Rise and Fall of Gog and Magog

Text Ezekiel 38 Time 05/10/08 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I heard my father-in-law tell a story the other week about a Christian farmer who kept a few pigs on his small farm. That was all he had; he was very poor. One Sunday morning before he came to church he discovered all his pigs had picked up some disease and were dead. He was destitute; they were all his livelihood. He went off to church and that Sunday morning the minister preached an excellent sermon and the people really appreciated it. They said to each other, “Wasn’t that helpful?” Someone said to him, “Wasn’t that good?” Do you know what he said? “I wish he’d said a few words about my pigs.” As my father-in-law says “You know what he meant”.
Now I don't know in what frame of mind you've come here this morning but you may think that what I have to say is quite irrelevant to you - but I assure you that it is not. What we are going to do today is to take a very broad and sweeping look at things. It may not seem to have much to say to your immediate situation but if you listen carefully you will see that it has.
You may remember that some time ago we started a series of studies in the Book of Ezekiel. We haven't looked at it for a while but you may remember that we got as far as Chapter 37. Today I want us to begin again looking at the book and to begin with Chapter 38. In Chapter 37 Ezekiel give the people hope. There will be a return from the exile. However, there are other things to learn.
As you may know, there is quite an industry in America producing what are sometimes called "Christian apocalyptic novels", all about Christ's Second Coming, the supposed rapture and the end of the world. There has been a great deal of interest in these chapters from that quarter in recent years. In 1995 Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth's Last Days by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B Jenkins appeared. The first in a series of novels, it apparently makes use of these chapters (Ezekiel 38, 39) as does Joel C Rosenberg's 2005 novel The Ezekiel Option. Both books have become bestsellers and won awards. Rosenberg's work is set in 2014 and tells the story of how Russia becomes a dictatorship and subsequently forms an anti-American alliance with Iran. This leads to a nuclear war but there is a divine intervention before the world is destroyed.
Because the army spoken of here invades from the far north and in some cases because one of the words used sounds a little like the word Russia novelists and others have assumed that Russia must be intended. One writer in the nineties hoped that with the fall of communism this would become less common but there is no sign that it has done so.
These are chapters that are certainly not easy to understand but we are unlikely to find answers to our questions in American pulp fiction whether designed for the Christian market or any other. The chapters are a little like the Book of Revelation, where the highly figurative language used tempts some people to speculate. In fact there is also a reference to Gog and Magog in Revelation – in Chapter 20, one of the most difficult chapters in the book. In Revelation 20:7-10 we read
When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth - Gog and Magog - to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
An obvious problem here is that we do not know who Ezekiel is talking about and where they are from or when his prophecy was fulfilled or is to be fulfilled. We do not know who Gog is or where the land of Magog is or was. Probably the people who first heard the prophecy didn't either. Could Ezekiel have not been clearer? Perhaps the answer to that question is that Ezekiel is deliberately vague because this prophecy is to be for general use. It is to be used by God's people down the ages even until today. If we approach the passage in that way we will probably gain more from it than by simply speculating as to exactly who is spoken of and when they will invade.
Let us focus just on Ezekiel 38 today then and let's ask some questions and try to answer them.
1. Who and what is spoken of here and what is God's attitude to him?
1. Who is spoken of here?
Chapter 38 begins The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.
The names Gog, Meshech and Tubal all appear in Genesis 10, the chapter known as the table of the nations. There Moses gives us the names of some of the nations that arose from Noah's sons (Shem, Ham and Japheth) after the flood. The sons of Japheth are listed as Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech and Tiras. Some four of these seven names are mentioned in Ezekiel 38. In Ezekiel 38:5 we read that Persia, Cush and Put will be with Gog's army, as will Gomer, already mentioned and Beth Togarmah or the House of Togarmah. Genesis 10 tells us that Togarmah is one of Gomer's sons. Cush and Put are mentioned in Genesis 10 as descending from Ham. Also mentioned joining in, in Ezekiel 38:13, are Sheba and Dedan (descended from Ham according to Genesis 10) and Tarshish (descended from Japheth).
Ezekiel is speaking here then in quite general terms of a non-semitic, Japhethite power with Hamitic support from various quarters. These people are against Israel, against God's people. Revelation Chapter 20 identifies them with Satan and refers to them as the nations in the four corners of the earth.
We are no doubt best to see Gog and Magog then in terms of the Antichrist or man of lawlessness that the New Testament speaks of. John speaks of there being many of these Antichrists and so this is not a message simply for the very end of time but for this whole period of last days from Ezekiel's time and onwards. This will be come clear as we proceed.
2. What is he like?
This Antichrist Gog and Magog is pictured for us as powerful, well equipped and warlike. Ezekiel is commanded to set his face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. He is to prophesy against Gog and show him what will happen. Skipping over verses 3 and 4a for a moment notice in verse 4b the reference to Gog's whole army - your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords. They have plenty of resources and many allies too (38:5) Persia, Cush and Put ... all with shields and helmets, also Gomer with all its troops and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops - the many nations with you.
This enemy then cannot be just one person or one nation such as Russia. Several powers are working together here. The emphasis is on their great power, their large resources, their organisation.
It is important that we understand this. The opposition to Christ and his people is not some tin pot army that we don't really need to think about or care about it. No, some of the finest brains, the most sophisticated organisation and the widest ranging effort is poured into such a force. The forces of "Antichristendom" are large and they are strong. They have a lot of money, a lot of support, many resources and a great deal of ingenuity. In education, in politics, in the arts and entertainment, in religion and in many other spheres they have a lot of influence and power.
3. What is God's attitude to him?
Before we get too daunted and depressed by all this, let's remember what is said in the verses we have jumped over. Ezekiel is told to prophesy against him and say: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out .... Suddenly with this interjection the whole thing looks different. Yes, he is strong and there are many with him but don't miss this – God is against him and God is determined to bring him to book. As with a large and ferocious animal, a dangerous animal, God will put hooks in his jaws and bring him out him and his whole army and all his many allies. Not one of them will survive. If God against you then you cannot survive.
Before we say any more the let's be clear about this. Those who oppose God – however powerful they may be, how ever numerous, how ever skilled in oh so many ways – they cannot win. They are doomed. God will deal with them. What a warning against opposing God. And what a comfort and encouragement for the believer. Yes, there will be stiff opposition – it shouldn't surprise us. God has it in hand. He will deal with all opposition in the end. He'll bring all who oppose truth to judgement.
2. What is this large, powerful, warlike enemy going to do?
Having begun with that reassurance we must now go on to see how Ezekiel describes what Gog of Magog and his allies are going to do to God's people.
1. He will fight in the future against God's people
In verses 7-9 God addresses Gog and he says Get ready; be prepared, you and all the hordes gathered about you, and take command of them. This is ironic. God is telling Gog to do his worst. After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety. You and all your troops and the many nations with you will go up, advancing like a storm; you will be like a cloud covering the land.
After many days
they will be called to arms. In future years they will invade. The time is vague but this is something very much in the future – beyond Ezekiel's day and further no doubt. I would suggest to you that we are thinking of these last days beginning after Ezekiel's time and the return from exile and stretching down to our own time. In that period it says Gog and all his troops and the many nations with him will go up, advancing like a storm; they will be like a cloud covering the land so many will they be. The object of their attack is described as a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. Many want to be quite literal here and suppose the establishment of the modern state of Israel is in mind here and one can see why. It would suggest, rather though, a time beyond 70 AD when those brought out from the nations, and now all of them living in safety as the people of God.
It is people like us who are in mind here. We should expect opposition. Our enemies will be like a storm; they will be like a cloud covering the land. Smoke will get in our eyes. Expect it. Don't be surprised by it.
2. He will fight intent on plunder against the innocent and blessed
There is more in verses 10 and 11 as Gog or Antichrist is again addressed. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: On that day thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil scheme. You will say, 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. The innocence and vulnerability of God's people is emphasised in the description of a land of unwalled villages ... a peaceful and unsuspecting people - all of them living without walls and without gates and bars. They are defenceless. That is our position as Christians.
Yes, we must not be passive and just let the unbelievers do as they wish but let's be realistic about our position. We are very vulnerable, open to attack. We are determined to be kind to people, to help them, to point them to Jesus. In doing that we are easy to take advantage of. People who come asking for money. While we are to be as wise as snakes we are also to be as gentle as doves and so sometimes we will be taken advantage of.
In verses 12 and 13 it goes on with God saying what evil thoughts will pass through Gog's mind I will plunder and loot and turn my hand against the resettled ruins and the people gathered from the nations, rich in livestock and goods, living at the centre of the land. Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish and all her villages remoter allies then will say to you, Have you come to plunder? Have you gathered your hordes to loot, to carry off silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods and to seize much plunder?
This is a reminder firstly of how greatly God blesses his people. We may not always be rich in livestock and goods as it is pictured here. There may not always be much silver and gold, but there are great blessings material, intellectual and spiritual for believers. That fact makes antichristians envious and they are eager to take what we have as plunder – our best ideas, our best assets, our best people if they can.
Let's be thankful for all the good things we have but let's not be na├»ve about this. They will plunder and loot whatever they can, wherever they can. When there is some sort of rapprochement between Christians and unbelievers people may ask of the unbelievers Have you come to plunder? Have you gathered your hordes to loot, to carry off silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods and to seize much plunder? The answer is always yes – whether it is the crude looting and plundering of pagans attacking a Christian town or village or the more subtle rampaging and ransacking that goes on at an intellectual level this is how it is. The anti christian is always seeking to see what he can get his hands on. They want to take whatever we have. Be aware of that.
3. He will fight powerfully and extensively against God's people
Then in verses 14-16a we read a summing up Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it? You will come from your place in the far north, you and many nations with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army. You will advance against my people Israel like a cloud that covers the land. Despite living in apparent safety the people of God will be invaded by a large and powerful enemy.
Again I say to you, this is how it is prophesied and how it has been an will be for God's people. All sorts of opposition, strong and extensive, will they know – physical persecution, psychological and intellectual attacks, all sorts of troubles from the Antichrist. And so when we read of Christians being attacked in Orissa and the Philippines and Africa and so on, we should not be surprised. A Richard Dawkins and a hundred other atheists and all their furious opposition, the evil deceits of the Pope in Rome and charlatans on TV who claim to be fiends of Christ but are his mortal enemies – all this is to be expected.
3. What is God's ultimate intention in all this?
Finally, here is the thing we are to get hold of. Look what it says in verses 16b-23. God promises that he will powerfully intervene on behalf of his people and get glory to himself. In verse 16b God says In days to come, O Gog, I will bring you against my land, but look why - so that the nations may know me when I show myself holy through you before their eyes. God's plan is not to leave it with his people in trouble – no he looks beyond that in his purposes. Take note of these facts
1. God knows all about his enemies
17 This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Are you not the one I spoke of in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel? At that time they prophesied for years that I would bring you against them. This is a key verse for understanding the chapter. There is no mention of Gog before Ezekiel but because he stands for Antichrist Ezekiel can say that previous prophets spoke of him. It is all here – not the blow by blow detail but enough outline for us.
2. God will in zeal and in wrath change everything
18-20 This is what will happen in that day: "that day" is an important phrase in Scripture. It refers to the day of God's wrath, the day of judgement. When Gog attacks the land of Israel, my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign LORD. In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that at that time there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel. The fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the beasts of the field, every creature that moves along the ground, and all the people on the face of the earth will tremble at my presence. The mountains will be overturned, the cliffs will crumble and every wall will fall to the ground. This is a description of the upheaval of everything solid. We read of these sorts of things in Revelation. This is the end of the world.
3. God will bring judgement on his enemies
21, 22 I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Sovereign LORD. Every man's sword will be against his brother. I will execute judgement upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulphur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him. On that day, if not before, there will be judgement against Antichrist and all his followers.
4. God will get glory for himself and all we know he is the LORD
And then comes the glory of God, verse 23 And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the LORD. That is one of the recurring phrases in this book and one of its themes. It should be burned into our minds. It is there as a warning to the unbeliever and as a great encouragement to the believer.