The following is Frederic Gardiner’s commentary on the prophecy about Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38 & 39, together with an Excursus, where he makes observations on the character of the prophecy in these chapters, which he views as a kind of parable, depicting the struggle of the world with the kingdom of God, an interpretation in agreement with Revelation 20:7-10.
From: Frederic Gardiner. Ezekiel. In: Charles John Ellicott, ed. An Old Testament commentary for English readers. Vol. v. 1884. pp. 309-313.
Chapters xxxviii. and xxxix. form one continuous prophecy, divided into four main parts by the renewed command to the prophet, “Son of man” (chaps. xxxviii. 1, 14, xxxix. 1, 17), and these again into smaller divisions by the repetition of the form, “Thus saith the Lord” (chaps, xxxviii. 3, 10, 14, 17, xxxix. 1, 5, 8, 10, 13, 17, 20, 25). The whole passage is to be looked upon as one sustained prophetic parable, in which vividness and force are given to the truth the prophet would set forth by the introduction of so many concrete details that one would be tempted to understand them literally, were it not that they carry within themselves the evidence that they were not so intended. The general meaning will be better understood after considering such obscurities as occur in the names mentioned and in the language used, and is therefore deferred to the Excursus G at the end of this book. Meantime, the details of both chapters may be very rapidly examined.
It is to be remembered that this prophecy immediately follows chap, xxxvii., in which God’s people are represented as united in one fold, purified from their sins, and dwelling in perpetual covenant with Him, under the care of His “servant David.” It is also not to be forgotten that a final conflict is described in Rev. xx. 7—10 between the saints and their enemies, under the names of Gog and Magog, in which those enemies, as here, are destroyed by the immediate Divine interposition.
(2) Gog, the land of Magog.—”Magog” is mentioned in Gen. x. 2 (1 Chron. i. 5) in connection with Gomer (the Cimmerians) and Madai (the Medes), as the name of a people descended from Japhet. Early Jewish tradition, adopted by Josephus and St. Jerome, identifies them with the Scythians; and this view has seemed probable to nearly all modern expositors. But the name of Scythians must be understood rather in a geographical than in a strictly ethnological sense, of the tribes living north of the Caucasus. Driven from their original home by the Massagetae, they had poured down upon Asia Minor and Syria shortly before the time of Ezekiel, and had advanced even as far as Egypt. They took Sardis (b.c. 629), spread themselves in Media (b.c. 624), were bribed off from Egypt by Psammeticus, and were finally driven back (B.C. 596), leaving their name as a terror to the whole eastern world for their fierce skill in war, their cruelty, and rapacity. It was probably the memory of their recent disastrous inroads that led Ezekiel to the selection of their name as the representative of the powers hostile to the Church of God.
The name Gog occurs only in connection with Magog, except in 1 Chron. v. 4, as the name of an otherwise unknown Reubenite. It is also the reading of the Samaritan and Septuagint in Num. xxiv. 7 for Agag. It has generally been supposed that Ezekiel here formed the name from Magog by dropping the first syllable, which was thought to mean simply plate or land; but an Assyrian inscription has been discovered, in which Ga-a-gi is mentioned as a chief of the Saka (Scythians), and Mr. Geo. Smith (“Hist of Assurbanipal”) identifies this name with Gog. The text should be read, Gog, of the land of Magog.
The chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.— Rather, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. Our version has followed St. Jerome in translating Rosh “chief,” because formerly no people of that name was definitely known; but they are frequently mentioned by Arabic writers as a Scythian tribe dwelling in the Taurus, although the attempt to derive from them the name of Russian cannot be considered as sufficiently supported. In Rev. xx. 8, Gog and Magog are both symbolic names of nations. For Meshech and Tubal see Note on chap, xxvii. 13.
(3) The chief prince.—As in verse 2, the prince of Rosh.
(4) I will turn thee back.—This is the more common meaning of the word; but if this meaning be retained here, it is not to be taken in the sense of turning back from the holy land, but rather, in connection with the figure of the next clause, of turning away the wild beast from his natural inclination to the fulfilment of God’s purpose. It is better, however, to take it in the sense in which it is used in Isa. xlvii. 10 (perverted) and Jer. viii. 5 (slidden back; comp. chap. 1. 6), “I will lead thee astray.” In Rev. xx. 8, this leading astray of the nations is ascribed to Satan, just as in 2 Sam. xxiv. 1, God, and in 1 Chron. xxi. 1, Satan, are said to move David to number the people; in either case God is said to do that which He allows to be done by Satan. For the same Divine gathering of the nations against God’s people see Joel iii. 2; Zech. xiv. 2, 3.
Hooks into thy jaws.—See the same figure in chap. xxix. 4.
(5) Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya.—Having summoned the nations from the extreme north, the prophet now turns first to the east, and then to the south and west. No neighbouring nations are mentioned at all, but only those living on the confines of the known world are summoned to this symbolic contest. The supposition of a literal alliance of nations so situated is out of the question.
(6) Gomer . . . Togarmah.—Again the address turns to the extreme north. Gomer, like Magog, a people descended from Japheth (Gen. x. 2; 1 Chron. i. 5), is identified with the Cimmerians; and for the house of Togarmah, the Armenians, see Note on xxvii. 14. In the last clause of the verse, people should be in the plural. This was to be a general gathering of the strength of the world against the Church of God.
(7) Be thou a guard unto them.—Every preparation is to be made on the part of Gog and the nations, and then Gog himself is to be their guard, or to control and guide the assault.
(8) After many days thou shalt be visited.— This clause has been variously interpreted. The expression “after many days” is the common one to indicate that what is predicted is yet far in the future, and corresponds to the “latter years” of the next clause. The words “thou shalt be visited” are the usual form of expressing a coming judgment. Various ingenious attempts have been made, with no great success, to give the words a different sense here. The supposed difficulty arises from not observing that the whole course of Gog is here viewed together as a single transaction. It is not merely his ultimate destruction, but the steps which led to it, his hostile attacks upon the Church, which are represented as brought about under God’s providence and forming a part of the visitation upon him. It is as if one spoke now of a man’s whole career of sin as a Divine visitation upon the sinner in consequence of his neglect of proffered grace, instead of speaking only of his ultimate punishment.
The land.—Rather, a land. Judaea had been long desolated, but was now restored. The word people here, as in verse 6, is in the plural and marks the gathering back, not from one, but from many quarters.
Always waste.—Literally, continually waste. The mountains of Israel had been by no means always waste, but during the period of the captivity had been so constantly. Yet the word is commonly used for a relatively long period, for which the time of the captivity seems too short. It may therefore, with the dispersion among “many peoples” of the previous clause, indicate the time of the later and longer continued dispersion of the Jews. In the last clause “shall dwell” is not to be taken as a future, but as a description of the existing condition of the people.
(10) Think an evil thought.—In verses 10—14 the motives of Gog in his attack upon Israel are fully exposed. It is to be remembered that in verse 4, and again in verse 16, the leading of this foe against the Church is represented as God’s own act; here it is explained that God did this by allowing him to follow out the devices of his own heart.
(11) The land of unwalled villages.—Again, omit the definite article before land, as in verse 8. The description of a people living in prosperity and security looks quite beyond anything hitherto realised in the history of the Jews, and points to such a state of things as is described in Zech. ii. 4, 5. The description of the attack of Gog and Magog in Rev. xx. 9 corresponds to this.
(12) In the midst of the land.—Literally, in the navel of the earth. (See Note on chap. v. 5.) The important position of Israel in reference to the other nations of the earth combined with its unsuspecting security and its riches to tempt the cupidity of Gog and his allies,
(13) Sheba, and Dedan …. Tarshish.— The first two are districts of Arabia, and the last is probably the Tartessus in Spain. These names seem to be added to those of verses 5, 6, to show that all the nations of the world sympathise in this attack upon the Church.
(14) Shalt thou not know it?—The second part of this prophecy (verses 14—23), describing the doom, of Gog, is introduced (verses 14—16) with a repetition of the peaceful security of Israel, and of God’s leading against her this great foe in whose destruction He shall be magnified before all people. The whole passage becomes clearer by omitting the question and reading simply, “When Israel dwells securely thou wilt observe it and come,” &c.
(16) Latter days.—The expression is indefinite but concurs with those in verse 8 in indicating a distant future.
(17) Of whom I have spoken in old time.— This is put in that interrogative form which is often used for emphatic assurance. The word many before “years” is not in the original, but is correctly inserted to mark the accusative of duration. The statement is then an emphatic one, that God had of old and for a long time foretold by His prophets this attack of Gog. But the name of Gog is not mentioned in any earlier prophecy now extant, nor is it likely that any such, far less that any long series of such prophecies, have been lost. This concurs with many other indications in the prophecy to show that it does not relate to any particular event, but that Gog and his allies represent the enemies of the Church in general, and that the prophet is here depicting the same great and prolonged struggle between evil and good, between the powers of the world and the kingdom of God, which has formed the burden of so much of both earlier and later prophecy.
(18) The mountains shall be thrown down.— In verses 19—22 the whole earth, animate and inanimate, is represented as affected by the terrible judgment of the Almighty upon His enemies. Such, as has been already noted, is the common language of prophecy in describing great moral events, and it is especially used in connection with the judgments of the last day.
This chapter is a continuation of the preceding, and contains the two latter parts of the prophecy (verses 1—16, 17—29). It opens with a brief summary of the earlier part of chap, xxxviii.
(2) Leave but the sixth part of thee.—This word occurs only here, and the translation is based on the supposition that it is derived from the word meaning six; but even on this supposition the renderings in the margin are as likely to be right as that of the text. This derivation, however, is probably wrong; all the ancient versions give a sense corresponding to xxxviii. 4, 16, and also to the clauses immediately before and after, “I will lead thee along.” The greater part of the modern commentators concur in this view.
(4) Unto the ravenous birds. — Compare the account of the destruction of Pharaoh in chap. xxix. 4,5.
(6) A fire on Magog.—Magog is the country of Gog (chap, xxxviii. 1), and the Divine judgment is to fall therefore not only upon the army in the land of Israel, but also upon the far-distant country of Gog. In Rev. xx. 9 this fire is represented as coming “down from God out of heaven.”
In the isles.—This common Scriptural expression for the remoter parts of the earth is added here to show the universality of the judgment upon all that is hostile to the kingdom of God.
(9) Shall burn them with fire seven years.— The representation of this and the following verse, that the weapons of the army of Gog shall furnish the whole nation of Israel with fuel for seven years, cannot, of course, be understood literally, and seems to have been inserted by the prophet to show that we are to look for the meaning or his prophecy beyond any literal event of earthly warfare.
Verses 11—16 again present the magnitude of the attack upon the Church by describing the burial of the host after it is slain. The language, if it could be supposed it was meant to be literally understood, would be even more extravagant than that of verses 9, 10. The whole nation of Israel is represented as engaged for seven mouths in burying the bodies (verses 12,13); after this an indefinite time is to be occupied by one corps of men appointed to search the land for still remaining bones, and by another who are to bury them.
(11) The valley of the passengers.—The name cannot be derived from the Scythians, as if they were spoken of “as a cloud passing over and gone,” because the same word is used again in this verse, and also in verses 14, 15, evidently in a different sense. It simply denotes some (probably imaginary) thoroughfare, which is to be blocked up by the buried bodies of the slain. No definite locality is assigned to it, except that it is “on the cast of the sea,” meaning the Dead Sea. It was to be, therefore, on the extreme south-eastern outskirts of the land. This is another of the features of the description which indicate some other than a literal interpretation; for how should such a host, invading the land from the north for purposes of plunder, be found in that locality, and how could such vast numbers of dead bodies be transported thither?
Stop the noses.—The word “noses” is not in the original, and should be omitted. The meaning is simply that the bodies of the host shall so fill up the valley as to stop the way of travellers.
The valley of Hamon-gog. — It is better to translate the word Hamon, as in the margin: The valley of the multitude of Gog. So also in verse 15.
(13) All the people of the land.—”It would be but a very moderate allowance, on the literal supposition, to say that a million of men would be thus engaged, and that on an average each would consign to the tomb two corpses in one day; which, for the 180 working days of the seven months, would make an aggregate of 360,000,000 of corpses!” (Fairbairn.)
(14) Men of continual employment.—The word for ” continual” is the same as that translated always in chap, xxxviii. 8, where see Note. It implies that this occupation is to be one of long continuance, and the fact that they are to search the land through for the remains shows that the army of Gog is not conceived of as perishing when collected in one place, but when distributed all over the land. This search is only to begin after the close of the burying for seven months already described.
(16) Shall be Hamonah.— As a further monument of this great overthrow some city (not more definitely described, but probably yet to be built) shall be called “Multitude.”
Thus shall they cleanse the land.—The extremest defilement, according to the Mosaic law, was caused by a dead body or by human bones. From this the land could only be purified by the burial of the last vestige of the host of Gog. In the spiritual contest which this prophecy is designed to set forth under these material figures, this cleansing looks to the purification of the Church from everything “that defileth and is unclean.” (Comp. Eph. v. 26, 27; Rev. xxi. 27.)
With verse 17 the last part of this remarkable prophecy is introduced. Its representations are not to be considered as subsequent to those of the former part of the chapter, but as depicting the same thing under another figure.
(17) Every feathered fowl. — Compare verse 4, also chaps, xvii. 23, xxix. 5. The birds and beasts of all kinds represent all nations.
A great sacrifice.—The representation of a destructive judgment upon the Lord’s enemies as a sacrifice is found also in Isa. xxxiv. 6; Jer. xlvi. 10. The figure is not to be pushed beyond the single point for which it is used—”to fill out and heighten the description of an immense slaughter.”
(18) Drink the blood of the princes.—In these verses there is a curious mingling of the figurative and the literal; thus the “princes” are immediately explained by the mention of the various sacrificial animals; and in verse 20 these are again interpreted of “horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war.” And when the figure is so far explained it only leads to a literal sense which must yet be considered as itself but the symbol of something further. (Comp. Rev. xix. 17, 18.)
(21) My glory among the heathen. — In this and the following verse the ultimate effect of the Divine judgments in the world is spoken of, and then, in verses 23, 24, this is applied to the present captivity of Israel. But the effect is too far-reaching to be limited to the latter, and the kingdom of God was never so established among the restored exiles, either by external triumphs over their enemies or by its internal development in the hearts of men, that the Divine glory was generally recognised among the heathen. In the time foretold the judgments shall be of such a character that all shall perceive that they are from God. Yet it must not be forgotten that the restoration from the exile was one step, and an important one, in the course of events leading to this end..
(22) The house of Israel shall know.—The knowledge here spoken of is evidently practical, and is expressly declared to remain for ever. It can only be considered as realised, and that still but in germ, in the Christian Church.
(23) For their iniquity. — In the times foretold God’s dealings shall no longer be misunderstood, nor the sufferings of Israel considered as the result of His want of power to protect them. All the world shall so far understand His righteousness, that they shall see the reasonableness and necessity of His punishing even His chosen people for their sins, and purifying them that they may become His indeed.
(25) Now will I bring again the captivity.—It was needed for the exiles in their distress that the prophet at tho close of this far-reaching prophecy should bring out the first step in the long course of events leading to its fulfilment, because that step was one of especial interest and comfort to them; but, even this promise is mingled with predictions which still look on to the then distant future.
(29) I have poured out.—Comp. Joel ii. 28, 29; Acts ii. 17. See Excursus G at the end of this book.
EXCURSUS G: ON CHAPTERS XXXVIII. AND XXXIX.
Various indications of the nature and intent of this prophecy have been already given in commenting upon its verses in detail, but it is desirable to gather up these indications and combine them with others of a more general character.
It is not at all unlikely that the starting-point of the prophecy may have been in some recent events, such as the Scythian invasion already spoken of. It is also plain that a prophecy of such a general character, concerning the struggle of worldliness against the kingdom of God, and its final overthrow, may have had many partial fulfilments of a literal kind, such as in the contest between the Maccabees and Antiochus Epiphanes, because such struggles must always be incidents in the greater and wider contest. It is further evident from the prophecy itself that the restoration of the Jews to their own land, then not far distant, was constantly before the mind of the prophet, and formed in some sort the point of view from which he looked out upon the wider and more spiritual blessings of the distant future. But these things being understood, there are several clear indications that he did not confine his view in this prophecy to any literal event, but intended to set forth under the figure of Gog and his armies all opposition of the world to the kingdom of God, and to foretell, like his contemporary Daniel, the final and complete triumph of the latter in the distant future.
The first thing that strikes one in reading the prophecy is the strange and incongruous association of the nations in this attack. No nations near the land of Israel are mentioned, and few of those who, either before or since, have been known as its foes. On the contrary, the nations selected are all as distant from Palestine and as distant from each other (living on the confines of the known world) as it was possible to mention. The Scythians, the Persians, the Armenians, the Ethiopians and Libyans, the tribes of Arabia, Dedan and Sheba, and the Tarshish probably of Spain, form an alliance which it is impossible to conceive as ever being actually formed among the nations of the earth. Then the object of this confederacy, the spoil of Israel (chaps, xxxviii. 12,13; xxxix. 10), would have been absurdly incommensurate with the exertion; Palestine, with all it contained, would hardly have been enough to furnish rations for the invaders for a day, far less to tempt them to a march of many hundreds, or even thousands, of miles. Further, the mass of the invaders, as described in chap, xxxix. 12—16, is more than fifty times greater than any army that ever assembled upon earth, and great enough to make it difficult for them to find even camping-ground upon the whole territory of Palestine. This multitude is so evidently ideal, and the circumstantial account of their burial so plainly practically impossible, that it is unnecessary to add anything farther to what has been said in the Notes to this passage. Finally, in the statement (chap, xxxviii. 17) that this prophecy was the same which had been spoken in old time by the prophets of Israel, we have a direct assurance that it was not meant to be literally understood, because no such prophecies are anywhere recorded; but prophecies of what we conceive to be here pictorially represented, the struggle of the world with the kingdom of God and its final utter overthrow, do form the constant burden of prophecy, and constitute one of the striking features of all Revelation.
To this is to be added the fact that, however the passage in Rev. xx. 7—10 may be interpreted, the author of the Apocalypse, by the use of the same names, and a short summary of the same description, has shown that he regarded this vision of Ezekiel as typical, and its fulfilment as in his time still future.
The prophecy, thus interpreted, falls naturally into the place it holds in the collection of Ezekiel’s writings. There has been in the last few chapters, especially in chap, xxxvii., an increasing fulness of Messianic promise; then follows, in the closing section of the book, a remarkable setting forth of the perfected worship of God by a purified people under the earthly figure of a greatly changed and purified temple-worship, with a new apportionment of the land, a purified priesthood, and other figures taken from the old dispensation. But these things are not to be attained without trial and struggle; and, therefore, just here is placed this warning of the putting forth of the whole power of the world against the kingdom of God under the symbol of the gathering of the armies of Gog, with the comforting assurance, given everywhere in Revelation, that in the ultimate issue every power which exalts itself against God shall be utterly overthrown, and all things shall be subdued unto Him.
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