Do Prophecies Fortell Iraq's Future?
The warfare and daily carnage in Iraq have commanded a unique historical, cultural, and religious interest because the land between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers of Mesopotamia is where civilization began some 6,000 years ago; it was there, in ancient Sumer, that the Garden of Eden was located, where the Tower of Babylon (“Babel”) was built to reach the heavens, and where Abraham’s physical and spiritual journey commenced.
With so many biblical links and connotations to the past, contemporary events also raise the question: Do biblical prophecies foretell Iraq’s future?
Breaking Apart to Repeat History?
The conflicted debate concerning the constitution of a post-Saddam Iraq involves a host of issues, including democracy, religious freedom, and women’s rights. A core issue that divides the three main religious/political/ethnic groups is the extent of autonomy that each will have—the majority Shiites in the south, the ethnically distinct Kurds in the north (both in oil-producing regions), and the minority Sunnis in the central region (which includes Baghdad but no oil). The concern is that the greater the autonomy, the greater the chances that Iraq will break up into three parts.
Whether such an outcome is desirable or need be prevented at all costs can be argued pro and con. The arguments should not ignore the fact that Iraq is an artificial entity, created after World War I by Britain and France when they divided the remnants of the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. How far back in history should one go in untangling such ethnic/religious issues?
Saddam Hussein saw himself as a reincarnation of the famed Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and envisioned Iraq as a great New Babylon. The Shiites of southern Iraq intend to call their autonomous region or independent state “Sumer.”
With such strong cognizance of the land’s past, some biblical references to the land’s future seem relevant, too.
The Biblical Prophecies
The Old Testament prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel predicted the sacking of Jerusalem and its Temple by Nebuchadnezzar, as well as the subsequent downfall and destruction of Babylon. These prophecies came true in 586 B.C. and 539 B.C., respectively.
In the New Testament, Babylon and its fate are the main subject of three chapters in the Book of Revelation (“The Apocalypse of St. John”). Those prophecies of wrath against Babylon pose a problem for biblical scholars and theologians: the city of Babylon had been in ruins for centuries when Revelation was written, having been forsaken long ago.
Though there is uncertainty and debate regarding the identity of the author and the exact date of writing, Revelation’s address to of the seven early Christian churches clearly puts it in the first century A.D. Most scholars therefore believe that the book was composed after the persecution of Christians by the Romans had begun, and that “Babylon” was a code word for Rome.
But if one believes that Revelation is indeed a book of prophecies, and that it says what it means and means what it says, then “Babylon of the future” must be a code word for today’s Iraq. And if so, what Revelation prophesied becomes both intriguing and relevant.
Merchants of Evil
The future fall of Babylon, according to Revelation, will follow and will be hastened by a period of “harlotry,” during which,
“merchants of the Earth… have committed fornication with her… and waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.”
Applying this to current events, one can easily find here an allusion to Iraq’s main “delicacy”—oil—and the parallel to the Oil for Food program of the United Nations through which “merchants of the Earth,” committing ethical and business “adultery,” enriched themselves while providing the Iraqi dictator with funds to stay in power and commit more atrocities.
But when the judgments were pronounced upon Babylon, those beneficiaries of the illicit trade abandoned her and stood aside when the destruction began:
“The merchants of these things, who were made rich by her, shall stand far off for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing, and saying: Alas, alas that great city that was clothed in fine linen and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold.… For in one hour so great riches is come to naught; And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off, and cried when they saw the smoke and her burning, saying: Alas, alas that great city…for in one hour is she made desolate.”
These ancient verses could read as an eyewitness report of the aerial bombing of Baghdad.
The Breakup into Three Parts
Once the destruction of Babylon was so swiftly carried out, the seventh angel,
“poured out his vial into the air, and there came a great voice out of the Temple of Heaven, from the throne, saying: IT IS DONE.
“And the great city was divided into three parts.… And great Babylon came in remembrance before God to give unto her the cup of wine of the fierceness of his wrath.”
(Revelation 16:17, 19.)
In these chapters of prophecy, the fate of “Babylon” is linked to and is part of the events that shall come to a climax with the final battle of Armageddon. The New Testament makes clear (Revelation 16:16) that the term is a place name “in the Hebrew tongue” referencing Har-Megiddo, Mount Megiddo, which is part of the Carmel range in Israel.
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As events in Iraq unfold, we will see whether they will follow the prophetic script to its cataclysmic conclusion.