Does Ezekiel 36-39 predict a war with modern day Israel?
If you’ve ever read a Hal Lindsey book, browsed the Left Behind Series, ever tuned in to TBN, or simply glanced at a Charisma magazine, then you have probably come across the idea in one form or another that the Bible predicts an imminent war with modern-day Israel complete with B-52 bombers, AK-47s and nuclear warheads. The usual culprits for the instigators of the war are Russian and Iran, but sometimes Ethiopia is thrown into the mix as well. The idea is based off of Ezekiel chapters 36-39.
At first glance, these chapters seem like a slam dunk for the prophecy pundits. Ezekiel 36 and 37 describe a restored Israel after having been scattered abroad for a long time. Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe armies coming from the north attempting to annihilate the Jewish people and the bloodbath that occurs as God fights for Israel. The idea that this could happen in our time is certainly plausible (at least with Iran, I see no reason why Russia or Ethiopia would want to attack Israel any time soon, in fact, most Ethiopians believe the Jews are their cousins because they see themselves as descendants of the Queen of Sheba).
As enticing as it may be to pick up the daily newspaper and point to chapters and verses in the Bible to make sense of current events, the conclusions you come to by doing that are usually, if not always, faulty. Worse, they can become self-fulfilling prophecies. It seems that every day another TV preacher calls for war with Iran based on these four chapters of Ezekiel.
Let’s break this one down.
First of all, Ezekiel was written after the first siege of Jerusalem when the author was in exile in Babylon. The purpose of the book is to warn those remaining in Jerusalem of its impeneding destruction by Babylon and to give hope that God will restore His people to the land after His punishment for their sins are complete. The most plausible explanation for Ezekiel chapters 36 and 37 is that it refers to the restoration of Jews to the land after the Babylonian captivity. This, of course was fulfilled approximately 70 years later when Cyrus the Persian ruler allowed the first group of Jews to return under Zerubabbel. Although prophecy pundits insist that these chapters must refer to modern day Israel, I would suggest that we allow scripture to interpret scripture and see if the New Testament refers to any of these chapters. As a matter of fact, it does. The Apostle Paul, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit applies Ezekiel 37:26,27 ( a passage that all prophecy pundits insist applies to modern-day Israel) directly to the Church (II Corinthians 6:16). I find it odd that so many American evangelicals call it heresy to apply ancient prophesies for Israel to the church. By that standard, I guess we can call the Apostle Paul a heretic. Call me crazy, but I think I’ll side with Paul over TBN any day.
What about the war prophesied in chapters 38-39? First of all, if we apply the literal hermeneutic closely, which all prophecy pundits insist that we must do, then we should expect Russia, Iran, and Ethiopia to attack Israel riding horses and chariots, not by flying B-52 fighter jets and dropping nuclear warheads. This brings us to a good question. If Ezekiel describes a war with Israel and it doesn’t correspond to anything that could happen today, when could this event have taken place?
Good question. I wanted to know that myself. I’ve found two good explanations. One is that Ezekiel prophesied the events that took place in the Book of Esther. The other explanation says the event happened in the 2nd century B.C. corresponding to the Maccabean revolt.
In my opinion, both of the above theories are credible. Of course, there is another way to look at this even if one adheres to a dispensational perspective. The only other place in the Bible where Gog and Magog are mentioned together is Revelation 20:7-9 and that prophesies an event that will take place at the end of the 1,000 year reign of Christ. In fact if you look at the parallels between the passge in Revelation and the passage in Ezekiel, the similarities are stunning. If this is the same event, then is it really something we should worry about now? Call me crazy, but I think our Lord Jesus Christ is quite capable of putting down a rebellion if He really is ruling from an earthly Jerusalem for 1,000 years as dispensationalists believe.
So, in the end, even dispensational theology, which the prophecy pundits rest on, doesn’t support the prophecy pundits views. If this is true, then why do these pundits continue making millions of dollars off their bestsellers? Beats me!