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Bible Commentaries
Ezekiel 39

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 21-29

B. Restoration to the Promised Land 33:21-39:29

"The concept of the land is particularly significant to the six messages [Ezekiel 33:21 to Ezekiel 39:29] delivered in that one night before the news of Jerusalem’s fall reached the exiles in Babylonia [cf. Ezekiel 33:21-22]. Since Jerusalem had fallen, would the land be lost to Israel (Ezekiel 33:21-33)? It was the false ’shepherds’ of Israel who had lost the land for Israel by leading the people astray from the truth. But the true ’shepherd,’ the Messiah, would ultimately restore the land to Israel (ch. 34). Those foreigners who had possessed the land of Israel and had oppressed her people would be judged and removed so that Israel might again possess her own land (Ezekiel 35:1 to Ezekiel 36:15). Then God would restore Israel to her promised land (Ezekiel 36:16 to Ezekiel 37:14) and reunite the nation in fulfillment of God’s covenants with her (Ezekiel 37:15-28). Never again would a foreign power have dominion over Israel in her land (chs. 38-39)." [Note: Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 909.]

Verses 1-2

The Lord again announced His antagonism toward Gog (cf. Ezekiel 38:2-3). He repeated that He would turn him around and bring him from the remotest parts of the North against the mountains of Israel (cf. Ezekiel 38:4-9; Ezekiel 38:15).

Verses 1-16

Events following the defeat of the enemy 39:1-16

"Chapter 39 retells the story of Gog’s attack and defeat but with a slightly different emphasis from that of the prior chapter. Not much attention is given to the attack itself (merely Ezekiel 39:1-2), whereas a great deal of space is devoted to describing the massive slaughter of Gog’s forces. In a sense, then, Chapter 38 concentrates on the threat from the powers opposed to God and His people, while Chapter 39 concentrates more on the deliverance of God’s people from that threat. The end of the chapter dwells at length on Israel’s restoration (Ezekiel 39:21-29), especially on the immediate (pre-Gog) era of that restoration. Thus the chapter starts with the distant future but ends in the nearer future with the promise of return from captivity to the land of Canaan and the greater truths which that return points toward." [Note: Stuart, pp. 360-61.]

Verses 3-4

The Lord promised to defeat Gog there; it would be as though He knocked his weapons out of his hands. Yahweh did not reveal whom He would use to do this or how He would do it, but Ezekiel 38:21 suggests that at least part of the defeat would be a result of Gog’s soldiers killing each another (cf. Judges 7:22). Gog and his army and allies would fall in the Promised Land, and birds and beasts would eat their corpses (cf. Ezekiel 39:17-20; Revelation 19:17-21). Such a fate was the ultimate indignity in the minds of the ancients (cf. 2 Kings 9:35).

Verses 5-6

Gog would fall in the open fields because the Lord had decreed His judgment. Yahweh would also destroy Gog’s homeland, Magog, and the remote homelands of his allies (the coastlands, cf. Ezekiel 26:15; Ezekiel 26:18; Ezekiel 27:3; Ezekiel 27:6-7; Ezekiel 27:15; Ezekiel 27:35), and those who safely inhabited these regions. This would teach them that He is God.

Verses 7-8

Yahweh would also proclaim His holy reputation among the Israelites and the other nations. They would no longer regard Him as just another local deity but would recognize Him as the Holy One of Israel, the only true God who was Israel’s God. This day of judgment of which the Lord had formerly spoken would surely come and what He had predicted would indeed happen (cf. Ezekiel 38:17).

Verses 9-10

After the Lord destroyed the forces of Gog, the Israelites would use the enemy’s numerous implements of warfare for fuel for seven years. The Israelites would not need to burn traditional fuel because there would be so many old weapons and implements left to burn. They would also take as spoil what the invaders had brought into the land when they came to despoil the Israelites. God would turn the tables on the invaders.

As in much apocalyptic prophecy (cf. the Book of Revelation), the Lord revealed to His prophet what would take place in pictures that were familiar to him (i.e., contextualized revelation). This language does not preclude the use of modern implements of warfare in the fulfillment. Here the meaning seems to be that there would be so much combustible material utilized in the invasion that the Israelites would burn it for seven years.

Verse 11

The Israelites would also bury Gog and his soldiers in a valley east of the Mediterranean Sea. This probably means that multitudes of the enemy would be buried there, not necessarily Gog personally (cf. Revelation 19:20-21; Revelation 20:10). The slaughter would be so great that it would take a large valley to accommodate all the corpses. This valley would become known as "The Valley of the Multitude of Gog." This cemetery would be so large that travelers would not be able to pass through that part of the land. Probably the Esdraelon Valley is in view since it is east of the Mediterranean Sea and since many travelers normally passed and still pass through it. Furthermore it is the only major east west valley in Israel. Some commentators argued for the valley being east of the Dead Sea, but that location seems unlikely. In biblical times a major highway connecting Egypt and Mesopotamia ran through the Esdraelon (Jezreel) valley. The Apostle John identified this valley as the location of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 16:13-16).

Verses 12-13

It would take seven months to bury all the corpses and so clean up this valley (cf. Leviticus 5:2; Leviticus 21:1; Deuteronomy 21:1-9). Taylor assumed that the recurrence of the number seven is a sure sign that we are not to interpret this prediction literally. [Note: Taylor, pp. 247-48.] But because seven has symbolic significance some places in Scripture does not rule out its literal meaning in others. All the Israelites would get involved in burying the corpses, and this would receive worldwide attention and result in glory for God.

Verses 14-16

Special men would be responsible to search the land after seven months. When they discovered an exposed bone they would mark it so others could bury it. The name of the nearby city would then be called "The Multitude" as a tribute to Yahweh’s victory.

Verses 17-18

The Lord also instructed Ezekiel to prophesy to the birds and beasts to come and feast on the flesh of the invaders who had died (cf. Ezekiel 39:4; Isaiah 34:6; Jeremiah 46:10; Zephaniah 1:7-8; Revelation 19:17-21). It would be like eating a great sacrifice for them, but those offered as sacrifices to the Lord would be great people of the earth rather than fat rams, lambs, goats, and bulls. Bashan, to the east of the Jordan River, consistently produced fat cattle because there was so much good pasture there.

Verses 17-24

The ignominious end of the enemy 39:17-24

This message expands on one event that will take place at the end of the invasion (cf. Ezekiel 39:4).

Verses 19-20

These animals would be able to gorge themselves on the sacrifice that God would prepare for them. They would be able to eat the flesh of horses, chariot drivers, commanders, and soldiers. Normally people offered animals as sacrifices, but God would turn the tables and sacrifice people for the animals showing how little He regarded these enemies of Israel.

Verses 21-22

God’s judgment of Gog would glorify Him greatly in the eyes of the rest of the world. Israel too would learn in a fresh way that He was their God (cf. the Exodus).

Verses 23-24

Then the nations would understand that it was not out of weakness that Yahweh permitted the Israelites to go into exile and die but because He was punishing them for their sins. That is why they had suffered as they had and the Lord had not responded to their cries for deliverance.

Verses 25-26

The Lord promised to restore the fortunes of Jacob, namely, the descendants of the devious patriarch who anticipated the corporate character of the Israelites. Obviously not all Jewish people are devious, but Scripture indicates that many of Jacob’s descendants behaved as he did. The Lord promised to have mercy on all of them. He would do this because He wanted to maintain His reputation for holiness (uniqueness as the only true God). When He restored them to security in the land following this invasion they would forget their former disgrace and treachery against Him. Similarly it was when Jacob returned to the Promised Land from Paddan-aram that he experienced a life-transforming experience (Genesis 32).

Verses 25-29

A summary of God’s blessing on Israel 39:25-29

This message forms a fitting conclusion to the whole section of prophecies about Israel’s restoration to the Promised Land (chs. 33-39) as well as to those about future invasion (chs. 38-39).

Verses 27-28

When God would bring the Israelites back into the land the other nations of the world would recognize that He was different from all other gods. Also Israel would acknowledge Yahweh as her God. She would see what God had done in sending her out of the land for her sin and bringing her back permanently by His grace.

Verse 29

The Lord would no longer prove inaccessible to His people because He would bestow His Spirit on all the Israelites. [Note: See Cooper, p. 349, for a helpful chart contrasting nine ideals present in Eden, lost in the Fall, and restored to Israel in the future, drawn from chapters 33-39.]

There are at least eight views as to the time of this future invasion.

1. The invasion is only symbolic of the attempts of evil forces to overcome God’s people. [Note: E.g., Allen, Ezekiel 20-48, p. 210; and Stuart, p. 352.] It does not describe a real battle but in the language of warfare pictures the triumph of good over evil, the forces of God over those of Satan. The amount of detail and specific references to places and times in this prophecy argue against this view. [Note: For further arguments against this view, see Feinberg, p. 219.]

2. It will occur before the Tribulation, either before the Rapture or at the time of the Rapture or just after the Rapture. [Note: E.g., David L. Cooper, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty: An Exposition of Ezekiel Thirty-eight and Thirty-nine, pp. 80-81.] But the prophecy sets the time of this invasion after God has restored Israel to her land (cf. Ezekiel 38:8; Ezekiel 38:16). Ezekiel 36:26-28; Ezekiel 39:26-29 indicate that Israel’s restoration will involve spiritual regeneration as well as physical return, so the present return of Jews to the State of Israel cannot be the fulfillment.

3. It will happen during the Tribulation (cf. Daniel 11:40-41; Revelation 14:14-20). For three and a half years Antichrist will encourage the Jews to return to Palestine, but then he will break his covenant with them and begin to attack them (Matthew 24:15-22; Daniel 9:27; Daniel 11:40-41). Thus Israel will enjoy a period of peace in the Tribulation. It is during the first half of the Tribulation, toward its end, that advocates of this view place the fulfillment of this prophecy. [Note: E.g., J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come, pp. 350-52; Dyer, "Ezekiel," p. 1300; idem, in The Old . . ., p. 691; and Wiersbe, pp. 232-36. ] Ezekiel 39:7 says that following this battle the Lord’s name will be profaned no longer, but during the second half of the Tribulation it will be profaned (cf. Revelation 13; Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:11; Revelation 16:21). It also seems unlikely that the Jews could bury corpses for seven months and burn weapons as fuel for seven years following an invasion in the middle of the seven-year Tribulation. The last half of the Tribulation will involve unparalleled persecution for the Jews (Daniel 9:27).

4. It will take place at the end of the seven-year Tribulation (the battle of Armageddon; cf. Zechariah 12; Zechariah 14:1-4; Revelation 19:11-21). [Note: Feinberg, pp. 218-19, 230-31; H. A. Ironside, Ezekiel, p. 265; W. Kelly, Notes on Ezekiel, pp. 200-201; Louis S. Bauman, Russian Events in the Light of Bible Prophecy, pp. 174-77. Harold W. Hoehner, "The Progression of Events in Ezekiel 38-39," in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands: Biblical and Leadership Studies in Honor of Donald K. Campbell, pp. 82-92, argued that Ezekiel 38 refers to events in the middle of the Tribulation and chapter 39 to events at the end of the Tribulation.] Some advocates equate Gog with the king of the North (Daniel 11:40). Some of Ezekiel’s descriptions of Gog’s invasion recur in Revelation 19:17-21, which describes the end of the Tribulation. However other aspects appear in Revelation 20:7-10, which describes the end of the Millennium. Israel is dwelling securely in the land that Gog will invade, but at the end of the Tribulation Israel will have been under intense attack for three and a half years (Daniel 9:27).

5. It will happen between the end of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Millennium. [Note: E.g., Alva J. McClain, The Greatness of the Kingdom: An Inductive Study of the Kingdom of God, p. 187; and Gaebelein, p. 251.] Since Jesus Christ’s return to the earth will end the Tribulation and begin the Millennium, it does not seem that there will be enough time for the invasion of Gog and its consequences then (cf. Ezekiel 39:1-16; Matthew 13:41). Furthermore some of the allusions to this invasion in Revelation suggest a time at the end of the Millennium (Revelation 20:7-10). John F. Walvoord believed that the rebellion of Gog will occur before the Millennium, but did not say exactly when. [Note: John F. Walvoord, The Millennial Kingdom, p. 331; and idem, "Revelation," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: New Testament, p. 981.]

6. It will happen at the beginning of the Millennium. This seems highly unlikely since all who enter the Millennium will be believers who have assisted the Jews (Matthew 25:31-46). Moreover all weapons of war will be destroyed at the beginning of the Millennium (Micah 4:1-4).

7. It will occur at the end of the Millennium. [Note: E.g., Ellison, p. 133; Davidson, p. 301; Merrill, p. 380; and Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p. 282.] Revelation 20:8 refers specifically to Gog and Magog in a context describing the end of the Millennium. Israel dwelling in safety in her land, the situation described repeatedly in Ezekiel 33-39, fits conditions at the end of the Millennium. Rabbinic writers identified Gog and Magog as the final enemy that will attack Israel in the messianic age. [Note: See Fisch, p. 253.] Critics of this view say, Why bury the dead for seven months following the battle when the resurrection of the unsaved will follow immediately (cf. Revelation 20:11-13)? This objection assumes that these events will follow one another immediately, but the text does not say so explicitly. Why would the Israelites burn the weapons for seven years since it appears that God will create a new earth immediately after He quells the rebellion described in Revelation 20:7-10 (cf. Revelation 21:1-4)? Again, there may be time between these events that the Bible does not reveal anywhere but here. Another problem with this view is the description of the Lord calling the birds to a great feast in Revelation 19:17-21, which occurs at the end of the Tribulation.

8. The best solution seems to me to be a combination of views 4 and 7. Apparently the fulfillment will take place in two phases, first at the end of the Tribulation and then at the end of the Millennium, when Israel is dwelling securely (cf. Revelation 19:17-21; Revelation 20:7-8). [Note: E.g., L. Cooper, pp. 336-37; Alexander, "Ezekiel," p. 940; and Robert L. Thomas, Revelation 8-22, p. 394.] Ezekiel evidently described the invasion of Israel’s enemies into the Promised Land as a single event, but later revelation clarifies that it will happen on two separate occasions. Part of Ezekiel’s prophecy describes one of these invasions, part the other, and some of it describes both incidents. Gog then does not describe a single individual but two people both of whom share similar plans. In the first fulfillment Gog is the king of the North. In the second he is the human leader who will lead the rebellion at the end of the Millennium.

It seems unnatural for God to describe as one battle one that will have two parts separated by 1,000 years, and there is certainly no indication in Ezekiel that Gog’s invasion will have two phases. However, in view of later clarification in the Book of Revelation, we apparently have another instance of two events widely separated in time viewed by a prophet as one. The prophets’ descriptions of the near and far destructions of Babylon (Isaiah 21; Jeremiah 51), the two advents of Messiah (Isaiah 61:1-2), and the coming of two persecutors of the Jews (Antiochus Epiphanes and Antichrist; Daniel 11:21-44) are other examples of this "foreshortened" view of the future.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Ezekiel 39". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/ezekiel-39.html. 2012.
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