The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: E

Previous Index Next

Euphrates, drying up

Fresh water has never been plentiful in the Middle East. Rainfall, what there is of it, only comes in the winter, and drains quickly through the semiarid land.

Now the region's accelerating population, expanding agriculture, and industrialization demand more fresh water. Nations like Israel and Jordan are swiftly sliding into that zone where they are using all the water resources available to them. They have only 15 or 20 years left before their agriculture, and ultimately their security, is threatened ("Water: The Middle East's Critical Resource", National Geographic, May 1993).

Some experts feel that water wars are imminent, and that water has replaced oil as the region's most contentious commodity. Scarcity is one element of the crisis. But in this patchwork of ethnic and religious rivalries, water seldom stands alone as an issue. It is entangled in the politics that keep people (even diverse Arab peoples, much less Arabs and Jews!)         from trusting and helping each other.

Compared with the United States, which has a freshwater potential of 10,000 cubic meters a year for each citizen, Iraq has 5,500, Turkey has 4,000, and Syria has 2,800. These are the "haves" in the regions; the "have-nots": Egypt: 1,100; Israel: 460; Jordan: 260. But these are not firm figures, because upstream use of river water can dramatically alter the potential downstream.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the mammoth Southern Anatolia Project, with its huge Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates River in Turkey. Ataturk is the centerpiece of Turkey's plans for 22 dams to hold the waters of the Euphrates and the Tigris, which also originates in eastern Turkey, and to fill reservoirs that will eventually hold more than ten times the volume of water in the Sea of Galilee.

When nations share the same river, the upstream nation is under no legal obligation to provide water downstream. But the downstream nation can press its claim on the basis of historical use. This is what happened in 1989 when President Turgut Ozal of Turkey alarmed Syria and Iraq by holding back the flow of the Euphrates for a month to start filling the Ataturk. Full development of the Anatolia project could eventually reduce the Euphrates' flow by as much as 60%. This could severely jeopardize Syrian and Iraqi agriculture. A technical committee of the three nations -- Turkey, Syria, and Iraq -- has met intermittently to address such questions, but no real headway has been made.

In turn, less water in the Euphrates has meant lower power output at Syria's own large-scale Euphrates Dam at Tabqa. And, predictably, Syria's big dam has kindled fear of scarcity further downstream in Iraq, adding to longstanding tension between these two nations, apart from their respective tensions with Turkey.

Other water problems abound in the region. Israel -- in its National Water Carrier project -- has been tapping the Sea of Galilee to channel water as far south as the Negev, virtually drying up the southern Jordan River. This has caused substantial hard-ship for Jordanian farmers, and outraged their government, which calls the transfer of water from the Jordan basin a breach of international law. King Hussein of Jordan has said that water is such a volatile issue that "it could drive nations of the region to war."

And now Egypt, nearly totally dependent on water from the Nile River, is troubled by an unstable Ethiopia, source of 85% of the Nile's headwaters. No wonder that UN Secretary-General Bhoutros-Ghali, while he was still Egypt's foreign minister, said, "The next war in the Middle East will be fought over water, not politics."

Does all this have relevance to Bible prophecy of the Last Days? Or is it the merest coincidence that, in Revelation, the great event that immediately precedes the battle of Armageddon is the drying up of the Euphrates River?: "The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East... Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon" (Rev 16:12,16).

Historically, the Euphrates River was diverted and dried up by the invading Persians as part of the campaign that led to the fall of the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar's successors in 536 BC (Dan 5). This led, in short order, to the repatriation (under the benevolent Cyrus of Persia)         of Jewish refugees back to the Land of Israel, from whence they had been transported away by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.

This history suggests that, in the Last Days, the "drying up of the Euphrates" will lead again to the fall of modern "Babylon" (cp Rev 16:12 with Rev 16:19), which answers geographically to Iraq (and Syria and Jordan?).

Rev 16:12 echoes its Old Testament counterpart (Isa 11:10-16): "In that day the Root of Jesse [Jesus, son of David and thus son of Jesse too] will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria [modern Syria and/or Iraq], from... Egypt, from Babylonia [Iraq]... He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble the scattered people of Judah... They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east. They will lay hands on Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites will be subject to them. The LORD will dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea; with a scorching wind he will sweep his hand over the Euphrates River. He will break it up into seven streams so that men can cross over in sandals. There will be a highway for the remnant of his people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from Egypt."

This cross-reference, together with the history, suggests that the "kings of the east" who return through the dry Euphrates riverbed will be the remnant of Israel who had been previously carried captive by victorious Arabs (Zec 14:2). From their concentration camps in Egypt, but especially in Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, they will call upon the God of their fathers, and upon His Son. And from thence they will be delivered back to their own Land, as part of the process by which their Savior will reestablish the Kingdom of Israel in Jerusalem again. Why are they called "kings"? Because, along with Jewish and Gentile believers from others ages and other nations, they will then reign with Christ over the nations (cp Rev 1:6; 2:26,27; 5:9,10).

[Other prophecies which present the same basic picture, ie, of a believing Jewish remnant brought back out of the Arab nations in the Last Days: Isa 19:23-25; 27:12,13; 35; 43:1-7; 52:1-10; Jer 3:18; 16:14, 15; Joel 3:2-7; and Zec 10:9-11.]

It is possible that God, through Turkey's project at Ataturk, is presently arranging the "pieces of the puzzle" for the future -- when the drying Euphrates will accelerate the time of war in the Middle East. In the near future, the Arab nations may fight with one another, and with Israel, about water (and land, and "holy places" too, of course!). The outcome of the last such war will be the defeat of Israel. But, in some strange way as yet difficult to perceive, the continuous shortage of water for "Babylon" (Iraq/Syria/Jordan?)         will contribute to the weakening of Israel's enemies, and the subsequent return of Israeli captives (prospective "kings from the east")         to Jerusalem to participate in Christ's kingdom.

How exactly will this be brought about? Who will finally dry up the Euphrates? Turkey, or Christ? When will it be finally accomplished? Before Christ comes, or after? For the present, we can only guess at the answers. Perhaps there are other "puzzle pieces" lying right in front of us, which we simply haven't thought of in the right context yet.

[One final question: Is there any significance to the verbal similarity between the "east" -- in Greek, anatole -- of Rev 16:12, and the region of Anatolia in eastern Turkey?]

Previous Index Next