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Ezekiel 38 and 39 has been interpreted in various ways over the centuries. The most popular view sees the prophecy as a depiction of a future battle that includes an alliance of mostly Islamic nations led by modern-day Russia in an attack on Israel. Chuck Missler writes in his book Prophecy 20/20 that “the apparent use of nuclear weapons has made this passage [Ezekiel 38 and 39] appear remarkably timely, and some suspect that it may be on our horizon.” Prophecy writers have made similar claims, of course without the reference to “nuclear weapons.” They claimed to hold the prophetic key to interpretation based on who the leading political power was in their day. In the fourth and fifth centuries, Gog was thought to refer to the Goths and Moors. In the seventh century, it was the Huns. By the eighth century, the Islamic empire was making a name for itself, so it was the logical candidate. By the tenth century, the Hungarians briefly replaced Islam (another is doing that now). But by the sixteenth century, the Turks and Saracens seemed to fit the Gog and Magog profile with the Papacy thrown in for added prophetic juice. In the seventeenth century, Spain and Rome were the end-time bad guys. In the nineteenth century, Napoleon was Gog leading the forces of Magog-France. For most of the twentieth century, Communist Russia was the logical pick with its military power, its atheistic founding, and its designation of being “far north” of Israel.
For further study, see my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance: Israel, Syria, and Russia in Bible Prophecy
History shows that when the headlines reflect a change in the political climate, the interpretation of the Bible changes with them. The failed interpretive history of Ezekiel 38 and 39 over the centuries is prime evidence that modern-day prophecy writers are not “profiling the future through the lens of Scripture” but through the ever-changing headlines of the evening news.
A lot has to be read into the Bible in order to make Ezekiel 38 and 39 fit modern-day military realities that include technologically advanced jet fighters, “missiles,” and “atomic and explosive” weaponry. Those who claim to interpret the Bible literally have a problem on their hands. If someone like Tim LaHaye is true to his adoption of a “plain and common sense” literalism, then the Russian attack he and Jerry Jenkins describe in the first volume of Left Behind should be a literal representation of the actual battle events as they are depicted in Ezekiel. There should be a one-to-one correspondence between Ezekiel’s description of the battle and modern-day weaponry. This assessment is based on LaHaye’s own interpretive methodology:
The best guide to Bible study is “The Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation.” To depart from this rule opens the student to all forms of confusion and sometimes even heresy.
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.
Ron Rhodes follows an identical interpretive methodology. “Here is a basic rule of thumb for interpreting the Bible: When the plain sense of Scripture makes good sense, seek no other sense.” LaHaye insists that the interpreter is to “take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.” We learn from LaHaye that the prophecies found in Ezekiel 38 and 39 “are among the most specific and easy to understand in the prophetic word.” If this is true, then why does LaHaye and others who follow his interpretive methodology force a less than literal interpretation on Ezekiel’s two-chapter prophecy? As Joel Miller argues, “A better hermeneutic than ‘The Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation’ is ‘Scripture Interprets Scripture Better than do Newspapers.’”
Ezekiel 38 and 39 is not about an end-time battle with modern-day Russia, no matter how many prophecy books claim that it is. The battle described in these two chapters is fought with ancient weapons, and no amount of “plain sense” interpretation can get bows and arrows, clubs, shields, spears, and chariots to morph into missiles, jet planes, and atomic weapons.
For a more complete understanding for today’s article, we recommend that you actually read Ezekiel 38-39.