Big events on earth are usually the consequence of events in the spiritual realms. One reason that history on earth seems to repeat is the continuity of events and characters in the spiritual realms.

The empires that rise and fall on earth are usually controlled by political-spirits and government-spirits (principalities and powers) in the spiritual realms. Evil spirits do not die of old age. When an empire fades, the evil power that controls it does not go and look for another empire, but remains attached to the place where the empire was based. Many of the evil spirits that worked with it would go over to the other side, but the political-spirit or government-spirit will usually wait for an opportunity to reassert his power.

The Prince of Persia was the powerful evil spirit that controlled the Persian Empire when it was the most powerful empire in the world (Dan 10:13). When the armies of Persia were defeated by Alexander the Great, the Prince of Persia hung around for more than a thousand years waiting to get another chance to exercise power. He is now back in the driving seat in modern Iran.

The exception is the spirit that controlled Babylon. When Babylon was destroyed, its government-spirit went and established itself in Rome. It left Rome when it collapsed and is now at work in the nation that will become the new Babylon, when the Babylon the Great described in Revelation emerges.

The ancient Middle East was dominated by four big empires each controlled by a spiritual prince. These four empires were Babylon, Egypt, Persia and Assyria. The spiritual ruler of Babylon has moved on to better things, but the spiritual princes that controlled Egypt, Persia and Assyria are still there. Egypt and Persia are well understood, but Assyria has been forgotten.

Assyrian Empire

The Bible reveals that the Assyrian empire was controlled by a spiritual power.

So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria and the spirit of Tiglath-Pileser king of Assyria, who took the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh into exile (1 Chron 5:36).
The same spirit worked in both these kings. Pul was a general who seized the throne of Assyria following a revolt. The spirit that controlled him moved on to control his successors. The Spirit of Assyria is still around and ready for action.

Assyria (not the same as modern Syria) was one of the oldest empires in the Middle East. The empire was based on the city of Nineveh, which was founded by Nimrod, who was famous throughout the world as a mighty warrior (Gen 10:8-11). This makes the Spirit of Assyria a powerful and violent warring spirit. At the peak of its power, Assyria defeated and controlled both Babylon and Egypt.

When the northern kingdom of Israel rebelled against God, Isaiah warned that they would be judged by the Assyrian army.

The plunder of Samaria will be carried off by the king of Assyria (Is 8:4).
The King of Assyria invaded Israel and took the people into exile. He brought people from Assyria to live in the land they had left behind (2 Kings 15:29; 17:5-24).

When Hezekiah was King of Judah, the city of Jerusalem was besieged by an Assyrian army led by King Sennacherib. Isaiah prophesied that God would keep the city safe, and his word was fulfilled.

That night the angel of the Lord went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there (2 Kings 19:35-36).
Sennacherib was killed by two of his sons, but succeeded by a third. The same warring violent spirit controlled him.

All traces of Assyria and its empire are now well gone. All that remains of Nineveh is a province in the north of modern Iraq that is called Nineveh Province. The provincial capital is Mosul, which lies across the Tigris River from the ruins of ancient Nineveh. In modern times, the land of Assyria was controlled by the Ottoman Empire. It was chopped up into several nations at the end of the First World War. Although his situation on earth was disastrous, the Spirit of Assyria was not dead. He was biding his time in the spiritual realms and waiting for an opportunity to strike. His time now seems to have come.

Islamic State

The Islamic State that has emerged in Syria and Northern Iraq is controlled by the Spirit of Assyria. The Islamic State had its origins in Iraq following the American invasion in 2003. A number of Sunni insurgency groups were formed to fight against the American troops and the Shia militia that were pushing Sunni Moslems out of Baghdad. Several of these groups consolidated into the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) which at its height it enjoyed a significant presence in the Iraqi governorates of Al Anbar, Nineveh and Kirkuk. In 2008, George Bush paid the Sunni tribal leaders to lead a backlash against the group and it went into a temporary decline.

In late 2009, when US troops began withdrawing from the countryside, ISI rebounded and directed its attacks against the Iraqi government. The following year, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was appointed the new leader of the ISI. He replenished the group's leadership by appointing former Ba'athist military and intelligence officers who had served during the Saddam Hussein regime. Many of these men had spent time imprisoned by American forces.

The war in Syria created a new opportunity. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi sent Syrian and Iraqi ISI members, who were experienced in guerrilla warfare, across the border into Syria. They recruited supporters and gradually gained control of much of the north-eastern part of the country. ISI became ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria).

In 2014, ISIS gained control of Fallujah, which had been conquered twice by American forces. ISIS forces began a major offensive in northern Iraq and quickly captured Samarra, Mosul and Tikrit. The Iraqi army that had been trained by the Americans collapsed and fled. ISIS gained control of a large area of land in northern and eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq. It gained control of money from the bank of Mosul and military weapons left by the Iraqi army. It gained control of some oil fields and the Tikrit oil refinery, which gave it an ongoing supply of revenue and arms. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared himself to be the new caliphate of the Islamic State.

Spiritual Parallels

Evil spirits are not very clever, so they tend to do things in the same way. That is another reason why history often repeats. Therefore, the parallels between the Assyrian empire and the Islamic State are significant.

  1. The Assyria Empire's first major conquest was Babylon. The Islamic State made its first gains in the same area.

  2. The Islamic State was based in the city of Mosul. Assyria was based in Nineveh, which was just across the Tigris River.

  3. Assyria was controlled by a violent and warring spirit. So is the Islamic State.

  4. The Islamic State controlled significant chunks of Syria and Iraq. This same territory was the heart of the Assyrian empire.

  5. The Assyrian armies filled people with fear (Is 8:12). The Islamic State has filled people all over the world with fear.

Isaiah's Prophecy

Isaiah 10 records a prophecy against Assyria. This was not Isaiah's prophecy against Sennacherib when he led the Assyrian army to besiege Jerusalem. That prophecy was different and is recorded in 2 Kings 19:20-34 and Is 37:21-35. Isaiah's prophecy in chapter 10 seems to be directed more generally against the Assyrian Spirit, wherever it works. I think it relates just as well to our time. Isaiah describes how the Assyrian Spirit operates. It sounds just like the Islamic State.

  1. The Assyrian Spirit arises at a time when God's people are passing unjust laws that deprive the poor of their rights and rob oppressed people of justice

    Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless. What will you do on the day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar? (Is 10:1-2).
    God's justice requires that aliens in the land get the same justice as other citizens. His justice forbids the shifting of boundary markers. Those who pass unjust laws will get their day of reckoning, when disaster comes from afar. There will be no place to hide.

  2. The Assyrian Spirit will seize loot and snatch plunder (Is 10:6). Wealth will be destroyed, as if it were mud being trampled in the streets.

  3. Their intention was not to seize wealth. Their plan is to put an end to nations. Nations have no place in a caliphate. Their plans are to bring some existing nations to an end.

    But this is not what he intends, this is not what he has in mind; his purpose is to destroy, to put an end to many nations (Is 10:7).
    Shia Islam has generally been a persecuted minority, so they have historically avoided political power. The development of the Islamic state by Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran was a significant innovation in Shia theology.

    Sunni Moslems have a more positive view of political power, but there is no equivalent of the separation of "church and state". Sunni Islam is a state religion in which the supreme authority is a political/religious leader. This leaves no room for nationalism, and no place for a modern nation-state. More radical Sunni Moslems see the Sunni nation-states like Saudi Arabia as a blasphemous idol.

  4. The Islamic State has destroyed those century-old boundaries.

    I removed the boundaries of nations (Is 10:13).
    At the end of the First World War, Britain and France divided up the remnant of the Ottoman Empire according to the Sykes-Picot plan. They believed that local winners of the war had the right to do this. They ignored geography and tribal groupings. Promises of independence that had been made to the local people who fought with them were broken. They divided the land to increase their economic power. Iraq was put together from three religiously mixed provinces, so Britain could keep control of the oilfields that had just been discovered. France cut Lebanon out of Syria to create a Christian enclave. Kuwait was peeled off to safeguard its oil for Britain. The artificial nations established by squabbling British and French bureaucrats are disappearing, and new ones will emerge. Boundaries drawn on maps that had no connection to people or geography will be wiped away.

  5. The Assyrian Spirit says that there will be local leaders, but no kings.

    My princes are kings together (Is 10:8).
    This points to the caliphate, where kings and nations disappear and all Moslem people come under a single political/military leader.

  6. The Assyrian Spirit conquers nations and smashes their idols (Is 10:10). When the Islamic State gained control of cities in Iraq, it destroyed Christian Churches and Shia shrines, because it considered them idols.

  7. The Assyrian Spirit is described as a sharp razor (Is 8:20). It will cut quickly through opposition with terrible destruction.

  8. All opposition will fall away before the Assyrian Spirit without offering resistance.

    As one reaches into a nest, so my hand reached for the wealth of the nations; as people gather abandoned eggs, so I gathered all the countries; not one flapped a wing, or opened its mouth to chirp (Acts 10:14).
    This is what happened in Mosul. A few Islamic State soldiers reached into this nest, and the military commanders fled. Many Iraqi soldiers swapped over to the other side and joined the invaders.

  9. The Spirit of Assyria uses an axe as a weapon.

    Does the axe raise itself above the person who swings it, or the saw boast against the one who uses it (Is 10:15)?
    This is an interesting sign. The Islamic State has beheaded Western journalists to boast of its power and create fear.

  10. This power will not be defeated by war. It will be weakened when God sends wasting disease against it.

    Therefore, the Lord, the Lord Almighty, will send a wasting disease upon his sturdy warriors (Is 10:16).
    The Islamic State destroys economies. It does not create productive economic activity. When its plunder runs out, it will collapse into poverty. Sickness and disease will spread. However, this event is well into the future.

  11. Pestilence and disease will not end the Islamic State. The gospel of Jesus will become a fire that burns through the land.

    The Lord, the Lord Almighty, will kindle a fire under his pomp, like a blazing flame. The Light of Israel will become a fire, their Holy One a flame; in a single day it will burn and consume his thorns and his briers (Is 10:16-17).
    The gospel of Jesus will spread through the Islamic State in the power of the Spirit. Christians will go through the land healing the sick and proclaiming the good news. Some of those who carry the gospel will come out of the land of Israel. The gospel will destroy the power of the Assyrian Spirit forever. His power (thorns and briars) will be destroyed forever.

Desert by the Sea

Before his prophecy about Arabia, Isaiah gave a prophecy against the Desert by the Sea. Experts say this refers to an area beside the Euphrates River, which is so swampy that it looks like a sea. This is the area in which the Islamic State emerged. Isaiah describes an attacker that comes from a land of terror.

Like whirlwinds sweeping through the southland, an invader comes from the desert, from a land of terror. A dire vision has been shown to me: The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot (Is 21:1-2)
It creates extracts loot and creates terror. Isaiah says that it this will cause Media and Elam to attack (they are modern day Iran).
Elam, attack! Media, lay siege! I will bring to an end all the groaning she caused (Is 21:2).
Iran responded to the Islamic State attacks on Iraq by tightening its grip on the Shia regions. The overall effect is terror and fear.
At this my body is racked with pain, pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor; I am staggered by what I hear, I am bewildered by what I see. My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me (Is 21:4).
Fear and terror spreads in the area around the Euphrates River.

Social Media

The Islamic State used technology very effectively. The Smartphone was their most important weapon. The Islamic state used social media to promote their strategy.

Their social media strategy appealed to young people all over the world. The message was not, "Come and die in a suicide attack, so you can enjoy paradise with 72 virgins". The message was different. "Come and fight with us to support this new state. This is a just state, not corrupted like the existed dictators and kings of the Middle East. This is the true state of our religion".

Young people were invited by their peers to come and make a contribution to something new and better. They were offered a political utopia. For the first time since the collapse of the Ottoman caliphate, a true political utopia was being presented to young people. This message was very appealing to young people all over the world, who are struggling with the economic devastation in the wake of the GFC.

Young people have always looked for adventure overseas. A hundred years ago, young men from Australia and New Zealand were leaving home to help the British Empire invade Turkey. Modern telecommunications make the call for help easy to spread and travel is much easier now. Young men from Moslem nations all over the world travelled to Syria and Iraq to support the Islamic State.

Brutality

To Western eyes, the Islamic state seems to be very brutal in the way that they deal with opposition and minorities. It is not an excuse, but we need to understand the circumstances in which these young people have grown up.

Iraq has been subjected to war, punishing sanctions, war and terrorism since the first gulf war in 1991, nearly a quarter of a century. The war in Syria has not gone on as long, but it has been even more intense.

Young people growing up surrounded by violence and death are going to be more brutal than those growing up in peaceful situations. Seeing friends and family being killed will have a traumatising and brutalising effect on young people.

The United States military forces have had problems with PTSD, despite soldiers returning to a peaceful a peaceful situation when their tour of duty is over. The impacts must be worse for those who cannot escape the violence and death.

Reshaping the Middle East

The shape of the Middle East is changing. The nationalism that has dominated history for the last few centuries is losing its power. National states are beginning to fragment and fail.

Nationalism is a relatively modern notion. For most of history, people belonged to a local community. They surrendered their freedom to a local leader in return for protection. By the end of the 17th century, these small local political units were no longer viable. With the beginning of the industrial revolution, much larger markets were needed to support economic growth. Modern warfare needed a much large economic base to pay and equip a large permanent army. A few hundred soldiers loyal to a local leader were not enough.

Better communication and travel allowed people to expand their range of contacts to a much larger group. All over Europe and North America, the nation-state emerged. The principalities and provinces of Germany were united in a single nation. The same thing happened in Italy.

World War 1 and World War 2 were fights to the death between powerful nation-states. The wars were fought with all the resources of the nation. Co-opting the wealth and people of the nation allows war on a massive scale.

The season for nation-states is already passing. Globalisation has opened a worldwide market that makes national borders redundant. Many of the functions of the state are shifting to larger regional unions. Scotland does not need to be part of Britain, when it can belong to the EU and NATO. The Scottish bid for independence failed, but the next will likely succeed. We will see small groups breaking away from nation-states all over the world.

Nationalism has never been as strong in the Moslem world. The lack of a distinction between church and state makes Islam a much more political religion than Christianity. The spiritual leader of Islam was always a political leader too. The nation-states established at the end of World War 1 were a creation of the European powers. They were imposed by the European colonialists to protect their economic and religious interests. The northeastern border of Jordan was shaped for a planned British oil pipeline from Mosul to Haifa It extends way up towards Iraq like a land bridge between Syria. Local culture and history were ignored by the European powers.

The artificial nation-states created by France and Britain after World War 1 are falling apart. They will be replaced by new powerful players reflecting the dominant political-spirits and government-spirits.

Islamic State has gone into decline, but these powerful spiritual forces will continue to work against the puppet states with artificial borders that were created by the Europeans powers.

Fear of Islam

Many Christians are worried about Islam and the Middle East. They see it as a single entity fighting the west. For a start, the largest Moslem country in the world is Indonesia. The reality is that Islam in the Middle East will continue to be dominated by the political-spirits and government-spirits described above. They will always be in conflict with each other, so they will not be able to unite together for a common purpose.

The Islamic state implemented Sharia law. This scares people in the West, because it seems harsh, but in places like Syria and Iraq, Sharia law can be an improvement over the existing justice system. State justice is administered to favour the rich and powerful. Judges and rulers exploited the poorer classes, so ordinary people had no hope of justice, without paying exorbitant bribes. Now ordinary people can go to a Sharia court and get a decision from people who respect their religion. Many are able to get justice for the first time. This is one reason why the Islamic State attracted young people all over the world.

Christians in America seem to be really afraid of the Islamic State. I am not sure why, because it is not capable of inflicting serious harm on the United States. Many Christians are demanding that their president extends American power to control and destroy the Islamic State. Fear of the world, and trust in political and military power to provide security are the attitudes that will allow the beast of revelation to rise to power.

Christians who trust in God should not fear the world. They should not look to political leaders for salvation. They already have a glorious saviour and wonderful comforter.

Israel and the Islamic State

Israel should be careful about forming an alliance with the Islamic State. It seems likely that Israel has provided weapons and intelligence to ISIS in an attempt to undermine President Assad of Syria. That could backfire. Josiah was one of the best kings of Judah formed an alliance with the king of Assyria when he was attacked by Pharaoh of Egypt. Josiah was killed in a battle at Meggido.

While Josiah was king, Pharaoh Necho king of Egypt went up to the Euphrates River to help the king of Assyria. King Josiah marched out to meet him in battle, but Necho faced him and killed him at Megiddo (2 Kings 23:29).
This is probably a warning sign.

Isaiah warns that the Assyrian Spirit will be the club of God's wrath against any godless nation, that has rejected God.

Woe to the Assyrian, the rod of my anger, in whose hand is the club of my wrath! I send him against a godless nation, I dispatch him against a people who anger me (Is 10:5-6).
This word is also a prophecy against the Assyrian Spirit. It will eventually be destroyed.
When the Lord has finished all his work against Mount Zion and Jerusalem, he will say, "I will punish the king of Assyria for the willful pride of his heart and the haughty look in his eyes" (Is 10:12).
The Spirit of Assyria will be destroyed, but not until the hardness of heart of Israel and its rulers have come to an end. This puts the event well into the future after the Fullness of the Jews (Is 10:20,21). It will be followed by a season of great blessing on earth (Is 11:1-12).

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