Has God Declared War on Syria?

For the past few years I’ve had a fascination with observing and analyzing the many ways that religious and political beliefs interact with each other.  For instance, I invented a new game last year while watching the Democratic and Republican National Conventions: how long does it take to hear 10 quotes/allusions to the Bible?  [Answer: Not very long, for either convention.  Verses and passages about Israel, Jesus, or the Church were regularly applied to the United States of America.]  Since my town in Texas seems to be a major intersection between Evangelicalism and the Republican Party, I am given many opportunities to think through the various ways that biblical interpretation often influences politics (for better or for worse).

As the US gears up for a possible war with Syria, I’ve heard many make the claim that the increasing conflict in Syria is actually a fulfillment of biblical prophecy.  The primary texts cited are Isaiah 17:1 and Jeremiah 49:23-27, which both speak of Damascus (the capital of Syria) being destroyed.  This has led many Christians, trained in reading the Bible as a code-book for current events, to announce that a war on Syria is inevitable, should be supported, and will perhaps usher forward the second coming of Jesus.

To be clear, I firmly believe such interpretations are mistaken.  I think interpretations of this flavor lack a clear understanding of the task of hermeneutics (while the Bible might have been written for us, it was not written to us) and the history of interpretation (almost every generation has predicted that apocalyptic biblical prophecies would be fulfilled in their lifetime).  Both prophecies should be read as being fulfilled with the Assyrian destruction of Syria in 732 B.C.  Regardless, I have no doubt that people will continue to interpret these verses to suggest that the Bible predicts a modern war against Syria (and any most likely any other such wars in the foreseeable future).

Here are my questions:

If you believe that the destruction of Syria plays a necessary role in the fulfillment of prophecy, does that mean you must necessarily support the war in Syria?  

Do these sorts of interpretations hinder one’s ability to faithfully consider their ethical responsibilities in the world?  

How can we avoid the dangers of misinterpreting Scripture to support our political fancies?  (While I’m not suggesting that this interpretation is a parallel, readers of the Bible can never forget that the Germans employed Romans 13:1-7 pretty convincingly during the Holocaust.)

What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Has God Declared War on Syria?

  1. The world is dreaming (Jeremiah 23:27) and the prophets are prophesying. (Amos 7:16) This all goes back to Esau and Jacob mother Rebekah a Syrian woman (Genesis 27:13). If America goes against Syria, all the other nations will join up with the Israelites, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah. (Psalm 59:13) Egypt and Syria will become as one, a highway (Isaiah 19:23-25)

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    1. ‘Children of Israel’ – Thanks for your comment.

      Two questions:
      1) Do you really think that there will be global support for American if they go to war with Syria (and, presumably Syria then strikes Israel)?
      2) Do you indeed think that these events could be the fulfillment of biblical prophecy? What would you say in response to the reading I give above in the post?

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  2. Hey Mike. Great post. I was thinking about posting on a similar matter, but I’m glad you took the reigns. It can be hard to walk on the egg-shells of politics and eschatology, but you did it greatly. 😉

    Anyways, I honestly haven’t ever been that concerned with honing in on my personal eschatological views—I know Jesus is returning to make a new cosmos, and frankly, that’s enough for me. He invites me, now (and you), to help usher in this new world order.

    But recently, at my workplace, I’ve been hammered with questions about Is 17 and Luke 21 since a lot of my co-workers got turned onto some new book called “The Harbinger.” Needless to say, I’ve been trying to “devil’s-advocately” (yes, that’s an adverb) help them think through these passages in a more careful manner that pays attention to the original audience, the differences between foretelling and forthtelling, etc.

    It’s really sad to me that somehow poor exegetes write on the popular level and can spread shallow propaganda/doctrine so easily. I think a healthy step forward is for real scholars to get better at articulating critical insights on a popular level as well. So much so that it can trickle down into a Southern Baptist Sunday school class, and supplant the Left Behind series on the shelf.

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    1. Hey Kris! Thanks for the nice comment. I haven’t heard of “The Harbinger” but I’m sure I could guess my way into the main ideas, from your comments. It can be hard to communicate healthy readings to folks who are so inundated in a futuristic/dispensational/code-book reading of the Bible. It can also be frustrating.

      What’s your strategy? How are you trying to “devil’s-advocately” help them?

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      1. Sorry for just responding now. Even though I clicked the send me an update option it didn’t!

        Anyways, my strategy: nothing fancy. I just ask them questions once they tell me what they think is going to happen, or why X event points to a fulfillment of Y in the Bible. For example, “well where in the Bible do you get that from?”, “ok, but what did this mean to the original audience”, “is it really most natural to assume a literal reading in apocalyptic (imaginative, allegorical) literature?”

        So I don’t really try to feed them my views, just the questions I take with me when I engage a text. And what I feel like I normally find is that people are trying to read their proposed viewpoint through a given text, rather approach it with agenda’s laid beside (though this be pretty difficult). It’s the age old maxim, which I’m sure you’ve heard:

        “a text out of context is a pretext for a prooftext”

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