By Marylou Barry
There will be war, and the Iranians are going to win, Gen. Hossein Salami, deputy commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, has announced.
Strange, that’s not what the Bible says.
Half a millennium before the birth of Christ, the prophet Daniel had a vision in which he found himself by the Ulai Canal in the ancient province of Elam. First independent and then absorbed by a series of conquering empires, Elam today lies in southwestern Iran directly on the Persian Gulf. It is, interestingly and perhaps significantly, the site of the Iranian nuclear plant at Bushehr.
In his vision, Daniel saw a powerful ram also standing by the canal. With a brashness that seems to have prefigured the general and his feisty boss, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ram was charging back and forth, toward the west and the north and the south, threatening everyone in its path.
“No animal could stand against it,” Daniel wrote, “and none could rescue from its power. It did as it pleased and became great.”
“As I was thinking about this,” he added, “suddenly a goat with a prominent horn between his eyes came from the west, crossing the whole earth without touching the ground.” And when it landed in Elam, he continued, the goat went right to work – trampling the defiant ram with such rage that no one could rescue it!
Who is the goat from the west in Daniel chapter 8? What does it symbolize? Where does it come from and why does it make such a long trip to trample the ram? Has this prophecy been completed, or do parts of it still remain unfulfilled? How can we tell?
As anyone knows who has studied the Bible, at least from the Christian point of view, it is a book full of foreshadowings, or previews of similar events that will happen again at a future time and be of greater significance then.
“The goat is the king of Greece,” the angel Gabriel explained to Daniel. Sure enough, the prophecy was acted out by Alexander the Great when he invaded the area just a little over two centuries later. So a lot of people think it’s off the table now – but is it really? Or was Alexander’s attack just a foreshadowing of a greater fulfillment yet to come?
The case for foreshadowing here could be advanced for at least three reasons:
- The first fulfillment was incomplete. Alexander’s army may have been quick, but airborne it was not, nor was anyone else until 100 years ago. If you think “without touching the ground” is some archaic figure of speech for “fast,” try to find it used somewhere else in your Bible. If it’s there, it is certainly well concealed.
- Gabriel clarified the vision’s timeframe. “Son of man,” he told Daniel, “understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.” Since the vision occurred about the year 550 B.C., Alexander’s conquest just 220 years later hardly qualifies as “at time of the end.”
- Because modern Iran incorporates both ancient Persia and ancient Elam, the disabling of Bushehr would not necessarily prevent northern Iran/Persia, which includes the capital and other military bases, from joining its Arab Muslim allies in a future attack on Israel (which the Bible, incidentally, says they will lose).
As for Bushehr, “Jeremiah predicts that Elam will be struck at the foremost place of its strength,” prophecy author Bill Salus writes on his website. “If such an attack occurred in the near future that would probably be its nuclear site(s). Not necessarily all sites, but specifically sites existing within the boundaries of ancient Elam.”
“See, I will break the bow of Elam, the mainstay of their might,” Almighty God also says in Jeremiah 49:35. On the functional level, what is a bow? A delivery system that fires projectiles.
So, does any of this help us identify the goat? No, we are told only that it will come from the west and that it will fly. Today Greece is no world power, possesses no nuclear weapons or bunker-buster bombs and has all it can do just to survive economically. Two other nations to the west of Iran, however, are possible contenders: Israel and the United States. (The Hebrew word “eretz,” used in Daniel 8:5 and translated “whole earth,” does not clarify which, because its broad definition also allows it to be translated as “land,” “region,” “ground,” “soil,” “territory,” “country” or “people.” Therefore, we really have no idea of how much distance the goat covers between its takeoff in the west and its arrival at its Iranian destination.)
Which head of state would initiate an airborne attack on Iran? Although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems the likelier candidate because of Iran’s more immediate existential threat to Israel, both Donald Trump and the Israeli intelligence website Debka File have suggested that Barack Obama might undertake such an operation as an “October surprise,” presumably to detract attention from his sagging poll numbers and portray himself as champion of national defense right before the election.
Marylou Barry is a blogger and the author of a series of children’s books. Visit her website at Marylou’s America and her bookstore at House with the Light Books.