|Palmyra prior to ISIS
Remember the story of Cyrus, King of Persia, who conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return from captivity to their homeland and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem? Well, as fantastic as this sounds, apparently it was not out of the ordinary for Cyrus. An excellent post on Cyrus, found at a website called ChurchOfTheGreatGod.org, reports that King Cyrus, as was his policy, allowed his vassal states to retain their cultural and religious identities. He advanced funds for the repair or restoration of public buildings, particularly temples and shrines, and he reversed the Babylonian policy of forced relocation of conquered peoples, allowing their descendants to return to their ancestral homelands.
What you might find utterly amazing is that God used King Cyrus, to move forward his plan in history. In fact, God calls Cyrus, His "anointed". Yes, you read that correctly! He explicitly says in Isaiah 45:1-3: "Thus says the LORD to His anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have held—to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut: ‘I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron. I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places. . . . I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways; He shall build My city and let My exiles go free, not for price nor reward,' says the LORD of hosts."
I can hear shocked Christians right now, exclaiming, "But how can a King of Persia, whose country would become a stronghold for Muslims in future centuries, be God's anointed? First of all, we need to broaden our understanding of what the word anointed means. The Hebrew word is mashiah, which has come down to us as "messiah" and translated as christos in Greek. Because we now use this term exclusively for Jesus Christ, the Messiah, many of us Christians fail to see its broader application. Mashiah simply means "anointed" or "anointed one." At its most basic, mashiah indicates a person God authorizes and sets apart for His service.... regardless of their faith, ethnicity, or background. And the type of service an anointed one might render can vary. Besides being in the service of God, he might fulfill more than one role in his service; but his primary function is to cause deliverance. You can see how Jesus fulfilled all three of those facets of an anointed one.
So the question becomes "Why did God raise up a Messiah, or Anointed One, like Cyrus? The answer is found in the continuing verses of Isaiah, Chapter 45: "[God will work through you, Cyrus,] that you may know that I, the LORD, who call you by your name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob My servant's sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other; I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things" (verses 3-7). Very simply, God raised Cyrus up to do His bidding to prove to him and all the world who is the true God! God went before Cyrus, paving the way for his victories and policies so that His will and His plan would move forward.
|Palmyra, after ISIS
(OBVIOUS CAVEAT: The atrocities and barbaric acts of murder against Christians and non-Muslims is obviously not an act of service to God. But remember, God is Sovereign, and He is capable of using even evil people to carry out one or more of His purposes. In this instance, I am only looking at ISIS's acts of destroying ancient temples to idols.)
And here's how I got there .... As I have pointed out in past blog posts, Palmyra was the site of some of the world’s most valuable Roman-style ruins, including 2,000-year-old towers and temples; among them the Temple of Baal (or Bel), which was the name of the supreme god worshiped in ancient Canaan and Phoenicia, and the Temple of Baalshamin, dedicated to the Canaanite sky deity Baalshamin.
But last year, in its takeover of the city, ISIS blew up both structures, along with the famed Arch of Triumph, which was constructed under Roman rule during the late second century, calling them monuments to idolatry --- which they were! In case you need convincing, here is some interesting information about the Temple of Baal: It was known as the temple to the Sun God. And if you are a student of Biblical and ancient history, then you know that there were many names for the Sun God throughout the pagan cultures. Some of them are Ra, the sun god of the ancient Egyptians; Apollo, the sun god of the ancient Romans; Helios, the sun god of the Greeks; Mithras, the Iranian and Persian sun god ... and I contend that they are all names for the same spirit of rebellion that existed in the man Nimrod.
The great-grandson of Noah, Nimrod is the prototype of a rebellious people, his name being interpreted in Hebrew as "he who made all the people rebellious against God". As you can see by the various cultures and ethnic groups who worshiped the Sun God in his name, he led many peoples into rebellion against the One True God and into idol worship.
Now, the modern world is lamenting the destruction of the ancient Temple of Baal, the temple of Sun God worship, in Palmyra, Syria. And I'd like you to get a picture of what worshipping there must have been like to the pagans, as described by Amr Al Azm, a professor at Shawnee State University who served as the director of the Center of Archeological Research at the University of Damascus from 2003 to 2006: "You would attempt to go and visit the temple at dawn [before it was damaged]. And on the east face, as the sun rises, it would eventually reach that point where, even though it was dark around you — you were surrounded by stone walls — the sun would touch a particular point on the window, and it was like someone switched on a thousand lights. The whole building would light up instantaneously." He goes on to say, "Unfortunately, we will never be able to experience that again. That’s how significant the loss is, as far as I’m concerned."
But might I suggest that ISIS got it right? That it is actually a "monument to idolatry". And might I further propose that by destroying it, the Muslim jihadis were actually in service to YHWH, liberating that area of the ancient Middle East from a centuries-long fascination and reverence to a false god? Remember, as in the case of Cyrus, (whom God makes it very clear, did not know Him), God can use whomever He desires to move along his plan in history. Perhaps God is tired of our interest and preoccupation in preserving these ancient temples of idolatry, and so He put ISIS, who certainly does not know Him, into service to destroy their very foundations.
And what does the world plan to do? To rebuild them, of course! Or, at least in the instance of the Temple Baal, erect duplicates of them in New York City, London, and another 1,000 cities around the world --- all in the name of defiance to ISIS. But, can you clearly see that, in reality, it is in defiance to YHWH?
|The destruction of pagan statues
The world's elite mourned when ISIS ransacked and burned the Mosul Public Library, destroying more than 8,000 ancient and rare books and manuscripts, calling it "cultural genocide"; an attempt to destroy an ethnic or religious group's customs, including its languages, traditional practices and ways, religious institutions and objects, and clergy members, academics, and intellectuals. I admit that it is difficult to see God wanting the history of whole peoples wiped out. But what if those histories, and art, and traditions, and religious practices honor gods and ways that are not of Him? Could we then see the possibility that God could authorize ISIS to serve Him by destroying what He considers idolatry? Even if they declare a hatred for Him and those who follow Him?
I know! It is hard to wrap your head around it, but throughout the Bible God used unbelievers to execute His plan for the world. All we have to do is look at how He used Pharaoh to liberate His people from their bondage in Egypt; how He used Nebuchadnezzar to take the Jews into captivity in Babylon because of their continued disobedience, yet placed Daniel in their midst to prophecy of the return of His remnant; and how He used the Persian King Artaxerxes to allow Nehemiah to reintroduce His law to the Jews returning to Jerusalem. And in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul often worked through unbelievers to carry out God's will and purpose.
We must remember that He is Sovereign and Immutable ... He never changes and it is often His way to use unbelievers to execute His will. It is not up to us to question or reason why. I am not here to suggest that I know God's mind or that my hypothesis is even plausible. All I'm saying is that I see idolatrous temples being destroyed and the world's desire to rebuild them. Can we truly say it is all out of a sense of preserving cultural history? Or is there something more diabolical happening underneath it all? Keep your spiritual radar turned on and up!
Isaiah 45:9-10 “Woe to the one who argues with his Maker—
one clay pot among many. Does clay say to the one forming it, ‘What are you making?’ Or does your work say, ‘He has no hands’? How absurd is the one who says to his father, ‘What are you fathering?’ or to his mother, ‘What are you giving birth to?’ ”