Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Commentariat Speaks (18)

Once in a while the commentariat speaks directly to me:

“Are you one of those people who say that there are actually two different Gog and Magog events?”

Good question. I may have looked into it before, but my last serious attempt to unpack Bible prophecy in detail was way back in the nineties. I wouldn’t attempt to answer a question like that without going back to the scriptures and refreshing my memory. So I begged off answering until I had time to take a more careful look at the text.

This week I had plenty.

Who and What is Magog?

Magog was one of Noah’s sixteen grandsons listed in Genesis 10. If we believe the biblical account, he and his siblings repopulated our planet after the Genesis flood. There are 7.8 billion people in the world today, which means maybe 500 million people currently on our planet carry Magog’s genes.

Now, obviously that number is a wild approximation. It would have been affected by so many factors we can’t begin to take them all into account, from the size of each subsequent generation born to each of the sons of Noah’s three sons, to plagues, wars, natural disasters, local customs ... you name it. The actual number of Magog’s descendants could be 100 million or it could be 900 million. The point is this: it is a very large number. Magog’s progeny surely make up more than one modern day nation; it is likely they make up several, and that they are found all over the planet.

The name Gog is a little more obscure. We find a Reubenite named Gog in one of the genealogies in 1 Chronicles, but it is all but impossible he is the Gog referred to in Ezekiel and Revelation. For one thing, he was a distant descendant of Shem rather than Japheth, as Magog was.

In Ezekiel 38 and 39 the name Magog is applied to the northern region settled by Magog’s descendants (that is, “northern” in relation to Israel), and Gog is a person, a “chief prince” of Meshech and Tubal, or possibly a prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal. Gog is the leader of not just Magog, Meshech, Tubal and possibly Rosh, but a confederacy of other nations — Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer and Beth-togarmah — who will align themselves against a restored Israel. They will be a horde, a “cloud covering the land”, which seems an apt description considering the potential numbers involved.

Before or After?

For solid contextual reasons, many dispensationalists believe the Ezekiel “Gog and Magog event” will occur prior to the millennial reign of Christ. A miraculous deliverance from the armies of Magog will turn the entire remaining house of Israel back to their God. Prior to it, they are said to have practiced treachery against God during the period in which they have been allowed to dwell securely in their land. This will not be the case at any point during the Millennium. Putting Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog event at the end of the Millennium simply does not work.*

When we come to the book of Revelation, however, we find a second reference to a “Gog and Magog event”:
“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
This event is unarguably post-millennial. The text explicitly refers to Satan’s release “when the thousand years are ended”. If words have meaning, these two events cannot be one and the same.

The Underlying Question

The underlying question, then, is something like this: “Doesn’t it seem highly unlikely there would be two different Gog and Magog events, and, that being the case, shouldn’t you reconsider the validity of your dispensational pre-millennial schema?”

In a word, no. Two different Gog and Magog events do not seem particularly unlikely to me. There are enough differences between the Ezekiel account and the Revelation account to make them difficult to harmonize, and no logical reason to force them together.

A prophecy made about events to take place at least two-and-a-half millennia into the future (or perhaps three-and-a-half, depending on your understanding of what is being said) is bound to speak about the nations of that time period in ways that may seem to us excessively vague and general. And yet it is easy to see why. The people who are now living in the region Ezekiel referred to as Magog are not necessarily all (or even mostly) descended from the people who lived there when Ezekiel wrote, and the coalition represented by Gog takes in nations from all around Israel: Ethiopia and Libya to the south (“Cush” and “Put”), Turkey to the north (“Meshech”, “Tubal” and “Beth-Togarmah”), the Ukraine, Russia, Kazakhstan and Mongolia even further north (“Gomer”), and Iran to the east (“Persia”). Then there is Rosh, which has been variously identified as Russia, Babylon or Assyria.

The website Everything Explained Today walks through the umpteen different ways “Gog and Magog” has been understood throughout history. What quickly becomes evident is that attempts to get too specific with our identification of the nations which will come against Israel in future days are not terribly well-founded or authoritative. We can be fairly sure people coming from the “land of Magog” are Aryans of some description. Beyond that, we are really speculating.

To Summarize

In summary, then, “Gog and Magog” is a very, very broad term. It is not like saying “Norwegians”, “Germans” or “Russians”. The expression may well include all three and more besides. In Revelation, it is synonymous with “the nations that are at the four corners of the earth”.

In the last century, we had two massive wars only 21 years apart. Nobody is likely to confuse WWI with WWII, or insist we must identify them as a single event because Germany started both. This being the case, I have little difficulty envisioning two different Gog and Magog events separated by 1,000 years.

* Some interpreters see two different events in chapters 38 and 39 of Ezekiel, one pre- and one post-millennial. They see the “land of unwalled villages” and the “quiet people who dwell securely ... without walls, and having no bars and gates” of chapter 38 as a description of late-millennial conditions. If this is the case, then Ezekiel has given us the post-millennial event first, followed by the pre-millennial event. That seems odd, but not impossible.

However, nowhere in Ezekiel are we told that the Israelis being attacked are predominantly good or godly. We are simply told they are peaceful and defenseless, a condition which might well be explained by the nation having entered into the covenant of Daniel 9 and possibly Isaiah 28.

Moreover, the motivation of the Ezekiel 38-39 attack is clearly given: “to seize spoil and carry off plunder”. The Revelation account involves Satanic deception and is an attack on “the camp of the saints and the beloved city”. It seems more an outright revolt against the rule of Christ than a raid with a view to carrying off gold and silver, livestock and goods.

Further, why would God need to “show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations” at the very end of Christ’s millennial reign, where surely God’s greatness and holiness would have been on display non-stop for a full thousand years?

In short, I do not find the evidence for two separate events in Ezekiel 38-39 terribly compelling.

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