For the Love of God, Volume 2/October 6
From Gospel Translations
1 Kings 9; Ephesians 6; Ezekiel 39; Psalm 90
EZEKIEL 38 BEGINS THE ORACLE against Gog; Ezekiel 39 continues it. Here Gog’s overthrow is narrated again, but in different terms. This is typical of Hebrew semipoetry. We are not dealing with a separate account of the same thing, which has somehow been stitched onto the first account. Hebrew rhetoric loves to loop around and enlarge on previous statements, even if this conflicts with our Western sense of sequence. Two observations:
(1) There are plenty of hints that these two chapters have moved from a literal or largely prosaic description of battle to the apocalyptic description of the ultimate battle. This does not mean that the ultimate battle is not real. It means that its shape and details cannot be read off the surface of the text. The war implements are the implements of Ezekiel’s time (“shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears,” 39:9)—but this battle certainly did not take place in any literal sense in Ezekiel’s time, and if it were taking place at the end of history these would not be the instruments of war. Typical of apocalyptic literature, we now have nicely stylized periods of time: seven years (39:9), seven months (39:12, 14). The triumphant Israelites witness the birds and wild animals eating the flesh and drinking the blood of the mighty men and princes of the earth, who are sacrificed like rams and lambs, goats and bulls (39:17-19). To say that this is merely an evocative way of saying that the opponents will all be defeated is to concede my point: the language is visceral and symbol-laden, and one must proceed with care.
(2) It is God himself who sovereignly brings Gog and his might from the “far north” (39:2) to lead them to destruction. This is both like and unlike an important theme in the major prophets that we have already noticed. The prophets keep saying that the mighty powers (Assyria, Babylon) that chasten Israel and Judah do so under God’s powerful sway, even though they are held accountable for their brutality (e.g., Isa. 10:5ff.). The picture here affirms God’s sovereignty over these pagan nations, but now he is not using them to chasten the covenant community but to bring them to their own destruction. The biblical book with this theme most clearly worked out is Revelation. Believers are to take encouragement from the fact that even in this world of horrible cruelty and injustice, God will ultimately bring the perverse to final judgment. Justice will not only be done but will be seen to be done. So we do not lose heart. We cherish and nurture the apocalyptic vision, not because it is a prosaic roadmap of impending history, but because it signals the ultimate triumph of God.