The prophet Ezekiel speaks in great detail about a terrible war which centres on Israel, but even for an area as disputed and war-torn as the Holy Land, the description in these two chapters has never matched any conflict to date. The prophecy has no specific indications as to the timing of the war and we are still waiting for it to happen as I write. Its wider context within Ezekiel’s writings points to a time after the restoration of Israel as a national entity, and as of 2019/2020, the political situation has never looked more ready for this war to erupt at any moment.
“Then say to them [the Israelites], ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again.’ “Ezekiel 37:21-22
These verses come from the chapter immediately preceding the prophecy about the Gog and Magog war, and they refer to the restoration of Israel following the Holocaust – chapter 37 is all about raising a nation out of the dry bones of a genocidal destruction of the Jewish people – and as I have mentioned before, biblical prophecy often has two or more fulfilments, one short-term and one longer-term, messianic fulfilment. The ultimate restoration of Israel as God’s glorious nation will come when Jesus the Messiah returns, in about 7 years from the time you are reading this, but that does not diminish either the restoration of the nation after the Babylonian exile in Ezekiel’s day, or the the miracle of May 14th 1948, when this ancient people and nation was restored to their ancestral homeland to become a distinct nation state again ‘in one day’ as the prophet Isaiah had predicted (Isaiah 66:7-11), complete with an unbroken tradition, faith, language, and cultural identity after nearly 2,000 years of dispersion and exile amongst the nations of the world.
This sets the scene for chapter 38, where Israel is described as a nation of ‘unwalled villages’; a ‘peaceful people, who dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls and having neither bars nor gates’ (v.11) – in other words the population are dwelling in relative security and safety, not in fortified communities behind walls and ramparts like ancient Jericho or Jerusalem. The verses go on to say that the enemy who comes against Israel at this time is coming ‘to take plunder and booty, to stretch out [their] hands against the waste places that are again inhabited, and against a people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquired livestock and goods, who dwell in the midst of the land.’ (v.12). This indicates that the newly regathered and settled Israel will be prosperous at the time of the war, and will have enough material wealth to motivate the attackers to come and plunder them. Never before in history has this been the case until the past 70 years, and not even that long, for the fledging State of Israel was kept busy simply trying to defend herself against being annihilated multiple times – in 1948, 1967, and 1973 – all the while developing her agricultural and technological skills and quite literally bringing ‘the desert to blossom as a rose’ (Isaiah 35:1-2), managing to create fertile land and thriving communities on land that had been left to go to waste under the centuries of useless Ottoman occupation. Today, as in recent years, the economy of Israel is booming and Israeli technology, medicine, aid, scientific advancements, cultural and artistic excellence, food, and flowers are exported all over the world, to the enriching of many other nations – even the peoples of enemy regimes such as Iran who have benefitted from Israel’s incredible water-gathering and purification technologies.
But is that enough to make the attackers in the prophecy come down to plunder? Possibly, but unlikely. However, over the last several years, Israel has made stunning discoveries of natural gas – vast reserves just off their Mediterranean coastline – and from as recently as 2012 and 2013 they have had the infrastructure to access it; Tamar began pumping in 2013, and Leviathan in 2019. A Jerusalem Post article from December 29th, 2020, said that Israel would be natural gas-independent by 2022. Now this changes everything, as the major oil and gas suppliers in the region are of course Arab Muslim nations, and they are not taking kindly to a rival supplier, especially not when that rival is Israeli. To make matters more interesting still, Israel, Greece, and Cyprus signed a deal in late 2019/early 2020 to build a 1,900 km (1,180 mile) subsea pipeline to carry natural gas from the eastern Mediterranean’s rapidly developing gas fields through their countries, through Italy, and up into Europe. Reuters reported on January 2nd 2020 that Turkey was none too happy about this, and Turkey isn’t the only one. Russia’s biggest export, and the single most important contribution to its economy, is natural gas piped into Europe, and if it has competition from Israel, it will no longer have either the monopoly on European gas supplies, or the blackmailing leverage to be able to twist western arms into turning a blind eye to their appalling human rights records or the corruption that is rife within their government and oligarchy. Oil and gas are black gold, and Israel suddenly has rather a lot to offer.
‘ “Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish, and all their young lions will say to you [Gog], ‘Have you come to take plunder? Have you gathered your army to take booty, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to take great plunder?’ ” ’Ezekiel 38:13
This verse is very interesting – who are Sheba and Dedan or the merchants of Tarshish with their young lions? Well, historically, Sheba and Dedan are the peoples of the Arab Peninsula; Saudi, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Yemen. These Arab nations are characterised by both vast wealth and, unfortunately, Islamic extremism. Traditionally vehemently opposed to Israel, Saudi Arabia has produced some of the most deadly terrorists, followers of the Sunni Wahabi sect of Islam, and even behind the veneer of modern capitalist opulence in places like Dubai, not a single one of these countries wanted anything to do with the State of Israel. Yet in this verse they appear to be protesting the invasion and voicing opposition to it. That would have been unthinkable until 2019 and 2020. Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, Arab nations from the peninsula have opened diplomatic relations with Israel and normalised dealings between their nations, especially the UAE and Bahrain. Oman is warming up to Israel, and whilst Saudi Arabia isn’t quite there yet, they consider Israel’s determined opposition to Iranian Shiite dominance in the region to be a huge asset to them. Never before in the history of the Middle East have we seen such a political shift towards setting up a scene where it wouldn’t be impossible for the Arabian Peninsula to voice support for the Jewish State. Interesting? There’s more.
‘Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O God, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops – many people are with you.”‘Ezekiel 38:1-6
So, who are the attackers exactly, if they’re not Israel’s traditional Arab enemies?
Firstly, Gog is a biblical name to represent the spirit of evil, antisemitism, and antichrist, rather than a specific leader’s name, and the root of the word is linked to Agag, and the Amalakites, an ancient people group who were exceedingly wicked and antisemitic (Haman, of Purim infamy, was of the line of Agag, and of course his plans were to annihilate the entire Jewish people – read the book of Esther). The opening of Ezekiel 38 gives us some pretty big clues as to the specific peoples involved in this particular attack. Persia is the obvious one; Iran has been a basketcase of extremist Islam since the Ayatollah took over in 1979, and the regime there are bent on the destruction of Israel, even if it means destroying their own people in the process, which they have been doing quite successfully – Iranians live in horrible poverty and they suffer hugely at the hands of their evil government. Ethiopia and Libya are also fairly self-explanatory, with Libya being especially interesting because not only Iran, but also Turkey and Russia have stakes in that country and its warring governments. And as I mentioned earlier, Turkey and Russia both have economic reasons to be envious of Israel, even leaving aside Turkish president Erdogan’s explicit desire to destroy the Jewish state, conquer Jerusalem again and restore the Ottoman Empire. Not the kind of guy you want as a neighbour, really. Both these big nations appear again – in our prophecy. Rosh, Meschech and Tubal are tribes and peoples that sociologists, ethnographers, and historians have traced north from the Middle East into Eastern Europe and up into Russia, and Gomer and Togarmah are in Asia Minor; in other words, Turkey.
So we have a coalition of Russia, Turkey, Iran, Libya, Ethiopia, and possibly others, coming against Israel primarily for economic gain. These nations have also become intrenched in a crescent around Israel in recent years with the terrible civil war in Syria – the alliances are complex and confusing, but Russia and Iran are both heavily involved, and Lebanon (interestingly the country immediately to the north of Israel, as per the prophecy) is now also falling to pieces under the influence of Iranian proxy militia groups such as Hezbollah. The situation has never been more ripe for war, and the modern nations around Israel have never been in a more desperate state than they are now…all of which could prompt the situation in the prophecy at the slightest spark.
“Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “On that day when My people Israel dwell safely, will you not know it? Then you will come from your place out of the far north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army. You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It will be in the latter days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you, O Gog, before their eyes.” Thus says the Lord God: “Are you he of whom I have spoken in former days by My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied for years in those days that I would bring you against them?”Ezekiel 38:14-17 (emphasis mine)
I will go into more detail about what you might expect when this war breaks out in Part 2, but I just wanted to add a note here about the sovereignty of God through all of this. God gives man the freewill to act as he wants to, for good or evil, and for the most part, mankind blunders about rebelliously and chooses evil of one kind or another. But just because God doesn’t step in as we would perhaps presumptuously think He should when we see injustices around us, it doesn’t mean that He is not working behind the scenes to use the free choices that people make to bring about His will and reveal His truth. Job 42:2 says “I know You [God] can do everything, and that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You.” Evil people don’t thwart God’s plans. So when the passage says that God will put hooks into the jaws of Gog and co. and draw them down against His people Israel, that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have a choice in the matter; in fact, it actually means that God is using their pre-determined evil intentions of destroying His people to showcase His glory and power and justice when He brings judgment on these wicked people. We will see this very clearly in Part 2, when God steps in, and all the nations will see who is really God.