“The Time of Jacob’s Trouble”

“Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it: it is even the time of Jacob’s trouble; but he shall be saved out of it.” —Jeremiah 30:7

ON SUNDAY, January 21st of this year, a remarkable, full-page statement appeared in the New York Times. It was an open letter addressed to the President of the United States and was signed by more than 170 retired generals and admirals of the United States armed forces. In view of the growing might of the Soviet Union, these former officers of the military services took this means of voicing publicly their concern regarding the ultimate goal in world affairs of the Russian superpower.

“Specifically,” the preamble to the letter says, “the officers state that Soviet imperial objectives appear to include the neutralization of Western Europe, the encirclement of China, and the isolation of the U.S.” To document their claims with respect to Russia’s growing military power, they cite the National Intelligence Estimate, “the most authoritative U.S. government evaluation of intelligence data, which acknowledges at last that the Soviet Union is heading for superiority—not parity—in the military arena. This represents a complete reversal of official judgments that were a substantial factor in allowing our government to pursue detente and overall accommodation with the Soviet regime.”

Then follows an awesome list of the many areas in which the Soviets have made dramatic advances in their ability to wage war—new and modernized ICBM systems with vastly greater destructive power; additional submarine-launched ballistic missiles; the Backfire bomber, which is “capable of delivering weapons anywhere in the U.S. without refueling”; advances in MIRV technology; and the spectacular development of Soviet naval power, which “now threatens U.S. security in vital sea lanes providing access to essential resources.”

In dealing with the Soviet Union in the area of arms limitations, particularly with reference to efforts to achieve detente, the present policy of the United States has been to put much reliance on the so-called doctrine of “Mutually Assured Destruction.” This doctrine assumes that if each superpower is believed to possess the ability to destroy the other, even following a first strike by its opposite, then neither belligerent will undertake to engage in a nuclear war. It is the opinion of these officers that the Soviet Union does not operate in conformance with this idea. The Soviet “rejects specifically the notion that nuclear war means suicide,” say these military men. “Soviet forces are structured to fight, survive and win nuclear war.”

The retired officers then state their belief as noted earlier, that Soviet objectives appear to include the neutralization of Western Europe, in part by denying it access to critical raw materials; the encirclement of China; and the isolation of the U.S. In working toward these ends, they point out, the Soviet Union is constantly endeavoring to increase its influence in the vital Middle East area.

These officers then make a very significant statement regarding the little State of Israel—one which Israel’s leaders, in their present beleaguered position, are probably glad to hear expressed by so highly regarded a group in the United States. They state, “However, the ability of the U.S. to protect its security interests in the Middle East is closely linked, if not dependent on, the maintenance of a potent Israeli military capability in the area.”

To further emphasize their view of the importance of a powerful Israel to the interests of the United States, they state: “At this stage, no other society in the area can be counted on to mobilize reliable, battle-tested ground and air units, or to make available secure access points. … We urge you, Mr. President, to recognize that Israel’s value as a strategic asset depends on its ability to defend itself, and to reinforce Israel’s military capability.”

A year ago President Carter delivered a defense policy speech which brought from the Soviet press accusations of saber rattling. In his speech Mr. Carter noted that “over the past 20 years the military forces of the Soviets have grown substantially—both in absolute numbers and in relation to our own. There also has been an ominous inclination on the part of the Soviet Union to use its military power to intervene in local conflicts with advisers, with equipment and with full logistical support and encouragement for mercenaries from other Communist countries, as we can observe today in Africa.”

Mr. Carter stated that for several years the United States has been trying to negotiate with the Soviets mutual reductions of military forces in Europe, “but in the meantime the Soviets have continued to increase and to modernize their forces beyond a level necessary for defense.” He then added: “Our strategic forces must be—and must be known to be—a match for the capabilities of the Soviets. They must never be able to use their nuclear forces to threaten, coerce or blackmail us or our friends.”

This fear of the United States being blackmailed into submission in the face of demonstrated superior force, without a military confrontation, is not altogether an isolated one. John Collins is a senior specialist in national defense at the Congressional Research Service and is responsible for providing the Congress with information on national security matters. At a round table discussion with other leading defense experts in early 1978, Collins said: “Sun Tzu, the ancient Chinese philosopher, wrote that the supreme art of war is to defeat the enemy without fighting. Soviet nuclear advantage could put us in the position of having to back down in a crisis because we might conclude that we would have nothing to gain and everything to lose.”

Another expert at that same round table discussion was William Hyland, a former member of the CIA, the National Security Council, and the State Department, during which service he focused on U.S.-Soviet relations, becoming one of the nation’s top experts on strategic arms talks. According to Time Magazine, Hyland stated: “During every U.S.-Soviet crisis in the postwar period … the U.S. has had a strategic advantage. The Cuban missile crisis of 1962 was a particularly dramatic example of the Soviets having to back down. But the Soviets could gain a similar strategic advantage by the early 1980’s.”

Recently U.S. News & World Report (November 27, 1978) commented on some of the efforts of the United States to update its military strength. Our aim? “To show Russia that Carter intends to keep the U.S. from being vulnerable to blackmail by threats of nuclear exchanges.”

In another foreboding report a widely read weekly newsletter similarly implied the possibility of nuclear blackmail, while appraising the relative strength and aims of the two superpowers. It gave its opinion that the U.S. desires only to have sufficient nuclear weapons to deter aggression, whereas the Soviet Union has different ideas. It aims to possess enough such weapons to be able to destroy those of the United States BEFORE these can be fired and, additionally, to have enough weapons left over to threaten the cities of the United States.

Therefore, says this report, Russia is producing powerful, accurate missiles of a kind needed for a surprise attack—an attack that would destroy U.S. missiles in their silos, bombers on the ground, and those missile submarines which would be in port. Should this situation come about, the U.S. would then seem to be faced with the difficult choice either of risking destruction of its cities or of yielding to Russian power.

It is the opinion of the writers of the article that the two nations are presently about equal in overall nuclear capability. “But Russia … will move ahead of us by 1980 or 1981 … with or without a SALT treaty.”

The Soviet Union, however, repeatedly and solemnly denies all these charges and would put the shoe on the other foot. It is a constant source of wonder and concern to observe, on the one hand, the veneer of cordiality that unfailingly marks the meetings between the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union in their various diplomatic confrontations, while on the other hand, in language that almost presupposes and bespeaks an inevitable clash between the two superpowers, each nation openly and regularly accuses the other of designs to destroy it.

It will be noted that in the foregoing discussions we have particularly stressed two separate but related points. First, there is the recent, great upgrading by the Soviet Union of her military might, the object of which, many believe, is ultimate domination of the world.

The other point has to do with tiny Israel and the supreme importance to the United States, and perhaps to the peace of the world, that is ascribed to that little nation by military experts, since Israel’s military presence in a very vital region seems to provide the single roadblock to Soviet ambitions. And in view of the situation that has lately developed in the Middle East, with Iran in a state of near anarchy, the position of Israel as a small island of stability in that area assumes even greater importance in the eyes of these experts.

The Bible tells much about the conditions that would prevail in the world at this bewildering period of its existence. We would like to examine briefly a few of these prophecies wherein they seem to bear on the foregoing discussion.

Just two days before his crucifixion Jesus was asked by his disciples, “What shall be the sign of thy coming [parousia, presence], and of the end of the world [age]?” (Matt. 24:3) In response he said, among other things, “For then [at that time] shall be great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be.” (Matt. 24:21) It is useful to note in this prophecy that Jesus connected, or associated, three separate events—his presence, the end of the world, or age, and a time of trouble such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time.

The Prophet Jeremiah also spoke of this same time of trouble to come upon the world in the end of the age. He wrote: “Ask ye now, and see whether a man doth travail with child? wherefore do I see every man with his hands on his loins, as a woman in travail, and all faces are turned into paleness? Alas! for that day is great, so that none is like it.” (Jer. 30:6,7) Here Jeremiah provides chronologically valuable and indisputable evidence that we have already entered into that foretold time of trouble—for he directly links it in the same prophecy with the regathering of the Jews from the lands into which they had been scattered and their return to Palestine. He wrote: “For, lo, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will bring again the captivity of my people Israel and Judah, saith the Lord: and I will cause them to return to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they shall possess it.”—Jer. 30:3

It follows, therefore, that if we have already seen the return of the Jews to the land of their fathers as foretold, then we must also have entered into the similarly foretold great time of trouble. And further, in harmony with Jesus’ prophecy of the time of trouble, our Lord must therefore now be present, and we are in the last days of the Gospel Age.

What, then, must yet occur before the establishment in the earth of Christ’s thousand-year kingdom for the blessing of all the families of the earth, according to God’s promises?

In foretelling this great, climactic trouble, the prophet Jeremiah indicated that it would fall with particular severity upon the little nation of Israel. Jeremiah called it “the time of Jacob’s [Israel’s] trouble.” And then the prophet added, “But he [Israel] shall be saved out of it.” (Jer. 30:7) Just what might be the source of this final trouble to come on Israel? And how will Israel be saved out of it?

The Prophet Ezekiel tells of a powerful, seemingly irresistible attacking force that shall descend upon Israel. The time of this attack is shown to be after the Jews have been gathered out of the nations to which they had been scattered and have returned to their own land. Addressing the attacker, the Lord says, through the prophet: “Be ready and keep ready, you and all the hosts that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them. After many days you will be mustered; in the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land where people were gathered from many nations upon the mountains of Israel, which had been a continual waste; its people were brought out from the nations and now dwell securely, all of them. You will advance, coming on like a storm, you will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your hordes, and many peoples with you.”—Ezek. 38:7-9, RSV

The attacker is described by Ezekiel as the “Prince of Rosh, Meshach and Tubal” (Ezek. 28:2, Rotherham), and he descends upon the regathered Israelites from “out of the north.” (Ezek. 38:6,15) Bible students in general have long believed the attacker here described pictures a powerful Russian army. This “mighty army” shall fall upon the “people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days.”—Ezek. 38:16

The Prophet Zechariah also wrote of this assault upon Israel in this time of trouble, or Day of Jehovah. He wrote: “Behold, the day of the Lord [Jehovah] cometh, and thy spoil shall be divided in the midst of thee. For I will gather all nations against Jerusalem to battle; and the city shall be taken, and the houses rifled, and the women ravished; and half of the city shall go forth into captivity, and the residue of the people shall not be cut off from the city.”—Zech. 14:1,2

But the Lord does not permit Israel to go down in defeat at the hands of the mighty attacker. The Prophet Jeremiah had said, concerning this same time, that Israel would “be saved out of it.” The Prophet Zechariah now confirms this, saying, “Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations, as when he fought in the day of battle.”—Zech. 14:3

The Prophet Ezekiel adds his own testimony to this same promised outcome; for when the situation looks darkest for Israel, Jehovah God himself intervenes. Addressing the attacker, God says, “Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them? And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that my fury shall come up in my face.—Ezek. 38:17,18

Then Ezekiel tells of the defeat of the mighty attacking force. “And I [God] will plead against him [punish him, Moffatt] with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.” (Ezek. 38:19-22) The inhabitants of the land will be many years destroying the abandoned weapons of the enemy, and many months in burying the enemy dead.—Ezek. 39:8-13

But it is not the little nation of Israel that gains the victory against the attacking host. Nor is it her present ally, the United States. The victory is Jehovah God’s, for It is he, and he alone, who saves Israel! And then will the whole world see Jehovah’s power and glory. “Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord,” says Jehovah.—Ezek. 38:23

But of all the nations for whom the lesson is intended, it is designed especially for the Israelites who, like the rest of the world, have not put their trust in the Lord but in arms. “So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel.”—Ezek. 39:7

The Jews as a nation do not know God today, nor do they put their trust in his overruling providences, in spite of the clear manifestation of his hand in their remarkable return to the land of Palestine after almost two thousand years—a regathering to the land which Jehovah God himself had plenteously promised through their own prophets. (Deut. 30:3; Jer. 32:37; Ezek. 11:17; 36:24) But their miraculous rescue by the Lord from seemingly inevitable defeat will finally open their eyes. “When I have brought them again from the people, and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified [have vindicated my holiness, RSV] in the sight of many nations; then shall they know that I am the Lord their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there. Neither will I hide my face any more from them: for I [will] have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord God.”—Ezek. 39:27-29

But another interesting question arises in relation to this foretold attack on regathered Israel by this mighty army from the north. Since it appears to be the accepted present policy of the U.S. that a well-armed Israel is of vital interest to the United States, and since the powerful U.S. is indeed Israel’s ally, arms supplier, and protector, how could this attack on Israel by an army from the north be permitted to occur?

If we go back to Jeremiah’s prophecy of the travail to come upon Israel in the time of trouble following her regathering to the land of Palestine (Jer. 30:3-7), we may find a clue. The prophet wrote: “All thy lovers [allies, Moffatt, Amplified] have forgotten thee; they seek thee not; for I have wounded thee with the wound of an enemy, with the chastisement of a cruel one, for the multitude of thine iniquity; because thy sins were increased.” (Jer. 30:14) Because of the greatness of Israel’s shortcomings, the Lord decreed that this final chastisement must fall upon her and thus bring her back to his fold.

The prophet here indicates that all Israel’s allies will have left her; when the mighty force from the north descends, she will be standing alone. What can have happened to her mighty ally, the United States? Would she have chosen to receive Arab oil rather than to support Israel? Would she herself have been militarily eliminated? Would she have been blackmailed into submission by a show of superior force? Here we hasten to say what wise students of the Bible have often said in the past—prophecy is more readily understood after fulfillment than before. At this time, we do not know.

But the Scriptures seem clear on one point in this connection, and that is, that at the time of Israel’s being attacked by the powerful army from the north she will be alone. This suggests that so long as the State of Israel has the United States as an ally, then the final, dreadful attack on Israel in the closing days of the time of trouble will not occur. And Christ’s kingdom of righteousness will not be established in the earth until after this present evil world is destroyed in the great time of trouble.—II Pet. 3:7-13

Also, before Christ’s thousand-year reign can begin, the church, the little flock of faithful followers of Jesus, must be complete and the marriage of the Lamb must take place. For these will share with their Lord Jesus in the final phase of the trouble, when the last vestiges of the evil institutions of earth are being destroyed.—Ps. 149:1-9; 2:1-9; Rev. 2:26,27; 19:7-16

Truly, we are living in distressing, perplexing times. But the very troubles which cause such “distress of nations, with perplexity [no way out]” to the peoples and leaders of the world, provide encouragement to the Lord’s people to “look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh.”—Luke 21:25,28

We believe the extraordinary though troubling events occurring all over the world today are among the signs that Jesus foretold as pointing to the end of the age. We believe they are indications that the establishment of Christ’s kingdom is nearing. When the Lord’s due time arrives for that glorious event to take place for the blessing of all the families of the earth, both living and dead, nothing shall in any wise retard it for a single day or hour. And thus it is our joy and privilege to continue earnestly to pray, “Our Father which art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.”—Matt. 6:9,10

Dawn Bible Students Association
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