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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Ezekiel 38

 

 

Introduction

Chapters 38-39 The Oracle of Gog and Magog.

This oracle may have been originally placed here at what was the end of Ezekiel’s first book, for Josephus tells us ‘Ezekiel left behind him in writing two books concerning these events’, and many think that the second book was 40-48. It is a dark cloud on what has gone before, a reminder that before the final end of peace and contentment, before the eternal tabernacle could be enjoyed, there would be a period of great struggle which would, after a torrid time, end in victory for the people of God. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

And this is regularly confirmed throughout Scripture, and nowhere more so than in Revelation, where the great Enemy of God and man would make his final attempt to prevent God’s purposes under the names of Gog and Magog used here, pictured in terms of warfare (Revelation 20:8-9).

The Old Testament writers were ever aware of some dark force at work behind the world scene. There was the one who lay behind the actions of the serpent in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3). There was the mysterious adversary who opposed Job (Job 1:1 to Job 2:7). There was the Adversary who moved David to number Israel contrary to God’s will (1 Chronicles 21:1). There were background ‘princes’ responsible for different countries (Daniel 10:13; Daniel 10:20). There was the Adversary who challenged Joshua the High Priest before Yahweh (Zechariah 3:1-2). Always there is the recognition of a great Adversary behind the world scene without any detail being entered into.

And like these writers Ezekiel had a problem. He lived in a time when people believed in many gods. He did not want to write in such a way that people would see what he wrote as supporting such an idea or as a battle between gods. Thus he firmly rooted the enemies of God in this earth. And yet he soon makes it apparent that he was not actually writing about an ordinary ruler, for continual hints are given of the other-worldly character of these enemies of God and His people. They are not gods, but they are certainly other-world beings. We may see it as possible that what Ezekiel describes has a near fulfilment, a spiritual fulfilment in the days of the Messiah (Jesus), an a final fulfilment towards the end of time.

He centres attention on ‘Gog of Magog’. Many identifications have been made of this mysterious figure. Suggested identifications have been Gagi, ruler of Sakhi, mentioned by Ashurbanipal, and Gyges the king of Lydia (c 660 BC), who is the ‘Gugu’ of the cuneiform inscriptions, a name which ties in with the Hebrew for Gog (but if so why ‘of Magog’?). Or more likely it may have in mind their descendants, bearing the dynastic name. Possibly it is connected with the Sumerian gug meaning ‘darkness’. It may be that it was a name based on the idea of ‘darkness’, deliberately obscure, so as to represent all the forces of evil.

Magog could be simply ma(t) gugu (land of Gog), a land based on his name. This might be seen as supporting the idea of a deliberate mystery. Or on the basis of the Sumerian it could be ‘land of darkness’. Or alternately it could be a cryptogram for Babylon. If you reverse Bbl it becomes Lbb. Move one letter up in the Hebrew alphabet and it then becomes Mgg (Magog). This was a regular form of cryptogram. In mind then could either be the end of the Babylonian empire, or the rise of the Persian empire, for Persia saw itself as succeeding to the Babylonian empire, and their kings called themselves ‘Kings of Babylon’ (Ezra 5:13; Nehemiah 13:6).

This Gog has under his umbrella Meshech and Tubal, fierce, independent tribes to the north, who by reputation would probably be thought of as particularly ferocious, and who were well known as traders in slaves. Ezekiel is probably reaching beyond known enemies to those far off, those who were almost a legend to Israel rather than a reality. ‘Rosh’ probably here means chief (‘head’).

But it is significant that according to the account here Gog's army would also include in its numbers, as well as ‘Magog’, Meshech and Tubal, Persia, Cush (either the Cassites or the Sudanese), Put (Lybia), Gomer (the Cimmerians?), and Togarmah from the extreme north. These are more solidly on earth, but are the tools of Gog whom he will use in his activity against the people of God. They are represented as a vast mixed horde from the ‘far-off’ parts of the north, the limits of the horizon, combined with far off southern enemies from Africa, nations with whom Israel had previously had directly had little to do, completely armed and equipped for war. It is a ‘worldwide’ attack under this powerful figure. Egypt is not included because its downfall as a major force had been declared. However, the mention of Cush (although Cush could be the Cassites) and Put may simply indicate the presence of north African mercenaries in the armies of Babylon or Persia.

The invasion will take place ‘after many days -- in the latter years’ (Ezekiel 38:8), ‘in the latter days’ (Ezekiel 38:16), but this may simply indicate some time ahead. The non-mention of Babylon may be seen as indicating that the Babylonian empire will by that time be no more, unless of course, as suggested, we do see Magog as a cypher for Babylon by reversing the characters and moving one letter up, a regular method used in cyphers, i.e. bbl is written as mgg. It may be seen as signifying the last great attack on the people of God indicated regularly by the prophets. Compare Isaiah 29:1-8; Jeremiah 4:6-31; Joel 1:2 to Joel 2:14; Joel 3:9-14; Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:7-18; Zechariah 14:2.

But if so it is unlike any previous invasion. The people of God are not cowering behind walls but are safe in their unwalled towns and villages. This could well indicate the period after the destruction of Jerusalem or following the return of exiles under Sheshbazzar (Ezra 1:11) when the returnees lived in towns and villages without protective walls, prior to the erection of the walls of Jerusalem under Nehemiah, and were in safety as subjects of the kings of Persia. Unfortunately there are gaps in our knowledge, both of the last years of the Babylonian empire, and of much of Persian history at that time. But in Ezra/Nehemiah there are indications that the returnees from exile may well have suffered reverses at the hands of their enemies. We have, for example, to account for the mysterious replacement of the Davidide governor (e.g. Zerubbabel), by a Persian governor Bagoas (by the time of the Elephantine papyri), which might suggest that the returnees had been suspected of involvement in plots against the empire, without necessarily being finally involved, thus having their Davidide ruler removed. Such plots took place around the time of the accession of Darius I, while late in his reign there was trouble in Egypt. His successor, Xerxes had to deal with this and also with a rebellion in Babylon, while the king who followed him, Artaxerxes I, faced great problems at the commencement of his reign, first in Egypt, and then as a result of a rebellion by one of his generals, Megabyzus. Suspicion of involvement in some of these plots (possibly enhanced by their unscrupulous enemies - Ezra 4:1; Ezra 4:5-6) might explain why it was that Nehemiah received the information that the people in his day were suffering ‘anguish and reproach’ (Nehemiah 1:3). All was not going well for the returnees. Such involvement may have been one reason why the Persians prevented the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem around the time of Ezra (Ezra 4:19-23). There is a gap in our knowledge about the returnees from 516 BC when the building of the second Temple was completed, until the arrival of Ezra (458 BC).

It will be noted that the enemy are smitten down, not by the armies of Israel, but by the power and judgments of God, and it is further noteworthy that from their first commissioning to the final burial of their clean-picked bones not a blow is struck, except by Yahweh and by the self-infliction of wounds. A Persian incursion may well have experienced some kind of catastrophe which could be depicted in these terms, as a consequence of extremely inclement weather (compare Joshua 10:11), and internecine fighting among themselves. But compare also Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 20:7-9 where we again have a battle without warfare. The whole picture is of God ‘at war’ against this mysterious enemy.

So in ‘the latter days’ (some time in the future) Ezekiel sees that the people of God will be put under major pressure by the evil forces of darkness, and unless we see these two chapters (38-39) as a separate oracle, this is closely connected with the coming Kingly Rule of the Messiah (Ezekiel 37:24-28). In this regard the New Testament makes clear that ‘the last days’ (Acts 2:17), ‘the end of the ages’ (1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7; Hebrews 1:2 compare Romans 13:11-12; John 9:4) commenced at the time of Christ, the Messiah, when the Kingly Rule of God began to be established. Thus in part at least we may see the persecutions faced by the church and the attacks of Rome on the people of God, and indeed all similar attacks which have followed since, as mirrored here. It is Satan’s last great stand, seeking to destroy the people of God and the Kingly Rule of God (Revelation 12).

The point behind Ezekiel, and the other prophets who prophesied doom, is that as Yahweh prepares His people for the end, and has in mind for them great blessing under His kingly rule in eternity, the forces of darkness will continually intervene and seek to bring His plans to nought. They had no way of presenting this other than as attacks upon Israel as ‘the people of God’, for they did not want anyone to think in terms of the legitimacy of the gods.

And we have good reason for considering that as the final days of the age approach things will get worse and worse. The message of Revelation is that the final time before the coming of Christ will see attacks on the people of God increasing, with the world (certainly the Near Eastern world) in turmoil, and this is put in these terms of warfare and invasion on a huge scale (Revelation 14:19-20; Revelation 19:11-21; Revelation 20:8-10 compare Ezekiel 6:1-8. See our commentary onREVELATION. Thus what is portrayed by Ezekiel is also portrayed by Revelation.


Verses 1-3

The War of Gog Against God’s People.

The identity of ‘Gog of Magog’ is crucial to the interpretation of what follows, for it determines who it will be who will lead these accumulation of nations against Israel. And yet it would appear that Ezekiel has deliberately left the question open (although the solution may have been clearer in his day than it is in ours). If we see Magog as a cypher for Babylon, who it will be noted are not otherwise named, then Gog would be ‘the king of Babylon’ which is a title used by both Babylonian and Persian kings (Ezra 5:13). The Persians saw themselves as taking over the mantle of Babylon.

This latter identification may be seen as supported by the fact that the nations listed are, apart from Persia, paralleled in Genesis 10. See Genesis 10:2 where the sons of Japheth include Gomer, Magog, Tubal and Meshech (and also Madai - the Medes, who may have been replaced here by Persia), with Togarmah being a son of Gomer. Cush and Put are mentioned as sons of Ham (Genesis 10:6), but with Cush moving northwards in the person of Nimrod, to become a part of the Mesopotamian nations (Genesis 10:8-12). The inclusion of Persia in the place of the Medes may be especially significant with regard to the identification. This would then indicate an attack led by the Persians.

Others connect Gog with Gyges (Gugu) king of Lydia, presumably in the form of one of his dynasty. This latter is the basis of an attempt to link this invasion with Turkey, but that, like the attempt to link Rosh with Russia, must be seen as very fanciful.

Ezekiel 38:1-3

‘And the word of Yahweh came to me saying, “Son of man, set your face towards Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Behold I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.’ ” ’

The word is possibly spoken concerning someone in Ezekiel’s day who was gathering forces in an alliance (Ezekiel 38:7), someone who was a legend in his own time, but the thought is not of his direct plans but of a future invasion ‘after many days’ and ‘ in the latter years’ (Ezekiel 38:8). He would thus be the prototype. As suggested, this could be the king of Persia under his title ‘king of Babylon’, or Gyges (‘Gugu’) of Lydia (see above), or one of his descendants. But it may well not b either of these who are finally in mind, for the name may then be being used as a symbol of the dark forces of ‘the latter years’.

‘Chief prince’ may well have been an official title (nesi’ rosh), for there are no real grounds for seeing ‘rosh’ (head) as the name of a people, for such a nation is not evidenced anywhere in inscriptions (and Russia was a name which arose well over a thousand years later and therefore has no connection with it).

‘Meshech and Tubal’ were mentioned by Ezekiel in Ezekiel 32:26 (where they ere belligerent nations),as well known nations (Assyrian ‘musku’ and ‘tabal’), while as we have seen all the names of nations except Persia (but the Medes are mentioned as ‘Madai’), but including Magog which is there connected with Meshech and Tubal, otherwise appear in Genesis 10.

However, there is one argument which is in favour of seeing ‘Rosh’ as the name of a people, and that is the Hebrew itself, especially in the light of the possibly parallel phrase ‘Persia, Cush and Put’ (Ezekiel 38:5). But if so they were a people unknown to us. And an argument against this is that without Rosh the allies number seven, the perfect number signifying divine completeness (Meshech, Tubal, Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer and Togarmah), which is a regular feature of Scripture. Thus ‘chief prince’ is probably after all the correct translation, the one who is over all.

At this time Meshech and Tubal were firmly based in Anatolia, south east of the Black Sea, and traded in slaves (Ezekiel 27:13). Ezekiel probably saw them as a fierce and distant people at the extreme north, along with Togarmah. Meshech and Tubal were close to each other landwise, as was Togarmah.

‘Behold I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.’ Yahweh’s current antagonistic attitude towards Gog at that time (whether as a local king or as representing the king of Persia) may have been seen as arising from the raiding and invasion plans of Meshech and Tubal against surrounding peoples (Ezekiel 32:26), but it was magnified by the fact that one day God would bring them against His own people, (although only because their inclinations were that way), only for them to be finally destroyed.


Verses 4-6

“And I will turn you about, and put hooks in your jaws, and I will bring you forth, and all you army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armour, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them handling swords. Persia, Cush and Put with them, all of them with shield and helmet, Gomer and all his hordes, the house of Togarmah in the uttermost parts of the north, and all his hordes, even many peoples with you.”

This vivid description reveals that Yahweh is at all times totally in control. At present all was under control under the hand of Babylon (who were also under Yahweh’s control as we have seen), but Ezekiel foresees the time when Babylon will be no more, and when Yahweh will then allow these terrible, mysterious distant forces to be released against His people, and against His eternal inheritance. But it will still be under Yahweh’s hand, for it is He Who will turn them about and put hooks in their jaws (compare Ezekiel 29:4 where it is treatment for one who made arrogant claims). The picture is drawn from hunting. They will act as captured wild beasts under His control, roaring lions waiting to devour. Notice how the might and remoteness of the forces are emphasised.

However, the fact that this is Yahweh’s doing does not take away from the responsibility of the agents. They are free agents. They do what they will. It is just that Yahweh allows them to do so and uses it in His purposes. They do His will whether they want to or not. Man boasts in his freedom, but he is really subject to the will of the Almighty.

The fact of the universality of the forces and the fact that they come against an eternal kingdom (Ezekiel 37:26-28) may warn us not to take the whole picture too literally. This is no local invasion. It is a combination of ‘worldwide’ forces from the far reaches of the world against the whole people of God (compare Revelation 20:9), pictured in the only way available to Ezekiel with his limited conceptions. (Such a force would hardly really be necessary for the invasion of a small country like Palestine with unwalled villages, without bars or gates. On the other hand with troubles in Egypt the Persians may well have amassed an army and called in on Israel and the surrounding nations so as to ensure their neutrality, on the way).

Note the stress on the fact that they are fully and powerfully armed, and the places where they come from. Persia, at the time of Ezekiel the rising power beyond Babylon; Cush and Put (Genesis 10:6), probably to be seen as representing Northern Sudan and Libya in North Africa in the extremes of the south; Gomer (possibly the Cimmerians from the Black Sea area) and Togarmah (possibly Tegarama, the capital of Kammanu) (Genesis 10:2-3), representing the other peoples of the north. They are the peoples who live at the extremes of Ezekiel’s knowledge. Unless Magog is Babylon, Babylon and Egypt are deliberately ignored, which would stress the futuristic nature of the description. They were regular enemies. There was no mystery about them. But if Magog is Babylon, and the action takes place due to Egypt’s rebellion, then their absence is explained.

The contrast is with the people of God, dwelling securely in unwalled villages, without walls, bars or gates (Ezekiel 38:10), in other words with no outward means of defence. This is a picture that is equally as extravagant as that of the huge armies. It is the seemingly totally defenceless against the greatest power that Ezekiel could conceive of once Babylon’s empire had gone (and at this time Babylon was seen by Jeremiah and Ezekiel as a friendly power in God’s purposes). It is hell let loose. And this is against the people of God described in Ezekiel 37:26-28 which as we have seen depicts the growth of the Kingly Rule of God and of the church of Christ, the new Israel who are the temple of God in the world, leading on to the eternal state.

Thus behind this picture, deliberately rooted to earth to prevent confusion with the gods, is the fact of the forces of darkness pitted against the people of God. But the latter needed to do nothing. They were under the protection of Yahweh. (It is possibly not without significance that the areas named have been the places where the people of God have suffered the greatest of persecutions since the Muslim expansion and conquests).


Verse 7

“In the latter days you will come to the land that is brought back from the sword, that is gathered out of many peoples on the mountains of Israel, which have been a continual waste, but it (Israel) is brought forth from the peoples, and they will dwell securely, all of them.”

‘In the latter days’ simply indicates some time in the not too near future. Ezekiel confirms again that the land will have been delivered from the sword and that the people of Israel will have been gathered out of many peoples, returning not just from Babylon but from many nations, gathering on the mountains of Israel (the heart of Israel) which had been a continual waste up to that point, and dwelling there securely. Such a return took place after what we call The Exile. Then there will come One Who will commence proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God, God’s servant ‘David’ (Ezekiel 37:24), and then these forces of darkness will begin their attack. This will be ‘in the latter days’. While this need only indicate some time much later, it may also indicate the days of the Messiah, when the Messiah comes, which are seen as ‘the last days, the end of the ages’. And the birth of Jesus into the world certainly did produce new attacks from Satanic forces as His constant contacts with evil spirits demonstrate (compare Revelation 12:3-4; Revelation 12:13-17).


Verse 7-8

“Be prepared, yes, prepare yourselves, you and all your companies who are gathered to you, and you be a sentinel for them. After many days you will be mustered.”

Gog is told to put his armies on the alert and act as their sentinel so that they will know when to act. He is to wait for the call of God. It is a comfort to the people of God to know that even Gog is ‘chained’. But the day will come, after many days, when they will be mustered, led along by Yahweh by the hooks in their jaws (Ezekiel 38:4). Everything about this passage delays it into the future, in contrast with the previous oracles on the nations. It must await God’s timing. This is the mystery of history. They work out their own will, and yet they do God’s will as well.


Verse 9

“And you will ascend, you will come like a storm, you will be like a cloud to cover the land, you and all your hordes and many people with you (compare Joel 2:1-11).”

The description is not one of warfare but of taking over the country. There is no mention of warfare. This could well indicate a show of strength in Palestine by a Persian army on the way to Egypt, during the reign of one of the Persian kings, an army which included contingents from all the nations mentioned.

It could also indicate an invasion by dark forces. Thus the days of Jesus saw an increase in demon possessions and manifestations of Satan like never before or since. Satan and his minions came like a storm and like a cloud covered the land. The language here is apocalyptic, the storm, the covering cloud descending, the gathering of the hordes. All speak of the enemies of ‘the last days’, the times of the Messiah. The Messiah had to face His enemies. And once the Messiah had risen and received His throne the attacks turned on His people.

But that these attacks on God’s people would continue is clear in Revelation where powerful forces of evil are also described, and they will continue on to the end. In mind here in Ezekiel, therefore, may well be all attacks on God’s people throughout this present age, ‘the latter days’, but especially that last great ‘battle’ at the end of time when God will bring in His final judgments. And with the certainty of attack comes the certainty of deliverance.


Verses 10-12

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh, It will come about in that day that things will come to your mind, and you will devise an evil device, and you will say, ‘I will go up to the land of unwalled villages, I will go to those who are at rest (quiet), who dwell securely all of them, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to take the spoil and to take the prey’, to turn your hand against the waste places which are now inhabited, and against the people who are gathered out of the nations, who have obtained for themselves cattle and goods, who dwell in the navel of the earth.”

The thought is expanding. The approaching hordes have descended on what they see as a defenceless land to ‘take the spoil, to take the prey’. The king of Persia may well have seen his journey southwards against Egypt as a suitable time for collecting tribute. But the devising of an evil device by this evil, mysterious king, may also be seen as bringing to mind the deceitfulness of Satan. He too is constantly thought of as a crafty deceiver in all his forms (Genesis 3:1; Genesis 3:13; 2 Corinthians 11:3; 1 Timothy 2:14; 2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 4:14; Ephesians 6:11; John 8:44). There is something especially evil about all this. For the people are not in a position to defend themselves or aware of the threat that is coming. They are so confident in God and so at rest that they have not built up defences. They have not seen the need.

‘The land of unwalled villages.’ Prior to the building of the walls of Jerusalem by Nehemiah, this was an apt description of Judah. It was defenceless. But it may also be seen as an apt picture of the church of Jesus Christ, surrounded by the world. It may also be seen as a picture of final perfection when Yahweh will provide all the protection that is needed (see Zechariah 2:4-5). This is a ‘land’ of people who did not look for war or attack. They were gathered out of the nations, they had prospered, they had made fruitfulness out of waste conditions, and they dwelt in the navel of the earth, the very lifespring of the world. The navel was seen as the source of the life force (Job 40:16).

It is a splendid picture of the new Israel, the church, who had responded to the Messiah, had turned from wasted lives to full fruitfulness, and lived out their lives before Him under the Kingly Rule of God, seemingly safe from the dark forces. Their citizenship was in Heaven (Philippians 3:20), and they dwelt in heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), transferred to the kingdom of His Beloved Son (Colossians 1:13). But they were in the world even though they were not of it. And they were outwardly to become a spoil and a prey to these evil forces. As Paul would later declare, ‘we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in heavenly places’ (Ephesians 6:12).

‘Who have obtained for themselves cattle and goods.’ Prior to the time of Nehemiah the new people of Judah my well have begun to prosper. Whilst under the hand of God the righteous have also prospered and this has here caused the jealousy of Gog and the nations.

‘The navel of the earth.’ The Rabbis seized on this expression and utilised it, considering that it referred to Jerusalem, but Jerusalem is not mentioned here. The conception has more spiritual implications indicating the special position of these people, the new people of God, as the centre of the world and having the life of God. The navel was seen as the source of the life force (Job 40:16).

We must recognise that Ezekiel was probably himself thinking of the land of Israel as the site of all this. How could he see what we have seen and what lay ahead? He could not. And we should recognise that in a sense the dark forces did gather against restored Israel (Zechariah 3:1-2). But we should also see that God is intent on revealing an idea here, couched in earthly but apocalyptic language, in terms of the new Israel, the church of Jesus the Messiah, founded in Him, with each person in it born again, and each resting in Him, but under constant pressure from the dark enemy (Ephesians 6:12).


Verse 13

“Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish, with all their young lions (or ‘all its villages’), will say to you, ‘Are you come to take the spoil? Have you gathered your company to take the prey? To carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take great spoil?’

These merchants of Tarshish probably came from the African coast. (We can gather this from 1 Kings 10:22; 1 Kings 22:48; 2 Chronicles 20:36, for Ezion-geber, mentioned in these verses, would not be a port from which ships sailed to Sardinia or Spain). So Arabia and East Africa are seen as standing by ready to trade in the spoils. While they have not attacked the people of God they are ready to benefit from what had happened. There is no earthly support anywhere for God’s people. And ‘the young lions’ may be intended to indicate that they too were waiting, eager and ready to seize the prey, like a lion pack circling the quarry.

Note.

There is no way that all this can all be referred to Israel in the present day. Israel today is not defenceless (‘unwalled’, ‘without walls, and having neither bars nor gates’), indeed she has powerful defences. No one will descend and catch her napping. But she does not ‘dwell securely’ She has to be constantly on the alert. Nor is she now the true Israel of God. Nor is she established in an everlasting land (Ezekiel 37:26-28).

However if there were a great movement of the Spirit bringing a large number of Israelis to recognise Jesus as their Messiah and become part of the new Israel, so that there was a firm witness in Jerusalem (see Revelation 11), there might be a case for seeing a secondary more literal fulfilment alongside the spiritual fulfilment.

Then interestingly the situation could be applied to the Muslim threat against Israel. All the places mentioned are mainly Muslim countries. They take in much of the Muslim world. And fanatical Muslims gathered round a fanatical Muslim leader could also theoretically be the source of the monotheistic religion spoken of in Revelation in the worship of the beast who came from the Abyss (Revelation 16:12-14; Revelation 17:11-13; Revelation 19:19-21) which sought to destroy the people of God. But this is secondary to the main issue and interpretation. And we must be wary of speculation. For a long time it was Russia that was seen as the great enemy. History makes fools of us all.

End of note.


Verses 14-16

Further Words to Gog.

God now, through Ezekiel, addresses further words to Gog. Gog is greedy for what he can extract from God’s people. But he has reckoned without God.

“Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord Yahweh, In that day when my people Israel dwell securely, will you not know it? And you will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army, and you will come up against my people Israel, as a cloud to cover the land. It will come about in the latter days, that I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me when I will be sanctified in you, O Gog, before their eyes.”

Gog is such that he is aware when God’s people dwell securely and are complacent. It is then that he makes his devious attack, and there follows a summary of Gog’s attack on God’s people with his mighty apocalyptic forces. The ‘uttermost parts of the north’ stresses the connection of Gog with the furthest north known to Ezekiel, the extremes of the world, and the north was where supernatural things could be found (Ezekiel 1:4; Isaiah 14:13) . The far north is also regularly the source of great danger (Jeremiah 1:13-14; Jeremiah 4:6; Jeremiah 6:1; Jeremiah 6:22-24; Jeremiah 10:22; Joel 2:20 see also Jeremiah 25:32-33).

Once again his forces are said to come ‘like a cloud to cover the land’ (compare Joel 2:2; Zephaniah 1:15; Jeremiah 4:13). Usually it is Yahweh Who comes with the clouds and covers things with a cloud (Ezekiel 1:4; Exodus 24:16; Exodus 40:34; Numbers 9:15-16; Psalms 97:2; Psalms 105:39). The idea may therefore be to indicate an other-worldly visitation of an imitative kind. We may see here a stress on spiritual warfare, intended by Ezekiel, but avoiding any thought of it connecting with the gods.

‘Riding on horses.’ Compare Ezekiel 38:3. Such huge armies all on horseback would indeed have been a fearsome sight in those days, for most large armies were mainly on foot. This was an enemy indeed. In Revelation a great spiritual threat to mankind is likened to horses prepared for war (Revelation 9:7-11 compare Joel 2:4).

But whatever the visitors may be the comfort is that they are finally under Yahweh’s control. It is He Who brings them against the land, even as He brought them forth with hooks in their jaws (Ezekiel 38:4) and mustered them (Ezekiel 38:8), even though they do not know it and would have loudly denied it. And through them He will reveal to the nations Who and What He is.


Verse 17

“Thus says the Lord Yahweh, Are you he of whom I spoke in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days for years that I would bring you against them?”

This question brings home that we are dealing here with something very unusual. God does not usually so speak to His instruments. And of all that the prophets had said, this is what is highlighted. The belligerent attack of Gog was something greater and beyond the usual judgments on God’s people. It was so important that the prophets had spoken about it ‘for years’. Compare Isaiah 29:1-8; Jeremiah 4:6-31; Joel 1:2 to Joel 2:14; Joel 3:9-14; Amos 5:18-20; Zephaniah 1:7-18; Zechariah 14:2. In the end, whatever its connection with the kings of Persia, this is the last enemy.


Verses 18-22

God’s Final Judgments.

“And it will come about in that day when Gog comes against the land of Israel,” says the Lord Yahweh, “that my fury will come up into my nostrils, for I have spoken, in my jealousy and in my wrath. Surely in that day there will be a great shaking in the land of Israel, so that the fish of the sea, and the birds of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all the men who are on the face of the earth, will shake at my presence, and the mountains will be thrown down, and the steep places will fall, and every wall will fall to the ground, and I will call for a sword against him to all my mountains,” says the Lord Yahweh, “every man’s sword will be against his brother, and I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood, and I will rain on him, and on his hordes, and on the many peoples who are with him, an overflowing shower, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone.”

God will respond in anger and fury, and great concern for His people. This is no ordinary anger, it is expressed in strong terms. He is here dealing with what has been at the root of all the worlds ills. God’s final wrath will be revealed against sin and all involved with it. There is no mention of warfare or opponents for Gog. God is their opponent, and He does not fight, He pours out judgments.

It is quite possible that a Persian army that had come to collect tribute had experienced extremely adverse weather conditions like those described in the Book of Joshua, when the very sun had seemed to stand still (Joshua 10:11-14). It is even possible that they suffered a plague as in the days of Isaiah 37:36, and that there was dissension in the camp. But here we find a typical apocalyptic scene where not man but God brings judgment on His enemies. Earthquake (Isaiah 24:18-20; Joel 3:16; Haggai 2:6-7), Yahweh’s sword (Ezekiel 5:2; Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 6:3; Ezekiel 11:8; Ezekiel 12:14; Ezekiel 14:17; Ezekiel 14:21; Ezekiel 21:3-5; Ezekiel 21:9-15; Ezekiel 21:28; Ezekiel 30:24-25 - which results in panic and the allies killing each other), pestilence and blood (Ezekiel 5:17; Ezekiel 14:19; Ezekiel 28:23), great hailstones, fire and brimstone (Genesis 19:24; Exodus 9:23-24; Psalms 11:6; Psalms 105:32; Isaiah 30:30; Isaiah 30:33; Isaiah 34:9), all these will be brought against Gog, causing the whole earth, both man and beast, indeed all created things, to shake in apprehension. This is a scene typical of the last judgments (Revelation 6:12; Revelation 8:5; Revelation 8:7-8; Revelation 9:18; Revelation 11:19; Revelation 14:19; Revelation 16:21; Revelation 19:21 see also Isaiah 2:10-22; Zephaniah 1:2-3). It is not war but man facing the judgment of God.

Notice the magnitude of the earthquake. ‘The mountains will be thrown down, and the steep places will fall, and every wall will fall to the ground.’ All the things that bring awe on men, the great mountains, the precipices and ravines, and men’s most powerful constructions, built to resist anything, all will collapse to the ground. Nothing can stand against Him, everything will be made level before God.

‘I will call to all my mountains for a sword against him.’ The sword of man will not be needed. Nature itself will be called on to take God’s side, used by God as a sword, and causing the terror and madness that makes men destroy each other with the sword.


Verse 23

“And I will magnify myself and sanctify myself, and I will make myself known in the eyes of many nations, and they will know that I am Yahweh.”

God will ‘magnify Himself, sanctify Himself and make Himself known’, not by some great bombastic, pretentious show, but by His actions in bringing about His final purposes. The last judgment will be God’s final vindication. There He will stand alone, supreme, revealed in all His awful holiness, made known to all who have rejected Him. There, too late, all will know that He is Yahweh, the One Who is, the great I am, the One Who causes to be whatever He desires.

‘I will -- sanctify myself.’ We constantly pray ‘hallowed (sanctified) be your name’. This means that He be ‘set apart’ before men as different, as unique, because of His supreme greatness and righteousness revealed in what He does and brings about (Ezekiel 28:22; Ezekiel 36:23), and especially in the redemption and making righteous of His people (compare Ezekiel 20:41; Ezekiel 28:25; Ezekiel 39:27).

Chapter 39 The Fate of Gog.

In this chapter a summary is given of Gog’s invasion followed by a more detailed description of his fate, along with those who fought for him. All his might will be burned up (Ezekiel 38:9) and he and his followers will be shamed (compare Jeremiah 25:33), by being left exposed and eaten by the vultures (Ezekiel 38:12; Ezekiel 38:18) before their final disposal. There is a surely a deliberate contrast here between the fate of Israel’s enemies and the restoration of Israel as depicted in Ezekiel 37:1-14. The bones of both were scattered. The former will be buried in the land for ever, while the latter will live again as the dry bones lived. It is a similar contrast to that in Daniel 12:2-3, but Daniel, with his remarkable visions, had a greater understanding of the future.

The emphasis in the chapter, however, is on the fate of Gog and of the enemies of God’s people. Their ignominious end is hugely stressed. They will be no more, buried for ever with no hope of life.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Ezekiel 38:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/ezekiel-38.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, June 6th, 2020
the Week of Proper 4 / Ordinary 9
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