In the late 1970’s my wife and I were living in Singapore where we did some street witnessing, handing out tracts, mostly on salvation but one tract was a prophetic end-time message, titled “Israel Invaded”. That tract discussed the future invasion of Israel from the northern lands of Gog and Magog, and was based on chapters 38 and 39 of the book of Ezekiel.
As you may know, Singapore is a bit sensitive about anything political, so it was not totally surprising then that we were taken into custody by the police, along with our daughter, who was less than two years old. At the station, all the police were eager to read the different tracts we had and some of the female officers enjoyed playing with our daughter. Eventually they let us go saying that we should get the tracts registered with the Department of Religion, which I did except for the Ezekiel 38 and 39 tract. The reason for that was that a senior police officer visited me at home later and told me that Singapore has close relations with Israel and they would not want anything to upset that, even though I told him the message was not about Israel in our time, and that it was just Bible prophecy. But then I believed that Ezekiel 38,39 was a prophecy to be fulfilled in our future and it involved the invasion of Israel.
So that brings me to my point. Is the prophecy in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 really about some future end-time event, as I once believed? Well, I admit I have recently changed my mind. I also once believed as many evangelical Christians do today that there would be in the future the rise of a world dictator, the AntiChrist, who would establish a 7-year peace agreement and allow the re-construction of the Temple in Jerusalem, internationalising the city. He would somehow build a supercomputer to control all world commerce and trade and would break his peace agreement in the middle of the 7 years and subjugate all who oppose him in a great Tribulation period. I have since learned that that is not the case and, in fact, most of those ideas, though they form part of John Nelson Darby’s dispensational pre-Trib. secret Rapture doctrine, were developed long before Darby by Jesuit interlopers who wanted to destroy the effects of the Reformation and get the Protestants’ eyes off Rome as the reformers taught that Rome is the Mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots (Revelation 17:5) and they recognised the papacy as the real AntiChrist, the ‘beast’ of Revelation 13, who sits in the temple of God proclaiming himself to be God.
Nowadays there are various forms of these futurist beliefs, some placing the Ezekiel 38, 39 battle of Gog and Magog at the beginning of a great Tribulation period, and some after the Tribulation and the battle of Armageddon just before the return of Christ, which they have before a one thousand year Millennium period. Actually my beliefs at that time were of a post Tribulation Rapture of the Church concomitant with the Second Advent, whereas most evangelicals today have been captured with the secret pre-Trib. Rapture of John Nelson Darby, hoping that they will not have to suffer for Christ sake. And I also believed in a literal Millennium period of rule on Earth by the saints (Revelation 20:4-6) followed by the battle of Gog and Magog (Revelation 20:8,9), and as such Ezekiel 38,39 was a reference to that same battle after the Millennium just before God wiped out the current heavens and the earth to bring in a new heaven and a new earth (Revelation 21).
Starting only about three years ago I started to rethink my position on Bible prophecy as I found more and more just did not seem to make sense. Reading Sir Isaac Newton’s ideas on the prophecies in the books of Daniel and Revelation really prompted me to look deeper, and not continue to accept things without question. This led me to understand a completely historical, continuing, non-futuristic interpretation of Bible prophecy. I now see Bible prophecy as God’s continuing revelation covering events relevant to His people, not just the Jews or just the Christian church and definitely not putting a parenthesis around the Church age as John Darby did, assuming that very little of the past 2000 years of Church history can be found in the book of the Revelation. You can find my studies on the books of Daniel and Revelation here.
The first battle of Gog and Magog
The first time Gog and Magog battle against Israel is found in Ezekiel 38 and 39. I have come to believe that these chapters are historical and describe the attempted extermination of the Jews by Gog (also known as Haman the Agagite) during the period of Queen Esther (the book of Esther) after many Israelites had returned to the promised land. In Esther 3:13 we read it was Haman’s plan to exterminate all Jews, in one day, anywhere in the Persian kingdom, which was most of the known world at that time. I have also come to the conclusion that the battle with Gog and Magog in Revelation 20 (verses 8,9) could not possibly be the same battle.
Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39 immediately follow chapter 37, which gives a vivid picture of the vision of dry bones, which the prophet sees coming back to life, and symbolise the restoration of Israel after the return from the 70 years of the Captivity. They were taken to Babylon in 606 B.C. and returned to their homeland in 536 B.C. by a decree of Cyrus king of Persia, who had conquered Babylon. God revealed to the prophet Ezekiel that this valley of bones represents “the whole house of Israel” (Ezekiel 37:11). Since Ezekiel prophesied during the time of the Captivity, this vision portrays how God will again deliver Israel and bring her back to the land of promise. Additionally, this chapter alludes to the time when “David” will again be a king over them, an obvious reference to Jesus, the King of the Jews. So it culminates with Israel restored and the seed from which Christ was born not being exterminated as Haman tried to do. Now, please first read the book of Esther and Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39.
Bible commentator Jim Gibson writes:1
The chapter (Ezekiel 38) begins with God proclaiming judgment upon “Gog, the land of Magog.” The prophecy relates how Gog will come upon Israel while she is at peace in un-walled cities. The time frame is after Israel has been brought back from her captivity. The purpose of this attack was “to take a spoil.” The chapter describes the inhabitants as living in desolate places. The prophecy tells how that God would be the One who vanquishes these attackers. In fact, their dead would all be buried in a valley called “the valley of Hamon-gog.” The readers should better acquaint themselves with these two chapters (Ezekiel 38 and 39) by diligent reading and study. It is not the goal of this short study to give a detailed commentary. Rather, I want to introduce to the reader a more plausible guide to help in their understanding of this perplexing passage. We will do this by comparing portions of the book of Esther with the chapters in Ezekiel.
Why Esther? The Jews went into captivity in about 606 B.C. and returned to their homeland in 536 B.C. by a decree of Cyrus. They returned to a land that was devastated by war. Everything was in ruin and rubble. Ezekiel lived and prophesied during the time of the Captivity. Esther, on the other hand, records a period of time some 50 plus years after the return from the Jewish Captivity. Many Jews were born in their land of captivity, consequently, many never returned back to Canaan but remained in the land of their birthplace.
Three times in human history Satan has tried to abort God’s promise of redemption as recorded in Genesis 3:15. The first was during the time of Noah when all of human civilization had succumbed to sin, except for just eight people. The second time was during the times of the book of Esther. The third time, of course, was when Herod killed all the babies in Bethlehem. Some would count the crucifixion as the fourth attempt, but Satan had no say in that instance. Jesus willingly laid down his life according to the will of the Father for the sins of the world. Let’s take a closer look at the second failed attempt as recorded in the book of Esther.
I will begin this story with the third chapter where it introduces a certain prince named Haman the Agagite. There is an ancient cursive Hebrew manuscript which translates Haman’s title as “Haman, the Gogite.” This will have significance later. The story immediately lays the foundation for the hatred and animosity that Haman had towards the Jews. A certain Jew named Mordecai refused to bow before Haman whenever he passed by. Haman was incensed. Verse six reveals Haman’s sinister plot: “…wherefore Haman sought to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom.” Since the Persians were rulers over the then-known world, this plan would in effect annihilate the entire race of the Jews. His plan would completely eliminate the Jews “in one day.” In verse 13, we find Haman’s purpose spelled out: “to destroy, to kill, and to cause to perish, all Jews…in one day…to take the spoil of them for a prey.” Fortunately, God had not forgotten His people or His promise of a future Redeemer. He had carefully selected and prepared Esther to be the instrument in executing His plan and purpose. We know how the story ends. The gallows that Haman had built to hang Mordecai on was used on him instead. The honor that Haman had sought and even his own house was given to his bitter enemy Mordecai.
If this was such a historic and pivotal event in human history, would not God had warned His people by his prophets? He did. We can find this warning in Ezekiel 38 and 39. When interpreting prophecy, people often times try and give significance to every word. Some prophets, especially Ezekiel, used much symbolism and imagery. Passages that are emblematic become problematic when we fail to recognize this. With this in mind, let’s see if we can put these chapters in their proper perspective.
First, let’s try and find the identity of “Gog, the chief prince.” Remember, earlier, I made mention of the fact that there exists a Hebrew manuscript [cursive manuscript number 93] that referred to Haman as “the Gogite” [in Esther 3:1 and 9:24]. In other words, Haman’s ancestral roots were in the land of Gog. Also, in Esther 3:1, the Bible declares that king Ahasuerus promoted Haman “above all the princes.” In other words, Haman was the “chief prince”, the term applied to Gog in Ezekiel 38:2,3; 39:1. We have already mentioned the timeframe of this momentous battle. It would be after the Jewish captivity, during a period of peace and tranquility, and it would be when the land was “desolate.” If you read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah, which recorded a time period which corresponded to that of Esther, then you would notice a definite parallel. The land was in utter ruin and chaos by the Babylonian armies nearly 150 years prior. One of Haman’s goals for his sinister plan was “to take a spoil.” These are the exact words as found in Ezekiel 38:12. [Compare Esther 8:11 with Ezekiel 38:12,13.] Notice, too, the name of the burial place of those enemies of the Jews: the valley of Hamon-gog. This appears to be a thinly-veiled play on words for Haman’s appellative, “Haman, the Gogite” [Ezekiel 39:15]. As already mentioned, Haman was hung on the very gallows on which he had built for Mordecai [Esther 7:9]. This would explain the words as found in Ezekiel 39:4, “…I will give thee unto the ravenous birds of every sort…”
Others have identified Haman as a Gogite.2 The only written witness is a late cursive manuscript no. 93, a miniscule from the 13th century. Yet given that Haman was an Agagite (Esther 3:1,10) the notion is believable that he was a Gogite. Several commentators believe his descendants can be traced from Esau to King Agag, king of the Amalekites (Number 24:7, 1 Samuel 15:8) who opposed Saul king of the Israelites. Haman thus was an Arab of the lineage of Esau. The Amalekites were considered the most evil enemy of the Jews. Thus Haman’s opposition to the Jew Mordecai, to the point of a plan to exterminate all Jews in the known world, continued the battle of Saul and Agag, between these two enemies Mordecai and Haman (Esther 3:10). Not much has changed today with the Arab/Muslim nations wanting the extermination of the Jews and of Israel.
In the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the OT from about 250 B.C., Numbers 24:7 translates ‘Agag’ as ‘Gog’. Here is the English translation of the LXX.
Number 24:7 There shall come a man out of his seed, and he shall rule over many nations; and the kingdom of [γωγ] Gog shall be exalted, and his kingdom shall be increased. (LXXE)
The kingdom of Gog represents Satan’s kingdom. Compare the above to that in a Masoretic based English translation (from original Hebrew text).
Numbers 24:7 He shall pour the water out of his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters, and his king shall be higher than [אֲגַג] Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. (KJVER)
The ‘pour water out of his buckets’ symbolises salvation. Two buckets perhaps indicate salvation for the Jews initially in OT times and later through the seed of Judah, that is, Christ, who would come with salvation for the nations. This is the meaning of ‘his seed shall be in many waters’. And Judah’s king Christ shall be higher than Satan symbolised by Agag (Gog). Christ’s kingdom shall be exalted not Gog’s as suggested by Numbers 24:7 in the LXX.
The comparison of these verses lends support for the idea that a Gogite is an Agagite. Thus it makes sense that the prophecy of chapters 38 and 39 of Ezekiel were fulfilled in the return of the Jews to the land of Israel and the defeat of Haman, who was an Agagite, hence a traditional enemy of the Jews. Haman was the chief prince, as was Gog, who was chief prince of the land of Magog and lands around Israel known as Meshech and Tubal.
Ezekiel 38:2 Son of man, set your face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, (KJVER)
From the table of nations these are heathen lands.
Genesis 10:2 The sons of Japheth; Gomer, and Magog, and Madai, and Javan, and Tubal, and Meshech, and Tiras. (KJVER)
The text of chapters 38 and 39 reads that God will execute judgment on Gog and as a result the heathen will know the Lord (Ezekiel 38:23) which we can infer from the book of Esther that result must have happened as the tables were turned on Haman. The Jews all over the kingdom were given warning of the day when they might be killed and they were given the legal right to slay their attackers (Esther 8:11), and 75,000 of their enemies were slain (Esther 9:16). So it is no wonder that it took 7 months to bury the dead (Ezekiel 39:12) and there was such a foul stench because of their rotting carcasses (Ezekiel 39:11). The bodies were buried in the valley of Hamon-gog. It is worth noting that Hebrew vowel points were not inserted until about the 6th or 7th century A.D.. Hence words הָמָן ‘Haman’ and הֲמוֹן ‘Hamon’ would have had very similar form in the written Hebrew of the time.
This event was a pivotal point in Jewish history. Haman epitomizes that essence of evil (a pawn of Satan) which tried to abort God’s plan of redemption for mankind by killing every Jew, and the seed from which Christ would be born. After the routing of the Jews’ enemy many heathen in the Persian kingdom converted to become Jews because of fear of the Jews (Esther 8:17). Compare with Ezekiel 39:6,7,21 where God says the heathen will know He is the Lord. The last verse of chapter 39 ends with God saying:
Ezekiel 39:29 Neither will I hide My face any more from them: for I have poured out My Spirit upon the house of Israel, says the Lord GOD. (KJVER)
Israel will eventually come to know the Lord.
The second battle of Gog and Magog
Now, what is the connection of these historical events to Gog and Magog in the book of the Revelation chapter 20? In that chapter 20, verse 8, we read of an army whose number is “as the sand of the sea”? In the vision described in verse 9 that army “compassed the camp of the saints” and “the beloved city” Jerusalem.
From Revelation 20:8,9 it is clear to me that Gog and Magog there are not the same Gog and Magog of Ezekiel 38 and 39. The events describe two quite different scenarios that take place at widely different times in history. The first battle of Gog and Magog was hundreds of years before the First Advent of Christ, in Israel. The second battle of Gog and Magog takes place during the “little season” towards the end of the Church age, represented symbolically by the thousand years in Revelation 20, when Satan is loosed or “unbound” some time before the Second Advent of Christ.
There is a parallel relationship. One is a type of the other. Heathen nations surround the people of God and desire their extermination. God gave a total victory to His people the first time and He will do the same the second time. He says He uses fire from heaven (Revelation 20:9).
The expressions ‘latter years’ and ‘latter days’ are used in Ezekiel 38:8,15,16 but they are in reference to the restoration of the Jews into their homeland, which happened before the First Advent of Christ. In the last century we again have witnessed the physical return of the Jewish nation to their traditional homeland. Could this then signal that Christ will come again in His Second Advent?
We read in Revelation 20:9 an attempt by Gog (Satan) to destroy the Jews again. The ‘beloved city’ Jerusalem is encamped about but so is the ‘camp of the saints,’ the saved believers from all nations this time. There is today only one human agency I can think of that has the religious zeal and hatred to want to destroy both Jews and Christians and they are the fanatic Muslim zealots. They now occupy the lands of Magog. Magog here is symbolic of all nations where the enemy of God’s people have camped, but that also includes the lands around Israel. Nowadays massive Muslim migration has started to fill the once Christian West, whose people have largely given up their Christian foundations, due to the increasing prevalence of humanistic philosophies, so-called evolutionary science, and atheism. Sadly even the so-called churches of God have yielded the battle field to the enemy through embracing godless philosophies.
But we know from the Scriptures that there is a happy ending for some and not so happy for others. The verses that follow in Revelation 20 (ie. verses 11-15) describe the Great White Throne Judgment when God raises all that ever lived to be judged and divides the sheep from the goats. Those found in the book of life are rewarded according to their deeds and those not found there are sent to the lake of fire.