Ezekiel 38 – The Defeat of Gog and Defense of Israel
A. Yahweh draws Gog to attack Israel.
1. (1-3) God against Gog of the land of Magog.
Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.
a. Set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog: In this general context of God’s restoration of Israel, here Ezekiel prophesied against Gog (a ruler) and Magog (the place of Gog). Here Gog is noted as the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.
i. Identifying Gog and the battle described in this chapter has interested interpreters and students of Bible prophecy since ancient times. It is a difficult problem without an entirely clear solution, for several reasons.
· There is no other Old Testament description of or connection with Gog (apart from 1 Chronicles 5:4, which seems to have no relevance to this passage). Gog seems to be a wholly new and strange enemy of Israel.
· Magog is mentioned as a descendant of Japheth in Genesis 10:2 (and 1 Chronicles 1:5) but is never presented as a threat or enemy of Israel in any Old Testament passage.
· The phrase prince of Rosh has also been translated as chief prince, with the idea that the word rosh describes the greatness of the prince, not a place where the prince rules (Rosh). Translators and interpreters do not agree if it should be prince of Rosh or chief prince.
· If Rosh is understood as a name of a people or place, it has no other connection or reference in the Old Testament. There are many who think that Rosh speaks of Russia or the Russians, but the only direct evidence of this is the similar sound of the names.
· Meshech and Tubal were peoples to the north of Israel, somewhere near the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. These were peoples nowhere else noted in the Old Testament for any threat or animosity against Israel.
· Though the names Meshech and Tubal have a similar sound to the Russian cities of Moscow and Tobolsk, similar sounding names alone are not enough to make a certain connection with Russia and her cities.
ii. “Notice also that none of these enemies are the old ones with which we are familiar as hostile to Israel. It is a new confederacy and antagonism.” (Morgan)
iii. Several older commentators (such as Matthew Poole, John Trapp, and Adam Clarke) identified Gog with Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the great persecutor of the Jewish people in the period between the Old and New Testaments. This is an extremely unlikely conclusion.
iv. Others see Gog as a king who lived more than a hundred years before Ezekiel’s time (Gyges, the king of Lydia). This is also an unlikely conclusion.
v. The land of Magog: “Magog, a Japhetic descendant (Genesis 10:2) in the table of nations, is identified by Josephus (Antiquities I, 123 [vi. 1]) as the land of the Scythians, a mountainous region around the Black and Caspian seas. This position is generally accepted.” (Alexander)
vi. Feinberg on Rosh: “Byzantine and Arabic writers mentioned a people called Rus inhabiting the country of Taurus and reckoned among the Scythians. There have been many writers who connected the name Rosh with the Russians, but this is not generally accepted today.”
vii. “It’s tempting to identify Rosh with Russia and therefore Meschech with Moscow and Tubal with Tobolsk, both cities in Russia; but we would have a hard time defending this on linguistic grounds. This doesn’t rule out the participation of modern Russia, since it is located in the north (Ezekiel 38:6, 15; 39:2), but neither does it demand it.” (Wiersbe)
viii. Meshech and Tubal: “The biblical and extrabiblical data, though sparse, would imply that Meshech and Tubal refer to geographical areas or countries in eastern modern Turkey, southwest of Russia and northwest of Iran.” (Alexander)
ix. John Trapp is an example of speculative guessing regarding the identity of the people mentioned here. Trapp wrote that Meshech represented the Muslims and Tubal the Roman Catholics. “These two are thus conjoined to show, as some think, that Turks and Popelings shall at length join their forces to root out the true religion, and that, while they are tumultuating and endeavouring the Church’s downfall, Christ shall come upon them and confound them.”
b. Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh: Though the similar sounding name does not certainly identify Rosh with Russia, that identification matches what we do know about Gog and Rosh. We know they are a new, previously unnamed enemy (unlike Babylonia or Assyria or Egypt), that this ruler Gog rules over more than one people (including Meshech and Tubal), and that Gog’s territory is found in the far north in respect to Israel (Ezekiel 38:15).
i. “Unlike the Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians, with whom Judah had frequent contact, the peoples in the distant north were shrouded in mystery. The reports of these mysterious people groups that filtered down spoke of wild peoples, brutal and barbaric. This combination of mystery and brutality made Gog and his confederates perfect symbols of the archetypal enemy, rising against God and his people.” (Block)
ii. Feinberg wrote in summary of Ezekiel 38-39: “They tell, if interpreted literally, of a coming northern confederacy of nations about the Black and Caspian seas with Persia and North Africa, who will invade the promised land after Israel’s restoration to it.”
2. (4-6) God promises to turn and pull Gog to attack Israel.
I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you.
a. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out: God promised to bring Gog with all his army against Israel. Whatever Gog’s own motivations for attack and invasion might be, there would be an overriding Divine purpose in this.
i. Those who see Gog as a leader of Russia have offered many ideas as to why Russia would invade Israel (a desire for a warm water port, a desire to intervene in the Middle East for the sake of oil, a desire for Dead Sea minerals). At the time of this writing, there is an active Russian military involvement in Syria, in support of a Syrian government that has at times been hostile to Israel.
ii. The reader may weigh such possibilities for himself or herself, with the understanding that political and military circumstances constantly change. Yet despite whatever human motivation may be present, the ultimate reason is that God said He would compel Gog to come against Israel.
b. With all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed: Ezekiel described the army with the terms that made sense to him and were relevant to most of human history. This was a large, fast, well-equipped army, ready for conquest.
i. “Here the prophet saw the final manifestation of antagonism to Jehovah and His people. He saw it gathering itself in terrific force, the mightiest alliance that had ever acted against Israel.” (Morgan)
ii. “These verses create the impression that Gog is an imperial power with vast military resources.” (Block)
iii. “Some have found great difficulty in the references to armor, buckler, shield, sword and helmet, but even in our day of advanced weapons of warfare it is interesting to learn that in some parts of the world conflict is going on with primitive weapons. (And how else could an ancient writer have described warfare? He knew nothing of planes and guns.) It is our concern only to understand what the commonsense interpretation of the passage indicates.” (Feinberg)
c. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them: Coming from the far north (Ezekiel 38:15), Gog also had allies to the west (Persia), to the south (Ethiopia) and to the east (Libya) of Israel.
d. Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north: Most regard Gomer as a people from Cappadocia, in modern Turkey. The house of Togarmah is often regarded as the Armenian people to the north of Israel.
i. “Gomer (probably the ancient Cimmerians) and Beth Togarmah (possibly the ancient Til-garimmu southeast of the Black Sea).” (Alexander)
ii. “Gomer identified a wild tribe living in the fog-bound region north of the Black Sea, perhaps as far west as the Crimean Peninsula. ” (Block)
iii. The mention of specific nations communicates at least two impressions.
· The nations allied with Gog and Magog will come from every direction against Israel.
· The number of listed nations allied with Gog and Magog is seven, perhaps indicating a completeness or fullness in the opposition.
3. (7-9) Magog’s armies come into the land of Israel.
“Prepare yourself and be ready, you and all your companies that are gathered about you; and be a guard for them. After many days you will be visited. In the latter years you will come into the land of those brought back from the sword and gathered from many people on the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate; they were brought out of the nations, and now all of them dwell safely. You will ascend, coming like a storm, covering the land like a cloud, you and all your troops and many peoples with you.”
a. Prepare yourself and be ready: Since Gog would come with great armies against Israel, they must prepare and be ready. Because they came drawn by God (Ezekiel 38:4) and would serve His purpose, they must prepare and be ready.
i. “Yahweh appears to be charging Gog to assume leadership over the vast forces allied with him by serving as their guardian, in keeping with his role as their leader.” (Block)
b. After many days… In the latter years: This prophecy of Gog and Magog would not be fulfilled soon, but would be fulfilled in the very last days. They would come against Israel after they had been brought back from the sword and gathered from many people in fulfillment of previous prophecies.
i. “The phrase miyamim rabbim (‘after many days,’ Ezekiel 38:8) was normally used to express an indefinite time period—a long time. It was however, used sometimes to reach as far as the end times (cf. Jeremiah 32:14, Daniel 8:26, Hosea 3:4).” (Alexander)
ii. “The attack will eventually come in the latter years (Ezekiel 38:8), a clear eschatological indication.” (Taylor)
c. Now all of them dwell safely: Gog would come against Israel when they enjoyed security in their land.
d. You will ascend, coming like a storm: The armies of Gog would come against Israel as a great destructive power, something like a plague.
i. “It is clearly stated that all these hordes will issue from the far north of the promised land and will be numerous indeed. If ever an invasion could succeed because of superior numbers, this will be it. But the entire story has not been told.” (Feinberg)
ii. Like a storm: “This storm is violent, with confused, tumultuous noises, and with devastation, as the word implieth; and come as a cloud, that is, as dark, as large, and as inevitable, and which continueth the violent waving storm.” (Poole)
4. (10-13) Gog’s evil plan.
‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On that day it shall come to pass that thoughts will arise in your mind, and you will make an evil plan: You will say, ‘I will go up against a land of unwalled villages; I will go to a peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates’— to take plunder and to take booty, to stretch out your hand against the waste places that are again inhabited, and against a people gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell in the midst of the land. Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish, and all their young lions will say to you, ‘Have you come to take plunder? Have you gathered your army to take booty, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to take great plunder?’”’
a. You will make an evil plan: God deliberately pulled Gog and his allies to come against Israel (Ezekiel 38:4). At the same time, Gog was prompted by his own evil plan, by the thoughts in his own mind. Yahweh did not drag an unwilling Gog to come against Israel.
b. I will go up against a land of unwalled villages: The first evil thought Gog had against Israel was to attack them because they seemed defenseless as they were gathered back into the land. The second was to take plunder and to take booty; to attack Israel out of economic interest. Gathered back to the land in prosperity, there was plunder to seize.
i. “Gog calculated that the attack against the people of God would be relatively easy and extremely profitable.” (Smith)
ii. “Let this be clearly noted. The invasion of Gog and his allies was an invasion not of a land desolated, but of the land in which the people of God were seen dwelling in peace and prosperity.” (Morgan)
c. In the midst of the land: “An interesting phrase is employed to define the place where God’s people will be dwelling. It is called the middle (literally, the navel) of the earth, as explained in Ezekiel 5:5. The land of Israel is in the center of the earth as far as God’s purposes for the world are concerned (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8).” (Feinberg)
i. “‘The center of the earth’ is Jerusalem, which this text conceives as being more than a political capital or religious center. It is the very basis of the world’s historical order.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. “Rabbinic literature states: ‘As the navel is set in the centre of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world…situated in the centre of the world, and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel, and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem, and the holy place in the centre of the sanctuary, and the ark in the centre of the holy place, and the foundation stone before the holy place, because from it the world was founded.’” (Feinberg)
d. Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish: The trading peoples of the world looked upon Gog’s intent with interest. They could also perhaps benefit from Gog’s conquest and plunder of Israel.
i. “Sheba and Dedan were Arab peoples. Tarshish has been identified with Great Britain, but not on good grounds. It may be either Spain or Sardinia, for there was a [place known as] Tartessus in both areas.” (Feinberg)
ii. “Gog’s enterprise has roused the greed of other nations to join in the plunder, or to traffic in the stolen goods. They are typical of those who will not initiate wrong-doing, but are eager to cash in on the proceeds of it.” (Taylor)
iii. “The young lions of Tarshish are taken to mean either strong leaders and princes or greedy rulers of these commercial communities.” (Feinberg)
5. (14-17) Gog will come upon God’s people Israel.
“Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “On that day when My people Israel dwell safely, will you not know it? Then you will come from your place out of the far north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army. You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It will be in the latter days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you, O Gog, before their eyes.” Thus says the Lord GOD: “Are you he of whom I have spoken in former days by My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied for years in those days that I would bring you against them?
a. You will come from your place out of the far north, you and many peoples with you: At the appointed time, Gog and those allied with him would come against Israel. Certainly, this includes the seven nations or peoples mentioned in Ezekiel 38:3-6 and likely means more not specifically mentioned.
b. All of them riding on horses, a great company: Ezekiel described the attack with the only images of swift military attack that made sense to Ezekiel, the people of his day, and most of human history. They would come like a cloud, a massive and unstoppable storm.
c. It will be in the latter days: Once again, Ezekiel emphasized that this attack against Israel would happen in the last days of human history as we presently know it. God would bring it to pass then to glorify Himself among the nations (so that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you).
i. The emphasis on this dramatic battle in the latter days has led many to wonder and speculate when Gog and his allies would attack Israel. Admittedly, some regard Ezekiel 38-39 as nothing more than a prophetic parable that says, “God will protect His people.” Such a casual approach to these chapters seems to lack serious regard for the text and its meaning.
ii. “The time element was distinctly stated as ‘in the latter years,’ which is equivalent to ‘the latter days’ of Ezekiel 38:16. No student of prophecy can afford to overlook this phrase in the Old Testament or its parallel in the New Testament.” (Feinberg)
iii. Though there is much we do not know about Gog’s attack against Israel, there is collectively much we do know.
· A leader from the north (Gog), who was not an ancient enemy of Israel, will lead a confederation of nations against Israel (Ezekiel 38:1-6).
· He will be motived by his own evil plans and pulled by God (Ezekiel 38:10).
· It will happen in the latter days, distant from Ezekiel’s time (Ezekiel 38:8).
· The allied nations will come from every point on the compass, including Persia (modern Iran), and peoples from the lands of modern Turkey, Libya, Ethiopia, and perhaps Armenia and Germany (Ezekiel 38:1-6).
· Gog and his allies will come as a massive, swift, and well-equipped army (Ezekiel 38:4-6).
· Gog will come against Israel when they are gathered back to their land (Ezekiel 38:8, 12).
· Gog will come against Israel when they enjoy considerable safety (Ezekiel 38:8).
· Gog will come against Israel when they are prosperous (Ezekiel 38:12-13).
· Other nations will watch and wonder how they might benefit themselves from Gog’s conquest of Israel (Ezekiel 38:12-13).
· Yahweh will defend Israel and defeat Gog, and thereby glorify Himself among the nations (Ezekiel 38:16).
· This victory will fulfill the prophetic expectation of several previous prophets of Israel (Ezekiel 38:17).
iv. Collectively, these markers help us suppose when in God’s future prophetic plan this battle may happen. Yet, the information is not complete enough for much certainty among several options.
· This battle may happen before the beginning of the last seven-year period of human government, before the glorious return of Jesus Christ. It may in some way usher in the dominance of the final world leader and his government.
· This battle may happen in the middle of the last seven-year period of human government before the glorious return of Jesus Christ. It may mark the promised hostility against Israel and the Jewish people and their promised protection by God.
· This battle may happen at the end of the last seven-year period of human government before the glorious return of Jesus Christ. There is a connection between Revelation 19:17-18 and Ezekiel 39:17-20.
· This battle may happen as referenced by Revelation 20:7-9. Not all Christians agree on the specific concepts of God’s plan for the future, but some of those who see the establishment of a physical, material kingdom of Jesus over this earth for 1,000 years think that the Gog invasion happens at the end of that 1,000 years, as Revelation 20:7-9 mentions Gog and Magog.
v. Each one of these scenarios has its own objections and problems, and this may be a case where the specific fulfillment of the prophecy is not truly understood until its fulfillment.
d. Are you he of whom I have spoken in former days by My servants the prophets: This rhetorical question with the assumed answer of “yes” means that this attack and God’s action in it was prophesied by previously appointed messengers in Israel.
i. “In any case we must somehow link this chapter with Joel 3 and Zechariah 14, which also describe a great attack on Jerusalem, during which the Lord appears to overthrow the enemy.” (Wright)
ii. “Notice that twice it is stated (Ezekiel 38:17; 39:8) that former prophets foretold this invasion (Psalm 2:1-3; Isaiah 29:1-8; Joel 2:20; 3:9-21; Zechariah 12:1 ff.; Zechariah 14:2-3).” (Feinberg)
B. The promise of judgment against Gog.
1. (18-20) God’s fury against Gog in a great earthquake.
“And it will come to pass at the same time, when Gog comes against the land of Israel,” says the Lord GOD, “that My fury will show in My face. For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken: ‘Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel, so that the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all men who are on the face of the earth shall shake at My presence. The mountains shall be thrown down, the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.’
a. When Gog comes against the land of Israel…My fury will show in My face: Yahweh vowed that though Gog thought Israel would be an easy conquest (Ezekiel 38:11), His own fury would rise against Gog and his allies.
i. Fury will show in My face: “The reaction to the audacity and effrontery of the invasion of Gog and his forces was stated in bold terms and a vivid anthropomorphism (see Psalm 18:8). The picture is of the breath which an angered man inhales and exhales through his nose. God’s patience would be exhausted with the repeated attempts of Israel’s enemies to annihilate her.” (Feinberg)
b. Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel: One way that God would defend Israel and come against Gog was to send a great earthquake. It isn’t immediately apparent how this earthquake would harm only the hostile attacking armies, but that is apparently the case.
c. All men who are on the face of the earth shall shake at My presence: The great earthquake would humble man and bring glory to God. As mountains and every wall fell, they would know it was the hand of the Lord at work.
2. (21-23) God’s judgment against Gog.
I will call for a sword against Gog throughout all My mountains,” says the Lord GOD. “Every man’s sword will be against his brother. And I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed; I will rain down on him, on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone. Thus I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself, and I will be known in the eyes of many nations. Then they shall know that I am the LORD.”’
a. I will call for a sword against Gog: Because Gog was arrogant enough to invade God’s own land (My mountains) God would come against Gog and his allies with military power. One way it would come would be as the allied nations began to attack one another (every man’s sword will be against his brother).
i. “Gog’s armies and the nations following him would become so confused that they would slay one another in suicidal strife (cf. Judges 7:22; 1 Samuel 14:20; Haggai 2:22; Zechariah 14:13), while the Lord supernaturally destroyed them.” (Alexander)
b. I will bring him to judgment with pestilence and bloodshed: Yahweh would also send disease and death against the attacking armies. This would be a demonstration of His justice.
c. Flooding rain, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone: The instruments of previous judgments would all be sent against Gog and his allies.
i. “I slew others, Sennacherib’s army, by pestilence, probably this was the angel’s sword; others, as Ammon, Moab, Mount Seir, with blood by their own swords; the Amorites with hailstones, Sodom and Gomorrah with fire and brimstone, the old world with an overflowing flood. Each single was dreadful, but all meet in the destruction of Gog to make it most terrible.” (Poole)
ii. “The invaders are destroyed by earthquake (cf. Zechariah 14:4-5), by violent distrust of one another (Zechariah 14:13), by pestilence (Zechariah 14:12), and by torrential rain and fire from heaven (Revelation 20:9).” (Wright)
d. I will magnify Myself and sanctify Myself: This overwhelming and obviously divine defeat of Gog and her allies would testify to the whole world of God’s character and power.