"Bear and Ram: the Land of Iran,"

A Short History of the Persians, Ancient and Modern

by Ronald Ginther

Prefatory Remarks: Though I am not a trained or professional historian, I have been an avid student of history since I was a young boy of nine reading Civil War history books voraciously. I since read every history book I ever encountered. I cannot name or number them all. I took history courses in high school, college and university. In Air Force over in Turkey, I read every book about the Middle East in the base's extensive library brought from Paris when NATO was expelled by the French. I continued reading history since that time, and never regret the time spent, as I am continually fascinated by all these cultures and civilizations, which connect in so many ways with the Bible and its account of the world. I hope this little history of Iran is helpful, though I am not always certain of every point in the modern part, particularly the Shahs of Iran--which are not so interesting to me as the ancient past of Iran (Persia). I have read the Shahs' history, but it is forgettable, in my opinion. I am aware that the problem we are now facing in Iran is because we (including myself) did not care to keep abreast of developments there, and now we are faced with a monster grown from something we thought was small, faraway, and insignificant.

Religion is the main problem with mankind! More people have died because of religion and wars of religion than by all the natural disasters, I suspect. It has always been a problem with religion, ever since Cain slew his brother just after sacrificing to God in a way and with vegetables that God did not approve. God could not take such vegetables kindly, no matter how fine, since it is a real blood sacrifice that must be offered, taking the life of the sacrificial animal and offering the slain animal to the Lord for one's own sin! If vegetables were used, what good can that possibly do anyone? Can a squash or carrot atone for sin? Ridiculous! But it was a religious gesture on Cain's part, and he deeply resented the reproach that came to him from God. So religion can create a beast of hatred, revenge, intolerance, and and persecution--and what beast is better than another? Christianity, to be fair to the other beasts, has been made one too, by the Crusaders who called themselves Christians while massacreing innocent people in the name of Christ and the Inquisitors in Spain who tortured the Moslem Moors and Moriscos and Jews until they "recanted" or "converted" and told where they kept their money! Today the tolerant secular-humanists like to brand Christians with the tar of intolerance, for not denying the Bible when it says homosexuality is wrong and a sin. But that is another topic we may take up elsewhere. --Ronald Ginther.

Hebrews 11:6--"But without faith it is impossible to please and be satisfactory to Him. For whoever would come near to God must (necessarily) believe that God exists and that He is a Rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him (out)." Amplifed Version.

God asks in the Psalms, "Who seeks Me among the children of men? Who?" God searches everywhere, His eye, the Holy Spirit, going forth across the world to and fro, searching for a man who seeks God sincerely, from the heart. That one, if he is found, is met by God, who will guide Him to the Truth and to Himself, in fellowship through His Son Jesus Christ. But few if any men seek God--they prefer the forms of religion, the culture and discipline and demands of religion--they seek even God's laws--or what they are told are God's laws--but they do not seek God. They prefer a distant God to one that is close and personal, abiding in their own hearts. They are told by religious men, by even religious leaders, that God is distance and aloof--that He will never abide with men, and especially will not abide IN a man! Yet that is God's whole aim--to put his precious, holy spirit in a man's heart and inner being! What God desires most of all, men deny and do everything to prevent, all the while chanting religious mantras or ritual prayers to a distant, aloof, almighty but impersonal Godhead! How can this be explained? Yet it is the universal human tendency. It is revered "tradition."

The Personal God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, seeks all men everywhere to worship and serve Him, but He still finds few takers. Even his People of Israel are mostly secular and agnostic, preferring this world to the Kingdom of God. Those who know him personally are called Christians, and that is a cultural or traditional culture that other cultures, such as the Islamic or Moslem, abhor. So the Personal God is not in the equation at all--He is shunted aside by nation after nation, which worship other gods of their own creation.

Persia (anciently called) is such a nation among the Gentiles who do not seek a Personal God. Existing for over 3,500 years, it is a den of bears and a mountain redoubt of rams, vigorous, warlike, tribal peoples, the Medes and Persians, Elamites and others, who rose up, one after the other, and sometimes together, to conquer and rule the whole civilized world (not including China and Europe, which were outside the main orbit of civilized societies centered on Babylon and Egypt). The largest empire that ever existed was probably Persia's, and Rome's was not larger. Who can view the ruins of Persepolis and Ecbatana and Susa, capitals of this great empire, without seeing this was one of the most glorious empires that ever existed on earth? It built roads over 1,000 miles long, built bridges over the Bosporus on which whole armies could pass, created a a communication system via horses, post huts with fresh horses, that extended from one end of the empire to the other, commanded armies that would be overwhelming today to most countries today, if armed only with mere rifles--this empire was built to last forever. Only until the British Empire of the 19th century was it surpassed in size. This empire, which at the start was allied with the Medes of the north part of the Persian homeland, is identified in Daniel's prophecies. The Book of Daniel in the Bible, and Esther, both identify this empire and tell of the mighty works of God there.

Daniel also receives word of the future times, when the bear-like Medo-Persians, who rode to power under Cyrus the Great (Koresh, in Persian) and conquered Babylon, will fall to a Greek, leopard-like empire, which in turn will fall to an empire composed of clay and iron mixed together (the "diverse" and fierce beast of the Roman empire). In the composite Beast-Image God showed King Nebuchadnezzar in a dream, the head was gold, the breast and arms were silver, the belly and thighs were brass, and the feet and toes were clay and iron (Daniel 2: 31-35).

God revealed the interpretation to Daniel, who told the king that he was the head of gold, but after him another kingdom, of silver, would come, and after that, one of brass would come, and after that, one of mingled iron and clay would come. These four world-kingdoms were Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greek or Hellenistic, and Roman.

Again, Daniel figured in yet anhother instance of prophetic revelation. Handwriting mysteriously appeared on the wall of the royal palace during a banquet held by Nebuchadnezzar's grandson, Belshazzar the regent son and co-ruler of Babylon under Nabonidus the last king of Babylon. Daniel was called in by Belshazzar to interpret the writing, and Daniyel was given the interpretation from God. It said that Belshazzar's kingdom was given into the hands of the Medo-Persians (the silver part of the great Beast-image dreamt by Nebuchadnezzar years before) that very night, and Darius the Mede (at the age of 32) was named as the conqueror.

Gold to silver to brass to clay and iron--we see the decline in kind and also in value of metals commenserate with the the growth in the strength of the same metals. Nothing is stronger than iron, or steel, though the admixture of clay is bound to make a very unwieldly or unstable chemical union at the end of the series.

But before the Greeks took over, Persia played a most significant role in aid of God's masterplan.

Persia made it possible for the Jews to return to their destroyed country, to restore their nation in Judaea in 536, whence the Babylonians commanded by King N ebuchadnezzar had taken them to Babylon in 606 BC, after destroying the temple and burning the city and taking the whole population into captivity (excluding the very poor, unskilled people).

Seventy years passed in captivity in Babylon, which Jeremiah the prophet of Israel had prophesied and Exekiel had discovered in reading the Prophet's book.

The Jews, under Nehemiah and Ezra, authorized by the kings of Persia, rebuilt Jerusalem's walls and also the Second Temple that lasted until King Herod's time; for this the Jews owe a great deal to the Persians, and even God calls Cyrus, "My servant," and by name, in prophecy of his coming three hundred years before he was born. This is a unique prophecy, as it was said of perhaps no other non-Jewish man, not even a man of God, God calling him "My servant" and calling him by name.

Daniel, a prince, it appears, was taken captive by the Babylonians and carried to Babylon to serve the king at his palace. There he was schooled and taught Babylonian ways and arts and skills by the best teachers at the palace. He rose in rank, due to his noble spirit and high intelligence and handsome appearance. Installed among the court magicians and star-gazers or astronomers of the day, Daniel served his original captor, Nebuchadressar, then Nabonidus, then Belshazzar the regent king of Babylon under Narbonidus (the last Babylonian king). It is all fascinating to read, but the significance is chiefly prophetic, not historical, as we are shown, in the interpretation of King Nabuchadnezzar's dream and by the dream-vision and vision of Daniel the whole course of the world to come. What other prophet stood in this position, to show so much as Daniel was shown and also revealed in writing? Surely, Daniel, postioned in Babylon, the then geopolitical hub of the world, stood up at a most propitious time for the unfolding of God's revelation of the ages to come--in and this role Persia is inextricably bound up.

In Belshazzar's reign Daniel dreamed a vision, then at another time had a vision (whether he was sleeping in the first case, and wide awake seeing the vision unfold in the second case, it is not known to me, this is the language being used). In Daniel 7 we read of Daniel's dream detailing four beasts, which parallel the four empires portrayed by the great Image. These four beasts came up out of the sea, which typifies humanity and the nations. The first beast was like a lion with eagles' wings that later became like a man in part, and the next was like a bear with ribs in its mouth and it was given command to devour much flesh, and the following one was a four-winged, four-headed leopard, and the fourth had no recognizable shape, but it was terrible and fierce and had iron teeth and had ten horns.

Daniel's vision (it is not said that he was dreaming it) was, to his thinking, connected with the first dream-vision (Daniel 8:1: "In the third year of the reign of king Belshazzar a vision appeared unto me, even unto me Daniel, after that which appeared unto me at the first.' This means either simple succession in time, or that it was connected in meaning, not just in sequential order.). This vision shows Daniel a two-horned ram pushing against a five-horned he-goat. Now the he-goat's main horn prevailed, and he broke the two horns of the ram and then stamped the ram to pieces and subdued it, but after that the main horn was broken, and four notable horns came in its place. Subsequently, a small horn came from one of the four, and the account grows very involved, as history unfolds. The vision over, Gabriel the angel appears and gives Daniel the interpretation, and then we learn that the ram is Persia, the he-goat is Grecia, and the he-goat's main horn is the first king, and the four horns stand for four kingdoms that come out of the first kingdom of the he-goat, though not as great as the first king of Grecia's in power, followed by an ominous figure, the small horn, which seems to signify the Anti-Christ who comes in the latter days.

We detail these dreams, visions, and dream-visions, originating in Nebuchadnezzar and Daniel, so that the significance of Persia in Biblical prophecy and prophetic development of the world-empires is appreciated. How can we view Iran with understanding and careful wisdom except as she is viewed in the Bible? As seen in the world of politics, Iran is merely a rogue Islamic state that is about to gain nuclear bomb and missile delivery systems that can possibly confront America's status as the world's superpower. That is not how the Bible views Iran (Persia), as these visions and dreams make clear. Persia's prime role in aiding the restoration of Israel's temple and nation after the Babylonian captivity, effected initially through the raising up of Cyrus the Great, king of the Medo-Persians who overthrew Babylon, is also part of the debt that Israel and every Bible student owes Persia (Iran). We must not think only in political terms. God thinks chiefly in redemptive terms. How different are these points of views!

This is not to say that Persia was ever aware that it was serving as the instrument of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, chiefly to aid Israel and its re-establishment in its own homeland of the Promised Land, Canaan. Pagan, polytheistic, imperialistic Persia was pursuing its own imperial aims, yet God used Persia in its ignorance.

Are bears domesticated and made to serve man in useful ways? No! They can be captured and with great care and patience trained to a limited extent to obey a man working in a circus--but that is not ordinary usefulness. A wild ram too, running on its mountainous terrain, is not domesticated. They are very formidable, as their horns make them dangerous to confront. Swift, fierce, untamable, so too with the Persians--they cannot be as other nations are as long as the imperial spirit rules them. Despite sometimes high levels of civilization, they will always seek to be pre-eminent and crave the the seat of world power--as history has shown Persia to be, over and over. How can they ever forget, with the ruins of past splendors all around to see, shouting in their ears how great they once had been and now were not?

Can modern Iranians accept a place among the nations that is third-rate without thinking it is contemptible?

The new imperial rulers of Persia, the Parthians, grew so powerful that they rivaled the Romans, and though Rome for a time succeeded in pushing their empire to the banks of the Euphrates, the Parthians remained undefeated (they simply rode ahead of the charging Romans and let them take all the empty ground they wanted). As soon as the Romans weakened, the Parthians rode westward from their ancient homelands in the mountains of Persia. The Parthians captured Roman cities and even raided Jerusalem, burning it. By then the change to a Sassanian empire was achieved. With the fall of the Roman empire, the Parthians, who could never agree amongst themselves to unify into an empire that could turn and conquer Rome, were followed by the Sassanians, a Persian people who could unify the whole vast region between the Great Sea and the Indus River of India. The Sassanian Empire was the last great Persian empire.

Persia is now called Iran. Why? The Imperial British in the 19th, early 20th century carved out power spheres in this area of the East and took this name and applied it to Persia, referring to the ancient race, the Aryans, who still largely populate this area of the Persian heartland. The Aryans are Indo-European, not Semitic, which sets them apart from the Semitic Babylonians, Assryians, and many of the Israelis. Their language is Aryan. The Parsi, religious sect of the Persian fire-worshipping religion of Zoroaster the prophet, live in India, where they sought refuge from Moslem Arab invaders long ago. Their name harks back to the name of Persia, so the ancient name lives on in this sect, which numbers something over 50,000.

But let us return to the land of Persia in ancient times, with a bit of review. The Kassites, then the Medes and Persians and Elamites, then the Helenized Persians under Antiochus of the Seleucid Empire, then the insurgent Parthians and their loosely held empire, followed by the more thorough Sassanians. Here we come to another great turn in Persia's history. The Arabs, surging under Moslem generals, came against the Sassanian empire, which lay close on their borders of Arabia. The Greek Christian empire, the Byzantine empire centered on Constantinople in Asia Minor, ruled Egypt, the land of the Bible centered on Jerusalem, and Syria, but it was too weak to stop the Arab advance. The Sassanians too were not able to resist. Despite great wealth (look at the great arched palace in Ctesiphon, their capital near the Tigris River), they were worn out in ceaseless warfare with the equally powerful Byzantines. The Arabs swept over the whole Sassanian empire, killing its last emperor and snuffing out his dynasty and killing the Zoroastrian priests and demolishing their fire temples. The people converted to Islam, or were put to the sword if they objected to conversion. The Moslem Caliphate now ruled the whole empire that the Persians had dominated. No longer wrre the Indo-European, Aryan, Persians in the saddle of power. Arabs ruled from their capitals of Baghdad and wherever else they set their seats of power. Persia fell into relative obscurity, and this lasted until the modern period, the 19th century.

There is a long, complicated account of the Arab Caliphates and their various fortunes and misfortunes, all starting the 8th and 9th centuries when Mohammed set the whole nation of Arabs into motion on an imperial venture. One great misfortune that nearly ended the Caliphates and Arab domination forever was the juggernaut from the plains and mountains of Mongolia, the Mongols. Animist, they had no respect for Arab religion and came with so many armed horsemen that no power could stop their advance. Kingdom after kingdom, city after city, town and villages too, were swept off the face of the earth by the Mongols, whose chosen policy to the conquered was to "scorched earth," they sought to return the earth to good grazing land for their vast numbers of horses. It is said they destroyed, eradicated, fifty thousand cities, towns, and villages as they swept across Asia and the Middle East. Many places never repopulated, the Mongols did such a good job of turning the land back to grass and pasture.

The Mongols sacked Baghdad and killed 90,000 people, putting them to the sword and beheading them. They liked to make huge pyramids of the skulls, set them in mud or rock, to serve as monuments to their unstoppable military might. This terrified into submission anyone who might possibly think to resist their rule. If a city resisted, it was utterly wiped out, man, woman, child, and beast, and the whole city burnt and leveled. Those that surrendered unconditionally, were spared, but the Mongols were not kind masters. They only tolerated human life not their own, they did not encourage it. Gradually, however, they grew more accustomed to civilization and adopted its ways, and eventually the empire began folding backwards to their origins in Mongolia. Life returned to normal in the lands the Mongols left behind, or something next to normal. Arab civilization, which had risen to its greatest heights before the Mongols, now returned to something like former glory, but there were other invaders, turned Moslem, that rivaled the Arabs. The Seljuk Turkish tribesmen from Central Asia, followed by the Ottomans, were some of the greatest contenders with Arab dominancy in the Middle East and Persia.

The Persians were able, once the Arabs were too weak to reassert themselves in Persia, to regain some of their own sovereignty. The Shiite division had set them apart somewhat from the Sunnite part of Islam, but this was not the greatest disadvantage. It is just that the salad days of Persia were over, with the fall of the Byzantines and the rise of Europe and the Ottoman Turks. The Ottoman Turks succeeded in conquering North Africa and most of the Middle East, even as far as Persia. The Turks were brutal and methodical and relentless in their rule over the subject peoples they had conquered. The Caliphate, transferred to Egypt from Baghdad, was even taken along with Mohammed's swords and other relics, to Constantinople by the Ottoman sultan. Where were the Persians? They were relegated again to a sort of backwater in the Moslem world--far from the center, where they had long been in times previous.

A change came again, though not so great as previous ones. Persian strong men arose, Moslem in religion, arose to unify the Persians, despite the Turkish power centered in Constantinople. A commoner called himsef "Shah," and established a dynasty that continued until the 20th century. The imperialist British, ascendant for a time in the Middle East, before and after the Ottoman Empire's collapse, wrote many treaties and established many national boundaries for various new states. These were spheres of British colonial interest, of course, and were more or less within the British Empire. Iraq, Egypt, Arabia, Afghanistan, India came into being, thanks to the British. The British did not care particularly what religion dominated the various nationalities as long as they were sufficiently obedient to their colonial masters and didn't cause trouble. They paid dearly for this, as when they brought thousands of colonial Indian soldiers and stationed them in Baghdad. Thousands of these loyal soldiers were slain by the "Iraqi Arabs", and their graves are there to this day--unrecognized, forgotten. Why? It wasn't that the Indians were dark skinned (they compared favorably in color to the Arabs of Baghdad, in fact. It was their religion--Hindu, which was unforgivably pagan, polytheistic to the monotheistic Moslems. They could not abide a pagan, a worshipper of many gods, to occupy what they believed was the land of Allah, under Allah's rule forever. So they killed the soldiers whose very presence humiliated a follower of Mohammed.

The Shahs of Persia gained in power as time went on and the Ottomans were out of the picture. The British lost their hold on the region too, letting go of neighboring states one after the other. But a rising Christian power, America, came into the picture. Ameria rose to a superpower status after defeat of Germany in two world wars by England and her allies. Ameria surpassed even Britain in power, and Persia, now Iran, had to come to terms with this power just as everyone else did. The Soviet Empire to the north, an atheist empire, was not liked by the Persians, who were Moslems and had been so since the 7th-8th century. How could they agree with atheists who persecuted Moslems in Central Asia, which had been forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Empire? America was ruled by Christians (called Crusaders), apparently, so there was no soul tie there either. Yet the realistic-minded Shahs, seeking to bring ancient Iran into the modern world dominated by Western Civilization and Western technology, used the oil industry developed by the British to gain money to build their own Western-style infrastructure and Western-style army. The only problem was not that they could modernize but one thing they could not change: the Shah's regime was despotic, completely monarchical, archaic, a relic out of step with the times. The people were not part of any real decision-making, and the Shah ruled as the absolute authority, not able to find trustworthy and capable ministers (as he said so himself to visiting Americans). He jailed all dissidents and resisters, when he did not exile them. Those he jailed were tortured and even put to death. The resistance grew, despite a strong alliance with the U.S.

Having been suppressed for a long time by the progressive, Westerizing shahs, the Iranians seized on their traditional religion, Islam, in order to gain support of the people and overthrow him. They were the fundamentalists, he was the liberal, and they worked day and night to oust him any way they could--if not able to assassinate him.

Finally, their exiled leader, the Western-educated cleric called Ayatollah Khomeni, returned from Paris, and there was a revolt. Who would support the Shah in a show-down? He had spent hundreds of millions and created a massive re-modernization program in the country, but it did not reach to the villagers who were as poor as they had always been for centuries. The capital was modern, bustling, with an Intercontinental Hotel, and thronged with people dressed in the latest Parisian fashions, but what did that mean to the poor villagers, who only drew comfort from the mullahs who called the people to prayers five times a day from their local mosque's minaret?

The Shah, despite American backing, was forced out, and he fled with his family abroad, eventually dying in Walter Reed Hospital in the U.S. His son continued with a government in exile. Meanwhile, a theocracy of the fundamentalist Shiite branch of Islam was established in Iran, clamping down on every aspect of life in the country. Women were forced to wear the long robe and head covering. Modern films and Western culture was sharply curtailed or banned. Islamic law was instituted, where it had been allowed to fall into disuse or neglect. Persian oil continued to flow, furnishing the huge revenues to build a powerful military machine. A savage war broke out between Iran and Iraq, but when it ended, Iran emerged a bigger power. Iraq lost two wars with the U.S., and Iran stood by, not involved directly, but financing various terrorist organizations. It even financed Hezbollah, to go and attack Israel, a state Iran's mullah-dominated government hated.

Evangelical Christians had always been few, and continued to be persecuted in Iran. Christianity, which has been in Persia and Iran since the times of the Romans and Parthians, remained a minor sect, but because it sought converts, it was considered dangerous and anathema, and so was severely curtailed by Islamic authorities, no matter who ruled.

Increasingly, as the 1990s gave way to the 21st century, Iran moved into a head-to-head confrontation with America, who had lately established a significant presence and beachhead in Iraq as well as Afghanistan, both Moslem states, after conquering them. This did not deter or frighten Iran's leaders who had the money to continue building a nuclear capability, with underground plants that they reasoned would escape any bombing, such as had taken out Iraq's reactor in the 1980's by an aerial strike force of Israeli jets and bombs.

Iran was not merely satisfied with nuclear capability, to produce nuclear energy as well as nuclear bombs. She had developed missiles and high-tech guidance systems able to carry the bombs. It is not yet known or admitted by America's leaders if Iran can send these nuclear bombs to London and even to America, but if carried in suitcases or transported in cargo containers, they could accomplish the same objective of destroying Israel and also neutralizing America as a power in the Middle East.

Iran is now a very menacing bear-like creature, able to frighten even the Americans with destruction on a vast scale. Certainly, they have become a major threat to the existence of Israel as well. The president of Iran has lately threatened to wipe out Israel, calling for its destruction repeatedly. Why? It all devolves on the religious views of the president and his mullahs. They believe in the supremacy of Islam, or their brand of it, and the ultimate destruction and subjection of the Western powers including Britain and America. Using Western technology and weaponry they can afford to buy and install with vast oil revenues, and deputizing a number of terrorist organizations, they think they are now positioned to destroy the West or at least give it such a blow it will no longer control the world. Here is the militant, bellicose East, willing, ready, and equipped, to reverse history and gain supremacy in the world! Here is Persia, a den of bears, about to devour the whole civilized world in behalf of the impersonal Allah and the Messianic Mahdi, the so-called 12th Iman, or Holy Leader of Islam descended from Mohammed's family blood line.

This anti-Christ, anti-Jewish, anti-Israel and anti-Western spirit and empire-building power has the entire Iranian oil resources and over forty million people, not to mention global terrorist organizations, in its arsenal that includes nuclear weapons (or will include them very shortly). Fortunately, this imperial power comes to the fore without being any surprise to God. God is in control. He is over Islam and its fundamentalists and their violent agendas to conquer the world for Allah and Islamic law. He alone will make the decisions, whether Iran rises any further, or falls. All Christians need to pray for mercy for Iran, that the Gospel go forth in that land and she not be destroyed, and that she not cast the world into war and ruin as she now seems capable of doing. Yet the end is clear, whatever transpires: God wins! Christ triumphs! And His Kingdom will know no end (unlike the empire of every "lion," "bear," "ram," leopard," and "he-goat," and "diverse beast," in world history). Unlike those beasts of man, the Lion of Judah, when He comes to power in Jerusalem His capital, will come to stay! He will rule the nations with truth and justice and righteousness. His rule will know no end. Hallelujah to the King of kings, Jesus Christ (Yeshua).

Note: Since this article was posted, prophecies by an evangelical prophet has been made public, that bring wonderful news. Iran's president will be confronted by the Lord Jesus personally, face to face, and if he will not turn at that point to the good, it will be all over with him. God is going to bring a change of regime and revolution, producing an open door to the spread of the Gospel in this once-Christian land, and from there it will spread to Iraq, which is still sinking into sectarian Moslem violence and anarchy. God has given this good news--I truly believe--concerning Iran. It completely flies in the face of the dark storm clouds gathered over the whole region where Iran. Soon, it will all be swept away, and Revival and Salvation will sweep Iran. Glory to God!

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