Please note: We are unable to post David’s 1st, 2nd, 5th and 6th blogs from Lebanon/Iraq because of security reasons.
Becky and I are now in northern Iraq. We’re not far from the city of Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, much of which is now controlled by ISIS militants. Erbil was attacked by ISIS forces last summer, but was repelled by U.S. airstrikes and Kurdish soldiers.
We feel quite safe here—at least 50 miles from ISIS-controlled Mosul (where just a few days ago, ISIS militants publicly executed, by machine gun, 13 teenage boys for watching a soccer match on TV).
We’re here to meet with partners who are serving Iraqi refugees who’ve fled from ISIS terror. In my next blog, I’ll tell you as much as I can about that. But in this, my first blog from Iraq, a quick geography and history lesson:
Today’s 25 million Kurdish people live in a region that includes parts of Iraq, Turkey, Iran and Syria, which collectively make up Kurdistan. We’re in Iraqi Kurdistan. They don’t fly the Iraqi flag here. They fly their own flag. Most Iraqi Kurds would love to have their own nation.
Iraqi Kurdistan is a place that is rich in biblical history. The ruins of ancient Ninevah, the citizens of which Jonah called to repentance, is overlapped by Mosul suburbs. And you can visit the tombs of Jonah, Daniel and Nahum in various cities of Iraqi Kurdistan (although those prophets all have tombs in other countries as well!).
The Kurds trace their roots back to the ancient Medes of Persia, mentioned so often in the Bible. You may recall the prophet Daniel’s eyewitness report of the time that King Belshazzar saw the “handwriting on the wall.” Belshazzar died that same night, and the city of Babylon (also located in modern Iraq) fell to Darius the Mede (see Dan. 5).
It was that same Darius the Mede who was tricked into throwing Daniel into the lion’s den, and who decreed after Daniel’s deliverance:
I make a decree that in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed, and His dominion will be forever. He delivers and rescues and performs signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, who has also delivered Daniel from the power of the lions (Dan. 6:26-27).
God loves the Medes/Kurds! And He’s been trying to reach them for a long time. And we are certain He has succeeded at times. Some Medes also are found speaking in tongues on the day of Pentecost (see Acts 2:9).
But let’s go back even further in Kurdish history.
Sometime before Daniel’s sojourn in Babylon, prior to 600 B.C., a man named Zoroaster gained a following in the general region of modern Kurdistan, giving birth to a religion that exists to this day—Zoroastrianism.
Zoroaster preached to his contemporary polytheists about one wise, pure, benevolent God who created everything and who alone is worthy of worship. And Zoroaster downgraded the many commonly-worshipped deities of his day who delighted in evil to the status of demons who were under the rule of God’s chief adversary!
Zoroaster believed that anyone could know the truth about God from observing what God has created, and through their consciences, a very biblical idea (see Romans 1). To this day, Zoroastrianism’s moral teaching can be summed up in three phrases: Good thoughts, good words, and good deeds.
Zoroastrianism teaches that humanity, given free will by the Creator, is caught in the struggle between the good that stems from God and the evil that stems from His adversary. That struggle will last thousands of years. In the final assault of evil, the sun and moon will darken, the people of the world will turn to evil, and an evil person who serves God’s chief adversary will terrorize the earth.
But ultimately a Savior, born of a virgin, will appear. He will resurrect all the dead, even those in hell, for a final judgment. The wicked will be returned to hell, and the Savior will forever banish evil. The earth will be regenerated and its people will be made immortal.
So Christians have a lot in common with Zoroastrians! (I am not saying, of course, that all the teaching of Zoroaster or modern Zoroastrianism is biblical.)
But here is perhaps the most interesting factoid about Zoroaster’s original followers: They became known as the Maz Maga, and Zoroastrian priests were called Magi. For that reason, some are persuaded that it was Zoroastrian priests who were the “wise men from the east” whom God supernaturally led by means of a star to discover the new King born in Bethlehem.
God is the Great Evangelist, always trying to reach people with His love. He has not given up on the Kurds! And that is why we’re here! Stay tuned…