Harry Whittaker
Five Minutes To Twelve

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 message?

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: 13)?

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 power.

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 commodities?

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 days.

So there goes another piece of evidence.

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 also.

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 to help.

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 'young lions'.

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?

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