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Ezekiel, Revelation and Iran

Recent end-times writings have been associating the development of nuclear arms in Iran with the depiction of Gog and Magog as found in Revelation 20:7-10.

The terms Gog and Magog first appear in Ezekiel 38-39, a text written after and in response to, the fall of <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags” />Jerusalem in 587/6 BCE. In Ezekiel, Gog is referred to as a leader of an invading army from the far north that will attack the people of Israel in the latter years. <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
 
Chapters 33-39 of Ezekiel record God’s promise of restoration after the Babylonian exile (587/6-538 BCE). Chapters 38-39 describe the triumph that God will have over the ultimate enemy Gog,. That victory will pave the way for God’s re-enthronement over Israel, in Jerusalem (see Ezekiel 40-48).
 
The defeat of Gog serves as a vindication of God’s holiness and a demonstration of God’s might, while proving that the nation’s sinfulness, and not God’s weakness or lack of concern, led Israel into exile.
 
These are extremely important theological concepts for Israel at the time of the exile. The surrounding nations believed in many gods that were attached to geographical locations, in particular to individual cities.
 
Consequently, when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon, Jerusalem’s neighbors would have understood that Babylon’s gods were more powerful and worthier of worship. The promised return to Jerusalem, conversely, vindicates the God of Israel as the one true God.
 
The author of Revelation borrows the Gog and Magog imagery to describe the final assault against God’s people and the beloved city (Rev. 20:8-9).
 
This is not unexpected, as Gog and Magog are also found in other writings from this period (ca. 100 CE).
 
The identification of Gog and Magog is uncertain at best. In Ezekiel, Gog is a person and Magog a territory. In Revelation both Gog and Magog are used as names of evil nations.
 
Both biblical books, Ezekiel and Revelation, are responding to persecutions in a particular time and setting. And in each, the Gog-Magog imagery is used to instill hope that God is preparing to bring redemption and salvation to these persecuted communities.
 
First to the Jews living in the Babylonian exile (sixth century BCE), then to the Christ followers of the first century CE who experienced the persecutions that led up to, and followed immediately after the destruction of the second Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.
 
In each of these biblical contexts, separated by more than 500 years, the terms Gog and Magog are used to refer to some unnamed ultimate evil that would be overcome by God so that Jews and Christians might be vindicated, their communities restored, and they would have the freedom to live and worship as they feel called to do.
 
It seems to me these three things have already happened. That is not to suggest there have been no more persecutions. We need only remember the Holocaust to establish this truth. But, the Babylonian exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem in 538 BCE to rebuild the city and the temple (completed 515 BCE).
 
Similarly, Jewish and Christian communities have developed and continued since 70 CE. Have there been persecutions along the way? Most certainly. But, there have also been numerous moments and locales where both communities have experienced freedom of worship.
 
Even still, today, in the year 2006, “prophecy teachers” would have us believe that the prophecies of Ezekiel and John (i.e., the book of Revelation) have not been realized.
 
Consequently, they seek to attribute the title(s) Gog and Magog to contemporary nations, and to suggest there will be a colossal gathering of armies that will march against Jerusalem, and that God will come supernaturally in the heavens to destroy these armies and vindicate this city.
 
It is true we are seeing wars, and threats of more wars, in our world today. It is true that we are experiencing world tensions, much of which is orientated around religious communities and beliefs.
 
However, it is not true that Ezekiel and John were describing this moment. They were describing horrible tensions, persecutions and wars of their own time for which they sought relief–and by the grace of God relief came.
 
So we might ask, if Ezekiel and Revelation are not a literal description of our own time period, can we still benefit from them? Most certainly! For within these books can be found the hope that God is at work in our world to bring peace, and hope and healing.
 
How? Through humanity’s faithful, non-violent resistance to evil. For if we do not participate in evil, then evil cannot win, and it will have been conquered.
 
This is the living message of Jesus’ atoning work on the cross. As John the Revelator has told us, the work has already been done, the lamb has been slain, and evil has been conquered (Rev. 12:1-6).
 
Now it only remains for his followers to go and do likewise, and thus, usher in the new social order that has been hoped for since the writing of Isaiah 65:17 and 66:22.
 
LeAnn Snow Flesher teaches Old Testament at American Baptist Seminary of the West. She is author of Left Behind? The Facts Behind the Fiction, published by Judson Press.
 
Previous related articles:
‘Left Behind?: The Facts Behind the Fiction’The Challenge of ‘Left Behind’