What does the Bible say about the future?
Ezekiel 38-39 commentary
This commentary should be read alongside the original scripture. Following this, I put this prophecy into my own words, which really brings the text alive when we’re no longer stumbling over unfamiliar names and terms.
V1. The word of the Lord came to me
One could say “Jesus came to me” because he is the Word of God. I pray this isn’t too distracting from the focus of this prophecy. It’s important to understand Jesus’ interaction throughout the Bible.
John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … 14The Word was made flesh, and lived among us
John 8:56 Your father Abraham was delighted to see my day. He saw it and was glad. 57Then said the Jews to him, you’re not even fifty years old, and you’ve seen Abraham? 58Jesus said to them, in fact, I tell you, Before Abraham was, I Am.
Most likely, Jesus was referring to the day the Lord appeared to Abraham to promise Isaac’s birth within the year and the day before he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah:
Genesis 18:1 The Lord appeared to him in the plains of Mamre, and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.
So, if Jesus met with Abraham, who else did he meet? If you search “Christophany” you will find many such cases. Jesus walked with Adam and Eve, cast them out of Eden, gave the law to Moses, met with Gideon, walked with Daniel’s friends in the furnace, and today he appears in the dreams of many who are inaccessible to Christians, particularly Muslims.
This could be such a case. But then, the text could just be saying “I had a strong feeling that God was speaking to me” - just as we generally hear from the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives. Jesus can’t be everywhere at once, which is why he had to leave the Earth to allow us to learn to know the Holy Spirit who is and always was everywhere.
V2-6. Ezekiel names nations or peoples from his time
These relate to the great-grandsons of Noah described in Genesis 10. Ancient historians track these people into their contemporaries such as Flavius Josephus 37-100 AD. A Google image search of “Genesis 10 map” and “Gog Magog map” reveal various interpretations. Military equipment is described through ancient vocabulary, which can be understood more generically. i.e., how could Ezekiel describe guns tanks, planes, rockets, and nukes that would be understood today?
V2. The chief leader is Gog, of Magog
2Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him,
Magog: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magog_(Bible) discusses various options. I favor Josephus’ view of him being the progenitor of the Scythians, or peoples north of the Black Sea. To name a modern nation, Russia best matches the geography. Other interpretations of Ezekiel 38-39 prefer Turkey, which I find difficult to justify.
I feel for my dear Russian friends who may be offended by this. I appreciate this feels like a hang-over from cold-war propaganda. Is it plausible? Yes, I can imagine Putin allying with his pals in Syria for another land-grab like the recent events in Crimea – for economic gain.
Gog: I understand Gog to be a title. Russia’s emperors were called Czar, which derives from the Roman “Caesar”. They don’t call their rulers this today, but nations’ rulers tend to fit a certain mold such as “Sultan” Erdogan of modern Turkey. One could consider Russia’s Putin to be their Czar. We could use his actual title, President, but this is ambiguous with many other countries. It would be too presumptuous to name Putin specifically as this prophecy could be decades away. But Putin’s recent annexation of Crimea from the Ukraine sets precedent for a similar annexation of the Golan, particularly under the pretense of restoring the land to his ally in Syria, who disputes this territory.
Meshech and Tubal: a quick Google provides https://www.oxfordbiblechurch.co.uk/index.php/books/the-imminent-invasion-of-israel/542-appendix-6-where-is-meshech-and-tubal?tmpl=component, which names the linguistically similar city of Moscow and region of Tobolsk in western Siberia. These are further justified with several respectable references.
V4. Military equipment is described in ancient terms
4And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses, and horsemen,
Horses and horsemen: In modern times, cavalry has evolved to tank and helicopter units. These perform similar functions as fast-moving forces capable of scouting and flanking to take out artillery units; as well as punching a hole in tight defensive formations. The Israeli Merkava tank literally translates as chariot.
… all of them clothed with all sorts of armor, even a great company with bucklers and shields
Bucklers and shields: A buckler is a small shield, which is convenient to carry around in everyday activities. YouTube: Why carry a buckler rather than a shield? However, it doesn’t provide full cover. Hence, we could more generically translate these as light and heavy armor. Both are important e.g., light cavalry vs. heavy cavalry = scouts vs. knights. Light infantry vs. heavy infantry = archers vs. swordsmen. Light armor is very quick and agile, but vulnerable in close combat, whereas heavy armor will take a beating at the cost of maneuverability. Light armor is also cheaper.
… all of them handling swords
Swords were the basic tool of the trade for many armies. Today, that would be guns – assault rifles.
V5. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them.
Persia: This ancient empire retained its name until 1935 when it became officially known as Iran.
Ethiopia: Also translated as Cush, Noah’s grandson via Ham, who settled south of Egypt. This land was long called Ethiopia, but recently Sudan has taken over this region, pushing Ethiopia southeast. Our Israeli guests recognize Cush as their word cushi, which translates as nigger.
Libya: Also translated as Phut, Cush’s brother who settled west of Egypt in Libya.
Interestingly, these three radically Islamic nations are presently very friendly with Russia. I’m not convinced of Sudan and Libya being significantly present in Syria at present, but Iran shudders in delightful anticipation of an opportunity to “drive Israel into the sea”.
V6. Gomer and Togarmah
6Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters
Gomer: I’m very uncertain of this. Gomer is a grandson of Noah – Japheth’s oldest son. He fathered Ashkenaz, who settled Germania and after whom Ashkenazi Jews are named; also, Riphath and Togarmah. Josephus equates Gomer with the Gauls. Some interpreters think Gomer is France, others Germany, and others western Turkey. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gomer
Togarmah: is equated with Anatolia i.e., Turkey. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Togarmah
The north quarters: This messes with me a bit as I imagine “go north until you can’t anymore” i.e., northern-most Russia. But one could read this as “until you hit the Caspian Sea”, i.e., northern-most Turkey.
V8. This will happen after Israel is rebuilt after a great war
8After a long time, you’ll be conscripted. In the latter years, you’ll come into the land that has been rebuilt after a war and has been gathered from many countries. You’ll come against the mountains of Israel, which was a perpetual wasteland. But its people have been brought there from the nations of the world, and all of them will live in safety.
This prophecy is in Ezekiel’s distant future. This is already an amazing prophetic fulfilment. 150 years ago, Palestine was a wasteland – pretty much stagnant since the Jews were exiled by the Romans. During World War One, the land was annexed from the Ottoman empire. It came under British control and was promised to Israel in the 1917 Balfour declaration. Jews were already starting to settle in that area, but it took the holocaust of World War Two to support the large-scale immigration of Jews from all over the world. Today they live in an island of safety in a very turbulent neighborhood.
V9. They’ll go up like a storm, covering the land like a cloud
This suggests an invasion force of at least tens of thousands. These troops need to already be present in Syria, but not with the intent of invading Israel. This suggests a multinational UN-like peacekeeping force.
V11. They’ll attack a land of unwalled villages
Until the widespread use of gunpowder larger settlements had walls for protection.
V12. To take a spoil
Under the Golan heights is lots of oil, that “rightfully belongs of Syria” so that they can pay Russia for their recent support. “desolate places that are now inhabited” include booming cities such as Haifa, Ashdod, and Ashkelon.
V13. Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish with their colonies
13Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof
Sheba is mostly associated with South Arabia. Luther’s German translates this as “Arabien”. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheba
Dedan is Northern Saudi Arabia, Southern Iraq, or Northern Jordan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dedanites
Tarshish is debated between being England or Spain. Tarshish was an ancient source of tin, a component of bronze. They were renown maritime traders. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarshish
England were the first to bring Jews back to Israel in their ships.
Isaiah 60:9 Surely the islands will serve me, and the ships of Tarshish will be first to bring your sons from far.
Young lions: Also translated as villages or satellite areas. I understand this as the nations colonized from England.
It seems quite plausible that these nations will look on helplessly as Israel’s suddenly overwhelmed by Russian forces. If America were to interfere, that could quickly turn nuclear. It may seem prudent for them to cut their losses and merely protest as we did the Crimean annexation or Hitler’s annexation of Poland. Others suppose some catastrophe has impaired the USA from aiding their best friend in the middle east. Perhaps the Rapture?
The ambiguity of Tarshish possibly being Spain broadens to include their South American colonies.
V14. When Israel lives securely, it’ll drive Gog nuts
Doesn’t this just nag at Russia’s current economic vacuum? After all they’ve spent in Syria propping up Assad and ruining his country. Where can Putin get a return on his expensive investment? Ooh look! Israel has all that wealth – just sitting around there in the Golan Heights that “belongs” to their friend Syria.
V15. You’ll come from your place in the far north, riding on horses
Russia is in the far north of Israel. Modern armies travel in vehicles – not on foot like they did in ancient times.
V16. The world will watch and recognize God’s hand in Gog’s destruction
So, this is God’s purpose in this – to prove himself to the world. God’s pulling the strings of the puppet Gog. God has ordained all things since the beginning and the Devil’s wrath leads him to perfectly fulfil God’s will. You’d think Satan would have learned when Jesus’ death turned sour on him. “as they watch” implies modern technologies. I’m morbidly anticipating watching this unfold over the internet.
V17. Thus saith the Lord: I told you so
V18. When this happens, God gets furious
V19-20. The ground will shake from a great earthquake in Israel
Animals of the land, water and air will shake at God’s presence. Mountains will be thrown down and walls will fall. Maybe this includes the walls to the territories occupied by Palestinians.
V21. The enemy alliance will turn their weapons against each other.
Well, this alliance is not exactly fraternal, but rather the enemies of their enemy, who suddenly remember they aren’t really friends. They’re politically orthodox Christians; and Islamists of rival persuasions. Some who seek Israel’s wealth and others their destruction – these are mutually exclusive goals.
V22. And the region will go volcanic
22I’ll execute judgement with blood and the air will kill people. I’ll rain down on him, his companions and many people with him torrential rain and huge hailstones, fire and burning sulfur.”
This sounds like whatever happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. Actually, burning sulfur is a liquid, which will stick like napalm. It may have been a component in ancient “Greek Fire” and ISIS used its gas for chemical warfare. As a teen, I burned sulfur to produce SO3, which I bubbled through H2O to form H2SO4 (sulfuric acid). My family often remind me of the day I “acid-washed” the entire garage after my experiment exploded and ruined all metal surfaces – the bikes and the car. So, God’s going to flood them out with killer hail, Greek fire, and acid rain.
V23. This’ll prove God to the world
23I’ll make myself famous and set myself apart, and be recognized in the eyes of many nations, and they’ll know that I Am the Lord God.
Watching all of this unfold in real-time over the internet, it’ll be impossible to hold on to atheism or any other god. All that remains is to accept or reject the obvious reality – that the God who rescued Israel also created the Universe, wiped out Noah’s generation, divided the languages at Babel, destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, plagued Egypt and wiped out their army in the Red Sea etc. etc. etc. Allah didn’t wipe out Israel as the Imams prophesied, but rather the God of Israel wiped out the Muslim forces.
V1. God’s going to deal with Gog
V2. Leave but a sixth part
2And I will turn thee back, and leave but the sixth part of thee, and will cause thee to come up from the north parts, and will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel
Many commentators make a big deal of this, but only the King James translation includes “and leave but the sixth part of thee”. The description of the original Hebrew word, שָׁשָׁא (shaw shaw) shows it’s used only once in the Bible and suggests confusion with a similar word to annihilate or leave only one sixth or “around midnight”. I find this phrase is confusing at best, and leads to speculations, which could be rooted in misunderstanding. We shouldn’t put much emphasis on this phrase.
V3. He’ll smash the weapons out of their hands
V4. They’ll die and be scavenged by birds and wild animals
V6. God will send a fire on Magog and on those overseas
Woah! Now I don’t feel so safe anymore. Will there be a nuclear exchange? I believe at Ezekiel’s time they still remembered those who traded far away across the Atlantic with the distant isles/coastlands where people had migrated by ships built by Noah’s grandsons after Babel. A conservative interpretation would refer to Genesis 10:5’s “isles of the gentiles” as descendants of Javan (Greece) who populated the Mediterranean and England. “They’ll recognize that I Am the Lord.” So, we’re not completely obliterated – just our atheism and liberalism.
V9-10 Israel will use their weapons for fuel – for seven years
This means this must happen before the seven-year world peace treaty / Tribulation of Daniel 9 / Revelation. Given Israel will be in refuge for the second half of this (Revelation 12:6) Some speculate this event happening 3.5 years before the Antichrist’s appearance. I don’t think we can assume these 7 years to coincide. Perhaps God will gift the world 40 years of grace to accept him after proving himself before he pours out judgement – just as he destroyed the Temple 40 years after Jesus ministry and scattered the Jews who refused to believe. This event will bolster Christian’s faith in the supernatural and bring them to maturity in all signs and wonders. Then the harvest will be ripe for Jesus to gather before pouring out his destruction of the ungodly who have also matured beyond redemption.
This timing rules out an event at the end of the Millennium as the Universe will be recreated. There are similar problems with this coinciding with the battle of Armageddon at the end of the Tribulation.
V11. Gog will be buried in Israel to the East of the Sea
Does this mean that Israel will already, or through this battle, include land east of the Dead Sea, which is presently Jordan? But then, east of the Sea of Galilee is already Israeli territory – near where this battle will take place, but down-wind from Israel.
V12. Israel will be burying them for seven months
V13. … as they recount God’s amazing protection.
V14. After seven months professionals will bury the remains
Chuck Missler notes the coincidence with protocol for the cleansing after weapons of mass destruction, e.g., nuclear, or biological, contamination.
V15. Travelers will mark any remains for the professionals
I expect there’ll be an app for that.
V17-18. Birds and wild animals will feast on them from the Bashan
18Ye 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.
“The Bashan is a term for the northernmost region of the Transjordan” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bashan
I was fascinated when I searched “Bashan” in Google maps to hit Bashan Junction in the middle of the Israeli border with Syria. I understand the Bashan to be southern Syria and the Golan Heights.
V20. They’ll be filled with horses and chariots
Hmm, analogizing horses with tanks doesn’t provide great cuisine, but then neither do chariots. But the horses that draw them and the soldiers on board would be quite delicious – particularly when roasted.
V21. God will be made famous
V22. Israel will know that I Am the Lord their God
V23. The nations will know
…the Jews were banished for their unfaithfulness and for this reason were oppressed and slaughtered throughout the ages
V25. God’s mercy will be completely restored towards Israel
He’ll thereby destroy the false theology that God replaced Israel with the Christian empire, which contradicts his faithfulness to all his people.
V26-28. All Jews will be gathered again from the nations
…and made holy. They’ll know that I Am the Lord their God who will never hide his face from them again for I have poured out my spirit on the Jews.
These last verses may skip ahead to Jesus’ millennial reign after the Tribulation. This fits with the theory that after God raptures out the Church, he will pour his Spirit out on the Jews. Although the Jews will be persecuted through the Tribulation, God’s Spirit won’t depart from them, but rather sustain them through this time as they gradually turn toward him.
Ezekiel 40 begins a new vision given at a later date of the millennial temple with a courtyard the size of Christchurch’s central business district – around 1.8km square.
Whenever this happens, the battle of Ezekiel 38-39 will radically alter global politics and religion. The potential of a nuclear war would reset the dominance of America, Russia, China, and even northern Europe. The clear intervention of the true God of the Bible will be undeniable.
This opens a more literal interpretation of the Antichrist’s revived Roman Empire (Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in Daniel 2) being a Mediterranean empire – with five toes or kingdoms in the west and five in the east. E.g., Spain, France, Italy, North West Africa, Greece, and Turkey, the Levant, Libya, Egypt, and Sudan; including presently adjacent countries.