The identification of the nations mentioned in Ezekiel 38–39 has been discussed many times elsewhere, and not much can be profitably added here. However, a few comments may be made on verse 13, where Sheba, Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish question the invading force: “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?” (38:13).

The Nations Who Invade

 What are we to make of this question? It is purely rhetorical: the prophet has already made it perfectly clear (vv11–12) that that is indeed the invader’s intention! Traditionally the question has been interpreted as a challenge to the invader.1 More recently, however, a number of commentators have suggested that the words of Sheba and her companions are a gleeful anticipation of spoil in which they have an opportunity to share: “Is that why you’ve come? Can we join in?” Both interpretations are plausible in the context. How are we to decide between them?

There are three points in favour of the traditional explanation:

1   Sheba and Dedan are not portrayed elsewhere in Scripture as enemies of Israel, but generally as trading nations, trading with East Africa and India in ebony, ivory, gold and precious stones, “incense and spice of costly names”, and, regrettably, slaves (1 Kings 10:2; Job 6:19; Psa 72:15; Isa 21:13; 60:6; Jer 6:20; Ezek 27:15, 20, 22; Joel 3:8). Tarshish is linked with Sheba only once (Psa 72:10), where her submission to the Son of David is foretold. In the days of Solomon she was a source for gold, silver, ivory and exotic animals (2 Chron 9:21; cp Jer 10:9), and later, iron, tin and lead also (Ezek 27:12). Again, Tarshish is not mentioned elsewhere as an enemy of Israel.

2   The three are not members of the invading force: they form a distinct power bloc: yet they are not mentioned again in the whole of the prophecy, and there is no hint of judgment on them. This implies that they are not to be numbered among Israel’s enemies.

3   Finally, the question itself invites closer examination. In the AV the question, “Art thou come… ?”, only appears six times in the whole of the Bible: and on every occasion this form of words is a challenge to an unwelcome visitor (1 Kings 17:18; Mt 8:29; 26:50; Mk 1:34; Lk 4:34). While these situations are not directly analogous to the invasion of Ezekiel 38–39, they suggest that the question should be interpreted as a challenge, rather than a welcome.

In view of these facts, it is more reasonable to suggest that Sheba, Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish are trading nations who have trading ties with Israel, who have profited from the blossoming economy of Israel (“silver and gold… cattle and goods”, 38:12–13), and who are alarmed at the moves of another power, which threatens to disrupt their enterprise. This accords with the traditional interpretation, and there is no reason to abandon it.

The Invasion of Daniel 11:40–12:3

 One more invasion prophecy remains to be considered: the invasion of Daniel 11:40–12:3. This prophecy is set against the backdrop of the troubled period in Israel’s history when Alexander of Macedon had died, and his generals had parcelled up his extraordinarily large and extraordinarily short-lived (ten years!) empire between them. The fragmentation of Alexander’s empire ushered in a long and dark period during which the king of the north, Seleucus and his descendants, conducted a long drawn out tug of war for possession of the Holy Land with the king of the south, Ptolemy and his descendants. These events are described in the first part of the chapter.

From them, Daniel leaps to “the time of the end” (11:40), when the king of the south pushes his northern rival once too often. In response, “the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown” (11:40–41). You will notice that the word “countries” is in italics. In fact, there is little justification for this reading. The idea of “manyfalling occurs elsewhere in this chapter (v11,33,34), and refers to people losing power, losing their relationship with God, losing their life. So it is more likely that the words, “many countries shall be overthrown” should be translated, “many people shall fall”.

Some will be more fortunate: “these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon” (11:41). These territories are today incorporated in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the “chief of the children of Ammon” refers to its “leaders” (NIV), or possibly even its capital, Amman. The fact that only “the chief” escape indicates that some, but not all, of Jordan is overrun.

The invader sweeps on. Egypt and her treasures come under his power (11:42–43), and so do the Libyans and Ethiopians, or Sudanese. It looks like the invader has made a clean sweep until he receives bad news “out of the east and out of the north” (11:44), and in alarm he sets out “with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many”.

What the bad news is, we are not told explicitly. The north is the direction from which he has come, and bad news from that direction indicates some reverse for the forces he has left to cover his rear. The east, in context, is likely to be the nations which he has bypassed on his sweep south—Edom, Moab, and Ammon—and it is plausible that bad news from this direction indicates an opposing force. Brother John Thomas suggested that “England’s interference” was the source of the bad news: a footnote at the same place, presumably from the hand of Brother C C Walker, suggests that the bad news is attributable to the intervention of “Michael… the great prince”—and that would be bad news indeed!2

Whatever the content exactly, it enrages the invader. From Egypt he moves swiftly against Jerusalem, “with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many” (11:44). He sets his command headquarters “in the glorious holy mountain”. But for all his proud fury “he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” (11:45).

Daniel 11–12 and the Other Invasion Prophecies

 What is the relationship, if any, between this prophecy and the other prophecies of invasion that we have already reviewed?

Daniel does not speak of many nations. Instead, he focuses on one key player—the king of the north.3 This makes sense against the backdrop of the first half of the chapter, detailing the long tussle between north and south, the Holy Land being at the centre of this tug of war. It does not preclude other nations from being involved. It should be set alongside Ezekiel’s prophecy, where the invasion was again from the north: but many other nations were caught up in the tidal wave (Ezek 38:15; 39:2; cp also 38:6). And even in Daniel there is a hint that many others will be involved: for this will be “a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time” (12:1). The comparison suggests that the trouble extends well beyond the pocket-size land of Israel.

Those words hint, too, at an extraordinary climax: “such as never was since there was a nation”. There are other indications of the finality of these events. They occur “at the time of the end” (11:40; 12:4,6,9,13). The final proud act of the invader, in asserting his sovereignty over Jerusalem, will trigger God’s intervention to end this long and sorry history of ambition, greed, double dealing and apostacy, signalled by the “standing up” of Michael, “the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people” (12:1). The events issue in the final salvation of Israel (12:1), the resurrection from the dead, the judgment of the saints (12:2), and the manifestation of the righteous seed of Abraham in kingdom glory (12:3 cp Mt 13:37–43). And when the dust settles, “all these things shall be finished” (12:7). The words ring with the same thoroughgoing satisfaction expressed by God in Ezekiel: “Behold, it is come, and it is done, saith the Lord God; this is the day whereof I have spoken” (39:8).

Daniel’s prophecy does not, perhaps, have the explosive power of Ezekiel’s, but there could be no doubt that the invasion of chapter 11 is, again, a spiritual and political crisis for the nation, in which many fall (11:41), and out of which those “found written in the book” shall alone be saved (12:1). When these pieces are put together, it is obvious that we are looking at the same jigsaw for which Joel, Zechariah and Ezekiel have also supplied components.


The Conclusion of the Whole Matter

 It is time to summarise. The following table lists the key features these prophecies have in common.

The prophecies share many other details also. For example, Ezekiel and Zechariah both mention a self–destructive tumult from God to destroy the invading force (Ezek 38:21; Zech 14:13), and the use of pestilence (Ezek 38:22; Zech 14:12, 15). Ezekiel, Joel and Zechariah all mention an earthquake resulting from the presence of God (Ezek 38:20; Joel 3:16; Zech 14:4), and an outpouring of Spirit (Ezek 39:29; Joel 2:28–32; Zech 12:10).

There can be little doubt that all four prophecies, despite their different emphases, paint a coherent picture of the invasion of Israel from the north in the last days, and her deliverance by a special Divine intervention which forever rewrites the relationship between God, His people, and the nations. Alternative interpretations, which divide the passages, postulate two invasions, or see the invasion of Ezekiel 38–39 during Messiah’s Kingdom, surely overlook the host of common features, and miss the essential unity.

Where is Jesus Christ in These Prophecies?

 Interestingly, none of these prophecies of invasion specifically refer to the Lord Jesus Christ. All of them present the drama as a work of God, to establish His power and righteousness in the presence of the nations. But it would be a mistake to think that Jesus Christ is therefore not involved in these events. John makes that clear when he sees “heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war… he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood [an allusion to Isaiah 63:1–6]: and his name is called The Word of God” (Revelation 19:11–13).

And here is the explanation. Christ is certainly not absent: he is in the very thick of things, leading the armies of heaven against the nations. But the work is God’s work here also. The name of the Lord Jesus is given as “The Word of God”. He treads the winepress of Almighty God (v 15). The ghoulish banquet is the supper of the great God (v 17). Likewise in the prophets. When Yahweh roars out of Zion (Joel 3:16); when He brings again the captivity of Jacob (Ezek 39:25); when the feet of Yahweh stand upon the Mount of Olives (Zech 14:4); when Yahweh is king over all the earth (v 9), we are to understand what the prophets themselves did not know: that He will work through His Son in that day.

And not through His Son only: for he shall come with “all the saints” (v 5). May you and I be sealed among the Israel of God in that awful “day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God” (Rom 2:5).