Once again fighting in Lebanon has grabbed the headlines. But what of the future of this battle — scarred region?
WHAT is happening inside Lebanon? What is the significance of the continuing turmoil besetting this bitterly divided nation? And what does Bible prophecy say about the fate of this narrow strip of territory" lying by the blue waters of the eastern Mediterranean? Lebanon today is a vitally important element in the turbulent Middle East picture. Yet few really understand the crucial events taking place there — or comprehend where they are leading. The year 1982 has seen a sharp increase in violence and turmoil inside embattled Lebanon. This war-torn country — once the trading and banking center of the Arab world — has been rent asunder by years of divisive infighting and intervention by outside powers (see accompanying story). Chronic warfare has wrecked its cities. Its previously prosperous economy is devastated. The beautiful country of Lebanon has been carved into a myriad of separate enclaves and spheres of influence. In many respects, Lebanon as a country really does not exist today. And it all need not have been if people only knew the way to peace! Look, now, at the ancient back ground of this troublous area.
Called Phoenicia Anciently
Few have any idea of Lebanon's place in history. Three thousand years ago the region we know today as Lebanon was called Phoenicia. The ancient Phoenicians were the greatest sea traders of the ancient world. Their voyages ranged as far as the tin mines of Cornwall in England and possibly even to the New World. The ancient Phoenicians were a branch of the Canaanite peoples of the Bible, descended from Canaan, the son of Ham, the son of Noah (Gen. 10:1, 6). In their own language, the Phoenicians referred to themselves collectively as Kena'ani, or Canaanites. But Phoenicia was never really a single unified state or empire. It was a collection of independent and often competing city — kingdoms with a common interest in trade. More often than not, the Phoenicians spoke of themselves as Tyrians, Sidonians, Byblians and so on — after their own particular cities — rather than as Phoenicians. The wealthy coastal cities of Phoenicia are still with us today, though considerably less prosperous. Among them are ancient Tripoli (modern Arabic Tarabulus), Gebal (Greek Byblos, modern Jubayl), Berot (Greek Berytos, modern Beirut), Zidon (Sidon, modern Saida) and Tsor (Greek Tyros, modern Tyre or Sur). Readers of the Bible will recall that it was to the abundant cedar forests of Lebanon's mountains that King Solomon of Israel, at the invitation of King Hiram of Tyre, anciently sent 30,000 men to cut and carry timber for the Temple at Jerusalem. Tyre had earlier supplied workmen and materials for building King David's palace in Jerusalem. Ancient Phoenicia suffered a long succession of conquerors on its territory. The record of the passage of these armies has been preserved in a unique set of inscriptions in stone spanning some 33 centuries. In the 13th century B.C., Egyptian pharaoh Rameses II recorded his triumphs in Phoenicia on a rock cliff by the Nahr al Kalb (Dog River) north of Beirut. Following his example, successive Assyrian, Persian, Greek and Roman conquerors cut their respective records into the rock. In 1799, Napoleon, on his way from Egypt to Syria, added his name to the long list. And in 1918, British General Allen by inscribed his accomplishments there. Over the centuries, the ancient Canaanitish peoples were gradually reduced in numbers by conquering armies. Other peoples — primarily Arabs, but other stocks also — have moved in and settled on the land. The gospels record that Jesus visited the coasts of Tyre and Sidon (Matt. 15:21). Phenice or Phoenicia is also mentioned in the first century book of Acts (11:19; 15:3; 21:2). Soon afterward, however, the name of Phoenicia disappeared from history.
Ancient Prophecies — For Today!
Phoenicia and its original Canaanite populations have passed into history. But the once-powerful cities of Phoenicia continue to play an important role in Mideast events today. Bible prophecy has not ignored these coastal cities of the region today called Lebanon. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel especially have a great deal to say about these cities. A few of their prophecies were fulfilled anciently. Some were fulfilled only in part. And many are yet to be accomplished in the days just ahead! Lebanon is rarely spoken of in prophecy as a single entity. Biblical prophecies focus on the various cities of Lebanon individually. The dismemberment of the country in recent years into separate enclaves thus fits perfectly into the overall picture anciently laid out in prophecy. The city of Tyre, a center of Palestinian Arabs today, is an illustration. It is the subject of a prophecy spanning some 26 centuries! God revealed to Ezekiel that He would bring "many nations" against Tyre, "as the sea causeth his waves to come up" (26:3). That is, one after another. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon delivered the first blow. In his footsteps came a lengthy succession of conquerors, including Alexander the Great, who have made a spoil of Tyre's riches over the centuries (26:12). The final blow will be delivered by God himself at the end of this age (26:13-14, 19-21). Tyre will come to a dreadful end. "I will utterly destroy you, and you shall exist no longer... " God declares (26:21, Moffatt version). Today once-great Tyre is but a minor port. Its former power has been eroded by successive waves of devastation by foreign intruders. In recent years, Tyre, like Sidon to the north, has been a Palestinian guerrilla stronghold. And despite recent Israeli triumphs, prophecy — as we shall see — indicates that Palestinian guerrillas will yet play a role in Tyre and other cities of Lebanon!
As with Tyre, the biblical prophecies for Sidon and other cities of the region are largely messages of denunciation — warnings of continuing conflict, and of impending calamity and destruction. Notice especially prophetic Psalm 83. Here we find described a coming coalition of nations of the Middle East whose purpose will be to eradicate the name of Israel! They will say, "Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance" (verse 4). This prophecy could never have been fulfilled until this 20th century. Why? Since ancient times (the 8th century B.C.) there has not been — until this century — a nation in the Middle East recognized officially by the name Israel. But there is an Israel today. This is clearly a prophecy for these latter days! Among the participants in this wide-ranging confederacy revealed in Psalm 83 will be Gebal (ancient Byblos, modern Jubayl) and "the Philistines [Palestinians centered in the Gaza Strip] with the inhabitants of Tyre" (verse 7). Here we see that it was anciently — and accurately — prophesied that Palestinian Arabs would in these tumultuous last days become associated in some way with the cities of Lebanon. The prophet Jeremiah (47:4) also speaks of the Philistines and their allies from Tyre and Sidon. But this prophesied alliance in Psalm 83 will not endure long. The Bible reveals that meanwhile, in our time, a great European military dictator — known in the book of Revelation as the "beast" and in the prophecy of Daniel as the "king of the north" — will arise and ultimately descend upon the Middle East. (Request our free booklet Who Is the Beast? for details.) The beast's intervention will have dire consequences for Israeli and Arab alike. Both Israel ("the glorious land") and Egypt will be occupied by the beast's troops (Dan. 11:40-42). In addition, "many countries shall be overthrown" (11:41 ). That could well include the cities of Lebanon — not listed among those who will escape the beast's power (11:41, last part). The ensuing struggle for world domination will bring mankind to the very brink of total annihilation (Matt. 24:21-22)! It will be at that crucial moment that God will suddenly intervene in world affairs. Jesus Christ will return from heaven with a vast army to put an end once and for all to warfare within and among nations (Rev. 19:11-21). It will be then and only then that peace and harmony will be restored not only to the region of Lebanon — but to the whole world. Jesus Christ will accomplish what today's statesmen and generals can never hope to do! Peace will be imposed — and enforced! Significantly, this coming time of peace for Lebanon and for the world is proclaimed by three inscribed plaques that have been set up at war-ravaged Metulla on the Israeli-Lebanese border. These plaques — one in English, one in Hebrew and one in Arabic — announce the sure prophecy of Isaiah 2:4. It will become reality with the return of Jesus Christ. Here is what this prophecy foretells: "And he shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more." Beyond today's bad news, those wonderful good times lie just ahead! All peoples will at last begin living the way of giving that brings lasting peace!