Ezekiel 38 Bible Commentary

Jamieson, Faussett, and Brown

(Read all of Ezekiel 38)


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, &c.). (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 (Eze 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 hundred eighty working days of the seven months would be three hundred sixty millions of corpses! Then the pestilential vapors 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 Isa 34:6, Edom, which creates a discrepancy. (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 non-literal interpretation. The prophetical 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 prophetical 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 Jehovah'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 (compare Da 8:10-26; 11:21-45; 12:1; Zec 13:9; 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 Magag [PLINY, 5.28]. What Ezekiel stated more generally, Re 20:7-9 states more definitely as to the anti-Christian confederacy which is to assail the beloved city.

2. 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-- (Ge 10:2; 1Ch 1:5). The name of a land belonging to Japheth's posterity. Maha, in Sanskrit, means "land." Gog is the ideal political head of the region. In Re 20:8, Gog and Magog are two peoples.
the chief prince--rather, "prince of Rosh," or "Rhos" [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 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."

3. His high-sounding titles are repeated to imply the haughty self-confidence of the invader as if invincible.

4. 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 (Re 20:7, 8).
hooks into thy jaws-- (Eze 29:4; 2Ki 19:28).

5. Persia . . . Libya--expressly specified by APPIAN as supplying the ranks of Antiochus' army.

6. Gomer--the Celtic Cimmerians of Crim-Tartary.
Togarmah--the Armenians of the Caucasus, south of Iberia.

7. Irony. Prepare thee and all thine with all needful accoutrements for war--that ye may perish together.
be . . . a guard unto them--that is, if thou canst.

8. thou shall be visited--in wrath, by God (Isa 29:6). Probably there is allusion to Isa 24:21, 22, "The host of the high ones . . . shall be gathered . . . as prisoners . . . in me pit . . . and after many days shall they be visited." I therefore prefer English Version to GROTIUS rendering, "Thou shalt get the command" of the expedition. The "after many days" is defined by "in the latter years," that is, in the times just before the coming of Messiah, namely, under Antiochus, before His first coming; under Antichrist, before His second coming.
the mountains of Israel . . . always waste--that is, 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). 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 . . . and they shall dwell--rather, "And they (the Israelites) were brought . . . dwelt safely" [FAIRBAIRN]. English Version means, "Against Israel, which has been waste, but which (that is, 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."

9. cloud to cover the land--with the multitude of thy forces.

10. an evil thought--as to attacking God's people in their defenseless state.

11. dwell safely--that is, securely, without fear of danger (compare Es 9:19). Antiochus, the type of Antichrist, took Jerusalem without a blow.

12. midst of the land--literally, "the navel" of the land (Jud 9:37, Margin). So, in Eze 5:5, Israel is said to be set "in the midst of the nations"; not physically, but morally, a central position for being a blessing to the world: so (as the favored or "beloved city," Re 20:9) an object of envy. GROTIUS translates, "In the height of the land" (so Eze 38:8), "the mountains of Israel," Israel being morally elevated above the rest of the world.

13. Sheba, &c.--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 (1 Maccabees 3:41).
young lions--daring princes and leaders.

14. shalt thou not know it?--to thy cost, being visited with punishment, while Israel dwells safely.

16. I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me--So in Ex 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."

17. thou he of whom I have spoken in old time--Gog, &c. are here identified with the enemies spoken of in other prophecies (Nu 24:17-24; Isa 27:1; compare Isa 26:20, 21; Jer 30:23, 24; Joe 3:1; Mic 5:5, 6; Isa 14:12-14; 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 (Da 11:1-45) and Zechariah (Zec 14:1-21) are included among "the prophets of Israel" here.
many years--ago.

18. fury shall come up in my face--literally, "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 (Ps 18:8).

19. great shaking--an earthquake: physical agitations after accompanying social and moral revolutions. Foretold also in Joe 3:16; (compare Hag 2:6, 7; Mt 24:7, 29; Re 16:18).

20. fishes--disturbed by the fleets which I will bring.
fowls, &c.--frightened at the sight of so many men: an ideal picture.
mountains--that is, the fortresses on the mountains.
steep places--literally, "stairs" (So 2:14); steep terraces for vines on the sides of hills, to prevent the earth being washed down by the rains.
every wall--of towns.

21. every man's sword . . . against his brother--I will destroy them partly by My people's sword, partly by their swords being turned against one another (compare 2Ch 20:23).

22. plead--a forensic term; because God in His inflictions acts on the principles of His own immutable justice, not by arbitrary impulse (Isa 66:16; Jer 25:31).
blood . . . hailstones, fire-- (Re 8:7; 16:21). The imagery is taken from the destruction of Sodom and the plagues of Egypt (compare Ps 11:6). Antiochus died by "pestilence" (2 Maccabees 9:5).