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Newspaper Exegesis and Egypt

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“I have been amused by observing the manner in which speculators have been taken in when they have left the old ship of the gospel to become prophets. The beast of the Revelation was reported to be Napoleon I, and then the creature suddenly reappeared in his nephew, Napoleon III. By-and-by, the deadly wound was healed, and the Prince Imperial wore the dreadful honours of the prophetic book; but the prince is now dead, and it will be needful for the seers to invent a new theory.” -- C. H. Spurgeon [1]

I received the following email from a friend, an immediate reaction to what is going on in Egypt. Knowing my interest in all things prophetic, he figured that I would have something to say on the subject:

How long before our dispensational friends produce a “new” book explaining how Mubarek’s fall fulfills “Bible prophecy”? I am betting it happens within 2 weeks.

Actually, a book has already been written on Egypt and Bible prophecy. Wilbur M. Smith (not to be confused with the Egyptian novel series author Wilbur A. Smith) wrote Egypt in Biblical Prophecy. There is a lot of good material in Smith's book. My disagreement is only on some of his prophetic applications. Get a copy if you can find one. It was published by W. A. Wilde Company in 1957 and reprinted by Baker Book House in 1973. Someone’s selling a paperback edition on Amazon for $170. A nice hardback edition with dust jacket is selling for $715. Ouch! (I have a first edition. It only lacks a dust jacket.) Smith writes in the following in the Preface:

“Personally, I must confess that when this recent crisis (of 1956) occurred in Egypt, I was driven to examine, for the first time in years of study of Biblical prophecy, the whole subject of Egypt in Israel’s history and in the Old Testament predictions concerning certain other nations of that part of the earth. Had someone placed before me, six months ago, an examination covering Egypt in Biblical prophecy, I would have 'flunked' it, even if the questions were not of a technical nature. However, when newspapers were recently filled with reports from Egypt day by day, I was unable to escape a desire to review the whole theme of Egypt in the Biblical writings, both historical and prophetical" (5).

The “recent crisis of 1956” that Smith refers to concerned who would control the Suez Canal, a significant world chokepoint connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea. Without this narrow passageway water transportation between Europe and Asia one would have had to navigate around Africa. Britain and France joined forces with Israel to stop the then newly empowered Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918–1970) from gaining complete control of the canal and nationalizing it. In the 1956 power grab, Israel feared that Egypt, with the help of the Soviet Union, would launch an attack against it in the spring of 1957. The Egyptian army was quickly defeated, and in little more than a week, British and French forces had control of the Suez region. Egypt responded by sinking 40 ships in the canal, blocking all passage. Eventually, at the behest of the United Nations and pressure from the United States, England and France backed off. Salvage crews removed the sunken ships, and the canal was once again open to traffic. The 1956 crisis was preceded by a 1952 crisis. Muhammad Naguib (1901–1984), Egypt’s first President, had led a Revolution that ended the rule of the Muhammad Ali Dynasty in Egypt and Sudan. Sounds similar to what is going on today. Each one of these crises led end-time prophecy writers to claim that Bible prophecy was being fulfilled.

While a new book on Egypt and prophecy has not been written yet, Christians are once again discussing how Egypt fits into Bible prophecy. An interview with popular writer and speaker Kenneth Boa caught my attention. I’ve been reading Ken’s material for years. His material on apologetics is always good. In the interview, he begins with a very judicious statement: “I want to be careful not to engage in newspaper exegesis [2] — you know, this is what the newspaper says and here is what the Bible says.” After rehearsing a bit of Egyptian history and its place in biblical history similar to what Wilbur Smith does, Ken comments on the topic of Bible prophecy as he understands it today:

I believe that we are privileged to be living in a time when we are beginning to see the consummation of all things.

There are a number of signs of the end times that I believe could not have been described as such until the last few decades. Things are working together, giving us a greater sense of the imminence of Christ’s return. And so I see these things being prepared. And I see that we’re part of this larger process.

For example, Ezekiel 38 describes how there will be an invasion of Israel from the North and South and East and West and how these nations will conspire against Israel. But it also describes very clearly that there will be a supernatural deliverance of Israel.

What I believe is being described here, is actually an invasion by these various Islamic states surrounding Israel. For example, Gomer, Magog, Meshech and Tubal – the lands named in Ezekiel – all correspond to various states that are part of the Commonwealth of Independent States (the CIS) and are Muslim in ideology. The land of Put is now Libya, Cush is Sudan, and Persia, as we know, is now Iran. If you looked on a map, you would see this convergence from North and South and East and West.

I know that a lot of people believe Boa’s analysis, but there is no biblical support for it. Many before him believed that they were living at “the consummation of all things.” The “preparation” of end-time signs also has been dogmatized before. The claim that Ezekiel 38 has anything to do with modern-day events is reading the Bible through the headlines of the daily newspaper. [3] It is the epitome of “newspaper exegesis.” Gomer, Magog, Meshech, and Tubal were names that were understood by Ezekiel’s first readers to apply to what was going on in their day. These people groups don’t transmogrify into new national entities in the distant future separated from their historical context by 2600 years! Why confuse Ezekiel’s readers and us.

Now let’s get down to where the real problem with all this hand wringing over prophetic signs. Given dispensational prophetic presuppositions, there can’t be any prophetic events or preparation of prophetic events this side of what dispensationalists call the “rapture.” If the “rapture” is “imminent,” that is, if it can come at “any moment” and could have come at any moment for the past 2000 years, then it has to be a “signless event.” Keep in mind that I am not a dispensationalist. What I’m about to show is the major flaw in so much talks about “signs of the end” by doing an internal critique of the system that is claiming that “we are beginning to see the consummation of all things.”

Gerald B. Stanton puts it this way: “The rapture is signless . . . and is so presented in the Scripture that every generation may enjoy the hope, challenge, and other blessings of His appearing.” [4] Take note of the phrase “every generation,” because it will serve as an important piece to the “rapture” puzzle that is often missed by those who hold to the any-moment rapture theory. According to Stanton and every other dispensationalist, it means the “rapture” could have taken place in Paul’s generation (1 Thess. 4:17) and any subsequent generation thereafter. [5]) (Keep in mind that this is not what I believe. If you want to understand my views on prophecy, you’ll want to begin with Is Jesus Coming Soon? and Last Days Madness.) Jesse Forest Silver wrote that the apostolic fathers “expected the return of the Lord in their day.” [6] Was the stage being set in the post-apostolic era? What was going on in Egypt, Russia, and Israel? How could “the consummation of all things” have been going on then when the stage was not yet set when all the major players that dispensationalists say are in place today didn’t even exist, including what Tim LaHaye says is the “Super Sign,” the return of the Jews to their land?

Here’s how dispensationalist John MacArthur, who is a representative of the signless, any-moment rapture view, explains the position:

It could happen at any moment. It is a signless, imminent event, it is the next thing, no signs [are] necessary . . . [There are] signs before the Second Coming, [but there are] no signs before the Rapture. We live in the light that at any moment in any fraction of a moment, trumps [sic] sounds, the angel calls and we go. This is the next event in God’s plan. It’s only for those who know and love Christ. We’re here to serve you and help you.” [7]

MacArthur is not the only dispensationalist to make the any-moment, signless argument. James F. Stitzinger argues in a similar way: “The coming of Christ at the rapture is imminent, in the sense of an any-moment coming.” [8] Paul Feinberg agrees: “[T]here is no mention of any signs or events that precede the Rapture of the church in any of the Rapture passages. The point seems to be that the believer prior to this event is to look, not for some sign, but the Lord from heaven. If the Rapture was a part of the complex of events that make up the Second Advent, and not distinct from it, then we would expect that there would be a mention of signs or events in at least one passage.” [9] The key phrase is, “there are no signs that precede the ‘rapture.’” This means what’s going on Egypt and other places in the Middle East can’t be signs or sign-setting events.

If the prophetic calendar had to wait until Israel became a nation again in 1948 or Egypt overthrew its rulers or the Soviet Union fell, then the so-called rapture could not have been imminent before these events took place. It’s the biggest flaw in modern-day prophetic speculation that dispensationalists don’t want to talk about. If you want more information on this topic, see my book 10 Popular Prophecy Myths Exposed and Answered.

In tomorrow’s article, we’ll look at some of the passages that modern-day prophecy writers argue apply to modern-day Egypt.

  1. Charles H. Spurgeon, An All-Round Ministry: Addresses to Ministers and Students (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1900] 1960,) 139.[]
  2. I don’t know who coined the phrase “newspaper exegesis,” but the first time I saw it used was in Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on the Millennium, ed. Gary North (Winter 1976–1977), 53–54. This article can also be found in Greg L. Bahnsen, Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism (Texarkana, AR: Covenant Media Press, 1999).[]
  3. See my book Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future for a detailed study of Ezekiel 38–39.[]
  4. Gerald B. Stanton, “The Doctrine of Imminency: Is It Biblical?,” When the Trumpet Sounds: Today’s Foremost Authorities Speak Out on End-Time Controversies, ed. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1995), 223.[]
  5. Stanton writes: “Paul seemed to include himself among those who looked for Christ’s return (1 Thess. 4:15, 17; 2 Thess. 2:1). . . . Many have concluded that the expectation of some was so strong they had stopped work and had to be exhorted to return to their jobs (2 Thess. 3:10–12).” (“The Doctrine of Imminency: Is It Biblical?,” 224.[]
  6. Jesse Forest Lee, The Lord’s Return (New York: Fleming H. Revell Co., 1914), 62–63. Quoted in Stanton, “The Doctrine of Imminency: Is It Biblical?,” 225.[]
  7. John MacArthur, “The Final Generation of the Future Judgment, commentary on Luke 21:29–33 (GC 42-264).[]
  8. James F. Stitzinger, “The Rapture in Twenty Centuries of Biblical Interpretation,” The Masters Seminary Journal 13:2 (Fall 2002), 152.[]
  9. Paul D. Feinberg, “The Case for the Pretribulation Rapture Position,” The Rapture: Pre-, Mid-, or Post-Tribulational?, ed. Ben Chapman (Grand Rapids, MI: Academic Books, 1984), 80.[]

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