In the first article, we examined the invasion prophecies of Joel 3 and Zechariah 12–14 and noted the common threads. In this article, we examine Ezekiel 38–39 and Daniel 11–12, and explore the links between these four passages.

While Ezekiel 38–39 sheds light on geopolitics, its primary purpose is to convey a message. But our ability to read and accurately comprehend that message is influenced by our understanding of the structure of Ezekiel–at first sight, a rather daunting challenge. There is no danger of an argument about the fact that Ezekiel is a large and complex book. Like Isaiah and Jeremiah, it is a tapestry of prophecies given at different dates and times: and it is often hard to see where individual chapters fit into the overall scheme of the book. Thankfully, however, it is not as difficult as it looks at first glance.

The structure of Ezekiel 34–39

 After a long section focusing on the sins of Israel (chapters 1–24), Ezekiel turns his attention to her neighbours, particularly Egypt, and announces the judgments of God on them (chapters 25–32). After a statement of his role as watchman, and the response required from the people (33:1–20), he announces the impending desolation of Judah and Jerusalem (33:21–33), only hours before a messenger arrived with the tragic news.

After this pivotal event the prophecy changes character, and while Ezekiel continues to remind his listeners of their sins, his message is now future-oriented, and he emphasises Israel’s hope of deliverance, cleansing, forgiveness and restoration.

This section is in two parts. The first part is a bracket of seven prophecies about the restoration of Israel (chapters 34–39). These seven prophecies are followed by the grand climax (chapters 40–48). “Ezekiel the priest” (1:3) is granted a vision of Israel’s national life in the new age with a functioning sanctuary and priesthood, a revived code of offerings and feasts, and a new tribal allotment. It is no accident that the book finishes with the significant words, “Yahweh is there”. Jerusalem’s iniquitous past is forgiven and forgotten, and the glory of God is in her midst, never to depart again.

In chapters 34–39 each prophecy is introduced by a formula: “And the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man… ”; or “moreover the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man… ”. Unfortunately the chapter divisions are rather hit and miss in this section, and it is important to watch for this opening formula if each prophecy is to speak clearly, and make its own point.

What does Ezekiel have to say? Simply, but wonderfully, that Israel’s past is truly past. Her sins will be forgiven, her division and exile reversed, her relationship with God restored, her enemies destroyed, her land made populous and fruitful once more.

The table lists the seven prophecies which comprise this section.

table 1

table 2

With this review of the book in general, and chapters 34–39 in particular, under our belts, it is now possible to identify the time frame in which Ezekiel 38–39 takes place.

Does Gog Invade after the Establishment of Messiah’s Kingdom?

 One suggestion is that the invasion comes after the institution of Messiah’s kingdom. This proposal is based on two key ideas.

First, the description of Israel as “dwelling safely” (38:8,11,14) is said to have Messianic connotations. There is no doubt that this language is often used of a time when Israel enjoys God’s protection, whether past (1 Sam 12:11; 1 Kings 4:25), or future (Jer 32:37; Ezek 28:26; 34: 25, 27, 28; Hos 2:18; Zech 14:11), or simply possible if certain conditions are fulfilled (Lev 25:18, 19; 26:5; Deut 12:10). There is also no doubt that the language is often used in other contexts which bear no such connotation (Judg 18:7; Prov 3:29; Isa 47:8; Jer 49:31; Ezek 39:6; Zeph 2:15). Note especially the references in Jeremiah 49 and Ezekiel 39. So the use of this phrase cannot fix the period of the prophecy. All it tells us is Israel’s frame of mind at the time of the invasion–she is unconscious of any evil purpose on the part of other nations.

Second, chapters 37–39 are read as one prophecy. There is no doubt that there are strong connections of content and theme between all the prophecies of chapters 34–39. However, the structure of this section makes it clear that chapters 37–39 contain three parallel prophecies, not one continuous prophecy: 37:1–14; 37:15–28; and 38:1–39:29.

A Transition Period

 There is another reason why this proposal must be laid aside, despite its interesting possibilities: and that has to do with the transitional nature of these chapters.

It is clear that each of the seven prophecies in chapters 34–39 describes a transition from Israel’s tragic apostate past, to her glorious future. They do not focus on Israel’s past: that is the focus of chapters 1–24. They do not emphasise her future glory: that is the emphasis of chapters 40–48. Their role is to foretell the great transition from past to future.

As with the other prophecies, the prophecy contained in Ezekiel 38–39 bridges the gap between the time when the mountains of Israel were “waste” (38:8), when “the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity” (39:23), when God hid His face from them (39:24); and the time when the house of Israel is regathered (38:8, 12; 39:27–28), when the land is “inhabited” and her people wealthy (38:12); when He views them with favour and pours out His spirit upon them (39:29). An interpretation which places the invasion of Ezekiel 38–39 in the days of Israel’s Messianic peace does not fit the time setting and transitional nature of these chapters.

A Turning Point in History

 Another reading–the more traditional interpretation– understands the invasion as the point at which God visibly re-enters human affairs. And there are a number of verses in the prophecy which point in this direction.

First, the invasion is itself a work of God: “I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth” (38:4; see also 39:2). Yet later we are told that God is furious with the invader, and overthrows him! It is no caprice: the invasion has been long foretold by “my servants the prophets of Israel” (38:17): “Behold, it is come, and it is done, saith the Lord God; this is the day whereof I have spoken” (39:8). What purpose could God have in acting like this?

We are not left to guess. The whole drama is a set piece to display God’s power and righteousness to Israel and the nations: “Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am Yahweh” (38:23). Again: “so will I make my holy name known in the midst of my people Israel; and I will not let them pollute my holy name any more: and the heathen shall know that I am Yahweh, the Holy One in Israel” (39:7). It is “the day that I shall be glorified” (39:13).

This dramatic display is a turning point in several ways:

  1. First, it is a turning point in Israel’s acceptance of Yahweh as their God. “When I… am sanctified in them in the sight of many nations; then shall they know that I am the Lord their God” (39:27–28). “The house of Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day and forward” (39:22).
  2. Second, it is a turning point in God’s dealings with His people. It prompts a declaration: “now will I bring again the captivity of Jacob, and have mercy upon the whole house of Israel, and will be jealous for my holy name” (39:25). He also announces that He will never turn from Israel again: “neither will I hide my face any more from them” (39:29).
  3. Third, it is a turning point in the understanding by other nations of God’s dealings with His people. Until that time they attributed Israel’s eclipse to their own superior power or national destiny. Now they understand that God has purposed Israel’s desolation, and He has also purposed her restoration: “… From that day and forward… the heathen shall know that the house of Israel went into captivity for their iniquity” (39:22,23).
  4. Finally, it is a turning point in the relationship of the nations to the God of Israel. The conflict between God and the invading force ignites a more far-reaching and comprehensive judgment “on Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles”. Having felt the hand of God heavy on them, they also accept Him as the true God (39:6).

Our interpretation of these chapters must, therefore, understand them as a pivotal event in the salvation-history of Israel and the nations. Things will never, ever, be the same again. It is worth noting that the prophecy of Ezekiel 38–39 is the seventh of the seven transition prophecies. It is by far the longest. It is undoubtedly the climax, from which Ezekiel is swept into a prevision of Israel’s future glory.

A reading of these chapters that sees the invasion as an ill-informed attempt to spoil Messiah’s kingdom puts too little emphasis on them. A reading of these chapters that sees them as the crisis through which God visibly re-enters human affairs reads them in their proper context in the prophecy of Ezekiel.

Common Threads Again

 It is again time to look for common threads. While Ezekiel does not speak of “all nations”, the detail and repetition indicate a warhost extraordinary for size and diversity: “all thine army… all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company… all of them handling swords… all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands… Togarmah… and all his bands: and many people with thee” (38:3–7). The invader will be “like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee” (38:9). Again and again the prophet alludes to the size of the invading force, “Gog and all his multitude” (38:15–16, 22; 39:4, 11–16). As an outcome of God’s intervention, many nations will become aware of His power and holiness for the first time (38:23; 39:6–7, 21). It is impossible to miss the point. This is the mighty Russian Gogian host, with many nations named and unnamed.

God has foreseen the storm for millennia, warned of it through His “servants the prophets of Israel” (38:17), and prepared His arsenal for this moment. As in Joel and Zechariah, this is unmistakably the day of Yahweh. The refrain, “in that day”, occurs again and again (38:14, 19; 39:11, 22; cp 39:13). “Behold, it is come, and it is done, saith the Lord God; this is the day whereof I have spoken” (39:8). The words ring with finality, a sense of accomplishment of plans laid many years before.

The crisis is resolved by the intervention of God Himself in extraordinary power. The “great shaking in the land of Israel(38:19) is not caused by natural forces, but by supernatural: they “shall shake at my presence” (38:20), indicating an imminent manifestation of His glory.

But Ezekiel’s focus is not on the political crisis. It is on the spiritual crisis for Israel, and the impact of God’s intervention on Israel and the nations. God reveals Himself in the midst of His people as never before, and this time there will be no backsliding: “I will not let them pollute my holy name any more” (39:7). Once God has poured out His Spirit upon them, there will be no looking back (39:29). Israel will never lose the assurance of God’s faithfulness which that day will bring (39:22). The deliverance is a spiritual hinge: sin, shame, abandonment and dispersion are things of the past (39:24, 26): the future is about regathering, mercy and sanctification, a new spirit and a new confidence that God will hear and bless (39:25, 27–29). Israel’s redemption will be comprehensive: “the whole house of Israel” will be restored (39:25): “none of them” will be left among the nations (39:28).

Where do these events fit in salvation history? In the Kingdom of God, after Messiah has established the throne of his glory in Zion? It is hard to see how this could be. Or rather does this prophecy, like those of Joel 3 and Zechariah 12–14, describe the final provocation which induces God to close off the books, reassert His authority in the earth, and redeem His chastened people? This is the traditional understanding: and it makes very good sense.