The Ezekiel 38 and Psalm 83 Prophecies/Part 1
|By: John G Weldon, PhD; ©2011|
|The amazing prophecies in Ezekiel 38 and 39, written 2,600 years ago, have received a lot of attention recently because of current events in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Russia. Think about that for a moment. Of what other religious book in existence do 2,600-year old specific prophecies command the attention of millions of people? There is none. And what we discuss here is only one of hundreds of examples written by the prophets; indeed almost 30% of what they wrote was prophetic!|
The Ezekiel 38/Psalm 83 Prophecies: Russia, Iran and Muslim Nations in Biblical Prophecy
Introduction to Ezekiel 38-39
As I look back at the numerous biblical prophets in the Old Testament – Noah, Abraham, Moses, Samuel, King David, Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jonah, Hosea, Elijah, and many others, I realize they encompass some of most passionate and powerful men in human history. I stand in awe before what God accomplished through their brief and painful but exceedingly rich lives: not just in the nation of Israel, the most unique nation, but in the surrounding nations, the ancient world, throughout history, and even today. They are critical to our own lives and welfare. Sadly, few know it. The prophets cemented redemptive history so we could see and know God and his ways and that they preserved the line of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. It is his sacrificial atonement that ultimately brings eternal joy to untold numbers of people throughout eternity.
The biblical prophets changed the world that was and the world that is and the world that will be. Through God’s grace, they delivered millions of people, wrote and preserved the very words of God, performed miracles, confronted kings, warned of coming wrath, were persecuted and murdered, and yet they preserved the ancient people of Israel, forming a bulwark against inherent tendencies toward idolatry and spiritual adultery. Israel exists today in part because of the ancient prophets. They sacrificed their lives for God’s chosen people and God’s greater glory. The life of each prophet is worthy of the thousands of books written about him. Indeed, Hollywood could craft an Oscar-winning film on each of their lives.
Ezekiel was one such prophet. Unfortunately, we can only look at portions of a few chapters he wrote, not his full, remarkable life.
The amazing prophecies in Ezekiel 38 and 39, written 2,600 years ago, have received a lot of attention recently because of current events in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Russia. (For an illustration, type in “Ezekiel 38” on a major online search engine.) Think about that for a moment. Of what other religious book in existence do 2,600-year old specific prophecies command the attention of millions of people? There is none. And what we discuss here is only one of hundreds of examples written by the prophets; indeed almost 30% of what they wrote was prophetic! (Ezekiel alone has over 800 predictive verses.) The remarkable prophecy below by one of the greatest of ancient Hebrew prophets – never before literally fulfilled in history – predicts that a great power to the far north of Israel and a coalition of nations – a massive horde of people, will attack Israel and be destroyed supernaturally by God on the mountains of Israel. God promises this day is coming.
Perhaps it’s coming soon. Why do I say this?
The historically miraculous rebirth of the Jewish state in 1948, after 2,000 years of nonexistence, and the conquering of East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in 1967 and other factors seems to have set the stage for a time clock of sorts relative to the upcoming “last days” of Israel and the fulfillment of many remaining prophecies relevant to that period. And, indeed, today Russia, a great power to Israel’s far north and the Muslim nations, particularly Iran, are growing increasingly intertwined and hostile toward Israel. Neither Russia nor the Arab, Central Asian and North African Muslim nations have any positive perspective toward this tiniest of nations. (As if their history weren’t tragic enough – no nation on earth has come close to suffering what the Jewish people have.) A good deal more suffering is yet to come and yet one day “all Israel will be saved” and all the Jewish people, from the least to the greatest will know their Messiah (Romans 11:26; Isaiah 45:17).
To illustrate current events of possible relevance to Ezekiel 38, in mid-June 2011, the Russian president met with Iran’s president Ahmadinejad and the leaders of other Central Asian Muslim nations as part of a Summit Meeting with NATO’s rival, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. (Iran has “observer” status in the SCO but has requested full membership.) Mideast prophecy expert Joel Rosenberg said the following about this particular conference: “When one considers how closely Russia and Iran are currently growing to the western portion of the [Ezekiel 38] prophetic alliance — Sudan, Libya and Algeria, for example — it’s not hard to envision these prophecies coming true in our lifetime, or even in the next few years. That said, I believe it is currently too soon to draw any conclusions. There are many intriguing trends and developments, but it remains far from clear that we’re seeing Bible prophecy come to pass. That said, we cannot rule out the possibility. Events in the region are both unprecedented and riveting.”
Rosenberg’s attitude is sound: we don’t know with certainty if the current geopolitical alignment and military trends are beginning to lay the groundwork for fulfilling the prophecy of Ezekiel 38, but current events are certainly intriguing. Indeed, the historic “Arab Spring,” still in upheaval (and possibly becoming an “Islamist winter”), Iran’s eschatology of Armageddon and their nuclear and ballistic missile program, massive oil and gas finds in Israel, the Russian alignment with Muslim nations, Turkeys turning from the West toward Islamism and several other factors are at the very least interesting. Nevertheless, actual fulfillment could be years away or longer. Still, because of the importance the Bible attaches to prophecy in general, the prediction bears examination today.
Below we will extract portions of Ezekiel Chapters 38-39 (written ca. 580 BC) to illustrate the amazing prophecies in these two chapters. For example, in Ezekiel 38:1-9 and vs.14-23, we read about a great power to the far North of Israel, called Magog (which, in light of other prophetic data can only be Russia or some revived form of the old Soviet Union), and whose authoritarian ruler is named “Gog,” which attacks Israel with many nations, including Iran, and in the process receives the wrath of God as a consequence, which destroys the great coalition (Ezekiel 38:18-39:6).
We will supply the prophecy itself with the ancient names of the geographical locations in bold, underlined, and red type for easy identification relative to our subsequent discussion. But first, please note some highlights of this important passage written 2,600 years ago.
To begin, again, that it is clearly a prophecy, being described as occurring “in future years.” Nothing like it in history has happened before, something also true of Psalm 83 that we discuss later.
Second, God himself is the one who puts “hooks in the jaws” of Gog and the many nations, to bring them down against Israel for judgment.
Third, a truly massive military force is involved from numerous nations, described as “a great horde,” as a “cloud covering the land,” and as one that is “advancing like a storm.”
Fourth, that these nations will specifically invade a land whose description is significantly appropriate to modern Israel. They will “invade a land that has recovered from war [possibly a reference to the future war of Psalm 83], whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate,” (emphasis added) and they will invade “the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations” (v. 12). This fits modern Israel that had indeed been desolate for 2,000 years until 1948.
On the other hand, the nation of Israel is said to “live in safety,” as “a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars” (v. 11), something not currently true of Israel, indicating a time of fulfillment future to our own, conditions which I personally believe could easily result from the war of Psalm 83, again, discussed later. As I read things, the war of Psalm 83 is closer to our time than the war of Ezekiel 38, although conceivably the latter could occur within several years of the former.
Fifth, that God’s response to the massive attack on His special people Israel is swift and furious: it will include a nationwide earthquake in Israel so massive that all people will tremble, mountains will be overturned, cliffs will crumble and every wall fall to the ground (the invading armies will obviously be put into disarray and impaired); there will be both “plague and bloodshed,” and poured down upon the invading armies will be “torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur.” Yikes.
Finally, the purpose of the attack and God’s response is, as with biblical prophecy generally is so that God’s power, glory and majesty will be broadcast and, “Then they will know that I am the LORD.” “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:36).
Below we will cite this remarkable 2,600-year old prophecy concerning the future massive war on the mountains of Israel. Again, we know these prophecies concern future events because they have not been fulfilled literally in the past and because they are clearly declared to be prophecies by God Himself: “It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of” (Ezekiel 39:7-8).
But prior to supplying the specific passage, we need to briefly point out that in Ezekiel 38:2 translations differ on the meaning of one word. For example, the New International Version (NIV) and other translations render the word “chief,” but it is translated as “Rosh” in the more literal New American Standard Version (NASB) and other translations, apparently depending on whether the translators relied upon the Septuagint or the Latin Vulgate. Thus, note the difference:
NIV: “Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal”
NASB: “Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal”
The word is either translated as a foreign nation (“Rosh,” NASB) or a descriptive adjective, i.e. “chief” prince, NIV) In other words, it could mean a specific place, or “head” or “chief.” For various reasons I prefer the NASB rendering of Rosh as a foreign nation even though I prefer the NIV translation below for citing Ezekiel 38. In the passage below I have added the NASB translation appropriately.
Please read this prophecy carefully:
- The word of the LORD came to me: ‘Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief [“Rosh”], prince of Meshech and Tubal [again the NASB reads: “Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal”]; prophesy against him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Gog, chief [“Rosh”] prince of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army … and a great horde … Persia, Cush and Put will be with them, … also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth [i.e., meaning ‘House of’] Togarmah from the far north with all its troops — the many nations with you. “‘Get ready; be prepared, you and all the hordes gathered about you, and take command of them. After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety. You and all your troops and the many nations with you will go up, advancing like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land…. “Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it? You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, … a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. In days to come, O Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I show myself holy through you before their eyes…. This is what will happen in that day: When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign LORD. In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble and every wall will fall to the ground. I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign LORD. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. I will execute judgment upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him. And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.’ (Ezekiel 38:1-9,14-23 emphasis added.)
In Ezekiel 39 we read of the destruction of these nations who viciously come against Israel. Even this truly massive coalition will not be able to destroy Israel because God will supernaturally preserve the nation, as he has always done, whether she has experienced grace or judgment. (For a worthwhile study, see H. Wayne House, Ed. Israel the Land and the People: An Evangelical Affirmation of God’s Promises.)
Indeed, according to the prophecy, it will take seven months merely to bury the bodies in order to “cleanse the land,” and the entire nation of Israel will participate; the burial procedures will be so vast as to cause problems in travel, and the event so remarkable it will become a national memorial day for Israel (much, I suspect, like Israel’s first major supernatural deliverance from Egypt, resulting in the Passover commemorative). Again, read carefully:
- “…I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel….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 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…. ” ‘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…. 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.” (Ezekiel 39: 2, 4, 5, 7-8, 11-13, 21-22)
In Ezekiel 38:12 it declares that at least one reason the Russian coalition (see below) attacks Israel is to capture treasures and carry off plunder (and “great spoil” in verse 13) — i.e., whatever else the possible reason/s for the attack, there is clearly something of great value in Israel they want, whether it is oil and gas directly, or the gold silver and other riches and material items that accrue from them, or in addition, something else. It could be that major new deposits of silver and gold will be discovered in Israel, besides the massive gas and oil fields already revealed. Hardly anyone expected Israel to contain major gas and oil deposits (see below) so gold and silver is not out of the question.
Again, we see that in both passages cited, the purpose for these events is so that many nations (and especially Israel) will know that the Lord alone is God: “And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD.'” And, “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.” In Ezekiel 39:7-8 we read, “Then 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.” (We have left the specific military mechanics of the invasion for another study, but probably Ezekiel is describing warfare from his perspective 2,600 years ago; nevertheless, even modern nations could be forced to use cavalry and other unconventional weaponry in rough terrain as we saw in the early stages of the war in Afghanistan. We don’t have sufficient information to be certain that the military means described in Ezekiel 38 aren’t literal; in fact, something like a widespread pulse bomb attack would almost require it.)
- E.g. Romans 15:4) (Good books are Hobart E. Freeman, Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets and C. Hassell Bullock, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophetic Books and Willis Judson Beecher’s century-old classic, The Prophets and the Promise. (Cornell University Library, 2009, part of the Stone lectures at Princeton Theological Seminary 1902-03).
- See Dr. J. Barton Payne’s Encyclopedia of Biblical Prophecy.
- Joel C. Rosenberg, “Russian and Iranian Leaders Meet for Summit in Central Asia: Echoes of Ezekiel 38-39 Coalition,” June 15, 2011, Bible Prophecy Blog; http://www.bibleprophecyblog.com/2011/06/russian-and-iranian-leaders-meet-for.html.
- The NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries defines Rosh as “a foreign nation;” http://strongsnumbers.com/hebrew/7220b.htm.