works of the Father while there is still time (John 9:4).[3]

Like so many modern-day prophecy writers, Jonathan Falwell, like his father before him, assumes that when Ezekiel writes about those who “will come up against [God’s] people Israel like a cloud,” that it’s a reference to events more than 2500 years removed from Ezekiel’s day. This popular prophetic scenario requires that peace can only come after millions are killed in a Gog-Magog war and another holocaust where two-thirds of the Jews living in Israel will be slaughtered (Zech. 13:8).

Will those who hold to this end-time scenario push our national leaders in the direction of war in the name of an inevitable Gog-Magog invasion, or will they remain “neutral” as war builds up because they claim that it must? This is the question of the hour, and the only answer is to lay prophetic preconceptions aside and follow an interpretive methodology that requires that Scripture be interpreted by Scripture. Don’t forget that prophecy writers believed World War II was a “prophetic war.” Where were the Christians? Why didn’t they meet with their counterparts in Germany? Because many thought it was all predicted and inevitable.

Endnotes:

[1] Jerry Falwell, “Dr. Jerry Falwell Teaches Bible Prophecy” (8 Audio Cassettes) (1979). Quoted in Aurelia T. Fule, “What Shall We Believe?” (1987): http://www.religion-online.org/showchapter.asp?title=406&C=148
[2]
Quoted in Grace Halsell, Forcing God’s Hand: Why Millions Pray for a Quick Rapture—and Destruction of Planet Earth (Washington, DC: Crossroads International Publishing, 1999), 23, 24.
[3] Jonathan Falwell, “‘Last Days’ are Imminent” (June 21, 2008): http://www.worldnetdaily.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=67623

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