I knew it would happen. The latest incident in Israel has brought out the prophetic speculators again. “A council of rabbis in Israel says their nation’s conflict with Turkey over a flotilla of ‘aid’ ships headed for the blockaded Gaza Strip controlled by the terrorist Hamas organization just may be the beginning of the ‘Gog and Magog process where the world is against us, but which ends with the third and final redemption’” (see here). Picking up on the story, Christian prophecy speculator Joel Rosenberg takes a similar position but with some caution:
There is growing interest in the Ezekiel prophecies and whether they could play out in our lifetime. I believe it is still too early to say anything definitively. But I agree that current events are strikingly consistent with the prophecies and I believe it is possible that we could see these events unfold soon. The mention of “Gomer” in Ezekiel, for example, refers to the modern-day State of Turkey which will be an enemy of Israel and part of a Russian-Iranian alliance against the Jewish state. I’m not saying the prophecy will necessarily come to pass soon, but I can’t rule out that possibility. We’ve never seen a convergence of geopolitical and spiritual events so consistent with Ezekiel 38–39 in history like we are seeing today (see here).
One of the arguments used to futurize Ezekiel’s prophecy 2600 years from the time it was written is the claim that the Hebrew word rosh in Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1 sounds like Russia. So then why doesn’t “Gomer” sound like some modern-day nation? Why Turkey? If God wanted to identify Turkey 2600 years ago, then why didn’t He use some sound-alike word that would identify modern Turkey? The same is true of the other nations listed in Ezekiel.
There is no need to speculate beyond the historical boundaries of Ezekiel’s day to force the names of these ancient nations to find a place on a modern-day map and conform to today’s geo-political landscape. Iain Duguid’s comments are helpful in accounting for the historical realities of Ezekiel’s prophecy:
[Gog] is the commander-in-chief ([chief prince]) of a coalition of forces gathered from the ends of the earth. He himself is from the land of Magog, and he rules over Meshech-Tubal. His allies include Persia, Cush, and Put (38:5), along with Gomer and Beth Togarmah (38:6). It is no coincidence that together these make up a total of seven nations, and it is significant that they are gathered from the uttermost parts of the known world to the prophet. Meshech-Tubal, Gomer, and Beth Togarmah come from the North, Put (Northwest Egypt) and Cush (southern Egypt) from the south and west, while Persia is to the east of Judah. ((Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 448.))
Ezekiel was given a revelation that was describing his world. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to figure this out. The people making up these nations were alive and well and living in proximity to Israel in Ezekiel’s day. There is no question about this claim. There is no way to refute it. To maintain that the nations that attack Israel are nations in our day is not allowing the Bible to speak for itself. “To seek the fulfillment in the dark region of the end of the days,” Ernest Hengstenberg (1802–1868) writes, “is the less possible, because most of the nations named either no longer exist, or are no longer heathen. Magog, Gomer, Meshech and Tubal, Phut, Sheba, and Dedan, are no more to be found” ((E. W. Hengstenberg, The Prophecies of the Prophet Ezekiel Elucidated, trans. A. C. Murphy and J. G. Murphy (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1869), 331.)) on any modern map.
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.” ((James B. Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History (Niceville, FL: Biblical Horizons, 1995), 5.)) 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. ((Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 7.))
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,” ((Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 7.)) and the nations listed by Ezekiel were part of the Persian empire of his day. The parallels are unmistakable (There are many more parallels that can be found in my book Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future.) 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. ((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.))
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. 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.
There are many more parallels between Ezekiel 38–39 and Esther, Ezra, and Nehemiah. I had one emailer argue with me over the above summary interpretation. He fed me all the standard end-time arguments that are popular with interpretations of Ezekiel 38–39. When I told him to purchase my book Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future and offer a detailed response, he wrote the following: “I’m not buying prophecy books just now, but I will accept a complimentary copy for review.” This is a person who is not serious about Bible study. He’s afraid of what he will find. He wanted to know if I belonged to the “Allegorism school of interpretation” that dismisses a literal interpretation. As I show in my book, I am very literal. I don’t turn horses into “horsepower, bows and arrows into “launching pads” and “missiles,” or chariots into tanks. When the text says “to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods” (Ezek. 38:13), it means silver, gold, cattle, and goods (Ezra 1:4) and not natural gas, potash, or oil.
He and many others like him have adopted a system of interpretation that locks him into a theology of irrelevance. Here is his final comment to me: “Things are winding up very rapidly these days.” Yes they are. We are witnessing the end of humanism. Either get on board to make it happen through the preaching of the gospel, applying the Bible to every area of life, and building an alternative society when the inevitable collapse comes or get out of the way. There won’t be a “rapture” to rescue you. Deal with it.