Monday, June 03, 2024

Anonymous Asks (305)

“Does the Bible predict an EMP attack?”

Early on a Friday in mid-April this year, Israel allegedly attempted a missile strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. News services documented multiple explosions, and some reported a successful strike. The Iranians claimed their high tech air defenses had done the job for which they were designed, and that whatever the Israelis had launched in their direction had been summarily shot down. End of story, for now at least.

The comparatively small scale of the attack prompted internet speculation about an EMP.

EMPs in So Many Words

Less than a week prior, an English language Indian newspaper had reported Israel was plotting just such an attack, and provided its readers with this non-technical explanation:

“An Electromagnetic Pulse or EMP is basically a burst of electromagnetic energy that emits strong radiation, which could potentially cause severe damage to electronic devices and systems. In simple words, the EMP is similar to a jammer, but it could have a permanent impact. The situation was first observed during the testing of nuclear weapons in the 20th century.

The electromagnetic strike could affect all electronic devices and communications such as telephones, cell phones, refrigerators, generators, inverters, TVs, radios, cars, etc. The pulse can also destroy all internet-connected devices, power grid transformers, substations, and air traffic control systems. Experts say that an Israeli EMP strike on Iran will ‘bring it back to the Stone Age.’ ”

An EMP detonation does not cause direct harm to human beings. How long fried circuits might take to repair remains an open question until somebody successfully detonates an EMP in a densely populated area.

Back to the Stone Age

Some argue the “back to the Stone Age” comment is mere rhetoric. At worst, they say, the loss of electronics and vehicles only pushes civilization back a couple hundred years or so. But a moment’s consideration tells us that’s a wild understatement of potential EMP impact. It’s one thing to live in a pre-electronic society, where beasts of burden are bred, trained and ridden in large numbers and habituated to pulling carts and plows. It’s another thing entirely to have to begin that breeding and training process from scratch, let alone to build the carts, wagons and plows. It’s one thing to live without electricity and computer assistance when you have all the necessary tools and skills at hand, and another thing entirely to rediscover practices and recreate equipment abandoned for generations. It’s one thing to live in agrarian society where food production is distributed across a nation and local trading can get you what you don’t have access to at home. It’s another thing entirely to be trapped in a city of millions with the water and electricity turned off, no way to store perishables, and no delivery trucks replenishing the food supply. It’s reasonable to say Stone Age man was better equipped to meet his daily needs than modern man in the wake of a sudden loss of the technology upon which we depend.

The fact that the EMP does not directly take human life is small consolation. Its long-term consequences would surely cause massive loss of human life. More importantly, a series of successful EMP attacks would cripple a nation’s ability to wage war or to respond to any sort of threat effectively.

EMP Technology Anticipated?

Does the Bible describe this sort of situation in the end times? Well, maybe. Consider the following verses:

“They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks.”

“You will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army.”

“On that day, declares the Lord, I will strike every horse with panic, and its rider with madness.”

“And the wealth of all the surrounding nations shall be collected, gold, silver, and garments in great abundance. And a plague like this plague shall fall on the horses, the mules, the camels, the donkeys, and whatever beasts may be in those camps.”

All these verses unambiguously describe a future, final assault on Jerusalem by the nations of the earth waged with ancient weaponry in the complete absence of modern military technology or, alternatively, its aftermath. The traditional approach for expositors has been to suggest that the prophets are simply describing the end times wars in terminology familiar to their pre-Common Era audiences, who would not have understood terms like tanks, drones and ICBMs even if the Spirit of God had seen fit to use them. Why not? Swords and spears are used as metaphors for other kinds of weapons elsewhere in scripture.

Explaining the Future to the Past

Moreover, the expositors have a valid point: How would a prophet describe robo-weaponry, modern vehicles, battle armor or aerial assault devices if he were attempting to do so?

Maybe like this:

“Their appearance is like the appearance of horses, and like war horses they run. As with the rumbling of chariots, they leap on the tops of the mountains, like the crackling of a flame of fire devouring the stubble, like a powerful army drawn up for battle.

Before them peoples are in anguish; all faces grow pale. Like warriors they charge; like soldiers they scale the wall. They march each on his way; they do not swerve from their paths. They do not jostle one another; each marches in his path; they burst through the weapons and are not halted. They leap upon the city, they run upon the walls, they climb up into the houses, they enter through the windows like a thief.”

Ah, you say, that’s just a really poetic description of locusts. Maybe so. But Ghost Robotics has already developed a quadrupedal robot for military applications that looks and moves a little bit like a metal dog. Watching these devices in action, it’s not hard to imagine a “Version 6.0” that looks and moves like a small war horse but can run on walls, climb into houses and enter through windows. Huge numbers of these in action would be a terrifying prospect.

More importantly, I think if the prophets were trying to describe modern military tech, this is how they would probably do it: with words such as “appearance”, “like war horses”, “like warriors” and “like soldiers”. It’s clear in Joel that these devices or creatures (real locusts or otherwise) look and move like something they are not. I do not think a prophet would plainly state that the nations of the earth will ride into Jerusalem on horses, as Ezekiel does, or write that the Lord will strike “every horse” with panic, as Zechariah does, unless they were speaking literally. How does a military vehicle or tank “panic” exactly? I’d like to see that. How would a plague like the one that rots human flesh, tongues and eyes in their sockets afflict mechanical devices and transport vehicles, seeing as they are not made of flesh? I’d like to see that too.

Or maybe not.

A Yes-and-No Answer

Over a million Rwandans were massacred in a three-month period by soldiers with machetes, clubs and low-tech guns, more men and women than have perished in the Ukraine in the two-plus years since the much more technically-sophisticated Russian invasion. For all their primitive qualities, swords and spears are effective weapons, and horses, mules, camels and donkeys have been transporting human beings, equipment and supplies efficiently for millennia.

So, yes, the prophets describe a massive end-times altercation exactly like it would have to take place in a post-EMP environment. Or, like it would have to take place if the Gentile armies descending on Israel in unprecedented numbers anticipate the possibility of an EMP being used against them, and take precautions to avoid being effectively disarmed or stopped in their tracks by Israeli technology. But the prophets also describe end times altercations that could be ultra-modern in their military complexity. The fact is that we don’t know how to best interpret these passages.

EMP technology is real, and it’s available right now. The odds that some nation or nations will attempt to use it in a major upcoming conflict are non-trivial, and the need to defend against it strategically is (or ought to be) increasingly a factor in any military plan of action. If the prophets anticipated that, it would not surprise me.

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