Deliverance for Israel

In the previous chapter, Ezekiel described in full the threat arising from the concentration of powers and nations against Israel. We saw a relatively small country, living in peace with its neighbours, suddenly surrounded by a hostile alliance of well-armed, military powers, intent on wiping it from the face of the earth. In this chapter, God's earlier promise to defend His people is played out in the total annihilation of Gog's forces. The living God intervenes with all the awesome power of nature to bring miraculous, divine deliverance for His people. The entire world shall see God is the LORD and that all other gods are nothing but a figment of man’s imagination - idols made by human hands at the instigation of Satan.

"How can we describe God? With what can we compare Him? With an idol? An idol made from a mould, overlaid with gold and with silver chains around its neck? The man too poor to buy expensive gods like that will find a tree free from rot, hire a man to carve a face on it and that's his god - a god that cannot even move! Are you so ignorant? Are you so deaf to the words of God - the words He gave before the world began? Have you never heard nor understood? It is God who sits above the circle of the earth. (The people below must seem to Him like grasshoppers!) He is the one who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and makes his tent from them. He dooms the great men of the world and brings them all to naught. They hardly get started, barely take root, when He blows on them and their work withers, and the wind carries them off like straw." (Isaiah 40:18-24)

Chapter thirty-nine begins with a reminder of how God has set the scene for this final act in the drama of humanity. It emphasises that God is in control of the entire universe and its affairs. People and nations may like to think that they can operate independently and ignore the creator of the world, but He continues to oversee all that goes on and there comes a time when His patience is exhausted. "Gog" and the armies of Magog regard Israel as a "soft touch" - "easy pickings" - and expect to overpower them easily through force of arms. They are enticed to march against Israel and surround it. But Israel has been chosen by God as a special nation - His own people - and He will protect them. He strikes His opponents before they have a chance even to draw their weapons. He disarms them in a pre-emptive attack. Their weapons and ammunition fall from their hands. The power of God is irresistable and the tables are turned.

Faithful witnesses

Let's pause for a moment to reflect on the importance of holding fast to the truth of God's promises, despite everything that tempts us into giving up. Throughout history, God has gone to great lengths to tell us about Himself and the world He has created. Many prophets have faithfully recorded His words and many ordinary men and women have borne witness to the truth of them in their deeds and actions. Despite ridicule and opposition, violence and the threat of death, they have refused to be silent. There are still men and women of God like that today.

Our challenge, today, is to be as bold as the prophets of old and refuse to be silent! We, too, know our God, so let's not worry about how we may be treated; let us remain true to our calling like those many heroes of Scripture. We owe our lives and our very existence to Him and we are living at a time in history when it has never been more important to warn people about what is to come. Let's seek to emulate those described in the letter to the Hebrews:

"How much more do I need to say? It would take too long to recount the stories of the faith of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah and David and Samuel and all the other prophets. These people all trusted God and, as a result, won battles, overthrew kingdoms, ruled their people well and received what God had promised them. They were kept from harm in a den of lions and in a fiery furnace. Some, through their faith, escaped death by the sword. Some were made strong again after they had been weak or sick. Others were given great power in battle; they made whole armies turn and run away. Some women, through faith, received their loved ones back again from death. Others trusted God and were beaten to death, preferring to die rather than turn from God and be free - trusting that they would rise to a better life afterwards. Some were laughed at and had their backs cut open with whips; others were chained in dungeons. Some died by stoning and some by being sawed in two; others were promised freedom if they would renounce their faith, then were killed with the sword. Some went about in skins of sheep and goats, wandering over deserts and mountains, hiding in dens and caves. They were hungry and sick and ill-treated - too good for this world. And these people of faith, although they trusted God and won his approval, none of them received all that God had promised them, for God wanted them to wait and share the even better rewards that were prepared for us." (Hebrews 11:32-40 - The Living Bible version)

There are wonderful books available with testimonies of contemporary Christians who have been victorious in similar circumstances. Let's encourage one another to share our experience of God's love for us at every opportunity. Let's follow the example of those prophets of old who persisted in proclaiming their message of God's enduring nature: His holiness and justice and love. For example, Habakkuk heard the word of the Lord plainly and clearly. God instructed him to write down what he had heard so that a messenger might easily pass it on. The revelation he had heard was for the future – a set time, but still way off in the future. (Habakkuk 2:2-3) At the very end of his amazing book, that is so full of power and insight for today’s events, Habakkuk declares that, whatever the circumstances, he will continue to put his trust in his God:

"When the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, when the olive trees do not produce and the fields yield no crops, when the sheep disappear from the pen and there are no cattle in the stalls, I will rejoice because of the LORD. I will be happy because of the God who delivers me!" (Habakkuk 3:17-18)

We can see this today in places such as China, Burma, Iraq, Iran and many other countries where Christian believers are oppressed. In some cases, being a Christian is punishable by imprisonment, torture, forced separation from families, renunciation by loved ones or even death. Yet, just as in the days of the acts of the apostles, the church is growing by leaps and bounds. Just because we cannot see growth where we live does not mean that exciting and dramatic growth is not happening elsewhere in the body of Christ. This should make us jealous for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit and for an increase in the fervency of our prayers. (2 Chronicles 7:14) Not one of God’s good promises that He has given will fail to come to fruition. Shortly before he died, Joshua spoke to his people - the children of Israel - and said to them:

"You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the LORD your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed." (Joshua 23:14)

What has the Lord Jesus promised to you and me? Has anyone spoken a word from the Lord to you but, for years, nothing has come of it and now you have given up on it ever bearing fruit? Now is the time to speak to the Lord and to repent of your unbelief, to repent of your sin of doubting Him and His word to you. The angel, Gabriel, spoke many things over the baby in Mary’s womb. Perhaps she didn’t understand them fully, but Mary never doubted them. The Bible states that Mary answered: "I am the Lord's servant. May your word to be be fulfilled." (Luke 1:37-38) God’s answer arrived after Mary’s nine months of faithful belief in the LORD’s promise to her, when her son was born – Jesus, the Saviour of the world! Mary had had plenty of opportunity to doubt God’s word, just as we do, but she hung on to her trust in God.

One day, the time will come for the fulfilment of God’s word to us, just as it will for His promises to Ezekiel and all those other prophets, not just in the Old Testament, but for all who have dared to believe in His word at any time. One day, all the pain and doubt will dissipate like the morning mist and what God has promised us will come to pass. What an amazing day that will be! Then the people around us, the doubters and those full of unbelief, will know for sure that there truly is a God in heaven and "Jesus Christ" is His name, just as we told them all along.

The aftermath of war

One day, this war of "Gog" and "Magog" will come to pass. It will be at God's appointed time and, just as it is described in Ezekiel’s prophecy. (Ezekiel 39:4-6) The retribution visited on these people will be enormous and, not only on them, but on those who silently supported them by staying at home in the coastlands. It has been suggested that over eighty percent (five in every six) of the invading forces will die. There will be so many corpses that it will take seven months for the Israelis to gather up and bury the dead. The stench in the land will be horrific, as if God were saying: "They were a stench in my nostrils when they were alive. Now that they are dead, people will be able to appreciate how they seemed to me!"

In the aftermath of the war, all the now useless weapons, which were in the hands of the dead, will be gathered up. What is salvaged from the dead will provide enough fuel to last for seven years – the entire length of the period of "tribulation"! Now that is justice! Not only will the nation of Israel be saved supernaturally, but most of those who have come against it will have been killed whilst the rest fled. The weaponry that would otherwise clutter up the land shall become God’s provision during the greatest oppression that Israel will ever suffer! A burial place - an entire valley - will need to be found for the dead and it will take seven months to gather up the bones of the deceased and bury them. It will be essential to cleanse the land, not only from the foul smell of the rotting carcasses, but also from the unrighteousness which these would-be invaders have brought with them. (Ezekiel 39:11-16)

The aftermath of sin

When sin invades our lives, it is as though an almighty stench goes up to our almighty God. By taking refuge in what Jesus Christ has done for us through His death (and shedding of His precious blood), we can confess our sin and turn away from it in true repentance, believing that it has been utterly removed from us. It is only by Christ’s death and resurrection that we can be made holy: cleansed, forgiven and restored to fellowship with our loving, heavenly Father. (1 John 1:8-10)

God’s judgement on sin is (and always will be) entire and comprehensive. Jesus conquered Satan through His death on the Roman cross. The Bible states that He stripped our Enemy of all his power, even over death and hell. The keys to the kingdom of hell now belong to Jesus. At best, Satan is a defeated foe with a very certain end to His lies and deceit. As a believer, the next time that the Enemy tries to accuse you of your sin, remind him of Jesus' death and of his own future! Then take the authority that Jesus has given you and command the devil to leave you in the name of Jesus! He must obey, because all authority belongs to Jesus and He delegates it to us, not to Satan!

Jesus said: "All power is given unto me in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations." (Matthew 28:18-19)

God is holy and, as such, can have nothing to do with sin. In this chapter, it is as if He Himself explains to us the extent of His anger and displeasure at sin inflicted upon any of His people. The unrighteous hordes who have had the audacity to come against God’s people will not only die, but God will call for the animals and birds to come and pick clean the carcasses of all those who have died. (Ezekiel 39:17-20) Not only will Israel recognise the amazing and miraculous deliverance that God has provided for them, but every other nation on earth will see God’s punishment inflicted upon the aggressors. Perhaps this lesson will be sufficient to bring some of those who remain to repentance. Sadly, as we shall see from the remaining judgements in store, many will continue to prefer the Enemy's deception to the Father's truth.

God's justice

God does not have to justify His justice. He is the creator and He has based His creation on His own character. He Himself is a God of justice and we see in this chapter something of what that means. His chosen people - Israel - were unfaithful to Him and sinned against Him. Because of this, God "hid His face from them and handed them over to their enemies". This satisfied His sense of justice. But God is also merciful and full of love. So He used the time when Israel was suffering (in exile) to allow the Gentiles access to the kingdom of God. (Ezekiel 39:21-24)

Indeed, God has gone much further than this. He Himself (through Jesus) has paid the price for our sin so that we are no longer under condemnation. This "salvation" is freely available to all mankind: both the Jewish nation and the Gentile (non-Jewish) nations. We all now have a new relationship with God through Jesus, in which He is no longer our "master", but calls us friends. More than that, He invites us to do the same. (John 15:14-16) Jesus is "the first-born of many brethren". He is the head of the body – His church - and we are the bride of Christ, for whom He is returning in the "not-too-distant" future. He will then take His bride to the eternal home that He has prepared for her in His Father’s house, where we shall be with Him for ever - and He with us. (John 14:1-2)

The restoration of Israel

At the end of this war, the "Times of the Gentiles" will be complete. (Romans 11:25-27) The "rapture" will have taken place and all those who had given their lives to Jesus will have been taken up to heaven. This now heralds the "Time of the Jews". This will be predominantly about restoring the fortunes of Israel. (Ezekiel 39:25-29) Now, instead of rejecting their messiah as they did when He first came to them as a baby (and for thirty-three years lived amongst them, showing His power and authority) they will recognise Him at last for Who He is – their messiah. They will give their lives to Him in love and repentance and they, like us, will receive new life. They also will be "born again".

The Jewish people are sons and daughters of Abraham by birth, but we are children of Abraham by faith. We, the wild olives, have been grafted into the vine and now the vine can grow intact and complete. (Romans 11:28-32) When the apostle, Paul, wrote his letter to the Romans (in about AD 57), the Jewish people were enemies of the good news about Jesus. Many still are today, although some have been "born again" just like Nicodemus, the Pharisee, who first went to Jesus by night, but later spoke out for Him and finally brought spices for His burial. (John 3:16; John 7:50; John 19:38-39) We know them as "Messianic Jews". (There are currently messianic synagogues in Israel, where those who worship recognise Jesus as the messiah that their forefathers had been looking for.) Paul refers to this small group of people as a "remnant". God has always kept a "remnant" on earth and, even in the darkest days of Jewish history, many of that nation have followed and been obedient to the Lord Jesus.

God has not forgotten His chosen people, Israel. Generally speaking, at the moment, Jewish people still hate the good news about Jesus. Paul quotes the prophet, Isaiah, in saying that God has blinded them as a punishment for their faithlessness. (Isaiah 29:10; Romans 11:7-10) However, this does not mean that they are beyond recovery. God’s plan is for the Gentiles to receive the glorious blessing of salvation during the "Times of the Gentiles", but "if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in again, for God is able to graft them in again." (Romans 11:23) The world may be trying to destroy both the land of Israel and its inhabitants right now, but they reckon without God's plan and purposes for the end of human history.

Making the most of the time

We need to take note of what is happening in the world today, because the time of Jesus’ return may be very close. We do not know the precise time and day when He will return, but we most certainly can identify the season from all that is described in the Bible. With so many world events - religious visions, economic aspirations, scientific and technical developments and nationalist movements - beginning to focus on the Middle East, we cannot help but draw parallels with John's vision in Revelation. What an honour it is to be alive at this time! Why is it that we are witnessing these events? Amongst other things, it is because God wants us to be involved in the outpouring of His Holy Spirit on the earth and to be involved in His amazing end-time harvest of souls.

Are we ready for the revival that is long overdue in our own nation? Are we ready to be involved in taking the good news about Jesus into Europe and beyond? Our continent has become a spiritually dark place over the past eighty years or so and our society is rapidly discarding many long-entrenched Christian principles and patterns of behaviour. The tide has gone out and a diminishing number of churches are left like little rock pools on the beach, but this is not to say that God cannot reverse things and bring the tide flooding back!

The Gog-Magog war that we have studied marks a distinct turning point – the point at which the "Times of the Gentiles" is completed. It ushers in a time of truly spectacular, worldwide evangelisation and revival amongst the Jewish people. It is amazing how specific God has been and how He has provided a trail for us to follow - should we choose. All this will end in the demonstration of His love as a Father to the children He has chosen, just as He miraculously gave a baby (Isaac) to Abraham and Sarah. Abraham was the physical father of the Israelites (the Jewish people) but He is also the father of all who dare to believe God by faith. He is the first man of whom it was said that: “He [Abraham] believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” (Romans 4:16-25)

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