7. Tarshish And Co.
Sixty years ago lectures on "Britain in Prophecy"
were commonplace, even as often as once a month. Not so, now. In the past ten
years this writer has heard only one discourse on this topic, and that not
because of apathy or addiction to the aural alcohol of T.V. Then, why? Just a
change in "fashion"? Or because of dwindling conviction about that part of the
Russia will be the leader of the northern
confederacy, won't she? Yes, to be sure. All the evidence, Biblical and
political, points that way.
But what about the challenge from "Sheba, and
Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish with all the Young lions thereof" (38:
That's another story. Time was that piling up of
auxiliary evidence was so impressive as to warrant a dogmatic identification
with the British Empire-very suitable, truly, as a challenger to Russian
expansion southwards. But today those great splashes of red, or at least pink
spread across the map of the world are gone, with only Falkland (and Fiji?)
Islands resisting the evaporation. The majestic British lion is mangy, the
bulldog is toothless.
Then, what of the impressive array of evidence
pointing to Britain? Alas, it has become needful to confess that our enthusiasm
ran away with us. Consider Sheba and Dedan were identified with the two southern
corners of the Arabian Peninsula. One of them - Aden - was firmly but
inconspicuously British. The other, now the Emirate of Oman, was under friendly
British direction. Today the former of these is strongly pro. Russian, and the
latter is just about as friendly with Britain as any other Arab power-certainly
not a centre of impressive British strength. Even in the old days, before the
Empire had shuffled off this mortal coil, at least one schoolboy used to wonder
why such tudgy remote blobs of pink should represent massive British
Tarshish was identified with Britain on the
grounds that the Phoenicians used to come to Britain for tin and lead (and
perhaps even for gold). But today we know that Spain was much more prolific in
these metals. Then why sail the extra two thousand miles for these
But there was another Tarshish whence adventurous
merchantmen brought "gold... ivory, apes, and peacocks" (1 Kgs. 10: 22). Where
could this be, but India? Wasn't India the brightest jewel in the imperial
crown? To be sure, it was. But now India goes its own happy road paved with
corruption, and not caring a fig for the pukka sahibs of former
So there goes another piece of
But consider again: "the merchants of
Tarshish". Does not that identify Britain? Well, it might have done, in the
palmy days when the mercantile fleet of Britain outnumbered all that the rest of
the world could muster; but today unions and strikes, lethargy and loss of
colonies have brought Britain near to the bottom of that league
Again, "the young lions thereof" was another
phrase to stir the patriotic blood of not a few Christadelphian youngsters. In
World War I, did not the young lions come to the aid of the mother Lion in time
of dire need? Thankfully, yes. But now all are more and more independent; and if
a new-style modern war comes they will have little inclination and less ability
In any case, how came earlier generations to
overlook that Ezekiel uses "young lions" about the princes of Israel (Ez.
19: 5-6; 22: 25) and of Egypt (32: 2)? So, "young lions" equals ‘colonies'
seems decidedly unsure, the more so since LXX reads ‘villages' in place of
Another question mark hanging over the received
interpretation of Ezekiel 38 concerns the character as well as the geographical
details of verse 13. The assumption has always been made that "Art thou come to
take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey?. . ." expresses a
challenge to the invader, as though Sheba, Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish
are springing to the defence of little Israel.
It is not suggested here that this way of reading
the words is not valid. But why has the alternative possibility never been
considered, that they might be read in the sense: "You are going to invade and
plunder Israel? Fine! We'll come and help you!"?
Just now the point will not be pressed. But the
possibility, or even the probability, of such an interpretation being correct is
surely underlined by the fact that in all their Bible history, whenever Israel
was in danger, neighbouring Arab nations gleefully joined forces with the
invader. The most obvious, but not the only, examples of this were in the reigns
of David, Hezekiah, and Zedekiah, and in A.D. 70.
Then, since the available Bible evidence
points to Sheba, Dedan, and Tarshish as being neighbouring Arab peoples
(Edom and Lebanon- see "Bible Studies" 4.07), and since there is no Arab power
today which does not hate Israel like poison, ought not this alternative reading
of Ezekiel 38: 13 to be given more serious consideration?