The Battle of Gog and Magog

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It’s good to see that someone agrees with me that Gog in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is not Russia: “Gog is not a present or future leader from Russia,” writes Joel Richardson author of The Islamic Antichrist. “Russia is not spoken of in biblical prophecy. Despite all of the hype and discussion that has been devoted in recent years to casting Russia as the leader of a soon-coming invasion of Israel, the Bible nowhere expresses any such thing.” Richardson still agrees with many end-time prophecy writers that “the Bible clearly predicts just prior to the return of Christ that the nation of Israel will enter into a comprehensive peace treaty or ‘covenant’ with surrounding nations. He agrees that the covenant will be mediated by the man who Christians call ‘the Antichrist.’” While Richardson is correct that Ezekiel 38 and 39 are not describing modern-day Russia, he is incorrect that these two prophetic chapters are dealing with modern-day Middle East.

If the battle described in Ezekiel 38–39 does not refer to modern-day nations that will attack Israel, then when and where in biblical history did this conflict take place? Instead of looking to the distant future or finding fulfillment in a historical setting outside the Bible where we are dependent on unreliable secular sources, James B. Jordan believes that “it is in [the book of] Esther that we see a conspiracy to plunder the Jews, which backfires with the result that the Jews plundered their enemies. This event is then ceremonially sealed with the institution of the annual Feast of Purim.”[1] Jordan continues by establishing the context for Ezekiel 38 and 39:

Ezekiel describes the attack of Gog, Prince of Magog, and his confederates. Ezekiel states that people from all over the world attack God’s people, who are pictured dwelling at peace in the land. God’s people will completely defeat them, however, and the spoils will be immense. The result is that all nations will see the victory, and “the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God from that day onward” (Ezek. 39:21–23). . . . Chronologically this all fits very nicely. The events of Esther took place during the reign of Darius, after the initial rebuilding of the Temple under Joshua [the High Priest] and Zerubbabel and shortly before rebuilding of the walls by Nehemiah. . . . Thus, the interpretive hypothesis I am suggesting (until someone shoots it down) is this: Ezekiel 34–37 describes the first return of the exiles under Zerubbabel, and implies the initial rebuilding of the physical Temple. Ezekiel 38–39 describes the attack of Gog (Haman) and his confederates against the Jews. Finally, Ezekiel 40–48 describes in figurative language the situation as a result of the work of Nehemiah.[2]

Ezekiel 38:5–6 tells us that Israel’s enemies come from “Persia, Cush, and . . . from the remote parts of the north,” all within the boundaries of the Persian Empire of Esther’s day. From Esther we learn that the Persian Empire “extended from India to Cush, 127 provinces” in all (Esther 8:9). Ethiopia (Cush) and Persia are listed in Esther 1:1 and 3 and are also found in Ezekiel 38:5. The other nations were in the geographical boundaries “from India to Ethiopia” in the “127 provinces” over which Ahasueras ruled (Esther 1:1). “In other words, the explicit idea that the Jews were attacked by people from all the provinces of Persia is in both passages,”[3] and the nations listed by Ezekiel were part of the Persian empire of the prophet’s day. The parallels are unmistakable. Even Ezekiel’s statement that the fulfillment of the prophecy takes place in a time when there are “unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11) is not an indication of a distant future fulfillment as Grant Jeffrey attempts to argue:

It is interesting to note that during the lifetime of Ezekiel and up until 1900, virtually all of the villages and cities in the Middle East had walls for defense. Ezekiel had never seen a village or city without defensive walls. Yet, in our day, Israel is a “land of unwalled villages” for the simple reason that modern techniques of warfare (bombs and missiles) make city walls irrelevant for defense. This is one more indication that his prophecy refers to our modern generation.

* * * * *

Ezekiel’s reference to “dwell safely” and “without walls . . . neither bars nor gates” refers precisely to Israel’s current military situation, where she is dwelling safely because of her strong armed defense and where her cities and villages have no walls or defensive bars. The prophet had never seen a city without walls, so he was astonished when he saw, in a vision, Israel dwelling in the future without walls. Ezekiel lived in a time when every city in the world used huge walls for military defense. [4]

In Esther we learn that there were Jews who were living peacefully in “unwalled towns” (KJV) (9:19) when Haman conspired against them. Israel’s antagonists in Ezekiel are said to “go up against the land of unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11). The Hebrew word perazah is used in Esther 9:19 and Ezekiel 38:11.[5] This fits the conditions of Esther’s day. Jeffrey is mistaken in his assertion that “Ezekiel had never seen a village or city without defensive walls.” They seemed to be quite common outside the main cities. Moreover, his contention that Israel is currently “dwelling safely because of her strong armed defense” is patently untrue. Since 2006, the Israeli government has built more than 435 miles of walls in Israel.[6]

The chief antagonist of the Jews in Esther is Haman, “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite” (Esther 3:1, 10; 8:3, 5; 9:24).[7] An Agagite is a descendant of Amalek, one of the persistent enemies of the people of God. In Numbers 24:20 we read, “Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.” The phrase “first of the nations” takes us back to the early chapters of Genesis where we find “Gomer,” “Magog,” “Tubal,” and “Meshech,” and their father Japheth (Gen. 10:2), the main antagonist nations that figure prominently in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Amalek was probably a descendant of Japheth (Gen. 10:2). Haman and his ten sons are the last Amalekites who appear in the Bible. In Numbers 24:7, the Septuagint (LXX) translates “Agag” as “Gog.” “One late manuscript to Esther 3:1 and 9:24 refers to Haman as a ‘Gogite.’”[8] Agag and Gog are very similar in their Hebrew spelling and meaning. Agagite means “I will overtop,” while Gog means “mountain.” In his technical commentary on Esther, Lewis Bayles Paton writes:

The only Agag  mentioned in the OT is the king of Amalek [Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:9]. . . . [A]ll Jewish, and many Christian comm[entators] think that Haman is meant to be a descendant of this Agag. This view is probably correct, because Mordecai, his rival, is a descendant of Saul ben Kish, who overthrew Agag [1 Sam. 17:8–16], and is specially cursed in the law [Deut. 25:17]. It is, therefore, probably the author’s intention to represent Haman as descended from this race that was characterized by an ancient and unquenchable hatred of Israel (cf. 3:10, “the enemy of the Jews”).[9]

A cursive Hebrew manuscript identifies Haman as “a Gogite.”[10] Paul Haupt sees a relationship between Haman’s descriptions as an Agagite and “the Gogite.”[11]

There is another link between Haman the Agagite in Esther and Gog in Ezekiel 38–39. “According to Ezekiel 39:11 and 15, the place where the army of Gog is buried will be known as the Valley of Hamon-Gog, and according to verse 16, the nearby city will become known as Hamonah.”[12] The word hamon in Ezekiel “is spelled in Hebrew almost exactly like the name Haman. . . . In Hebrew, both words have the same ‘triliteral root’ (hmn). Only the vowels are different.”[13]

Haman is the “prince-in-chief” of a multi-national force that he gathers from the 127 provinces with the initial permission of king Ahasuerus to wipe out his mortal enemy—the Jews (Ex. 17:8–16; Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:8; 1 Chron. 4:42–43; Deut. 25:17–19). Consider these words: “King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him” (Esther 3:1). Having “authority over all the princes who were with him” makes him the “chief prince.” In Esther 3:12 we read how Haman is described as the leader of the satraps, governors, and princes. The importance of this title is made clear in my book Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future.

I’m thankful that Richardson has broken the Russia=Gog stranglehold that has served as the basis for so many end-time prophecy books. He acknowledges that breaking away from the prophetic status quo will not make him “very many friends in [his] own community by doing so.” Richardson is still engaged in newspaper exegesis. As I point out in Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future, when historical circumstances change, there are changes in interpretation. Islam was considered the prophetic Gog as far back as the eighth century. Protestant Reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546) believed that “the papacy was the antichrist alluded to in the eleventh chapter of Daniel, and the Turk was the small horn that replaced three horns of the beast in the seventh chapter.”[14] Hal Lindsey began his prophetic career identifying Russia as Gog but later changed to the Islamic nations.

Peter Toon offers a helpful historical perspective on the way commentators understood the place of Islam and the Papacy in relation to Bible prophecy:

References to the Turkish Empire appear in virtually every Commentary on the Apocalypse of John which was produced by English Puritans, Independents, Presbyterians and Baptists. Gog and Magog were identified with the armies of Turkey and the Muslim world, descriptions of Turkish military power were seen in the contents of the trumpet (Rev. 9:13–21), and the year 1300 was believed to have great significance for it was at that time that the Turk became a threat to European civilization.

* * * * *

For the English Puritans, as for many of their fellow Protestants on the Continent of Europe, the fact that the Ottoman Empire had for its religion Islam, the teaching of Mohammed, the ‘false’ prophet of God, was sufficient to label it as an envoy or agent of Satan, seeking to destroy the true Church of Christ. In view of this we cannot be surprised to learn that they believed God had given to John on Patmos a vision of this great enemy of the elect of God, who would one day be destroyed by the power of Christ.[15]

It should not surprise us, therefore, that when Christians wrote on the subject of Bible prophecy, they would take current events into account. For these interpreters, the Islamic advances could not be ignored. “[D]uring the oppressive conquests of the Saracens[16] the prophecies concerning Antichrist were searched anew by the monks and priests—in the hope they would yield perhaps an indication that Mohammed or his fierce followers could be meant by the passages referring to Antichrist.”[17]

So then, Joel Richardson isn’t really offering a new interpretation. He has resurrected an old one that was wrong then and is wrong today. The Gog-Magog prophecy was fulfilled in the vents of the book of Esther. We should praise God for this fulfillment. It’s because of Esther and Mordecai’s faithfulness and God’s special intervention that the Jewish people were rescued, Mary was born, and Jesus was “born of a virgin,” a Jewish virgin.

Endnotes:

[1] James B. Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History (Niceville, FL: Biblical Horizons, 1995), 5.
[2]
Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 5–7.
[3]
Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 7.
[4]
Grant R. Jeffrey, The Next World War: What Prophecy Reveals About Extreme Islam and the West (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2006), 143, 147–148.
[5]
It’s unfortunate that the translators of the New American Standard Version translate perazah as “rural towns” in Esther 9:19 instead of “unwalled villages” as they do in Ezekiel 38:11.
[6] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:Westbank_barrier.png and www.jmcc.org/images/maps/wallfeb05.pdf
[7]
In the First Targum to Esther, an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, the following is found: “The measure of judgment came before the Lord of the whole world and spoke thus: Did not the wicked Haman come down from Susa to Jerusalem in order to hinder the building of the house of thy Sanctuary?” (Lewis Bayles Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, (1908) 1916], 194). 3:1 בתר פיתגמיא האילין עאלת מדת דינא קדם רבון כל עלמא וכן אמרת הלא המן רשיעא נחית וסליק מן שושן לירושלם לבטלא בנין בית מקדשא
8]
Sverre Bøe, Gog and Magog: Ezekiel 38–39 As Pre-Text for Revelation 19, 17–21 and 20, 7–10 (Wissunt Zum Neun Testament Ser. II, 135) (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 384. Anton Scholz (1892), taking an allegorical approach, comments: “The Book of Esther is a prophetic repetition and further development of Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning Gog.” Quoted in Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther, 56. The point in all these Gog-Agagite references is to show that there are a number of scholars who see a literary parallel between Ezekiel 38–39 and Esther.
[9] Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther, 194.
[10]
Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther, 194. “When 93a makes him a Gogite (cf. Ez. 38–39), and L makes him a Macedonian, these are only other ways of expressing the same idea. . .” (194).
[11]
Paul Haupt, “Critical Notes on Esther,” OT and Semitic Studies in Memory of W. R. Harper, II (Chicago: 1908), 194–204.
[12]
Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 7.
[13]
Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 7. This is quite different from identifying the common Hebrew word rosh with modern-day Russia since there is only one common letter between rosh and Russia. See Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future for additional information on the identity of rosh.
[14] Mark U. Edwards, Jr., Luther’s Last Battles: Politics and Polemics, 1531–46 Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983), 97.
[15] Peter Toon, “Introduction,” Puritans, the Millennium and the Future of Israel: Puritan Eschatology 1600 to 1660 (London: James Clarke & Co. Ltd., 1970), 19–20.
[16] Saracens was the name Christians had given to Moslems during the time of the Crusades. Moslems who had invaded Spain from Morocco were called Moors. Saracen might be based on a word meaning “easterners.”
[17]
LeRoy Froom, Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, 4 vols. (Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1950), 1:530.

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