These are the days of Ezekiel

What an awesome God we serve! He is totally in control of everything in the whole wide world, even though with our small minds it looks such a mess. Even the chaos and lawlessness are part of His amazing plan to open the eyes of His nation to His Son, their messiah.

We are now going to take some time out from the book of Revelation itself (although we shall continue to refer to it) in order to discuss what will be happening on earth at the beginning of the period of the "tribulation". In our previous study (working through Revelation, chapter six), we looked at the four horses and their riders (often referred to as "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse") who were released as the "Lamb" opened the first four seals of the scroll containing God's plans for the end of history. (Revelation 6:1-8)

The four horsemen represent:

  1. the antichrist;
  2. the banishment of peace from the earth and the bringing of anarchy, war and killing;
  3. famine;
  4. death and hell.

These riders were given control of one quarter of the earth but, in order to find out more of what they contribute to this part of the "tribulation", we must turn to Ezekiel, chapters thirty-eight and thirty-nine. To bring these two chapters into context, we should also note that the preceding chapter (thirty-seven) describes the restoration of the land of Israel. The first part of that chapter describes a valley of dry bones, where God breathes firstly physical life and then eternal life into what was apparently just a valley full of dry and lifeless bones. The second part describes what will happen to these people and their land as they become a nation. (Ezekiel 37:21-28) This awesome promise is very much in the character of the Holy God we serve.

Threats against Israel

So now we know God’s intention regarding His people and the land that He has chosen to give them. Perhaps this helps us to make sense of the events occurring in the land of Israel today. It is clear that Satan has absolutely no intention of letting God’s people, the Jewish nation, enter into their inheritance. He is using (and will continue to use) every trick he knows to attempt to prevent God’s blessing from touching them. His hatred is intense and we see this in his ongoing attempts to try and destroy the Jewish people through the holocaust in the second world war right through to today with acts of terrorism, displacement, hatred and destruction. We can also see that God’s hand has been (and is continually) on them, as He delivers them from all that the world is trying to do to them through war, isolation and lying promises of peace.

One day the world will look on in amazement as God delivers His people again in the face of overwhelming odds. He has fought for them in the past to deliver them from the Egyptians at the Red Sea (Exodus 14:15-31); in battle with king Jabin of Hazor in Canaan (Judges 4:1-24) and against the King of Assyria (2 Chronicles 32:1-22). In 1948, just after the nation of Israel had been inaugurated, it was delivered from concerted attacks by the surrounding Arab nations. Again, in 1967, the Arab nations made a determined effort to destroy Israel but were repulsed in the "Six-Day War". Wherever Jewish people have settled - throughout the world and throughout history - many other aggressors and oppressors have been overcome because God will always fight for them. All they have to do is, “to stand and see the salvation of their God!” (Exodus 14:13; 2 Chronicles 20:17)

Ezekiel 38:1-14

Looking at the events described in chapters thirty-eight and thirty-nine of Ezekiel, some people have suggested that these took place and have already been fulfilled in history. However, as we go through these chapters we will see that they are prophetic and that the events described in them have yet to happen. They may very well take place in the not-too-distant future! Those who have studied these chapters do not all agree about which current nations represent the nations described in Ezekiel's prophecy but, as we see the political and military alliances beginning to form in that part of the world, we think that those in the table below are the most likely modern nations to be involved. Of course, things may change as history continues to unfold.

Ezekiel is told to address "Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshek and Tubal". The prince's name may be linked to a Sumerian word meaning "darkness" but various other suggestions have been put forward. Similarly, it is generally agreed that the land of "Magog" refers to somewhere in the North. This may be the land between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea (modern-day Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan, known collectively as the Caucasas) or even further North to what is now Russia. "Meshek and Tubal" have been identified with the western area of contemporary Turkey (Anatolia) but others favour a more northern location, finding linguistic similarities with names such as "Moscow" for "Meshek".

"Persia" is what we now call Iran, south-east of the Caucasus and east (or north-east) of Israel. "Cush" refers to the area to the west and north-west of the "Horn of Africa" - what is now Ethiopia and Sudan. "Put" is associated with what is now Libya, although some place it further east on the African coast of the Red Sea (Sudan and Eritrea). "Beth Togarmah" is associated with the northern and eastern part of Turkey whilst "Gomer" has been identified either as southern Russia or even northern Europe (Germany). "Sheba", "Dedan" and "Tarshish" are mentioned further on (Ezekiel 38:13) and probably refer (respectively) to modern-day Yemen, the north-west of Saudi Arabia (due south of Jordan) and either the mountainous area of Lebanon or even southern Spain.

My own preferences are set out in the table below and the map should also help you to identify where all these countries were in relation to the land of Israel itself. What is particularly significant is that Israel is pictured at the centre of the world with all these other countries positioned round and about it.

Biblical Nation Modern Nation   Biblical Nation Modern Nation
 Magog  Russia    Gomer  Ukraine
 Meshech  Moscow    Beth Togarmah  Armenia and parts of Turkey
 Tubal  Upper Caucasus    Sheba  Yemen
Persia Iran   Dedan West Coast of Saudi Arabia
Cush Ethiopia   Tarshish Coast of Southern Spain
Put Libya      

map of nations

First of all, we should notice that this prophecy forms part of the word of God. The Lord is in control of all nations and every event on earth. Furthermore, He has revealed what He is going to do, so anyone reading this prophecy needs to take heed and turn to Jesus, the messiah, to avoid being caught up in these events at the end of the world. God will call a group of nations to band together as allies and form a mighty army. They will not be able to resist Him because He will draw them, like fish with hooks in their jaws, to carry out His purposes.

Ezekiel saw these nations as being fully armed. Although he describes them in terms that he would have regarded as normal - mounted on horses and armed with shields, helmets and swords - it is possible that his vision of these armies of the future included motorised, armoured vehicles and modern weapons. But, to a man who was living towards the beginning of the sixth century BC, these would have been indescribable. Today, as we look at our televisions and read our newspapers, we can see how alliances between various nations and states in this area are constantly forming and reforming, sometimes in radically new ways.

Historically, Russia has never been an ally of Iran. They have been steadfastly opposed to one another, occasionally associating together out of necessity, but never openly or on distinctly friendly terms as they are today. According to Ezekiel, we should be looking for events that bring together countries such as Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Libya and Turkey, together with some of the former Russian states and places such as Lebanon and Syria. "Gog" will be their leader. I doubt that this leader will literally be called "Gog", but we should watch for a leader to arise from the North. (Ezekiel 38:8-12)

God had made it clear to Ezekiel that what he saw in his vision would not happen for many years but, in obedience, he was still prepared to write it down. In God's time, the leader referred to as "Gog" will emerge and will be drawn by sheer greed or lust for power to bring together an unholy alliance of nations, originating to the North of the land of Israel. At that time, Israel will be at peace, but unprotected. It will be a nation filled with exiled Jewish people, who have returned from many foreign countries. The Jewish people were dispersed in AD 70 from their centre in Jerusalem but became a nation state once again on 14 May 1948 and were granted territory in what is now the state of Israel. Until that time, there was no chance of Ezekiel's vision being fulfilled, but now that has all changed. The founding of the newly-formed nation of Israel, which was backed by NATO and the United Nations, was nothing short of miraculous!

The shape of things to come

The Arab nations hated the new status quo and immediately tried to quash the recently formed nation of Israel by attacking it. At every hostile event since then, God has fought for His people. Despite what have looked like overwhelming odds, victory has been snatched out of the jaws of defeat, time and again. The prophecy given by Ezekiel is yet to be fulfilled. The vast armies, mainly from the North but supported by others all around, will attack Israel "like a cloud that covers the land". Why will they attack such a small and otherwise insignificant land? Greed and jealousy. Israel will be rich. Interestingly, oil has recently been discovered in the north of Israel – beneath the Golan Heights - although the ownership of this land and what lies beneath it is likely to be the subject of ongoing disputes. Israel also has extensive reserves of natural gas.

Added to this, Israel is one of the world’s most productive countries in a number of fields. It has seen many breakthroughs in IT research, security products, military programmes and other commercial applications - as well as having some of the world’s greatest musicians. This nation, from God’s perspective, is right at the heart of the world, both in terms of its land and its people. The land, which once was a desert, now supports a nation! The people are God’s chosen people, who can trace their lineage back to Abraham, the father of their faith. God promised that He would give to him (and his descendants for ever) every place on which the sole of his foot trod. (Genesis 13:14-18) Today, we are seeing the fulfilment of that promise before our eyes.

One day - and that day may not be too far off - the temptation to annihilate Israel and make off with its immense wealth will become just too great for the surrounding countries. But there are two important points for us to note:

  1. Before Israel is attacked, the country will be enjoying a time of peace, something rarely seen in its entire history.
  2. It will be God Himself who initiates the attack.

As if to emphasise Ezekiel's opening words, God then repeats for us the timing and the situation in which Israel finds herself at this time. It will be a time when the people of Israel are living in peace and security - a time when probably the surrounding nations have established a peace treaty that will last for more than just a few weeks. For Ezekiel, this was a time set in the distant future, in the latter years of history. For us, it may be much closer. As I write, Israel is still at war with its closest neighbours, but there have been signs that others are more interested in peace.

When the time comes, it will bring the hordes of a mighty army from the North, but it is God who will bring this army. It will be God who provokes and allows the attack, as He has planned for many, many years, so the question that inevitably springs up in our minds is: for what purpose? According to Ezekiel, it will:

  • display God's holiness for all mankind to see (Ezekiel 38:16)
  • arouse God's "hot anger" (Ezekiel 38:18) which, in turn, will
  • precipitate God's judgement on the world (Ezekiel 38:22)
  • will leave no doubt in the minds of all humanity that God is Who He has always declared Himself to be – the LORD of the entire universe – and the God of His people, Israel. (Ezekiel 38:23)

This is the God of Israel about whom we are talking. He is the living God, the creator of the universe, the One who sent Jesus, His only Son, to die in our place so that we might not suffer the penalty that our sinful nature deserves. Instead, we shall be immediately transformed, forgiven and redeemed, becoming inheritors of the kingdom of God, through Christ’s death and resurrection.

Ezekiel 38:16-23

For a third and final time in this chapter and for the avoidance of any doubt, God identifies this army, this aggregation of nations, as those who would come against Israel at some point far into the future. As we have seen in the pages of Revelation, this is the time when the four horsemen of the apocalypse will ride on the face of the earth. The LORD now begins to describe how He will deal with those whom He has brought to judgement. God is a God of love but He is also a God of justice. He speaks the truth and the penalty for ignoring His call (to put oneself right with Him) has both temporal and eternal consequences. It is here that we see the horror of both: in the physical destruction of this mighty army and in the eternal consequences as men and women die and leave this planet for hell.

As the armed forces enter the land of Israel, God’s fury will boil over. There will be a mighty earthquake, a quake so terrible and full of horror that even mountains will come crashing down. This will be a day of chaos, a day when the very elements fight against the forces opposed to God. Human generals may plan and prepare themselves for battle against the best of human forces, but when creation fights against them, they have no chance of victory. This is how it will be on God's day of judgement.

There will be an earthquake of mammoth proportions, the effects of which might well be felt around the globe. There will be disease, torrential floods and hailstones as well as fire and pestilence. The destructive matter that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah will be poured out again. This will not be a fair fight. Those who choose to fight against the living God will have to prepare themselves for the consequences. Those who are not destroyed by the earthquake and natural events will find that they are fighting against themselves. The army, comprised of various nations and factions, will be locked in deadly combat – with itself!

This brings to mind some of the other amazing deliverances that God has wrought for His people. When the Ammonites and their allies came against Judah (when Jehoshaphat was king), God said: "Don't be afraid! Don't be paralyzed by this mighty army! For the battle is not yours, but God's! Take your places. Stand quietly and see the incredible rescue operation that God will perform for you. As they walked along, praising and thanking the Lord, as far as they could look there were dead bodies lying on the ground - not a single one of the enemy had escaped. On the fourth day they gathered in the "valley of blessing" (as it is called today) and how they praised the Lord!” (2 Chronicles 20:15-26)

God’s purpose is to show His authority to an unbelieving world. Although the vast majority of this army will die, the remnant, together with the vast majority of people not involved in this battle and alive at this time, will have come face to face with the decision they need to make. Joshua put it this way when he spoke to his people at the end of his life: "So revere Jehovah and serve him in sincerity and truth. Put away for ever the idols your ancestors worshipped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Worship the Lord alone. But if you are unwilling to obey the Lord, then decide today whom you will obey. Will it be the gods of your ancestors beyond the Euphrates or the gods of the Amorites here in this land? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord." (Joshua 24:14-15)

You and I have been given a choice well ahead of this conflict. We do not have to wait and see the events of this battle being played out for us on an array of multicast and broadcast receivers. We can make Jesus our Lord right now. Have we gone to Him, declared how sorry we are that we have not responded to Him and instead done things our way? Do we repent of any sins the Holy Spirit highlights to us daily? Have we chosen to live long and live strong – determined that we will follow God whether we see any of these prophecies fulfilled in our lifetime or not? Or have we grown weary in waiting and lost the excitement of living daily for Jesus? Let us finish - strong in Him!

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