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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Ezekiel 38

Chapters 38, 39

We have here the seventh and last in the series of consolatory prophecies, which Ezekiel pronounced soon after the arrival of the fugitive—the full-toned conclusion of the whole.

The dogmatic idea of the prophecy is very simple. The community of God, renewed by His grace, will victoriously resist all the assaults of the world. This idea the prophet has here clothed with flesh and blood: he brings it before us in a grand finished picture, in which he unites what is realized in the course of time in a long series of successive events. The applications to a single historical event are all at the same time true and false: true, so far as the idea governing the prophecy is certainly realized in these several events; false, in their exclusiveness,—in mistaking the fact that all that here appears to lead to a single event belongs to the form.

The starting-point is the fear which penetrates the sick heart. What avails it, is the question that meets the prophet, even if we recover, according to thy announcement, from the present catastrophe? The predominance of the heathen still remains. Soon shall we sink under another attack into permanent ruin. Against such desponding thoughts the prophet here offers comfort. He unites all the battles which the restored community has hereafter to fight in one great battle, and lets this be decided by one glorious victory of the Lord and His people.

The comprehensive character of the prophecy appears especially in Ezekiel 38:5-6, Ezekiel 38:13. Nations from the most diverse countries, without national connection, unite in an expedition against Israel. The attempt at a historical explanation here at once proves itself to be vain. The description has a utopian character. The prophet fetches from all ends of the earth whatever can be raised of formidable heathen powers, of hitherto unknown terror. He sets aside all bounds and limits in which all historically understood events are included.

The freedom with which the prophet forms from the land Magog, which Genesis 10:2 alone knows, a king Gog, who appears only in him and those dependent on him, shows that we are here in respect of detail in the region of holy fancy, and must beware of taking the garb for the man. The Apocalypse, in the resumption of this announcement, goes a step further, and casts, by the freedom it assumes, light on the poetical freedom of the original. It makes out of the king Gog a land and people of Gog beside Magog. It destroys also the appearance of a historical character, inasmuch as it at once identifies Gog and Magog with the heathen in the four ends of the earth. Its knowledge of the comprehensive character of the prophecy appears in this, that it recognises the fulfilment of the prophecy in different historical events ( Revelation 19:17 and Revelation 20:7-15).

How clearly the prophet was conscious that everything special serves only for individualizing and poetical delineation, appears from the following facts. The older prophets know nothing of Gog and Magog; and yet the prophet says that these older prophets, who speak only in general of the enemies of the kingdom, have prophesied of him (ch. Ezekiel 38:17). Further, according to Ezekiel 38:3, Ezekiel 38:12, the future expedition of Gog and Magog against the people of God was only a renewal of an earlier enterprise from the same quarter. This is explained only when under Gog and Magog are concealed the enemies of the community of God in general, so that the Assyrian and Chaldean catastrophe may be regarded as the prelude of that here announced. From Magog and all other nations here named, Israel had suffered nothing in the past.

Ch. Ezekiel 39 contains descriptions which give the cold sweat to the historical expositors,—as we may see, for example, in Venema. Seven years they leave the wood untouched, and burn only the weapons of the enemy, etc. Who can be ignorant that we are here in the region of painting, and not in that of prediction?

We have here a good preparation for the exposition of the vision of the new temple. Our prophecy shows clearly how wide a space is given to painting in Ezekiel, how attentive he is to fill the imagination with holy figures, how carefully we must distinguish in him between the idea and its garb, how ill-applied is in him the so-called “biblical realism,” to which it often happens to take the garb for the man. He who should carry it out here, would fall into a labyrinth of impossibilities. To seek the fulfilment in the dark region of the end of the days 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. Kush is a Christian people, and according to recent experience will scarcely again attain to world-wide influence.

In accordance with the prophecy of Joel, where the outpouring of the Spirit upon the covenant people, who are first thereby brought into the normal relation with God, is followed by the judgment on their enemies, as it is described from ch. Joel 3:3 to the end of the book, the prophet also designates the outpouring of the Spirit in ch. Ezekiel 39:29 as the ground of the judgment of the nations which he announces,—the ideal concentration of that which history discloses in a whole series of events. As the outpouring of the Spirit, according to the earlier announcements of the prophet himself and his predecessors, bears an essentially Messianic character, and is connected with the coming of the good Shepherd of David’s line, on whom ( Isaiah 11:1) the fulness of the Spirit rests; so is the accomplishment of these movements, presupposing this outpouring, to be regarded as of the first importance in the Messianic time. The phrase “at the end of the days” (ch. Ezekiel 38:16, comp. Ezekiel 38:6) speaks for this, which is employed in the prophets only of the Messianic time. So does the resumption in the Apocalypse. But as beginnings of the outpouring of the Spirit already occur in the time before Christ, so has our prophecy found a prelude to its conclusive fulfilment in the battles which the Jews had to fight with the Greek empire. But one of the most glorious fulfilments was the victory of the true community of God over the Roman empire,—the same empire which had enslaved Israel after the flesh, the mere seeming Israel, destroyed its capital, scattered it in all the world, and by all this withdrawn from it the mask: all which was the necessary preparative to the victory of the true Israel, the legitimate continuation of the Old Testament covenant people. But the fulfilment did not rest here. It is going forward even now. Even the breaking up of the Mohammedan empire, which we now see before our eyes, is included under it. The glorious consummation belongs, according to the Apocalypse, to the end of the days.

Verses 1-9

Ezekiel 38:1-9 states the fact in its general outlines. The details are then added.

Ezekiel 38:1. And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying, 2. Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, 3. And say. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold, I am against thee, Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal; 4. And I will lead thee back, and put rings in thy jaws, and bring forth thee, and all thy army, horses and riders, clothed all in splendour, a great gathering with targe and shield, all handling swords: 5. Persia, Kush, and Phut with them; all of them with shield and helmet: 6. Gomer, and all his squadrons; the house of Togarmah in the farthest north, and all his squadrons; many nations with thee. 7. Prepare thyself, and prepare for thee, thou and all thy gatherings that are gathered unto thee, and are obedient to thee. 8. After many days thou shalt be visited: at the end of the years thou shalt come into a land recovered from the sword, gathered from many nations, upon the mountains of Israel, which have become a perpetual waste: and it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall sit all in safety. 9. And thou shalt go up, like a ruin shalt thou come; thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou and all thy squadrons, and many nations with thee.

The land of Magog ( Ezekiel 38:2) stands for “in the land of Magog,” as the connective word is often omitted where the connection is clear of itself. This takes place among ourselves, for ex., in addressing letters. Magog, the nation of the Scythians, occurs already in Genesis 10:2 among the descendants of Japheth. Of Gog Ezekiel only knows. He has doubtless formed the name of the king from that of the country, as if one were to give a bishop Erm to the diocese of Ermeland. The Apocalypse goes further in this direction, and without scruple changes the king Gog of Ezekiel into a people Gog beside Magog. Both have intentionally adopted this freedom, to guard beforehand against all historicizing interpretations. Gog is prince over Magog, moreover chief prince, king of the kings over Meshech and Tubal, the Moschi and Tibareni (ch. Ezekiel 27:13, Ezekiel 32:26), who had their own kings, but appear here as vassals of Gog. Many expositors render, instead of chief prince, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. But the poor Russians have been here very unjustly arranged among the enemies of God’s people. Rosh, as the name of a people, does not occur in all the Old Testament. The mere prince would not suit. It would not accord with the relation of Gog to his immediate subjects. This appears particularly in Ezekiel 38:3, where the native land of Gog is not named; and so all reference to his native sovereignty is wanting, if it is not contained in this, that he is styled chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, which leaves us to infer a direct native sovereignty. It must at least have been “who was also prince.” Meshech and Tubal are besides always, and particularly in the already quoted passages of Ezekiel, independent nations, that cannot be without more ado subjected to the king of Magog. Only as chief prince can he have the very warlike nations of ch. Ezekiel 32:26 in his train. The distinction between Magog and Meshech and Tubal is that of subjects and subordinate allies. To the chief prince here corresponds the supreme authority, which is ascribed in Ezekiel 38:7 to the king of Magog in reference to the “nations with him.” Besides, Meshech and Tubal are here only selected out of the whole number of allied nations as the most powerful and warlike. The fuller enumeration follows in Ezekiel 38:5-6. “I will lead thee back” ( Ezekiel 38:4): in Gog the earlier foes of God’s people, namely the Chaldeans, reappear. [231] It is significant that the irruption of Gog is here, and in what follows, referred to Jehovah. He means to march against Jehovah, but the latter has him in tow—he must march whither He will to his own destruction, as in former times Pharaoh did not thwart the God of Israel when he refused to let His people go, but acted so because Jehovah Himself had hardened his heart to plunge him into destruction. “Put rings in thy jaws:” the rings which are put in the most tender parts of intractable animals, on which to fasten the bridle or reins; comp. Ezekiel 19:4, Ezekiel 29:4. The “great gathering “is in apposition with the riders, and indicates that they are numerous. To understand this, with many, of the foot-soldiers does not agree with Ezekiel 38:15, according to which the whole expedition consists of cavalry, which suits best to the march from a distant land. Only in regard to cavalry also is the description complete—the array of the riders, their multitude, their armour. “Clothed in splendour:” this is designedly transferred from the description of the troopers of Assyria in ch. Ezekiel 32:12, in accordance with the words, “I will lead thee back.” The Persians, in Ezekiel 38:5, represent the far east; the Kushites or Ethiopians, the far south. With these appear in Ezekiel 38:6, as representatives of the farthest north, Togarmah or Armenia, and Gomer or Cimmeria. Phut occurs before in Ezekiel 27:10, Ezekiel 30:5; in the latter place, as here, connected with Kush. There is no impossibility in the connection of nations so distant from one another. The anti-Chaldaic coalition, which the prophet himself had witnessed, actually extended from Ethiopia to Persia. The impossible lies rather in this, that all these nations are to cooperate at a definite time against the petty Palestine; which must be assumed, according to the historicizing conception. The spoil of so petty a territory could have no charm for such a mass of nations. What would it be among so many? “Prepare thyself, and prepare for thee” (all that is necessary for such an expedition): the form of the summons, in which the prediction here appears, points to this, that the expedition comes, quite according to the wish of the God of Israel, against whom it is directed. In the words, “and are obedient to thee,” or, thou art their authority, the prediction appears as such. “After many days thou shalt be visited” ( Ezekiel 38:8): the fundamental passage is Isaiah 24:22. It is there said of the ungodly world-power, “After many days (a long period of impunity) they shall be visited.” Gog meant to visit the people of God, but in reality he is himself visited. It was God who led him, in order to prepare for his downfall. It is very consolatory to the church, that God not merely conquers its enemies, that even their hostile undertaking is under His guidance, that they move not hand nor foot but at His command. “At the end of the years:” this indicates that the catastrophe belongs to a quite new order of things. As the corresponding phrase “at the end of the days,” so this denotes the Messianic epoch. The land has reference to its inhabitants. In so far it may be said that it dwells on the mountains of Israel. “Like a ruin shalt thou come” ( Ezekiel 38:9): Gog is, as it were, the incarnate desolation. [232]

[231] The historicizing expositors wish to give other meanings to the verb here and in ch. 39:2; but with the meaning to turn back it recurs in Ezekiel 38:8, and also in ch. 39:27. The bringing back of enemies is also spoken of in Ezekiel 38:12; and with the return of the former foes in Gog here it goes hand in hand, that in the invasion of Gog ( Ezekiel 38:17, ch. 39:8) the fulfilment of earlier prophecies is recognised, in which Gog is not expressly mentioned.

[232] The meaning “storm” is not ascertained.

In the filling up of this outline, the detailed account of the enterprise is first given in Ezekiel 38:10-16, connected with the general announcement of its failure, which contains the germ of the following amplification.

Verses 10-23

Ezekiel 38:10. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, And it shall come to pass in that day, words will come upon thy heart, and thou shalt think an evil thought, 11. And say, I will go up against a land of villages; I will come upon the quiet that sit securely, all of them sitting without a wall, and they have no bar nor gate, 12. To take a spoil and seize a prey; to turn thy hand again on the inhabited ruins, and to a people gathered from the heathen, acquiring cattle and goods, sitting on the navel of the land. 13. Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, and all their wild lions, will say to thee, Comest thou to take a spoil? Hast thou gathered thy gathering to seize a prey? to bear off silver and gold, to take cattle and goods, to take a great spoil? 14. Therefore prophesy, son of man, and say to Gog, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, In that day when my people Israel dwell securely, shalt thou not know it? 15. And thou shalt come from thy place out of the farthest north, thou, and many nations with thee, riding all on horses, a great gathering, and a numerous army. 16. And go up against my people Israel as a cloud to cover the land; in the latter days it shall be, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me, when I am sanctified in thee before their eyes, O Gog.

Ezekiel 38:11 depicts the community of God, in its want of earthly defence or help. It appears as a peaceful people, a people of quietness in the land, that in reliance on its God looks for no earthly defence, in regard to which it must always be at a disadvantage against the world, while God has reserved to Himself its defence. The perception of this defenceless state offers the occasion for the undertaking of the enemy. They have no conception, that among this defenceless people dwells One who is mighty in their weakness—against whom their might is mere impotence. To turn the hand again upon any one ( Ezekiel 38:12), means always, to make him again the object of action. In Gog, the world-power, that had before caused desolation, appears anew. “Acquiring cattle and goods:” the land of villages ( Ezekiel 38:11) is adapted to the possession of flocks. Goods are the general to the special, the genus to the prominent species. They acquire with their hands what is requisite for daily need, according to the rule. He who does not work shall not eat. The words refer to the first book of Moses ( Ezekiel 34:23), to the peaceful patriarchal state. “Sitting on the navel of the land:” the navel stands for the middle, and this for the best; comp. Ezekiel 5:5. The height does not suit. That only is meant which gives a charm to the land in the eyes of the enemy. Those named in Ezekiel 38:13 are simply commercial nations,—the Arabian nations Sheba and Dedan as representatives of the land trade, and Tarshish of the sea trade. Where the carrion is, the eagles gather; where there is spoil, the traders. The Sabeans occur before as traders in ch. Ezekiel 27:22-23. The great men of Tarshish are designated as wild lions, on account of their relentless ferocity, that goes hand in hand with the spirit of trade; comp. Ezekiel 19:3. The question, in case of affirmation, implies joyful participation. This did not need to be more definitely expressed, as it was understood from the character of the speakers. “Therefore” ( Ezekiel 38:14): because Gog will undertake it. The address is not to the Gog of the future; but it tells the Gog of the present what will happen, if he meddle in future with the people of God. “Shalt thou not know?”—even this, that my people dwell securely. That he knew this, was the inducement to his undertaking; comp. Ezekiel 38:11. God is sanctified in Gog, when He displays His incomparable glory in his punishment.

In carrying out the brief intimation of Ezekiel 38:16, the defeat of the hostile enterprise—which formed the theme of the previous section—by the intervention of Jehovah is depicted in Ezekiel 38:17-23, and certainly in great strong outlines, to which is subjoined the further finishing in the following sections.

Ezekiel 38:17. Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Art thou he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied in those days during years, [233] that I would bring thee upon them? 18. And it shall come to pass in that day, the day when Gog comes to the land of Israel, saith the Lord Jehovah, my fury shall come up in my nose. 19. And in my jealousy, in the fire of my wrath, have I spoken, Surely in that day there will be a great earthquake in the land of Israel; 20. And the fishes of the sea, and the fowl of heaven, and the beast of the field, [234] and every creeper that creepeth on the ground, and all men that are upon the face of the earth, shall quake at my presence; and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the cliffs [235] shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the earth. 21. And I will call a sword upon him on all my mountains, saith the Lord Jehovah: a man’s sword will be against his brother. 22. And I will plead with him by pestilence and by blood; and a pouring rain and hailstones, fire and brimstone, will I rain on him, and on his squadrons, and on the many nations that are with him. 23. And I will be magnified and sanctified, and made known in the eyes of many heathen; and they shall know that I am the LORD.

[233] שנים is omitted by Luther.

[234] Luther, “the cattle on the field,” against the usage, according to which the living creature of the field is the wild animal, in opposition to the tame.

[235] Luther, “the walls,” contrary to Song of Solomon 2:14, where the word stands in parallelism with סלע .

The predictions of the earlier prophets are mentioned ( Ezekiel 38:17), in so far as in them the victory of the kingdom of God over the heathen world is announced, as well as the judgment which the Lord will execute on it. Only when this is known does the reference to these predictions accord with the remaining contents of the section. Among these predictions, that of Joel, in ch. Joel 3:3-5, takes the first place. This follows especially from the fact that here, in ch. Ezekiel 39:29, as there, the judgment of the Lord on the raging heathen power is closely connected with the outpouring of the Spirit on the house of Israel, which is thereby raised to the full dignity of the covenant people. Even the picture of Joel, as well as the present announcement, is comprehensive in its character. As in the first part of Joel all judgments upon the covenant people, so in the last part all assaults of the heathen world on the community who have part in the “teacher of righteousness,” and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, are combined into one grand figure. Along with Joel, we have specially to consider the prophecy in Isaiah 24-27, to which the prophet referred verbally in Ezekiel 38:8. Isaiah 34 comes also into consideration, as indeed Deuteronomy 32, where the announcement of the visitation of Israel by the heathen world is followed by that of the glorious deliverance from it. But we need not pause for a moment at the predictions in which the impending inundation of Israel by the heathen power, and the judgment upon the latter, are announced in a general way. Special announcements also concerning the invasion and defeat of several empires, especially Assyria and Babylon, may be added. For all these rest on a common ground, which revived them again after the latest fulfilment has taken place, as soon as a new heathen power entered on the scene. Venema rightly remarks on this, that the question, “Art thou he?” presupposes that the oldest prophets did not speak of Gog under this name. The phrase “during years” indicates that the prophecy of the victory over the heathen power went through the whole course of time. As in Ezekiel 38:18, so already in Deuteronomy 32:22, the divine wrath is ascribed to the nose, by which it manifests itself to men, snorting with anger; comp. also Psalms 18:9, Psalms 18:16. The earthquake in Ezekiel 38:19, as the storm in Psalms 18, is a figure of a great annihilating catastrophe in the human world (comp. on Revelation 6:12), in which all has the feeling as if the earth were dissolving. The catastrophe affects only the enemies of God’s people—comp. Ezekiel 38:22 (in the whole prophecy, ch. Ezekiel 38 and Ezekiel 39, all that is heavy and destructive is aimed only at Magog); but it is so dreadful, that the whole world seems to come to an end—that all that lives on earth is felt to be affected by it: every high thing is cast to the ground, without discriminating whether it belongs to the enemy or not. All terrible particular judgments in their operations come upon the sense, like a universal judgment. The earth appears in them to go out of joint. “One man’s sword shall be against his brother” ( Ezekiel 38:21): one great means by which God sweeps away the enemies of the king, is the internal discord, for which He presents the natural occasions. The community of hatred can scarcely offer successful resistance to these. At the ground of this lies perhaps the historical example of the event recorded in 2 Chronicles 20, where, under Jehoshaphat, the nations of the wilderness, combined for the destruction of Judah, destroy one another, so that Judah is delivered without a blow, and the name of the king, “the Lord hath judged,” is realized. The colours of the picture in Ezekiel 38:22 are partly taken from the Egyptian plagues (the pestilence, the blood, the hail), and from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Ezekiel 38". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/ezekiel-38.html.