THE EASTERN QUESTION
MODERN HISTORY IN THE LIGHT OF ANCIENT PROPHECY
Not alone of the history of ancient nations does the "sure word of prophecy" bear witness. Political events of our own and coming days are described.
The nations of the latter day are pictured as preparing war, gathering their forces for the great Armageddon, the battle of the day of God.
As a signal of the last great struggle, the fall, or "drying up," of the power ruling the territory watered by the river Euphrates is foretold. Rev. 16:12. The Euphrates in all modern history has been suggestive of the dominions of the Turkish or Ottoman Empire. And Armageddon, designated as the meeting place of armies in the last clash of nations, is in Palestine, which, through all modern times, has been in possession of the Turkish power.
The index finger of prophecy points, therefore, to this region of the eastern Mediterranean as the pivotal point in the closing history of nations; and with Turkey's fate is wrapped up the fate of all the nations of the world.
All this adds deepest and most solemn import to the study of what is known as the Eastern Question, a question that has been to the fore in international politics much of the time throughout this generation. Wars have been fought over it, cabinets have wrestled with it, and still it holds its place in the first rank of living issues of today.
As every one knows, the Eastern Question involves the dominion or supremacy in the Near East. This region was a pivotal point in the struggles of the nations in ancient times—the meeting place of East and West. Maspero, historian of ancient empires, says of it:
"Some countries seem destined from their origin to become the battle fields of the contending nations.... The nations around are eager for the possession of a country thus situated.... From remote antiquity Syria was in the condition just described. By its position it formed a kind of meeting place, where most of the military nations of the ancient world were bound sooner or later to come violently into collision."—"Struggle of the Nations," chap. 1.
It is not strange, therefore, that one of the great outlines of historic prophecy should deal with events centering around this pivotal region. The prophecy of Daniel 11 does so, outlining the course of history from ancient times to the final solution of the Eastern Question amid the scenes of the end.
Rise and Fall of Ancient Empires
The prophetic outline of Daniel 11 begins with Persia, in the third year of Cyrus, the conqueror of Babylon. (See Dan. 10:1.) The angel of God appeared to Daniel, and in the longest and most detailed single prophecy in all the Bible, told the story of events connected with this region of the Near East for the centuries to come, until the end. Putting the word of prophecy and the record of history side by side, we see how exactly history has fulfilled prophecy; and we may know certainly that the brief portion of the prophecy yet unfulfilled will surely come to pass.
Prophecy.—"Now will I show thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia." Dan. 11:2
History.—The three kings following Cyrus were (1) Cambyses, (2) Smerdis, (3) Darius; the fourth, Xerxes, was "far richer than they all." He had the treasures of his father, Darius, who was called the "merchant" or "hoarder" by his own people, and Xerxes gathered stores of wealth in addition. When Xerxes was on his way to invade Grecia, a Lydian named Pythius entertained the whole Persian army with feasts, and offered to aid in bearing the expense of the campaign. Xerxes asked who this man of such wealth was. He was answered:
"This is the man, O king! who gave thy father Darius the golden plane tree, and likewise the golden vine; and he is still the wealthiest man we know of in all the world, excepting thee."—Herodotus, book 7, par. 27.
"Richer than they all," Xerxes, "through his riches," was able, as the prophecy had foretold, to "stir up all against the realm of Grecia." Forty-nine nations marched under his banners to the attack. The Greek poet, Æschylus, who himself fought against the Persians, wrote of Xerxes' mighty host,
"And myriad-peopled Asia's king, a battle-eager lord,
From utmost east to utmost west sped on his countless horde,
In unnumbered squadrons marching, in fleets of keels untold,
Knowing none dared disobey,
For stern overseers were they
Of the godlike king begotten of the ancient race of Gold."
—"Persæ," Way's translation.
Xerxes boasted that he was leading "the whole race of mankind to the destruction of Greece." But his invasion ended in the total rout of his forces by land and by sea. It was an advertisement to the world that Persia's might was broken. The prophecy treats it so, and deals no further with Persian history.
Æschylus at the time celebrated the passing of Persia's prestige in the lines,—
"With sacred awe
The Persian law
No more shall Asia's realms revere;
To their lord's hand
At his command,
No more the exacted tribute bear.
* * * * *
Before the Ionian squadrons Persia flies,
Or sinks engulfed beneath the main;
Fallen! fallen! is her imperial power,
And conquest on her banners waits no more."
—"Persæ," Potter's translation.
The next great world change was to be the rise of Grecia to dominion. So, although a number of kings followed Xerxes in Persia, the prophecy passes from his disastrous invasion directly to the coming of Grecia under its "mighty king," Alexander the Great.
Prophecy.—"A mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will. And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven; and not to his posterity." Dan. 11:3, 4.
History.—Alexander the Great stood up and ruled with great dominion, over a kingdom stretching from India to Grecia, with kings yet farther west sending embassies to Babylon to make submission. But in the height of his power, as the prophecy suggests, he was suddenly cut down by death. All his posterity perished, and out of the struggles of his generals for supremacy came (301 b.c.) the division of the empire toward "the four winds," as the prophecy had declared so long before. Rawlinson, the historian, says:
"A quadripartite division of Alexander's dominion was recognized: Macedonia [west], Egypt [south], Asia Minor [north], and Syria [stretching eastward beyond the Euphrates]."—"Sixth Monarchy," chap. 3.
The Kings of the North and South
Next, a rearrangement of these powers is noted; and it is this that gives us the key to the study of the closing portion of the long prophetic outline dealing with events of our own day. The narrative continues:
Prophecy.—"The king of the south shall be strong, and one of his princes ... shall be strong above him;... his dominion shall be a great dominion." Verse 5.
History.—The history testifies that the king of the south (Egypt, under Ptolemy) was strong; but one of the four princes was "strong above him." Seleucus, of Syria and the east, pushed his dominion northward, subduing most of Asia Minor, and extending his boundary into Thrace, on the European side, beyond the Dardanelles. Henceforward, as Mahaffy says,
"there were three great kingdoms—Macedonia, Egypt, Syria—which lasted, each under its own dynasty, till Rome swallowed them up."—"Alexander's Empire," p. 89.
Thus Seleucus took the territory of the north, and the Syrian power became king of the north, its empire extending from Thrace, in Europe, through Asia Minor to Syria and the Euphrates. The seat of empire was removed from the east, and Antioch, in northern Syria, "once the third city of the world," became the famous capital.
The prophecy next foretold in remarkable detail the contests between these two strong powers, the king of the north (Syria and Asia Minor) and the king of the south (Egypt). The conflict raged back and forth till the coming of the Romans. The Holy Land was the frequent meeting place of the contending armies. The Encyclopedia Britannica describes it:
"Palestine was as of old the battle field for the king of the north and the king of the south.... The history of these times is lost in its details."—Ninth edition, Vol. XV, art. "Macedonian Empire," p. 144.
We shall not follow the details of this contest as foretold in the prophecy, nor yet the outline of events after the coming of the Roman power ended the rivalry between Syria and Egypt. It is necessary only that we fix the events and geographic terms of this early portion of the prophecy. Then we shall have the key to the closing portion, dealing with events of the last days, when the king of the north again appears.
The Modern King of the North
In the last verses of the chapter we find the king of the north a chief actor in this same region, "at the time of the end." Verse 40. And we are told that when this power comes to its end, it is the signal that the great day of God is at hand. (See Dan. 12:1.)
It becomes a vital question, therefore, what power in these last days is the king of the north, whose end is the signal of the swift ending of the world. Inspiration gives the basis for the answer. The king of the north in the early portion of the prophecy was the power that ruled in Syria and Asia Minor, from the Euphrates to the shores of the Dardanelles. The king of the north, then, of the later portion of the prophecy, must be the power that has been ruling in this same region during the time of the end.
What power has held dominion over this territory in modern times?—The Turkish or Ottoman Empire. At this time Turkey holds almost the identical dominion of the ancient king of the north—from the Euphrates to the sea, and northward over Asia Minor and the shores of the Dardanelles.
Then today Turkey is certainly the king of the north, according to the prophecy of Daniel 11.
Of the later history of the king of the north and his end and the events following it, the prophecy says:
"Tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many.
"And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.
"And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great Prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book." Dan. 11:44, 45; 12:1.
The opening verse of this scripture describes exactly the history of Turkey in modern times. Turkey's disquietude has come because of tidings out of the east and out of the north. In both these directions there has been a pushing back of the Turkish frontier, particularly in the north. Again and again, during this time of the end, Turkey has gone forth with fury to resist these encroachments and prevent the loss of territory.
The prophecy indicates that in some of these struggles the king of the north will yet transfer his capital:
"He shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain."
Removal to Jerusalem
This prophecy can mean nothing else than that the king of the north will eventually set up his headquarters in Jerusalem; for Jerusalem is "the holy mountain" of the Scriptures. Zech. 8:3.
It is a wise counsel that says, "Tread lightly in the details of unfulfilled prophecy." Just how events are to turn, by what route or processes the steps are to be taken, it is useless to conjecture. But there the prophecy stands. Every word of the early portion of the prophetic outline has been fulfilled to the letter in the history of the ancient empires battling century after century over this region. Every word spoken of the final scenes will as certainly be fulfilled.
In view of this prophecy,—that Jerusalem is yet to be made the headquarters of the king of the north,—it becomes highly significant that the Mohammedans regard Jerusalem as a sacred city. According to Mohammedan tradition, Jerusalem is to play a leading part in the closing history of that people. Hughes, in his "Dictionary of Islam," article "Jerusalem," summarizes the teaching:
"In the last days there will be a general flight to Jerusalem."
Speaking of Jerusalem, an old Arab commentator on the Koran, Mukaddasi (A.D. 985), said:
"As to the excellence of the city. Why, is not this to be the place of marshaling on the day of judgment, where the gathering together and the appointment will take place? Verily Makkah [Mecca] and Al Madina have their superiority by reason of the Ka'abah and the prophet,—the blessing of Allah be upon him and his family!—but, in truth, on the day of judgment both cities will come to Jerusalem, and the excellencies of them all will then be united."—Le Strange, "Palestine under the Moslems," p. 85.
Thus Moslem doctrinal teaching and tradition both point out Jerusalem as the rallying place of Moslems before the end. Again and again in recent years, as the pressure has threatened the Turkish hold on Constantinople, the thoughts of Moslems have turned toward Jerusalem as a possible capital. A few years ago a Seventh-day Adventist missionary in Constantinople wrote to his home board:
"Within the past few months quite a company of people from the Transcaucasus district have come to Ismid,—old Nicodemia,—bringing all they possess with them. Some of them possess considerable wealth. When asked if they were going to settle in Ismid, they replied that they would settle nowhere permanently at present. They stated that they had come to be prepared to go with their leader when he left Constantinople to go to Jerusalem."
Wherever the capital may first be set up following the forsaking of Constantinople,—and Turkish authorities, we are told, have discussed a number of possible locations in Asia Minor,—there stands the ancient prophecy as to the eventual seat of the king of the north,
"He shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain."
Following that, what comes? The prophecy declares,
"Yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him."
What Comes When Turkey Falls
The fury of his goings forth "utterly to make away many," the moving of his capital from one place to another, avail nothing in the end. "He shall come to his end, and none shall help him."
The suggestion of the prophecy is that this power has hitherto been helped to stand. Here again every suggestion of the prophetic language finds its response in history. Through these later years of the time of the end the Ottoman Empire has been helped to stand, by either one power or another, or by some combination of powers. The late Lord Salisbury, while premier of Britain, thus stated the reasons for this policy of helping Turkey:
"Turkey is in that remarkable condition in which it has now stood for half a century, mainly because the great powers of the world have resolved that for the peace of Christendom it is necessary that the Ottoman Empire should stand. They came to that conclusion nearly half a century ago. I do not think they have altered it now. The danger, if the Ottoman Empire should fall, would not merely be the danger that would threaten the territories of which that empire consists; it would be the danger that the fire there lit should spread to other nations, and should involve all that is most powerful and civilized in Europe in a dangerous and calamitous contest. That was the danger that was present to the minds of our fathers when they resolved to make the integrity and independence of the Ottoman Empire a matter of European treaty, and that is a danger which has not passed away."—Mansion House speech, Nov. 9, 1895.
The veteran premier stated the fear of modern statesmen that Turkey's fall would involve all civilization in a calamitous conflict. The prophecy pictures just such a catastrophe, in these words:
"He shall come to his end, and none shall help him. And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great Prince which standeth for the children of thy people: and there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time."
What modern statesmen have seen impending and have sought to ward off, the ancient prophecy says will surely come to pass when the king of the north comes to his end,—a time of trouble for the nations such as never was.
In the New Testament
In the prophecy of Revelation 16, the last great clash of the nations is represented as following the fall of the power that rules the territory drained by the Euphrates. Describing the last events in human history, under the pouring out of the vials of judgment upon the world, the prophet says:
"The sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared." Rev. 16:12.
The water of the Euphrates represents the people or power ruling by it. When anciently the Assyrians dwelt by that river and were about to invade Israel, the prophet said, "The Lord bringeth up upon them the waters of the river, strong and many, even the king of Assyria." Isa. 8:7. The waters of the Euphrates meant the Assyrian power.
Just so in this prophecy, the river stands for the people. As the Nile stood for Egypt, and the Tiber for Rome, so in all modern times the Euphrates has stood for Turkey. The "drying up" of the Euphrates must mean the ending of the Turkish power. And in the verses immediately following, Revelation pictures the gathering of the nations of the whole world to Armageddon—"the battle of that great day of God Almighty." Following Turkey's end comes the final clash of nations. The earth quakes, the cities of the nations fall, and the last judgments of God come upon a warring world.
Here, as in Daniel 12, is pictured a time of trouble for the nations such as never was, and the end of the world, when the power ruling in Syria, by the Euphrates, comes to its end.
The Approaching End
For years statesmen and observers have discussed the approaching dissolution of the Ottoman Empire. Travelers in Turkey have reported that thoughtful Turkish people held the conviction that the crisis of their nation was near at hand. Years ago Mr. Charles MacFarlane wrote:
"The Turks themselves seem generally to be convinced that their final hour is approaching. 'We are no longer Mussulmans,—the Mussulman saber is broken,—the Osmanlis will be driven out of Europe by the gaiours, and driven through Asia to the regions from which they first sprang. It is Kismet! We cannot resist destiny!' I heard words to this effect from many Turks, as well in Asia as in Europe."—"Kismet; or the Doom of Turkey" (London, 1853), p. 409.
A later Turkish traveler, Mr. Wilfred Scawen Blunt, says:
"Ancient prophecy and modern superstition alike point to the return of the Crescent into Asia as an event at hand, and to the doom of the Turks.... A well-known prediction to this effect, which has for ages exercised its influence on the vulgar and even on the learned Mohammedan mind,... places the scene of the last struggle in northern Syria, at Homs, on the Orontes. Islam is then finally to retire from the north, and the Turkish rule to cease. Such prophecies often work their own fulfilment."—"Future of Islam," p. 95.
Thus native tradition and human forebodings have contemplated the break-up of the Turkish power, as the course of the years has witnessed the shrinkage of its territory and the ever-increasing difficulty of its position.
Now and then there has been a renewal of Turkey's vigor and prestige; then again its situation has been rendered yet more precarious. It has been a buffer between the clashing interests of the great powers. Speaking of Turkey's difficult position in this respect, the London Fortnightly Review, May, 1915, expressed a common view thus:
"When once the nations of Europe set foot in Asia Minor, the pace of Turkey's further downfall will be set not so much by Turkey's strength or weakness as by the mutual jealousies of the occupying powers."
The storm clouds hang ever low over the Near East; while above all the din of wars and rumors of wars, the voice of divine prophecy declares that when this power comes to its end, the closing events in human history will quickly follow.
The solemn truth rings in our ears like a trumpet peal; the age-long Eastern Question is hastening on to its final solution, and its solution brings the end of the world.
In the light of the "sure word of prophecy" the developments of our day in the East become more than matters of grave political concern to statesmen and observers of affairs generally; they are matters of deepest personal, eternal interest to every soul. In watching the trend of international affairs, we are watching the doing of the last things among the nations.
As these things are seen coming to pass exactly as the prophecy foretold, we recognize them as God's call to men in the last generation to turn to Him and prepare their hearts to meet the coming Lord. Let no one think to wait until he sees Turkey come to its end before making his peace with God. The end of this power, as described in Revelation 16, comes during the falling of the seven last plagues. And the last verse of the preceding chapter shows that Christ's ministry for sinners in the heavenly temple has ended before the plagues begin to fall. Human probation will already have closed. The solemn decree will then have been issued in heaven:
"He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. And, behold, I come quickly." Rev. 22:11, 12.
"Now is the accepted time," calls the Spirit; "now is the day of salvation." 2 Cor. 6:2. We have not to make ourselves ready. "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9. Our part is to believe and confess; His part is to forgive and cleanse and make us ready for the coming kingdom.
The Sinner's Plea
With broken heart and contrite sigh,
A trembling sinner, Lord, I cry;
Thy pardoning grace is rich and free:
O God, be merciful to me!
Nor alms, nor deeds that I have done,
Can for a single sin atone;
To Calvary alone I flee:
O God, be merciful to me!
And when, redeemed from sin and hell,
With all the ransomed throng I dwell,
My raptured song shall ever be,
"God has been merciful to me!"