The Ishmaelites inhabited the land directly south of Edom, and the only present-day counterpart to this is Saudi Arabia. Different maps show slight variations in the extent of Ishmael’s borders at the time of the Psalm, but most show them to inhabit the vast majority of the Arabian Peninsula, just like Saudi Arabia does today.
The reason we mention this now relates to a pivot in Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy. For the past few years, the Saudis have cozied up to Israel on the basis of sharing a common enemy: the Islamic Republic of Iran. Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia were officially severed in 2016, and intense bitterness ensued. Over the next few years, Iran supported Houthi (Hooth-ee) rebels against the Saudis and even carried out strikes within their borders.
Netanyahu took advantage of these hostilities and began courting the Saudis in the hopes of creating a regional alliance against their Iranian enemy. Bibi hoped that by bringing Saudi Arabia into the Abraham Accords, Israel would be have a buffer zone of allies. For months on end, articles tracked the positive progress of their relations, showing the two nations to inch closer and closer to a full alliance. But just a few days ago, things have taken a sharp turn in reverse.
On March 10th, Israel National News announced that Saudi Arabia had agreed to restore diplomatic ties with Iran. The article states that “The two countries will reopen their embassies in Riyadh and Tehran within 60 days, Iranian media reported, claiming that the deal was reached during a recent meeting in China.”
This restoration of ties represents a terrible setback for Israel:
Saudi-Iran deal destroys Israel’s defense wall against Iran, Yair Lapid says – The Jerusalem Post
Iran-Saudi deal to restore ties seen as diplomatic blow in Israel – World Israel News
We might wonder, why are the Saudis warming back up to Iran if they are enemies? If we keep in mind that nations strictly act in accordance with their own interests, I think a plausible answer is readily perceived.
It’s no coincidence that Saudi Arabia’s policy change occurred on the heels of Iran reaching the nuclear threshold. Consider it from Saudi Arabia’s perspective, which I believe reasons thus:
“Our goal is to evade Iranian aggression. One way to do this is to align ourselves with Iran’s most formidable and capable enemy – Israel – and enhance our security that way. The other option is to take the opposite route and align ourselves with Iran, therefore evading their aggression.”
For the past few years, it seems the Saudis were going along with the first way of thinking as Israel obviously held the best hand of cards. But Iran’s nuclear progress has changed the situation, and I believe it has caused the Saudis to reconsider their actions and ponder whether the safer route is to distance themselves from Israel and draw nigh to Iran. So far, such seems to be the case.
Should we be surprised at this? Of course not! With the Word of God at our disposal, we have been waiting for something of this sort to occur. If the Ishmaelites are to be a part of the confederacy that fights against Israel, it’s obvious that they aren’t allies when the prophecy will be fulfilled.
Events like these of recent days show us the priceless value of prophecy and how heavily we can lean upon it. Had we told someone that Saudi Arabia would be among the nations to unify against Israel, they would likely cry us down as a detached fool: “Don’t you pay any attention to the news? Can’t you see that they are forging ties with Israel?” Yet, we know God’s decrees and the certainty of them, and we therefore understand future events not simply by present circumstances, but by what is revealed in the Word.
The Scriptures Ring True – Another Example
A striking example of just how quickly Saudi Arabia can turn on Israel can be seen with Iran. It’s difficult to imagine today, but from the 1940s to the mid-1970s, Iran was one of Israel’s greatest allies. Ruling Iran at the time was a man named Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, known as the “Shah”, or King, of Iran. Pahlavi was one of Israel’s few Islamic allies at the time. The Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service, relied heavily on them for intel regarding planned terror attacks from Israel’s Arab neighbors. The Shah was even close with the United States.
All of this posed an apparent problem to prophecy students. Ezekiel 38 clearly shows that Persia (Iran) is one of the nations who accompanies Gog in his descent to Israel. But the Shah was a great friend of Israel! How could they come against them?
Students of the Word, however, knew that their relations would have to change. They might not have known how or when, but the Scriptures showed Persia to be an enemy of Israel, and therefore something would have to change Iran’s disposition against the Jews. In 1979, it happened.
Beginning in the 1960s, an Islamic extremist named Ruhollah Khomeini (Ko-may-nee) began rallying the support of the Iranian masses against the Shah. Inspired by his visceral speeches, they soon chanted, “Death to the Shah, Death to America, and Death to Israel” (Jewish Virtual Library). In February of 1979, the Iranian monarchy was overthrown by Khomeini and the Islamic Republic of Iran was born. This is when modern Iran was born.
And so, yet again, the Bible proved true. With a quick revolution, Iran’s stance on Israel flipped and brought about the demeanor they were prophesied to have. It’s a lesson all Bible students should take dearly to heart: though we may not know exactly when or how, the nations will take their Divinely prescribed roles when the time is right, regardless of how impossible current circumstances might make it seem. The Lord’s Word will be done:
Isaiah 55:10-11 – For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater: (11) So shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
On this note, I believe we are forced to conclude that Saudi Arabia will come against Israel. I simply see no other nation that can represent “the Ishmaelites”, for no other nation inhabits their ancient territory. Their joining with Israel’s enemies is therefore an inevitability, and their normalization of ties with Iran could well be the first big step to this end.
Division in Israel
On another note, we cannot ignore the increasing trouble being stirred against Netanyahu’s government. A sizeable number of Israelis have been actively and bitterly protesting the government’s judicial reforms for a number of weeks, and there’s little evidence that they’ll subside any time soon. When one studies the situation, it is apparent that it is not so much a battle over the judicial reforms as it is a war between the left-wing and right-wing factions of the Knesset.
Netanyahu’s government is a Zionist, conservative, religious government that stands for Israel’s interests. The far-left is the exact opposite: anti-Zionist, liberal, and anti-religious. With the incredible momentum of the right-wing government, the left sees the desperation of their situation and is seeking any method of defense. The recent judicial reforms are simply one issue that the left thinks they can exploit to their own benefit. The situation in Israel is similar to that of the US over the past few years. The far-left controls most of the media, and every avenue is pursued to exacerbate issues in order to defend their way of thinking.
What are we to make of this trouble in Israel, and how might it affect Netanyahu?
Firstly, the Scriptures clearly describe such divisions existing in Israel when the Lord Jesus returns to them. Zechariah 12-13:6 details the chronological events of the Arab nations coming against Israel, their defeat by Christ, the saints, and Israel, and the mourning of the Jews upon recognizing their Messiah as Jesus of Nazareth. After this, we are told the following will occur:
Zechariah 13:1-2 – In that day there shall be a fountain opened to the house of David and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem for sin and for uncleanness. (2) And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land.
The purging described here does not refer to the cleansing of the entire planet, but that of Eretz Israel – the Kingdom proper. Having defeated Israel’s neighboring enemies, the Lord will thence turn his attention inward to purge the land of naysayers and rebels. Any who rebel against his authority or despise his ways will not be permitted to continue. Such an “unclean spirit” is starkly perceivable in Israel’s left-wing party and its many followers. They prefer to be like the other nations of the world, refusing the authority of the Lord’s law, and pursuing the desires of their own hearts. The Scriptures tell us that such an “unclean spirit” is bound to continue until our Lord abolishes it personally, and that brings us to the question of its bearing on Netanyahu.
The ultimate goal of the left’s actions is to oust Netanyahu and his conservative government. But given the prophetical picture we just discussed, I believe they’ll be unsuccessful in this endeavor. Again, Zechariah gives us a clear picture of what will occur in the days ahead:
Zechariah 12:5 (RSV) – Then the clans of Judah shall say to themselves, ‘The inhabitants of Jerusalem have strength through the LORD of hosts, their God.’
The NIV offers a similar rendering: “Then the clans of Judah will say in their hearts, The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the LORD Almighty is their God.”
In this, I perceive a recognition of God on the part of “the clans of Judah”. “Clans” is translated “governors” in the KJV, and this is a better translation of the word as it is elsewhere translated to signal roles of authority. Of the 69 times it occurs in the Old Testament, it’s translated as a role of rank or authority 65 times:
- “duke” or “dukes” 56 times
- “guide” 4 times
- “governor” or “governors” 3 times
- “captains” 1 time
- “chief” 1 time
My belief is that Netanyahu will suffer much trouble from the liberal factions of Israel, but he will remain in power. If he is somehow ousted, it’s likely that someone like him will take the helm. We can rest assured, however, that once our Lord and Master returns, the land of Israel will be cleansed of all contrary things, and all of Israel will finally and fully know their Lord. The beautiful details of this time are revealed to us through the prophet Joel:
Joel 2:21-27 – Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the LORD will do great things. (22) Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength. (23) Be glad then, ye children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he hath given you the former rain moderately, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month. (24) And the floors shall be full of wheat, and the fats shall overflow with wine and oil. (25) And I will restore to you the years that the locust hath eaten, the cankerworm, and the caterpiller, and the palmerworm, my great army which I sent among you. (26) And ye shall eat in plenty, and be satisfied, and praise the name of the LORD your God, that hath dealt wondrously with you: and my people shall never be ashamed. (27) And ye shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the LORD your God, and none else: and my people shall never be ashamed.
Oh, what rapturous joy will we all know in that day! How worthwhile will all of our sufferings and trials have been which shaped and molded us to inherit such bliss! All of the woes and pains we face in this godless age will be chased out of memory by the boundless wonders of our Lord’s kingdom. That time approaches, my brethren, and we dare not let our feet slip while so close to the finish line!