The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow channel of water (thirty-four miles wide at its narrowest point) that connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman, and from there to the oceans of the world.  The Strait is bordered by Iran to its north and the United Arab Emirates to its south. It is the only means of water tanker-shipping for Persian Gulf petroleum to the oil-thirsty nations of the world. On a typical day, 15.5 million barrels of oil are shipped through the Strait.

In recent days, Iran has threatened to close the Strait, by force, since the Obama administration has implemented expanded economic sanctions that will reduce Iran’s oil exports and oil revenues.  The United States Naval Fifth Fleet responded publicly by stating it will defend the Strait against any attempts by Iran to close it. On Thursday, 1/12/2012, the LA Times reported that the U.S. had recently increased its military presence in the Persian Gulf to include additional troops and warships (in Kuwait). The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin Dempsey, traveled to Israel on Sunday, 1/15/2012, to meet with Israel’s military leadership.  Further, Russia recently announced its opposition to additional economic sanctions against Iran, even if Tehran presses ahead with uranium enrichment. Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitri Rogozin, stated that Iran is its neighbor; and, any military action against Iran would be considered a direct threat against Russia.  This post discusses whether Iran or the Strait of Hormuz, or both, have a significant role in end-times Bible prophecies.

Iran is a nation to the “east” of Jerusalem. This matters in Bible prophecy. The descendants of Ishmael (through whom Muhammad claims his descent) settled to the “east of all his brothers.” The Bible includes a specific prophecy about Ishmael and his descendants:  Genesis 16:12, “He will be a wild donkey of a man, His hand will be against everyone, And everyone’s hand will beagainst him; And he will live to the east of all his brothers.”  Genesis 25:18 takes up this same prophetic warning, “These are the years of the life of Ishmael, one hundred and thirty-seven years; and he breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people. They settled from Havilah to Shur which is east of Egypt as one goes toward Assyria; he settled in defiance of all his relatives.”  This prophecy of a “wild-donkey” of a man, whose “hand will be against everyone,” including his own relatives, is continually being fulfilled before the eyes of the world as Muslims wage violence against one another and the world around them.

The modern nation of Iran is known in Biblical times as “Persia.” The Persians are somewhat unique in Bible prophecy because they have not historically been a nation at enmity with Israel.  We must not confuse the Persians with the Babylonians, the Biblical, “kingdom from the north” (Ezekiel 26:7) that destroyed Jerusalem in 605-586 B.C., and took the people into exile; or the Assyrians who destroyed the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C.  Iran (Persia) is located east of modern-day Iraq.  It is not even included in the nations of Psalm 83 that are at enmity with Israel: Psalm 83:3-4 states, “They make shrewd plans against Your people, And conspire together against Your treasured ones. They have said, “Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, That the name of Israel be remembered no more.” The nations included in the list of “conspirators” against Israel are all Arab nations (Psalm 83:6-8).  Iran is not an Arab nation — it is Persian. If we limited our study to Psalm 83, we might initially conclude that Iran is not a nation that will be included in end-time Bible prophecy.

But we can’t stop there. There are four passages that specifically address a “nation from the east” that is involved in end-time events:

  • Isaiah 41:2, “Who has aroused one from the east whom He calls in righteousness to His feet? He delivers up nations before him, and subdues kings. He makes them like dust with his sword, As the wind-driven chaff with his bow.”
  • Isaiah 46:11, “Calling a bird of prey from the east, The man of My purpose from a far country. Truly I have spoken; truly I will bring it to pass. I have planned it, surely I will do it.”
  • Revelation 16:12, “The sixth angel poured out his bowl on the great river, the Euphrates; and its water was dried up, so that the way would be prepared for the kings from the east.”

The final passage listed above is quite relevant to our present question. The event takes place at the pouring out of the sixth of seven bowls poured out. In its pouring out, the text tells us that “the great river, the Euphrates,” will be “dried up” so that the “way would be prepared for the kings from the east.”  How is it possible in the modern-day that any advantage be gained by an advancing army because a river is “dried up”?  Are we to conclude that since the waters are dried up, the army can now make passage where they could not before?  This cannot be the meaning; any modern army can pass beyond the Euphrates River without regard to the presence of water or the depth of water in the Euphrates.  No, the text must be interpreted metaphorically, not literally.  What the Bible is prophesying is that in a future day, the “waters will be dried up,” in the sense that an advantage will be gained by the “kings from the east” which they formerly did not possess.

Let us suppose that the “drying up of the water” is a metaphor for the removal of petroleum from the world markets caused by the closing of the Strait of Hormuz.  The Strait of Hormuz is the southernmost section of the Persian Gulf which links the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman; and, the Euphrates River actually dumps into the Persian Gulf from its opposite northern end. If the Strait were closed to oil shipping, the world chaos would be quite significant. What about the United States Naval presence in the Persian Gulf? Surely, Iran will not attempt a closure with the 5th Fleet breathing down their necks; but what do you do with the recent statements made by Russia, Iran’s ally?  Consider this quote from Russia’s Ryabkov warning the West against escalation in the Strait of Hormuz:

“A military operation against Iran would be a grave mistake, a brutal miscalculation,” he said. “The consequences of such a hypothetical development would be far-reaching for regional and global security.”

Any action by the United States is likely to be considered an action against Russia. And, China? Where does China fit in?  Are you aware of China’s dependence upon Iran for petroleum?  Not only will the world’s largest economy be impacted by the absence of Iranian crude, but also, all petroleum shipped from the Middle East through the Persian Gulf. If military action does occur, this will hardly be the only “blip” to the world petroleum supply chain or to global security. This will be the first step in a series of events all of which will lead to an upheaval in all countries of the world, both Muslims and non-Muslim. Actually, the stakes are quite higher than we might want to think.

Again, what does the Bible say? The prophecy of Revelation 16:2 is immediately followed by a prophecy of an escalation in world conflict. The conflict reaches its apex at the Battle of Armageddon (16:3).  However, the problem for the interpreter is we do not know how much time passes between the “drying up of the waters” and the final world conflict at Armageddon. Most interpreters posit Armageddon to occur just prior to the return of Jesus Christ in judgment of the nations. And, the “drying up of the waters” occurs at the pouring out of the sixth bowl of wrath, a time most interpreters see as far down the road, and likely to occur towards the end of the tribulation period (not the beginning). Our problem, however, is the presence of four “pieces of the puzzle” in end-times prophecy: Iran, Russia, Israel, and the “drying up of the waters for the kings from the east.” This is particularly the case for interpreters like myself who interpret Ezekiel 38’s “remote north” to be Russia (Ezekiel 38:2-3, 6, 15), and “Gog,” not to be the antichrist, but the human leader of a super-power nation.

Iran?  How likely is it that Iran, the home of Twelver Shi’ites, is present in end-times Bible prophecy? That depends on how many “pieces of the puzzle” you have already laid with Shi’ism.  This interpreter has laid many — and so for me to conclude that Iran will be a major player in the Last Days is like “falling off a log.” Whether it be the closing of the Strait of Hormuz or the launching of a nuclear payload against the West or her allies, it is simply a matter of time. Think about it: if you were the President of Iran and you believed that the Awaited One of Islam, Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Hidden Imam of Twelver Shi’ism, is only moments away from “rising,” and that you could hasten his rising by creating world chaos, would you be hesitant to do so? Would you really worry about the Unites States Navy stationed in the Persian Gulf?  Here is Ahmadinejad’s closing prayer before the United Nations in 2005:

“Oh mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the promised one, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.” (Quoted from “Islam the Cloak of Antichrist,” p. 184).

The “promised one,” the “perfect and pure human being,” is Muhammad al-Mahdi, the Islamic “savior.” He is interpreted by this writer (and many others) to be the coming Antichrist. The “peace” that he will bring?  It will occur only after he has wielded his “sword” sufficiently enough that the world will submit to him and to the dominion of Islam (Revelation 13:7-8).

By the way, I know a really good book you can read if you want to see all the “pieces.”