Copyright © 2007, American Journal of Biblical
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One of the most prevalent concerns in the international community in this 21st century is driven by the collective action of a large body of extremists as they conduct a murderous war against any and all people who do not ascribe to their totalitarian religious views. The only tool of influence used by this group is murder, and there is no limit to the extent at which they would exercise this tool as they seek to annihilate all who will not submit to their religious dogma. Fed by the immediate world-wide news coverage of their continual strings of bombings, these terrorists are engaged in a murderous frenzy while world-wide military agencies are frustrated by their inability to efficiently engage this new enemy.
There is nothing new about murderous terrorism. This is the form of action used by Cain to express his anger and jealousy towards his brother Abel. Certainly, the underlying sin that foments terrorism is simply that of hatred. It is God's desire that people love one another. However, it is only by God's graceful intervention into our sin-bent hearts that such love can be realized. The alternative is the self-centered and hateful world that we are immersed in.
For Americans, the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001 came as an inestimable shock. This country had been somewhat insulated from the violence that many other nations of the world have been forced to live with every day. Part of this is due to the American psyche, a product of almost three centuries of personal independence. At the peak of the "Cold War" between nations which espouse communism and those which practice democracy, Nakita Khrushchev stated "We will bury you" (Moscow, Nov. 1956) as he addressed American diplomats. However, he also stated that he would not do so through military action, because to attack America would be to face 200 million heavily armed civilians, each willing and able to freely defend their home. Communism despises such individual freedom. It is this same personal independence that is so hated by todayís terrorists who espouse a violent form of Islamic fundamentalism. Knowing they cannot meet an army in direct battle, they wage their war by the cowardly method of placing bombs in public places, hoping to gain media attention and frustrate governments they hope to influence. Intense media coverage has given them success in both arenas.
This campaign of unabashed hatred and violence has many people living in fear. Do we need to live in fear? How do people of faith face such a conflict in a way that is pleasing to God? These are a couple of tough questions that deserve an answer. It might be instructive to better understand the history that brought us to where we are today, and observe what the Holy Scriptures reveal about Godís plan concerning these world events. When we do this, we can find hope and assurance that God is still in control and He has a plan that we are simply watching unfold before us.
Throughout history most identifiable social groups have distrusted and devalued all others, leading to no shortage of violence and war. When Israel chose, during the lifetime of the prophet Samuel, to take for themselves a "king" so that they could "be like the nations," they entered into this arena of international intrigue. Through their alliances with warring neighbors, they found themselves caught up in their wars and skirmishes. At the same time, the nation of Israel had turned their backs on God, who promised to protect them if they remained obedient to Him. With God's hand of protection removed, Israel found itself in a continual pattern of warfare with its neighbors. At the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's prophesies, the northern Hebrew kingdom of Israel had been destroyed, and Judah was no longer self-ruling, but had been overrun by Babylon. Babylon would ultimately annihilate Jerusalem and the kingdom of Judah would come to a quite permanent end. The region of Judea would be under foreign domination until the 20th century when Judah would be reborn as the nation of modern Israel. Yet, Israel still remains immersed in its violent wars with its neighbors. In recent years the violence that stems from the hatred of Israel by its neighbors has spread from the region and become directed towards all who support Israel, or any other culture that is different from their own.
When will this pattern of violence in the Middle East and its world-wide collateral damage come to an end? The simplest answer to this goes back to God's promise to Israel at Mt. Sinai when Moses brought the Ten Commandments down from the mountain. God demanded obedience to Him and to Him alone and in return promised His protection. It will not be until Israel turns to God in obedience will the pattern of violence end. Ezekiel understands this, and sees the end of the reign of violence. His prophesy, in chapter 38, speaks to the vindication that will take place when Israel finally and fully turns back to Him.
Ezekiel 38:1-3. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, 3And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:
Though Ezekiel's prophesy was predominantly focused towards Israel (Ch. 1) he also communicated God's judgments upon Israel's neighbors (Ch. 34 ff.) We have little difficulty following Ezekiel when he prophesies against those nations who have a rich history of engagements against Israel such as Egypt, Assyria, Phoenicia, and others. However, we find ourselves a little more perplexed when Ezekiel refers to the land of Magog, its cities of Meshech and Tubal, and its leader, Gog. Much speculation has been raised over the years in an attempt to explain who Ezekiel is referring to. Because of the variety of languages and dialects, recorded names often vary significantly from one literary source to another. There are references to similar names in the descendents of Reuben.
There has been a tendency to form firm speculations as to the identity of Magog, usually fueled by the current events of the speculator. During the cold war, some argued that Magog referred to the U.S.S.R. since an attack on Israel would come from "the north" as described in Ezekiel's prophesy. However, ďthe northĒ is part of an Hebrew idiomatic form that refers to coming from a position of strength. Such interpretations of Gog and Magog tend to be regionally biased and also tend to be applied to events in the speculator's own contemporary world. Prior to the 5th century, many writers freely used the names to refer to any particularly insidious enemy.
Some have argued that Magog is simply another name for one of the many enemies that the Israelite kingdoms had dealt with during their demise, and possibly a reference to Babylon since this is the only major enemy that was exempt from this particular set of prophetic curses. Others hold that it is the collection of nations that would stand against Israel following the exile. The most immediate, and the identification preferred by ancient writers, would be Antiochus Epiphanes the king of Syria. (Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya mentioned in verse 5 were each subject to Epiphanes.) These would agree that those who originally heard Ezekiel's prophesy knew to whom he referred.
Any cursory investigation of opinions concerning the identity of Gog and Magog today turns up a large following that is consistent with the historical pattern of contemporary enemies. Many argue today that Gog and Magog refer to an Arabic alliance and its continual threat to Israel, fueled by Islamic fundamentalism. This position agrees with the Koranic prophetic interpretation that describes the coming battle for world dominance to be one with Israel. It also agrees with the biblical list of nations to follow. Unfortunately, when nations refer to others as Magog, it only fuels their own hatred.
The assignment of Gog and Magog to a specific nation remains elusive, and forming any dogmatic position on their identity may be inappropriate. For the purposes of this study we will hold to what we know to be true: Gog and his nation of Magog is a mortal enemy of Israel, intent on annihilating the children of Isaac and Israel. God has an ultimate plan for Magog as He does for Israel's other enemies. Knowing that plan can be an encouragement for Israel, and serve to bring them back to Him in obedience.
Ezekiel 38:4-6. 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: 5Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: 6Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.
Ezekiel describes an alliance of nations that will rise up against Israel, an alliance coming out of the bulk of the region of northern Africa and the middle-east. God's sovereignty in the set of events is indicated in verse 4 as God mobilizes this legion of Israelís enemies. We may get the impression that Israel is the bait that draws out this unholy alliance, the bait that will set the hook into the jaws of the leviathan. Taking the bait, the alliance of nations will define itself by its collective desire to destroy Israel and any who would side with her. They will bring all of their weapons to bear as they seek Israel's destruction. However, the hook is set in their jaws by their desire to devour the bait, leaving God alone to reel the monster in.
Ezekiel 38:7-9. Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them. 8After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. 9Thou 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.
The preparation for the battle for Israel will require "many days." This battle is not one that will take place as soon as Israel is restored, but rather will come in the "latter years." The final legion, armed and assembled, will come out of many nations, yet these nations are not actually threatened by Israel in any way. Israel has no interest in attacking the peoples of these nations, and they are free to dwell safely in their homes. It is the nations who will come against Israel. Like bait, the nation of Israel will draw out from the world those who truly hate God, the God of Abraham and Isaac, and hate God's plan for the salvation of mankind through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. They will come down on Israel and her defenders like a storm, like a cloud that covers the land.
The key to understanding the timing of the battle for Israel seems tied to the references to "may days" and "latter years." Some have ascribed the event to post exilic invasions, as there are characteristics of each that seem to fit the pattern. As has been the case in every contemporary period, the same conclusions can be drawn today, and today's scenario of violent fundamentalist Islamic terrorism seems to fit the prophesy better than any others that have taken place in all of recorded history.
Ezekiel 38:10. 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:
Up to the point of the exile of Israel, the form of military conflict was rather traditional. Kings led armies against defended, fortified cities. Armies met one another on a battlefield. Victory was attained when one army defeated another and the vanquished nationís king was captured or killed. Though war is only characterized by death and bloodshed, this form of battle had some basic rules of engagement. One knew the enemy. Battles were fought between soldiers, and civilians were typically not engaged in the battle, though invading armies did often pillage the defeated. However, after the Babylonian exile of Judah, and in this prophesied time of preparation for the battle for Israel, the nature of battle would dramatically change. An insidious evil would enter the mind of those who would wish Israel's destruction. Rules of military engagement would be scrapped for evil thought and violent expression. The Lord of the battle would change from a military commander to satan himself as it is his spirit of evil that will drive the attack. Those who will attack Israel will be a loosely bonded group, coming from many nations, who do not want to destroy Israel to take its land, power, or possessions. Their purpose is simply to destroy Israel, the Chosen People and her offspring, the Christian Church.
Ezekiel 38:11-13. 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, and having neither bars nor gates, 12To 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. 13Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, 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?
At this point in Israel's history, its enemy, Magog, will take on a new and most violent strategy. Instead of going up against the fortified cities or the armies of Israel, the horde of Magog will be attacking those who have no defense. Unwalled cities have no military presence. These are populated only with civilians who are not engaged in military intrigue. Being "at rest," those who are targeted to be attacked are not positioned to defend themselves in any way. They are not expecting to be attacked. It is clear that those who Magog will attack will be those who cannot defend themselves. Rather than attacking enemy armies, Magog will come against people who are keepers of cattle, the farmers, the merchants, the citizens who have no part in the military actions of the nation.
When one attacks another at rest, or another who is defenseless, it is an act of pre-meditated, cold-blooded murder. It is this point in the battle for Israel that the strategy of Israel's enemies changes from military action to unfettered, hatred-inspired terrorism against civilians.
Ezekiel 38:14-16. 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? 15And 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: 16And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days, 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.
This is a description of the battle for Israel that is similar to that in verse 9. However, there is one major change in the context. As the nations (a great company) rise against Israel they will come in from a position of overwhelming strength (from the north), coming quickly (upon horses) they will come like a cloud upon the land. What defense does one have against the shadow of a huge, black, approaching cloud? However, instead of being presented as the plan of Magog, we see that this strategy belongs to God as He states "I will bring thee." God is bringing the battle for Israel to its inevitable termination for a purpose: that through what happens in this final battle, there will be no doubt that God is the God of Israel, and He is the victor. God's intervention in the battle will be so clear that the entire world (the heathen) will see the deliverance of God.
Ezekiel 38:17. 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?
Throughout the history of Israel, its people refused to listen to the prophets. As they preached the doom that faced the nation because of their apostasy, they simply ignored the message. Since generations had passed without such a cataclysm, each generation disbelieved that Israel was vulnerable. However, when Babylon first sacked Jerusalem and took about 10,000 captives (including Ezekiel), all of those prophesies were suddenly vindicated. In His word, God has revealed much of Himself to us as He also revealed His purpose for mankind. Much of what God has provided, people have simply chosen to ignore. Few people believe that the Holy Bible is God's inerrant word, and is the sole authority for spiritual matters. Consequently, they ignore its teachings, at best selecting those ideas that best suit their own opinions, and discount that which they do not fine agreeable. The exiled nation of Israel would find itself in the unique position of having witnessed the fulfillment of those very prophesies that they had ignored for so long. Consequently, some would listen. It may be interesting to note that during the period attributed to this writing, though 10,000 had been taken captive, those who remained in Jerusalem still thought that the city could not fall, hedging their bets against the inability of anyone to conquer God in his own Temple. It would take the final destruction of Jerusalem and the removal of God's glory from the temple for the Jews to finally realize the truth of the prophesies.
Ezekiel 38:18-20. 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. 19For 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; 20So 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.
God's plan for the overthrow of Magog is quite different from that which Israel experienced in the ancient past. The prophesy describes the defeat of Magog as a part of a great world-wide earthquake, one that is great enough to level the mountains. If this is a reference to a literal earthquake, it is like none that has ever been known, and consequently identifies this prophesy as a future event. The quake will be so great that all will recognize it as a vivid demonstration of God's presence and purpose. Consequently, God's plan is to defeat the enemies of Israel by His own intervention rather than by the use of any human military force. The power of opposition in the ultimate battle for Israel is far greater than the small nation can respond to. Consequently, as God intervenes in the battle, it will be evident that the natural disaster will be no coincidence.
Ezekiel 38:21-23. And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord GOD: every manís sword shall be against his brother. 22And 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. 23Thus 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 defeat of Magog will also result from the disarray caused by the natural disasters that God brings to bear on Israelís enemies. The terrorism of Magog will be met with armed forces from all over the earth (all my mountains.) Furthermore, the loose alliance between the existing factions among the terrorists will fail, and they will turn upon one another. Together, the breakdown of infrastructure among the nations of Magog will bring pestilence (disease from starvation and poor public facilities.) Finally, if there is any doubt concerning God's engagement against Magog, additional disasters will be brought to bear including horrific storms bearing rains with great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Through this series of events it will be quite evident that the defeat of Magog came from the intervention of God on Israel's behalf. The battle for Israel will be won by God as He exercises His hand of protection, just as He had promised at Mt. Sinai.
Is our current spate of Islamic terrorism part of the beginning of the battle for Israel? Is Magog, indeed, the historical human enemies of Israel? There have been "wars and rumors of wars" over the length of human history. However, there is a uniqueness about current events that closely matches Ezekiel's prophesy that has never been observed before: the loose collection of nations that have gathered have clearly identified that Israel and anyone who supports her is the target. Like the warriors of Magog, terrorists employ the cowardly murder of the undefended as their main tool of battle. If this is indeed the beginning of the ultimate battle for Israel, we have not come close to seeing the end of the battle when all nations will join in to stop this world-wide scourge, and we have not seen the scope of physical intervention and deliverance that God promises to show.
We live in a world where terrorism represents a clear and present danger, yet there is no need to fear. Ezekiel's prophesy does not tell us that a mighty battle will be avoided, nor does it imply that terrorism towards Israel and its supporters will not be without significant violence and destruction brought to bear against those attacked. Certainly we have seen significant loss of innocent life at the hands of Islamic terrorists bent on the destruction of Israel at a scale that seems to be escalating dramatically. Ezekiel's prophesy does state that Magog will not win, and the defeat of Magog will utterly destroy Israelís enemies, and will also be used by God to prove to all the nations that He is LORD. He is Yahweh, Jehovah. It may be hard to accept a teaching that the Islamic nations that are combining their occult terrorists against Israel are part of God's ultimate plan, yet we also recognize that God is sovereign, and He will fulfill the promises He has made. As we observe current events, witnessing nation upon nation bringing arms against Israel and her supporters, we can know that God is watching, and has an ultimate plan for her deliverance, a plan that will bring many people to God prior to the last days of the age.
How should Christians respond to these events? Many people, even Christians, have argued that we should not remain a friend and ally of Israel. To fail to support Israel and to pray for its salvation is to join the ranks of God and Magog, placing ourselves as an enemy of God's chosen people. God's plan is for the salvation of Israel as well as the salvation of all others who will turn to Him in faith. Consequently, it is appropriate that Christians pray for and support Israel as fellow sons of Abraham who God continues to draw to Himself. When we look at the ultimate disasters of Ezekiel 38, we find a parallel in the Revelation of John (Chapter 8, et. al.). When God sets His face against Magog, and brings about its destruction, included in that judgment will be all of those who have rejected God's offer of grace. Consequently, it is also appropriate that, as we witness terrorism against Israel and her allies throughout the world, we continue to make every effort to bring God's message of grace to all people so that they will know that God is LORD. Today is the day of salvation, for God is LORD today. Why wait until we learn for certain the identity of Gog and Magog? Why wait until it is too late?