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Gog and Magog Against Israel
There has been a lot of debate about Ezekiel 38 and 39. Those who think they ought to be read symbolically appeal to the apocalyptic character of the descriptions.1 But it appears sometimes that appeals to certain genres are a little too convenient; the word being placed over the text like a kind of detour sign in the middle of a road, preventing people from drawing the “wrong” conclusion. Other expositors find little difficulty with unpacking the details of the two oracles, other than the identification of the names and places.2 Stuart, Alexander, and others have shown that it is unwise to attempt to identify “Rosh” in these chapters with modern Russia. No one can pinpoint “Rosh” as an ancient land,3 and students of the Bible are not to try to surmise predictions of future nations from mere names. We are not to read Holy Scripture like the quatrains of Nostradamus. All commentators seem to agree that Ezekiel 38-39 is for the purpose of reasserting God’s defense of Israel.4
It is beyond my purpose to enter into the details of these chapters.5 The chief character is “Gog,” but it is not clear who this is talking about. It is probably a generic name for a future invader. Ezekiel 38:16-17 encourage this understanding of this “prince.” When does he and his army come against Israel? Some believe that fulfilment should be sought at the end of the thousand-year term in Revelation 20. But I think this is a mistake for at least two reasons. Firstly, it will not surprise my reader to learn that I resist the urge to read the New Testament back into the Old Testament, especially where there is a real danger that one’s perception of the Old Testament in its setting will be altered in the process.
But my second reason for saying that Ezekiel 38-39 do not belong after the thousand years of Revelation 20, is that if we stick to letting the Bible unfold it seems quite obvious where this section belongs. The mention of seismic devastation in Ezekiel 38:20, and the declaration at the end of the chapter that God’s enemies (as well as Israel and the nations), will know that He is the Lord (Ezek. 38:23; 39:7, 27-28. Cf. Ezek. 36:23; 37:28), makes much better sense if positioned at the second advent, and the commencement of the coming kingdom than anywhere else. It is hard to conceive of people picking up weapons for seven years (Ezek. 39:9), or burying the dead for seven months (Ezek. 39:11-12) once the kingdom of Messiah is in full swing; there being no apparent period of time, nor indeed any need for such tidying up in Revelation 20:7-11. Besides, Micah (4:3) and Isaiah (2:4) have men recycling weapons at the onset of the Reign of peace. The promise of the restoring of “the whole house of Israel” also matches the explanation of the dry bones vision in Ezekiel 37:11f. Whatismore, that vision includes a New covenant prophecy of the Spirit (Ezek. 37:14), which is found also in the last verse of Ezekiel 39 (Ezek. 39:29).
These chapters fit the “vengeance” passages we see in Isaiah (See my comments on Isaiah 34:8 etc.). The reference to “the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 38:8; 39:2, 17) ought to be construed as coterminous with its usage in the eschatological chapters (Ezek. 34-37), where the phrase concerns the establishment of the kingdom era (e.g. Ezek. 34:11-31; 36:8-38; 37:14-28).
In summary, I think “Gog and Magog” in Ezekiel represents the forces which will be arrayed against Israel to attempt to wipe it off the face of the map. This offensive will, I believe, occur just prior to the coming of Christ in vengeance (Isa. 63:1ff.). The reason for inserting these chapters here in Ezekiel is to call attention to what Jeremiah calls “the time of Jacob’s trouble,” which the Lord will finally deliver Israel out of (Jer. 30:7).
Ezekiel’s Eschatological Temple
As I have shown already, an End Times sanctuary is projected as part of the prophetic picture of the Old Testament (Ezek. 37:26-28; cf. Isa. 2:2-3; 60:13).6 It is this temple that is described in detail in Ezekiel 40 – 48. As we start our examination of this section I want to remind the reader that I see my job as an interpreter of what God has said in the text and not a reinterpreter of the words that He chose to use. Whether one can keep these descriptions intact when reading the New Testament is not my concern right now. If we must adopt typology then let us not do it here. This book is about listening to what God says where He says it, and as He says it, and not jumping ahead of the Author. The reader will hopefully see later that there is no need to recast the words into an assumed Apostolic mold.
Many good men cannot bring themselves to accept that there are sacrifices and temple worship after Christ returns. The standard evangelical commentary on Ezekiel believes the whole vision typifies Christ and the Church.7 To many Reformed writers, the insistence of some Christians that Ezekiel 40 – 48 be taken literally is viewed as, to use Anthony Hoekema’s word, an “absurdity,”9 while other writers simply take the non-literal view because it seems more practicable to them.10
As well as this many commentators dismiss the idea of a literal temple by pointing to the numerous problems with taking such a line. Daniel Block, for example, mentions the lack of eschatological terminology in the passage such as “on that day,” “in the latter days,” etc.11 Block notices that the furnishings in the Sanctuary are absent,12 the New Moon Offerings are different.13 “The apportionment of the land of Israel among the tribes to a large extent disregards topographic and historical realities.”14
1 E.g. Douglas Stuart, Ezekiel (Dallas: Word, 1989), 352; Renz, 117. Although there is no real problem with accepting that the chapters are “apocalyptic” and taking them more or less at face value. See Lamar Eugene Cooper, Ezekiel, 328-330.
2 E.g. Ralph H. Alexander, “Ezekiel,” EBC Revised, 852.
3 Apparently, the Iliad (xiii, 5-6) grouped all the nations of the north under this name. – Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel, 220 n.1
4 For sound expositions of these chapters the reader is referred to the commentaries by Cooper and Alexander.
5 One good survey of the events is Harold W. Hoehner, “The Progression of Events in Ezekiel 38 – 39” in Integrity of Heart, Skillfulness of Hands (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), eds. Charles H. Dyer & Roy B. Zuck, 82-92. Hoehner opts for a mid-tribulation setting.
6 Despite the very clear eschatological signposts in these chapters, still some scholars claim that, taken literally, this enormous temple was predicted to be built after the Babylonian Captivity. E.g., Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 203.
7 Daniel Block, The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25-48, 505-506.
8 Curtis I. Crenshaw & Grover E. Gunn, III, Dispensationalism Today, Yesterday and Tomorrow (Footstool, 1989), 221. Emphasis added.
9 Anthony A. Hoekema, The Bible and the Future, 204. He believes that the vision pictures the new earth, “in terms of the religious symbolism with which Ezekiel and his readers were familiar.” – Ibid, 205. Of course, what they were familiar with was a literal temple, they were not at all familiar with a figurative one. Older writers tended to allegorize the passage. E.g., John Owen, Works of John Owen (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1974), Vol. IX. 180
10 E.g. Gary V. Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books: An Exegetical Handbook, 123
11 Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 504.
12 Ibid, 501.
14 Ibid, 501-502.
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.