OK, this section won’t be popular with many folks. But hey, that’s what happens when we dismiss 1000 years of preconceived notions and assumptions, things that have been handed down that you and I are just supposed to accept. The biggest assumption is that Chapters 38 and 39 are the climax of the book, and that the remaining chapters are just add on material – usually relegated to the category of “boring stuff”. I have an alternative view of Ezekiel’s message through these chapters which challenges the established assumptions.
Alternative answers come from alternative questions. My questions are: what was Ezekiel’s main reason for going through all the hassle of being a prophet to a people in bondage? What was his raison d’etre? What did he think about night and day? What was his central mission?
You might say that it’s a little late in the run through of the Book of Ezekiel to consider these questions, particularly since we are sitting on the door step of Chapter 38 and 39, the description of the supposed final battle. However, I believe this to be the essential key to the entire book, the entire mass of Ezekiel’s writings, which is why we’ve used this as a framework, the lens through which we’ve examined his work. It certainly helps explain most of the book up to these two chapters, as well as the remaining 10 chapters that conclude the book, which chapters are the real climax of the story. I think the question applies clarity to chapters 38 & 39 equally as much, the chapters the tell of Gog and Magog and the Battle of the Lord.
So to set up this discussion, we have a very strong set of NAMEs enter the writings of Ezekiel at chapter 38 and 39: Gog and Magog. This is supposed to be the great leader of the far northern nations who builds a coalition of surrounding nations with the intent of attacking the newly re-established nation of Israel. This new threat will succumb to the idea and intention of attacking a place without walls, and taking everything of value. It is promised that the Lord will prevent their success, rain damaging attacks down on them, and ultimately preserve Israel in order to verify to the world the Holiness of His Name.
Sounds great, huh?! You might be asking, “What is a Gog?” Excellent question and one the world has been speculating about for the last 1500 years…at least. There are many, many interpretive theories ranging from practical to resoundingly absurd. Most of these theories source from the preconceived theological or geo-political preferences of the authors. A natural tendency, and very hard to overcome.
After reviewing many published viewpoints, I have come to conclude that the majority of commentaries fall into the trap of believing that the Prophet Ezekiel was writing his oracles from a basis of seeking external validations. The assumption is that we can find some evidence of his prophecies “coming true” by looking at historical events as if the prophet was giving us a preview of upcoming events in news-ticker fashion. It simply is not so and attempts to interpret from that standpoint fail every time. It fails because that is not the true job of a prophet.
Take a closer look at Ezekiel chapter 38 & 39. Most people conclude that these are failed prophecies since they did not come true, or have not come to pass yet -thereby lending to the mythology that this relates to events far in the future. In the face of these two accusations, some commentators grasp for the most obvious elements of the chapters in desperate efforts to identify which actual country fits the bill for MaGog based on an ever bewildering set of criteria. There are many, many interpretive theories ranging from practical to resoundingly absurd. Most of these theories source from the preconceived theological or geo-political preferences of the authors. A natural tendency, and very hard to overcome. One extreme example of this can be found here: http://trackingbibleprophecy.com/gog_magog.php . Scary stuff indeed. Yet, way off and full of bias. The thinking goes that if the countries can be identified, then theoretically a political leader can be identified who most resembles Gog as described. This approach will continue to fail and readers will continue to be disillusioned because that is not what Ezekiel is talking about.
But, what if Gog is not a person? After all, the word Gog is a noun and a noun can be a person, place or thing. So,what if we change the assumptions and we work from the framework that Ezekiel did not care what we (here in our time, ages beyond Ezekiel) thought about his unspecific references? It leads me back to my original hypothesis to use Ezekiel’s core mission as a guide, a compass pointing the way.
Simply put, Ezekiel was a Priest of the temple. His mission was the same as a Rabbi today, which is to strengthen the faith of his people – to bring them to a closer remembrance of their faith through an identification with the story of their past. To do so, and throughout his writings, Ezekiel made references to key components of Jewish history eg. the Exodus story, the commandments, the law, the practices at the temple. And being a highly educated Priest of the Temple, Ezekiel also used a typical Hebrew practices of word play within his text. For detail on that practice, refer to the following link, among many other resources that agree.
Keeping that in mind, lets look at the actual words being used here and then I’ll suggest some other words to add into the mix. Here is the word GOG as written in the original Greek, and below it is the same word written in the original Hebrew. Both languages are represented here because there are two original versions of Ezekiel, the Masoretic Text of Ezekiel, and the Septuagint version of Ezekiel. Each somewhat different from each other.
γώγ : Γωγ Γὼγ Gog Gōg Gṑg – Strongs Greek
גוג – Hebrew
You can see it is a three character word in all of the languages. Magog is just a derivation of that as shown below. In one translation, it means belonging of or coming from Gog.
Μαγώγ : Magog
These two words have a murky history – the etymology is not very clear. Scholars mostly speculate about the meanings/translation because there is no specific origin language. However, at least one discussion chooses a very simple approach and states that GOG refers to the top or apex of a roof. Magog is derived from this and refers to that which is not the top of the roof – that which is under the roof or below the apex. We will come back to this in a moment, this symbology is important. Humans tend to use very basic references to get an idea across. Here is a link to that discussion:
Let me now bring my two lines of thinking together, the word play component, the basic translation above, as well as some interesting points from chapter 38 verses 10-15. Lets start with verse 11 where Gog is portrayed as saying, “…I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars.” This is a really strange verse. It is strange because people, humans, always build walls – especially back then. In fact, the very first thing the Hebrews did when they actually returned from exile was to start building the wall around Jerusalem. We know this from reading the Book of Ezra and Book of Nehemiah. So what was Ezekiel talking about?
To piece that together, we look at another word that originates from that time:
Synagogue : synagogue, also spelled synagog (pronounced from Greek συναγωγή
The translation of synagogue literally means ‘assembly’ or where the people gather, where people come and go freely. Its a place where the true faith that Ezekiel envisioned would be practiced daily and where the entire community was invited on an equal basis (more on this later). Only a place without bars or gates to keep people out could be considered a place where Ezekiel’s people would be living in peace.
Notice that the word GOG is embedded in the word SynaGOGue. So in a theological sense (which is what was most important to Ezekiel) these two words are opposites of each other. Ezekiel’s use of Gog refers to a condition of having a single person elevated above all others eg. the “chief ruler” or “chief prince”, the other means to have everyone assembling together in faith. Hierarchy vs. Community, Elite vs. Accessible (no gates or bars), Arbitrary Single Authority pushed down on the masses (Magog) vs. a Holy People true to the last person to the Justice and Holiness of God. Chapter 38 verse 16 backs this up this play of opposites when Ezekiel writes, “In days to come, Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.” As a further reference, Chapter 39 verse 17, Ezekiel even uses the word ‘Assemble’ along with its definition ‘come together’ from the Greek ‘syn’ (in synagogue) when he states “Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you…”
Now lets look at another portion of this chapter which begs the question about identifying Gog as a specific person. In Verse 17 Ezekiel writes, “You are the one I spoke of in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel.” Exactly who have the prophets been talking about throughout Israel’s history? Ezekiel, being a fully trained and educated Priest of the Temple would be intimately familiar with every single prophet that was ever revered within their religion. However, the evil doer Gog is first mentioned only in Ezekiel’s writings. Other people have had that name, but they hardly fit the billing as advertised in apocryphal writings, so it would seem that Ezekiel is not describing a specific person in a specific place and time. Yet Ezekiel is clear, this has been spoken of before.
He explicitly returns to this in Chapter 39: 7-8, writing, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel. 8 It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of.”
It seems there is another imbedded reference in the paring of Gog and Magog. it has long been established that the Idol worship religions of the entire region used the ‘High Places’ as places of sacrifice. These are the very same high places that Ezekiel has railed against throughout this entire book. Idolatry had invaded Hebrew way of life replacing their true religion. To speak of sacrifice in the afore mentioned verse (Chapter 39:17) is a direct reference to that. However, in this context, it is God declaring his victory over false religion and making their demise a sacrifice offering. In case it isn’t clear, a high place, where the idol stands, where sacrifices are made, would be at the apex of a structure such as a Ziggurat which was a common structure through out the early Mesopotamian region for the Idol based religions – and thus Gog. Ezekiel then defines Gog as the practice of Idol worship and sacrifice to false Gods, that being the chief ruler or chief prince, standing at the top of all the ruling dynasties of almost every nation surrounding Jersusalem (Magog – that which is not at the top but associated to it). Ezekiel clearly defines God’s objective back in Chapter 38 vs 16, stating, ” In days to come, Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.” This is a religious objective, not a military or political objective.
To sum up what we have so far then, Ezekiel’s message is one of hope to his exiled people, a people who are in bondage, a people who are mocked because of their religion. They are a tiny religious minority in a vast dominant culture of idolatry. Dominant culture seems to have prevailed over their faith. Ezekiel has gone to great lengths to explain why. He will do yet more explaining in the rest of Chapter 39. But true to the nature of his calling – a Priest of the Temple, a teacher, a religious leader, and a true Prophet of God – he speaks a message of hope, that the true way of Jehovah will overcome, that God’s name will be Holy again, and that only a complete purging of all these other false religions (Idolatry) will open the door to a renewal of their people.
The battle of Gog and Magog isn’t about a political/military conflict at the end of the world. That would assume that God plays favorites among men and picks this ruler over that ruler and having a person win somehow makes God’s name Holy. No. That doesn’t even work in highschool football when people pray for victory, etc. God is interested in faith, faith of the community, and the open and free assembly of His people – those who choose Him. No bars or gates to keep His people out, no high place to raise one above the many to accumulate human glory. There is no final world battle – according to Ezekiel – only an accumulation of fervor for the nurturing love of God who has endured centuries of the profaning of His name by His own people.
Part II of my version of the End of the World will focus on Chapter 39 a bit more, and also focus on the How and the Why of the fall of Gog and Magog and how this builds us up to the real climax of the book of Ezekiel.