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A Bible-prophesied conflict immediately prior to the return of Jesus Christ

This article is a summary of a workshop given in the teenage session at the April 2017 Rathmines Bible School.

The Bible is a book of prophecy. Approximately one third of the entire Bible is made up of prophecies of one form or another. Many – if not most – of these have already been fulfilled in incredible detail, such as Cyrus and the overthrow of Babylon (Isaiah 45), the rise of the Babylonian, Persian, Greek and Roman empires (Daniel 2), or the return of Israel to their land after thousands of years of exile (Ezekiel 37)
Ezekiel 38 focuses on the events that occur immediately before the actual physical return of Jesus Christ to the earth. But at first glance it appears to be full of unusual names and confusing language. What is really going on in this prophecy? The answer is surprisingly simple. Let’s break the chapter down by asking three key questions:
  1. What is this prophecy about?
  2. When will it be fulfilled?
  3. Who is involved?
(As we work through these three questions, we will also answer the where? and why? accordingly.)

What?

The best place to start is always at the beginning. Let’s commence by looking at a key word, one that is repeated several times in the opening verses.
Ezekiel 38:1-3
Firstly, this is clearly a prophecy. And whoever this ‘Gog, of the land of Magog’ is, the prophecy is ‘against’ him. And so is God. God and Gog are not on the same team. OK, what else can we find?
Ezekiel 38:4-9
Now, look at all this language coloured in red: army, horses and horsemen, armour, shields, swords, storm… This is the language of battle. This is not a quick trip down to Gog’s holiday house. This is about a conflict. Let’s read on…
Ezekiel 38:10-12
So what do we know so far? Firstly, that this is a prophecy against someone. Secondly, whoever that someone is, this is about a battle. They are armed to the teeth, and they have evil intentions.
So the answer to our question what? is: a battle. This is a conflict. A big one.

When?

We know from other passages that Ezekiel the prophet was alive and giving this prophecy around 580 BC; that is, 580 years before the birth of Jesus Christ. So when exactly is this battle supposed to happen? Let’s see what God, through Ezekiel, tells us:
Ezekiel 38:8
OK, so far this isn’t super helpful. ‘After many days’ and ‘in the latter years’ could be any time in the 2,500 years that has elapsed since Ezekiel first gave his prophecy, and where we are today. But look closely: there’s some specific qualifiers given…

Ezekiel 38:8

So the ‘after many days’ and ‘in the latter years’ denotes a specific time: when Israel is back in their land. Look at the language above in green. Israel is ‘brought back from the sword’ and is ‘gathered out of many people’ and ‘brought forth out of the nations’ and ‘dwelling safely’ (note that the Hebrew word for ‘safely’ can also mean: ‘confidently’).
Any student of Middle Eastern history will know that after the siege of Jerusalem in AD70, Israel’s people were exiled from their land (another event prophesied by the Bible long before it happened). They only began to return to their land following the tragic events of World War 2, first being re-established in 1948 and then taking control of Jerusalem in 1967. So this prophecy, this great battle, cannot have happened prior to then. Why? Because Ezekiel says it will only happen when Israel are back in their land, established upon their mountains, living safely. This is a prophecy for modern times, not the dusty pages of history. Here’s an interesting chart that can speak for itself:

Source: S. Wolstencroft

To summarise thus far, what do we have?

 quick summary

Let’s get onto the next question. This is where things get really interesting.

Who?

Let’s revisit the beginning of the chapter again. The key to good Bible study is careful reading. Often, that means reading something over again and again. What do we find about the who?
We will shortly see that this prophecy has three key players. The first one we’ve already met, we just didn’t know it. Let’s take a closer look.

Player one: THE INVADING FORCE

Ezekiel 38:2-3

OK, so what have we got? The invading force, the bad hombre with the big army, is called ‘Gog’ and he is from ‘the land of Magog’. But that’s not all. He’s also called ‘the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal’. So this Gog has some allies. And if we read on, we find out that these allies are quite widespread:

Ezekiel 38:5-6, 15
There’s some key information here. Firstly, Gog is not on his own. He has allies. This is a confederacy. Secondly – and you’ll note I jumped ahead in the chapter to verse 15 – he has a geographical location: ‘out of the NORTH quarters and ‘from thy place out of the NORTH parts. North of where? Well: north of Israel, as we will shortly see. By the way, there are other prophecies about this same event found elsewhere in the Bible, and they all agree on the geographical location. Joel 2:20 talks about ‘the NORTHERN army’ and Daniel 11:40-45 calls this invader ‘the king of the NORTH’.
A closer look at how this verse is consistently translated will help us understand why many Christadelphians believe ‘Gog [of] the land of Magog’ relates to Russia. Take a look at how the KJV phrase ‘the north parts’ in Ezekiel 38:15 has been widely approached by Bible scholars:
  • “in the far north” (NIV)
  • “in the distant north” (NLT)
  • “out of the uttermost parts of the north” (ESV, ASV, ERV, WEB)
  • “out of the remote parts of the north” (NASB)
  • “the remotest parts of the north” (HCSB and ISV)
  • “the remote part of the north” (NET)

You can’t get much further north than this

So to clarify, who is on team Gog? Let’s recap: Gog, [of] the land of Magog; Meshech and Tubal; Persia, Ethiopia and Libya; Gomer and all his bands; Togarmah of the north quarters.
Some of these names we recognise. Some we do not, but historians can help us understand them. Without going into too much etymology around what the names mean and where they find their origins, we can be clear on this: this confederacy, although made up of some nations to the east of Israel (Persia) and to the south (Libya and Ethiopia), is predominantly known as a remote NORTHERN power. This is their defining geographic characteristic in scripture. For the sake of argument, let’s take a look at a map of this invading force:
(Edit, 1 May 2017: please note, the map below is simply used as an illustration of the confederacy of nations. It is not within the scope of this article to determine with absolute certainty which names belong to which nations. For example, there is evidence to suggest that ‘Gomer’ corresponds to the regions of France & Germany, as outlined by Dr John Thomas in Elpis Israel, however that is the subject for further and more detailed study. The scope of this article is to provide a basic and easy-to-grasp explanation of Ezekiel 38).

Image source: http://www.pray4zion.org

Player two: THE INVADED PLACES

Anyone paying close attention has already worked out who this invading force is coming for. But let’s take another look:

Ezekiel 38:8
There it is: Gog and his allies come ‘against the mountains of Israel’. But they aren’t the only ones who suffer. A parallel account of this same prophecy, found in Daniel 11:40-45, tells us a little more:

Daniel 11:41-42
A look at this context of this chapter tells us that the ‘He’ spoken of is ‘the king of the north’, or the ‘Gog’ of Ezekiel 38.
So the second player, or the invaded places, are none other than Israel and Egypt. This is who Gog comes with his great armies to invade.

Player three: THE OPPOSING GROUP

Despite his huge army and evil intentions, it’s not all plain sailing for Gog – Ezekiel tells us that someone stands up against him. Let’s take a closer look:

Ezekiel 38:13
A little more work is required here, as we’re not given much in the way of modern identities or geographic location. So who is being spoken about? Again, the purpose of this article is not to undertake a deep dive into etymology – the title is, after all, ‘Ezekiel 38 made easy’. So for the sake of ease, let me recap some thoughts from a previous note titled ‘Brexit and the Bible’.
Who are these mysterious parties, prophesied thousands and thousands of years ago? The territories of Sheba and Dedan we can look up – they equate to the geographical land of modern-day Saudi Arabia. But who is Tarshish? Many other prophecies help provide an outline of who the Tarshish referred to in the Bible is. For the sake of ease, here is a bullet point summary of its characteristics as outlined in Bible prophecy:
  • A nation built on the spirit of the merchant city of Tyre (Isaiah 23v6, Ezekiel 38v13)
  • Of Japhetic (European) origin (Genesis 10v4)
  • Rich in silver, iron, tin and lead (Ezekiel 27v12)
  • A major maritime power (Isaiah 2v16)
  • Actively trading in global markets (Ezekiel 27v25; 38v13)
  • From maritime lands (“isles”) far away (Isaiah 66v19)
  • To the far west of Israel (Jonah 1v3)
In short – remember, this is just a summary – the key descriptors of Tarshish point in all likelihood to the lands of Britain. It is not uncommon knowledge that Britain has throughout history referred to herself as “the old lion” and her colonies as “the young lions” (just Google the phrase “the empire needs men” to find a famous poster Britain distributed during WW1). It is a curious thing that this matches the exact phrase Ezekiel used thousands and thousands of years ago, when describing “Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof”.
Another writer, W.H. Boulton, said this of the group highlighted in blue above:
“Great Britain is a mercantile nation; it has long used a lion as its emblem. It has developed colonies, now dominions, who may aptly be spoken of as young lions. It is true that Tarshish was in the days of Ezekiel a somewhat loosely applied name, being used for more than one place in, and near, the Mediterranean with which the Tyrians traded, and there is no doubt that those ships also traded with Britain. If, therefore, the application to Britain is not absolutely sure, it is extremely likely, and there is no other power in these days to which it might be applied.”
So why do ‘Sheba, Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof’ stand up to Gog? Are they intimately worried about the people of Israel and Egypt? Are they there for humanitarian reasons to protect the afflicted and downtrodden?
Ezekiel doesn’t think so.
Careful reading helps us understand their own selfish ambitions:

Ezekiel 38:13
There it is: SPOIL.
Silver and gold. Prey. Cattle and goods. Great Spoil.
Yes, they care about spoil. Which, by the way, was exactly what Gog came down to steal in the first place: remember 38:12? They came ‘to take a spoil’.
It’s easy to think of PLAYER ONE (the invading force), as The Bad Dudes – they come with a huge army, an evil thought, and an intent to take spoil. But that doesn’t make PLAYER THREE (the opposing group), any more upright. They simply want the spoil for themselves! There is a disturbing lack of concern for the many people who suffer because of this invasion. This has always been the pattern of Middle Eastern conflict. World superpowers have always busied themselves in this region, ostensibly for the purpose of freedom of the masses, but really because it’s full of spoil. Or did I mean oil? Hmmmm.

What, when, who?

Time for a wrap up. What is this really about then?
  1. Ezekiel 38 is about a great battle. A conflict centred in the Middle East, specifically in the lands of Israel and Egypt. A hugely powerful northern army, with a widespread confederacy, comes down into the land of Israel to take a spoil.
  2. It will happen in ‘the latter years’ and ‘after many days’ – when Israel have been regathered in their land after millennia of exile.
  3. This power from the ‘remote/far/uttermost’ north will swoop down into Israel and Egypt, but will meet opposition: nations who are already present themselves, interested in the spoil these lands have to offer – nations that in all likelihood relate to the modern lands of Saudi Arabia and the British Commonwealth nations, known both in 580 BC and modern times as ‘young lions’.
So what? Why does this matter? Why should you care?
This is the clincher: you should care because this is the event that immediately precedes the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, to overthrow corrupt and evil human governments, and establish the Kingdom of God.

End game

But who wins the conflict? Is Gog successful? Does Tarshish prevail? Let’s take a look at how this prophecy ends.

 Ezekiel 38:18-20

At the moment Gog comes up against Israel, God intervenes. The opposing group haven’t had much success against Gog’s northern confederacy, it would seem. But then God steps in. And the result is earth-shaking.
God’s power is unlimited. God steps in to defend his people. His land. His nation.

Ezekiel 38:22-23
The parallel prophecy, Daniel 11:40-45, says this of Gog’s movements:

Daniel 11:41-43

So for a time, Gog has success. Israel falls. Egypt is next in his sights. He thunders down like a storm, and Egypt falls against his confederacy. But then something remarkable happens. It is sudden. And it is complete. God, speaking through the prophet Daniel, tells us in just two simple verses:

Daniel 11:44-45

Other parts of scripture tell us exactly what it is that troubles him from the east: the return of Jesus Christ to the earth, with his faithful saints (Matthew 24:27-31, Revelation 16:12). But Gog will not be defied. He rushes north ‘with great fury to destroy’, and makes it as far as Jerusalem, ‘the glorious holy mountain’. There he plants his power; there he makes his stand.
It is his final and most catastrophic mistake. Why?
That mountain belongs to God.
It always has, since the beginning of the Bible. It is the place God has chosen to put his name. It is the city that he calls ‘the apple of mine eye’ (Zechariah 2:8). It is the city that God calls ‘my holy mountain’ ten times in the Hebrew Bible (Isaiah 11:9; 56:7; 57:13; 65:11; 65:25; 66:20; Joel 2:1; 3:17; Obadiah 1:16; Zephaniah 3:11). And it is the place where Gog and his confederacy ‘shall come to his end, and none shall help him’. But why does no one come to Gog’s aid?
Quite simply: because no one can!
The finest military might, the most advanced technological weaponry, the most highly trained soldiers – none of these stand for anything when God himself comes to the battle. Look again at how Ezekiel said God will intervene:

Ezekiel 38:22-23

What good is your air force when great hailstones rain from the sky? What use are your soldiers when brimstone and overflowing rain decimate the battle field?

No match for hail, fire, brimstone and flood, sorry.

God’s final aim is twofold: to deliver his people Israel, and to sanctify himself in the eyes of many nations. Then the earth ‘shall know that I am the LORD’.
This is the moment Jesus Christ returns to the earth to reign, an event widely spoken of in the Bible (see Psalm 72; Ezekiel 38:1-23; Daniel 11:40-15; 12:1-3; Matthew 24:36-39; John 5:25-29 and 14:1-3; Acts 1:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15:52-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:16 and 5:2; Revelation 1:7 for more on this).
This is the prophecy of Ezekiel 38: The final invasion of the land of Israel by a huge northern confederacy, immediately before the return of Jesus Christ.

So what?

Let’s remind ourselves of something important from the start of this article:

Acts 1:11

Since the end of World War 2 we have seen the miraculous return of Israel to their ancient land, the rise of Russia as a belligerent military force under Putin, their longstanding presence in Syria, and their close relationship with Persia (Iran). In more recent times we’ve seen Russia begin to develop military links with both Libya and Ethiopia, and partner with Iran and Syria in a ‘proxy war’ against the US and Saudi Arabia, in Syria. As THE major producer of gas into Europe, we’ve also seen Russia sit up and take interest in the three massive natural gas fields (‘spoil’?) discovered by Israel and Egypt between 2009 and 2015, including Russian offers to help develop them (offers which were knocked back by both countries, mind you). These events on their own might seem like just another belligerent world power throwing their weight around. When read, however, in the light of the remarkable prophecy found in Ezekiel 38, these events take on a much deeper and more powerful meaning.
I implore you then to keep your eyes on the news. Keep your eyes on Russia, Syria, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Commonwealth Powers. The Bible says there is much more to come.
Only one question remains:

A final challenge

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“And they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”Isaiah 2:4
“He [Jesus Christ] shall judge thy people with righteousness […] he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.”Psalm 72
+++

“For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9v16)

 

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