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GOG IN EZEKIEL 38 AND 39

The Biblical prophecies found in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are some of the most obscure that we are given. In this end time it is accepted almost without question in the Churches of God that the fulfilment of the events here described are yet in the future. However, in past times this was not the standard interpretation.

The greatest difficulty involves the name "Gog", the epithet given to the villain of these chapters, who comes against Israel in war.

 

Matthew Henry, whose commentary dates from the early 1700's, concludes that "Gog" is the notorious ruler of the Seleucid Empire, Antiochus IV Epiphanes. Likewise, Bible commentator Adam Clarke, writing in the first half of the 1800's, discusses the opinions held in his day, and comes to the same conclusion.

Apart from the evidence presented by Henry and Clarke, some of which will be detailed below, two additional significant reasons justify their conclusion.

The first concerns the name Gog. In I Chron 5:4 we are told that Gog was a descendant of the patriarch Reuben. Reuben is infamous for having defiled his father Jacob's bed by having intercourse with Bilhah, one of Jacob's wives (Gen 30:4, 37:2). As Jacob is a type of Christ (John 4:12-14), the figurative picture is a usurpation of the position and rights of Christ.

Israel as a nation is repeatedly depicted in Scripture as the wife of Christ. Christ, as the God of the Old Testament, declared to Israel in Jeremiah 3:14 "I am married to you". The book of I Maccabees describes how Antiochus attacked the Jewish people and tried to wipe out their religion and replace it with the pagan Greek religion. This Seleucid ruler defiled the Temple, forbade circumcision and Sabbath keeping, and compelled Jews to worship Greek gods, putting to death those who would not comply. As no other before him, Antiochus forced himself upon God's people with his own false religion, thereby usurping the place of Christ, to whom Israel belonged and with whom alone she was to have a religious relationship.

So it can be said that Antiochus was a descendant of Reuben in spirit, just as Gog was a descendant of Reuben in the flesh.

The second reason concerns one of the aspects of the duration of this prophecy. Ezekiel 39:12 states that the people of Israel would be burying the fallen soldiers of the armies of Gog for "seven months". Using the Biblical examples of interpreting prophetic times, a month is counted as 30 days, while the "day for a year" principle (Num 14:34, Eze 4:5-6) shows us that those 30 days predict 30 years of time. "Seven months" therefore denotes 210 years. (See the page "DAYS, WEEKS, MONTHS, YEARS AND TIMES" for more on these interpretation methods).

When the Jews had finally fought off the Seleucids and gained a measure of autonomy, a period of the Holy Land's history known as the Hasmonean Dynasty commenced in 140BC. During this time the Jews were able to administer their religion for the most part unopposed, which continued when they were taken over by Rome, all the way till the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70AD. Thus we have a 210 year period spanning these two dates.

Note that one of the hallmarks of ancient Judaism was its obsession with ritualistic cleanliness. Christ commented on this a number of times. It was the practice of the Jews to whitewash tombs with lime every spring, before Passover, to minimise the chance of becoming "unclean". Winter rains, just prior to Passover season, would also expose bones, which then needed to be reburied, and would certainly have included those of fallen Seleucid soldiers. The Scriptures indeed stipulate that coming into contact with a dead body makes a person unclean, but the Jews took this much further to include stepping on, or even hovering over, a grave. Either way, dealing with "dead men's bones" was a serious ongoing issue. All in all, the 210 years of Jewish religious autonomy, from 140BC until 70AD, fits well with Eze 39:12.

The next task is to determine the identity of the land of Magog. Gog is said to be "of the land of Magog" and "chief prince of Meshech and Tubal".

 

Instead of "chief prince", some Bible versions render the Hebrew nasi rosh as "prince of Rosh", but most translations have rightly rejected that interpretation. Ezekiel uses the same word rosh just a few chapters earlier, in Eze 27:22, where it is translated "chief", "best" or "finest" (of all spices). The word rosh appears hundreds of times in the OT and is most often translated "head", "top" or "chief".

Magog, Meshech and Tubal were all sons of Japheth, one of the sons of Noah (Gen 10:2). Additionally Gomer is mentioned in Eze 38:6, who is also a son of Japheth. The same verse lists Togarmah, a grandson of Japheth. Ezekiel 38:5 also mentions Persia.

All these nations together made up the large band of territory to the north, north-west and north-east of Israel that constituted the Seleucid Empire. This empire covered most of modern day Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, and had its capital in Antioch, Syria. Ezekiel 38:6, 15 and 39:2 all state that the attack on Israel was to be from the north.

Support for the identification and location of the nations mentioned in connection with Gog can be gathered by reading Ezekiel 27, which is a prophecy against Tyre, a coastal city situated to the north of Israel. This prophecy names many of the nations that traded with Tyre, which by implication were in its general vicinity. Many of the peoples mentioned in Eze 27 are also listed in the Eze 38 prophecy about Gog.

Apart from Persia, Ezekiel 38:5 also mentions the people of Cush (Ethiopia) and Put (Libya) as being aligned with Gog (very similar to what Eze 27:10 tells us). Antiochus IV did briefly capture most of the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, and so he likely obtained slaves or mercenaries from these neighbouring regions to fight in his army. I Maccabees 6:29 indeed states that the Seleucids incorporated such fighters "from other kingdoms and from islands of the seas".

In regard to the timing of the attack by Gog, Eze 38:8 says that this would occur "in the latter years" (KJV). Futurists have taken this to mean our time today, but other translations say "in future years", or "in later years". In Dan 2:28 the similar phrase "in the latter days" occurs, when Daniel explains Nebuchadnezzar's dream to him. The vision of Nebuchadnezzar covers 2520 years of history, and beyond, and so is not only about an event way off in the future. Likewise in Gen 49:2 Jacob foretells what shall befall his children and their descendants "in the last days", but many of these things can be shown to have come about after Israel first settled in their land.

Another issue arises when verse 8 speaks of the inhabitants of the Holy Land having been brought back "out of the nations". To many modern interpreters this can't mean the Jews who returned from Babylon, because they claim that these only returned from that one nation. However, in Jer 29:10-14 God says that "after 70 years be accomplished at Babylon" He would bring the Jews back from "captivity" and that He would gather them "from all the nations" where He had driven them.

With the above information in mind, let's look at Ezekiel 38 and 39 for the gist of this prophecy.

Note that the opponents of the Seleucids in Israel were the "Maccabees", a band of Jewish warriors who violently rebelled against their Gentile overlords who were trying to stamp out the Jewish religion. The main rebel leader was Judas Maccabeus, after whom the Maccabees are named. Their exploits are detailed in the apocryphal books of I and II Maccabees.

Eze 38:1 And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying,

2 Son of man, set thy face against Gog (Seleucid king Antiochus IV), (of) the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal (the heart of the territory of the Seleucid Empire), and prophesy against him,

3 And say, thus saith the Lord God; behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:

4 And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords:

5 Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya (conscripts, mercenaries and slaves from these regions) with them; all of them with shield and helmet:

6 Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters (all the northern lands that constituted the Seleucid Empire), and all his bands: and many people with thee.

7 Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them.

8 After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years (at a future time) thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword (from Babylonian captivity), and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste ("which had long been desolate" - NIV): but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them.

9 Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee.

10 Thus saith the Lord God; it shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought (a very evil plan of eradicating God's true religion and murdering all who would not comply):

11 And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls (Est 9:19), and having neither bars nor gates,

12 To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land.

13 Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish (Arabian traders), with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil? (I Macc 3:41 states "When the traders of the region heard what was said to them, they took silver and gold in immense amounts and fetters and went to the camp (of the Seleucids) to get the Israelites for slaves").

14 Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say unto Gog, thus saith the Lord God; in that day when my people of Israel dwelleth safely, shalt thou not know it?

15 And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts, thou, and many people with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company, and a mighty army:

16 And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days (at a future time), and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O Gog, before their eyes.

17 Thus saith the Lord God; art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them? (Antiochus is also prophesied about in Dan 11:21-32 and Zech 9:13-16)

18 And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord God, that my fury shall come up in my face.

19 For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken, surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel (intense warfare between the Seleucids and the Maccabees);

20 So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.

21 And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord God: every man's sword shall be against his brother.

22 And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone (through the Maccabean wars, God inflicted mighty defeats upon the Seleucids).

23 Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the Lord (the miraculous victories of the greatly outnumbered Maccabees are still remembered more than two thousand years later. The Jewish festival of Hanukkah, a.k.a. the Feast of Dedication, commemorates these events every year, and John 10:22 records that Christ attended this feast in Jerusalem).

Eze 39:1 Therefore, thou son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, thus saith the Lord God; behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:

2 And I will turn thee back, and leave but the sixth part of thee (the Seleucid Empire was greatly reduced in size soon after this war), and will cause thee to come up from the north parts, and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel:

3 And I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand, and will cause thine arrows to fall out of thy right hand.

4 Thou (the Seleucid forces) shalt fall upon the mountains of Israel, thou, and all thy bands, and the people that is with thee (including those who followed on from Antiochus, who himself died four years into this war): I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort, and to the beasts of the field to be devoured.

5 Thou shalt fall upon the open field (the Seleucid forces were defeated in various battles in different parts of Israel): for I have spoken it, saith the Lord God.

6 And I will send a fire (God's judgement) on Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles: and they shall know that I am the Lord.

7 So will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, the Holy One in Israel.

8 Behold, it is come, and it is done, saith the Lord God; this is the day whereof I have spoken.

9 And they that dwell in the cities of Israel shall go forth, and shall set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and the bucklers, the bows and the arrows, and the handstaves, and the spears, and they shall burn them with fire seven years (the burning didn't necessarily take place for seven years in every location where battles were fought; rather this more likely refers to the duration of the war. Judas Maccabeus and his men waged a victorious guerilla war with the Seleucids over a period of seven years, from 167BC until 161BC. Judas then made a defence treaty with the Romans, and was subsequently killed in his next battle with the Seleucids in 160BC):

10 So that they shall take no wood out of the field, neither cut down any out of the forests; for they shall burn the weapons with fire: and they shall spoil those that spoiled them, and rob those that robbed them, saith the Lord God.

11 And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will give unto Gog a place there of graves in Israel, the valley of the passengers (travellers) on the east of the sea: and it shall stop the noses of the passengers: and there shall they bury Gog and all his multitude: and they shall call it the valley of Hamon-gog.

12 And seven months (as already described above) shall the house of Israel be burying of them, that they may cleanse the land.

13 Yea, all the people of the land shall bury them; and it shall be to them a renown the day that I shall be glorified, saith the Lord God (Christ frequently commented on the strict ritualistic practices of the Jews).

14 And they shall sever out men of continual employment, passing through the land to bury with the passengers those that remain upon the face of the earth, to cleanse it: after (until) the end of seven months shall they search.

15 And the passengers that pass through the land, when any seeth a man's bone, then shall he set up a sign by it, till the buriers have buried it in the valley of Hamon-gog.

16 And also the name of the city shall be Hamonah. Thus shall they cleanse the land.

17 And, thou son of man, thus saith the Lord God; speak unto every feathered fowl, and to every beast of the field, assemble yourselves, and come; gather yourselves on every side to my sacrifice that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel, that ye may eat flesh, and drink blood (birds of prey devouring the corpses of the Seleucids).

18 Ye shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan.

19 And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you.

20 Thus ye shall be filled at my table with horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war, saith the Lord God.

21 And I will set my glory among the heathen, and all the heathen shall see my judgment that I have executed, and my hand that I have laid upon them.

22 So the house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day and forward.

After the seven years of war between the Seleucids and the Maccabees came to an end, a period of approximately 20 years followed during which the Seleucids maintained control over Israel, and continued to occupy a fort in Jerusalem. During this time, the close presence of enemy soldiers made the Jews fearful of attending the Temple. However, as the Seleucid Empire's power waned, their territory was more and more reduced, until they eventually only controlled Syria itself. The Jerusalem fort, called the Acra, the last vestige of Greek power in Israel, was overrun in 141BC, when one of Judas Maccabeus' brothers, Simon Thassi, conquered it and assumed power in Jerusalem. Hence the beginning of the rule over Judah and Jerusalem by the Hasmonean Dynasty is generally placed at around 140BC.

This is where the "seven months", or 210 years, mentioned in Eze 39:11-16, commence, as described above. This was the period during which the Jews were able to practise their religion, mostly without interference, until the 70AD destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans.

So we see that the prophecies concerning Gog in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are very well suited to the Antiochus/Seleucid explanation, and that contrary to Futurist expectations prevalent today, this prophecy saw its fulfilment some two thousand years ago.

Misunderstanding of the chapters leading up to the Gog prophecy have greatly contributed to wrong conclusions being drawn.

Ezekiel 36 speaks of the return of the Jews to the Holy Land after their time in Babylon, and the spirit-led men who guided them in that return and the restoration of their nation.

Ezekiel 37 begins with the same narrative, but told in a very figurative way. The "valley" of "dry bones" pictures people of "the whole house of Israel" (v 11) who are symbolically "dead" in a foreign land, but who upon their return to the land of Israel come back to life as a nation (v 14). God calls them "the whole house of Israel" because even though at their core the Babylonian captives were the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, some members of all the 12 tribes must have been present in small numbers among them, and consequently returned to the Holy Land at the end of the captivity. Ezekiel 8:1 and 14:1 indeed show that Ezekiel dealt with leaders from both Judah and Israel, and clearly he knew the difference.

Then chapter 37 continues with the prophecy of the two "sticks" becoming "one stick", i.e. the houses of Israel and Judah being unified, which has occurred over the last two thousand years by people from all the tribes of Israel, in all the countries where they were scattered, being incorporated into God's Church, under one King and Shepherd, Jesus Christ the son of David (v 22-25).

Ezekiel 40-48 is another stumbling block to the Churches of God when it comes to the identification of Gog. The common belief is that the temple described in these chapters is to be built after Christ's return, so the assumption is made that the Gog war must immediately precede it. However, as Ezekiel's temple description includes the offering of animal sacrifices, it cannot pertain to the future, since Christ by His own perfect sacrifice brought these to an end (Heb 10:12). Also, Rev 21:22 plainly states that there is no physical temple in the millennial New Jerusalem.

What we find in these latter chapters of Ezekiel is that just like the prophecies of e.g. Daniel, Zechariah and Revelation, this vision presents a chronological sequence of events. Ezekiel 40-46 contains a plan for a temple that was to be shown to the exiles in Babylon. They had been in Babylonian captivity for some years, and so God sent Ezekiel to them with a message of hope and encouragement for their future as His people. If they would repent and obey His laws, He would renew His covenant with them. Then, upon their return to the land of Judah at the end of their period of exile, they would build a new temple, to which their Messiah would come at a future time.

Chapter 47 goes on to describe water emanating from the temple and flowing toward the Dead Sea. This is figurative language concerning Christ's first coming and His establishment of the Christian Church. Verses 9-10 speak of fishermen and fish, which are symbols, used also by Christ, of apostles and their converts (Matt 4:19; Mk 1:17). This refers to the Church age, which began on the day of Pentecost, and has today almost completed its course, and which will culminate in the first resurrection and the marriage of Christ to the Church.

The inheritance of all the land of Israel, and its division among the twelve tribes, described in the remainder of chapter 47 and in chapter 48, is yet future and will very likely occur when the Christian era has been concluded and God's Kingdom rules from the Holy Land.

These explanations of the chapters that surround Ezekiel 38-39 show that the above interpretation concerning Gog is in agreement with the overall time frame and story flow of the latter part of this book.

As a footnote, the prophecy of "Gog and Magog" in Rev 20:7-9 occurs at the end of Christ's one thousand year rule on Earth, and is therefore not the same as the war in Ezekiel 38-39. Rather, the Ezekiel war is a type of the war in Rev 20. The names in Revelation are symbolic of all evildoers, be they Israelite (Gog) or non-Israelite (Magog).

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