Bible Passage: Ezekiel 39
39 ‘Son of man, prophesy against Gog and say: “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshek and Tubal. 2 I will turn you around and drag you along. I will bring you from the far north and send you against the mountains of Israel. 3 Then I will strike your bow from your left hand and make your arrows drop from your right hand. 4 On the mountains of Israel you will fall, you and all your troops and the nations with you. I will give you as food to all kinds of carrion birds and to the wild animals. 5 You will fall in the open field, for I have spoken, declares the Sovereign Lord. 6 I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in safety in the coastlands, and they will know that I am the Lord.
7 ‘“I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel. 8 It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign Lord. This is the day I have spoken of.
9 ‘“Then those who live in the towns of Israel will go out and use the weapons for fuel and burn them up – the small and large shields, the bows and arrows, the war clubs and spears. For seven years they will use them for fuel. 10 They will not need to gather wood from the fields or cut it from the forests, because they will use the weapons for fuel. And they will plunder those who plundered them and loot those who looted them, declares the Sovereign Lord.
11 ‘“On that day I will give Gog a burial place in Israel, in the valley of those who travel east of the Sea. It will block the way of travellers, because Gog and all his hordes will be buried there. So it will be called the Valley of Hamon Gog. 12 ‘“For seven months the Israelites will be burying them in order to cleanse the land. 13 All the people of the land will bury them, and the day I display my glory will be a memorable day for them, declares the Sovereign Lord. 14 People will be continually employed in cleansing the land. They will spread out across the land and, along with others, they will bury any bodies that are lying on the ground. ‘“After the seven months they will carry out a more detailed search. 15 As they go through the land, anyone who sees a human bone will leave a marker beside it until the gravediggers bury it in the Valley of Hamon Gog, 16 near a town called Hamonah. And so they will cleanse the land.”
17 ‘Son of man, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: call out to every kind of bird and all the wild animals: “Assemble and come together from all around to the sacrifice I am preparing for you, the great sacrifice on the mountains of Israel. There you will eat flesh and drink blood. 18 You will eat the flesh of mighty men and drink the blood of the princes of the earth as if they were rams and lambs, goats and bulls – all of them fattened animals from Bashan. 19 At the sacrifice I am preparing for you, you will eat fat till you are glutted and drink blood till you are drunk. 20 At my table you will eat your fill of horses and riders, mighty men and soldiers of every kind,” declares the Sovereign Lord.
21 ‘I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them. 22 From that day forward the people of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God. 23 And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me. So I hid my face from them and handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword. 24 I dealt with them according to their uncleanness and their offences, and I hid my face from them.
25 ‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name. 26 They will forget their shame and all the unfaithfulness they showed towards me when they lived in safety in their land with no one to make them afraid. 27 When I have brought them back from the nations and have gathered them from the countries of their enemies, I will be proved holy through them in the sight of many nations. 28 Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. 29 I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the people of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.’
Key OT/NT passages on how this passage fits within the Bible story as a whole
From the beginning of creation, God has not allowed opposition to his perfect rule to go unjudged (Genesis 3). He is holy and perfect and destroys his enemies because of their rejection of him and his good plans (Genesis 6:5-8). But his judgement is also the means by which he rescues people who have come under the rule of his king and have been given new hearts by the Spirit (Ezekiel 37:24-25, 36:26-27). This rescue is for any who accept King Jesus because on the cross he took the judgement for us (John 3:14-16, Romans 5:6-10, Galatians 3:13-14). The risen Jesus will come back to bring judgement on those who continue to oppose his rule (Revelation 19:11-21, 20:7-15). He will bring those who’ve trusted him into a renewed world without evil or the pain and suffering it causes (Revelation 21).
Brief note on key themes of book
Ezekiel was one of the people taken into exile in 2 Kings 24, during the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem. As he sits with the exiles by the River Kebar, God himself appears. The book of Ezekiel is full of accusations against Israel (chapters 1-24), judgement on the nations (25-32), and a picture of new hope (34-48). It is all about their failure under the Old Covenant, and the promise of the New (36). In essence, though, it teaches us three main things:
God is present with his people in all of his majesty and holiness
his people have hard hearts which need to be transformed
only a sin-bearing sacrifice, a new covenant and a new creation can bring about what God has promised.
Brief notes on the immediate context of the passage
In Chapters 34-37 God promised to give the exiles new-life with him. He would re-create them by his Spirit, cleanse them and give them obedient hearts under God’s king and in God’s presence forever. The evil and rebellion within them, and the judgement they faced for it, would be removed. But what about the hostile and God-opposing powers around them? Forces that greedily seek their harm (38:10-13) and mock any hope they have for rescue. How could they enjoy God’s presence forever when they’re face such powerful oppression?
Using vivid picture language, Chapters 38-39 show that God needs to defeat his enemies if he’s going to rescue a people to be in his presence forever. Rescue and judgement must always go together. The sovereign LORD will totally judge the hostile powers that oppress his people and oppose his rule. God will win and so his people will be restored to his presence in a perfect world without evil. This sets the scene for the mind-blowing promises of Ezekiel 40-48.
Structure of the passage
Chapter 39 is naturally divided by the three ‘this is what the Sovereign LORD’ says statements in v1, 17 and 25. The Sovereign LORD is saying:
1) Be certain: the LORD will judge for his name and our good (v1-16)
Gog represents the coalition of human individuals and institutions opposed to God’s rule and hostile to his people (Ezekiel 38:7). But God will judge his enemies. The Sovereign Lord is totally in control. He will drag Gog into battle and disarm him, knocking his weapon from his hands (v1-3). And he then destroys his enemies. (V4-5). This is certain to happen (v8).
Passages like this seem uncomfortably black and white. We question why such destruction is necessary. We find these verses hard to hear because of their implications for us and those we love. They leave our sense of who God is unsettled. But the LORD does this for his reputation. He is Holy (v7) The perfect ruler who cares about his world (v7). His judgement is totally justifiable, he won’t let those hostile to his perfect rule continue to oppose his good plans forever.
But his judgement also brings total justice. As he judges evil opposition, he will turn everything that hurt his people to their good (v9-10) and will completely cleanse the world of evil’s effects (v11-16). If we’re followers of Jesus, this should lead us to thankfulness. Our rebellion against God was judged, but the judgement fell on Jesus at the cross.
2) Be assured: the LORD will bring down the hostile (v17-24)
The exiles were suffering bitterly at the hands of the ‘mighty men’ of Babylon who mocked them for all they’d lost (Psalm 137:1-3). But God is preparing to bring down those who harm his people. The LORD promises there will be a destruction of the princes of the earth. They seem strong now, but they will be a sacrificial-feast for the birds and wild animals (v17-20). God wins! He punishes his opponents and shows his people he is the LORD their God (v21-22). When Jesus returns as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords he will achieve this (Revelation 19:11-21). Like the exiles, we need to hear this. We live in a world where believers still experience horrific persecution. Here, the church is a small minority in a culture hostile to Christian teachings. But we can be assured that God wins for us and will bring an end to all the injustice and weariness his people experience.
3) Be confident: the LORD restores his sinful people (v25-29)
The temporary judgement the exiles experienced showed that God totally opposes sin wherever it comes from (v23-24). He could have rejected the exiles forever. But the Sovereign Lord promises to restore his people: to have compassion on them, give them his Spirit and turn his face to them (v29). This proves he is holy because it shows he is the faithful LORD who keeps his covenant promises (v28). These promises were in the exiles’ future. We have already begun to experience them. God has shown compassion on us by cleansing us of our sin through Jesus. He has given us his Spirit so we can begin to enjoy his presence. God will never turn his face from us. But we can doubt the security of our relationship with God when we’re overwhelmed by our sin or our circumstances. We need to remember we’ll be in God’s presence and place forever (v28) so that we can be confident he is with us now.
Suggestions for any tricky bits?
What’s going on in this passage!?
We shouldn’t read this like a chronological narrative or get caught up in the details. It is a prophecy in vivid pictures that together are meant to leave us with a strong impression: that God will judge his enemies and restore his people for his name and their good.
Isn’t this destruction immoral and over the top?
See the notes on v1-16 above.
Was I really an enemy of God?
We have all profaned God’s holy name (v7) by talking and acting like he is not the perfectly good and wise ruler of us and his world. Without him changing us through Jesus, we’re anti-God (Romans 5:6-10). We make decisions that damage ourselves and others and stand in the way of his good plan for us and creation. His judgement is justifiable but also avoidable because King Jesus came to take our judgement at the cross (Romans 5:6-10) and so make us part of God’s rescued people (Ezekiel 37:24-25).
Who in the world is Gog?
The name may have been taken from a list of names in the genealogy of Noah (Genesis 10:2). Or he may have been an ancient and particularly wicked king whose story was well known to the exiles. Either way, the point is he’s just a figurehead. He represents all proud human society in rebellion against God and hostile to God’s people. He seems strong, but its not Gog vs. the exiles, it’s Gog vs. God.
What’s all that business with the cleansing of the land and the number 7 in v9-16?
God promises that he would bring his new people to a land where they’d enjoy his presence forever (see v28). The promise of the land is only fulfilled under a forever King (Ezekiel 37:25), ultimately in the eternal presence of God (37:26-28). Ezekiel 40-48 will show us more, but this is a picture of the new creation world when Jesus returns and God lives with his people (see Revelation 21). V9-16 in Ezekiel 39 show us what is necessary for that wonderful future to become a reality. The burning of their enemies’ weapons as fuel (v9-10) shows that God will turn everything that harmed his people to their good. The total burial of the enemy horde (v11-16) shows that God will completely cleanse them and his place of evil. In God’s forever place, all the bad things come untrue. The number 7 is the number of completeness (e.g. the 7 days of creation) and shows this cleansing is complete.
Summary of author’s main point
The LORD will totally destroy the hostile nations in judgement to show his holiness and will totally restore his sinful people to show his faithfulness.
Purpose for original audience
Don’t worry about the mighty forces opposed to you, but trust that the LORD is committed to you and will one day restore you to safety.
Purpose for us today
The LORD will judge his enemies and we will see our restoration: trust Jesus’ victory and live thankful and confident lives in a hostile world.
Key area of application
If we’ve not trusted in Jesus
The total judgement to come could end in our destruction or our good. Our hostility to the LORD does need to be judged. But because of God’s deep love for us the judgement fell on Jesus when he died on the cross. If we believe him and give up our hostility to God’s rule in our life, his judgement will free us from judgement. So turn to him for mercy and look forward to a world cleansed of all evil and pain.
If we’re trusting Jesus
Am I living like there’s a future judgement?
Thankful that we’re not facing it.
Living without fear in the face of a hostile culture.
Praying for the reassurance of persecuted believers around the world.
And am I living like I’ll see our total restoration?
Speaking into the doubts we have about our relationship with God when we’re aware of sin or overwhelmed by circumstances.
Confidently recalling our relationship with God is secure because he’s promised we will fully enjoy his presence in the future.