Ezekiel 38 and 39 (Part 1)


The next several days I will post some very interesting articles in my blog, articulating in-depth Ezekiel 38 & 39.

Dr. Thomas Ice

The battle of Gogand Magog in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is one of the most debated items in the area ofbiblical prophecy. CommentatorRalph Alexander said, "One of the perennial enigmas of Biblical prophecy hasbeen the Gog and Magog event described in Ezekiel 38 and 39."[1] Almost every aspect of this ancientprophecy has been disputed, including whether it was fulfilled in the past oris still a future prophecy. Whoare the peoples involved and do they relate to modern nations? How should we understand the weaponsthat are described? If a futureevent, when does it take place on the prophetic timeline? This is why I want to attempt anin-depth analysis of this important passage.

Real or Only Imagined?

One of the firstthings to handle when dealing with this or any Biblical prophecy is whether ornot the God and Ezekiel intended to communicate a message that would befulfilled in history. Since Ibelieve that all Biblical prophecy intends historical fulfillment, there isnothing in this passage that would suggest differently. However, there is a school ofinterpretation, primarily among liberal scholars, that does not believe thatthe Ezekiel passage (or most prophetic Scripture) was meant to give a prophecythat would be fulfilled in history. This view is often known as idealism. The idealistdoes not believe either that the Bible indicates the timing of events or thatwe can determine their timing in advance. Therefore, idealists see prophetic passages as a teacher of great truthsabout God to be applied to our present lives. Idealists believe that the Bible uses prophetic passages topresent principles between "a message that is universal and abiding. That message is not bound to anyparticular time or place even though these terms and expressions representscenes taken from countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and other placesin the Middle East."[2]

One who advocatesa non-historical, idealist approach to Bible prophecy is Brent Sandy in his Plowshares& Pruning Hooks.[3] Typical of those under the spell oftoday's postmodern influence, Sandy exalts the interpretative process at theexpense of arriving at a definite theology. Sandy's doublespeak is evident in the following:

The limitations of prophecyas a source of information for the future were demonstrated with examples fromvarious prophetic parts of Scripture. It became evident that the predicative element of prophecy is moretranslucent than transparent. Prophecy is always accurate in what it intends to reveal, but rarelydoes it reveal information so that we may know the future in advance. Figures of speech function to describenot the details of what is going to happen but the seriousness of what is goingto happen.[4]

So typical ofthose evangelicals who want to assign to biblical prophecy some specialcategory or literary genre they call "apocalyptic," Sandy says, "interpretersmust withhold judgment on many particulars of prophecy, unambiguous propheticthemes abound throughout Scripture, centering on the second coming of Jesus theMessiah."[5] Sandy concludes, "if my conclusionsabout the language of prophecy and apocalyptic are correct, all systems ofeschatology are subject to reconsideration."[6] It should not be surprising, sinceSandy is beholden to a postmodern mindset that he believes that the correctunderstanding of the Bible's eschatological message will be composed of a blendof all the different prophetic views.[7]

One thing isclear about Sandy and the emerging evangelical "scholarly" view is thatprophecy should not be taken literally, as has been done bydispensationalists. And they saywe know this, primarily, because the prophetic portions of the Bible areapocalyptic, which were not intended to be taken literally. They may not be able to tell you whatthese sections of Scripture actually mean, but this one thing they know: prophecy should not be interpretedliterally (that is according to the historical, grammatical approach) and prophecyis primarily about ideas and principles, not future historical events. "The 'mythical' understanding of thesenations and the prophecy that involves them fails to convey to us," notes JonRuthven, "the sense of a concrete, literal event that seems justified by whatis described in Ezekiel-especially to chapters 38-39."[8]

Various Timing Views

Prophecy expert,Mark Hitchcock notes: "By far, the most controversial issue in Ezekiel 38-39 isthe setting or timing of the invasion. The specific time of the invasion in Ezekiel 38 is difficult to determine."[9] There is no doubt that this is thegreatest problem to overcome in our understanding of this passage. In fact, the various positions arelabeled according to one's view concerning when these events will be fulfilled.

Among those whobelieve that the Gog-led invasion is historical, some believe that it hasalready occurred. For example,preterist Gary says, "The battle in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is clearly an ancient one. . ."[10] When does he believe that this battletook place? Amazingly, DeMar and onlya handful of commentators insist that Ezekiel 38 and 39 was fulfilled by theevents described in Esther 9, occurring in about 473 b.c. in the days of Queen Esther of Persia.[11] The other views that take this invasionas a historical event place its occurrence in a time future to our day.

Tim LaHaye andJerry Jenkins in their best-selling novel Left Behind,[12]place this invasion of Israel right before the rapture of the church. The strength of this position is thatit accounts for the burning of the weapons of war for seven years as mentionedin Ezekiel 39:9. However, TimLaHaye has told me personally that even though they represented a pre-raptureposition on Ezekiel 38 and 39 in their novel, he tends to place it after therapture but before the tribulation.

The next view,which is the one I hold at this time, is that it will happen after the rapturebut before the tribulation. Itwill be during the interval of days, weeks, months or years between the raptureand the start of the seven-year tribulation.[13] This view also accounts for the sevenyears of Ezekiel 39:9. I havealways thought that one of the strengths of this view is the way in which itcould set the stage for the Biblical scenario of the tribulation. If the tribulation is closely precededby a failed regional invasion of Israel, in other words Russia and her Muslimallies, then this would remove much of the Russian and Muslim influencecurrently in the world today and allow a Euro-centric orientation to arise. So the tribulation is preceded by afailed regional attack on Israel and this is why the tribulation ends with allthe peoples of the world attacking Israel at Armageddon. It could also set the stage for therebuilding of the Temple as a result of Islamic humiliation.

Perhaps the mostwidely held view put forth within dispensational literature is that thisinvasion will take place around the middle of the seven-year tribulation. This view often identifies Ezekiel 38and 39 with an invasion of the king of the north in Daniel 11:40. Another major argument is based upon thestatement that Israel will be "living securely, all of them" (Ezek. 38:8),which is the result of the false peace brought by the anti-Christ in the firsthalf of the tribulation. This viewhas a lot in its favor.

A significantnumber of Bible teachers believe that the Gog and Magog event is synonymouswith what the Book of Revelation calls the Campaign of Armageddon (Rev. 16:16).[14] Since Armageddon is a huge invasion ofIsrael around the time of the second coming and the invasion of Israeldescribed in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is said to be in "the latter years" (Ezek. 38:8)and "in the last days" (Ezek. 38:16), then they must be the same event. A similar, but slightly different viewis that the invasion occurs after the second coming of Christ, during theinterlude between the tribulation and the start of the millennium. The main argument for this view is thatIsrael would be dwelling in peace (Ezek. 38:8).

The last majorview is that the battle of Ezekiel 38 and 39 will occur at the end of themillennium. The basis for thisview is significant since Revelation 20:7-9 speaks of a conflict at the end ofthe millennium when Satan is released. Verse 8 says, "(Satan) will come out to deceive the nations which are inthe four corner of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for thewar . . ." The strength of thisview is obvious, Gog and Magog are specifically mentioned in the text.

In our nextinstallment I will begin a systematic study of Ezekiel 38 and 39 as we examinethe issue that will help us understand our Lord's intended meaning of thisgreat prophecy. Maranatha!

(ToBe Continued . . .)



[1] Ralph H. Alexander, "A Fresh Look At Ezekiel 38and 39," Journal of The Evangelical Theological Society, vol. 17 (Summer, 1974), p. 157.

[2] Simon J. Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary,Revelation (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2001), p. 43.

[3] D. Brent Sandy, Plowshares & PruningHooks: Rethinking the Language ofBiblical Prophecy and Apocalyptic(Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsityPress, 2002).

[4] Sandy, Plowshares, p. 197.

[5] Sandy, Plowshares, p. 203.

[6] Sandy, Plowshares, p. 206.

[7] Sandy, Plowshares, p. 250, f.n. 14.

[8] Jon Mark Ruthven, The Prophecy That Is ShapingHistory: New Research on Ezekiel's Vision of the End (Fairfax, VA: Xulon Press, 2003), p. 30.

[9] Mark Hitchcock, Iran The Coming Crisis:Radical Islam, Oil, And The Nuclear Threat (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2006), p. 178.

[10] Gary DeMar, "Ezekiel's Magog Invasion: Future orFulfilled?" Biblical Worldview Magazine, vol. 22 (December, 2006), p. 5.

[11] Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction: A BiblicalConsideration of the Left Behind Theology (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), pp. 12-15.

[12] Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Left Behind: ANovel of the Earth's Last Days(Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1995), pp. 9-15.

[13] Arnold Fruchtenbaum defends this view in TheFootsteps of the Messiah: A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), pp. 106-25.

[14] This view is held by Dave Hunt, How Close AreWe? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House,1992).