Ezekiel Bible Study (A New Heart)

Ezekiel 38-39, Radical Rule


Ezekiel 38-39 have been the source of all kinds of interpretations and explanations. These two chapters contain prophecies about Gog and Magog, which we will look at carefully shortly. But the tendency of interpreters has been to explain this prophecy in light of current events. Gog and Magog have been interpreted as the Goths of the fourth century who were enemies of Rome. Some have seen Gog and Magog as pointing to the wars of the crusades, the rise of the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope, the invasion of the Turks. A view that was made popular by the Scofield Reference Bible is that these are referring to Russia. While other views arise, it seems that most explanations like to return to Russia. So we need to consider if Ezekiel’s prophecy is now projecting to a time more than 2500 after he lived or was he pointing to something else. Is Gog and Magog the signs for the end of the world or was there some other event in view that God is revealing through Ezekiel?

Introducing Gog and Magog (38:1-16)

Look at the first two verses of Ezekiel 38 so that we can get a start point for looking at this prophecy. Verse 2 tells us that Gog is the chief prince (key ruler) over the land of Magog. Now there is not a land of Magog in scriptures or in history and there is not a Gog in scriptures or in history. This is why people try to stretch interpretations to some future nation but always seem to point to a nation in their own lifetimes.

But there is an interesting description given about what the Lord will do to Magog in verse 4. The Lord says he will put hooks in their jaws and bring out their whole army. The reason this is an interesting description is because this is how the Assyrians conquered. This is how the Assyrians conquered the northern nation of Israel. They conquered Samaria, put hooks in the mouths of their captives, and dragged them away from the land. So this Gog and Magog sounds like a world power and verses 5-6 indicate that they have the support of other world nations. In fact, seven nations are represented. We saw seven nations represented in judgment in Ezekiel 25-32 also. We will also see the number seven repeated 17 times in Ezekiel 40-48. So we have some symbolism on display. This is a terrifying world power that seems to have the support of other world nations.

Now I want you to notice verse 8. Verse 8 we read that this world power is going to gather its troops and come up against the Lord’s people. The Lord has pictured his people being restored to the land in Ezekiel 34-37. But then the Lord says that, though they are restored, another world power will come against them. They are going to have it in their mind to come against the Lord’s people, to attack them and plunder them (38:10-13). Verses 15-16 solidify this picture. The Lord says that these many nations will come riding horses as a mighty army and advance against the Lord’s people. But notice something very interesting at the end of verse 16. The Lord says that he will be the one to bring this Gog and Magog against his people so that the nations will know the Lord because he will vindicate his holiness through Gog and Magog. The Lord also says that he is going to do this in the last days, which is an important time marker for us to keep in mind.

Who Is This? (38:17-23)

The rest of Ezekiel 38 helps us understand who Gog and Magog. Please look at verse 17 because this is an important piece to understanding this prophecy. Notice that God says that Gog and Magog is who the Lord spoke about in former days through his prophets. The Lord says that he prophesied for years that he would bring Gog and Magog against God’s people. The rest of the chapter then shows that when Gog and Magog come against the Lord’s people, then he is going to respond in his wrath against the nations (38:18-22).

So there are two pieces in this description that we need to think about. First, the Lord says that his prophets spoke about Gog and Magog coming against his people. Of course, as we noted at the beginning of the lesson, we do not read about these figures in any other prophecies. This must tell us something important. Gog and Magog cannot represent some future nation like Russia or China because the rest of Lord’s prophets did not speak about them. Second, please notice the repeated purpose of the Lord using Gog and Magog. In Ezekiel 38:23 the Lord raising up and then destroying these nations was to show his greatness to the rest of the nations. This is also stated in Ezekiel 38:16. The Lord will vindicate his holiness before the eyes of the nations when Gog and Magog come against the Lord’s people. This is stated again in Ezekiel 39:21. When the Lord executes his judgments against Gog and Magog, then this will put the Lord’s glory before the nations and the nations will see these judgments.

Why are these key pieces of information? First, this prophecy in Ezekiel 38-39 cannot be about the end of the world since the purpose of for the nations to see the Lord’s glory through judgment. Second, we can confirm this because the Lord said that his other prophets spoke of this event. Yet other prophets did not speak about a Gog and Magog figure. They did not speak about some end times war.

So what did the prophets say before Ezekiel’s prophecy that would fit this Gog and Magog picture? I believe we can see in all the prophets that the Lord raises up a world power to judge his people. But that is the never the end of the story. Then the Lord’s wrath is roused and he acts in judgment to rescue his people and vindicate his own holiness. We can see this idea throughout the prophecies of Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Micah, and Habakkuk (prophets that spoke before or up to the time of Ezekiel’s prophecies). Therefore, Gog and Magog are representative of every worldly king and nation who will rise up against God’s people. We see Gog and Magog in the book of Revelation and you will see that the same definition for them is given there.

And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. (Revelation 20:7–8 ESV)

Who is Gog and Magog, according to Revelation 20? They are the worldly nations across the earth. The Lord is not choosing one particularly nation and calling it Gog and Magog. If the Lord wanted to do that, he could since he does directly name nations that will arise like Babylon, Persia, and Greece and does directly name rulers like Cyrus of Persia. Gog and Magog represent every world power that stands against the Lord and his people.

The Lord’s Victory (39:1-24)

Chapter 39 confirms the Lord’s victory against nations that try to overthrow his people. The Lord will rise up and bring judgment on those nations (39:1-8). The Lord will show his holiness and show he is for his people. There is another beautiful picture given in verses 9-10. Notice that God’s people do not go out and fight these worldly powers. They destroy the weapons of the world because the Lord has given them victory. We simply sit back and enjoy the spoils of victory (39:10). The Lord strikes down the wicked nations (37:11-16). Then the Lord instructs Ezekiel to prophesy to the birds (39:17-20). Tell the birds to feast on the slain because the Lord has struck down these wicked nations. It is a picture of their bodies lying dead and the vultures coming and enjoying their meals. This picture is used in Revelation 19:17-21.

Verses 21-24 help us further interpreting this prophecy. You will notice again that the Lord is displaying his glory through this victory over these world nations (39:21). The purpose is so that the Lord’s people will know that he is the Lord who keeps his word. Look carefully at verses 23-24. This Gog and Magog event will let the nations know that Israel went into captivity for their sins. It was because of Israel’s sins that the Lord turned his face and gave them over their enemies for judgment. The Lord dealt with Israel according to their sins and uncleanness. This is clearly a reference to the present time of Ezekiel’s day because this is why they were in captivity in Babylon. Ezekiel told them they would be removed from the land and judged because of their sins. So they were taken captive, just like the Lord said. The point is that Gog and Magog not only have a future meaning, but already presently exist as the instrument the Lord used to carry Israel into captivity.

This paragraph again helps us see that Gog and Magog does not refer to one particular future nation. Rather, Gog and Magog represent all world powers, nations, and leaders that rise up against the Lord and his people. This is what the prophets of the Lord said in many of their messages. Listen to what the prophet Micah said.

11 Now many nations are assembled against you, saying, “Let her be defiled, and let our eyes gaze upon Zion.” 12 But they do not know the thoughts of the LORD; they do not understand his plan, that he has gathered them as sheaves to the threshing floor. 13 Arise and thresh, O daughter of Zion, for I will make your horn iron, and I will make your hoofs bronze; you shall beat in pieces many peoples; and shall devote their gain to the LORD, their wealth to the Lord of the whole earth. (Micah 4:11–13 ESV)

Notice the similarity to the Gog and Magog picture. Many nations are coming against the Lord’s people thinking that they will destroy and devour them. But they did not know that the Lord is using them as an instrument for his divine judgment and will ultimately destroy those nations and vindicate the Lord’s people.

When the Spirit Comes (39:25-29)

This prophecy ends with an important time marker and picture of what the Lord is going to do. The Lord proclaims that he is going to restore the fortunes for all Israel and be jealous for his own holy name. The Lord will bring them back from where they have been scattered and they will forget the shame of their sinning. The Lord will leave none of his people but will bring them into the land inheritance. When is this going to happen? Look carefully at verse 29. This is going to happen when the Lord pours out his Spirit. When the Spirit is poured out Gog and Magog will be given a decisive blow. When the Spirit is poured out, the fortunes of his people will be restored. When the Spirit is poured out, the people’s shame will be removed and they will called from the nations into their inheritance. When the Spirit is poured out, then the Lord will no hide his face from his people anymore.

Friends, we see in Acts 2 that the Spirit was poured out. We see Peter stand up with the apostles and proclaim restoration and the forgiveness of sins. We see them proclaiming that they can receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. We see them saying that this is what the prophets were point to. But here is the key to our two chapters that we have looked at tonight. When the Spirit comes, the Lord’s radical rule will begin and he will destroy Gog and Magog. The cross is the symbol of victory visibly observed by all the nations, indicating their future judgment. The cross is the moment when all darkness rose against the Lord and his people, only for the Lord to vanquish that darkness. Gog and Magog is a collective term to represent every foe of the Lord and his people. They represent the wicked generations who oppose the Lord and his followers. In Hosea’s day, Gog and Magog were the Assyrians who came against them. In Ezekiel’s day, Gog and Magog were Babylonians. In the first century, Gog and Magog were the Roman Empire that came against the Christians. Even physical Jerusalem was Gog and Magog for they also rose up against the Lord and his people. Listen to how the scriptures confirm this idea. Listen to Peter’s sermon:

25 You said through the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David your servant: Why do the Gentiles rage and the peoples plot futile things? 26 The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers assemble together against the Lord and against his Messiah. 27 For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do whatever your hand and your will had predestined to take place. (Acts 4:25–28 CSB)

Who were the enemies? The Gentiles, the peoples, the kings of the earth, and rulers who are taking their stand against the Lord and his Anointed. Then notice who Peter identifies particularly. He notes Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel assembled together against your Anointed One, Jesus. They assembled against the Lord, just like Ezekiel 38-39 predicted. But Peter says this was the Lord’s doing. The Lord will destroy every power that stands against his righteous rule. Listen to Daniel’s prophecy.

34 As you looked, a stone was cut out by no human hand, and it struck the image on its feet of iron and clay, and broke them in pieces. 35 Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold, all together were broken in pieces, and became like the chaff of the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away, so that not a trace of them could be found. But the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:34–35 ESV)

In the dream of the great statue, we see the interpretation of four world empires. But notice how the prophecy ends. The stone strikes at the feet but destroys into pieces all the world empires: iron, clay, bronze, silver, and gold. Look further at verse 35. The wind carried them away so that not a trace of them could be found. The stone destroys every worldly power that arises against the Lord because Christ’s kingdom becomes the great mountain that fills the whole earth. Every judgment against a wicked nation is another nation being subjected to Jesus’ rule (cf. Revelation 11:15-17).

A Radical Rule

So we need to end this lesson with two considerations. What did this mean for the people in Ezekiel’s day and what does it mean for us today? First, what did this mean in Ezekiel’s day? Why have this Gog and Magog prophecy? In Ezekiel 34-37 we have seen prophecies of amazing restoration. The Lord is going to raise his people back to life, give them a new heart and new spirit, so that they will obey him and enjoy the promised inheritance. He send his shepherd who will cleanse them of their sins and establish a covenant of peace with them so that they will always be God’s people. Will the Lord turns his back on his people again, allowing a world nation to destroy them for their sins? The Lord’s answer is no. The Lord says he will gather world powers against his people but use that gathering to judge them for their wickedness. This is more fully explained in Revelation 20 where the dragon is no longer allowed to decide the nations. So it is a message of hope and confidence. God will not turn his back on his people. He will be at work in the nations. The nations will not know that he is the one who gathering them together so that they can be brought to God’s justice.

This is our hope today. Friends, God’s judgment is sure and his victory is seen in the cross. The wave of evil and wickedness that arises against his people does not cause us any fear. The Lord has not turned his back on his people. He is not given over his people again but are secure with him. Therefore, whatever the world events may be, whatever persecutions or suffering may arise for the cause of Christ, we know that we have victory because Jesus is on the throne and he will destroy every worldly power that stands against him. These two chapters are reassurance that the new order that has been put into place is not reversible. God will not turn his face away from his people but will fight for them.

So what did Peter and the apostles, along with the other Christians in Jerusalem do when they were threatened by the Sanhedrin for proclaiming Jesus in Acts 4? Let’s finish the reading of what we started from Peter’s sermon in Acts 4.

29 And now, Lord, consider their threats, and grant that your servants may speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand for healing, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God boldly. (Acts 4:29–31 CSB)

What do we do when another Gog and Magog arises? We pray for boldness and keep speaking the word of the Lord, knowing the Lord has raised them up for their destruction. We look to the Lord in faith to bring judgment and justice on the wickedness we see and experience.

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