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The Battle of Gog and Magog: Prophetic Deja Vu

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An article is circulating around the Internet that carries the title “Israel Warns World War III May be Biblical War of Gog and Magog.” It is written by Ezra HaLevi and was published in Israel National News.[1] The article begins with the following prophetic claims, not unlike so many evangelical and fundamentalist end-time assurances about the end:

US President George W. Bush said a nuclear Iran would mean World War III. Israeli newscasts featured Gog & Magog maps of the likely alignment of nations in that potential conflict. Channel 2 and Channel 10 TV showed the world map, sketching the basic alignment of the two opposing axes in a coming world war, in a manner evoking associations of the Gog and Magog prophecy for many viewers. The prophecy of Gog and Magog refers to a great world war centered on the Holy Land and Jerusalem and first appears in the book of Yechezkel (Ezekiel). On one side were Israel, the United States, Britain, France and Germany. On the other were Iran, Russia, China, Syria and North Korea.

M. R. DeHaan, writing in 1951, identified “the sign of Gog and Magog” to be one of the “three most outstanding signs of the coming of Christ.”[2] In 1972, Carl Johnson wrote Prophecy Made Plain for Times Like These.[3] His chapter on “When Russia Invades the Middle East” includes a lengthy quotation from a message Jack Van Impe gave at Canton Baptist Temple in Canton, Ohio, sometime in 1969. Like so many who claim to know what’s on the prophetic horizon, Van Impe made his case for an imminent war with Russia on what the newspapers of 1969 were reporting. This war was so close, he charged, “that the stage is being set for what could explode into World War III at any moment.”[4] In 1971, Ronald Reagan, then governor of California, followed a similar prophetic script:

Ezekiel tells us that Gog, the nation that will lead all of the other powers of darkness against Israel, will come out of the north. Biblical scholars have been saying for generations that Gog must be Russia. What other powerful nation is to the north of Israel? None. But it didn’t seem to make sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russia has become Cummunistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description of Gog perfectly.[5]

This familiar interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 has been written about, talked about, and repeated so often that it has become an unquestioned tenet of prophetic orthodoxy. The question is, does the Bible teach it?

For further study, see my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance: Israel, Syria, and Russia in Bible Prophecy

Ezekiel 38 and 39 has been interpreted in various ways over the centuries. The most popular view is to see the prophecy as a depiction of a future battle that includes an alliance of 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.”[6] Prophecy writers for nearly 2000 years have made similar claims, of course without the reference to “nuclear weapons.” 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 a logical candidate. By the tenth century, the Hungarians briefly replaced Islam.

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.[7] In the nineteenth century, Napoleon was Gog leading the forces of Magog-France.[8] For most of the twentieth century, Communist Russia was the logical pick with its military aspirations, its atheistic founding, and its designation of being “far north” of Israel. In a word, identifying Gog and Magog with a specific nation or group of nations in the past is legion.[9]

As the above brief study shows, when the headlines change, the interpretation of the Bible changes. The failed interpretive history of Ezekiel 38 and 39 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.[10]

A lot has to be read into the Bible in order to make Ezekiel 38 and 39 fit modern-day military realities that include jet planes, “missiles,” and “atomic and explosive” weaponry. Those who claim to interpret the Bible literally have a problem on their hands.

The battle in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is clearly an ancient one or at least one fought with ancient weapons. All the soldiers are riding horses (38:4, 15; 39:20). These horse soldiers are “wielding swords” (38:4), carrying “bows and arrows, war clubs and spears” (39:3, 9). The weapons are made of wood (39:10), and it is these abandoned weapons that serve as fuel for “seven years” (39:9). Tim LaHaye describes a highly technological future when the antichrist rises to power to rule the world. “A wave of technological innovation is sweeping the planet. . . . The future wave has already begun. We cannot stop it. . . . [T]he Antichrist will use some of this technology to control the world.”[11] How does this assessment of the near prophetic future square with a supposed tribulation period when Israelites “take wood from the field” and “gather firewood from the forests”? (39:10). There is nothing in the context that would lead the reader to conclude that horses, war clubs, swords, bows and arrows, and spears mean anything other than horses, war clubs, swords, bows and arrows, and spears. And what is the Russian air force after? Gold, silver, cattle, and goods (38:12­-13).

In what modern war can anyone remember armies going after cattle? How much cattle does Israel have? Certainly not enough to feed the Russians! The latest claim is that Israel will discover oil, and this is what will attract the nations to Israel. Where in the Bible do we find this claim?

Chuck Missler attempts to get around the description of ancient war implements by claiming that the various Hebrew words “is simply 2,500-year-old language that could be describing a mechanized force.”[12] The word translated “horse,” “actually means leaper” that “can also mean bird, or even chariot-rider.” He tells us that the Hebrew word translated “sword” “has become a generic term for any weapon or destroying instrument.” In a similar way, “arrow” means “piercer” and “is occasionally used for thunderbolt” and could be “translated today as a missile.” We are to believe that “‘Bow’ is what launches the [missile].”[13] Is Missler trying to tell us that when Ezekiel wrote “bow” and “arrow” he really meant a launching pad for a missile? To follow his interpretive methodology requires us to believe that the meaning of the Bible has been inaccessible to the people of God for nearly 2500 years. Missler, like nearly all end-time prognosticators, breaks all the rules of exegesis.

Footnotes:
[1]
Israeli National News
[2]
M. R. DeHaan, Signs of the Times and other Prophetic Messages (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1951), 74.
[3]
Carl G. Johnson, Prophecy Made Plain for Times Like These (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972).
[4] Jack Van Impe, The Coming War With Russia (Old Time Gospel Hour Press, n.d.). The quotation is taken from a message that Van Impe gave at Canton Baptist Temple, Canton, Ohio. The talk was recorded and available on a vinyl LP. Quoted in Johnson, Prophecy Made Plain for Times Like These, 82–83.
[5]
From an address that Ronald Reagan gave at a dinner with California legislators in 1971. Quoted in Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1992), 162.
[6] Chuck Missler, Prophecy 20/20: Profiling the Future Through the Lens of Scripture (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 155.
[7] Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000), 68.
[8]
T.R., “Commentary on Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Gog and Magog,” The Gentleman’s Magazine (October 1816), 307.
[9]
Wikipedia
[10]
Gary DeMar, Islam and Russia in Prophecy: The Problem of Interpreting the Bible Through the Lens of History (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2005).
[11]
Tim LaHaye, “The Coming Wave,” in Ed Hindson and Lee Fredrickson, Future Wave: End Times, Prophecy, and the Technological Explosion (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2001), 7–8.
[12] Missler, Prophecy 20/20, 165.
[13] Missler, Prophecy 20/20, 165.

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