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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 39

Chapters 38, 39

We have here the seventh and last in the series of consolatory prophecies, which Ezekiel pronounced soon after the arrival of the fugitive—the full-toned conclusion of the whole.

The dogmatic idea of the prophecy is very simple. The community of God, renewed by His grace, will victoriously resist all the assaults of the world. This idea the prophet has here clothed with flesh and blood: he brings it before us in a grand finished picture, in which he unites what is realized in the course of time in a long series of successive events. The applications to a single historical event are all at the same time true and false: true, so far as the idea governing the prophecy is certainly realized in these several events; false, in their exclusiveness,—in mistaking the fact that all that here appears to lead to a single event belongs to the form.

The starting-point is the fear which penetrates the sick heart. What avails it, is the question that meets the prophet, even if we recover, according to thy announcement, from the present catastrophe? The predominance of the heathen still remains. Soon shall we sink under another attack into permanent ruin. Against such desponding thoughts the prophet here offers comfort. He unites all the battles which the restored community has hereafter to fight in one great battle, and lets this be decided by one glorious victory of the Lord and His people.

The comprehensive character of the prophecy appears especially in Ezekiel 38:5-6, Ezekiel 38:13. Nations from the most diverse countries, without national connection, unite in an expedition against Israel. The attempt at a historical explanation here at once proves itself to be vain. The description has a utopian character. The prophet fetches from all ends of the earth whatever can be raised of formidable heathen powers, of hitherto unknown terror. He sets aside all bounds and limits in which all historically understood events are included.

The freedom with which the prophet forms from the land Magog, which Genesis 10:2 alone knows, a king Gog, who appears only in him and those dependent on him, shows that we are here in respect of detail in the region of holy fancy, and must beware of taking the garb for the man. The Apocalypse, in the resumption of this announcement, goes a step further, and casts, by the freedom it assumes, light on the poetical freedom of the original. It makes out of the king Gog a land and people of Gog beside Magog. It destroys also the appearance of a historical character, inasmuch as it at once identifies Gog and Magog with the heathen in the four ends of the earth. Its knowledge of the comprehensive character of the prophecy appears in this, that it recognises the fulfilment of the prophecy in different historical events ( Revelation 19:17 and Revelation 20:7-15).

How clearly the prophet was conscious that everything special serves only for individualizing and poetical delineation, appears from the following facts. The older prophets know nothing of Gog and Magog; and yet the prophet says that these older prophets, who speak only in general of the enemies of the kingdom, have prophesied of him (ch. Ezekiel 38:17). Further, according to Ezekiel 38:3, Ezekiel 38:12, the future expedition of Gog and Magog against the people of God was only a renewal of an earlier enterprise from the same quarter. This is explained only when under Gog and Magog are concealed the enemies of the community of God in general, so that the Assyrian and Chaldean catastrophe may be regarded as the prelude of that here announced. From Magog and all other nations here named, Israel had suffered nothing in the past.

Ch. Ezekiel 39 contains descriptions which give the cold sweat to the historical expositors,—as we may see, for example, in Venema. Seven years they leave the wood untouched, and burn only the weapons of the enemy, etc. Who can be ignorant that we are here in the region of painting, and not in that of prediction?

We have here a good preparation for the exposition of the vision of the new temple. Our prophecy shows clearly how wide a space is given to painting in Ezekiel, how attentive he is to fill the imagination with holy figures, how carefully we must distinguish in him between the idea and its garb, how ill-applied is in him the so-called “biblical realism,” to which it often happens to take the garb for the man. He who should carry it out here, would fall into a labyrinth of impossibilities. To seek the fulfilment in the dark region of the end of the days is the less possible, because most of the nations named either no longer exist, or are no longer heathen. Magog, Gomer, Meshech and Tubal, Phut, Sheba, and Dedan, are no more to be found. Kush is a Christian people, and according to recent experience will scarcely again attain to world-wide influence.

In accordance with the prophecy of Joel, where the outpouring of the Spirit upon the covenant people, who are first thereby brought into the normal relation with God, is followed by the judgment on their enemies, as it is described from ch. Joel 3:3 to the end of the book, the prophet also designates the outpouring of the Spirit in ch. Ezekiel 39:29 as the ground of the judgment of the nations which he announces,—the ideal concentration of that which history discloses in a whole series of events. As the outpouring of the Spirit, according to the earlier announcements of the prophet himself and his predecessors, bears an essentially Messianic character, and is connected with the coming of the good Shepherd of David’s line, on whom ( Isaiah 11:1) the fulness of the Spirit rests; so is the accomplishment of these movements, presupposing this outpouring, to be regarded as of the first importance in the Messianic time. The phrase “at the end of the days” (ch. Ezekiel 38:16, comp. Ezekiel 38:6) speaks for this, which is employed in the prophets only of the Messianic time. So does the resumption in the Apocalypse. But as beginnings of the outpouring of the Spirit already occur in the time before Christ, so has our prophecy found a prelude to its conclusive fulfilment in the battles which the Jews had to fight with the Greek empire. But one of the most glorious fulfilments was the victory of the true community of God over the Roman empire,—the same empire which had enslaved Israel after the flesh, the mere seeming Israel, destroyed its capital, scattered it in all the world, and by all this withdrawn from it the mask: all which was the necessary preparative to the victory of the true Israel, the legitimate continuation of the Old Testament covenant people. But the fulfilment did not rest here. It is going forward even now. Even the breaking up of the Mohammedan empire, which we now see before our eyes, is included under it. The glorious consummation belongs, according to the Apocalypse, to the end of the days.

Verses 1-16

In Ezekiel 39:1-16 the description of the fall of Gog is continued. In powerful terms the vastness of the overthrow is presented to the view. Seven years the weapons of the slain enemies serve the whole people for fuel. Seven months are they employed with the burial of the dead, and even then the labour is not completed. We have here the main thing in the description of the catastrophe, as appears from this, that we go back to the beginning of the undertaking, and do not begin at the point we had reached at the close of the preceding section. This is to be regarded as the introduction, the remainder as the conclusion.

Ezekiel 39:1. And thou, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: 2. And I will lead thee back, and six thee, and raise thee up from the farthest north, and bring thee upon the mountains of Israel: 3. And I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand, and cast thy arrows out of thy right hand. 4. On the mountains of Israel shalt thou fall, thou and all thy squadrons, and the nations that are with thee: I give thee to the ravenous birds of every wing, and the beasts of the field for food. 5. Upon the face of the field shalt thou fall; for I have spoken it, saith the Lord Jehovah. 6. And I will send a fire on Magog, and on those that dwell securely in the isles; and they shall know that I am the LORD. 7. And I will make my holy name known among my people Israel: and the heathen shall know that I the LORD am holy in Israel. 8. Behold, it is come, and it is done, saith the Lord Jehovah: this is the day whereof I have spoken. 9. And the dwellers of the cities of Israel shall go out and kindle and burn armour, and shield, and targe, bow and arrows, and hand-staff and spear; and they shall burn with them a fire seven years. 10. And they shall not fetch wood from the field, nor hew it from the forests: for they shall burn a fire with the armour, and spoil those who spoiled them, and rob those who robbed them, saith the Lord Jehovah. 11. And it shall be in that day, I will give to Gog a place there of burial in Israel, the valley of the passengers east of the sea; [236] and it hinders the passengers: and there shall they bury Gog, and all his tumult, and shall call it The valley of the tumult of Gog. 12. And the house of Israel shall bury them to cleanse the land seven months. 13. And all the people of the land shall bury: and it shall be to them a name, the day when I am glorified, saith the Lord Jehovah. 14. And they shall set apart appointed men passing through the land, burying with the passengers [237] those that remain on the face of the land to cleanse it; from the end of seven months shall they search. 15. And the passengers shall pass through the land, and one shall see a man’s bone, and set up by it a sign, till the buriers have buried it in the valley of the tumult of Gog. 16. And also the name of the city shall be Tumult; and they shall cleanse the land.

[236] Luther, “the valley as they go by the sea to the east.” All that is characteristic in the designation of the locality is thus left out.

[237] Luther, “And with them the buriers.” But the appointed men are themselves the buriers.

“I will lead thee back, and six thee” ( Ezekiel 39:2): we have here the outline that is afterwards unfolded. “Six thee,” that is, afflict thee with six plagues, which are named in ch. Ezekiel 38:22. That the plagues there are precisely six, leaves no doubt of the correctness of this interpretation. [238] “Ravenous birds of every wing” ( Ezekiel 39:4)—as many as have wings (comp. Ezekiel 17:23). “On those that dwell securely in the isles” ( Ezekiel 39:6): the word denotes the islands and coasts. In the usual sense it includes only Tarshish of all the partners in the expedition above mentioned, which is the less satisfactory, as it held only a secondary place, and was counted as a trading people. It is natural to suppose that the prophet uses the word for states and countries in general, islands in the sea of the world. In this sense islands often occur in the Old and New Testament (comp. on Revelation 6:14). One reason for so taking them here is that the expedition belongs to the land, as the whole army consists of riders, and not a trace appears of ships. The proud “security” which the inhabitants of the islands enjoy at home, has led them to the expedition against the people of God. Pride in the world goes hand in hand with prosperity. The punishment is directed against this expedition. Nothing is said of a punishment that falls upon the nations engaged in it in their own homes. With the fire here goes hand in hand the making known of God’s name among Israel. The fire must also kindle on Israelitish soil. The holy name of God ( Ezekiel 39:7) is His character, arising from His former historical manifestations, as God in the full sense, the absolute, the transcendently glorious, unconditionally separate from all untruth and impotence. God makes known His name among His people when He verifies His historical character anew, when He gives His people the victory over the heathen world that rages against them. He would profane His name if He were to abandon His people continually to the heathen world, as He had done in the time of the prophet on account of their apostasy, comp. Ezekiel 36:20, though only by the way Ezekiel 36:22. “It is come, and it is done” ( Ezekiel 39:8)—the defeat of the enemy announced in the previous passage. The predicted events come so vividly before the mind of the prophet, that he sets it down as already past, as it is the nature of faith to see that which is not as if it already were. The words, in fact, indicate that we have to do not with a patriotic fancy, but with a word of Him who speaks and it is done. “This is the day whereof I have spoken” in this very prophecy; comp. especially ch. Ezekiel 38:19. In Ezekiel 39:9 f. it is evident that we have a picture of the scene of destruction, not an idle play of the fancy, but a stay which is presented to weak faith, which has to wage war with the visible in all its terrible urgency. In the face of this, the future also is clothed in the form of sight. The word on which faith has to live, puts on, as it were, flesh and blood, to gain an influence over the fancy, in which frightful forms so readily take their seat. It would be against the evidence to ascribe a real import to the specialities, which are so obviously means of representation. In Ezekiel 39:9, first the general armour (comp. Ezekiel 39:10), then the enumeration of particulars. Of the armour, only that which is combustible comes naturally into view. Gog meant to bury the people of God, and appropriate their land; but it falls out quite otherwise—he is buried by the people of God, and receives only so much of the land as suffices for a grave ( Ezekiel 39:11). The place of his burial is designated as the “valley of the passengers,” because it lay on the great commercial and military road. The valley of Megiddo is no doubt meant, to which this description eminently applies. Hergt ( Palaestina, p. 77) says; “The old main road of commerce between Egypt and the Euphrates . . . passes over Karmel at Megiddo (Lejun).” Megiddo, the very name of which points to battles, [239] is celebrated in history as a battle-field. Josiah fell there in battle against Pharaoh-Necho, whose way he hoped here most successfully to oppose; and this explains why he first encountered him here so far to the north. “East of the sea:” as the whole country lay east of the sea, the Mediterranean, the designation means nothing, unless a known and celebrated valley pretty near the sea is intended. This also suits Megiddo. “And it hinders the passengers:” [240] it is a narrow pass, or glenny region, similar to the Preussengrab, so called by the Austrians. Such passes are found at Megiddo. Hergt, p. 69, says: “Beyond the above described northern part not much more is now known of Karmel than the two passes that lead farther east by Megiddo or Lejun over the hills. It is only known that the range, abounding in springs, and covered with trees and thick underwood, is pierced by a hundred great and small defiles, and is almost impassable.” In this dangerous locality the prophet makes Gog be overtaken by the divine judgment. All the three marks which the prophet gives suit Megiddo. In all probability, Legio, now Lejun, the modern name of Megiddo, is derived from our passage. Legio corresponds to the great multitude here. (The “tumult “here and further on is the noisy crowd, the strepera multitudo.) To suppose that the name Legio arises from our passage is the more natural, as in Ezekiel 39:16 it is expressly said, not merely that the valley is named from the noisy throng, but also the adjacent city will receive the name of Hamonah, a great multitude. Men were more inclined to call the city Legio in reference to our prophecy, because in the times of the Roman empire they certainly applied the prophecy concerning Gog pre-eminently to it, and eagerly anticipated the time when the great heathen grave at Megiddo would receive the Roman legions. [241] “And it shall be to them a name” ( Ezekiel 39:13): that the house of Israel should bury the foe, not the reverse, serves them for fame, which has its root, however, not in themselves, but in their God. Their fame is, that they have a God that can deliver from death, and send destruction on their foes. Throughout seven months the whole people are to be employed with the burial of the foe. This time, however, suffices only to bury the foes lying by one another in a heap in the chief place of the defeat. Even at the end of the seven months the labour continues. They now choose buriers, who go through the whole country to inter the bodies, or rather bones, still to be found. “Appointed men” ( Ezekiel 39:14); properly men of continuance, who have a permanent office in opposition to a passing function. These buriers go through the country “with the passengers:” Ezekiel 39:15 shows what part the latter have in the burial. They, the proper searchers, mark the places where bodies or bones lie; then come the proper buriers, and do their work. These bury the bodies, but not in the places where they are found, but transfer them all to the great heathen grave at Megiddo.

[238] The meaning “to six “is determined by 45:13.

[239] Locus turmarum incursantium; so it is explained by Simonis in the Onomasticon, and by Gesenius after him.

[240] חסם , “stop” ( Deuteronomy 25:4), and then in general, “hinder.”

[241] From ניא המון in Ezekiel 39:11 the Κυά?μων of Jdt_7:3 is formed, where the camp of Holofernes extends from Bethulia ἑ?́?ως Κυά?μωνος , ἡ?́? ἐ?́?στιν ἀ?πεναντὶ? Ἐ?σδραηλώ?μ . So the name of the place, Καμμωνά?, according to the Onom. of Eusebius, s ix Roman miles from Legio.

Verses 17-24

In the new section of the description of Gog’s overthrow ( Ezekiel 39:17-24), is detailed that which was briefly touched upon in Ezekiel 39:4, that the flesh of the foes, with whose bones the foregoing section was so fully occupied, serves for food to the beasts and birds of prey. Then follow some general concluding observations on the import of the event.

Ezekiel 39:17. And thou, son of man, thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Say to the fowls of every wing, and to every beast of the field, Assemble and come; gather around to my sacrifice that I kill for you, a great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel, and eat flesh and drink blood. 18. Ye shall eat the flesh of heroes, and drink the blood of princes of the earth: rams, lambs and bucks, bullocks, failings of Bashan, all of them. 19. And ye shall eat fat to sating, and drink to drunkenness of my sacrifice which I have killed for you. 20. And ye shall be sated at my table with horse and chariot, hero and all men of war, saith the Lord Jehovah. 21. And I will set my glory among the heathen, and all the heathen shall see my judgment which I have executed, and my hand that I have laid upon them. 22. And the house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God from that day and forward. 23. And the heathen shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity: because they trespassed against me, and I hid my face from them, and gave them into the hand of their adversaries: and they all fell by the sword. 24. After their uncleanness and after their transgressions have I done unto them, and hid my face from them.

The defeat of the foes appears in Ezekiel 39:17 under the figure of a sacrifice, after the example of Isaiah 34:6, Jeremiah 46:10, because the Lord as it were pays Himself by the downfall of those who refused Him His own, and obtains for Himself the sacrifice refused. God must come to His rights from every creature formed after His image, either so that it gives it to Him, which is the sacrifice, or that He takes it. This is the proper cherem, the contrast of the sacrifice, and yet closely related to it, so that it may be figuratively designated as a sacrifice. The sacrifice by blood is here specially intended, because with this a sacrificial meal, a communion, is connected. The communicants are here the wild beasts and birds. In Ezekiel 39:18 the heroes and princes are first named. Then the whole mixed multitude is denoted by rams, lambs, bucks, and bullocks. The general idea of enjoyment is to be taken from the previous words, “Ye shall eat the flesh and drink the blood.” The words “fallings of Bashan, all of them,” refer merely to the bullocks. There is an allusion to Psalms 22:13, where the righteous man complains, “Strong ones of Bashan beset me round.” The fat oxen of Bashan correspond to the heroes and princes. The chariots in Ezekiel 39:20 come naturally after their occupants. As here horse and chariot, so elsewhere horse and rider, or chariot-warrior, are connected ( Exodus 15:1). The knowledge that the Lord is his God, Israel gains from the operations of His grace in the battle against Gog and otherwise. The heathen know” that the house of Israel was formerly led captive for its iniquity, according to Ezekiel 39:23, from the present glorious proof of the omnipotence, love, and truth of the God of Israel, which leaves no other explanation of its former suffering.

Verses 25-29

In Ezekiel 39:25-29, at the close of the prophecy against Magog as contained in the previous section, follows the close of the whole system of prophecies of a predominantly comforting character, from ch. Ezekiel 33:21 onwards. Thus the prophet had already closed large sections with a like finale: ch. Ezekiel 33:1-20 appears as the close of the whole first part; in ch. Ezekiel 28:25-26, the denunciation against the neighbouring nations is separated by a brief close from that concerning Egypt. That here the close refers not merely to the denunciation against Gog, appears from this, that the prophet has here to do mainly with the restoration from exile, which is presupposed in the prophecy against Gog. That this appears at the close of the whole, rather than the victory over Gog, is explained by the fact, that the longing eye of the people languishing in exile must have been directed at once to this primary benefit.

Ezekiel 39:25. Therefore thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and be jealous for my holy name. 26. And they shall take upon them [242] their shame, and all their trespass which they have committed against me, when they dwell [243] securely in their land, and none makes them afraid. 27. When I bring them back from the nations, and gather them from their enemies’ lands, and am sanctified on them [244] in the eyes of many heathen. 28. And they shall know that I the LORD am their God, when I led them captive to the heathen and now gather them into their land, and leave no more of them there. 29. And I will no more hide my face from them, because I have poured out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah.

[242] Luther, “they bear,” which, however, נשא never signifies.

[243] That this must be so rendered, not “dwelt,” appears from ch. 29:25, 26. The former state also was no such undisturbed security as is here indicated.

[244] Luther, “in them.” But this does not come before the eyes of the heathen. Comp. ch. 36:23, 24, 20:41.

Therefore ( Ezekiel 39:25) rests on the whole system of previous prophecies, and intimates that here their sum is to be given. “Now”—under the present relations, when my righteousness has been satisfied by punishment. The captive state, or the captivity, denotes the misery or sad condition, as ch. Ezekiel 16:53, Job 42:10. The original passage is Deuteronomy 30:3, “And the Lord thy God will return to thy captivity.” “They take upon them” ( Ezekiel 39:26): the former misery is proved by the present salvation to have been merited punishment, and its origin from the impotence or malice of God is refuted. Considered in itself, the misery was a former punishment, but it becomes what it is in itself when it is displayed before the world in this character. “And leave no more of them there” ( Ezekiel 39:28): after the fall of the Chaldean monarchy, access to their native land was free to all Israel; and those who voluntarily remained had yet in Canaan their home, and in the temple at Jerusalem their spiritual dwelling-place.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 39". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-39.html.