when will ezekiel 38 be fulfilled?
Chapters 38 and 39 of the prophecy given through Ezekiel describe an invasion of the land of Israel, by a confederate army from the north headed by Gog. The invasion, whilst challenged by Tarshish Sheba and Dedan, is described as being overturned by Divine intervention. The fearful language that is used to describe God’s intervention, “I am against thee O Gog” and “my fury shall come up in my face”, together with the description of an earthquake which grips the region causing every wall to fall down, shows that this is no ordinary event, but one of momentous proportions.
Christadelphians are familiar with the detail of the prophecy, and have in the most part identified the subject matter as a latter day invasion of the re-gathered nation of Israel at the return of Christ. Bro H. Tennant:
“The Bible teaches that the land of Israel will be invaded suddenly and successfully, by a confederacy of nations coming down from “the uttermost parts of the north” … Two whole chapters (Ezekiel 38 and 39) are devoted to this world shattering event … It is only the intervention of God through the Lord Jesus Christ that brings desolation to those that have dared to desecrate the land of promise”
(The Christadelphians – What They Believe and Preach).
There are however alternative theories as to the meaning of the prophecy and to the time of its fulfillment. Some of these propose:
1) That the events described have already been fulfilled in history.
2) That the invasion occurs after the establishment of the kingdom of God.
3) That the invasion occurs at the end of the millennial reign of Christ and may be equated with the rebellion forecast in Revelation 20, verses 7-10.
We will look at each of these ideas in turn and provide a coherent Biblically based analysis to demonstrate the truth.
Confidence in Bible exposition rests upon a careful analysis of the scripture. The apostle Paul describes this as “rightly dividing the word of truth” (2Tim 2:15). Any valid interpretation must therefore harmonize all the facts within a prophecy and place it within the context of general scriptural teaching. In other words, it must be an interpretation that is in accordance with the distinctive features of the true gospel of the kingdom and the name of Jesus Christ.
THE VITAL IMPORTANCE OF PRO PHECY
The importance of prophecy is highlighted by the focus Jesus gives to watching the signs of the times. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for failing to recognise the signs of the times (Mat !6:3). In his conversation he referred specifically to the political and moral signs in their society that indicated how the Jews were then living on the edge of national extinction and dispersion. Jesus uses similar language when speaking to the disciples about being prepared for his return. The true and faithful disciple will therefore include watching the political and moral signs as part of their preparation and expectancy of the return of Christ.
Peter, in his letter, indicates that one of the great dangers for the believers is complacency and a failure to recognise the signs when they are at their most potent and critical. Some will say, “Where is the promise of his coming”. Jesus says they will say in their hearts “My lord delayeth his coming.”
These dangers are real and are very much enhanced by failing to understand Bible prophecy. Different views can be very damaging if the differences are so divergent as those listed above, and every true and faithful disciple will want to know what signs to look out for. In order to do this effectively, one must become familiar with the key elements of Bible prophecy that tackle the events immediately prior to the return of Jesus.
HAVE THE EVENTS IN EZEKIEL 38 AND 39 BEEN FULFILLED IN HISTORY?
The prophecy describes Israel as a regathered people. Now whilst it is true that Judah returned to the land under Ezra and Nehemiah, the Spirit here speaks of a regathering “after many days”. The expression is used of the regathering of Israel in Hosea Chapter 3 “for the children of Israel shall abide many days without a prince, without a king, without an image and without a sacrifice” (Hos 3:4) and in Daniel Chapter 8, verse 26, of the vision of the evening morning sacrifice, and a time period of 2300 ‘days’ terminating with the cleansing of the sanctuary. These two passages are the only ones using the expression “many days” in connection with Israel’s regathering and both refer to the latter days and not the restoration in BC533. The regathering of Ezekiel is also a regathering “out of many people”, “out of the nations” (Eze 38:8) and from “their enemies lands” (39:27). These are significant expressions highly applicable to the restoration of Israel that we have witnessed over the last 100 years or so.
Israel are described in the prophecy as being gathered back to a land which has always been waste (Eze 38:8), echoing the language of Leviticus 26, which predicts both the desolation of the cities which Ezekiel says “are now inhabited” and also the agricultural waste of the land which shall “long enjoy its Sabbaths”. It is only the latter day restoration of Israel witnessed over the past 150 years that fulfils the detail of the prophecy. The Moslem and Ottoman occupancy of Israel left the land uncultivated for centuries. It is only since Jews have reoccupied their ancient territory that some of the land has been revitalised.
It is also significant that the prophecy in Ezekiel 38 follows two major prophecies predicting the total restoration of Israel, firstly under a monarchy (Chapter 37) and secondly with a spiritual revival (Chapter 36) – and neither of these aspects have been fulfilled in what has to date been a mostly secular and political occupancy of the land by Jews. Chapters 36 and 37 indicate two stages of restoration. Firstly, a national re-gathering to the land and secondly, a spiritual revival with the monarchy restored. Ezekiel Chapter 38 echoes the language of the first stage of this restoration and Ezekiel Chapter 39, verses 27-29 echoes the language of this second stage. Between these two comes the invasion of the land by Gog.
The consequence of the manifestation of Divine power in the judgments described in these chapters is that “Israel shall know that I am the Lord their God from that day and forward” (39:22). This is the beginning of the new time for Israel. A time of blessing and glory under King Jesus.
The nations are also brought to acknowledge the Lord as a result of Divine intervention “ I will be known in the eyes of many nations” (38:23). Again even if a similar invasion can be demonstrated to have occurred in history, it is difficult if not impossible to find anything that can meaningfully be said to have fulfilled the spiritual advancements and consequences of Divine intervention both in relation to Israel and more particularly internationally.
The prophet himself identifies the time period as the “latter days”
The expression the latter days is one that is almost exclusively used of the period of Messiah’s appearing in glory. The only exception is Gen 49 which describes the characteristics of the tribes throughout their history, but even here some of the blessings described by Jacob will only reach their ultimate fulfilment under the influence of Jesus at his return – and we are bound to say that, for the prophet under Holy Spirit influence was caused to write, “it shall be in the latter days” and this reveals that the expression must carry with it an identification which enables the reader under careful scrutiny to ascertain to which era the prophecy relates.
The earthquake of verses 19-20 is described as momentous, “the mountains being thrown down” and “every wall shall fall to the ground”. It is difficult not to equate this with the Mount of Olives earthquake of Zech 14, which takes us back to the days of Uzziah and of the prophet Isaiah for an earthquake of similar magnitude. Between then this event and the fulfillment of the earthquake prediction of Ezek 38 and Zech 14 lies a period of at least 2700 years.
The above analysis demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that the words describing an invasion of the land of Israel in Ezek 38 and 39, although they may have received a proximate and minor fulfillment in history are primarily descriptive of events yet future.
This being accepted we will now consider how far into the future we are to look for their fulfillment:
WILL THE INVASION OCCUR AFTER THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD?
Some have looked at the language of verse 11 describing the peaceful occupancy of the holy land by Israel as indicating that this must refer to the peace of Messiahs reign. The language of peace and security is used in Jer chapter 30 in this way:
“Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid” (Jer 30:10).
The following passages however indicate that the language is not exclusive to the kingdom age.
Then the five men departed, and came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless (Heb betach = securely , same word as Ezekiel 38:11 “safely”, AV margin confidently), after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet (Heb shaqat = in safety, same word as Ezekiel 39:11 “safely”) and secure; and there was no magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in any thing; and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man. (Jud 18:7)
Flee, get you far off, dwell deep, O ye inhabitants of Hazor, saith the Lord; for Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon hath taken counsel against you, and hath conceived a purpose against you. Arise, get you up unto the wealthy nation, that dwelleth without care (Heb betach), saith the Lord, which have neither gates (Heb deleth same word as Ezek 38 v11 “gates”) nor bars (Heb beriyach, same word as Ezek 38 v11 “bars”), which dwell alone (Jer 49:30-31).
These verses describe nations in a state of peace and overconfidence. Too confident for their genuine security – and in both examples open to military attack. It is a similar situation that Ezekiel describes of Israel.
The words of verse 11 of Ezekiel 38 “that are at rest and dwell safely” (or securely) are the Hebrew equivalent to phrase “peace and safety” found in 1 Thessalonians Chapter 5: “when they shall say peace and safety then sudden destruction cometh upon them”. We suggest that only OT passage that Paul could have had in mind which both describes peace and safety and a destruction is the prophecy we are considering of the invasion of the land in Ezekiel 38.
The peace and safety of Israel predicted by Ezekiel is temporary whereas the peace and safety of the kingdom of god will be permanent. The following kingdom passages that describe the tranquility and assurance of the kingdom also show that Israel will continue undisturbed.
But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid: for the mouth of the Lord of hosts hath spoken it (Mic 4:4). And the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever. And my people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places (Is 32:17-18).
Therefore fear thou not, O my servant Jacob, saith the Lord; neither be dismayed, O Israel: for, lo, I will save thee from afar, and thy seed from the land of their captivity; and Jacob shall return, and shall be in rest, and be quiet, and none shall make him afraid (Jer 30:10).
The following reasons may also be added as to why the passage does not relate to the period after the establishment of the Kingdom:
1) Ezek 39 refers to the cleansing of the land and the burying of Gog. It is difficult to reconcile the detailed description of this cleansing in Verses 11-16 with Jerusalem restored in glory under Messiah. In Isaiah 62 the land is termed no longer desolate, but Beulah, or married as one of the blessings of the influence of Messiah and Isaiah 35 refers to the excellency of Carmel and Sharon.
2) Ezek 39 refers to the conversion of Israel, whereas Israel will have been converted already when Jesus reigns as king. Zechariah says they will look upon him they have pierced and mourn for him. This will be a national mourning on a scale never seen before in human history. It will be a heart wrenching true and deep conversion.
3) War is described in these chapters whereas war will be abolished during the kingdom.
4) Ezek 39:9-10 refers to the mass destruction of weapons of war. During the reign of Jesus these weapons will have already been turned into agricultural implements (Mic 4 v 3)
IS THE INVASION AT THE END OF THE MILLENNIUM?
Does the prophecy of Ezekiel Chapter 38 relate to events of Revelation chapter 20, verses 7-10?
The Book of Revelation refers to a rebellion at the end of the millennial reign. The principal antagonists in the campaign are Gog and Magog. The echo back to Ezekiel 38 & 39 with reference to these names has led some to the conclusion that both are referring to the same incident. Close examination however reveals a number of discrepancies between the two accounts of such magnitude as to lead to the unavoidable conclusion that the passages, whilst referring to the same nations are referring to distinctly separate events.
The following is a summary of reasons why the accounts are not describing the same event:
1) In Ezek 38:8 Israel is described as a nation that is gathered out of many nations, language which is not appropriate at the end of the millennial as Israel will have dwelt securely in their own land throughout the reign of Jesus.
2) Ezek 38:13 refers to secular opposition. The nations of Sheba and Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish and all the young lions, are absent from the record in Rev 20.
3) Ezek 38:19-20 refers to an earthquake, whereas no earthquake is mentioned in Rev 20.
4) Ezek 38:22 refers to Gog being destroyed by hail, earthquake, and internal warring factions as well as fire and brimstone, whereas Rev 20 describes fire as the only mechanism of quashing the rebellion.
5) Ezek 39:11 refers to the burying of Gog, whereas in Rev 20 Gog is completely consumed by the fire.
6) Ezek 38 pinpoints the time as being “the latter days”, referring the end of the times of the gentiles, whereas Rev 20 refers to a brief period of rebellion at the end of the millennium.
The Revelation refers to a significant rebellion that is put down without any interruption to the peace of the holy city, new Jerusalem which continues beyond the Millennium in full glory.
The Ezekiel invasion has devastating consequences for the tranquility of the nation and the condition of the land. The remedy to this lies in Divine intervention which whilst devastating for Israel’s antagonist is wonderful for Israel. Israel is rescued from the invasion and the land and nation are healed and the world is converted to knowledge of Yahweh. This harmonises with the gospel message of the kingdom that declares that Jesus is to return to the earth in power and great glory and be proclaimed king of the Jews, his kingdom expending over all nations.
We have demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that chapters 38 and 39 relate to the events surrounding the return of Christ immediately prior to the establishment of the kingdom. As watchers for Zion’s glory we should be looking for signs indicating that the passage is about to be fulfilled. It is an amazing fact that the last three Israeli elections have focused on the determination to resolve the Palestinian settlement issue and find peace. The words Peace with security or security with Peace having been placarded as the election slogans of the parties campaigning (See The Christadelphian Waymark, Feb 2001 for an example of this). It is almost as though Ariel Sharon and the previous incumbents have been studying the words of Ezekiel, so exactly do the issues they grapple with mirror the concepts expressed in the prophecy.
When they achieve this or as Paul indicates when they say they have, then the invasion will occur. We live on the edge of the fulfillment of these words, and we should be meeting together frequently to stir up one another to love and to good works and to prepare ourselves for the awesome events that are soon to follow.