The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Ezekiel 38

Eze 38:1

Eze 38, 39 will be fulfilled after Christ has returned and begun his reign as King of the Holy Land: (1) Eze 37, 38, and 39 are to be read as one prophecy. Eze 37 begins with the dry bones of Israel scattered in Gentile lands (Eze 37: 21), and Eze 39:11 speaks of Gentile bones scattered in Israel's Land. If this is accepted, then what of the fine picture presented in Eze 37 of God's tabernacle planted in the midst of a sanctified Israel, and "my servant David being their prince for ever" (Eze 37: 25,27)? The northern invasion follows on after this. (2) Repeatedly Israel is described as "dwelling safely" or "securely" (Eze 38:8,11; 39:26). This is a phrase which, in the prophets, is always associated with the Kingdom; eg, Eze 34:25,27,28; Hos 2:18; Zec 14: 11. Israel is plainly NOT "dwelling safely" today. (3) "Dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates" (Eze 38:11) does not describe the Israel of today, which spends a higher percentage of its national income on armaments than any other nation. But, if these words are applied to Israel dwelling in peace under its Messiah, there is no difficulty. On the other hand Zec 2:4,5 uses very similar language about Jerusalem in its Kingdom Glory. (4) The invader is intent on carrying away "silver and gold, cattle and goods -- a great spoil" (Eze 38:13). This scarcely applies to the Israel of today. (5) Eze 38 is // Psa 2: "The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed... Yet have I set my king upon my holy hill of Zion" (Psa 2:2,6). The experience of David AFTER his capture of Jerusalem, and enthronement there (2Sa 8) makes an impressive prototype; so this is a prophecy of a time AFTER the Kingdom is established.

Eze 38:2

Ezekiel's "confederacy of 10": Omitting "rosh", Meshech, Tubal, Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, Togarmah, Sheba(!), Dedan(!), and Tarshish(!) (WRev 226). The forces of Eze 38 are related to Japheth (see Gen 10), whereas the forces of Psa 83 are related to Shem.

See Lesson, Russia in the Bible?.

GOG: A Scythian king mentioned in an Assyrian inscription. Scythia = area near Black Sea.

"The identification of Gog with Russia appears to be fairly secure. That this is an allusion to Gugu, a Scythian king mentioned in a Babylonian inscription, seems reasonable; and the Scythians most likely inhabited all the area round the Black Sea. But a safer means of identification is the expression in Eze 38:15: 'thou shalt come forth from thy place out of the uttermost parts of the NORTH' (RV). From the standpoint of one in Palestine this expression most obviously refers to Turkey or Russia, yet even this conclusion loses some of its inevitability when one encounters the same expression in Isa 14:13 (RV) regarding the king of Babylon!" (TofE ch 18).

OF THE LAND OF MAGOG: "The suggestion, once very popular, that Magog is Germany, is a pure guess, completely devoid of all Biblical support. The obvious meaning in Ezekiel would seem to be that Magog is the land the great leader, Gog, comes from" (TofE ch 18).

CHIEF: Heb "rosh". The term's normal meaning -- hundreds and hundreds of times -- is "head" or "chief". (Grammatically, the words "chief" and "prince" may easily both relate to "Meshech" -- ie the "chief prince of Meshech": EBC.) Some understand the word as a proper noun, the name of a geographical area, eg "Rosh" (so translated by Roth, YLT, and WEB). Such a country is unknown elsewhere in Biblical or extra-biblical literature. Meshech and Tubal, normally mentioned together in the Bible (cp Eze 27:13; 32:26) and the two geographical place names immediately associated with the term "rosh", do not occur in connection with a country by the name of Rosh either inside or outside Scripture. There is no evidence from the ancient Near East that a country named Rosh ever existed.

Some understand "rosh" as modern Russia; proponents of this view usually appeal to etymology based on similar sounds (to the hearing) between the two words. Such etymological procedures are not linguistically sound, nor is etymology alone a sound expositional basis on which to interpret a word. The word "Russia" is a late eleventh-century-AD term -- and thus not known until 1600 years after Ezekiel.

MESHECH AND TUBAL: Meshech and Tubal -- which so often are paired (Gen 10:2; 1Ch 1:5; Eze 32:26) -- are Turkey and possibly Armenia. In Eze 27:13 they are listed among the many nations trading with Tyre, a merchant power in the eastern Mediterranean which traded only with its near neighbors and with those who could be reached by sea.

Those who link Rosh with Meshech and Tubal [ie Moscow and Tobolski] cannot explain why these two countries already warrant a mention twice in Ezekiel (Eze 27:13; 32:26) as nations that traded with Tyre and are later destroyed for their sins.

"Meschech and Tubal quite demonstrably are not Moscow and Tobolsk. In Eze 27:13 they are listed among the many nations and peoples trading with Tyre. But that city of commerce traded only with the peoples of its own hinterland, like Damascus, Sheba, and Dedan, which had caravan routes reaching to the sea, and with those regions overseas which could be reached by their intrepid sailors -- Javan, Carthage, Tarshish, and the isles of Elishah. But Moscow and Tobolsk fall into neither category. It is difficult to envisage in what way those remote places could maintain a trade with Tyre in slaves and vessels of brass. This identification rests solely on similarity of sound -- a precarious foundation! By such a method it would be as reasonable to equate Gomer with Wales (Cymri)" (TofE ch 18).

Eze 38:5

CUSH: "The Ethiopia [KJV] mentioned in the Gogian confederacy is not necessarily modern Abyssinia. The Hebrew name is 'Cush', which is the ordinary word for 'black'. As a geographical name it has more than one application. It may refer to an eastern Cush, the land of the black mountains (Gen 10:6-8); or to Midian, the land of black tents (Hab 3:7); or to the Sudan, the land of black people. From the context in Eze 38 it is difficult to say with confidence which of the three is intended" (TofE ch 18).

Eze 38:6

FROM THE FAR NORTH: Lit, "sides of the north" When describing Gentile nations in other places in Scripture this always means either Babylon or Assyria, or Persia which were In almost the same geographical area: Isa 14:13; Jer 6:22; 50;41. All the nations which attack Israel and can be identified with any degree of confidence are middle eastern Moslem nations.

Eze 38:8

ALL OF THEM LIVE IN SAFETY: The phrase "to dwell securely" (AV) occurs three times (vv 8,11,14). The Hebrew word betach means "to dwell safely or confidently" and, when used with reference to Israel, invariably refers to Divine protection or peace in the Kingdom. Thus the Gogian invasion must take place after Christ is back on the earth, providing safety to his people Israel. See v 11n.

Eze 38:11

A PEACEFUL AND UNSUSPECTING PEOPLE: "The quiet people who dwell securely" (RSV). "Under the protection of the rainbowed angel" (Eur 2:557). See LD 5,6. Cp same phrase, Eze 34:25,28; Zec 14:11. Also, Eze 28:25,26; Jer 23:5,6. The Heb for "safely" or "securely" is "betach", and lit means "confidence". "Betach" occurs about 42 times in the OT; setting aside the 3 occurrences under consideration here (vv 8,11,14), fully 32 of the remaining 39 describe either the Kingdom Age or other Divine protection afforded God's people. All of these 32 refer to the nation of Israel or to individual faithful Jews. The seven other instances do not describe a true safety but merely a false confidence: they refer to Midian (Jdg 8:11), the Gentiles of Laish (Jdg 18:7), Babylon (Isa 47:8; Jer 49:31), Ethiopia (Eze 30:9), the "isles" of the Gentiles (Eze 39:6), and Nineveh (Zep 2:15). This evidence confirms that the three usages in Eze 38:8,11,14 are describing a Divine safety for Israel, which can logically be explained only by the presence of Christ and the saints in their midst.

A simple repointing of "betach" yields "batach", a very common word (about 120 times) which almost invariably means "to trust (in God)". So when God's people dwell "confidently", ie, trusting in their God, then their safety is assured. But when the Gentiles such as Midian and Babylon and Nineveh dwell "confidently", ie, trusting in their own "gods", then their safety is by no means so sure!

WITHOUT WALLS AND WITHOUT GATES AND BARS: At the time of the invasion, Israel is described as a "land of unwalled villages", and a land "having neither bars nor gates" (Eze 38:11). Surely "walls" and "bars" and "gates" mean -- in modern vernacular -- defensive weapons. These words have never shown the least sign of being true from 1948 (when Israel became a nation) to the present day -- and least of all now! How can modern Israel ever abandon the thought of defense so long as it is ringed about by murderously hostile and merciless Arab nations? However, with the returned Christ as their defense, the faithful remnant in Israel will dwell securely.

Eze 37 through 39 is all of one piece: it begins with Jewish bones scattered in Gentile lands, and ends with Gentile bones scattered in the land of Israel!

As to the time of this prophecy: the detailed parallel between Eze 34 and Eze 37/38, both prophecies of the restoration, is unmistakable:

Eze 34 compared with Eze 37,38:

1. "I will set up one shepherd over them"
Eze 34:23
Eze 37:24
2. "My servant David"
Eze 34:23,24
Eze 37:24,25
3. "I will make with them a covenant of peace"
Eze 34:25
Eze 37:26
4. "I the LORD will be their God"
Eze 34:24
Eze 37:23
5. "And they... are my people"
Eze 34:30
Eze 37:23
6. "I will gather them... and bring them into their own land"
Eze 34:13
Eze 37:12,21
7. "And they shall dwell safely"
Eze 34:25,27,28
Eze 38:8,11,14

Equating Eze 34:25,27,28 with Eze 38:8,11,14 puts the Gogian invasion AFTER the David-like "Shepherd-king" has gathered his flock (ie, after Jesus the Good Shepherd has returned).

The language of Eze 39:17 -- which describes the destruction of Gog and his army -- is quoted in Rev 19:17,18, which occurs AFTER Christ has celebrated his marriage feast with his Bride, and put on his "many crowns", and assumed the title "King of kings, and Lord of lords" (Rev 19:1-16).

The avowed purpose of Gog's invasion of the Land of Israel is "to take a spoil, and... a prey... silver and gold... cattle and goods" (Eze 38:12,13). Today's Israel has no such attraction. But if the rest of the world has been ravaged by war and famine and pestilence (Mat 24:7), then the sudden prosperity of the Holy Land brought about by the presence of Christ and the glorified saints will make it enormously attractive to Gog!

Eze 38:12

THE CENTER OF THE LAND: Literally, the "navel". Traditionally, Jerusalem has been referred to in just this way. More generally, the Middle East is the land bridge of the three great land masses of the Old World.

Eze 38:13

SHEBA: Perhaps "Sabeans" (Job 1:15).

"Concerning Sheba, there is at least one clear-cut line of evidence, which makes identification with the southern corner of Arabia highly unlikely. Lam 4: 21 identifies the land of Uz, where Job lived, with Edom. Mention of Eliphaz the Temanite supports this. The Sabeans who raided Job's oxen and asses were actually, according to the original Hebrew text, men of Sheba (see Job 1:15, RV mg). If Sheba is in the extreme south of Arabia, then these raiders had travelled across nearly a thousand miles of desert to capture beasts with which they had almost no hope of getting home -- another thousand miles! Such considerations require that Sheba be placed along with Dedan in the northern part of the Arabian Desert. And now where is the ground for identification with either Britain or America? The modernising of 'Sheba, Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish' with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria is at least as likely as the more familiar alternatives, especially in the light of the Septuagint reading 'Arabs' for Sheba" (Tof E ch 18).

DEDAN: Associated with Edom and Teman in 25:13; Jer 25:23; 49:8.

TARSHISH (Psa 48:7) was a son of Javan (Gen 10:4); it is a name which came to ref to the Phoenicians, a sea-faring and trading people (hence such refs as Jon 1:3; Eze 27:12; 1Ki 9:26; 10:22; 2Ch 9:21). That Tarshish represents a latter-day power is evident both here and in Eze 38:13 (where it appears as an ally of Sheba and Dedan). In Isa 23 -- a prophecy re Tyre, there is plainly a strong link with "the daughter of Tarshish" and "the ships of Tarshish" (vv 1,6,10,14) -- this leads to the reasonable conclusion that Tarshish is another name for Tyre. (The proposed identification of Tarshish with England merely on the basis that the latter is -- or rather was -- a significant sea power is extremely tenuous at best.) See Lesson, Tarshish.

MERCHANTS OF TARSHISH: Either "who live in Tarshish" or "who trade with Tarshish". The merchants of Tarshish are probably not to be identified with any single geographical area, even if we could be sure which "Tarshish" is involved (an eastern -- 2Ch 9:21; 20:37, or a western -- Jon 1:3; Eze 27:12). Rather, these are the ones who trade with "Tarshish".

ALL HER VILLAGES: Thus also RSV, NASB, NEB. Also supported by LXX: "komai". Not "young lions", as KJV.

Commenting on the KJV rendering, HAW writes: " 'All the young lions' of Tarshish is another detail long overdue for re-examination. Even when the British Empire was at the height of its grandeur the application of these words to dominions and colonies, whilst apparently obvious enough, had precious little Biblical foundation to rest on. Why, one wonders, was the evidence of Eze 19:2-6 on this point so consistently overlooked through several generations? There the young lions are the princes of the house of Judah (cp the way in which the greatest scion of that house is called 'the Lion of the tribe of Judah', and see also Gen 49:9). Is it likely that Ezekiel would use the identical symbol with two widely differing meanings? More probably, surely, the expression describes either certain outstanding national leaders associated with Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish or, possibly, the great Jewish merchant princes who carry such influence in the world of commerce" (TofE ch 18).

HAVE YOU COME...?: "Come" indicates presence in land. Perhaps an offer (by Arab nations?) to assist in the plundering of Israel: "You are going to invade Israel? Then we will join you." Cp Joel 3:5-8.

"But the possibility, or even the probability, of such an interpretation being correct is surely underlined by the fact that in all their Bible history, whenever Israel was in danger, neighbouring Arab nations gleefully joined forces with the invader. The most obvious, but not the only, examples of this were in the reigns of David, Hezekiah, and Zedekiah, and in AD 70" (W5-12).

HAVE YOU COME TO PLUNDER?: Or, as KJV, "to take a spoil". "To put the northern invasion before the coming of the Messiah is to seriously dislocate this sequence. On the other hand, to accept the order of events suggested by the order of the chapters means at once the elimination of certain longstanding difficulties. The motive for the invasion is given thus: 'to take a spoil, and to take a prey... against the people that have gotten cattle and goods... 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?'

"The efforts of prophetic expositors (including the present writer on more than one occasion) in an attempt to impart reality to these words in the wrong framework have varied from the ingenious to the ludicrous. Perhaps the favourite device has been to read the words 'goods' as meaning 'oil' especially. But this will hardly do, for there is almost no oil in Israel. The best supplies of oil are in an altogether different direction. If Gog goes into Israel for oil, he has lost his bearings!

"Alternatively, emphasis is put on the immense value of Palestine as the strategically important land bridge between the continents. This is doubtless true, though now of less and less importance as the powers become more and more committed to nuclear war. But in any case this, if valid, is a vastly different consideration from that intimated in the words just cited. The prophecy does not say: 'I will go to the land of unwalled villages because I covet its geography'.

"Instead of these shifts it is manifestly much more satisfactory to accept the sequence which Ezekiel himself supplies and to take his Eze 38 as having a fulfilment AFTER the Lord has come to be King of the Jews and AFTER he has already raised his people to a pitch of prosperity (see Isa 60) such as would make Eze 38 the natural and inevitable sequel of Eze 37" (LD ch 1).

Eze 38:14


Eze 38:16

LIKE A CLOUD THAT COVERS THE LAND: Gog and his allies would descend on Israel from the north and cover her like a storm cloud (cf v 6; Eze 39:2; Dan 11:40-45).

Eze 38:17

ARE YOU THE ONE I SPOKE OF IN FORMER DAYS BY MY SERVANTS THE PROPHETS OF ISRAEL?: The Lord asked rhetorically if it was Gog about whom He had spoken through His other servants the prophets many years earlier. 'Are you he of whom the prophets spoke?' Yes, he was. This was not the first revelation of a powerful enemy whom God would bring against the Israelites (cf Deu 30:7; Psa 2:1-3; Isa 14:24-25; 26:20-21; 29:1-8; Jer 4:5; 6:26; 30:18-24; Joel 2:20; 3:9-21; Zep 1:14-18; 3:8,15-20). And surely the historical fates of those other nations, of whom God had likewise spoken, should be a warning to "Gog": he is not in control of his destiny -- Almighty Yahweh is in control!

Eze 38:18

MY HOT ANGER WILL BE AROUSED: "And whoever curses you I will curse" (Gen 12:3).

Eze 38:19

A GREAT EARTHQUAKE IN THE LAND OF ISRAEL: Every living thing on earth would feel this earthquake, the sign of God's presence. Mountains would fall down as well as cliffs with their steep pathways as would the walls that people had erected (v 20).

See Lesson, Earthquakes.

Eze 38:20

ALL THE PEOPLE ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH WILL TREMBLE AT MY PRESENCE: Earthquakes accompany awesome manifestations of God: Exo 19:18; Jdg 5:4; Psa 77:18; 114:4; Isa 2:10-22; Jer 4:24; Eze 38:20; Joe 3:16; Amo 9:1,5; Zec 14:4; Rev 6:12; 11:19; 16:18.

Eze 38:21

EVERY MAN'S SWORD WILL BE AGAINST HIS BROTHER: Gog's allied forces would even turn on each other and fight one another (cf Jdg 7:22; 1Sa 14:20; Hag 2:22; Zec 14:13). Apparently the sword that God would call for to defeat Gog would be that of his own allies rather than that of Israel (cf Rev 20:9).

Cp Goliath, whose head was cut off with his own sword (1Sa 17:51).

Eze 38:22

PLAGUE: See Lesson, Plague, pestilence, and disease in the Last Days.

HAILSTONES AND BURNING SULFUR: The Lord would shower hailstones, lightning, and burning sulfur, probably from erupting volcanoes, on Gog and his allies (cp the fate of Sodom and Gomorrah: Gen 19:24).
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