When Armageddon is mentioned the thoughts of most people will fly to the one and only battle they know of, when the kings of Earth will be gathered “to the battle of that great day of God Almighty… And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew ‘Armageddon’” Revelation 16:14,16 Actually, Eric Cline, who wrote the recently published book “The Battles of Armageddon” lists 34 battles that have taken place there up to the present time.
Cline is a little liberal in his use of the term Armageddon. He includes battles that have been fought at Mounts Nebo, Gilboa, and Tabor which lie in the Valley of Jezreel, as does Megiddo, and he gets away with it by a sub-title “Megiddo and the Jezreel Valley from the Bronze Age to the Nuclear Age,” But naturally it is “Armageddon” that sells his book.
Megiddo is the tel that has been built up by occupation over the centuries in the city of that name, and it lies at the south-west edge of the Valley of Jezreel. ‘Har’ is the Hebrew word meaning “hill” or “mountain” so Armageddon means “The Hill of Megiddo”. It lies on the edge of the Carmel Range near the Pass of Megiddo which conquerors marching north had to penetrate in order to reach the city of Megiddo, and the Plain of Jezreel on which it lies.
Cline regards the biblical records as historical, which is a welcome change from the Minimalists who try to pretend that Joshua, David and Solomon never existed, but he has his own way of interpreting these records. In most cases these interpretations are reasonable and acceptable, but they need to be analysed. He makes the interesting observation that, “The battles are also a compelling mixture of firsts and lasts, including one of the first campaigns in history successfully led by a woman, the very first recorded night battle, and the last battle of the much beloved King Saul’” p. 44.
The first recorded battle fought in this region was when Barak, supported by the presence of the prophetess Deborah, fought against the Canaanite King Sisera. The battle was undoubtedly fought in the Valley of Jezreel, though whether the encounter took Barak as close to Megiddo as he claims may be open to debate, Judges 4:1-24, although “the Waters of Megiddo” are mentioned. Judges 5:19.
Strange to say, Cline seems to have some trouble with the story of Jael smiting a tent peg through the temple of Sisera. The Bible account is clear. After giving Sisera a drink of curds Sisera lay down and Jael covered him with a blanket. Then when he was sound asleep Jael “took a tent peg and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple. And it went down into the ground” Judges 4:21
Nothing could be more factual, The Bedouin women are the ones to erect the tents. I have seen them holding a tent peg in the left hand and pounding it into the ground with a mallet held in the right hand. They swing the mallets over their right shoulders and they don’t miss. Jael’s blow would have been accurate, powerful and decisive. Sisera would have been pinned to the ground. “So he died.” Verse 21.
The next battle was between the pitiful forces of Gideon, only 300 of them, against the forces of the Midianites sprawled across the plain, but surprise was the key element Even today the Israeli army often attack its foes at night. It worked well, for Gideon’s surprise attack resulted in the Midianites fighting against each other in the darkness. Judges 7.
This battle was fought near the Spring of Harod, the other end of the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo. Cline claims that “his masterful tactics – putting a small, highly manoeuvrable force against a much larger enemy and utilising the terrain, darkness, surprise, sudden noise, light, and confusion – are still cited and studied by military scholars today, more than three thousand years after his brilliant plan was first used so effectively.” p. 65.
The next battle was on the slopes of Mount Gilboa, again at the opposite end of the Jezreel Valley to Megiddo. Saul and his sons lost their lives in this battle and their bodies were fastened to the wall of Beth Shan in the Jordan Valley. 1 Samuel 31. It was on Mount Tabor, on the north edge of the north-west Valley of Israel, again a long way from Megiddo, that Saul participated in the first recorded spiritualistic seance. 1 Samuel 28.
Pharaoh Thutmosis III led a large scale military campaign against the king of Kadesh at Megiddo, and left a record of it on the wall of the temple of Karnak. This is usually dated to the 15th century BC but we prefer to identify Thutmois with Shishak of the 10th century BC.
In the late seventh century BC good king Josiah assumed the throne and reigned for 31 years. 2 Kings 12:1. His reign resulted in a greet reformation in the land but he presumptuously attacked Pharaoh Necho at Megiddo when Necho was on his way to fight the Babylonians at Carchemish. Necho pleaded with Josiah to stand aside, but he would not listen and paid the price. “What have I to do with you, king of Judah,” Necho said. “Nevertheless Josiah would not turn his face from him but disguised himself… So he came to fight in the Valley of Megiddo. And the archers shot King Josiah… So he died and was buried in one of the tombs of his fathers.” 2 Chronicles 35:21-24.
Cline identifies Pharaoh Shishak with Sheshonk who left a small fragment of a stela at Megiddo. It was found out of context in a rubbish dump so is no value for historical reconstruction
In the Assyrian period Megiddo became the capital of the Assyrian province there, and probably stayed that way for 100 years. When Alexander came to Megiddo it was only a shadow of its former status. It was abandoned and has lain in ruins ever since. But that was not the end of Megiddo as a strategic centre.
During the Greek period several battles were fought near Megiddo, but the arrival of Roman forces put an end to skirmishes. Rome was here to stay. In 67 AD Vespasian attacked Jewish rebels on Mount Tabor. The Jews had to flee to Jerusalem.. Three battles were fought between Roman and Greek and Jewish forces in the vicinity of Mount Tabor. More fighting in the Jezreel Valley ensued during the Islamic and Crusader periods.
Napoleon defeated the Islamic forces at the Battle of Mount Tabor, and General Allenby routed Turkish forces in a battle near Megiddo which was the turning point in the Middle East in World War I. In fact, it was so important that when Allenby returned to England and was give a peerage he chose to be called “Lord Allenby of Megiddo.”
More recently came the struggle for Jewish independence and some crucial conflicts took place near Megiddo. In 1948 the contending forces fought over Kibbutz Mishmar Hamaek which is close to Megiddo. Finally Megiddo fell into Jewish hands and so did all the Jezreel Valley. Jezreel figured in the Six Day War in 1967 when Jordanian forces surged up the valley from the Jordan River and had to be driven back. The object of the Jordanian attack was the Ramat David Airport near Megiddo.
The last chapter deals with the future. There has been much debate over the future Battle of Armageddon. Some have claimed it is all symbolic, a battle between good and evil, or between God and Satan with no geographical setting. Cline deals with this thorny issue with tact and firm conviction. Nowhere does the Bible call it the Battle of Armageddon. It is called the “Battle of that great day of God Almighty…. And they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew Armageddon.”
Cline says, “Such questions have been long debated and will undoubtedly continue to be hotly discussed for the foreseeable future, until the event itself actually transpires.” p. 177. That is good implied advice. Wait and see and in the meantime don’t go beyond what is stated. Speculators have been very vocal in pushing their interpretations, but they differ from each other. If there is a spiritual or symbolic meaning it would be the fruit of wisdom to wait and see what happens.
Cline points out that at the time when John was writing the book of Revelation in which the Armageddon prophecy features, there had only been 13 battles fought in the Jezreel Valley, p. 179, and therefore the prophecy should be interpreted in the context of John’s circumstances and to him Armageddon would be the tel of Megiddo. “Literally, Megiddo is Armageddon, or rather Armageddon is Megiddo.” p. 178. Perhaps it is significant that the prophecy specifies that “they gathered them together to the place called in Hebrew ‘Armageddon’.”
The use of the word “place,” in Greek “topos”, seems to make it geographical rather than symbolic. Some have claimed that the word “place” can mean “circumstance”, but that interpretation is hard to sustain. This word is used 85 times in the New Testament. It is translated ‘place’ 75 times, ‘room’ 5, ‘coast’ 1, ‘license’ 1, and ‘quarter’ 1. With very few exceptions “topos” means a geographical location. Certainly in the book of Revelation, and in the gospel of John, where “topos” is used 23 times, it is always geographical.
The only arguments against “place” being literal is that, in these days of modern warfare, Megiddo, or even the Valley of Jezreel, seems too localised for a full scale battle. But maybe this is no more than human reasoning. Perhaps it is worth noting that this predicted battle is the sixth in the series of the seven last plagues. Most commentators agree that all the other six are literal. An epidemic, the sea and rivers turning to blood (in the same way that the Nile was turned to blood in Moses’ day, Exodus 7:20), men scorched with the heat of the sun (we hear a lot about global warming), darkness over the throne of the beast and huge hailstones from heaven.
Another argument against geographical identification is that, paving the way for the battle of Armageddon, is the drying up of the river Euphrates preparing the way for the kings of the east. Revelation 16:12. Modern armies, with their planes and helicopters, would not be hindered by the waters of the Euphrates, but this is an implied interpretation that could have no relevance to the nature of this plague.
Actually, this almost happened in recent years when Turkey finished building its dram on the Euphrates, and to fill the dam the Turks partially closed the sluice gates and the level of the river dropped to half at Baghdad. This brought howls of protest from Syria and Iraq and could have precipitated a third world war. Turkey assured these countries that it would never use this tool for political purposes, but circumstances can change things. The total drying up of the Euphrates could have enormous world consequences.
The Middle East is a volatile area and Cline warns, “It is probably only a matter of time before the next battle does indeed take place in this region.” p. 185. Napoleon said, “There is no place in the whole world more suited for war than this… It is the most natural battleground of the whole earth.” p. 186.
Cline makes one final interesting comment. He points out that in the battles fought in the Valley of Jezreel “the party who arrived second (i.e., was last to the battlefield) won the battle outright in ten out of thirteen instances. This is good news indeed, since according to John the forces of heaven will attack at the battle of Armageddon only after the `kings of the whole world’ have already gathered in the Jezreel Valley”
His interesting conclusion is that “the forces of good from heaven are odds on favourites to defeat the forces of evil, if only because they will be the last to arrive at the battleground of Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley.”
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