So far in this study, we’ve seen the prophecies of Israel’s latter-day rebirth. We’ve learned that they would first appear again in unbelief, thinking that they had brought themselves back to life and that they themselves had built, populated, and defended their homeland. But we’ve read God’s declaration that He was behind this, although not because of anything they’d done to deserve it. In fact He said He would bring them back in spite of their behavior in the world.
In our last episode we saw that one day soon God will decide to step from behind the scenes and reveal Himself directly to His people and to the world, through signature signs like fire, hail, and earthquakes that always signaled His presence in Old Testament times. He had Ezekiel tell them and us that this will happen in the context of a great battle that would catch them off guard and almost put an end to them. But at just the right time He will intervene and save the day. Now He’s going to tell us how this will happen.
“Son of man, prophesy against Gog and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds and to the wild animals. You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coast lands, and they will know that I am the LORD.
” ‘I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the LORD am the Holy One in Israel. It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign LORD. This is the day I have spoken of. (Ezek. 39:1-8)
The King James has the more accurate rendering for the beginning of this passage. The phrase translated I will turn you around and drag you along in the NIV and others, literally reads I will turn you around and leave but the sixth part of you which means that 5/6ths of the Moslem forces will be destroyed. The Hebrew concept is roughly equivalent to the one behind the English word “decimate.” Although decimate originally described the punishment requiring that 1 in 10 soldiers in a mutinous Roman Legion be executed, figuratively it has come to mean that something is all but totally destroyed. Synonyms are “annihilate” or “wipe out.” So it is with the Hebrew. When the Lord brings this Moslem coalition into the mountains of Israel, He will also use the ensuing battle to wipe them out. Because they’re too big a force for Israel to handle alone, He’ll cause them to attack each other. Then He’ll make their weapons and ammunition fall from their hands.
Some interpret the idea of sending fire on Magog and those who live safely in the coastlands as warning of a nuclear exchange. Magog refers to Russia of course, but the identity of the coastlands is less clear. The Hebrew word literally means “a coast, island, or shore” and in Jeremiah 25:22 the phrase “beyond the sea” is used to help locate them, the sea being the Mediterranean. This reference could easily be pointing to Europe, and some even believe the US is in focus here. But as I’ve said, I don’t think this attack can take place until the US is out of the picture, so we’ll have to wait and see.
Also the Hebrew word translated in safety is the same one that’s used to describe Israel’s state of mind in Ezek. 38:8. Again it denotes a sense of carelessness, this time on Europe’s part, as if they don’t believe this kind of thing could happen to them and therefore aren’t prepared for what’s coming.
And once more the Lord explains His real purpose. He’s going to use this battle to announce to one and all that He’s Israel’s Protector and Champion. The nations of the world are being told that to get to Israel, they’ll have to go through Him.
” ‘Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up-the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. And they will plunder those who plundered them and loot those who looted them, declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezek 39:9-10)
In Ezekiel’s day people burned wood for heat and so that’s the idiom he used to describe the situation. In fact, the passage indicates that all of Israel’s energy needs for 7 years will be met by converting the energy from the weapons the enemy leaves behind to peaceful use. I can’t imagine the enemy carrying in enough of any traditional energy source to supply Israel’s national power and heating needs for 7 years, so a more modern application is in order. Let’s say nuclear. The old Soviet Union converted submarine reactors into electric power plants so the notion isn’t that far fetched. And as you’ll see, the clean-up procedures for this battle are remarkably similar to today’s nuclear decontamination process. Why only 7 years then, when a nuclear reactor could theoretically supply energy needs for much longer? If, as I believe, this battle will introduce the 70th week of Daniel, 7 years worth of energy is all they’ll need. After that, the Lord will supply their needs. (Rev. 22:5)
” ‘On that day I will give Gog a burial place in Israel, in the valley of those who travel east toward the Sea. It will block the way of travelers, because Gog and all his hordes will be buried there. So it will be called the Valley of Hamon Gog.
” ‘For seven months the house of Israel will be burying them in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them, and the day I am glorified will be a memorable day for them, declares the Sovereign LORD .
” ‘Men will be regularly employed to cleanse the land. Some will go throughout the land and, in addition to them, others will bury those that remain on the ground. At the end of the seven months they will begin their search. As they go through the land and one of them sees a human bone, he will set up a marker beside it until the gravediggers have buried it in the Valley of Hamon Gog. (Also a town called Hamonah will be there.) And so they will cleanse the land’ (Ezek 39:11-16)
If this valley is east of the Dead Sea, as the King James translation implies, it would be in Jordan today, and even in Ezekiel’s day would have been outside Israel’s borders. Yet verse 11 clearly locates the burial place in Israel. Therefore I believe the NIV translation is more accurate and the valley Ezekiel’s referring to is more likely the one traditionally called the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4) that was part of Israel during Ezekiel’s time. If so, it’s at the bottom of the old Jericho Road that still runs east from Jerusalem to Jericho and is on the way to the Dead Sea. And remarkably, it’s in territory occupied by the Palestinians today. Does Ezekiel’s battle effectively wipe out any Palestinian claims to Biblical land? Or is this one more clue that the battle described in Psalm 83 will have preceded it and the Palestinian claims have already been done away with?
It will require the combined efforts of all Israeli citizens for 7 months to bury the enemy dead. After that they’ll hire professionals, some to decontaminate the land and some to search for any bodies the people may have missed. They won’t touch any bones they find, but will set up markers and call the professionals to come take them away. This method fits modern Nuclear Biological Chemical Warfare decontamination procedures to a tee. Did the Lord have Ezekiel write this to show us the type of weaponry being used? Between this and the energy reference above, it sure looks that way.
“Son of man, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Call out to every kind of bird and all the wild animals: ‘Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you, the great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel. There you will eat flesh and drink blood. You will eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth as if they were rams and lambs, goats and bulls-all of them fattened animals from Bashan. At the sacrifice I am preparing for you, you will eat fat till you are glutted and drink blood till you are drunk. At my table you will eat your fill of horses and riders, mighty men and soldiers of every kind,’ declares the Sovereign LORD. (Ezek. 39:17-20)
The carrion birds and scavengers will have a field day due to the carnage left behind on the battlefield. Earlier the enemy force was described as being a great horde, like a cloud covering the land. Now that it’s been decimated there are dead bodies everywhere. This is not unique in Israel’s history. Josephus wrote that after the Battle of the Galilee in 68 AD there were so many dead bodies floating in the Sea that you couldn’t see the water.
“I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay upon them. From that day forward the house of Israel will know that I am the LORD their God. And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me. So I hid my face from them and handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their offenses, and I hid my face from them. “Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I will now bring Jacob back from captivity and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed toward me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will show myself holy through them in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.” (Ezek 39:21-29)
Following this victory the Lord will complete the return of His people Israel to their land, begun in the early 1900’s and made official in 1948. Though He caused them to be scattered all over the world, He’ll now bring them back, not leaving any behind. Since about 55% of the world’s Jewish people currently live outside of Israel this will be some homecoming. But having witnessed His defeat of their enemies, Jews from all over the world will flock to Israel and to Him, yearning for a reinstatement of their Old Covenant relationship. And after waiting for nearly 2000 years for them to return, He certainly won’t refuse them now.
For their part they’ll soon build a Temple, Old Covenant worship being impossible without one. Following the instructions from Ezekiel 40-48, which we’ll begin exploring next time, they’ll build the Temple in Shiloh, about 12 miles (20km) north of Jerusalem. I believe this is the Temple that will be made desolate by the anti-Christ and later cleansed at the beginning of the Millennium, just as the second Temple was first made desolate and then cleansed in the time of the Maccabees.
And so this battle will mark the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week, the last 7 years of human history before the Lord returns. Having given this prophecy to Israel, Ezekiel doesn’t get into any detail about its immediate aftermath, especially as it relates to the world’s subsequent reactions. But for we who are the Church today, the Battle of Ezekiel 38-39 carries more significance in what Ezekiel didn’t say than in what he did.
From our study of Ezekiel 38-39 you can see that there are really only a few major preceding conditions left before this prophecy can be fulfilled. Turkey has to switch sides, the US has to be taken out of the picture, and Israel has to be living in an assumed state of peace with its neighbors. So when will this happen?
In almost 60 years of Israel’s modern existence, there really hasn’t been a day when this condition has been met, although enemy sneak attacks in 1967 and especially 1973 did take the country by surprise as to timing. The simultaneous invasion by Egypt and Syria on Yom Kippur 1973, with Jordan and Iraq right behind them, brought Israel perilously close to defeat. Historians report that due to “a rare moment of flabbiness in Israeli intelligence and in the government, Israel did not expect any attacks from its neighbors just at this point in time.” (Both the Jewish Yom Kippur and Moslem Ramadan forbid waging war during their observance, and in October 1973 as the attack began these Holy Days overlapped.)
It took a week for Israel’s forces to recover and go on the offense. Two weeks after that the war was over, cease-fire arrangements having been negotiated by the UN. In the treaties that followed, Egypt regained control of the Suez Canal and the Sinai Peninsula lost in 1967 and Syria got back a small portion of the Golan Heights, although had the UN not stepped in, Israeli forces would have soon entered both Cairo and Damascus.
Those Who Don’t Learn From History …
Not since then has there been such a relaxed state of readiness by Israel and indeed it’s hard to see how one could happen in the future. In fact the Bible mentions only two possibilities for a time of peace in the entire End Times scenario, and neither fits the bill. The first occurs at the outset of Daniel’s seventieth week when the anti-Christ makes his initial appearance. By means of peace he will deceive many, Daniel 8:25 (KJV) tells us.
The other time is during the 1000 years of peace known as the Millennium or Kingdom Age. Let’s rule that one out right away. First of all it’s an unparalleled time of peace personally administered by the Prince of Peace. Israel won’t have any enemies to attempt a sneak attack until right at the end when Satan is freed from his 1000 years of captivity to lead them. And second, the end time prophecies in Ezekiel are sequential, first the latter days re-gathering of the Jews to Israel in chapters 36-37, then this battle, then from chapter 40 on it’s the Millennium. The Battle of Ezekiel 38-39 has to follow the modern re-gathering but precede the Millennium. It can’t happen at the Millennium’s end.
So let’s go back to the first possibility, the beginning of Daniel’s 70th week. Daniel 9:27 reveals that as one of his first official acts, the anti-Christ will enforce a seven-year covenant with Israel that includes permission to build a Temple. (This seven year period is called Daniel’s 70th week.) But because of the controversy it would stir up, most Jews today don’t want a Temple and won’t want one till the Creator of the Universe dramatically reveals Himself to them. He does so in the Battle of Ezekiel 38-39, and after that they’ll be clamoring for a Temple, regardless of the consequences. Old Covenant observance requires it. So it appears that this battle has to precede Daniel’s 70th week, too early for the anti-Christ’s false peace.
Also, the fact that the anti-Christ emerges as a peacemaker implies that some parts of the world will have recently been at war. Perhaps even a war involving a nuclear exchange, which will have left the world in shock, desperate for a plan that would prevent that ever happening again. Satan’s “man of peace” with his seven year covenant will have just the thing to put the world at ease and allow him to begin his meteoric rise to world dominance.
Have You Reached A Verdict?
As we see, circumstantial evidence weighs heavily in favor of the anti-Christ revealing himself on the heels of Ezekiel’s battle rather than before it. And so neither of the Bible’s identified possibilities for peace will take place in time for this battle. That means that some dramatic chain of events, similar to those that led to the “sudden” fall of the Soviet Union, will have to occur soon to place Israel in the vulnerable state necessary for Ezekiel’s prophecy to be fulfilled.
From what we currently understand about End Times Prophecy, the two events most likely to create such a sudden change in the political climate are the destruction of Damascus, foretold in Isaiah 17 and the battle that’s the subject of Psalm 83. No alliance against Israel such as the one described there has happened in history, and if the Lord grants the psalmist’s request to destroy them, the Palestinians, Jordanians, Lebanese, and Syrians will all cease to be a threat when it’s over. In its aftermath, Israel will be larger, stronger, and feel more secure than at any time in its modern history. Perhaps secure enough to let down their guard a little.
So What’s The Point?
Now why is all this so important to us? Well, we’ve already made a case for the anti-Christ to appear right after the battle of Ezekiel 38 and we know from the passage itself that the Lord uses it to reveal Himself to Israel and draw them back to Him.
But here are two more good reasons. First, you’ll recall from our study in 2nd Thessalonians that the church has to disappear before the anti-Christ can be revealed. (2 Thes. 2:7) And second, in the past when the Lord’s focus was on Israel there was no Church, and while it’s been on the Church there has been no Israel. These two entities seem to be mutually exclusive in the Lord’s workings, so if He’s going to focus on Israel again the Church has to disappear (Romans 11:25 & Acts 15:14-18).
So if the Church has to disappear before the anti-Christ can be revealed and if the Church has to disappear when the Lord turns again to Israel, and if both these are outcomes of the Battle of Ezekiel 38-39, you can see why it’s so important to us. By the way, none of this is meant to modify or refute the Doctrine of Imminence, which holds that the Lord could come at any time. In fact rather than saying that Ezekiel’s battle has to happen before the Rapture, I’m saying that it looks more like the Rapture has to happen before Ezekiel’s battle.
Beginning in chapter 40 the focus will shift to the Millennium, Israel’s Kingdom Age. We’ll learn a lot about the coming Temple and about life in Israel after the 2nd Coming. We’ll see God’s return to the Temple after a 2600 year absence, signifying that the people, the Temple, the City and the Land will all have become holy again. See you then.