Euphrates, drying up
Fresh water has never been plentiful in the Middle East.
Rainfall, what there is of it, only comes in the winter, and drains quickly
through the semiarid land.
Now the region's accelerating population, expanding
agriculture, and industrialization demand more fresh water. Nations like Israel
and Jordan are swiftly sliding into that zone where they are using all the water
resources available to them. They have only 15 or 20 years left before their
agriculture, and ultimately their security, is threatened ("Water: The Middle
East's Critical Resource", National Geographic, May 1993).
Some experts feel that water wars are imminent, and that water
has replaced oil as the region's most contentious commodity. Scarcity is one
element of the crisis. But in this patchwork of ethnic and religious rivalries,
water seldom stands alone as an issue. It is entangled in the politics that keep
people (even diverse Arab peoples, much less Arabs and Jews!)         from trusting and
helping each other.
Compared with the United States, which has a freshwater
potential of 10,000 cubic meters a year for each citizen, Iraq has 5,500, Turkey
has 4,000, and Syria has 2,800. These are the "haves" in the regions; the
"have-nots": Egypt: 1,100; Israel: 460; Jordan: 260. But these are not firm
figures, because upstream use of river water can dramatically alter the
Nowhere is this more evident than in the mammoth Southern
Anatolia Project, with its huge Ataturk Dam on the Euphrates River in Turkey.
Ataturk is the centerpiece of Turkey's plans for 22 dams to hold the waters of
the Euphrates and the Tigris, which also originates in eastern Turkey, and to
fill reservoirs that will eventually hold more than ten times the volume of
water in the Sea of Galilee.
When nations share the same river, the upstream nation is
under no legal obligation to provide water downstream. But the downstream nation
can press its claim on the basis of historical use. This is what happened in
1989 when President Turgut Ozal of Turkey alarmed Syria and Iraq by holding back
the flow of the Euphrates for a month to start filling the Ataturk. Full
development of the Anatolia project could eventually reduce the Euphrates' flow
by as much as 60%. This could severely jeopardize Syrian and Iraqi agriculture.
A technical committee of the three nations -- Turkey, Syria, and Iraq -- has met
intermittently to address such questions, but no real headway has been
In turn, less water in the Euphrates has meant lower power
output at Syria's own large-scale Euphrates Dam at Tabqa. And, predictably,
Syria's big dam has kindled fear of scarcity further downstream in Iraq, adding
to longstanding tension between these two nations, apart from their respective
tensions with Turkey.
Other water problems abound in the region. Israel -- in its
National Water Carrier project -- has been tapping the Sea of Galilee to channel
water as far south as the Negev, virtually drying up the southern Jordan River.
This has caused substantial hard-ship for Jordanian farmers, and outraged their
government, which calls the transfer of water from the Jordan basin a breach of
international law. King Hussein of Jordan has said that water is such a volatile
issue that "it could drive nations of the region to war."
And now Egypt, nearly totally dependent on water from the Nile
River, is troubled by an unstable Ethiopia, source of 85% of the Nile's
headwaters. No wonder that UN Secretary-General Bhoutros-Ghali, while he was
still Egypt's foreign minister, said, "The next war in the Middle East will be
fought over water, not politics."
Does all this have relevance to Bible prophecy of the Last
Days? Or is it the merest coincidence that, in Revelation, the great event that
immediately precedes the battle of Armageddon is the drying up of the Euphrates
River?: "The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river Euphrates, and
its water was dried up to prepare the way for the kings from the East... Then
they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called
Armageddon" (Rev 16:12,16).
Historically, the Euphrates River was diverted and dried up by
the invading Persians as part of the campaign that led to the fall of the
Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar's successors in 536 BC (Dan 5). This led, in short
order, to the repatriation (under the benevolent Cyrus of Persia)         of Jewish
refugees back to the Land of Israel, from whence they had been transported away
by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC.
This history suggests that, in the Last Days, the "drying up
of the Euphrates" will lead again to the fall of modern "Babylon" (cp Rev 16:12
with Rev 16:19), which answers geographically to Iraq (and Syria and Jordan?).
Rev 16:12 echoes its Old Testament counterpart (Isa 11:10-16):
"In that day the Root of Jesse [Jesus, son of David and thus son of Jesse too]
will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to him, and his
place of rest will be glorious. In that day the Lord will reach out his hand a
second time to reclaim the remnant that is left of his people from Assyria
[modern Syria and/or Iraq], from... Egypt, from Babylonia [Iraq]... He will
raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; he will assemble
the scattered people of Judah... They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia
to the west; together they will plunder the people to the east. They will lay
hands on Edom and Moab, and the Ammonites will be subject to them. The LORD will
dry up the gulf of the Egyptian sea; with a scorching wind he will sweep his
hand over the Euphrates River. He will break it up into seven streams so that
men can cross over in sandals. There will be a highway for the remnant of his
people that is left from Assyria, as there was for Israel when they came up from
This cross-reference, together with the history, suggests that
the "kings of the east" who return through the dry Euphrates riverbed will be
the remnant of Israel who had been previously carried captive by victorious
Arabs (Zec 14:2). From their concentration camps in Egypt, but especially in
Syria, Jordan, and Iraq, they will call upon the God of their fathers, and upon
His Son. And from thence they will be delivered back to their own Land, as part
of the process by which their Savior will reestablish the Kingdom of Israel in
Jerusalem again. Why are they called "kings"? Because, along with Jewish and
Gentile believers from others ages and other nations, they will then reign with
Christ over the nations (cp Rev 1:6; 2:26,27; 5:9,10).
[Other prophecies which present the same basic picture, ie, of
a believing Jewish remnant brought back out of the Arab nations in the Last
Days: Isa 19:23-25; 27:12,13; 35; 43:1-7; 52:1-10; Jer 3:18; 16:14, 15; Joel
3:2-7; and Zec 10:9-11.]
It is possible that God, through Turkey's project at Ataturk,
is presently arranging the "pieces of the puzzle" for the future -- when the
drying Euphrates will accelerate the time of war in the Middle East. In the near
future, the Arab nations may fight with one another, and with Israel, about
water (and land, and "holy places" too, of course!). The outcome of the last
such war will be the defeat of Israel. But, in some strange way as yet difficult
to perceive, the continuous shortage of water for "Babylon"
(Iraq/Syria/Jordan?)         will contribute to the weakening of Israel's enemies, and
the subsequent return of Israeli captives (prospective "kings from the east")         to
Jerusalem to participate in Christ's kingdom.
How exactly will this be brought about? Who will finally dry
up the Euphrates? Turkey, or Christ? When will it be finally accomplished?
Before Christ comes, or after? For the present, we can only guess at the
answers. Perhaps there are other "puzzle pieces" lying right in front of us,
which we simply haven't thought of in the right context yet.
[One final question: Is there any significance to the verbal
similarity between the "east" -- in Greek, anatole -- of Rev 16:12, and the
region of Anatolia in eastern Turkey?]