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The objections to a literal interpretation of the prophecy are --
(1) The ideal nature of the name Gog, which is the root of Magog, the only kindred name found in Scripture or history.
(2) The nations congregated are selected from places most distant from Israel and from one another and therefore most unlikely to act in concert-Persians and Libyans, etc.
(3) The whole spoil of Israel could not have given a handful to a tithe of their number, or maintained the myriads of invaders a single day (Ezekiel 38:12-13).
(4) The wood of their invaders' weapons was to serve for fuel to Israel for seven years! And all Israel were to take seven months in burying the dead! Supposing a million of Israelites to bury each two corpses a day, the aggregate buried in the 180 working days of the seven months would be 360 million corpses! Then the pestilential vapours from such masses of victims before they were all buried! What Israelite could live in such an atmosphere?
(5) The scene of the Lord's controversy here is different from that in Isaiah 34:6, Edom, which creates a discrepany. [But probably a different judgment is alluded to.]
(6) The gross carnality of the representation of God's dealings with His adversaries is inconsistent with Messianic times; it therefore requires a nonliteral interpretation.
The prophetic delineations of the divine principles of government are thrown into the familiar forms of Old Testament relations. The final triumph of Messiah's truth over the most distant and barbarous nations is represented as a literal conflict on a gigantic scale, Israel being the battlefield, ending in the complete triumph of Israel's anointed King, the Saviour of the world. It is a prophetic parable (Fairbairn). However, though the details are not literal, the distinctiveness in this picture, characterizing also parallel descriptions in writers less ideally picturesque than Ezekiel, gives probability to a more definite and generally literal interpretation. The awful desolations caused in Judea by Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria (1 Maccabees; and Porphyry, quoted by Jerome on Ezekiel), his defilement of Yahweh's temple by sacrificing swine and sprinkling the altar with the broth, and setting up the altar of Jupiter Olympius, seem to be an earnest of the final desolations to be caused by Antichrist in Israel, previous to his overthrow by the Lord Himself coming to reign (cf. the little horn and the "king of fierce countenance," who, "when the transgressors are come to the full ... shall destroy the holy people," Daniel 8:10-26; and the "king of the north," who "shall do according to his will, and exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and speak marvelous things against the God of gods, and shall enter also into the glorious land, and shall plant the tabernacles of his palaces between the seas in the glorious holy mountain, and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps," Daniel 11:21-45; Daniel 12:1; Zechariah 13:9; Zechariah 14:2-3). Grotius explains Gog as a name taken from Gyges king of Lydia, and Magog as Syria, in which was a city called Magog (Pliny, 5: 28). Ezekiel describes the anti-Christian confederacy which is to assail the Holy Land before the Millennium; Revelation 20:7-9 describes the corresponding and last anti-Christian confederacy which is to assail the beloved city at the close of the Millennium.
Gog - the prince of the land of Magog. The title was probably a common one of the kings of the country, as "Pharaoh" in Egypt. Chakan was the name given by the northern Asiatics to their king, and is still a title of the Turkish Sultan; "Gog" may be a contraction of this. In Ezekiel's time a horde of northern Asiatics, termed by the Greeks 'Scythians,' and probably including the Moschi and Tibareni near the Caucasus, here ("Meshech ... Tubal") undertook an expedition against Egypt (Herodotus, 1: 103-106). These names might be adopted by Ezekiel from the historical fact familiar to men at the time, as ideal titles for the great last anti-Christian confederacy.
Magog - (Genesis 10:2; 1 Chronicles 1:5). The name of a land belonging to Japhet's posterity. Maha, in Sanskrit, means 'land.' Gog is the ideal political head of the region. In Revelation 20:8 Gog and Magog are two peoples.
The chief prince - rather, 'prince of Rosh,' or 'Rhos' [ ro'sh (H7218)], (Septuagint) The Scythian Tauri in the Crimea were so called. The Araxes also was called Rhos. The modern Russians may have hence assumed their name, as Moscow and Tobolsk from Meshech and Tubal, though their proper ancient name was Slavi or Wends. Hengstenberg supports the English version, as 'Rosh' is not found in the Bible. 'Magog was Gog's original kingdom, though he acquired also Meshech and Tubal, so as to be called their chief prince.'
And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:
I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. His high-sounding titles are repeated, to imply the haughty self-confidence of the invader as invincible.
And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords:
I will turn thee back - as a refractory wild beast, which thinks to take its own way, but is bent by a superior power to turn on a course which must end in its destruction. Satan shall be, by overruling Providence, permitted to deceive them to their ruin (Revelation 20:7-8).
And put hooks into thy jaws - (Ezekiel 29:4; 2 Kings 19:28, "Because thy (Sennacherib's, a type of Antichrist) rage against me and thy tumult is come up into mine ears, therefore I will put my hook in thy nose, and my bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest").
Persia ... Libya. Expressly specified by Appian as supplying the ranks of Antiochus' army.
Gomer - the Celtic Cimmerians of Crim-Tartary.
Togarmah - the Armenians of the Caucasus, south of Iberia.
Be thou prepared ... thou, and all thy company. Irony. Prepare thee and all thine with all needful accoutrements for war, that ye may perish together!
Be thou a guard unto them - i:e., if thou canst.
After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them.
After many days thou shalt be visited - in wrath, by God (Isaiah 29:6, "Thou shalt be visited of the Lord of hosts with thunder, and with earthquake, and great noise, with storm and tempest, and the flame of devouring fire"). Probably there is allusion to Isaiah 24:21-22, "The host of the high ones ... shall be gathered ... as prisoners ... in the pit ... and after many days shall they be visited." I therefore prefer the English version to Grotius' rendering, 'Thou shalt get the command' of the expedition. The "after many days" is defined by "in the latter years" - i:e., in the times just before the coming of Messiah-namely, under Antiochus before His first coming, under Antichrist before His second coming.
In the latter years thou shalt come into the land ... against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste - i:e., waste during the long period of the captivity, the earnest of the much longer period of Judea's present desolation (to which the language "always waste" more fully applies).
The land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people. This marks the impious atrocity of the act to assail God's people, who had only begun to recover from their protracted calamities.
But it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them - rather, 'and they (the Israelites) were brought forth out of the nations, and they dwelt safely all of them' (Fairbairn). The English version means, 'Against Israel, which has been waste, but which (i:e., whose people) is now (at the time of the invasion) brought forth out of the nations where they were dispersed, and shall be found by the invader dwelling securely, so as to seem an easy prey to him.'
Thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land - with the multitude of thy forces.
Thou shalt think an evil thought - as to attacking God's people in their defenseless state.
I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely - i:e., securely, without fear of danger (cf. Esther 9:19). Antiochus, the type of Antichrist, took Jerusalem without a blow.
To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land.
To turn thine hand ... upon the people that are gathered out of the nations ... that dwell in the midst of the land - literally, in the navel of the land (Judges 9:37, margin.) So, in Ezekiel 5:5, Israel is said to be set "in the midst of the nations:" "This is Jerusalem: I have set it in the midst of the nations;" not physically, but morally; a central position for being a blessing to the world. It is on this account (as the favoured or "beloved city," Revelation 20:9) that it becomes to the godless foe an object of envy. Grotius translates [ Tabuwr (H2872)], In the height of the land' (so Ezekiel 38:8), "the mountains of Israel," Israel being morally elevated above the rest of the world. The literal sense, 'navel,' seems to point to the fact of its being the moral center of the world, not to its moral eminence, as Ezekiel 5:5 also implies. Buxtorf takes it as Grotius.
Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?
Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish. These mercantile peoples, though not taking an active part against the cause of God, are well pleased to see others do it. Worldliness makes them ready to deal in the ill-gotten spoil of the invaders of God's people. Gain is before godliness with them ( 1Ma 3:41 ).
With all the young lions - daring princes and leaders.
Say unto Gog ... In that day when my people of Israel dwelleth safely, shalt thou not know it? - to thy cost, being visited with punishment, while Israel dwells safely.
No JFB commentary on this verse.
And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O Gog, before their eyes.
I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen know me. So in Exodus 9:16 God tells Pharaoh, "For this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power; and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth."
Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel? Gog and Magog are here identified with the enemies spoken of in other prophecies (Numbers 24:17-24; Isaiah 27:1; cf. Isaiah 26:20-21; Jeremiah 30:23-24; Joel 3:2; Micah 5:5-6; Isaiah 14:12-14; Isaiah 59:19). God is represented as addressing Gog at the time of his assault; therefore the "old time" is the time long prior, when Ezekiel uttered these prophecies: so he also, as well as Daniel (Daniel 11:1-45) and Zechariah (Zechariah 14:1-21), are included among "the prophets of Israel" here.
My fury shall come up in my face - literally, into my nose; in Hebrew the idiomatic expression for anger, as men in anger breathe strongly through the nostrils. Anthropopathy: God stooping to human modes of thought (Psalms 18:8).
Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking - an earthquake; physical agitations after accompanying social and moral revolution. Foretold also in Joel 3:16; cf. Haggai 2:6-7; Matthew 24:7; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 16:18.
So that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the earth, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.
So that the fish of the sea - disturbed by the fleets which I will bring.
And the fowls of the heaven - frightened at the sight of so many men: an ideal picture. All creatures of the earth "shall shake at my presence."
And the mountains - i:e., the fortresses on the mountains "shall be thrown down."
And the steep places shall fall - "steep places," literally, 'stairs' (Song of Solomon 2:14); i:e., steep terraces for vines on the sides of hills, to prevent the earth being washed down by the rains.
Every man's sword shall be against his brother. I will destroy them partly by my people's sword, partly by their swords being turned against one another (cf. 2 Chronicles 20:23, where we read that God caused Ammon and Moab to "stand up against the inhabitants of mount Seir, utterly to slay and destroy them," and then "every one helped to destroy another," instead of destroying Jehoshaphat and Judah, as they had conspired to do).
And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.
I will plead against him. A forensic term; because God in His inflictions acts on the principles of His own immutable justice, not by arbitrary impulse (Isaiah 66:16; Jeremiah 25:31).
With blood ... hailstones, fire - (Revelation 8:7,16,21 ). The imagery is taken from the destruction of Sodom and the plagues of Egypt (cf. Psalms 11:6). Antiochus died by "pestilence" ( 2Ma 9:5 ).
(1) In many passages of Scripture God forewarns the Church of a great conspiracy, headed by one person, about to be made against God and His Christ, as also against both the literal and the spiritual Israel, in the last days. As Antiochus fearfully desolated Judea, and blasphemously defiled the temple of God, toward the close of the Old Testament times, so Antichrist, here described under the ideal name Gog, and his godless hosts under the name Magog, shall terribly oppress Israel and the Church of Christ, and arrogate to himself divine honours, toward the close of the times of the Gentiles, in the New Testament dispensation. Haughty and blasphemous self-confidence shall be his prominent characteristic. His immense hordes of formidable warriors in his train, seduced by Satan to their destruction, shall add to his innate presumption. In an evil moment for himself, an "evil thought shall come into his mind" (Ezekiel 38:10), prompting him to assail the ancient people of God, who shall have only begun to recover from their protracted calamities (Ezekiel 38:8; Ezekiel 38:12), and who at the time shall be dwelling without fear in their "unwalled villages" (Ezekiel 38:11).
(2) But God even already forewarns the invader, "Behold, I am against thee, O Gog" (Ezekiel 38:3). Of what avail, then, can all the countless hosts be on which the foe of the Church relies? "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not go unpunished" (Proverbs 11:21). God will "visit" in wrath him who is to visit Israel as a cruel scourge (Ezekiel 38:8); and when the enemy shall come up and "cover the land like a cloud" (Ezekiel 38:9), the breath of the Lord's "fury," which "shall come up in His nostrils" (note, Ezekiel 38:18) shall scatter the hosts of Gog, so that he and they shall fall by their own swords, and by the "pestilence, hailstones, fire, and brimstone" which the Lord shall send (Ezekiel 38:21-22). What a comfort to the people of God it is to know that no trial is before them which is not foreseen by God ages before (Ezekiel 38:17); and "when the enemy," as it has been foretold, "shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the Lord shall lift up a standard against him"!
(3) Sheba, Dedan, and Tarshish, all mercantile peoples, are represented (Ezekiel 38:13) as secretly sympathizing with the godless and haughty invader of Israel, though not openly joining in the invasion. It is the tendency of a gain-seeking spirit to look to no other considerations but its own selfish and worldly interests. Gain is the godliness of the carnal mind. Whatever promotes directly or indirectly the acquisition of "silver, gold, cattle, and goods," is the uppermost thought: and while perhaps the more quietly-disposed of the worldly shrink from an active participation in unjust and ungodly invasions, yet they are well pleased at such wars when seeming to be conducive to their own gains, and will not scruple to traffic in the unhallowed "spoils," at the sacrifice of conscience and the will of God.
(4) It might seem strange at first sight that God should permit the impious enemy to try His people so sorely. But it is a necessary part of the present economy of good and evil intermixed that God should allow the wickedness of the wicked fully to develop itself, in order to show in their case His Almighty power, and that His name may be sanctified before the eyes of the nations throughout all the earth (Ezekiel 38:16; Exodus 9:16). God at one and the same time hereby vindicates the honour of His holy name, exercises the faith of His people, and turns back the foe (Ezekiel 38:4) as a refractory wild beast, which, when it thinks to take its own way, is bent by a superior power to take the course which its master pleases, and which ends in its own destruction.
(5) True believers dwell safely under the protecting shadow of the Almighty. The honour of His holy name is involved in their preservation. God Himself has a controversy, with all who try to injure them, and will "plead" against their enemy (Ezekiel 38:22). His justice, His greatness, and His holiness are engaged for their defense; and in the final vindication of their cause all "nations shall know that Yahweh is the Lord" (Ezekiel 38:23). Let us, then, see that we are indeed of the true spiritual Israel of God: and if we have a well-grounded assurance that we are so, let us, having the Lord on our side, not fear what man can do unto us.
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Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Ezekiel 38". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://studylight.org/
the Fifth Week after Epiphany