Could we be witnessing The End Days? The Wars of Gog & Magog
Reading the Haftara
Today’s haftarah (Shabbat reading from the Prophets) is not for the faint of heart;
When I first read the haftarah of Chol ha’moed Succoth (Sabbath during the festival of Succoth), I was shocked by the shear depictions of violence described in today’s haftarah – for me, it wasn’t clear why we would be reading such a horrible description of utter destruction on such a happy holiday such as Succoth. For instance, today’s haftarah depicts the utter destruction of a coalition attacking Israel, fire, brimstone, hail, clouds covering the land, so many dead that it takes 7 months to cleanse the land and bury them, and much more.
Introduction to the Haftara
Today’s haftarah is from Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. These verses describe a prophecy that occurs after the re-gathering of the nation of Israel in their land. The prophet foretells of an invasion of Israel by a coalition of nations under the leadership of a man called “Gog.” While chapter 38 talks about the war of Gog and Magog, chapter 39 provides a lot more gory detail about this war.
While preparing for this drasha I googled the words Ezikel 38 – 0.43 seconds later, I retrieved more than 15 million results. Focusing on the first couple of pages of results, I found 1 Jewish explanation and over 30 Christian sites describing these verses in great detail. The church of Later Day Saint (Mormons) seems to be obsessed with this subject and use many of Ezikiels many prophecies to justify their Book of Mormon.
In all cases that I looked at; the Christian explanations followed the Jewish ones and more often than not, referenced Jewish sources. According to Ezikel, the war of Gog and Magog is fought at what the prophet calls: ”the last days”, in Jewish tradition, this is recognized as the days immediately preceding the arrival of Meshiach ben-David – the messiah. According to Ezekiel, the war of Gog and Magog is a war of the nations who despise Israel l – initially, this war is presented as a war of economic opportunity where nations wish to plunder the riches of the land and to take from Israel everything that it owns. Ezekiel promises that the Lord God will show all nations that he sides with the children Of Israel and cause all who attack Israel to be punished.
Following the war of Gog and Magog, The Christian narrative takes a sharp turn away from Jewish sources and speaks of the rapture and how all the Jews – and they are very specific about Jews, will see the light and believe that Christ is the true messiah and will covert to believe in him.
The Legitimacy of Ezekiel
Ezekiel, as prophets go, is actually nowadays considered to be reasonably reliable in his prophecies. Mainly because of one key event - he very accurately predicted the in-gathering of the children of Israel from the multitude of nations to which they had been dispersed.
While both Isiah and, to some extent, Jeremiah had also predicted this event, Ezekiel mentions this time after time in many verses.
"I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered -- with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath."
‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. “
“I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.”
70 years ago, if you had asked anyone if they believed that this prophecy could come true, they would have laughed at you and considered you a crackpot. With the re-birth of Israel, we have witnessed miracle after miracle in our own time.
If Ezikel was accurate in predicting the rise of Israel as a powerful nation against all odds, we must ask ourselves: could he also be right about the subject of our haftarah?
While I have no intention of persuading you in any way, and I leave it up to you to study the narrative, I do want to focus on a couple of verses that caught my eye.
In chapter 38, verse 8, Ezikel states that the war of Gog and Magog will come about when all of Israel is sitting securely in its borders. In fact, reading the Hebrew provides us with a slightly different interpretation of this sentence. Va’yishvu Le’betach koolam. Meaning “Everyone [in Israel] will live securely.”
Israel Living Securely
If any of you have visited Israel in the last few years, you might have felt many different emotions; however, I am sure that most of you felt pretty safe. I believe that this verse goes further and can be interpreted as saying that Israel is not only safe but very prosperous and lacks for nothing – they are confident in themselves, they are successful, and they are going from great to greater. Does confidence create complacency, though? Could living securely also mean that Israel no longer senses external threats that could be precursors to the wars of Gog and Magog?
During my last visit to Israel this last summer, I noticed something I had never noticed before: people were sure of themselves – there was absolutely no lack of water anymore, more swimming pools than ever, green lush gardens and parks, no commercials urging citizens to save water – all that is behind them. Who would have believed? They have trillions of tons of natural gas; they have oil reserves and are even exporting now. The high-tech industry is the envy of the world. Their army is one of the most powerful in the world, and the Iron Dome defense system caused some from Hamas to quote that “their god is powerful and diverts our missiles from their targets midflight – how can we fight this?”.
In fact, Ezekiel predicted this and stated that the jealousy of the surrounding nations – accompanied by others- starts the war of Gog and Magog. Could we possibly translate jealousy to be the definition of anti-semitism? Anti-semitism is the hate of a Semitic group (the Jews) without any reason. Could it be possible that jealousy is the only adjective that the prophet had available to describe this baseless hate?
Translating what we read today:
And you shalt say [meaning Gog and those with him], I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, [here we see again “veyeshvu le’betach koolam”]
12 To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land. [cattle and goods – meaning riches and success].
Think about that! 2,500 years ago, Ezikel wrote about “the people who are gathered out of the nations,” a desolate land that blossomed!
Isn’t that just amazing?
The other verse that I want to explore a little concerns the identity of Gog and Magog.
The countries with Gog
While it is widely agreed that Gog in fact represents a person – this might be a tyrannical leader who decides to attack Israel in order to take its wealth. However, sources are less clear on Magog.
In Chapter 38, verse 15, the prophet states that “they shall come from their place of the extreme North, them and many peoples with them.” Based upon this verse and several other biblical references to Magog, it is generally accepted that Magog is a country. But where is this country? Before I attempt to answer that question, I want to reference several other countries that the prophet clearly lists:
Paras, Kush and Pot, Meshach and Tubal
Paras we know is Persia – or, in modern days, Iran. Kush, we know as present-day Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia, also possible that this included parts of present-day Yemen. Pot is known as Libya or possibly Libya, Tunisia, and Algeria.
Meshach and tubal are known as provinces of Turkey. In addition, it is also mentioned those that border Israel will join with them, specifically Syria and Lebanon – known then as Tyre – now a city in Lebanon.
With that, we still must attempt to understand the identity of Magog.
Where is Magog?
Throughout the generations, whenever the Jewish populations were threatened with annihilation, they often attempted to identify the persecutor as Magog. However, the prophecy never really fit the specific circumstances.
In almost all modern commentaries that I read, Magog is either identified as Turkey, the southern Muslim states of what was Soviet Russia, or more often as Russia itself.
If you had asked me a week ago if I believed that Magog could be Russia, I might have been indifferent to the question; however, think about what is going on in Syria – Russia has come to the aid of a tyrannical leader in order to protect its financial and military interests and increase its influence in that part of the world. They are building up an army in Syria.
Where is the US?
Many of the commentaries that I read question where is the United States in all this – I ask you the same question – where is the United States in the Middle East today? Obviously, without the US leaving power vacuums, there would be no ISIS, Libya would not be such a fanatical mess, Iraq and Afghanistan might have stabilized to some extent, and then there is Syria, Lebanon, and what ties them all together: fanatical Iran – who has struck recent economic and nuclear deals with Russia – a country it never got along with.
I leave you to ponder a few questions:
We know that the Nuclear agreement with Iran is a disaster. Benjamin Netanyahu has stated this on many occasions – everyone in the world knows this – yet they let it proceed. With Iran’s alliance with Hizbollah in Lebanon, Asad in Syria, Hamas in Gaza, and now with Russia, while the US sits on the sidelines and really is no longer a player in the region, we witness the marathon of countries and corporations rushing to Iran to pump billions into an economy that supports terror and has the very clearly stated objective of the destruction of Israel as their ultimate goal. We are given no reason to believe that this is not their goal.
The countries mentioned in Ezekiel’s prophecy are more or less in place. Does this indicate that the prophecy has teeth? Ezekiel describes a fearsome but limited coalition but with no other country coming to Israel’s help –when we think of the UN's dismal record on support for Israel, is it so far-fetched to think that this coalition and subsequent invasion couldn’t be attempted?
We are witnesses to an unprecedented rise in anti-Semitism. During the last Gaza war, the lines between the haters of Israel and those who stood by her side were clearly drawn across the world. Many celebrities and politicians chose sides either for Israel or against Israel in favor of those calling for her absolute annihilation – for the first time in my life, I witnessed un-ashamed mass demonstrations of hatred towards Israel, which, as we all now know, is no more than an excuse for hatred towards the Jews. In fact, the world’s nations' preoccupation with the tiny state of Israel is transparent, and its clear to everyone what the ultimate motive of this preoccupation is.
As Ezichel states in 38 – 21 and 22,
21 And I will call for a sword against him throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord God: every man’s sword shall be against his brother.
22 And I will inflict him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.
Does this refer to the many nations that will join Magog in their attempt to destroy and plunder the success of Israel? Except for the specific nations listed, It’s clear that it’s not necessarily nations that join Magog, but many people – possibly people from all over the world with one common objective – to see the utter destruction of Israel. Could this be the United Nations or another group? We witnessed the influx of people from all over the world joining ISIS. Is it farfetched to consider a similar coalition of people with hate as their common denominator might want to attack Israel?
As a final note, While there’s a lot more to this story, as in all good stories, the ending of this one is in Israel’s favor, and the whole world realizes that God is with Israel, protecting Israel, and is the one true God.
Now, finally, how does this haftra portion relate to Succoth? Well, it’s pretty simple. Evidently,, all this happens during Succoth! Or possibly starts or ends during Succoth – this is the reason why we read Ezikel 38 and 39 during Succoth. It is the precursor to the coming of Meshiach ben David and the re-establishment of the temple in Jerusalem, where all nations will come to worship the Lord God during the festival of Succoth.
Gideon Paull - Succoth 2018
Note that the events we are witnessing today with Israel's war against Hamas started on the day after Succoth - The festival of Shmini Atzeret (The Eighth day of solemn assembly).