The Battle of Ezekiel 38-39 ... Part 3
A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
In October of 2004 Iran completed two big steps in its ongoing pursuit of nuclear weaponry. First was the successful test of a missile with a 1250-mile (2000km) range, capable of hitting all parts of Israel, all US military installations in the Middle East, and every European capitol with nuclear warheads. Second was the conversion of "a few tons" of raw uranium into fuel to power the centrifuges used in the production of weapons grade uranium. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei told Iran's nuclear scientists this week that unless they produce four bombs by January of 2005 they "aren't Moslems." In the same week, Russia repeated its pledge to continue assisting Iran in developing its nuclear capability. Against that backdrop, here's part 3 of our series on Ezekiel 38-39.
"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 coastlands, 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 wipe them out.
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 implies that they're a distant land, and in Isaiah 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. The fact that the US now has a substantial military presence within range of Iran's new missiles lends credibility to this view.
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, as if the people being mentioned 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 wood to supply Israel's power and heating plants 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 heat and light.
" '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, not Israel, 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 it's 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 connects Jerusalem with Jericho and is on the way to the Dead Sea. And remarkably, it's in territory occupied by the Palestinians today. Does this battle effectively wipe out any Palestinian claims to Biblical land?
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 approach 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. 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 they'll build the Temple in Shiloh, about 12 miles (20km) north of Jerusalem. This is the Temple that's made desolate by the antichrist 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. (See my study on The Coming Temple for all the details.)
And so this battle will mark the beginning of Daniel's 70th week, the last 7 years of human history. Having given this prophecy to Israel, Ezekiel doesn't get into any detail on its aftermath, especially as is 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. And that's the topic of our concluding episode, next time. See you then.