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Assyria in prophecy

Assyria emerged as a territorial state in the 14th century BC. Its territory covered what is now the northern part of modern Iraq. From the beginning, Assyria was a strong military power bent on conquest and expansion. By the 9th century BC, Assyria had consolidated its control over all of northern Mesopotamia (the land "between the rivers" -- ie the Tigris and the Euphrates). Then the Assyrian armies marched beyond their own borders -- in brutal and efficient waves -- to expand their empire, seeking booty to finance their plans for still more conquest. By about 850 BC, the Assyrian menace posed a direct threat to the small Jewish states to the west and south -- Israel and Judah, the Northern and Southern Kingdoms of the Old Testament.

During the period from 850 to 700 BC, the Assyrian empire reached its zenith. During part of this time, the kings of Assyria, ruling in Nineveh on the Tigris, also exercised dominion over ancient Babylon on the Euphrates about 200 miles to the south; they were quite pleased to refer to themselves as "kings of Babylon" (much as Queen Victoria of England claimed the additional title "Empress of India").

It was also during the latter part of this period (approx 720-700 BC) that king Sargon of Assyria conquered and occupied the Northern Kingdom of Israel (2Ki 17:1-6). His successor Sennacherib carried many thousands of captives away to Nineveh and Babylon (Mic 4:10; Psa 137:1-4), defeated 46 fortified cities of the Southern Kingdom of Judah (Isa 8:7,8;10:5,6), and finally threatened even the city of Jerusalem -- before meeting a titanic defeat -- at the hand of the Angel of the Lord (Isa 37:1-36).

This might seem like so much dry-as-dust history, except for these facts:

  1. The modern-day Iraq of Saddam Hussein occupies the same territory as the OT Assyria. Its leader behaves in the same brutal fashion as did the ancient kings of Assyria -- his mind ever set on the acquisition of land, wealth, and power. His lack of concern for human life allows him to use threats other world leaders would shrink from -- and, when provoked, to carry out such threats. He styles himself the head of the whole Arab world, and he demonstrates an intense hatred for the Arabs' common enemy Israel. And he is perhaps the greatest threat to the peace of the Middle East and the world.
  2. A number of OT prophecies, about the coming and work of the Messiah, were written by prophets (most notably, Isaiah) who lived in Jewish lands under the long shadow of the Assyrian threat at the time of its greatest expansion. It is clear that many of their prophecies had immediate (but incomplete) fulfillments in:
But it is even more clear that a number of such prophecies still await their final (and perfect) realization at the return of Christ.

It is possible that the development of a modern-day "Assyrian", with avowed designs to expand its territory and, in the process, annihilate the people of Israel, is a precursor to a coming divine deliverance. This last deliverance will be so stupendous as to dwarf all previous revelations of God, for it will be none other than the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in great power and glory to vanquish the "Assyrian" and all his allies, to save his people Israel, and to establish God's millennial (1,000-year) Kingdom on this earth.

A summary of Bible references to Assyria helps us to develop a fuller picture of the Last Days:

(1) Gen 10:8-11:
The first great rebel against God, after the Flood, was Nimrod, "a mighty one in the earth". This great "hero" led an early apostasy from the One true God, and was probably instrumental in the building of the tower of Babel (Gen 11) -- the first great symbol of man's pride and worship of himself. It is interesting, then, that the beginning of his kingdom was in "Babel... in the land of Shinar", and that "from that land he went forth into Assyria and built Nineveh". So one of the earliest instances of man's defiance of God and His will is to be traced to a builder and ruler of Babylon and Assyria. One cannot help but feel, upon reading today's headlines, that sinful man has now come full circle -- when another power centered in the modern-day land of old Babylon and Assyria prepares to stretch out its hand against the nearby land of God's people Israel.

(2) Isaiah:
The first half of this lengthy book, especially, is concerned in large part with the threat of ancient Assyria against the twin Jewish nations of Israel and Judah. And that ancient Assyrian, Sennacherib, with all his mighty host -- an army of 185,000 -- was defeated by the Divine Hand (Isa 37). But, when he predicted and described this soon-to-come colossal overthrow of Israel's enemies, much of Isaiah's language was plainly Messianic... so much so that the careful Bible student will conclude that these prophecies of Isaiah (like so much of Bible prophecy) have dual fulfillments:

First, the overthrow of Sennacherib the Assyrian through the prayers and faith of the good king Hezekiah and his counselor Isaiah; and

Second, the overthrow of an even greater latter-day "Assyrian " through the prayers of Israel's faithful (and spiritual "Israel", of all races), and the divine intervention led by Jesus Christ upon his return to the earth.
(3) Isa 7; 8:
"the Lord shall bring upon thee (ie the land of Israel), and upon your people... days that have not come" -- ie the worst trials the people of Israel have ever faced, through "the king of Assyria" (Isa 7:17,20). In this context the land is referred to as the land of "Immanuel" (Isa 8:7,8). The introduction of Immanuel (cp Mat 1:23 and Isa 7:14) lifts this and similar prophecies out of a merely OT situation and points the way to a greater and more momentous final fulfillment in the Last Days.

(4) Isa 10:
A new and modern "Assyria" will at first be used by God to punish His own people Israel (Isa 10:5). But such punishment will be carefully measured (cp Jer 30:7,11), and when Israel has endured the proper duration and severity of God's chastening, then see Isa 10:12.

Possibly this carefully measured period of trial for Israel is the familiar 3 1/2 years / 42 months / 1,260 days of Dan 12:7 and Rev 11:1-3; 12:6,14; 13:5. This period will be sufficient for the final subjugation and captivity of Israel by an "Assyrian"-led coalition of Arab nations, and for the development of a remnant out of Israel who believe in their Messiah Jesus and who call upon him to deliver them from their enemies -- which he will be only too glad to do (Psa 83:9-13; Zec 14; Rev 11:11,12,15-19; etc).

(5) Isa 11:
The march of the Assyrian upon Jerusalem, which is carefully detailed in Isa 10:28-32, is divinely countered (but only after the previously-mentioned period of great tribulation) by the coming of the Lord Jesus, a rod out of the stem of Jesse (Isa 11:1), upon whom God's spirit rests (vv 2,3), who will smite the earth with the rod of his mouth (v 4; cp Rev 1:16; 2:26,27; 11:15; 12:5; 19:15,21). And so when Israel is delivered and God's Kingdom is set up (Isa 11:9), then the Lord will recover his people from Assyria (Iraq), Egypt, Elam (Persia, or Iran) and Shinar (Babylon, Iraq again) (Isa 11:11,16). This Last Days deliverance of Israeli believers -- who have evidently been carried into captivity by the invaders -- is also alluded to in Isa 19:23-25; 27:12,13; 35:1-10; 43:1-7; 52:1-10; Jer 3:18; 16:14,15; Joe 3:2-7; Zec 10:9-11; 14:2; and prob Rev 13:10.

The drying up of the Euphrates in its seven streams referred to in Isa 11:15, a part of the deliverance of the Jews from captivity, is probably the subject of Rev 16:12. This drying up immediately precedes the battle of the great day of God Almighty, called "Armageddon" (vv 15,16).

Isa 13-23: The nations, together with the already-mentioned Assyria and Egypt, who are responsible for the defeat of Israel, and the carrying of many Jews into a new "captivity", come in for individual castigation in a series of "Woes" or "Burdens" beginning in Isa 13: Babylon/Assyria (Isa 14:25); Philistia/Palestine (Isa 14:28-32); Moab (Isa 15; 16). Damascus/Syria (Isa 17); Egypt (Isa 18-20); Dumah or Edom (Isa 21:11); Arabia/Kedar (Isa 21:13-17); and Tyre or Lebanon (Isa 23).

(7) Isa 30:31.

(8) Isa 31:8,9.

(9) Micah:
Micah a contemporary of Isaiah speaks of the Kingdom of God being established in Jerusalem, in a kingdom of peace and righteousness (Mic 4:1-4). Thus, a "Babylonian" captivity in the Last Days. How will the redemption be accomplished? By the child to be born in Bethlehem (cp Mat 2:1-6 and Luk 2:1-7). He will be "the Peace" when the Assyrian comes into the Land (Mic 5:5).

(10) Nahum:
The burden of "Nineveh" (Nah 1:1) -- capital of ancient Assyria. Why? Because the wicked had passed through Judah (v 15) and dashed in pieces the people of Israel (Nah 2:1).

Is all this the fate of an Iraqi coalition led against Israel by that modern-day "Assyrian" Saddam Hussein (or some even-more-powerful successor)?

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