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Ezekiel 38

 

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
    Oracles of Restoration
(33:1-39:29)
   
Prophecy About Gog and Future Invasion of Israel Gog and Allies Attack Israel The Gog and Magog Oracles
(38:1-39:29)
Gog As the Instrument of God Against Gog, King of Magog
(38:1-39:29)
38:1-6 38:1-6 38:1-6 38:1-9 38:1-7
38:7-9 38:7-9 38:7-9    
        38:8-9
38:10-13 38:10-13 38:10-13 38:10-13 38:10-13
38:14-16 38:14-17 38:14-16 38:14-17 38:14-16
38:17-23 Judgment On Gog 38:17-23 God's Punishment of Gog 38:17-23
  38:18-23   38:18-23  

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. In prophecy the historical setting and the literary unit are crucial in interpretation. In this case both are difficult.

1. As far as history, to whom do these nations refer? Are they symbolic of evil in general or specific geographical nations (or directions)?

2. As far as the literary unit, are chapters 33-39 one unit or several? Are they all related to the post-exilic period or beyond? Is there a temporal relation between chapters 36-37 and 38-39? Is restoration followed by a final attack (cf. Revelation 19-20)?

 

B. These questions haunt me! I cannot come to a place of peace about them! To read many of the commentaries available one would think there are no problems in interpreting these texts. One's systematic theology answers all the contextual questions. Part of my dilemma is my own presuppositional systematic theology (see Special Topics at 12:16 and 34:26). I guess when all is said and done, the teachings of Jesus, the writings of Paul, and the sharp contrast of the book of Hebrews have become priority for me! I read the OT through these filters! The NT is surprisingly similar and surprisingly different from the OT! A new day of a universal offer and consequence has arrived in Christ! The believing remnant has been expanded into the gospel offer (i.e., John 1:12; 3:16; Eph. 2:8-10). Abraham's seed are by faith, not descent (cf. Rom. 2:28-29; Galatians 3-4).

 

C. One thing is sure, history is teleological. There will be a final and decisive conflict between fallen mankind and its Creator! This invasion is not because of restored Israel's sin, but the greed of Gog and his followers. Evil was already defeated in Christ, but will one day be revealed and removed (i.e., isolated) from creation (i.e., hell, cf. Matt. 25:46; Dan. 12:1-2).

 

D. This literary unit (i.e., chapters 38-39) is more about God's honor (cf. 37:22-38) than Israel. Israel (Israel and Judah) was exiled in shame, but restored Israel, faithful Israel, cannot be defeated because YHWH fights on her behalf. The hero of the OT is God, not Israel!

The nations misunderstood the purpose of the exile (i.e., YHWH allowing, even instigating, His covenant people to be disciplined). They thought Israel's God was weak and unable to fulfill His covenant promises. Chapters 38-39 show this is not the case!

E. When all is said and done, I cannot be sure of the who and when of chapters 38-39, but I am confident to whom they do not refer to! Prophecy cannot be read beside the morning newspaper without the great danger of reading our day, our history into every event!

 

F. John Taylor, in the Tyndale OT Commentary Series, makes a good point about the genre of the literary unit (i.e., chapters 38-39).

"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. Failure to appreciate this has led many western commentators to find doublets, contradictions and inconsistencies, and so to assume multiple authorship where this is quite unnecessary" (p. 247).

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:38:1-6
 1And the word of the Lord came to me saying, 2"Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him 3and say, 'Thus says the Lord God, "Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal. 4I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them splendidly attired, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them wielding swords; 5Persia, Ethiopia and Put with them, all of them with shield and helmet; 6Gomer with all its troops; Beth-togarmah from the remote parts of the north with all its troops — many peoples with you.

38:1 "the word of the Lord came to me saying" See note at 1:3.

38:2 "Son of man" See note at 2:1.

▣ "set your face toward" See note at 13:17.

▣ "prophesy" This is the second imperative in verse 2. The verb (BDB 612, KB 659, Niphal imperative) is used often in several forms. For a discussion of Niphal and all the Hebrew verbal stems see the Introductory Articles.

1. Niphal perfect, 4:7; 37:7

2. Niphal infinitive construct, 11:13; 37:7

3. Niphal participle, 12:27; 13:2,16; 38:17

4. Niphal imperative, 6:2; 11:4 (twice); 13:2,17; 21:2,7,14,33; 25:2; 28:21; 29:2; 30:2; 34:2 (twice); 35:2; 36:1,3,6; 37:4,9 (twice),12; 38:2,14; 39:1

5. Hithpael participle, 13:17; 37:10

It is often used in connection with "set your face" (i.e., judgment oracle). It denotes that the message Ezekiel delivers to Israel, Judah, and the nations is from YHWH, not the prophet.

38:2 "Gog" This (BDB 155, KB 182) could refer to

1. Gyges (Gugu in Ashurbanipal's records, ABD, vol. 2, p. 1056), seventh century king (670-652 b.c.) of Lydia, who lived several generations before Ezekiel (also spelled Giges or Gogo, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 7, p. 691)

2. Gaga or Gagaia (Amarna Letters), used as a general name for northern people groups

3. Gaga (Ras Shamra Texts), an Akkadian or Babylonian god (cf. Enuma Elish)

4. Gagi, a ruler of the city of Sabi (ZPBE, vol. 2, p. 770)

5. Gog or Gug, a Summerian word for "darkness" and thereby a metaphor for evil (ABD, vol. 2, p. 1057, and W. F. Albright)

6. leaders of the Scythians (Josephus, Antiq. 1.6.1, ZPBE, vol. 2, p. 770), a people who lived on the fringe of the Roman Empire and invaded it from the northeast

7. Gasga, a name appearing in Hittite texts and referring to a rebellious area on the border of Armenia and Cappadocia (Introduction To the OT by R. K. Harrison, p. 842)

The key to understanding this term is not to identify the exact person to whom it refers, but to see its symbolic usage (cf. #5) as an/the evil enemy from the north. In Jeremiah "the north" represents "invasion" (cf. 1:13-15; 4:6). Because of the desert between Mesopotamia and Palestine, Assyria and Babylon invaded from the north. The word itself became a symbol of evil invasion. This is not meant to be a geographical direction, although Magog, Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal are probably located in modern Turkey (i.e., Asia Minor) or between Cappadocia and Media (ZPBF, vol. 2, p. 770).

Gog is "the" eschatological enemy from the north (cf. Rev. 20:8)! This would correspond to the "Man of Sin" of II Thessalonians 2 or the "Antichrist" of I John. Evil is personified as a personal enemy and attempted replacer of Christ (the Davidic seed, cf. Ezek. 34:24; 37:24-25).

A good source for possible geographical identifications is Edwin Yamauchi's Foes From the Northern Frontier.

38:2 "the land of Magog" The term in Akkadian means "place/land of Gog/Gyges" (Gen. 10:2). Here in Ezekiel it is a land, but in John's use of it in the book of Revelation, 20:8, it is another evil nation (cf. LXX). These terms are also found in the apocalyptic writings called the Sibylline Oracles (cf. 3:319, 512).

NASB, NKJV"the prince of Rosh"
NRSV"the chief prince of"
TEV"chief ruler"
NJB"the paramount prince of"

The NRSV, TEV, and NJB translations take "rosh" (BDB 910) as "head" or "chief" (i.e., Exod. 18:25; Ezek. 39:1), following the Aramaic Targums, Vulgate, and Aquila translations. However, it is a nation in Isa. 66:19.

▣ "Meshech" KB 646 identifies it (BDB 604) with the mountain dwellers of Asia Minor (cf. Herodotus 3:94; 7:72). It is always associated with "Tubal" (cf. Gen. 10:2; I Chr. 1:5; Ezek. 27:13; 32:26; 38:2-3; 39:1; Isa. 66:19). In the Assyrian documents Meshech is Mushku of central Anatolia and Tubal is Tabal of eastern Anatolia (cf. IVP Bible Background Commentary, p. 723).

▣ "Tubal" The name's meaning is, like the others, uncertain. BDB (1063) thinks it is a territory related to Asia Minor or Cappadocia. KB (1694) lists several other options (i.e., craftsman tribe, possibly related to the Kenites).

All of these specific leaders are from the line of Japheth (cf. Genesis 10). Now at the end, all of the descendants of Noah attack the lines of Seth (cf. Gen. 4:25-26) and Shem (cf. Gen. 9:26-27)!

38:4-6 "all your army" Notice the wide geographical aspect of this end-time army assembled against the people of God.

1. Persia, Iran, and Afghanistan (old Assyria [it is surely possible that פתרוס has been confused with פרס, since Pathros is mentioned in Ezekiel as connected to Egypt, cf. 29:14; 30:14, which is also like #3 in north Africa])

2. Ethiopia (Cush)

a. below Egypt (cf. Gen. 10:6-7) or

b. in Mesopotamia (cf. Gen. 10:8)

3. Put

a. Libya (LXX, but note Nahum 3:8) or

b. Somalia

4. Gomer, a son of Japheth (cf. Gen. 10:2), probably Cimmerians, who occupied Asia Minor in 8th century b.c. (i.e., Herodotus, cf. ABD, vol. 2, p. 1074)

5. Beth-togarmah, a son of Gomer (cf. Gen. 10:3). Josephus identified them as Phrygians because of Ezek. 27:14. However,

a. an Assyrian inscription (i.e., Til-Garimmu) makes it a city in east Cappadocia (ZPBE, vol. 4, p. 766)

b. a Hittite text locates it (i.e., Tegaramara) at the head waters of the Euphrates River (ABD, vol. 6, p. 595). (Possibly #a and #b are the same site)

c. Jewish Study Bible (p. 1115) identifies it with Armenia.

 

38:4 "I will turn you about" This verb (BDB 996, KB 1427, Polel perfect) is also used in 39:2. It denotes YHWH's direct involvement (cf. Isa. 37:29). He is in complete control of world events for His own purpose (cf. Isa. 10:5-19; Hab. 1:5-11). History is in His hand (cf. Rom. 8:28-30)!

▣ "put hooks into your jaws" This parallel phrase also denotes YHWH's direct actions.

1. causing Israel to go to Egypt, 19:4

2. causing Israel to go to Babylon, 19:9

3. destroying Egypt, 29:4

Here it denotes YHWH's control and manipulation of these foreign empires (cf. v. 5; 29:4). YHWH will instigate the final conflict with evil (cf. 29:3-5), so as to destroy it once and for all. This is the theme that John uses in Revelation 20. Evil must be destroyed and removed for the purpose of creation (i.e., fellowship between God and humanity) to reach its full potential and design.

▣ "buckler and shield" These two terms (BDB 857 and 171) refer to two kinds of shields.

1. The first is a large shield to protect the whole body as well as another person, usually an archer. These were usually used in siege warfare.

2. The second is a smaller shield carried into battle by individuals.

When they are used together (cf. 23:24; 38:4), they denote soldiers fully armed for conflict.

38:6 "from the remote parts" This term (BDB 438) denotes the extreme north (cf. v. 15; 39:2), which is also the site of God's mountain (cf. Ps. 48:2; Isa. 14:13). This phrase may be parallel to "from the ends of the earth," used in Deut. 28:49 and Isa. 5:26. The nations from afar serve YHWH's purposes. As YHWH brought Babylon (cf. Isaiah 13), so too, now Gog.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:38:7-9
 7"Be prepared, and prepare yourself, you and all your companies that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them. 8After many days you will be summoned; in the latter years you will come into the land that is restored from the sword, whose inhabitants have been gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel which had been a continual waste; but its people were brought out from the nations, and they are living securely, all of them. 9You will go up, you will come like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land, you and all your troops, and many peoples with you."

38:7 There are two imperatives that address this great army. Like v. 4, YHWH is directing this pagan, evil army for His purposes (note NJB translation, "and hold yourself at my service," also note v. 8).

1. be prepared, BDB 465, KB 464, Niphal imperative

2. prepare yourself, same verb, but in the Hiphil

 

38:8 This verse obviously refers to a restored and peaceful Palestine. It describes the results of the new heart and new spirit of 36:22-38 and the restoration, gathering, and uniting of chapter 37.

▣ "living securely" This verb (BDB 442, KB 444, Qal perfect) is repeated in 36:28,33,35; 37:25 (thrice); 38:11 (twice); 12 (twice), 14; 39:6,9,26. They are back in the land of promise. The term "securely" (BDB 105) is repeated in 28:26 (twice); 34:25,27,28; 38:11; 39:26. God's people trust in Him to provide protection. YHWH vindicates His power and honor by totally and completely defeating the multi-national army (like Assyria's and Babylon's). His people were not exiled because of His weakness or indifference, but because of their sin, which has now been forgiven.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:38:10-13
 10'Thus says the Lord God, "It will come about on that day, that thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil plan, 11and you will say, 'I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will go against those who are at rest, that live securely, all of them living without walls and having no bars or gates, 12to capture spoil and to seize plunder, to turn your hand against the waste places which are now inhabited, and against the people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquired cattle and goods, who live at the center of the world.' 13Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish with all its villages will say to you, 'Have you come to capture spoil? Have you assembled your company to seize plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to capture great spoil?'"'

38:10-13 YHWH allows the evil greed of fallen humanity to gain control of the leaders of this northern army.

Is this literal? Is this future? John uses this scenario in Revelation 20 for a rebellion at the close of "the golden age" (i.e., millennium). Does YHWH need to be vindicated in history beyond the Second Coming of Christ? My study of the genre of prophecy and apocalyptic and my NT understanding tends to relegate this type of OT passage to symbolism and metaphor of God's total defeat of evil, accomplished at the cross, the empty tomb, and the second coming!

38:12

NASB, NRSV"at the center of the world"
NKJV"in the midst of the land"
TEV"at the crossroads of the world"
NJB"at the navel of the world"

The Hebrew term translated "center" (BDB 371, KB 367) can mean "highest point" or "central." The second term "world" (BDB 75) can mean land or world. This refers either to

1. Palestine's geographical position as the only land connection between the powers of the Nile and the Tigris/Euphrates (cf. 5:5; TEV)

2. the people living in the hill country (NKJV)

3. Palestine as the special location of God's covenant people who are so special to Him (NJB). In Summerian/Babylonian mythology the temple in Nippur was the site where Enlil cut the navel cord that united heaven and earth (NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 333).

 

38:13 "Sheba and Dedan" These were brothers listed in Gen. 10:7. They are connected to Arabia and the trade routes (cf. 27:20; Isa. 21:13). That is why they are linked to Edom in Ezek. 25:13; Jer. 49:8.

▣ "Tarshish" See note at 27:25.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:38:14-16
 14"Therefore prophesy, son of man, and say to Gog, 'Thus says the Lord God, "On that day when My people Israel are living securely, will you not know it? 15You will come from your place out of the remote parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great assembly and a mighty army; 16and you will come up against My people Israel like a cloud to cover the land. It shall come about in the last days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me when I am sanctified through you before their eyes, O Gog."

38:16 Notice the purpose of God allowing this treacherous invasion. God will manifest Himself, His power, glory, and holiness for all to see (cf. Isa. 43:8-13)! This theme (i.e., "know Me") is recurrent! God wants His highest creations to return to Him (cf. 36:23; 37:28; 38:23).

▣ "in the last days" This phrase is used of a future period (cf. Isa. 2:2; Ezek. 38:16; Dan. 2:28; 10:14; Hosea 10:14; Micah 4:1). In the NT this phrase becomes the time between the first coming of the Messiah and His glorious return (i.e., the overlapping of the two ages).

SPECIAL TOPIC: THIS AGE AND THE AGE TO COME

▣ "My land" By creation all the earth is YHWH's (cf. Exod. 9:29; 19:5; Deut. 32:8), but Canaan/ Palestine was uniquely His (cf. Lev. 25:23; II Chr. 7:20; Isa. 14:25; Jer. 2:7; Ezek. 36:5; Joel 1:6; 3:2). It was the special place for the manifestation of Himself to the world (cf. Rom. 9:4).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT:38:17-23
 17'Thus says the Lord God, "Are you the one of whom I spoke in former days through My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days for many years that I would bring you against them? 18It will come about on that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel," declares the Lord God, "that My fury will mount up in My anger. 19In My zeal and in My blazing wrath I declare that on that day there will surely be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. 20The fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all the creeping things that creep on the earth, and all the men who are on the face of the earth will shake at My presence; the mountains also will be thrown down, the steep pathways will collapse and every wall will fall to the ground. 21I will call for a sword against him on all My mountains," declares the Lord God. "Every man's sword will be against his brother. 22With pestilence and with blood I will enter into judgment with him; and I will rain on him and on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, a torrential rain, with hailstones, fire and brimstone. 23I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the Lord."'

38:17 This may allude to Psalm 2 or 83, but more probably Isa. 34:1-6 and 63:1-6 (if Edom is a symbol of all rebellious nations; this would also explain Ezekiel 35). This same theme is also found in Joel 3:9-16 (which I think is early post-exilic).

38:18-23 Note the metaphors of God's passion for His people and their enemies.

1. My fury, v. 18

2. My anger, v. 18

3. My zeal, v. 19

4. My blazing wrath, v. 19 (cf. 22:21,31)

5. the earth will shake at My presence, v. 20

6. a sword, v. 21 (cf. Ezekiel 21; 32:33)

Also notice the other metaphors.

A. cosmic upheavels (as YHWH approaches)

1. earthquake, v. 19

2. animals tremble, v. 20

3. mountains fall, v. 20

4. walls fall, v. 20

5. pestilence, v. 22

6. torrential rain, v. 22 (cf. 13:11,13)

7. hailstones, v. 22

8. fire, v. 22

9. brimstone, v. 22

B. war motifs of a zealous (jealous) Covenant God

1. humans tremble, v. 20

2. a sword is loosed, v. 21

3. blood, v. 22

Many of these will later be amplified into apocalyptic metaphors and phrases. I still think this literary unit in Ezekiel is a precursor of apocalyptic language (cf. Cracking OT Codes, p. 190), not one of its first examples, as is 40-48 (i.e. no angel guides, no number symbolism, no use of colors, no secret messages).

38:20 "the mountains also will be thrown down" This phrase can be seen in two ways.

1. The convulsing of nature at the coming of its creator (i.e., stars fall, sun darkened, moon turned to blood, cf. Isa. 24:23; 64:1,3; Joel 2:30-31).

2. An allusion to the trembling of the pagan gods (cf. Zeph. 2:11). The gods of Mesopotamia (Enlil and Ashur) and Canaan (El and Ba'al) are mountain gods. This may explain the strange references of Ps. 48:2; Isa. 14:13; and Ezek. 28:14,16.

This may explain how YHWH is tied to Mt. Sinai/Horeb and Mt. Zion. The culmination of history is at a mountain (cf. Isa. 2:2-4; 11:9; 24:23; 25:6-12; 65:25; Micah 4:1-5).

▣ "the steep pathways will collapse, and every wall will fall to the ground" The key term in the first phrase "steep pathways" (BDB 201) in Song of Songs 2:14 means a secret, inaccessible hiding place. Therefore these two phrases are parallel and mean there will be no hiding places from YHWH's personal presence, no place for humans to seek refuge (cf. Rev. 6:15-16).

38:21 "Every man's sword will be against his brother" This is an interesting phrase. Judges 7:22 and II Chr. 20:23 describe an invading army destroying itself. I Samuel 14:20 describes metaphorically a great confusion. But Haggai 2:22 describes an act of God whereby Israel's now post-exilic leaders (Zerubbabel and Joshua) are established. This may be the thrust of Ezekiel 38-39!

38:22 As God has fought on Israel's behalf (i.e., the Exodus, cf. Exod. 14:14; 15:3; Deut. 1:30 and the Conquest, cf. Deut. 3:22; Josh. 10:14,42) and used the forces of nature, so too, again. Israel is at peace and has no army (this surely does not fit modern Israel) or walled cities! God will act on their behalf (covenant promises). Now the "destroyed army" will not be Israel's (i.e, Ezekiel 37), but the pagan evil, unbelieving nations on the fringes of the Mediterranean world, who had no contact with God's people (or His word) before this time.

38:23 "and make Myself known in the sight of many nations" This could be understood in two ways.

1. YHWH's judgment on sinful nations (cf. Ps. 9:4,16; Isaiah 34; 43:8-13)

2. YHWH's desire for the nations to know Him and come to Him (cf. 37:28; 38:16; 39:27)

Israel was meant to be a "kingdom of priests" because all the world belongs to YHWH (Exod. 19:5-6). Abraham's call included a blessing for all the nations (cf. Gen. 12:3). The initial "good news" (cf. Gen. 3:15) was to humanity, not Israel. Even the Law of Moses mentions God's purpose of informing the nations (cf. Deut. 4:5-8). Also several passages in Isaiah address the nations being included (i.e., 42:6; 49:6; 51:4-8; 66:18-21).