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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Ethiopia in Bible Prophecy Part II


After a long delay between Part One and this due in large part to limited access to my library as a result of our recent move, I am presenting the second part of the study on Ethiopia in prophecy, and in this part we will deal with the specifics of Ethiopia, in particular the connection with the Ark of the Covenant. In my readings of Holy Scripture, I see this as playing a significant role in end-times events, which I will show as we progress.  Before beginning however, I have a couple of opening observations I wish to share with you.

First, and foremost, whether or not you agree or disagree with what I am presenting here poses no issues or problems, as what I will be sharing is a personal belief and conviction on my part.  It is not something on which one's Christianity is contingent upon agreeing with, nor is it a cardinal doctrine of faith that will force one to be branded a heretic for accepting or rejecting it.  Therefore, there is no condemnation from either God nor myself if you happen to see this differently.  Nonetheless, I do hope it will be something you will see of interest and I hope you will examine it with an open mind.

Secondly, I want to address a common fallacy that many Christians fall into when it comes to this sort of subject matter.   Some people, although definitely Christians and sincere in their faith, often seem to have the impression that if it is not mentioned specifically in Holy Scriptures, then it isn't important or cannot be true.   I want to first state up-front that I believe passionately in the inerrancy and infallibility of the Holy Scripture, as it is God's Word and as such everything in it is completely true.   However, there are two clarifications I wish to make.  There are some things that are mentioned in Scripture that are often overlooked as minutia, but in reality they are there for a reason and lend credence to the authenticity of their reality.   We will be showing some of that in this study.   Secondly, it must also be understood that the Holy Scriptures were never meant to be a general history of the world, although the history they do present is 100% accurate because God is a God of truth.   Rather, the Holy Bible is a record of God's testimony of redemption of mankind, and as such often that plan of redemption takes place within the context of actual historical events.   This is why subjects such as the Ark of the Covenant are often only mentioned as they relate to the divine plan of redemption, but there is always more to the story.  Just because the Scriptural relevancy of the story ends doesn't mean the story itself ends, and indeed, often some of these things make a repeat appearance in Scripture later on.  The Ark itself, for example, no longer plays a role in our redemption, as Christ and His sacrifice on the Cross took care of that aspect, but as you will see the Ark takes on a different role as the end-times scenario begins to play out.  This is why it is important to see small, seemingly insignificant details in Scripture in a totally different light in many cases, for the plan of God is often right there in front of our noses, but it may not be the time for it to be fully revealed.  The future role of Ethiopia is one of those small details that fits this, and as events of prophetic significance unfold on a daily basis with increasing frequency, some of those seemingly minor footnotes in Holy Scripture are now leaping off the page at us, and scholarship is taking them more seriously.  Henceforth, now we have the foundation of this study.

Let us now begin talking about the role of Ethiopia in regard to the Ark of the Covenant, and there are a couple of important traditions we will examine largely from the Ethiopians themselves.

A.   King Solomon, The Queen of Sheba, and King Menelik

Sometime around the 9th century AD, an Ethiopian document called the Kebra Nagast (Ge'ez language meaning "The Glory of Kings") came into existence that more or less provided documentary support for the Solomonic origins of the Ethiopian crown, and it is this book that touches on a pivotal tradition of that heritage - the first Ethiopic king, Menelik I, as the son of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Holy Scripture spends little time talking about the visit of the Queen to Solomon's court, although in I Kings 10 it is documented.  The Queen was enamoured of Solomon's wisdom and wealth, and sought to see for herself this great leader of the ancient world and to seek his counsel.  The Kebra Nagast takes that story and elaborates upon it, filling in what I believe are some details of that visit.  First, how did the Queen know of Solomon?   Well, according to the Kebra Nagast, an Ethiopian merchant who served as advisor to the Queen, Tamrin, was one of the main suppliers of material for building Solomon's Temple, and as it is written in the book Tamrin gained the confidence of Solomon himself as a trusted friend and advisor.  When he returned home, Tamrin told his Queen about Solomon, relating to her his great reputation as a leader of unparalleled wisdom.   This naturally piqued the Queen's interest, and for both diplomatic and personal reasons she decided to embark upon a personal mission to meet with King Solomon, and that is the same meeting we read in I Kings in Holy Scripture.  An important facet of this to note occurs in the translation of the Kebra Nagast I am currently using for reference, which says, " And her heart inclined to go up to him, for God made her heart to desire it."  (Miguel Brooks, trans. The Kebra Nagast (Lawrenceville, NJ:  The Red Sea Press, 1995) p. 22).  In other words, God was working a plan in this dear lady's life - not part of his redemptive plan yet for mankind in general, but a divine plan nonetheless in the life of an individual - that involved her potential conversion to the worship of Him!  We call that today the convicting power of the Holy Spirit, and that is Scriptural!  And, through the obedient action of the Queen the nation would later come to know the one true God, as evidenced later in Acts 8:26-38 when the Apostle and deacon St. Philip would baptize a eunuch of the court of another Ethiopian queen centuries later, Candace, whom he found reading Isaiah 53!  Now, the mystery is how on earth would a court official in a far-away land like Ethiopia had gotten a copy of the Holy Scriptures had not a witness of the true God been there in the first place??  Bob Cornuke, in his book The Lost Ark of the Covenant (Nashville, Broadman and Holman, 2002) notes on pages 176-177 that the eunuch's arrival in Jerusalem was no mere accident; rather, he insinuates that the Holy Spirit sent him on a mission to identify the Messiah!  And, as we will note shortly, that ties back into Isaih 18 in a profound way.

Now, the problem with the account in the Kebra Nagast is not so much in what it presents - I firmly believe that the monarchs of Ethiopia, even to the present time, are descended from Solomon and I also firmly believe the Ark is in Ethiopia today - but rather in the manner it presents them.   There is a historical problem with the Kebra Nagast's scenario, in that the Ark was still in Jerusalem in the Temple at least up until the time of the reign of Manasseh a couple of centuries later, so there is no possible way Menelik had the genuine Ark in his time.  The Ark disappears from the Scriptural record sometime around the reigns of Manasseh and his son Amon, both of whom are described in Scripture as wicked kings and apostates, and from that point there is no actual record of the Ark being in the Temple.  Cornuke, as well as Graham Hancock in his book The Sign and the Seal (New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1992), record a more probable scenario of the Ark's disappearance as well as where it ended up.   According to Cornuke (pp. 30-32) and Hancock, a contingent of Godly priests who were appalled at Manasseh's idolatry and wickedness spirited the Ark out of Jerusalem so that it would not be defiled, and there is strong evidence that the Ark may have been taken to Egypt.   Way in the southern part of Egypt, there is a place called Elephantine Island that once had a Jewish Temple almost in proportion to the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem, and although it was later destroyed sometime around 410 BC, it nonetheless demonstrates that a huge community of Israelite expatriates settled there, probably escaping the abominations of Manasseh and Amon as well as for commercial interests.  Strangely, Cornuke and Hancock both record that the Ark somehow showed up on the island of Tana Kirkos on Lake Tana in Ethiopia sometime around 470 BC, but as one looks at the evidence it is of no great mystery.   There had been Hebrew migration into Ethiopia, as well as probably some proselytism and intermarriage among the local tribes, since at least the 10th century BC, and some possibly earlier - escaped Hebrew slaves from prior to the Exodus come to mind also.  Therefore, due to this infusion of Hebraic influence, the Ethiopians would have been receptive to the arrival of such a holy treasure as the Ark, and it would have been in good hands.  It is worth noting that the early heritage of these Hebrew exiles to the Ethiopian highlands as well as the conversion of local people to the God of the Patriarchs produced a community whose descendants, the Falashas, survive to this day.  Also, many of the indigenous Ethiopian Christians have this bloodline as well, which in a bit will shed light on something prophetically significant.  It would make sense for the Ark to have been obscured for its own safety in a friendly, isolated area like the Ethiopian highlands, and as I see it, God may have sent it there to protect it due to something we are about to see shortly in Isaiah 18.  After the Christianization of Ethiopia sometime around the 4th century AD, when the Assyrian monk St. Frumentius brought the Gospel to these people, the Christian kings of Ethiopia them moved the Ark to the city of Axum, where today it still resides in the tiny church of St. Mary of Zion.

Saint Mary of Zion Church in Axum, where the Ark is.

B.  Isaiah 18 And The Future

In addition to the Hebraic origins of a significant percentage of the native Ethiopian population, the Ethiopians (at least a number of their tribes) are cousins of the Hebrews from the beginning.  It is a common - and dare I add stupid! - assertion to say all people in Africa are Black, and in the case of the Ethiopians, nothing could be further from the truth.  All of the major languages of the Ethiopia - Anharic, Tigre, Tigrignya, and others - are Semitic languages, a fact verified by linguists and ethnologists.  That being said, these Ethiopians are more closely related to the Arabs and Hebrews than they are to the Bantu and Yoruba peoples of western Africa.  Their ancient language (still used as a liturgical language in their churches), Ge'ez, is actually one of the oldest Semitic tongues in existence.  That being said, the people of Ethiopia tie into redemptive history probably more than many of us realize, for they are descendants of Shem just like Israel is.   Additionally, their land is within the historical boundaries of the ancient Garden of Eden, as I related in Part 1.  Thus, they are front-and-center on the prophetic stage.  All that being established, let us now look at an important series of passages in Isaiah 18.

Looking specifically at verse 7 of this chapter, I want to talk at length about a "present," or gift, coming to the Lord of Hosts from a people said to, in  verses 2 and 8, come from a land "that the rivers divided."  Let us now take a look at Ethiopia on a globe:

Ethiopia, if you look at the above map, lies at the confluence of three major continental plates, and that confluence has created a huge fault line through the country called the Rift Valley.   Many geologists are saying that this fault is getting wider, and one day it will create an inland sea as a result.   If that happens, it would effectively split modern Ethiopia in half.   Another aspect of the "land where the rivers divide" also exists just north of Ethiopia, and that is the division of the Nile into two branches - the Blue Nile has it source in the eastern Ethiopian highlands at Lake Tana (remember this place?  The Ark of the Covenant was at one time said to be on Tana Kirkos, an island in the middle of the lake!).  Either way you look at it, there are dividing rivers in the land!  

Lake Tana in Ethiopia, the source of the Blue Nile, and the island of Tana Kirkos.

My theory of this is quite simple - the "present" coming from Ethiopia, with a procession of great pomp and ceremony, is the return of the Ark to Jerusalem during the Millenial reign of Jesus.   In Isaiah 19:23-25, a highway is described as linking the land of the Assyrians (I believe this to refer to the present-day remnant of Assyrian Christians) to Egypt (the land of the modern-day Coptic Christians, which I believe this verse refers to), and this great highway has Jerusalem at its center.   People will travel this great highway to worship the Messiah in Jerusalem, attending the required feasts, etc., and the highway I believe continues into the land of Ethiopia, thus the route of that procession it talks about in Isaiah 18:7.  Now, that being said, let us now tie these things together and I will give you what I believe will be the sequence of events.

Unifying the Priesthoods

If you will refer back to my earlier articles, you will see that I invest a lot of discussion on the subject of a future "Apostasy of the Gentiles" that many ancient Church Fathers and saints, as well as Scripture itself in several places, seen happening.  The result is that natural Israel will be grafted back into the Church, and Hebrew leadership will be assumed over the Body of Christ as a result (read Fr. Elias Friedman's book, Jewish Identity, which I refer to often as a reference, for more information on that).   This is a natural course of events, as Jesus Himself was born a Hebrew.  In the new Temple. where Jesus shall reign both as High Priest and King, a new priesthood will arise that I believe will merge the earthly priesthood (Levitical) with the spiritual priesthood (Melchizedek) of the Church, thus bringing into fulness both Covenants as one.   The new priests I believe will be ethnically Hebrew, yet be validly ordained Apostolic Church clergy, and will constitute the 144,000 of Revelation 7.   Now, by Hebrew, I also mean ALL of Israel, as the Scriptures attest, meaning all twelve physical tribes.  They will of course be drawn from all corners of the globe and will speak a number of languages based on the lands many of them were born into, but their bloodline is definitely to be Hebrew.   Ethiopia at present has a significant population of these now, as does India, and at the place where the Ark of the Covenant is said to be housed - Saint Mary of Zion Church in the city of Axum - a guardian is appointed who is the only person allowed to even set eyes on the Ark itself.   That being said, here is what I propose - the guardian of the Ark is a Levite by blood, and is also an ordained monastic in the Church at present, and it is he I believe who will lead that glorious procession of Isaiah 18:7 in the future.   As Saint Malachy, the 12th-century Catholic bishop and prophetic voice, also saw the "glory of the olive," I see the last leader of the Remnant Church as being of a similar heritage too, just as a side note.   Any rate, it will be a spectacle to behold, as it would be one of the greatest historical events to ever take place.  

There are of course many who still dispute the claims of the Ethiopians regarding the Ark, and they have legitimate reasons for doing so - one independent Orthodox archbishop I met with some years back basically told me he'd be convinced when the Ethiopians produced an Ark, a sentiment shared by some others of my friends.   My reply to him was this - all in good time!  As I have said, I firmly believe it is there, and if that belief is proven correct, God will definitely make it very well-known when the time is ready.  And, I believe that some who doubt now will be pleasantly surprised when it happens, and personally it is an event I look forward to seeing one day.   However, as we shift gears here, it will not be a joyous day for all people, and as a side note I want to discuss next as to why that will be.

My good friend, Pentecostal evangelist Perry Stone, wrote a very interesting book entitled Secrets From Beyond the Grave (Lake Mary, FL:  Charisma House, 2010), in which he discusses based on a lot of research the location of hell and the underworld.   One thing Perry talks about is the coming fate of the Dead Sea, and he states that it will be split into two parts - one part in the north will be healed by fresh water from the Jordan, while the other part will be more dead as it clogs with salt and chemicals.  Between the two parts of the sea, there will be a chasm that Perry believes will be a portal to the underworld, and will serve as a reminder to those who are born during the Millenium of the consequence of sin and disobedience - he bases this on a Scripture passage in Isaiah 66:23-24.   The Assyria/Egypt Highway of Isaiah 19:23-25 will pass over this area as it proceeds into Jerusalem, and as the Ark comes up from Ethiopia, the sinners in the pit will see and regret bitterly their separation from God as they see the celebration of His glory.   This area will serve as a sobering reminder of what sin does - separation from God and eternal torment.   The Ark itself will serve to remind them that the mercy of God was always there for them, yet tragically they refused to accept it.   And thus, bitter wails of torment will ascend from that portal, which now leads me to conclude by talking about something important with you.

Subject matter like this is very interesting, and it reinforces the fact that God's Word is true and His promises will come to pass.  However, exciting though these things are, the important aspect of our faith is much more simpler - God sent His Son, a perfect and sinless being, to die for our sins on a blood-stained cross.  It was a gift God gave to all of us because he loved us, but it is up to us to accept that gift.  Remember, God doesn't need us, but we need Him; yet, He desires us to be with Him for eternity.   Today, if you haven't made a commitment to follow Christ, this could be your last chance, and I urge you to let the Holy Spirit move through you now and convict you of your sin, driving you to the foot of the Cross.   Let His shed blood wash away your sins, and you too will be able to witness and partake of the great pageantry of these things one day with the Lord Himself.   This is the most important decision you could ever make, and the hours grow short as we approach a time when the Lord shall return in glory to judge the living and the dead, and of His Kingdom then there shall be no end.  If you wait too long, you may find yourself at the wrong judgement, and eternal torment is not something you will want to inherit - the horror of such eternal punishment is unfathomable for our limited human understanding except to say it never ends!!!!  God loves you, and does not want you to stay in that evil, horrible place for eternity - He wants you to be with Him.   So, make that choice today, as it is an eternal choice.   God bless you until next time.