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The fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39

(The Gog and Magog Issue)

      Calvary Monument Bible Church | The War of Gog & Magog: It'sSome believe Ezekiel 38-39 is a prophecy about a future to us Russian/Iranian attack on modern day Israel. This is often referred to as the battle or war of Gog and Magog. Various prophecy pundants such as Hal Lindsey, Jerry Jenkins, Joel Rosenberg and the late Tim LaHaye appear to subscribe to this position.

        This idea is based on the belief that the Hebrew word רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš), which is rendered “rosh” in some English translations of Ezekiel 38:2-3 and 39:1, is referring to modern day Russia. Some have concluded that because "rosh" sounds like "Russ," it must be referring to Russia.  Persia, which is seen in Ezekiel 38:5 as being confederate with “rosh,” is believed to represent modern day Iran which was formally called Persia. 

       It must be noted, however, that most English translations of Ezekiel 38:2-3 and 39:1 do not translate the Hebrew word רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) as “rosh” but as "chief."

      Ezekiel 38:2-3: "Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief  (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]), prince of Meshech and Tubal; prophesy against him and say” `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Gog, chief (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]), prince of Meshech and Tubal” (NIV).

       Ezekiel 39:1: "Son of man, prophesy against Gog and say: `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Gog, chief (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]), prince of Meshech and Tubal” (NIV). See the KJV, RSV, NET, ESV, Berean Study Bible, JPS Tanakh and Jerusalem Bible for similar renderings of these passages.

       Some English translations render these passages in such manner as to make Gog look to be the prince of not only Meshech and Tubal but also of “rosh.”  In these translations "rosh” is made to look like it is a geographical location over which Gog is chief as is the case with Meshach and Tubal. We know Meshach and Tubal are geographical locations. The words Meshach and Tubal come from the Asiatic words "Mushka" and "Tabal" and they are both historical as well as modern day locations. These territories still exist in modern day Turkey. What about “rosh”?  Is "rosh" a geographical location as is Meshach and Tubal?

       Here is how two English translations of Ezekiel 38:2-3 and 39:1 render the Hebrew of these passages in such a way as to make רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) appears to be referring to a territory as is Meshach and Tubal.

       Ezekiel 38:2-3: Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]), Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him and say, `Thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]), Meshech, and Tubal (New American Standard [NAS]).

       Ezekiel 39:1: "And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, `Thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]), Meshech, and Tubal; (NAS).

       Ezekiel 38:2-3: 'Son of man, set thy face unto Gog, of the land of Magog, prince of Rosh (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]), Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy concerning him Thus saith the Lord Jehovah: Lo, I am against thee, O Gog, Prince of Rosh (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]), Meshech, and Tubal (Young’s Literal Translation).

       Ezekiel 39:1: And thou, son of man, prophesy concerning Gog, and thou hast said: Thus said the Lord Jehovah: Lo, I am against thee, O Gog, Prince of Rosh (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]), Meshech, and Tubal (Young’s Literal Translation). See the NKJV and Darby translation for similar renderings.

       Since the Hebrew word רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš), does appear in the Hebrew Masoretic manuscripts of Ezekiel 38:2-3 and 39:1, and also in the equivalent Greek Septuagint rendering of these passages, it must be accounted for.  In its various tenses, this word appears 599 in the OT and is a common Hebrew word that means “chief, head, or ‘beginning.”  The Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon defines רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) as “to be the head or leader, to be over.”  Gesenius provides many examples of this usage in the OT narrative.  Gesenius also believes רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is Russia. However, he bases his conclusion on tenth century AD Byzantine writings and other such AD documents which offer unproven speculation as to the רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) of Ezekiel 38 and 39 pointing to modern day Russia.    

       It must be understood that while Meshach and Tubal are actual identified territories that existed in OT times and were part of the larger Persian Empire, This is not the case  with “rosh.” There is no historical evidence for the existence of a nation, territory or geographical location called “rosh.”  Therefore, it must be questioned how a word that is nowhere identified as a geographical location in ancient times can be used to identify a modern day geographical location?

       Rosh is not the name of a place. It is not the name of a person. It is a word used throughout the OT to describe someone being the head or leader of something.  As discussed above, the Hebrew רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) means ‘chief, head, or ‘beginning” and it is in this manner that it is used throughout the OT. Therefore, the appearance of רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) in the Hebrew Masoretic and its equivalent in the Greek Septuagint text of Ezekiel 38:2-3 and 39:1 cannot be seen as identifying a nation, territory or geographical location.         

       The presence of the word רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) in the Masoretic text and its equivalent in the Septuagint text must be seen as signifying Gog as chief prince of Meshach and Tubal and not that Gog is also the chief prince of a people, place or territory called “rosh.”  The definition of “rosh” (רֹ֖אשׁ [rōš]) does not allow for it to mean a geographical location or territory. Translators understand this and by and large render רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) as “chief” in there description of Gog as a prince over Meshach and Tubal. The few translations that render the Hebrew word רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) as“rosh” in their rendering of Ezekiel 38 and 39 appear to be doing a more literal word for word translation.

       There simply is no linguistic, etymological or historical reason to tie the Hebrew word רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) to the word Russia.  This is the conclusion of most scholars who have studied this issue.  The word "Russia" comes from the 11th century AD Scandinavian word "Rus" and does not have any relationship in root and etymology to the Hebrew word רֹ֖אשׁ (rōš) which is rendered "chief" in most English translations.

Who is Gog?

       The word Gog appears ten times in the OT with the first occurrence in 1 Chronicles 5:4 where Gog is listed as a descendant of a person named Joel. “The descendants of Joel: Shemaiah his son, Gog his son, Shimei his son.” We can’t be sure whether this Gog is the same Gog of Ezekiel 38 and 39. All remaining occurrences of the word Gog in the OT are in Ezekiel 38 and 39 (Ezekiel 38: 2 and 3, 14, 16, 18 and Ezekiel 39: 1 and 11.)     

       The word Magog appears four times in the Hebrew Scriptures. In Genesis 10:2 and 1 Chronicles 1:5 Magog is listed as a son of Japheth who was a son of Noah. The other two occurrences are in Ezekiel 38:2 and 39:6.  Jewish historian Josephus, in his Antiquities, identifies Magog as the land of the Scythians, a mountainous region around the Black and Caspian seas.

       Meshech and Tubal are also listed as sons of Japheth (Genesis 10:2 and 1 Chronicles 1:5).  The remaining OT references to Meshech and Tubal show them to be territories with which trading was done (See Ezekiel 27:13) 

       It is apparent from the forgoing that the descendants of Magog, Meshech and Tubal became populated geographical territories. A number of other such territories are seen as being allied with Gog.

       Ezekiel 38: 4-5: I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army--your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords. Persia, Cush  and Put will be with them, all with shields and helmets, also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops--the many nations with you.

       We have already discussed Persia which is mentioned 28 times in the OT. Cush and Put are seen as sons of Ham who was a son of Noah (Genesis 10:6). Cush was the father of Nimrod who is seen as establishing Babylon, Nineveh and a number of other cities (Genesis 10:8-12).  Cush and his descendants are mentioned 30 times in the OT.  Cush appears to be the progenitor of the Ethiopians. Put appears 7 times in the Hebrew Scriptures and appears to be the progenitor of the Libyans. The KJV actually renders Ezekiel 38:5 as “Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet.” 

       Like Magog, Meshech and Tubal, Gomer is a son of Japheth (Genesis 10:2 and 1 Chronicles 1:5).  Little is known about the descendants of Gomer. It is apparent, however, that such descendants did become a recognizable group of people who are seen in Ezekiel 38 as joining forces Gog.

       As a side note, as discussed in Part One of this series, many so-called Jews presently living in Israel and around the world are Ashkenaz Jews which means they are not of the tribe of Judah or any other of the twelve tribes of Israel but are apparent descendants of Ashkenaz who is listed as a son of Gomer who was a son of Noah’s son Japheth (Genesis 10:3, 1 Chronicles 1:6).  Israelites are descendants from Noah’s son Shem. 

       Other than it being mentioned in Ezekiel 38:5, Beth Togarmah is only mentioned one other time in the OT and that is in Ezekiel 27:14 where it is seen as trading with Tyre.  The Holman Bible Dictionary defines Beth Togarmah as “the House of Togarmah.”  This Dictionary records that Togarmah is a city mentioned in Assyrian and Hittite texts. It was north of Carchemish on an Assyrian trade route.  It is uncertain who the modern day descendants of Beth Togarmah are. 

       Sheba, Dedan and Tarshish are mentioned in Ezekiel 38:13. Sheba and Dedan are listed as sons of Raamah, a son of Cush who is a son of Ham who is a son of Noah (Genesis 10:7, 1 Chronicles 1:10). Descendants of Dedan appear to be associated with Arabia (See Isaiah 21:13 and Jeremiah 25:23). The name “Sheba” appears to be a common name in the Hebrew Scriptures. It appears dozens of times and is seen in association with a number of different fathers.  Tarshish is seen as trading with Tyre (Ezekiel 27:12, 25). Tarshish is where Jonah attempted to escape too (Jonah 1:3).

       What is interesting is that after Abraham’s wife Sara died, he married Keturah and they had a son named Jokshan who became the father of children named Sheba and Dedan.

       Genesis 25:1-3: Abraham took  another wife, whose name was Keturah. She bore him Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. Jokshan was the father of Sheba and Dedan; the descendants of Dedan were the Asshurites, the Letushites and the Leummites.

       1 Chronicles 1:32: The sons born to Keturah, Abraham's concubine: Zimran, Jokshan, Medan, Midian, Ishbak and Shuah. The sons of Jokshan: Sheba and Dedan.

       Seeing that the Hebrew Scriptures cite men named Sheba and Dedan as being descendants of both Ham and Abraham and Keturah, it makes it somewhat difficult to determine which Sheba and Dedan is being referenced in Ezekiel 38.

       What stands out in reading the names of those whom become confederate with Gog in his designs on Israel is that all these names show ancestry or evidence of existence as persons and/or territories in OT and secular history and most can be traced to modern day nations.  This cannot be said for “rosh.”  There is no ancestry for “rosh.”  There is no geographical territory associated with “rosh.”   On this basis alone it should be evident that “rosh” is not a person or territory and should not be used to identify a modern day nation such as Russia or any other nation.

Implements of war: 

       The implements of war described in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are clearly not modern day weapons of warfare.  The soldiers are riding horses and fighting with swords.  They are carrying bows and arrows, clubs and spears. The weapons are made of wood and it is these wooden weapons that are seen as being used for fuel for seven years (Ezekiel 39:9-10). There is nothing in the context that would lead the reader to conclude this is symbolic of modern day weapons.  The context of Ezekiel 38-39 reflects the kind of warfare common to that period of time. 

        To conclude that the weapons of war described in these chapters are symbolic of modern day weapons as some prophecy pundants advocate, is to clearly assume the thing to be proved. You have to assume Ezekiel 38-39 is prophetic of events future to us and then interpret the weapons of war described in these chapters as symbolic of modern day weapons. What evidence is there that Ezekiel 38-39 is prophetic of future to us events?

       Prophecy pundants believe that there is no historical record of the events seen in Ezekiel 38 and 39 having happened. Therefore, these events must be still in our future. This, however, is a non-sequitur argument. A non-sequitur argument is where the conclusion does not necessarily follow from the premise.  The premise is that there is no historical evidence the events of Ezekiel 38 and 39 have happened so it must be (the conclusion) that these events must be in our future.   

       However, because the events of Ezekiel 38 and 39 can’t be historically identified as having happened doesn’t mean they didn’t happen in the past and therefore must happen in our future.  To conclude the events of Ezekiel 38 and 39 haven’t happened is to assume the thing to be proved. Can it be proved these events did not happen in the past and therefore must happen in our future?  Is there reason to believe these events did take place in the historical past?  We will now take a comprehensive look at this matter.  

Has Ezekiel 38 and 39 been fulfilled?

       As discussed in Part One of this series, there are two basic approaches to Bible study which are best explained by the two Greek words exegesis and eisegesis.  Exegesis is where great care is taken to consider the circumstances (the context) extant when words are initially spoken.  Secondly, exegesis requires consideration of how those who originally heard the spoken or written words understood them (audience relevance). What meaning did the spoken or written words have for them?

       Eisegesis is the process of interpreting spoken or written words in such a way where one's own presuppositions, agendas, or biases are introduced into the deciphering of what the speaker is saying. This is commonly referred to as "reading into the text." 

       Unfortunately, it is eisegesis that is often used by prophecy pundants in drawing conclusions about prophetic texts.  I will use exegesis in our examination of Ezekiel 38 and 39.

       As covered in Part One of this series, the Northern Kingdom of Israel was taken captive by the Assyrians around 722 BC and the Israelite's of the Northern Kingdom were dispersed by the Assyrians to nations under their control.  The Assyrians then brought people from nations under their control into the area that had been the Northern Kingdom of Israel.  Around ten years after Assyria took the Northern Kingdom into captivity, they captured many of the cities of the Southern Kingdom of Judah as seen in 2 Kings 18:13 and Isaiah 36:1.  However, Jerusalem was spared.

       The Assyrian empire began to be diminished when in 612 BC the great Assyrian city of Nineveh was captured by a combined army of Babylonians and Medes. Soon thereafter Nebuchadnezzar became king of Babylon and Babylon replaced Assyria as a world ruling power. In 605 BC Nebuchadnezzar sent a force into Jerusalem and took Jewish captives back to Babylon which included Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah to whom were given the Babylonian names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (See Daniel 1).

       In 597 BC Nebuchadnezzar again sent a force against Jerusalem and took around 10,000 Jewish captives back to Babylon. This group included Ezekiel.  In 588 BC the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem. In 586 BC the walls of the city were broken down and the city and Solomon’s temple was largely destroyed (See 2 Chronicles 36:17-20).

       It was while a captive in Babylon (Ezekiel 1:1) that Ezekiel was called by God to be a prophet and between 593 and 586 BC, Ezekiel prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed (See Ezekiel chapters 1 through 24). It is apparent that Ezekiel spoke his prophecy to those who had been taken captive and sent to Babylon in 605 and 597 BC (See Ezekiel 8:1, 14:1, 20:1, 33:30-33).

       Beginning in Ezekiel chapter 25, we see the prophet prophesying the destruction of a number of nations who are seen as taking advantage of the demise of Israel. For example, Ezekiel 25 begins as follows:

       Ezekiel 25:2-4:  "Son of man, set your face against the Ammonites and prophesy against them.  Say to them, `Hear the word of the Sovereign LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you said "Aha!" over my sanctuary when it was desecrated and over the land of Israel when it was laid waste and over the people of Judah when they went into exile, therefore I am going to give you to the people of the East as a possession. They will set up their camps and pitch their tents among you; they will eat your fruit and drink your milk.

       Ezekiel 25:6-7: For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet, rejoicing with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel, therefore I will stretch out my hand against you and give you as plunder to the nations. I will cut you off from the nations and exterminate you from the countries. I will destroy you, and you will know that I am the LORD.'"

       Here we see the Ammonites being taken to task because they were rejoicing over the demise of Israel, the temple and the people of Judah.  We see Ezekiel prophesying against Moab, Seir, Edom and the Philistines for the same reasons (Ezekiel 25:8-17).  In Ezekiel 26:1 to 28:19 we see Ezekiel prophesying against Tyre for the same reasons 

       Ezekiel 26:2-3: "Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, `Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper,' therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.

       In Ezekiel 28:21-23 Ezekiel prophesies against Sidon for their apparent designs against Israel. The prophet concludes chapter 28 with the following:  

       Ezekiel 28:24-26: "`No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they will know that I am the Sovereign LORD. "`This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When I gather the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered, I will show myself holy among them in the sight of the nations. Then they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob. They will live there in safety and will build houses and plant vineyards; they will live in safety when I inflict punishment on all their neighbors who maligned them. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God.'"  

       After prophesying destruction against a number of nations that sought to take advantage of the demise of Israel and Judah, we see God speaking of gathering the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered and returning them to the land He gave to Jacob. God speaks of them building houses, planting vineyards and living safely.  Some prophecy pundants see this as being fulfilled in Jews returning to the land of Israel due to the Zionist movement of the 18th through and 20th centuries and culminating in the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948. 

        It should be apparent, however, that the return to the land spoken of by Ezekiel was not a return to take place thousands of years in the future but a return to the land that was prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah and confirmed by Ezra to take place after 70 years of Babylonian captivity (See also Daniel 9:1-2). 

       Jeremiah 29:10-14: This is what the LORD says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place (Jerusalem). For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.   Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.   You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."

       Ezra 1:1-2:  In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing:   "This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: "`The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah (See also 2 Chronicles 36:22-23, Jeremiah 25:12, Isaiah 44:28 and 45:13).

       Ezekiel 29 to 32 records a prophecy against Egypt.  Egypt had been a thorn in Israel’s side for centuries and God was going to bring judgment against her. In Ezekiel 33, the prophet is told to address his countrymen about how their behavior will determine who lives and who dies.  In 33:21 we learn that the city of Jerusalem has fallen and Ezekiel proceeds to explain why.

        Then in Ezekiel 34, there is a return to prophecy against Israel and in particular the leadership of Israel who are seen as failing to shepherd Israel. Because they have failed to shepherd Israel, God is seen as taking over this responsibility Himself. 

       Ezekiel 34:11-13: `For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.  As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.  

       In Ezekiel 35 is a prophecy against Mount Seir who apparently “rejoiced when the inheritance of the house of Israel became desolate” (Ezekiel 35:15).  God is quoted as saying “that is how I will treat you. You will be desolate, O Mount Seir, you and all of Edom.”

       In Ezekiel 36 we see a summation of things. God recites how many nations have taken advantage of Israel’s demise and how these nations will be judged for their actions against Israel. God then speaks of restoring Israel not for their sake but for the sake of his holy name which Israel is seen as profaning among the nations where they have gone.

       Ezekiel 36: 21-24; I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.  "Therefore say to the house of Israel, `This is what the Sovereign LORD says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. "`For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.

       In Ezekiel 37 we have the famous valley of dry bones metaphor where Israel is seen as having died but is now being resurrected and returned to the land.  God then speaks of both Israel and Judah being gathered from the nations to which they have been scattered and brought back to the land of Israel.

       The context of the book of Ezekiel to this point has been the fate of Israel during the time of the Babylonian Empire.  We see much prophecy concerning judgment against Israel for their failure to keep the covenant made between them and God at Mount Sinai and their overall sinful behavior. This judgment is seen as their removal from the Promised Land and their being taken into captivity by the Babylonians and scattered among the nations. This judgement includes Jerusalem and the temple being destroyed. Seen also is the judgement of those nations who sought to take advantage of Israel’s demise.

       We see God promise Israel that He will facilitate their return to the Promised Land, an event that we see God prophesying through Ezekiel and Jeremiah. While it should be evident from the narrative we have covered to this point that it is from the Babylon captivity that Israel is returned to the land, because of the manner in which this return is portrayed in several passages of Ezekiel, some believe the prophet is seeing a return to the land at the time of a future return of Christ to planet earth when it is believed Israel will become the center piece of a millennial kingdom and David will be resurrected to rule over them.

       Ezekiel 34:23-24: I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

       Ezekiel 37:24-25: "`My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children's children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever.

       Are these passages talking about a resurrected king David ruling over Israel at a yet future return of Israel to the Promised Land at the time of a future return of Christ to planet earth?  Remember, the context of Ezekiel through the first 37 chapters is judgement against 6th century BC Israel, judgment against other nations and the promise of a return of Israel to the Promised Land from Babylonian captivity which Ezra shows occurred during the time of the Persian Empire.  Let’s now look at what Jeremiah writes. 

       As we saw with Ezekiel in Ezekiel chapter 34, we see God through the prophet Jeremiah prophesying against the leadership of Israel and saying because they have failed to properly shepherd Israel He would take over that responsibility.

       Jeremiah 23:3-4:  "I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing," declares the LORD.

       God then says the following:

       Jeremiah 23: 5-8:  "The days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness. "So then, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "when people will no longer say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the Israelites up out of Egypt,' but they will say, `As surely as the LORD lives, who brought the descendants of Israel up out of the land of the north and out of all the countries where he had banished them.' Then they will live in their own land."  

       Jeremiah 30:10-11 "`So do not fear, O Jacob my servant; do not be dismayed, O Israel,' declares the LORD. `I will surely save you out of a distant place, your descendants from the land of their exile. Jacob will again have peace and security and no one will make him afraid. I am with you and will save you,' declares the LORD. `Though I completely destroy all the nations among which I scatter you, I will not completely destroy you

        Jeremiah 33:14-16: "`The days are coming,' declares the LORD, `when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.  "`In those days and at that time I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line; he will do what is just and right in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. This is the name by which it will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.'

       If you read through the book of Jeremiah, you will see that, as is true with Ezekiel, Jeremiah was prophesying the Babylonian exile and foretelling Israel’s restoration from that exile (See Jeremiah 25 through 29 and 30 through 33).  The context is the captivity and restoration of 6th century BC Israel.  God is seen as gathering the remnant of his flock out of all the countries where He had driven them and placing shepherds over them that will properly care for them.  While Ezekiel speaks of David being king over these returned Israelites, Jeremiah speaks of a righteous Branch of David’s who will be called “The Lord (YHWH) our Righteousness.”

       Since the context of both Ezekiel and Jeremiah is the 6th century captivity and restoration of Israel, it appears inconceivable that in referring to David or a Branch from David’s line that these prophets are talking about a literal return of David.  Jeremiah refers to this Branch of David as “The Lord (YHWH) our Righteousness.”  It appears much more probable that in calling this Branch of David “The Lord (YHWH) our Righteousness,” Jeremiah is saying that the ruler or rulers of a restored Israel will be appointed and guided by YHWH. 

       This brings us back to Ezekiel 38 and 39.  Does the context of Ezekiel change here?  Are we suddenly taken out of the context of the judgment, captivity and restoration of Israel into a different context that relates to an event that is to be fulfilled thousands of years future from the time of Ezekiel?  Let’s look at what Gog and his allies are recorded as saying:

       Ezekiel 38:11-12: You will say, "I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people--all of them living without walls and without gates and bars. I will plunder and loot and turn my hand against the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations, rich in livestock and goods, living at the center of the land."

       Notice that it is said Gog will turn his hand against resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations. We have seen in the restoration passages in Ezekiel that God would gather the people He had banished to the nations and restore what was destroyed by the Babylonians.

       Ezekiel 36:9-10: I am concerned for you and will look on you with favor; you will be plowed and sown, and I will multiply the number of people upon you, even the whole house of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt.

       Ezekiel 36:33: "`This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt.

       In addressing Gog and his allies, God says this:

       Ezekiel 39:21-35: I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay upon them. From that day forward the house of Israel will know that I am the LORD their God.  And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me. So I hid my face from them and handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their offenses, and I hid my face from them. "Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will now bring Jacob back from captivity and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name.

       The forgoing passages from Ezekiel 38 and 39 clearly show that the context has not changed. The context is still the exile of 6th century BC Israel and not some exile future to us. The context is still 6th century BC Israel being handed over to their enemies because of their sins and unfaithfulness to the Covenant and not a judgment of Israel in the 21st century AD or later. The context is still the return of Israel from Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC and not some captivity future to us.  Whoever or whatever Gog is, it pertains to events connected to 6th century BC Israel and not modern day Israel or an Israel extant at a yet future return of Christ.  

       That the book of Ezekiel is all about events of the 6th century BC is made plain by reading the final 9 chapters of this book. These chapters deal in detail with the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem, the regulations pertaining to its usage and how the priesthood is to function.  These chapters show a return to a strict observance of Old Covenant law and regulation. Chapter 48 provides instruction as to how the land is to be divided among the twelve tribes of Israel. 

       These 9 chapters dealing with the rebuilding of the temple and the reestablishment of Israel as a viable nation follow the narrative about Gog and his allies wanting to attack Israel but being prevented from doing so by God. The context is God protecting the returning captives as He promised he would do. 

       It must be remembered that the reason Israel was punished was because it violated the Covenant God had made with Israel at Sinai. In being restored to the land, Israel was now expected to adhere to the demands of this Covenant.  The fact that it is Old Covenant demands that are being reestablished at the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in the 6th century BC is confirmation of the 6th century BC context of the book of Ezekiel including chapters 38 and 39.

       For chapters 38 and 39 to be fulfilled in our future would require the building of a temple, an Israel living under strict adherence to the Old Covenant Law including the entire sacrificial system, and division of the land among the twelve tribes as outlined in Ezekiel 48.  Such a state of affairs would virtually contradict the NT teaching of the establishment of a New Covenant in place of the Old Covenant and the once and for all sacrifice of Christ Jesus. 

       As discussed in Part One of this series, physical Israelite's are no longer a special chosen people to God at the exclusion of others as was once the case.  They are now part of a greater group that comes under the sacrifice of Christ as Paul made very clear.  It is those who become a new creation in Christ that now constitute the chosen people and the Israel of God. With implementation of the New Covenant, there is no Scriptural reason to see present day descendants of Israel as having a present or future special status before God.

       Colossians 3:11-12: Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

       Galatians 6:15-16: Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule, even to the Israel of God.

       Romans 10:12-13: For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile--the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved."

       The Old Covenant system was associated with the physical nation of Israel and included the physical promise of land. This promise of land was realized when Israel, under the leadership of Joshua, defeated the various nations occupying Canaan and took possession of the land (See Deuteronomy 34:1-4). Because of disobedience to the Covenant God made with Israel, God punished them by removing them from the land and driving them into captivity.  However, for the sake of His holy name He restored them to the land, the temple was rebuilt and strict adherence to the Old Covenant was reestablished (See Ezekiel 36).

       The Old Covenant was terminated by the death and resurrection of Jesus and the subsequent Roman destruction of the Temple in AD 70.  Without the temple, facilitation of the requirements of the Old Covenant system ended. The New Covenant system is now in place and relates to spiritual promises. The New Covenant has to do with spiritual promises of eternal life rather than promises of land. Provision of physical land is no longer a dynamic of God's purpose for Israel or mankind in general.  There is no "two-tiered" system where God is working out one purpose for Israel and a different purpose for the Gentile world.        

       Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 must be understood within the greater context of the entire book of Ezekiel. If read in this manner, it should be evident that chapter 38 and 39 is part of the overall context of Israel being punished for its sins and then being restored to rebuild the temple and submit to a strict adherence to the Old Covenant. The book of Ezekiel is all about an historical event and has nothing to do with our future.

 Many days and future years:

       Ezekiel 38:8: After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.

       Because this passage speaks of “After many days” and “In future years” it is believed by some that the event spoken of here will happen far into the future from when it was prophesied.  The Hebrew rendered “many” is rab·bîm and appears in different tenses 462 times in the OT.  When used to modify the noun “days” it can mean a short number of days, long number of days or any number in between. Context must determine the period of time being alluded too. The Hebrew rendered “future” is bə·’a·ă·rî  and appears 61 times in the Hebrew Scriptures. As is true of rab·bîm, context must determine how future an event will be. 

       Ezekiel 38:8 speaks of Gog and his allies invading a land “that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.”  This perfectly fits 6th BC Israel. The Northern Kingdom had lost their war with the Assyrians and were removed from the land and scattered among the nations. The Southern Kingdom had lost to the Babylonians and been taken captive.  Now these Israelites have been gathered from the nations and returned to their land which had been desolate for at least 70 years (Jeremiah 29:10).    

       The fact they are seen as living in safety and unwalled villages (38:11) indicates that they have established themselves as a nation after having been gathered from the nations to which they were scattered and returned to the Promised Land. We are here looking at a return to the land some 70 years after being driven from the land plus a sizable number of additional years that it took for Israel to establish itself as living in safety, "peaceful and unsuspecting people--all of them living without walls and without gates and bars (38:11), and “rich in livestock and goods" (38:12).

       So when Ezekiel speaks of Gog and his allies invading Israel after many days and in future years, it certainly was many days and future years from the time God through Ezekiel uttered this prophecy.  However, to postulate that Ezekiel was speaking in terms of this prophecy being fulfilled thousands of years into the future is to take it totally out of the context wherein it is spoken. It is to practice eisegesis rather than exegesis in the examination of Ezekiel 38 and 39 (See the below discussion of "The Esther connection" for further elucidation of this issue).

Revelation 20:

      Because Gog and Magog are mentioned in Revelation 20 and since most believe the book of Revelation is about events future to us, it is believed the events described in Revelation 20 relate to the events described in Ezekiel 38-39 which are seen as being future to us.   

       Revelation 20:7-8: When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth--Gog and Magog--to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.

       That the events described in the Revelation are not future to us but are connected with the Roman invasion of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple in AD 66-73 is explained in detail in my website series entitled “When Does Christ Return” and in my website series entitled “Commentary on the Revelation.”

       Because I believe the Revelation is about events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in the 66-73 AD war against Israel, I submit that the writer of the Revelation is using Gog and Magog symbolically to portray the alliance of nations that with Rome descended on Jerusalem in the 66-73 AD war.  Since Gog and Magog were involved in war against Israel as seen in Ezekiel 38-39, it would not be unusual to see Gog and Magog used representatively of the armies coming against first century Israel.    

The Esther connection:

       While the historical identity of the attack on Israel by Gog and his allies remains questionable, there is a possible solution to this issue in the events recorded in the Book of Esther. Esther 1:1 introduces events that transpired during the reign of the Persian King Xerxes who it is said ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush (Ethiopia). This also included the land of Israel.  Xerxes reigned from 486 BC to 465 BC.

       As covered above, deportations of Jews from the Southern Kingdom appear to have occurred in three different periods of time that are generally dated to 597 BC for the first, 587/586 BC for the second, and 582/581 BC for the third.  Jeremiah prophesied that the Jews would be allowed to return to the Promised Land after 70 years of captivity.

       Ezra records that the Jews were given permission to return to Jerusalem in the the first year of the reign of the Persian King Cyrus (550-530 BC) (Ezra 1:1-2).  Darius the 1st (522-486 BC) became king after the reigns of Cambyses II (530-522 BC) and Bardiya (522 BC). Because of opposition to the rebuilding of the temple from enemies of the Jews, Darius issued an order that the archives stored in the treasury at Babylon be searched in order to verify the order of Cyrus. (Ezra 6:1-5). 

       In the search, the written decree of Cyrus, that had ordered the rebuilding of the temple, was found.  Darius then reinstated the decree as shown in Ezra 6:6-12. Xerxes (486-465 BC) succeeded Darius and Artaxerxes the 1st (465-424 BC) succeeded Xerxes. Artaxerxes made a decree in 458 BC giving Ezra authority relative to temple worship and another decree in 445 BC directed at Nehemiah, who was commissioned to rebuild Jerusalem.

       It is apparent from a reading of all the pertinent Scriptures that relate to the rebuilding of the temple and the city of Jerusalem, this rebuilding was a process that went on for a number of years, spanning the administrations of six different Persian kings (Cyrus, Cambyses II, Bardiya, Xerxes, Darius I and Artaxerxes I).  The temple was completed in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius as Ezra 6:15 records. The city was not completed until later.

       It is instructive that the period of time between the beginning of the reign of Cyrus (550 BC), when the initial decree was issued to rebuild the temple, and the Artaxerxes decree of 458 BC is a period of 92 years.

       The return from captivity began during the reign of Cyrus. As covered above, it would have taken a number of years for the Jews, once having returned to Jerusalem, to get to the point where they were living in villages, “without walls and without gates and bars” (Ezekiel 38:11), and as being “rich in livestock and goods” (Ezekiel 38:12). This period would have included the period of time Xerxes, who succeeded Darius, was King of Persia.  Why is this significant?

       Esther records that Xerxes had elevated a man named Haman to very a high ranking position over all the other nobles of his court (Esther 3:1).  The king had ordered that all the royal officials at the king's gate kneel down and pay honor to Haman, But a Jew named Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor. Mordecai was a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin who had been carried into exile during the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem (2:5-6). Mordecai apparently was an official at the king’s gate. He was also a relative of Esther who became Xerxes queen.

       Mordecai’s refusal to bow down to Haman infuriated Haman and he petitioned the king to have all the Jews throughout his kingdom killed. This would have included the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem and the land of Israel, The king granted his petition. Here is what happened next:

       Esther 3:12-14:  Then on the thirteenth day of the first month the royal secretaries were summoned. They wrote out in the script of each province and in the language of each people all Haman's orders to the king's satraps, the governors of the various provinces and the nobles of the various peoples. These were written in the name of King Xerxes himself and sealed with his own ring.  Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king's provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews--young and old, women and little children--on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.

       Esther 4:3: In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

       What we have here is an edit to kill all the Jews living in all 127 provinces of Xerxes kingdom. It should be noted here that many Jews that were scattered among the nations did not return to the Promised Land after the 70 years as seen in a reading of Ezra and Nehemiah. They were scattered throughout the nations that had now become the Persian Empire after the fall of Babylon in 539 BC.  The land of Israel was also under Persian rule but given autonomy to govern themselves.

       Through the efforts of the Jewish Queen Esther (Esther 4-7), Haman was disgraced and hanged and Mordecai was elevated to second in rank under Xerxes (Esther 10:3). At the request of the Queen, the king’s order to have all Jews killed was reversed and Mordecai was given the job of issuing new orders.

       Esther 8:8-14:  Now write another decree in the king's name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king's signet ring--for no document written in the king's name and sealed with his ring can be revoked." At once the royal secretaries were summoned--on the twenty-third day of the third month, the month of Sivan. They wrote out all Mordecai's orders to the Jews, and to the satraps, governors and nobles of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush.  These orders were written in the script of each province and the language of each people and also to the Jews in their own script and language.

       Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes, sealed the dispatches with the king's signet ring, and sent them by mounted couriers, who rode fast horses especially bred for the king. The king's edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies. The day appointed for the Jews to do this in all the provinces of King Xerxes was the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar.  A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies. The couriers, riding the royal horses, raced out, spurred on by the king's command.

        On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out. On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them.

        Esther 9:1-5, 16: The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Xerxes to attack those seeking their destruction. No one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them. And all the nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the king's administrators helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai had seized them.  Mordecai was prominent in the palace; his reputation spread throughout the provinces, and he became more and more powerful. The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them.

       Verse 16: Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king's provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder.  

       While there is no direct Biblical or secular historical record of the events prophesied by Ezekiel in 38 and 39, this account in Esther certainly provides the possibility that this was the fulfillment of what is described in Ezekiel 38 and 39.

       The Jews were given permission to return to Jerusalem during the first year of the reign of Cyrus which was 550 BC. Xerxes became king in 485 BC. This is some 65 years after the Cyrus degree granting permission for the Jews to return to Jerusalem. The prophecy of Ezekiel regarding the attack of Gog and his allies appears to have been given shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and speaks of this attack taking place in the future when the captives had returned and established themselves.

        Ezekiel 38:8: After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.

       Ezekiel 38:12:  I will plunder and loot and turn my hand against the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations, rich in livestock and goods, living at the center of the land."

       Since we know the Jews were to return after 70 years of captivity, we know that at least 70 years of the "many days " and "future years" would have passed before the attack of Gog. If indeed the war with the enemy's of the Jews seen in Esther is the same war described in Ezekiel 38 and 39, an additional 65 years would have passed after Ezekiel's prophecy. We are looking at a possible 135 years after Ezekiel's prophecy about the attack of Gog before this event actually took place. This would have been sufficient time for Israel to have become reestablished in the Promised Land and become an attractive prey to their enemy's.  This would also give credence to Ezekiel's prophecy that speaks of this event occurring in future years.  

       When Mordecai wrote his decree to the 127 provinces of Persia stretching from India to Cush, this would have included many if not all the nations that had allied themselves with Gog to attack Israel.  Persia was a worldwide empire at the time. It is to be noted that  Persia and Cush are seen being part of the Gog confederation that had designs on Israel (Ezekiel 38:5). Multiple thousands of the enemy’s of the Jews were killed in the Esther event (Esther 9:16) as appears to be the case in Ezekiel 39.

       As is true of Ezekiel 38 and 39, there is no secular record of the events recorded in the book of Esther. Both of these events are found recorded only in the OT Scripture. Because both these events are seen as occurring within the context of the return of the captives to the land of Israel, it is certainly conceivable that they are related. It is instructive that Ezra records that at the beginning of the reign of Xerxes, the enemies of the Jews lodged an accusation against the people of Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 4:6). This appears to be a confirmation of the Esther account of the actions of the Jew hater Haman.  Are the actions of Haman connected with what is described in Ezekiel 38-39?  Hopefully discoveries will be made that will throw more light on this issue.

Conclusion:

       The narrative of the book of Ezekiel, when compared with similar narrative in Jeremiah and Isaiah and viewed within the context of the historically known events of Ezekiel’s time, should leave no doubt that what Ezekiel wrote pertains solely to the captivity and restoration of 6th century Israel and includes what is written in chapters 38 and 39.  In view of the analysis of the Book of Ezekiel presented in this essay, to pull the events of chapters 38 and 39 out of the general context of Ezekiel and 6th century BC Israel and conclude their fulfillment is future to us is a false narrative and is without merit.

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