With ISIS fighters bringing bloodshed and fear to millions across the Middle East, many are wondering: “What will happen next?” While most attention is now focused on Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the tiny modern state of Israel, others wonder about a great and ancient nation to the east—Iran.
As many of you readers know, some self-appointed prophets have made wild pronouncements about Iran’s role in end-time prophecy, even labeling it the “King of the South” despite its location north of Jerusalem. Many mistakenly lump Iran in with the Arab countries to its south, and as a result fail to recognize important details about this mysterious nation.
So, can we discern any key that would allow us to better understand the background behind this nation’s aggressive presence in the Middle East drama? Is there an explanation for the sharp contrast in the relations between Iran and Israel before and after the overthrow of the Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979? Is it just a matter of religion? Or is there more?
A Family Conflict
It might sound strange to some, but the roots of the seriously aggravated tensions between the present rulers of Iran and the nation of Israel date back to a time when Islam did not even exist. We are faced with a family conflict that has been perpetuated throughout the centuries all the way to our time. There is only one source of information that can provide all the essential elements to identify and understand this conflict!
The disregard of this source has prevented rulers of nations and international organizations from fathoming the drama of the Middle East and its final outcome. We are talking about the greatest manual of geopolitics, the Bible, the only book that accurately pinpoints the origin, the character and the destiny of nations.
Once again: How can we explain the sudden and brutal 180-degree change of direction in the domestic and foreign policy of Iran after the overthrow of the Shah Reza Pahlavi in 1979? How could a former friend of Israel and the United States turn overnight into their most bitter enemy?
The Shah, who was a Muslim, considered himself heir and successor of the ancient kings of the Persian Empire. Statistics indicate that the majority of Iran’s population today is of Persian origin. Both the historical record and the Bible clearly point to the fact that the Persian people have not been an enemy of Israel or the Jewish people.
What most people do not understand is that after the fall of the Shah, the government in Iran was taken over by a minority that is not of Persian origin.
Who is that minority?
Before we answer this fundamental question, we should review what the biblical record teaches us, concerning what the relations between Persians and Jews have been from antiquity.
Rulers With a Different Heart
In one of the most astounding prophecies of the Bible, God predicted the rise of the Medo-Persian Empire to world dominance, and actually gave the name of its king (Cyrus) about 137 years before his birth. God also predicted how Cyrus would conquer Babylon by drying the Euphrates River, give freedom to the Jewish captives in Babylon, and order the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1–3; Isaiah 44:27–28).
The prophecy continues: “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… 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” (Isaiah 45:1, 3–4).
According to the historian Flavius Josephus, when Cyrus took Babylon some of the Jewish captives showed him that his name—and what he was destined to accomplish—was written in the book of Isaiah more than a century before his victory (Antiquities of the Jews, XI.I. 1–2). Apparently, the profound impression produced by this realization caused Cyrus to fulfill these prophecies by making the following proclamation through God’s intervention:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem”’ (Ezra 1:1–4).
The words of a Persian king about the rebuilding of the House of the God of Israel in Jerusalem stand in shocking contrast to the words for destruction of the Jewish nation, coming from the present rulers of Iran.
After the death of Cyrus the Great, King Darius, his successor confirmed and ratified the decree of Cyrus and added to it:
“And whatever they need—young bulls, rams, and lambs for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the request of the priests who are in Jerusalem—let it be given them day by day without fail, that they may offer sacrifices of sweet aroma to the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king and his sons.... And may the God who causes His name to dwell there destroy any king or people who put their hand to alter it, or to destroy this house of God which is in Jerusalem. I Darius issue a decree; let it be done diligently” (Ezra 6:9–10, 12).
To further illustrate the attitude of the kings of Persia (modern Iran) towards the Jews, consider a letter preserved in the biblical record—the letter that King Artaxerxes gave to Ezra the priest. This is the same Artaxerxes who—in the 20th year of his reign—gave permission to Nehemiah, a Jew who was his cupbearer, to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and its walls (Nehemiah 1:11; 2:1–9).
The following is an extract of the above-mentioned letter given by the Persian king to Ezra:
“Artaxerxes, king of kings, to Ezra the priest, a scribe of the Law of the God of heaven: Perfect peace, and so forth. I issue a decree that all those of the people of Israel and the priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, may go with you. And whereas you are being sent by the king and his seven counselors to inquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, with regard to the Law of your God which is in your hand; and whereas you are to carry the silver and gold which the king and his counselors have freely offered to the God of Israel, whose dwelling is in Jerusalem; and whereas all the silver and gold that you may find in all the province of Babylon, along with the freewill offering of the people and the priests, are to be freely offered for the house of their God in Jerusalem—now therefore, be careful to buy with this money bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their drink offerings, and offer them on the altar of the house of your God in Jerusalem. And whatever seems good to you and your brethren to do with the rest of the silver and the gold, do it according to the will of your God. Also the articles that are given to you for the service of the house of your God, deliver in full before the God of Jerusalem. And whatever more may be needed for the house of your God, which you may have occasion to provide, pay for it from the king’s treasury. And I, even I, Artaxerxes the king, issue a decree to all the treasurers who are in the region beyond the River, that whatever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the Law of the God of heaven, may require of you, let it be done diligently” (Ezra 7:12–21).
So, we can see from Scripture and history that Persian monarchs have, from antiquity, held a prevailing attitude of benevolence toward the Jewish people—a demeanor that was still present in the days of the Shah Reza Pahlavi in the 20th century, who even had Jewish cabinet members serving in his government!
Old Hatreds Resurface
Despite this ancient history, however, there is a key that may help us understand the fierce antagonism of the current leaders of Iran towards Israel—and their desire to erase it from the map.
The clue to discern the roots of this enmity is found in the Book of Esther. The story takes place in the days of King Ahasuerus, known in history as Xerxes I (486–464bc). Xerxes I ruled over the vast empire of the Medes and the Persians—127 provinces that stretched from India to Ethiopia. He was the father of Artaxerxes who, in the seventh year of his reign, authorized the return of Ezra the priest to Jerusalem invested with great authority.
The fascinating story of the Book of Esther illuminates and resolves the apparent contradiction of the historically good relations between Jews and Persians and the present obsession to destroy Israel exhibited by the Iranian government.
After the fall of Babylon, many Jews remained in the territories conquered by the Medo-Persian Empire, Esther, a young Hebrew maiden who had been adopted by her cousin Mordecai, lived in the city of Shushan, ruled by King Ahasuerus.
In those days, King Ahasuerus suffered a serious rebuff from Queen Vashti, his wife. It was decided in the aftermath to seek throughout the kingdom a suitable and beautiful young lady who would assume the role of the queen instead of Vashti. Among all the young women presented to the king, Esther found the greatest favor in his eyes, and so was chosen to be the queen. After making this choice, King Ahasuerus decided to appoint as prime minister over the empire a man named Haman.
Interestingly, the biblical record reveals that this Haman was not of Persian origin, but he was “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite” (Esther 3:1). By letting the Bible interpret itself, what can we discern about Haman’s ethnicity? It is written that Saul, King of Israel, “took Agag king of the Amalekites alive” (1 Samuel 15:8). The book of Esther clearly reveals that Haman, being “Agagite,” was a descendant of Agag, king of the Amalekites. To add to the evidence, the historian Flavius Josephus unambiguously states that Haman was an Amalekite (Antiquities of the Jews, XI. VI. 5).
But, who is Amalek? In Genesis, chapter 36, we find “the genealogy of Esau, who is Edom.” Esau had three wives. One of Canaanite origin, called Adah, “bore Eliphaz to Esau” (v. 4). Eliphaz, Esau’s firstborn (v. 15) was the father of Amalek (vv. 12, 16).
Yes, the Bible plainly reveals that Haman the new prime minister, was not a Persian, but rather was a descendant of Esau through the line of his firstborn, Eliphaz, the father of Amalek.
We should also remember that Esau was the twin brother of Jacob, the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. Among these were the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Queen Esther was a descendant of Israel through the tribe of Benjamin (Esther 2:5–7). Keep in mind that Jacob and Esau were already at war from the very womb of their mother Rebecca (Genesis 25:19–26). God revealed before their birth that these twins would be the progenitors of two nations that would struggle against each other throughout the centuries.
When Esau gave up his birthright, what did he relinquish? That birthright consisted chiefly in the right to inherit the Holy Land (Genesis 28:13; Psalm 105:8–11). In letting go of that birthright, Esau revealed a serious character flaw—he let his primal, base instincts prevail in his decisionmaking. God points to this as an ongoing characteristic of the descendants of Esau (Edom): “[H]e pursued his brother [Israel] with the sword, and cast off all pity; his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever” (Amos 1:11).
Esau has maintained a perpetual anger, coupled with the desire to retake the lost inheritance: “‘Because you have said, “These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will possess them,” although the Lord was there, therefore, as I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I will do according to your anger and according to the envy which you showed in your hatred against them; and I will make Myself known among them when I judge you’” (Ezekiel 35:10–11).
The root of the conflict is the struggle between two brothers fighting over an inheritance.
Yet God had previously and solemnly declared “to Israel as an everlasting covenant, saying ‘To you I will give the land of Canaan as the allotment of your inheritance’” (Psalm 105:10–11). This is why God gave the following pronouncement after Amalek’s attack on Israel, declaring: “Because the Lord has sworn: the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). Other Bible translations supply a missing figure of speech, explaining that Amalek raised a fist against God’s throne or banner, in defiance of His sovereignty (ISV). Yes, Amalek raised his hand against the throne of God because he had the audacity to try to change with his own hands what was already established by the word of the Almighty.
In one sense, the Bible’s description of Amalek’s attack may be seen as the oldest preserved record of a terrorist attack. Notice that it has three characteristics common to terrorism: 1) It does not face the army, 2) it is an attack from behind, 3) it is on a defenseless civil population: “Remember what Amalek did to you on the way as you were coming out of Egypt, how he met you on the way and attacked your rear ranks, all the stragglers at your rear, when you were tired and weary; and he did not fear God” (Deuteronomy 25:17–18).
With this background in place, what can we learn about the full scope of the account given in the book of Esther?
A Legacy of Violence
Mordecai, who had adopted Esther, used to sit at the king’s gate. “And all the king’s servants who were within the king’s gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage… When Haman saw that Mordecai did not bow or pay him homage, Haman was filled with wrath. But he disdained to lay hands on Mordecai alone, for they had told him of the people of Mordecai. Instead, Haman sought to destroy all the Jews who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus—the people of Mordecai… Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, ‘There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain. If it pleases the king, let a decree be written that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who do the work, to bring it into the king’s treasuries’” (Esther 3:2, 5–6, 8–9).
King Ahasuerus, not knowing that Esther belonged to the very people Haman was planning to exterminate, decided to let Haman proceed with the plan: “And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king’s provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions (Esther 3:13).”
Here we see Haman’s Amalekite attitude causing a dramatic “180-degree” turnaround in the government’s attitude toward the Jewish people. This is remarkably like what we saw in Iran when the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power after the overthrow of the Shah. And here is a fascinating detail: in the grammar of the Semitic languages, “Khomeini” has the same root as “Haman”—notice the shared HMN.
So, is it any surprise that we find a parallel between Amalek’s attack against Israel in the desert (Exodus 17:8–16; Deuteronomy 25:17–18) and the increase of terrorism in the world favored (and sometimes even sponsored) by the current leaders in Iran? The Medo-Persian nation of Iran, despite its history of tolerance and even friendship toward the Jews, has come under the influence of an Amalekite mentality—even an ethnic Amalekite leadership—which took the reins of power after the overthrow of Shah Reza Pahlavi.
God Will Thwart Amalek
What will happen between Iran and Israel? From the word of God, we can be sure that Iran will not succeed in its desires to destroy the nation of Israel. God strongly rebukes Israel and the Jewish nation through the biblical prophets for their sins, but He will not allow any nation to raise his hand against the throne of God (Exodus 17:16, ISV) and prevent the fulfillment of scores of prophecies that describe in great detail the immediate future and the final outcome of present events in the Middle East.
The rulers of Iran may wound Israel, with the help of Edomite supporters of Hezbollah. But their objective will ultimately fail—not because of the righteousness of the Jewish people, but because they will be fighting against the established design of the Almighty God! Alternatively, we might see the Amalekite influence diminish in Iran in favor of the Persian majority, distancing the nation from the virulent anti-Jewish sentiment so common throughout the Arab world. Remember, in both ancient and modern history, the Persian mindset has been quite different from the Amalekite terrorist mentality.
In the past, God used the Persians (modern Iran) and the Medes (modern Ukraine and parts of Russia) to conquer Babylon by drying up the waters of the Euphrates. He will use again the eastern powers against modern Babylon: “Then the sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates and its water was dried up, so that the way of the kings from the east might be prepared” (Revelation 16:12). Be sure to be following Christ’s command to “watch” as these things come to pass, revealing the approaching return of the Messiah, Jesus Christ!