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Chapter XXIV. Jehovah's Final Victory. Chapters xxxviii., xxxix.

These chapters give the impression of having been intended to stand at the close of the book of Ezekiel. Their present position is best explained on the supposition that the original collection of Ezekiel's prophecies actually ended here, and that the remaining chapters (xl.-xlviii.) form an appendix, added at a later period without disturbing the plan on which the book had been arranged. In chronological order, at all events, the oracle on Gog comes after the vision of the last nine chapters. It marks the utmost limit of Ezekiel's vision of the future of the kingdom of God. It represents the dénouement of the great drama of Jehovah's self-manifestation to the nations of the world. It describes an event which is to take place in the far-distant future, long after the Messianic age has begun and after Israel has long been settled peacefully in its own land. Certain considerations, which we shall notice at the end of this lecture, brought home to the prophet's mind the conviction that the lessons of Israel's restoration did not afford a sufficient illustration of Jehovah's glory or of the meaning of His past dealings with His people. The conclusive demonstration of this is therefore to be furnished by the destruction of Gog and his myrmidons when in the latter days they make an onslaught on the Holy Land.

The idea of a great world-catastrophe, following after 368 a long interval the establishment of the kingdom of God, is peculiar to Ezekiel amongst the prophets of the Old Testament. According to other prophets the judgment of the nations takes place in a “day of Jehovah” which is the crisis of history; and the Messianic era which follows is a period of undisturbed tranquillity in which the knowledge of the true God penetrates to the remotest regions of the earth. In Ezekiel, on the other hand, the judgment of the world is divided into two acts. The nearer nations which have played a part in the history of Israel in the past form a group by themselves; their punishment is a preliminary to the restoration of Israel, and the impression produced by that restoration is for them a signal, though not perhaps a complete,185185   Cf. ch. xxxix. 23. vindication of the Godhead of Jehovah. But the outlying barbarians, who hover on the outskirts of civilisation, are not touched by this revelation of the divine power and goodness; they seem to be represented as utterly ignorant of the marvellous course of events by which Israel has been brought to dwell securely in the midst of the nations.186186   See ch. xxxviii. 11, 12. These, accordingly, are reserved for a final reckoning, in which the power of Jehovah will be displayed with the terrible physical convulsions which mark the great day of the Lord.187187   Ch. xxxviii. 19-23. Only then will the full meaning of Israel's history be disclosed to the world; in particular it will be seen that it was for their sin that they had fallen under the power of the heathen, and not because of Jehovah's inability to protect them.188188   Ch. xxxix. 23.

These are some general features of the prophecy which at once attract attention. We shall now examine the details of the picture, and then proceed to consider its significance in relation to other elements of Ezekiel's teaching.

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I

The thirty-eighth chapter may be divided into three sections of seven verses each.

i. Vv. 3-9.—The prophet having been commanded to direct his face towards Gog in the land of Magog, is commissioned to announce the fate that is in store for him and his hosts in the latter days. The name of this mysterious and formidable personage was evidently familiar to the Jewish world of Ezekiel's time, although to us its origin is altogether obscure. The most plausible suggestion, on the whole, is perhaps that which identifies it with the name of the Lydian monarch Gyges, which appears on the Assyrian monuments in the form Gugu, corresponding as closely as is possible to the Hebrew Gog.189189   See E. Meyer, Geschichte des Alterthums, p. 558; Schrader, Cuneiform Inscriptions, etc., on this passage. But in the mind of Ezekiel Gog is hardly an historical figure. He is but the impersonation of the dreaded power of the northern barbarians, already recognised as a serious danger to the peace of the world. His designation as prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal points to the region east of the Black Sea as the seat of his power.190190   Meshech and Tubal are the Moschi and Tibareni of the Greek geographers, lying south-east of the Black Sea. A country or tribe Rosh has not been found. He is the captain of a vast multitude of horsemen, gorgeously arrayed, and armed with shield, helmet, and sword. But although Gog himself belongs to the “uttermost north,” he gathers under his banner all the most distant nations both of the north and the south. Not only northern peoples like the Cimmerians and Armenians,191191   Gomer (according to others, however, Cappadocia) and Togarmah (ver. 6). but Persians and Africans,192192   Cush and Put (ver. 5). all of them with 370 shield and helmet, swell the ranks of his motley army. The name of Gog is thus on the way to become a symbol of the implacable enmity of this world to the kingdom of God; as in the book of the Revelation it appears as the designation of the ungodly world-power which perishes in conflict with the saints of God (Rev. xx. 7 ff.).

Gog therefore is summoned to hold himself in readiness, as Jehovah's reserve,193193   Ver. 7. The LXX. reads “for me” instead of “unto them,” giving to the word mishmar the sense of “reserve force.” against the last days, when the purpose for which he has been raised up will be made manifest. After many days he shall receive his marching orders; Jehovah Himself will lead forth his squadrons and the innumerable hosts of nations that follow in his train,194194   The words of ver. 4, “I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws,” are wanting in the best manuscripts of the LXX., and are perhaps better omitted. Gog does not need to be dragged forth with hooks; he comes up willingly enough, as soon as the opportunity presents itself (vv. 11, 12). and bring them up against the mountains of Israel, now reclaimed from desolation, and against a nation gathered from among many peoples, dwelling in peace and security. The advance of these destructive hordes is likened to a tempest, and their innumerable multitude is pictured as a cloud covering all the land (ver. 9).

ii. Vv. 10-16.—But like the Assyrian in the time of Isaiah, Gog “meaneth not so”; he is not aware that he is Jehovah's instrument, his purpose being to “destroy and cut off nations not a few.”195195   Isa. x. 7. Hence the prophet proceeds to a new description of the enterprise of Gog, laying stress on the “evil thought” that will arise in his heart and lure him to his doom. What urges him on is the lust of plunder. The report of the people of Israel as a people that has amassed wealth and substance, and is at the same time defenceless, dwelling in a land without 371 walls or bolts or gates, will have reached him. These two verses (11, 12) are interesting as giving a picture of Ezekiel's conception of the final state of the people of God. They dwell in the “navel of the world”; they are rich and prosperous, so that the fame of them has gone forth through all lands; they are destitute of military resources, yet are unmolested in the enjoyment of their favoured lot because of the moral effect of Jehovah's name on all nations that know their history. To Gog, however, who knows nothing of Jehovah, they will seem an easy conquest, and he will come up confident of victory to seize spoil and take booty and lay his hand on waste places reinhabited and a people gathered out of the heathen. The news of the great expedition and the certainty of its success will rouse the cupidity of the trading communities from all the ends of the earth, and they will attach themselves as camp-followers to the army of Gog. In historic times this rôle would naturally have fallen to the Phœnicians, who had a keen eye for business of this description.196196   An actual parallel is furnished by the crowds of slave-dealers who followed the army of Antiochus Epiphanes when it set out to crush the Maccabæan insurrection in 166 b.c. But Ezekiel is thinking of a time when Tyre shall be no more; and its place is taken by the mercantile tribes of Arabia and the ancient Phœnician colony of Tarshish. The whole world will then resound with the fame of Gog's expedition, and the most distant nations will await its issue with eager expectation. This then is the meaning of Gog's destiny. In the time when Israel dwells peacefully he will be restless and eager for spoil;197197   In ver. 14 the LXX. has “he stirred up” instead of “know,” and gives a more forcible sense. his multitudes will be set in motion, and throw themselves on the land, covering it like a cloud. But this is Jehovah's doing, and the purpose of it is that the 372 nations may know Him and that He may be sanctified in Gog before their eyes.

iii. Vv. 17-23.—These verses are in the main a description of the annihilation of Gog's host by the fierce wrath of Jehovah; but this is introduced by a reference to unfulfilled prophecies which are to receive their accomplishment in this great catastrophe. It is difficult to say what particular prophecies are meant. Those which most readily suggest themselves are perhaps the fourth chapter of Joel and the twelfth and fourteenth of Zechariah; but these probably belong to a later date than Ezekiel. The prophecies of Zephaniah and Jeremiah, called forth by the Scythian invasion,198198   Zeph. i.-iii. 8; Jer. iv.-vi. have also been thought of, although the point of view there is different from that of Ezekiel. In Jeremiah and Zephaniah the Scythians are the scourge of God, appointed for the chastisement of the sinful nation; whereas Gog is brought up against a holy people, and for the express purpose of having judgment executed on himself. On the supposition that Ezekiel's vision was coloured by his recollection of the Scythians, this view has no doubt the greatest likelihood. It is possible, however, that the allusion is not to any particular group of prophecies, but to a general idea which pervades prophecy—the expectation of a great conflict in which the power of the world shall be arrayed against Jehovah and Israel, and the issue of which shall exhibit the sole sovereignty of the true God to all mankind.199199   Cf. besides the passages already cited, Isa. x. 5-34, xvii. 12-14; Micah iv. 11-13. It is of course unnecessary to suppose that any prophet had mentioned Gog by name in a prediction of the future. All that is meant is that Gog is the person in whom the substance of previous oracles is to be accomplished.

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The question of ver. 17 leads thus to the announcement of the outpouring of Jehovah's indignation on the violators of His territory. As soon as Gog sets foot on the soil of Israel, Jehovah's wrath is kindled against him. A mighty earthquake shall shatter the mountains and level every wall to the ground and strike terror into the hearts of all creatures. The host of Gog shall be panic-stricken,200200   Ver. 21. LXX.: “I will summon against him every terror.” each man turning his sword against his fellow; while Jehovah completes the slaughter by pestilence and blood, rain and hailstones, fire and brimstone. The deliverance of Israel is effected without the help of any human arm; it is the doing of Jehovah, who thus magnifies and sanctifies Himself and makes Himself known before the eyes of many peoples, so that they may know Him to be Jehovah.

iv. Ch. xxxix. 1-8.—Commencing afresh with a new apostrophe to Gog, Ezekiel here recapitulates the substance of the previous chapter—the bringing up of Gog from the farthest north, his destruction on the mountains of Israel, and the effect of this on the surrounding nations. Mention is expressly made of the bow and arrows which were the distinctive weapons of the Scythian horsemen.201201   ἱπποτοξόται (mounted archers) is the term applied to them by Herodotus (iv. 46). These are struck from the grasp of Gog, and the mighty host falls on the open field to be devoured by wild beasts and by ravenous birds of every feather. But the judgment is universal in its extent; it reaches to Magog, the distant abode of Gog, and all the remote lands whence his auxiliaries were drawn. This is the day whereof Jehovah has spoken by His servants the prophets of Israel, the day which finally manifests His glory to all the ends of the earth.

v. Vv. 9-16.—Here the prophet falls into a more prosaic strain, as he proceeds to describe with characteristic 374 fulness of detail the sequel of the great invasion. As the English story of the Invincible Armada would be incomplete without a reference to the treasures cast ashore from the wrecked galleons on the Orkneys and the Hebrides, so the fate of Gog's ill-starred enterprise is vividly set forth by the minute description of the traces it left behind in the peaceful life of Israel. The irony of the situation is unmistakable, and perhaps a touch of conscious exaggeration is permissible in such a picture. In the first place the weapons of the slain warriors furnish wood enough to serve for fuel to the Israelites for the space of seven years. Then follows a picture of the process of cleansing the land from the corpses of the fallen enemy. A burying-place is assigned to them in the valley of Abarim202202   This translation, which is given by Hitzig and Cornill, is obtained by a change in the punctuation of the word rendered “passengers” in ver. 11: cf. the “mountains of Abarim,” Numb. xxxiii. 47, 48; Deut. xxxii. 49. on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, outside of the sacred territory. The whole people of Israel will be engaged for seven months in the operation of burying them; after this the mouth of the valley will be sealed,203203   “It shall stop the noses of the passengers” (ver. 11) gives no sense; and the text, as it stands, is almost untranslatable. The LXX. reads, “and they shall seal up the valley,” which gives a good enough meaning, so far as it goes. and it will be known ever afterwards as the Valley of the Host of Gog. But even after the seven months have expired the scrupulous care of the people for the purity of their land will be shown by the precautions they take against its continued defilement by any fragment of a skeleton that may have been overlooked. They will appoint permanent officials, whose business will be to search for and remove relics of the dead bodies, that the land may be restored to its purity. Whenever any 375 passer-by lights on a bone he will set up a mark beside it to attract the attention of the buriers. “Thus [in course of time] they shall cleanse the land.”

vi. Vv. 17-24.—The overwhelming magnitude of the catastrophe is once more set forth under the image of a sacrificial feast, to which Jehovah summons all the birds of the air and every beast of the field (vv. 17-20). The feast is represented as a sacrifice not in any religious sense, but simply in accordance with ancient usage, in which the slaughtering of animals was invariably a sacrificial act. The only idea expressed by the figure is that Jehovah has decreed this slaughter of Gog and his host, and that it will be so great that all ravenous beasts and birds will eat flesh to the full and drink the blood of princes of the earth to intoxication. But we turn with relief from these images of carnage and death to the moral purpose which they conceal (vv. 21-24). This is stated more distinctly here than in earlier passages of this prophecy. It will teach Israel that Jehovah is indeed their God; the lingering sense of insecurity caused by the remembrance of their former rejection will be finally taken away by this signal deliverance. And through Israel it will teach a lesson to the heathen. They will learn something of the principles on which Jehovah has dealt with His people when they contrast this great salvation with His former desertion of them. It will then fully appear that it was for their sins that they went into captivity; and so the knowledge of God's holiness and His displeasure against sin will be extended to the nations of the world.

vii. Vv. 25-29.—The closing verses do not strictly belong to the oracle on Gog. The prophet returns to the standpoint of the present, and predicts once more the restoration of Israel, which has heretofore been assumed as an accomplished fact. The connection with what precedes is, however, very close. The divine attributes, 376 whose final manifestation to the world is reserved for the far-off day of Gog's defeat, are already about to be revealed to Israel. Jehovah's compassion for His people and His jealousy for His own name will speedily be shown in “turning the fortunes” of Israel, bringing them back from the peoples, and gathering them from the land of their enemies. The consequences of this upon the nation itself are described in more gracious terms than in any other passage. They shall forget their shame and all their trespasses when they dwell securely in their own land, none making them afraid.204204   Ver. 26. The choice between the rendering “forget” and that of the English Version, “bear,” depends on the position of a single dot in the Hebrew. In the former case “shame” must be taken in the sense of reproach (schande); in the latter it means the inward feeling of self-abasement (schaam). The forgetting of past trespasses, if that is the right reading, can only mean that they are entirely broken off and dismissed from mind; there is nothing inconsistent with passages like ch. xxxvi. 31. It must be understood that in any event the reference is to the future; “after that they have borne” is altogether wrong. The saving knowledge of Jehovah as their God, who led them into captivity and brought them back again, will as far as Israel is concerned be complete; and the gracious relation thus established shall no more be interrupted, because of the divine Spirit which has been poured out on the house of Israel.

II

It will be seen from this summary of the contents of the prophecy that, while it presents many features peculiar to itself, it also contains much in common with the general drift of the prophet's thinking. We must now try to form an estimate of its significance as an episode in the great drama of Providence which unfolded itself before his inspired imagination.

The ideas peculiar to the passage are for the most part 377 such as might have been suggested to the mind of Ezekiel by the remembrance of the great Scythian invasion in the reign of Josiah. Although it is not likely that he had himself lived through that time of terror, he must have grown up whilst it was still fresh in the public recollection, and the rumour of it had apparently left upon him impressions never afterwards effaced. Several circumstances, none of them perhaps decisive by itself, conspire to show that at least in its imagery the oracle on Gog is based on the conception of an irruption of Scythian barbarians. The name of Gog may be too obscure to serve as an indication; but his location in the extreme north, the description of his army as composed mainly of cavalry armed with bow and arrows, their innumerable multitude, and the love of pillage and destruction by which they are animated, all point to the Scythians as the originals from whom the picture of Gog's host is drawn. Besides the light which it casts on the genesis of the prophecy, this fact has a certain biographical interest for the reader of Ezekiel. That the prophet's furthest vista into the future should be a reflection of his earliest memory reminds us of a common human experience. “The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts,” reaching far into manhood and old age; and the mind as it turns back upon them may often discover in them that which carries it furthest in reading the divine mysteries of life and destiny.

Thus while the Sun sinks down to rest

Far in the regions of the west,

Though to the vale no parting beam

Be given, not one memorial gleam,

A lingering light he fondly throws

On the dear hills where first he rose.

For it is not merely the imagery of the prophecy that reveals the influence of these early associations; the thoughts which it embodies are themselves partly the 378 result of the prophet's meditation on questions suggested by the invasion. His youthful impressions of the descent of the northern hordes were afterwards illuminated, as we see from his own words, by the study of contemporary prophecies of Jeremiah and Zephaniah called forth by the event. From these and other predictions he learned that Jehovah had a purpose with regard to the remotest nations of the earth which yet awaited its accomplishment. That purpose, in accordance with his general conception of the ends of the divine government, could be nothing else than the manifestation of Jehovah's glory before the eyes of the world. That this involved an act of judgment was only too certain from the universal hostility of the heathen to the kingdom of God. Hence the prophet's reflections would lead directly to the expectation of a final onslaught of the powers of this world on the people of Israel, which would give occasion for a display of Jehovah's might on a grander scale than had yet been seen. And this presentiment of an impending conflict between Jehovah and the pagan world headed by the Scythian barbarians forms the kernel of the oracle against Gog.

But we must further observe that this idea, from Ezekiel's point of view, necessarily presupposes the restoration of Israel to its own land. The peoples assembled under the standard of Gog are those which have never as yet come in contact with the true God, and consequently have had no opportunity of manifesting their disposition towards Him. They have not sinned as Edom and Tyre, as Egypt and Assyria have sinned, by injuries done to Jehovah through His people. Even the Scythians themselves, although they had approached the confines of the sacred territory, do not seem to have invaded it. Nor could the opportunity present itself so long as Israel was in Exile. While Jehovah was without 379 an earthly sanctuary or a visible emblem of His government, there was no possibility of such an infringement of His holiness on the part of the heathen as would arrest the attention of the world. The judgment of Gog, therefore, could not be conceived as a preliminary to the restoration of Israel, like that on Egypt and the nations immediately surrounding Palestine. It could only take place under a state of things in which Israel was once more “holiness to the Lord, and the firstfruits of His increase,” so that “all that devoured him were counted guilty” (Jer. ii. 3). This enables us partly to understand what appears to us the most singular feature of the prophecy, the projection of the final manifestation of Jehovah into the remote future, when Israel is already in possession of all the blessings of the Messianic dispensation. It is a consequence of the extension of the prophetic horizon, so as to embrace the distant peoples that had hitherto been beyond the pale of civilisation.

There are other aspects of Ezekiel's teaching on which light is thrown by this anticipation of a world-judgment as the final scene of history. The prophet was evidently conscious of a certain inconclusiveness and want of finality in the prospect of the restoration as a justification of the ways of God to men. Although all the forces of the world's salvation were wrapped up in it, its effects were still limited and measurable, both as to their range of influence and their inherent significance. Not only did it fail to impress the more distant nations, but its own lessons were incompletely taught. He felt that it had not been made clear to the dull perceptions of the heathen why the God of Israel had ever suffered His land to be desecrated and His people to be led into captivity. Even Israel itself will not fully know all that is meant by having Jehovah for its God until the history of revelation is finished. Only in the summing up of the ages, and in the 380 light of the last judgment, will men truly realise all that is implied in the terms God and sin and redemption. The end is needed to interpret the process; and all religious conceptions await their fulfilment in the light of eternity which is yet to break on the issues of human history.

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