Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you.
—Ezekiel 38:1-6, NKJV
One of the greatest empires of ancient history, the Persian Empire, played a key role in the Old Testament story of God’s Chosen People. And a careful study of Scripture makes it clear that Persia (modern-day Iran) has a key role to play in future prophetic events as well. To better understand what the Word of God teaches about these coming events, we first need to look at the storied past of this often victorious and powerful nation.
The beginnings of what would become the Persian Empire can be traced back to Iran hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. Two major tribes that became known as the Medes and Persians grew to become powerful groups in their own right. They were first under the control of the Assyrian Empire and later the Babylonians. At first, the Medes were the dominant partners in the pair, but after a period of struggle, Cyrus the Great supplanted the Medes and established himself as ruler over all of Persia.
It was the Persian army that was encamped around the famed city of Babylon the night that Belshazzar saw the handwriting on the wall of his palace as he celebrated a drunken feast. Belshazzar made a fatal mistake when he called for the vessels of silver and gold that had been looted from the Temple in Jerusalem to be brought in for use in their celebration. That very hour the judgment of Babylon was written on the wall. It is no coincidence that the disrespect shown by Belshazzar to the God of the Jewish people was the final act that brought his reign to an end.
The prophet Daniel was called when none of the wise men of the kingdom could interpret what had been written. He delivered the message that words MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN meant that God had numbered and weighed Belshazzar, and was about to judge him by taking his kingdom from him. Just as Daniel foretold, the city was taken that very night by the invading Persian army.
Cyrus was very kindly disposed toward the Jewish people and issued the Edict of Restoration, which called for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. This act was foretold by the prophet Isaiah more than 150 years before it happened, including naming Cyrus as the leader who would allow the Jews to return to their homeland. Skeptics scoff at the notion that the prophet could have identified by name a future pagan king who would return God’s Chosen People to their ancient capital of Jerusalem, but it is yet one more indication that whatever the Word of God says will surely come to pass. The God who knows all things has given us glimpses into the future, and when we rightly divide the Word, we can learn the things He wishes for us to know to prepare for the future.
The Persian Empire expanded even more under Cyrus’ successors, the most famous of whom was Darius the Great. (This is not the same Darius as the ruler named in Daniel 6 who was deceived into signing the decree that ended with Daniel being thrown into the den of lions, but a later king with the same name.) Under Darius, the reach of the Persian Empire stretched across from Europe and North Africa across the Middle East and into Asia.