Thoughts of John

What is on my mind.

GOG AND MAGOG IN EZEKIEL 38-39

Introduction

The Gog and Magog prophecies are found in Ezekiel 38 and 39. The nation Gog will form the largest army ever assembled to wage war against Israel with the intent of wiping them off the face of the earth. The war will not primarily be between Gog and Israel but it will be between Gog and God. The culmination of the ultimate battle along with the outcome is all centered on God’s absolute control of all the events of the great battle. The ultimate question to be answered is when the great battle will take place.

Historical-Cultural Context

Audience

After the death of King David his son Solomon became the king. The nation of Israel became a divided kingdom after the death of Solomon. The kingdom is divided between north and south. The northern kingdom is known as Israel and the southern kingdom is known as Judah. “The divided kingdoms of Israel and Judah had years of decline in every area of their national life. Moral and spiritual decadence reached its (climax) in the Northern Kingdom under the (kings) of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 17:1-22:40).”[1]

God judged the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. at the hands of the Assyrians. There is still hope for the Southern Kingdom under the new king of Josiah. Before Josiah became king of the Southern Kingdom, the moral & spiritual corruption would exceed the Northern Kingdom. Josiah set in motion a spiritual renewal by eradicating paganism and idolatry, by returning the people to worshiping God and to restore the spiritual and moral life of the nation (2 Kings 23:1-30).[2] Finally, in 597 B.C. God’s judgment came upon the Southern Kingdom. The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar led the Israelites out of their country. Among the captives is Ezekiel (2 Kings 24:14-17).[3]

The Israelites during the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy has wondered so far away from God that they worshiped the gods of the cultures around them more than their own God. This in turn led to God’s judgment for their sin. Hundreds of years prior to Ezekiel’s prophecy God told the Israelites to eradicate all of the Canaanites that they came in contact with which they failed to do (Joshua 6:15-21). It is very important for the Israelites to be separate from the rest of the world and to maintain a holy lifestyle that God had setup. Deuteronomy 7:1-6 is such a great outline for the history of Israel:

“When the Lord your God brings you into the land that you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations more numerous and mightier than you, and when the Lord your God gives them over to you, and you defeat them, then you must devote them to complete destruction. You shall make no covenant with them and show no mercy to them. You shall not intermarry with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods. Then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars and dash in pieces their pillars and chop down their Asherim and burn their carved images with fire. ‘For you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.’”

Author

“Ezekiel is a Zadokite priest of the Jerusalem temple, who was swept up in the deportation of leading citizens, including the young king Jehoiachin, to a settlement in Babylonia, after Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of the rebellious vassal state of Judah in 597 B.C.”[4] Ezekiel who is now in Babylonia is called by God to be a prophet to the exiled Israelites. Not only are the Israelites exiled but they have been moved into an unknown land far removed from their culturally and religious center.

Ezekiel is a very gifted and highly intelligent prophet. He has a priestly background that stresses the holiness and the echoing of priestly moral and cultic traditions. Ezekiel is a very well cultured prophet who was use to interacting with the upper class. The early years of his ministry is spent associating with the upper class. Because of his association with the upper class he is well schooled in silver smelting, shipbuilding, looking back at the paradise of the Promised Land, and his reference to Egypt as the chaos monster. His extensive use of verbal communication sometimes is lost on the audience. The audience is so lost that they asked Ezekiel to speak plainly.[5]

Ezekiel’s message is twofold, one about the judgment of God, and two about the salvation that God offered. The message about the judgment of God is expressed to the Israelites before the exile. Once the Israelites were exiled the message changed from one of judgment to one of salvation. The judgment is administered by the power and might of the Babylonian Empire. The exile of the Israelites challenged the belief that God is the one who is in ultimate control of all human events. At the time of the exile it seemed to the Israelites that Babylon is in control of history and not God. Human history for the Israelites is better understood if one “seriously take(s) into account the context of Israel, which witnessed the presence of the nations’ competing religions. The victory of a people were the victories of their god (or gods).Thus to Ezekiel the exile was not a political but a theological problem.”[6]

Genre and Structure of Ezekiel

The genre of Ezekiel is one of prophetic in nature. “The oracles in the book of Ezekiel are divided naturally on the basis of time and subject matter into four general parts: Ezekiel’s call to prophetic service (1:1-3:27); pronouncements of doom upon Israel/Judah (4:1-24:27); pronouncements of doom upon the nations (25:1-32:32); pronouncements of hope for Israel/Judah (33:1-48:35).”[7] The three divisions show a logical development by the author of the book. The three sections together form a structural and thematic unity.

Chapters 1-3 start out with the call of Ezekiel and a display of the glory of God. Chapters 4-7 are a display of God’s glory and without the display the judgment of God would be meaningless. Chapter 8-11 shows how Israel’s sin is the cause of God’s glory being removed from their presence and can only be restored through divine judgment. Chapters 12-19 is the announcement of God’s coming judgment. Chapters 20-24 Ezekiel prepares Israel for the discipline that God is going to enact. Chapters 1-24 all take place in the Promised Land before the Israelites are exiled into Babylon. Chapters 25-32 is a condemnation to the nations around Judah/Israel who enjoyed to see the destruction of Israel. God is also going to set up a time when those nations will also be judged for their sins. Chapters 33-39 is a series of message about the fall of Jerusalem and messages about the restoration of Israel to the Promised Land.[8] The book ends with chapters 40-48 and the return of God’s glory to the temple and to the Promised Land.

The oracles of Ezekiel 38 and 39 are like an eschatological literary cartoon strip. “The images portrayed become increasingly caricatured, reaching a climax in a bizarre picture of predatory birds and wild animals seated around a table gorging themselves on human flesh (39:17-20).”[9] As a person reads the oracles the divisions of the oracles become really clear. “While each of the divisions or sub-units has an identity and a character of its own, they are all thoroughly integrated to create a sequence of events whose total impact is much greater than the sum of its parts.”[10]

Where the oracle of Gog of Magog lies in the book of Ezekiel is important. In Ezekiel 1-24 there is the pronouncement of judgment for the sins that Israel has committed against God. Next is Ezekiel 25-32 that center around the judgment of the nations who surround Israel and delight in Israel’s downfall. “Then Ezekiel 33 records a turning point in the fortunes of God’s people when the news of Jerusalem’s fall came to the prophet. Now God’s wrath has been satisfied and there is a prospect of a new beginning. That new beginning is outlined in terms of a restoration of the leadership of the people (the shepherds, ch. 24), the land itself (ch. 35-36), and the people who indwell the land (ch. 36-37).”[11]

The oracles of Gog in Ezekiel chapters 38-39 is about the fate of Israel once they have been restored and returned to the Promised Land. “The purpose of the oracle against Gog becomes clear in 39:21-29; it is intended as a word of reassurance to Israel that the new order of existence promised in chapters 34-37 is not reversible. God will never again turn his face away from his people. Though trials of all kinds, even the worst imaginable kind, may and will come, they will do so only under God’s good and sovereign hand.”[12]

Exegetical Analysis

Exegesis of Ezekiel 38

Gog from the land of Magog, is one of the greatest enemies of the Israelites. The enemy appears at the end of the Israelite historical process and has been bewildering scholars for centuries. Ezekiel is singling out an unrepentant nation whom God will place his judgment upon.[13] Ezekiel 38 is divided into five sections. Verse 2-9 is about the gathering of a giant army that will do battle against the Israelites. Verse 10-13 is about an explanation for the motives of Gog. Verse 14-16 is the great army of Gog that attacks the Israelites. Verse 17-22 is God’s judgment upon Gog. Verse 23 is the conclusion of the great battle between Gog and the Israelites.

In verse 2 the name Gog is derived from the Greek name of Gyges a king of Lydia in Asia Minor. The name of Magog came from Genesis 10:2 where Magog is the second son of Japheth.[14] Japheth is the son of Noah. Gog is also a name for an “unidentified ruler whose name is from a Sumerian loan word gug, which means ‘darkness’”[15] The oracle of Gog has been applied to more current events than any other passage in the Old Testament. The church father Ambrose referred to God as the Goths in the late fourth century. Gog of the seventh century became the Arabs. Then in the thirteenth century Gog became the Mongols. By the seventeenth century Gog is the Roman emperor, the Pope, or the Turks. The nineteenth century the people of Gog became the Russians. Finally with the rise in Communism and the large nation of China, Gog has been purported to be the large army of China. It seems throughout world history Gog has become whatever movement or country is threating world peace.[16]

The best interpretation for Gog is a symbol for Babylon. Since Ezekiel is writing to an audience who has been taken over by the great power. The interpretation is also extended as an eschatological one as well. Babylon is being a representation of the world powers who are against God in the end times. Ezekiel is concerned about the destruction of Babylon because without its destruction then the messianic restoration of Israel cannot happen. “If Gog is a symbol of the forces of Antichrist foreseen by Ezekiel. If the word Gog is from the Sumerian gug, that would be additional support for treating him as a symbol of ‘the prince of this world’ (John 12:31), an appropriate designation that fits the character of the ruler of end-time Babylon.”[17]

In verses 10-16 Gog has gathered all of his forces from the far corners of the world and is heading to Israel to do battle. The battle will be the biggest battle of all times. Gog and his army are going to descend on a nation living in peace. The Israelites are living as a restored nation under the covenant relationship that they have with God. God is in absolute control of the great army that Gog has put together to do battle against the Israelites. “Once the unholy alliance has been prepared by God, he will summon them against his restored people at a time of his own choosing.”[18]  Even though Gog has a massive army to attack Israel it did not matter. An attack against God’s chosen nation Israel is an attack against God himself. “Gog has fundamentally misread the match-up. It is not a matter, as he supposes, of his vast and well-equipped army ranged against a defenseless nation. The relationship between God, his people, and the land has been restored and such an assault will not go unchallenged.”[19] In this great battle of all times God is allowing Gog to come against Israel for one reason only and that is to show the world his greatness and holiness. Not only will God show his holiness but the battle will show the world that God is in full control of all of history through his sovereignty.

Verses 17-23 is the ending of the great battle. Gog’s military destination is to the land of Israel. Gog will be the recipient of God’s judgment that will cause cataclysmic destruction against the people of Gog both in the battle and in Gog’s homeland. The only victims of this great battle are Gog and his forces. God used the forces of nature through earthquakes, plagues, torrential rains, hailstones, fire and self-destruction to bring about the judgment upon Gog and his army.[20] “So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord” (Ezekiel 38:23). The purpose of the great destruction by nature is to show the glory of God and his judgment upon the nations who want to destroy the Israelites.

Exegesis of Ezekiel 39

The battle that begins in Ezekiel 38 is now drawn to its conclusion in Ezekiel 39. Verses 1-8 is the total destruction of Gog. Verses 9-10 is about the spoilage from the great battle. Verses 11-16 Gog is given a place for Israel to bury the dead. Verses 17-20 are instructions for the beasts of the earth to devour the dead bodies of Gog. Verses 21-29 is the return of the glory of God to a fully restored Israelite nation.

Verses 1-8 is how God is going to destroy Gog. God did totally disarm the army of Gog. The disarmed Gog never fought against the Israelites. Instead God destroyed the army of Gog and spread the bodies all over the mountains and fields of the land of Israel. No nation would ever come against Israel again. Not only did God destroy the army of Gog in the land of Israel but he destroyed the homeland of Gog being Magog. “God would use Gog’s defeat as a demonstration to the nations that he, the Holy One of Israel, is the only true God. He would not permit his holy name to be profaned again through the conquest and dispersion of Israel. Israel in turn would make the Lord’s name holy in her midst.[21]

In this great battle of all battles Israel did not show up until verses 9-20 when the battle was over. Israel is now showing up to take part to plunder the nation that came to plunder them. There is so much plunder collected that the wood is used as fuel for the Israelites for seven years (verse 9). Following the collection of the plunder the beasts of the earth come to devour the dead and leave the clean bones. It took seven months to bury the bones of the dead. “The dominant concern of the burial of the remains is the cleanness of the land. The decontamination would be a fitting and necessary corollary to God’s triumph and so bring credit to its executors. It underscores from a cultic perspective the vindication of Yahweh.”[22]

Verses 17-20 is about Gog and his infamous hordes that have been slain and the Land is full of the dead bodies. The Promised Land now needs to be made holy again. The land is purified, through the grossest of defilements. Not only were the invaders buried but the bodies and blood became a feast for the birds and the beasts. The Temple is once again prepared for the return of God’s glory. The world was just turned upside down by the great battle.[23]

After Israel repents of their sin and experience the discipline of God for their sin then the Israelites could be restored to the Promised Land. Verses 21-29 are about the full restoration of Israel to the Promised Land. In order for Israel to be restored to the Promised Land there are two conditions that Israel must be fulfill and are found in Deuteronomy 30:2. “(1) They must return to the Lord. (2) They must give heed to his voice with all their heart and soul.”[24]

Once Israel is restored to the Promised Land God would give both promises and blessings and these can also be found in Deuteronomy 30:3-6. “(1) The Lord will restore their fortunes (v. 3). (2) He will have compassion on them (v. 3). He will gather them again from all the peoples where he had scattered them (v.3). (4) He will bring them into the land (v. 5). (5) They shall possess the land (v. 5). (6) He will prosper them (v. 5). (7) He will multiply them (v. 5). (8) He will circumcise their hearts so that they will love him (v. 6).”[25]

Fulfillment of Ezekiel in Revelations

The biggest question about the great battle between God and Gog, is when the battle will take place. There have been three possible times for the battle, pre-tribulation, mid-tribulation, and post-tribulation. The proponents that are for the pre-tribulation believe that Israel’s secure dwelling that is mentioned in Ezekiel 38-39 could only occur at the beginning of the Tribulation. The complete restoration of Israel in Ezekiel is messianic and occurring at the end times. In Ezekiel 39:7, 22 God states his name will no longer be profaned which could not have occurred before the Tribulation. The fact that throughout Ezekiel 38-39 God states that the nations will know my name and recognize his sovereignty would fit best after the second coming then before the Tribulation. As a person has studied this position it is easy to come to the conclusion that this would not be a good fit for the events of Ezekiel 38-39.[26]

The proponents of the mid-tribulation argue that Gog’s invasion is an extension of the invasion from the north mentioned in Daniel 11:40-41. The events of Daniel 11:40-41 is the breaking of the Antichrist’s covenant with Israel in the middle of the Tribulation. Thus Israel is living in the Promised Land with a false security of relative peace through the covenant that was made with the Antichrist. In turn when Gog invades and attempts to destroy the Israelites it would cause them to turn to God. The turning to God and knowing God is a fulfillment of a prophecy made in Revelation that many will be saved during the time of the Tribulation. There have been six observations on whether the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 is mid-tribulation or not. (1) There is no specific biblical text that matches Gog with the king of the north found in Daniel 11:40-41. (2) The use of false security as a concept would not match up with the whole purpose of the Tribulation. (3) The fact that Israel purifies the Promised Land by burning the weapons and burying the dead would seem impossible during the time that God was at the height of his final judgment. (4) Ezekiel 38:8, 16 declares that Israel has been restored from the sword into messianic blessing; yet this would not match up with the tribulation period. (5) There is no doubt in reading Ezekiel 38-39 that God is the one who destroys and not the Antichrist. (6) The fact that the Lord’s name will no longer be profaned again does not fit with the mid-tribulation view. Again based upon the Biblical evidence it would be unlikely that the events of Ezekiel 38-39 occur during the mid-tribulation time period.[27]

The proponents of the post-tribulation argue that Gog is the army that have been described in Zechariah 12 and 14:1-14 and have come to do battle against the Messiah. Also the battle would occur at the end of the Tribulation, prior to the judgment that is described in Matthew 25, and prior to the Millennium. The majority of scholars that hold this view believe that the battle will occur after the Millennium that is described in Revelation 20:7-10. The strong argument for this position is the explicit reference to Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:8. This would sure fit Ezekiel 38-39 very well. The Millennium would definitely provide the time for Israel to live in peace, have a safe dwelling place, and have time to burn the weapons and bury the dead. There have also been three observations in regards to this view as being the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39. (1) The Gog of Ezekiel 38-39 is an assimilation of armies from the four points of the earth verses the army that is assembled in Revelation from the four corners of the earth. The assimilation of the armies is very similar in both books. (2) It is maintained that Ezekiel says nothing of Jerusalem whereas John states that the nations encompassed the beloved city. It should be noted that Ezekiel mentions that Gog will attack the mountains of Israel which would most likely include Jerusalem. (3) It is believed that the burning of the weapons and burying of the bodies would fit with the Millennium time period.[28]

It would seem then that the events of Ezekiel 38-39 are a fulfillment of Revelation 19:17-21 and 20:7-10. The connection between the events of Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 19:17-21 and 20:7-10 lies on the singular concept of God’s defeat of the great attempt of the Evil One to once again possess the land of Israel. The Evil One or Satan is the last and greatest enemy of Israel. John in Revelation only summarizes what is stated in Ezekiel. John mentions Gog in Revelation 20 so that the reader would make the connection between Satan of Revelation and Gog in Ezekiel 38-39. Satan’s whole premise is to possess the land of Israel in order to nullify God’s promise. However, God in both Ezekiel and Revelation has fully demonstrated himself as the immutable God who faithfully protects Israel in accord with his word.[29]

Conclusion

The great battle of Gog from Magog against the Israelites takes place post-tribulation. Through this great battle the glory of God will be shown to all nations that he is in control of all things past, present, and future. The name Gog being synonymous with the name of Satan as revealed in the book of Revelation will not win the battle. After the battle God’s glory will once again return to the Promised Land and return to the Temple.

Bibliography

Alexander, Ralph H. Isaiah-Ezekiel. Volume 6. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Edited by Frank E Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986.

Allen, Leslie C. Word Biblical Commentary. Vol. 29. Ezekiel 20-48. Dallas, Tex.: Word Books, 1990.

Block, Daniel Isaac. Ezekiel 1-24. Edited by Robert L Hubbard Jr. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997.

Block, Daniel Isaac. Ezekiel 25-48. Edited by Robert L Hubbard Jr. New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998.

Block, Daniel I. “Gog in Prophetic Tradition: A New Look at Ezekiel XXXVIII 17.” Vetus Testamentum 42, no. 2 (1992): 154–172.

Cooper, Lamar Eugene. The New American Commentary. Vol. 17. Ezekiel. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994.

Delitzsch, Franz, and Carl Friedrich Keil. Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 9. Ezekiel and Daniel. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.

Duguid, Iain M. The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999. Kindle.

Luc, Alex. “A Theology of Ezekiel: God’s Name and Israel’s History.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26, no. 2 (June 1983): 137–143.

Railton, Nicholas M. “Gog and Magog: The History of a Symbol.” Evangelical Quarterly 75, no. 1 (January 2003): 23–43.

Tanner, J. Paul. “Rethinking Ezekiel’s Invasion by Gog.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39 (1996): 29–46.

[1] Lamar Eugene Cooper, The New American Commentary: Ezekiel, vol. 17, The New American commentary (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994), 325, Kindle.

[2] Ibid., 325.

[3] Ibid., 355.

[4] Leslie C Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, vol. 29, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas, TX.: Word Books, 1990), xx.

[5] Ibid., xx-xxi.

[6] Alex Luc, “A Theology of Ezekiel: God’s Name and Israel’s History,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 26, no. 2 (June 1983): 137-143.

[7] Daniel Isaac Block, Ezekiel 1-24, ed. Robert L Hubbard Jr,, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 17.

[8] Ralph H. Alexander, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Volume 6 Isaiah-Ezekiel, ed. Frank E Gaebelein, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 744.

[9] Daniel I. Block, “Gog in Prophetic Tradition: A New Look at Ezekiel XXXVIII 17,” Vetus Testamentum 42, no. 2 (1992): 154-172.

[10] Ibid., 156.

[11] Iain M. Duguid, The NIV Application Commentary: Ezekiel, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999)., 411, Kindle.

[12] Ibid., 411.

[13] Nicholas M. Railton, “Gog and Magog: The History of a Symbol,” Evangelical Quarterly 75, no. 1 (January 2003): 23-43.

[14] Daniel Isaac Block, Ezekiel 25-48, ed. Robert L Hubbard Jr, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), 433.

[15] Cooper, 8953.

[16] Duguid, 408.

[17] Cooper, 8986.

[18] Duguid, 404.

[19] Ibid., 406.

[20] Allen, 207.

[21] Alexander, 935.

[22] Allen, 208.

[23] Robert Alter and Frank Kermode, eds., The Literary Guide to the Bible (Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1987), 203.

[24] J. Paul Tanner, “Rethinking Ezekiel’s Invasion by Gog,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39 (1996): 29-46.

[25] Ibid., 37.

[26] Alexander, 938-939.

[27] Ibid., 939.

[28] Ibid., 939-940.

[29] Ibid., 940.

March 9, 2014 - Posted by | Bible, Bible Study, Biblical Interpretation, blogging, Christian, Christianity, Church, culture, Ezekiel, God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Life, Old Testament, Religon, Theology, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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