Thursday, 27 November 2014

(332) November 28: Ezekiel 38-39 & 1 Peter 4

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note why God is going to act as these chapters predict.

To ponder:
These chapters are notoriously difficult to understand, and we should note they come as the book becomes increasingly figurative in nearing its end. Ezekiel is to set his face against a king called “Gog” of “Magog” (literally, land of Gog), who also rules over Meshech and Tubal. Most likely these three lands refer to places far north of Judah, that were known for their barbarity (see Ps 120v5-7). Through Ezekiel God declares he is against Gog and will force him to do his will with hooks, like a captured beast or monster, bringing him and his army (described in a way that stresses its greatness) to invade Judah (38v1-9). The significance of his allies is probably that they are from the extremities of the known world from Judah’s perspective. And there are 7 of them (38v2, 5-6), implying completeness. The sense may therefore be of the whole world gathering against God’s people. This is supported by the names coming from the lines of Japheth and Ham, but not Shem, from whom Israel were descended (Gen 10v2-3, 6).
            The picture is of a vast hoard covering Israel as it advances on God’s people, with God stating that Gog will devise the evil scheme in order to plunder the richness of the land, which, in context, is a sign of God’s covenant blessing on his people. The onlooking merchant nations (38v13) are also a selection from the extremities of the world, and seem to represent those seeking an opportunity to gain materially from Gog’s attack. It is stressed that the land had recovered from its devastation by Babylon, and the people now lived in safety and without protection, no doubt because they trusted the LORD to be their refuge (38v9-16). The question, then, is whether Israel will be cast from the land again, or whether God’s promise that they would dwell there forever will be kept (see 37v25-28). So we are told that God is bringing this invader so that he may show himself holy to the nations – ie. show he is set-apart in being the only true and powerful God (see 37v23).
            37v17 records God telling Gog that his prophets had for years predicted him coming against Israel. As the timing of this is a future date, this stresses the importance of Israel referring back to Ezekiel’s own prophecy here. It may also suggest that the many prophecies predicting the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests from the north were paradigmatic for a final attack by the nations of the earth. And what God predicts is that in anger, there will an earthquake that will mark his presence and cause all creatures and peoples to tremble, and he will bring a sword against Gog in the form of causing his troops to kill one-another. He will also execute judgement on him and the troops of the nations with him, with plague, bloodshed, rain, hail and sulphur. These are pictures of judgement, but may be literal as sulphur was for Sodom and Gomorrah. The point is that God’s people don’t need to lift a finger, God fights for them, and by this means makes known to the nations that he is the LORD (37v18-23).
            Revelation 20v8-9 teaches this is fulfilled as the nations of the earth are gathered against God’s people by Satan, just before the final judgement. Some see this preceded by a millennium in which the people enjoy a secure and righteous life with Christ, fulfilling Ezekiel’s words in 37v15-28. The alternative would be to see Ezekiel’s description of life in the land as fulfilled in the church, as Christians anticipate the eternal state in their fellowship. Gog’s invasion would then imply a final great persecution of the church. However, we have seen hints that the account is figurative. So it could simply refer to God’s ultimate protection of his people from such threats whenever they come after the return from exile (as Rom 8v35-39). This would mean the events of chapter 38 don’t follow chronologically from those of chapter 37.
            God continues reiterating that he is against Gog, and will drag him against Israel only to defeat him, causing his army to be food for animals, and even sending fire against those who live safely in Magog and haven’t engaged in the battle. It’s probably a picture of his judging all. By this means he will cause his name no longer to be profaned, as Israel and the nations know come to know that it is holy – ie. that he is set-apart from all others (39v1-8). The picture of Israel using their enemy’s weapons as fuel for 7 years, stresses God’s supremacy in actually using the invasion for the good of his people, who are able to plunder the army (39v9-10).
            39v11-16 describes how Israel will carefully ensure all the slain are buried east of the Mediterranean sea in Israel, so that the land is cleansed. They will complete the work in 7 months, but then begin a search for any bodies that have been missed, ensuring they are buried too. The sheer amount of bodies is highlighted, as the mound will hinder travellers. But the focus seems to be on the fact that nothing of these people will remain in Israel. This is further stressed by the burial being preceded by scavenging animals feasting on the bodies as they lie on the ground (39v17-20, see 39v4). Ezekiel is to call them as the feast is portrayed as one God has provided, with the army being a sacrifice to him, like the fellowship offering the people would feast on as a sign that through the penalty for sin being paid they are at peace with God. This may be intended to stress the supreme fellowship the people will enjoy now the unbelieving world has been punished for its sin. However, the animals are invited to eat the fat and blood which was usually reserved for God (Lev 3v16-17). This emphasizes both how utterly destroyed the enemy are, and how degraded in this destruction – as will be the case with hell.
            We are told that the day God is glorified in this defeat of Gog, will be a memorial – so forever remembered (39v13). And by this means God will display his glory (his excellence) to the nations, and from then on Israel will know he is the LORD. This has been God’s intent throughout. When Israel went into exile, the nations assumed this was because their God had rejected them or was unable to protect them. But now he has displayed his faithfulness in defeating the greatest army, the nations will know that the exile could not have been for these reasons, but must have been because the people’s sin caused God to hide his face and hand them over to their enemies (39v21-24). So God declares he will bring the exiles back from their captivity, have compassion on them, and act in passionate concern for that his name is seen as holy. It is uncertain whether 39v26 refers to Israel forgetting or bearing their shame when in the land, but the latter has been stressed previously (36v31). Whatever the case, when they are in the land, God will show himself holy to the nations through what he has done in gathering them, and pouring out his Spirit so that they will follow his law and therefore receive his blessing (see 36v24-32). Then Israel will certainly know he is their God (39v25-29).
            Whatever our uncertainties, the key point throughout is that faithful Israelites, who after Christ are marked out by the fact they have become his followers, can be sure that God will never turn against them as his people (nor against Gentiles, who have joined them in following Christ). Their inheritance is therefore certain. They will never be ultimately overcome by the forces of evil. And when God judges the world and raises them to inhabit it, the world will see that their exile (and any subsequent trial Jews or now Christians might suffer) was not because of the unfaithfulness or inability of their God. The prophecy would therefore have caused the exiles to keep hoping in the LORD, as it would those who returned to the land, when oppressed by Persia, Greece and Rome. And it should cause us to do the same as we face oppression too.
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he has defeated evil through the cross and so this final deliverance of his people is certain. Pray that those who are persecuted would be encouraged by it.
Thinking further:
None today.

If you receive this post by email, visit and make a comment.


Post a Comment