There’s No Place like Homs [Home(s)]
There’s nothing that we Americans cherish more than a trip down memory lane, all the while peering into a future that we hope will bring us to wherever we want to be and whatever we long to do. We love to reminiscence about bygone days; to also reflect on dramatic dreams that transport us to exotic places filled with exhilarating adventures or inspire us to achieve the unachievable.
Even if we don’t get there or can’t do that or haven’t tried yet, we nevertheless paint pictures, tell stories, write books, and make movies that whet our appetite to actually or vicariously follow and fulfill those dreams.
From the pre-Baby Boomer generation right down to Generation X, hardly any among us doesn’t know, has never heard, or hasn’t seen one such classic tale of a young girl’s fantasy of faraway places … to do more and be more than she ever could be or do at home.
Yes, I’m talking about the award-winning movie released a whopping 77 years ago, The Wizard of Oz!
It was a masterful story beginning with the humdrum life of a small town Kansas family whose daughter was happy, but she longed for a place and a purpose somewhere over the rainbow.
Suddenly her lackluster black and white existence exploded into a world of captivating color, filled with characters and creatures that would both help and hinder her ambiguous ambition to get to an even more beautiful paradise over the rainbow. It would be easy to get there; just follow the yellow brick road.
Of course, there was much more to it than a road with yellow bricks. Such paths can be fraught with danger. Though Dorothy would be encouraged by munchkins and accompanied by faithful friends (Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion), there were formidable obstacles in her quest to find her real home. For a while she really wasn’t sure what or where this home might be. Could or should it be the beautiful land in which she found herself? Would The Emerald City be a heavenly destination? Maybe, but what about her home in Kansas? Yes, it must be her home in Kansas.
After the incredible journey, the good witch confirmed Dorothy’s initial impression which slowly but surely became her homesick heart’s desire to return. We all remember Dorothy’s final words spoken beyond the rainbow:
“There’s no place like home!”
Alongside of other authors who have written much about the Wizard of Oz, it would be fun to explore the symbolism of this film in more detail; but that is obviously not the specific purpose or genre of this or any Eye of Prophecy article. Rather the thematic commitment of Eye of Prophecy stated on the home page of this website is: “For the essence of prophecy is to provide a clear witness for Jesus” (Revelation 19:10).
However, I will offer one observation: Although the movie was a delightful fantasy that in some ways metaphorically depicted real life including our dreams and aspirations, it also has a dark side. And I’m not alluding to wicked witches and flying monkeys and poppy fields. Rather, I’m referring to the deceitfully clever two-part world view conveyed by the author of the book from which the movie was made: (1) our home on this earth is, by far, the best and only home we will ever have. (2) We, alone, have the power within us to make a heaven on this earth. All Dorothy needed to do was to make a wish, click the heels of her magic slippers three times and presto…!
On the contrary: There is a heaven … it’s real. According to the true and living God of the Bible, it is a far better place than this wicked, warped, war-torn, is-this-all-there-is world of ours. God has promised that all who believe and receive the sacrificial atonement of his only Son, Messiah Jesus, will one day be with him and the host of heaven, where we will live forever.
Way over the rainbow!
At the end of the Millennium reign of Christ, there will be a New Jerusalem that will make the Emerald City or any real (beautiful) city in the world seem like a dump heap. God will also perform a majestic makeover of the earth and heavens to usher in eternity. That earth will be a full circle return to the Garden of Eden, but even better. With the greatest and most wonderful realty of all:
“…Look, God’s home is now among his people. He will live with them, and they will be his people (believers in Messiah Jesus). God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever” (Revelation 21:3-4).
If anyone thinks that their home on this earth is all there is or will be, then let’s take a look at just one city in the Middle East that gives a whole new meaning to there’s no place like home. But with a polar opposite. It conjures a stark reality that can be recalled vividly by those who lived in European cities during World War II, or to those of us who have looked at photographs or seen film footage of the destruction. Cities in Poland or France that were reduced to rubble by massive bombing raids conducted by the German Luftwaffe. Or cities in China demolished by the Japanese. Or out of necessary effort to win the war, German cities leveled by Allied bombers.
The City of Homs and the Civil War in Syria
I’ve chosen this city because its name is Homs—located in western Syria not far from the Mediterranean Sea about 150 miles due north of Damascus, the capital of Syria. In the entire world, there’s no place like Hom(e)s. Sadly, not any way, shape, or form in a positive or optimistically nostalgic sense of the famous phrase uttered by Dorothy that magically whisked her back to what she believed was the only real home she would ever have or need.
Indeed, the deplorable destruction of Homs is mind-boggling, yet this devastation is a precursor of even greater carnage to come especially during the Great Tribulation. Some of this world-wide catastrophe will be inflicted by war; some by the direct hand of Almighty God.
For example, God’s final judgment of the earth: “…And a great earthquake struck—the worst since people were placed on the earth. The great city of Babylon split into three sections, and the cities of many nations fell into heaps of rubble … and every island disappeared, and all the mountains were leveled” (Revelation 16:18-20).
Along with Arab Spring uprisings that took place in Middle East Arab countries like Libya and Egypt (that have deteriorated into an Arab Winter), Syrians began their opposition with peaceful protests against President Bashar al-Assad and his repressive government. At the time this was more than just the majority of Syrian Sunni Muslims aligning against the minority Alawite sect of Islam practiced by Assad and his regime. It was a concerted effort of the common people to alleviate the horrible economic conditions and gain more freedom from their oppressors.
With a prewar population around 1.2 million (some sources say closer to 1.5 million), Homs was the third largest city in Syria, behind Aleppo and Damascus. If not the first, Homs was one of the first cities to protest Assad’s tyranny over Syria. This protest took place in March, 2011.
(Homs, Syria Before the War)
Assad responded with unnecessarily violent and relentless armed force, with no alternative of the protestors but to defend themselves or risk more deprivation, imprisonment, and death. In order to remain in power, it was clearly Assad’s intent to completely crush all opposition, peaceful or not. To minimize government troop casualties, Assad laid siege to Homs, with a deliberate strategy to starve not only the rebels but also the entire population. This led to hundreds of thousands in Homs (and all over Syria) to flee; which, in turn, has produced some four million Syria refugees.
For nearly three years Syrian insurgents fighting for The Free Syrian Army under the quasi-government labeled the National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces scored several victories over government troops. So much so that Assad controlled less than 20% of Syria at one time or another. However, in the last two years, Assad has regained the advantage in several regions of Syria, including the city of Homs.
This siege deprived the rebels and citizens who refused to leave of basic needs such as food and water. One Homs’ resident in late 2013 described the horrible conditions:
“There is no food … we have many casualties, many people who are diseased because of the lack of food. Many have died because we don’t have the equipment or medicines to save them … People were eating anything that comes out of the ground, plants, and even grass…”
By the end of January, 2014, the Old City of Homs was still controlled by the rebels, but they realized it was a lost cause. Within a few weeks they completely withdrew, having failed to break the unbearable siege. The conquest of Homs permitted the Alawite government under Assad to consolidate their hold in central Syria, linking the capital, Damascus, to strategic areas along the Mediterranean coast.
A Ghost Town
Through this suffocating siege and indiscriminate brutal bombings that led to mass evacuations, Homs literally became a ghost town; conceivable for a small town anywhere in the world, whether by war or for other reasons. But for a thriving city with well over a million in population, a ghost town was unimaginable.
Although the Syrian Government allowed non-combatants (who were at least neutral to the government) to return to Homs, few have done so. Some who did return, at least to check on the condition of their homes in particular and the city in general, were stunned at what they saw.
Here is a description from an Associated Press article written by columnist Maeva Bambuck, posted in The Arizona Republic on March 6, 2016:
“Soldiers still patrol the streets, some of which have green grass sprouting up through the rubble while others are still coated in chalk white ash. Many are lined with the carcasses of burnt-out cars. Entire neighborhoods are without shops, electricity or running water. A monumental reconstruction effort would be needed to rebuild the city, but it’s unlikely to begin before the end of the war. In the meantime, some streets in Homs are slowly coming back to life. In one street in the Baba Amr neighborhood, women could be seen walking children…”
(Homs, Syria after the Syrian Civil War Began)
Yet, the deplorable conditions that still prevail and will remain for a long time are reflected in the last part of this article about one family:
“Buothayna Hawlani recently returned to Baba Amr (neighborhood in Homs) with her husband and six children. Their house had been ransacked and burned. The walls were riddled with bullet-holes and the ceiling had collapsed. The family sleeps in the abandoned home of a neighbor who agreed to let them stay there…”
Said Hawlani, “We are left with nothing, we can’t live in the house at all. It is very painful.”
Multiply this Syrian family by hundreds of thousands of people and tens of thousands of homes (in Homs), and you get the gruesome big picture.
Though the devastation is greater than any other city in Syria or Iraq, Homs is but one example of many cities and towns in two of several war-scarred countries in the Middle East and Africa.
Homs is illustrative of what will happen in much greater severity during the Tribulation, which will last seven years after the soon to happen Rapture. Homs is also representative of what has taken place down through the ages to nations and cities who have never acknowledged, or abandoned, or denied, or defied the true and living God. Along with others who truly care about the tragic repercussions of war on otherwise innocent civilians, I am appalled at the devastation of this Syrian city and the death, deprivation and displacement of its people. Yet, the underlying reason is succinctly and strongly stated in Scripture:
“Blessed in the nation whose God is the Lord…” (Psalms 33:12). This applied to ancient Israel when she loved, worshipped, and obeyed the Lord God. And to modern-day Israel, because God has begun to fulfill his magnificent promise to restore his special possession physically and one day soon spiritually. A few other nations have been blessed (mostly for a temporary period of time) including the United States of America, whose government was founded on Judaic-Christian principles found in Scripture. Whose God is the Lord, himself … or was.
Conversely, how can we or why would we expect God to continue to bless and protect this once great nation when we continue to expel him from the hallowed halls of Congress, from the fertile grounds of our children’s schools and universities, from public display in town-squares, from mention of his name by our military chaplains, and even from many church pulpits across this land? This once great nation was built on Christian precepts and principles, but I fear we are no longer a “Christian nation.” We have replaced the true and living God and his Messiah with the god of secular humanism which, among many other grievous wrongs, not only allows but subsidizes the inexcusable sacrifice of millions of unborn children on the altar of abortion.
God spared Nineveh, a city of a Gentile nation, Assyria, but only because her citizens turned to God for forgiveness. But Nineveh resumed her wicked ways and was eventually conquered, with Assyria completely wiped out as a nation by Babylon. Then Babylon by Persia, Persia by Greece, and Greece by Rome. And, where is the mighty Roman Empire today? Where is the Third Reich that Hitler boasted would last a thousand years? It lasted all of 12 years.
All of the signs are clear and getting clearer that God’s final plan for the ages is unfolding in our generation. Listen to the words of our great God, who will soon judge the nations like never before.
“…At the time I have planned, I will bring justice against the wicked … I warned the proud, ‘Stop your boasting!’ I told the wicked, ‘Don’t raise your fists! Don’t raise your fists in defiance at the heavens or speak with such arrogance.’ … It is God alone who judges; he decides who will rise and who will fall” (Psalms 75:2-7).
And, “Now then, you kings, act wisely! Be warned, you rulers of the earth! Serve the Lord with reverent fear, and rejoice with trembling. Submit to God’s royal son, or he will become angry, and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—for his anger flares up in an instant. But what joy for all who take refuge in him!” (Psalms 2:10-12).
Our holy and just God equally extends compassion, forgiveness, and mercy.
“Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land” (II Chronicles 7:14).
Although this conditional promise from the Lord was directed primarily to Israel, it also extends to Gentile nations in principle and practice, such as Nineveh and to the United States of America.
Indeed, there is no place like Homs on the earth. And thank God there aren’t too many more like it as we speak. One utterly ruined city is enough. But ever so sadly, there will be many more cities reduced to rubble during the massive man-made wars and God-imposed judgments of the Great Tribulation, and possibly some before the Rapture.
For instance, during the last half of the Tribulation the awesome destruction of Rome encoded in Scripture as Babylon, for protection of the author of Revelation and other 1st century Christians.
“Babylon is fallen—that great city is fallen! She has become a home for demons” (Revelation 18:2).
And, “…How terrible, how terrible for you. O Babylon, you great city! In a single moment God’s judgment came on you” (Verse 10).
And, “…All your luxuries and splendor are gone forever, never to be yours again” (Verse 14).
Also, “How terrible, how terrible for that great city! … In a single moment it is all gone” (Verse 19).
[Depiction of Babylon’s (Rome’s) Destruction]
Here is a prophecy about another (the most well-known) city in Syria: “The oracle concerning Damascus. Behold, Damascus is about to be removed from being a city and will become a fallen ruin” (Isaiah 17:1).
Having mentioned this in a couple of prior Eye of Prophecy articles, I’ll simply summarize (based on historical evidence both Biblical and secular) by saying that I’m convinced this prophecy was fulfilled when the Assyrians conquered Damascus around 732 B.C, then ten years later vanquished the ten northern tribes of Israel. However, there very well could be another devastation of Damascus during the Tribulation (or even before).
Returning to Homs … What’s Left of It
First, to clarify that Homs is an Arabic named city and is actually pronounced Hims. I waited until now because the pronunciation doesn’t work with my Wizard of Oz analogy of, there’s no place like Hom(e)s! As you can see by now, my awkward (if you didn’t know the correct pronunciation, the spelling would suggest Hahms) deception had a purpose. You do see it don’t you?!
Let’s examine a more positive story that comes out of Homs, Syria. One of several examples the world over that (if the media cares to search and report) reminds us that something good can be found in the most shocking situations of life. That the darkest night will yield to the morning light.
In a March, 5th, 2016 article posted on the online new source of Aish.com, written by Dr. Yvette Alt Miller, we are introduced to Aboud Dandachi, a 39-year old Syrian currently living in Istanbul, Turkey. I chose Dr. Miller’s article to dovetail with today’s Eye of Prophecy post, because Aboud’s pre-refugee residence was none other than Homs, Syria!
(Another photo of Homs before the War)
Surprisingly, however, the article concerns Dandachi’s experience with and changed views of Israel and Israelis.
Aboud was raised both in Syria and Saudi Arabia and attended a university in Jordan. As would be expected, he and his fellow Arabs harbored a huge distrust of and animosity toward Jews, especially Jews who lived in Israel. But when the Syrian civil war erupted and during the ensuing years of exile, he, as the article states, “…began to reconsider many of his assumptions.”
Dr. Miller quotes Aboud Dandachi: “It was a gradual process, when it increasingly dawned on me that no Israeli had ever done me any harm whatsoever – and yet I was a refugee precisely because of what fellow Syrians and Arabs had done to my city. So why on earth would I want to be enemies with Israelis? It makes about as much sense as being enemies with someone from India or Japan or Argentina?”
Dr. Miller continues: “At the same time, Dandachi began to hear about Jewish and Israeli organizations that were mobilizing to help Syrian refugees – often at great danger to themselves. Hundreds of Syrians have received life-saving medical treatment in Israeli hospitals. Israel’s army has operated a field hospital at the border with Syria. Israeli aid workers are working with Syrian refugees in Greece, Germany, the Balkans and Jordan, and ordinary Israelis have flocked to donate clothes and supplies (first removing Hebrew-language tags and writing in order to disguise their origin in a Jewish state)…”
(Another Photo of Homs after the War Began)
*Note: Please consider reading the Eye of Prophecy article entitled, The Heart and Soul of Israel (posted 1-4-14). Although I’ve written many articles on or about Israel, that article is a microcosm of (as the title states) the wonderful and generous heart and soul of not just Israel as a nation, but the Jews as a people. It includes similar examples of Israeli aid and acts of kindness to those who are sworn enemies of Israel even more than the Syrians … Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
Continuing with Dr. Miller’s article: “As he read and learned more about what Israeli and Jewish individuals and groups were doing, Dandachi, explained, his thinking gradually changed. The (his) impetus to find a way to publicly say, ‘thank you’ came in 2014, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited wounded Syrians at the Golan Heights.”
Said Aboud to Dr. Miller, “I remember that the Syrian opposition then said that Netanyahu should stop using wounded Syrians for propaganda and other nonsense. I told the opposition (the rebels) at the time: ‘Are you crazy? You can’t even say thank you?’ It is so immature.”
Apparently, Dr. Miller discovered Aboud’s endeavor through a website he set up in December, 2015, for the express purpose of proclaiming to all who would listen, “Thank you, Am Yisrael,” which is the title of his website. Thank you, people of Israel.
In one of his posts, Aboud writes: “It is said that one of the truest moral tests of a society is in how it treats those in need, and who have nothing to offer in return save for gratitude. It is a challenge that this generation of Israelis and Jews have met with exemplary generosity and charity, and it is that generosity that Thank You Am Israel was set up in acknowledgment and appreciation of. Thank you to the people of Israel and the Jewish people the world over, for showing kindness and charity to Syrians, whether it is through your IDF medical teams, your aid workers in Greece and the Balkans, or your congregations in North America raising money to aid and sponsor Syrian refugees. God bless you and protect you.”
My immediate and enduring response to Aboud’s incredible (after all, he is an Arab from Syria which has been, and still is as a nation, one of Israel’s most avowed enemies) change of heart and mind toward Israel is: “AMEN.”
Israel’s unselfish and unrequited kindness even toward her enemies is the stuff that much Biblical prophecy is made of. Though she has fought Arabs and Muslim nations for her very survival, and continues to defend herself against almost daily terrorist’s attacks, Israel is beginning to fulfill her destiny. First as a nation reborn from the floods of dispersion and fires of Nazi death camps; and soon her wide-spread spiritual rebirth by opening individual and collective hearts to the Messiah who died for the Jews (and Gentiles) and rose from the dead to seal the New Covenant of Grace. Soon, very soon, Messiah Yeshua (Jesus) will return to set up his glorious kingdom of Righteousness, Justice, and Shalom from Jerusalem.
Listen to the words of God Almighty as he speaks of his special possession Israel concerning his glory—the very essence of God which includes his gracious gift of salvation and goodness to Israel and to the nations:
“When I bring them home from the lands of their enemies, I will display my holiness among them for all the nations to see. Then my people will know that I am the Lord their God, because I sent them away to exile and brought them home again. I will leave none of my people behind. I will never again turn my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit upon the people of Israel. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” (Ezekiel 39:27-29).
Beginning with Messiah Jesus (the Light of the World) who changes our heart and alters our eternal destiny when we believe and receive him, culminating in his majestic return to make all things right in Israel and between Israel and the nations, Israel and the world will share in this (his) glorious light.
Listen to the personal description (me, my, and him) of Messiah spoken about his coming (none other than Jesus of Nazareth who fulfilled ALL of the Messianic prophecies) through the prophet.
“And now the Lord speaks—the one who formed me in my mother’s womb (the Virgin Birth) to be his servant, who commissioned me to bring Israel back to him. The Lord has honored me, and my God has given me strength. He says, ‘You will do more than restore the people of Israel to me. I will make you a light to the Gentiles, and you will bring my salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Isaiah 49:5-6).
Some of Aboud Dandachi’s closing remarks in this exclusive interview with Aish.com were:
“The fact is, that Syrians don’t have many friends in the world left. So these are our darkest times, and it means we should appreciate the friends we do have right now. No one could have blamed Israelis and Jews if they had stayed aloof from the refugee crisis, but they didn’t. They risked a lot to help us. And the very least you can do is say thank you. To say thank you isn’t remarkable, one act of kindness is more remarkable than a hundred thank yous.”
My commentary response: Nevertheless, any thank you from any Arab Muslim to the Jews is, indeed, remarkable. Any time the heart of one’s enemy is softened to this extent and eyes opened this much is as remarkable as anything can be. But that is the heart and soul of Israel, which is beginning to be an end time’s expression of the heart of God. Soon, Israel’s heart will be softened and changed even more to go one step further:
To acknowledge that Messiah as the Lamb of God has already arrived (two thousand years ago) to bring them salvation. And shortly to eagerly embrace him as their Savior Lion from the Tribe of Judah when he delivers them from the hands of their enemies in the final campaign against Israel led by the Antichrist and his coalition.
However, one of their enemies will NOT be Aboud Dandachi!
Nor will a few others like him, though not as outspoken as Aboud. We can know this because of what else Aboud said in his interview: “What surprised me is the feedback from Arabs. I was expecting hostility from Arabs and instead a surprising number have told me that I’m saying what they can’t say and that I should keep saying what I’m saying…”
But then Aboud tempered that enthusiasm with a reminder that, “Unfortunately, the reality in the Middle East is that there is no Arab politician who will say ‘thank you’ to Israel.”
Things to Ponder
To all those who are wondering if your life and home on this earth is all there is, please listen to this powerful promise made by Jesus himself, to all those who have believed and received him as our personal Savior:
“Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am. And you know the way to where I am going” (John 14:1-4).
Though he spoke these words directly to his disciples, they (like all of his promises) are for, “…everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
To the scene in the first passage above, his disciple, Thomas, questioned: “No, we don’t know, Lord. … We have no idea where you are going, so how can we know the way?” (John 14:5).
To which Jesus replied in these magnificent words, often quoted: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me” (Verse 6).
Then the Jewish Apostle Paul reminds believers: “Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven…” (Philippians 1:27).
Yes, believers in Yeshua are already citizens of heaven. One day soon we will take up residency there. Our passport to heaven has been stamped with the redemptive sacrificial blood of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus.
Of our glorious home in the New Jerusalem, John writes: “I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun, or moon, for the glory of God illuminates (literally) the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light … all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city” (Revelation 21:22-26).
Earlier in this astounding vision of what today is the very near future, John exclaims: “And I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband” (Verse 2).
(Depiction of the New Jerusalem)
For believers in Messiah Jesus, God’s home will be our home. Then, Immanuel (God with us) with be an everlasting reality. Soon, very soon, this will all begin when:
“…The Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the Christians who have died will rise from their graves. Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up (raptured) in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with Lord forever. So encourage each other with these words” (I Thessalonians 4:16-18).
Fully concentrate on a much better location than Kansas (though I was born there) or anywhere on this worn-out planet. Repeat after me, but with a whole new meaning:
There’s no place like home … there’s no place like home.