As horrifying news stories continue to pour forth from the major news networks about the atrocities being committed against innocent civilians in the country of Syria, it is worth taking a moment to consider how important Syria has been for Biblical History. And, as it would seem, trends towards oppressive regimes and governments in Syria are nothing new.
The first civilizations themselves, as archeologists tell us, stem from Syria. Syria, in previous epochs, encompassed more than just the northern region and country from Israel, and extended all the way down to the Euphrates valley. Therefore, it can be said with some certainty that early Biblical figures such as Seth and Enosh and Kenan, descendants of Adam and forerunners of Abraham, came from, and lived in the region of Syria.
One of the oldest languages on the face of the earth is Syriac. When I studied in Kottayim, India during my seminary at Princeton, I had the rare opportunity to hear the Syriac language spoken in Orthodox Christian Syriac worship services. Syriac is still a living language. The sound of it's blunt force "d's" and curled "r's" still ring in my head. The written language, with it's beautiful swills of feather pen, and wide curves of letters are bold, and distinct and confident, think John Hancock's signature on the Declaration of Independence, in their design.
When Jesus was born, Quirinius (full name: Publius Supicius Quirinius), was the governor of Syria. Though any direct comparisons between Quirinius and the current leader of the Syrian government, President Bashar Al Assad, may seem far fetched, both men did rise from relative poverty to near dictator status. It was the annexation of Judea by Quirinius that led to his desire to carry out a census on that region, for tax purposes, that led to Mary and Joseph's need to travel from Galilee, a rural fishing region, to the city center of Bethlehem, where, of course, Jesus was born.
The city of Damascus, is without doubt, the most important city in Syria that is connected with the Bible. There are Biblical accounts of wars between king David in Israel and the city of Damascus. Damascus is sometimes called "Aram" which is the same linguistic derivative of the language that Jesus spoke - Aramaic, basically a form of pigeon Hebrew. Most famously, Damascus was the destination of Paul, then Saul, where on a journey to that city, God struck him down, and blinded his eyes and spoke to his heart, and he became a Christ follower.
Tradition has it that Paul left the "Damascus Gate" in Jerusalem in the morning, probably by donkey, and that around noon, in the middle of the Syrian desert, he encountered God; "As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," He replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (Acts 9:3-6).
One hopes that other such sightings of God might still be possible in modern day Syria, where Jesus continues to be persecuted, and where men like Saul continue on murdering rampages. One thing is certain, that God is still God, and that Jesus still helps people to turn away from themselves and from violence, and toward The Way...
All For Now,