Ezekiel 39 – The Disposal of Gog and the Cleansing of Israel
A. Recounting of the attack and defeat described in Ezekiel 38.
1. (1-2) Yahweh directs Gog to attack Israel.
“And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal; and I will turn you around and lead you on, bringing you up from the far north, and bring you against the mountains of Israel.
a. Prophesy against Gog: In Hebrew literature, it was common to give an account and then to repeat it to give emphasis and a few additional details. Ezekiel 39:1-8 is a summary of what was described in Ezekiel 38.
i. “The overthrow of Gog and his forces is here retold in different language and in fuller detail. This is typical of Hebrew poetry and of the kind of semi-poetical writing which is used in these oracles. It is fond of repetition and delights to revert to previous statements and enlarge on them, even though the result is to destroy all sense of consecutive arrangement.” (Taylor)
b. I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal: The words of Ezekiel 38:1-2 are repeated. Gog speaks of a person, a ruler (the prince). Rosh either describes one place where Gog rules, or completes the phrase chief prince. Meshech and Tubal are other places under the domain of Gog.
c. Bringing you up from the far north: Coming with his allied nations, Gog comes from the north to attack the land of Israel. He does this not only from his own evil plans (Ezekiel 38:10), but ultimately because God promised to turn him and lead him, to bring him against Israel.
2. (3-5) Gog defeated.
Then I will knock the bow out of your left hand, and cause the arrows to fall out of your right hand. You shall fall upon the mountains of Israel, you and all your troops and the peoples who are with you; I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. You shall fall on the open field; for I have spoken,” says the Lord GOD.
a. I will knock the bow out of your left hand: Ezekiel described warfare as he knew it. A skilled archer was effective in battle, but not with the bow knocked from the hand and arrows dropped to the ground. Gog’s military effort against Israel would fail.
i. “The bow is held by the left hand; the arrow is pulled and discharged by the right.” (Clarke)
b. You shall fall upon the mountains of Israel: Gog – either himself personally or the army that was the extension of his power – would die in Israel in their unsuccessful attack.
c. I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field: Gog and his armies would not only be dead but disgraced as their unburied corpses littered the field of battle.
i. “It will be seen that the serious and fatal weakness of the enemies of Israel will be their reliance on numbers, and their confidence that Israel’s weakness means their strength and ultimate victory. They fail, as always, to take God into account.” (Feinberg)
3. (6-8) Magog itself attacked, and God’s name glorified.
“And I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in security in the coastlands. Then they shall know that I am the LORD. So I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel, and I will not let them profane My holy name anymore. Then the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel. Surely it is coming, and it shall be done,” says the Lord GOD. “This is the day of which I have spoken.
a. I will send fire on Magog: Either as part of the battle or soon afterward, God promised to send fire against Gog’s land (Magog). Gog brought the battle to Israel, but God would bring the battle to him.
b. And on those who live in security in the coastlands: The same fire that came upon Magog would also come against the coastlands. The term does not refer to a distinct place, but to unspecified and distant coastlands or islands.
i. Some have thought to connect coastlands to the United States or other modern nations. There is no foundation for this other than speculation and mystery at the fact that many modern nations (such as the United States) seem to be unmentioned in Biblical prophecy.
ii. “The isles referred to are the coastland and islands of the Mediterranean. Though the judgment on the enemies will occur in Israel, the catastrophe will extend far out to the ends of the earth to accomplish the purpose of God.” (Feinberg)
c. So I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel: God would use this remarkable victory over Gog and his allies, this miraculous defense of Israel, to bring His people to a restored relationship and to holiness. The result that I will not let them profane My holy name anymore means that though Israel was gathered to the land and lived in relative safety and prosperity, a true relationship with Yahweh had not yet been restored. It would be after this battle.
i. My holy name: “The Gog debacle will demonstrate once and for all the holiness of Yahweh, not as a theological abstraction but in action, as he stands to defend his people against the universal conspiracy of evil.” (Block)
d. Then the nations shall know that I am the LORD: Through this, God would reveal Himself not only to Israel but also to all of the watching world. God would glorify Himself through His defense of Israel and defeat of Gog.
e. Surely it is coming, and it shall be done: God solemnly affirmed Ezekiel’s prophecy. The great victory over Gog would fulfill what God had spoken before (as also in Ezekiel 38:17).
B. Gog in defeat.
1. (9-10) Defeated Gog plundered by Israel.
“Then those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and set on fire and burn the weapons, both the shields and bucklers, the bows and arrows, the javelins and spears; and they will make fires with them for seven years. They will not take wood from the field nor cut down any from the forests, because they will make fires with the weapons; and they will plunder those who plundered them, and pillage those who pillaged them,” says the Lord GOD.
a. Those who dwell in the cities of Israel will go out and set on fire and burn the weapons: Israel will destroy all the military equipment (described with seven terms) brought by Gog and his allies. Protected by Yahweh, they would no longer need the weapons themselves.
i. “These are not the weapons of a modern army, but Ezekiel used language the people could understand.” (Wiersbe)
ii. “Usually weapons left by a defeated enemy would be added to the victor’s cache of arms. After all, there would be other battles to fight. The war against Gog was to be no ordinary war. It will be the final battle, whose conclusion will make armaments obsolete.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
b. For seven years: This speaks of the vast amount of military equipment brought by Gog and her allies and left behind on the field of battle. There would be so much that they could use their fuel for seven years.
c. They will plunder those who plundered them: What the evil Gog and his allies intended for Israel would fall upon the defeated attackers themselves.
i. “The plunderers will be plundered and the robbers will be robbed. What the enemy will intend for Israel (Ezekiel 38:12) will be visited upon them, another vivid example of the law of recompense in kind.” (Feinberg)
2. (11-16) Defeated Gog buried by Israel.
“It will come to pass in that day that I will give Gog a burial place there in Israel, the valley of those who pass by east of the sea; and it will obstruct travelers, because there they will bury Gog and all his multitude. Therefore they will call it the Valley of Hamon Gog. For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them, in order to cleanse the land. Indeed all the people of the land will be burying, and they will gain renown for it on the day that I am glorified,” says the Lord GOD. “They will set apart men regularly employed, with the help of a search party, to pass through the land and bury those bodies remaining on the ground, in order to cleanse it. At the end of seven months they will make a search. The search party will pass through the land; and when anyone sees a man’s bone, he shall set up a marker by it, till the buriers have buried it in the Valley of Hamon Gog. The name of the city will also be Hamonah. Thus they shall cleanse the land.”’
a. In that day I will give Gog a burial place there in Israel: Yahweh promised to give a proper burial to the slain soldiers of Gog and his allies. This could be regarded as a compassionate act, but it was more probably to cleanse the land. The unburied bodies of the slain defiled Israel (or any land), and God’s renewed people would be concerned to cleanse the land.
i. A burial place: “It is the site of mass burial. A common burial ground was suggested by the awkwardly singular form of meqom sam geber (lit. ‘a place where there is a grave’).” (Block)
b. It will obstruct travelers: The number of bodies would be so great that it would seem to fill the valley where they were buried, making it impassable by travelers.
c. They will set apart men regularly employed, with the help of a search party: The effort to find and bury the remains of Gog’s army would be organized and thorough, in order to cleanse the land. The effort would take a total of seven months.
i. “Their work will take seven months, so immense were Gog’s forces and so complete was God’s victory. The Israelites contribute nothing to this victory; they merely clean up the battlefield.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
d. Till the buriers have buried it in the Valley of Hamon Gog: The valley of burial would become known as Gog Valley.
i. “So great will be the carnage that Gog will give his name to the valley, which will receive a new name commemorating God’s victory over Israel’s adversaries.” (Feinberg)
ii. Hamonah: “It’s likely that the city called Hamonah (‘horde,’ referring to the ‘horde’ of soldiers slain) will be established as a headquarters for this mopping-up operation.” (Wiersbe)
3. (17-20) Defeated Gog as a grotesque sacrificial feast.
“And as for you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD, ‘Speak to every sort of bird and to every beast of the field:
“Assemble yourselves and come;
Gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal
Which I am sacrificing for you,
A great sacrificial meal on the mountains of Israel,
That you may eat flesh and drink blood.
You shall eat the flesh of the mighty,
Drink the blood of the princes of the earth,
Of rams and lambs,
Of goats and bulls,
All of them fatlings of Bashan.
You shall eat fat till you are full,
And drink blood till you are drunk,
At My sacrificial meal
Which I am sacrificing for you.
You shall be filled at My table
With horses and riders,
With mighty men
And with all the men of war,” says the Lord GOD.
a. Speak to every sort of bird and to every beast of the field: The section dealing directly with Gog and his allies ends with this strange and grotesque picture of bird and beast scavengers feasting upon the corpses of the defeated enemy.
b. Gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal: The strange and powerful picture is further developed. As it was customary to often eat a ceremonial meal with an animal sacrifice, God considered this meal for bird and beast something of a sacrificial meal. The armies of Gog were like rams and lambs offered in sacrifice.
i. “After destroying the invading army of Gog, Yahweh adds a horrid indignity to the fate of the fallen warriors. Their corpses will be a sacrificial meal that birds and animals will consume. It is a stunning reversal. Instead of human beings consuming the animals of sacrifice, it is the animals who consume the human beings sacrificed for Yahweh’s honor.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. In Revelation John linked this sacrificial feast with the aftermath of the battle of Armageddon (Revelation 19:17-21). He also linked the invasion of Gog and Yahweh’s defense of His people to a battle at the end of Jesus’ 1,000-year reign (Revelation 20:7-9). Because John links aspects of Ezekiel 38-39 to two chronologically separated events, it is likely that he uses Ezekiel 38-39 as examples of these future events rather than the events actually fulfilling the prophecies of Ezekiel 38-39.
c. You shall eat fat till you are full: There would be so many corpses of the defeated enemy that it would be more than the birds and beasts could eat.
i. My table: “The sacrificial feast mentioned in Ezekiel 39:19 is referred to as ‘my table’ because it is the Lord who will hold the feast. It is a vivid figure to bring out the idea of vast carnage, deserved judgment and irrevocable doom.” (Feinberg)
ii. “The metaphor is drawn from what all Israelites picture. Very few of us in England have ever seen an abattoir, or slaughter-house, or watched the ritual slaughter of animals, so it would be useless to use them as an illustration of blood pouring everywhere. But every Israelite had watched the blood flowing at the sacrifices. This was not pointless slaughter, since most sacrifices were eaten by the worshippers after they had been offered. They provided the fairly infrequent occasions when the average man had a meat meal. But here the quantities of blood that flowed at the sacrifices are used pictorially of the death of those who have campaigned against God.” (Wright)
C. Yahweh’s exaltation among the nations.
1. (21-24) God vindicated among the Gentiles.
“I will set My glory among the nations; all the nations shall see My judgment which I have executed, and My hand which I have laid on them. So the house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God from that day forward. The Gentiles shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity; because they were unfaithful to Me, therefore I hid My face from them. I gave them into the hand of their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. According to their uncleanness and according to their transgressions I have dealt with them, and hidden My face from them.”’
a. I will set My glory among the nations: The amazing restoration described generally in Ezekiel 34-39 was focused on Israel, but never limited to them. God’s intention was also to set His glory among the nations. He would do this through the execution of His judgment.
b. The house of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God from that day forward: This restoration would bring Israel permanently into a new relationship with God. This looks to the ultimate restoration described by Paul in Romans 11:26, when all Israel will be saved.
c. The Gentiles shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity: The nations would know that Israel’s suffering was never because God was unable to help them. They would see that Yahweh was not a weak god or mere local deity. They would know that Yahweh Himself directed ancient Israel’s suffering. The calamity came upon the house of Israel because of their sin and unfaithfulness. That was why Yahweh hid His face from them.
i. “The sottish heathen thought meanly of the God of Israel, and reckoned they came into captivity because the people of some greater god had by the power of their god prevailed against Israel’s God and his people; but by this overthrow given to Gog, they shall see it was not impotence in Israel’s God, but iniquity in Israel’s people, that brought them into captivity.” (Poole)
2. (25-29) God in fellowship with His restored people.
“Therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Now I will bring back the captives of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel; and I will be jealous for My holy name— after they have borne their shame, and all their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, when they dwelt safely in their own land and no one made them afraid. When I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them out of their enemies’ lands, and I am hallowed in them in the sight of many nations, then they shall know that I am the LORD their God, who sent them into captivity among the nations, but also brought them back to their land, and left none of them captive any longer. And I will not hide My face from them anymore; for I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel,’ says the Lord GOD.”
a. Now I will bring back the captives of Jacob: Ezekiel first spoke these words to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, who especially after the fall of Jerusalem and Judah wondered if God would ever restore Israel. These promises were precious to them, and were given a minor and imperfect fulfillment in the return from captivity under Ezra and Zerubbabel. The greater and complete restoration still waits, as the New Testament recognizes (Romans 11:26).
i. “We must never overlook the literal significance of this promise. All Israel, insists the apostle of the Gentiles, who never lost his love for his own people, shall be saved. The blindness which has happened to them is only till the fullness of the Gentile contingent to the one Church has been brought in.” (Meyer)
b. After they have borne their shame, and all their unfaithfulness: Israel’s restoration would come in a spirit of repentance. They would see all that God did for them and it would humble them in light of His generous love. They would see and admit that it was their own sins that sent them into captivity and suffering.
i. “He observes the response of the house of Israel to the new outpouring of divine mercy. Far from being a source of pride at having been selected as the objects of divine compassion, the experience of grace will lead to a recognition of their own unworthiness.” (Block)
ii. “In that day of restoration, dwelling securely in their land, they would still bear their shame, that is to say, repentance for past failure would be profound, even in the day of restoration. By that attitude of mind Jehovah would be sanctified among them in the sight of the nations, but they would have the infinite healing of His unveiled face, and the abiding energy of His outpoured Spirit.” (Morgan)
iii. Left none of them captive any longer: “Ezekiel’s declaration that not a single individual will be left behind when Yahweh restores his people is without parallel in the OT. Yahweh’s restoration is not only total, however; it is permanent. He promises never again to hide his face from his people.” (Block)
c. I will not hide My face from them anymore: The completion of this work would be a true standing in God’s grace. With God’s Spirit poured out upon Israel, they would have a relationship with God based on the work and merits of the Messiah, not their own work and merits.
i. “The imagery envisioned here is that Israel will prosper only when God’s face is toward Israel. When God is absent from Israel disaster results. No doubt Ezekiel borrows this imagery from the blessing of Aaron in Numbers 6:25-26.” (Vawter and Hoppe)
ii. “It was sin that caused God to hide his face, and now grace shall be given to keep them out of sin, and to engage them to constant obedience, that God may rejoice over them to do them good in this their latter end.” (Poole)
iii. I shall have poured out My Spirit on the house of Israel: “Finally, Ezekiel 36:27 is reiterated with the powerful statement, put in the prophetic perfect tense, that I have poured out my spirit upon the house of Israel (RV). To put this in the future (as RSV) weakens the dramatic force of this assertion. True, God had not yet done this in reality; but it was such an assured word that it could be spoken by Ezekiel as if it were an accomplished fact.” (Taylor)