Wednesday, December 26, 2012


                At the beginning of the Lybia campaign, I told a friend of mine “Syria is next”.  He laughed.  The Arab Spring was spreading through North Africa and, to a lesser extent, popping up here and there in the Arabian Peninsula. But, Syria?  Really?  It was not like Bashar Assad did not have experience putting down dissent.  One could say that it was in his genes.  All I could do was to mention the prophecy of Isaiah 17:1, Behold, Damascus will cease from being a city, and it will be a ruinous heap.

Where do we stand today?  It is pretty much generally accepted that Assad’s days are numbered and that we are watching the closing scenes of this play.  Back in mid December, U.K. Foreign Secretary William Hague and U.S. President Barack Obama  indicated that Syria would be crossing a line if it used chemical weapons and that foreign intervention in the civil war may follow.   Very soon after this statement, activists started posting videos purportedly showing that  Assad was indeed using chemical weapons on his own people.  On Christmas Eve, Al Jazeera reported that seven people had died in Homs, and scores of others had been affected,  after they inhaled an unidentified  "poisonous gas" used by government forces.  PM Netanyahu has stated that Israel is closely monitoring the developments in Syria.   And this morning, Israel National News has reported that  a MiG-21 aircraft, flown by  Syrian pilot col. Hassan Hamada who defected to Jordan in June, had been upgraded to carry chemical weapons and to fly without a pilot.  US experts believe that Russian engineers helped convert the plane and that additional Syrian aircraft have undergone the same transformation.

Syria has become the focus of interest for Moscow.    Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, announced a couple of days ago that Russia was helping Syria keep control of its chemical and biological weapons arsenals.  That statement was probably meant as a deterrent for Israeli  or NATO  military action to seize control of those wmd’s.   It was also a warning to the West not to intervene in the removal of Assad, either by direct action or by helping the rebels.   At the same time, Russian military advisers are manning some of Syria's more sophisticated air defenses.   Russia has delivered Buk-M2 and Pantsyr-S1 mobile missile launch and radar systems to Syria, while the delivery of modern long-range S-300 has not been confirmed.  And, while Syria’s air defense command comprises two divisions and an estimated 50,000 troops – twice the size Gaddafi's force –, sources familiar with the Moscow-Damascus defense relationship confirmed the presence of Russian air-defense crews inside Syria.  This may help explain why a US-led intervention – predicted as imminent for more than a year- has failed to materialize.

But Moscow is not the only one interested in the events unfolding in Syria.  Teheran is actively working to continue the Syrian war while maintaining its grip on the country.  Debkafiles has recently reported that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameinei has issued directives to the commander of Iran’s external intelligence and terrorist arm, for perpetuating the Syrian conflict by means of a terrorist network spread across the country, operating in conjunction with local militias.  That is the tactic that has been used in Afghanistan, where President Karzai resides in a fortified palace, and Iraq with PM Nouri hiding in Baghdad’s Green Zone. 

What is likely to happen in Syria?  Saudi intelligence worries that Bashar Assad will pretty soon give the order to launch chemical and biological weapons against the insurgency and some of Syria’s neighbors.  At this point all bets will be off.  Israel will act, and so will the US in spite of the present Commander-in Chief.   In this  context, it is easy to see the prophecy of Isaiah 17 being fulfilled and Damascus becoming a ruinous heap.  It is worth noticing that Damascus is one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world.  Though it has been attacked and conquered, it has never been completely destroyed.   It has never been left uninhabited, but there is one more prophecy regarding Damascus.  In the Judgment on Damascus, we read therefore her young men shall fall in her streets, and all the men of war shall be cut off in that day,” says the Lord of hosts.  “I will kindle a fire in the wall of Damascus, and it shall consume the palaces of Ben-Hadad”  (Jer. 49:26-27). 

Damascus, and all of Syria indeed, is in the cross hairs of prophecy!

Monday, December 17, 2012


Why not December?

            While we cannot be sure, it seems unlikely that Jesus was born in late December.  Shepherds are just not out with their flocks during the winter in the Judean hills.  The normal practice was to keep the flocks in the fields from spring to fall.  Also, it seems like winter would be a specially hard time for a very pregnant Mary to travel the about 70 mi from Nazareth to Bethlehem.  We are often told that we “don’t know what time of the year Jesus was born”.  Actually, a careful study of the information found in the gospel of Luke, plus the knowledge passed on to us by the Jewish historian Josephus, can shed light on the time of Jesus’ birth.

The Jewish Priesthood

            At the time when king David was on the throne, there were 24,000 priests.  He organized them into 24 divisions (1 Chro 28:11-13, 19), with each division serving for a week (1 Chro 9:25), from Sabbath to Sabbath, twice a year, non-consecutive weeks.  Also, all priests were required to serve 3 extra weeks during the year (Deu 16:16): Passover Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and Tabernacles.  That added up to 51 weeks, the number of weeks in the Hebrew calendar

John the Baptist

            According to Luke 1:5, Zacharias was a priest of the division of Abijah.  That means that he would have served during the week that ran from the 27th of the Jewish month of Iyar to the 4th of Sivan.  Following that week was the week-long celebration of Pentecost, so Zacharias would have stayed in the Temple and served that week also.  When his duties at the temple were finished, he returned home and Elizabeth conceived shortly after his return home.  This sets the date for John’s conception at about the third week of Sivan.

            Exactly 41 weeks from that date is the beginning of the Passover/Unleavened Bread Feast.  This very strongly suggests that John could have been born the first day of Passover and circumcised on the last day of the Holiday.  Jews have expected Elijah to come at Passover to announce the coming of Messiah, thus they set a chair and a cup of wine for Elijah at the Seder, and the door is left ajar for the prophet.  John’s birth during Passover would fulfill both the prophecy in Malachi 4:5 and the Jewish expectations.


            After announcing to her that she would give birth to Messiah, Gabriel told her about Elizabeth’s being 6 months pregnant already (Luke 1:36).  Mary left Nazareth immediately (with haste according to verse 39).  When Mary arrived to Elizabeth’s home she was already pregnant, since John still in the womb recognized the unborn Jesus (verse 44).  That sets the conception of Jesus at about the end of the month of Kislev, during the Feast of Lights, Hannukah.


            We need to let go of some of the traditions we associate with Christmas.  First, we think of Joseph and Mary rushing to Bethlehem to register as soon as the decree from Caesar Augustus was issued.  But, actually, they had a whole year during which to register.  There was no reason for people to flock to Bethlehem all at once, of for Joseph to bring Mary all the way from Nazareth when her pregnancy was so far along.

            There were 3 major Holy Days when Jews were expected to make every reasonable effort to come to Jerusalem (Ex 23:14): Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles.  During these days Josephus claims that the population of the “greater: Jerusalem would swell from about 120,000 to over 2 million.  Every home in the area was open to guests, inns were full, and during the Feast of Tabernacles families would allow out-of-town visitors to spend the night in their sukkah (booth), even going to the effort of leaving some food on a “food shelf”  attached to the inside wall of the sukkah.  If Jesus was conceived during Hannukah, his due date would have fallen within the week of Tabernacles (late September to October, in the Gregorian calendar).  It is more likely that Joseph and Mary came to Jerusalem to fulfill their obligation and decided, while they were there, they would go over to Bethlehem to register for the census.  It is then very likely that they were offered someone’s sukkah to spend the night, and that it was there that Jesus was born.  And when the Baby was born, they would have laid Him on the “food shelf” to keep Him off the damp ground.

            Well, you may be asking, what happened to the stable, the manger, the animals…?  The translators of the King James Bible were Greek and Hebrew scholars, but Gentiles, unaware of ancient Hebrew customs.  It is a fact that the Hebrew word sukkah can be translated as temporary shelter, booth, barn…  Did I just say barn?  It is easy to see how the “food shelf” would become a food trough, and how cattle and sheep would be added to the “manger scene”.

            Since the first and last day of Tabernacles were High Sabbaths, and no travelling was allowed, it is easy to imagine Joseph making an effort to reach Bethlehem before sundown on the eve of the first day of Tabernacles.  That would have Jesus born that night, on the 15th of Tishrei.  And He would have been circumcised on the day after the last day of Tabernacles, the most joyous day of Simchat Torah when Jews rejoice in the Torah (the Word of God).

What about us, Christians?

            It seems to me like we ought to celebrate Hannukah, as the time when the Light of the World was incarnated.  It was also during Hannukah that Jesus said I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12).  Actually, this year I have lit a menorah, although a virtual one, on my Face Book page.

            As far as His birth during Tabernacles, John 1:14 tells us that Jesus was made flesh and dwelt among us”.  One of the translations of the Greek word for dwell is to tabernacle. And somehow, the idea of the Bread of Life (John 6:33-51) being placed on the “food shelf” seems very appropriate.  So, should we celebrate Tabernacles?  Zechariah 14:16-17 tells us that one day all nations will be required to honor this day.  What greater reason could it be than because it is the birthday of the King of Kings?