Sefer Ezekiel

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  • CHAPTER 38


    Many people mistakenly believe that the war of Gog and Magog is a war of Gog AGAINST Magog, and the two have been represented in many weird and monstrous ways in popular folklore. But the truth is plainly visible in the opening verse of our present chapter. Gog is the name of the king or leader of an unholy alliance of nations, while Magog is the name of his people, whose founder was Japheth's second son (Gen:10:2, see Rashi on the opening verse of our present chapter). It is clear from verses 8 and 12 of the present chapter that their war is against the people of Israel in the land of Israel .

    The onslaught of Gog and his allies against Israel at the end of days was foreordained from the beginning of time and already spoken of "in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel , who prophesied in those days for many years that I would bring you against them" (verse 17). Thus the war of Gog and Magog is prophesied in Zechariah ch 14 and alluded to in many different passages in Isaiah and the other prophets. According to tradition, this war was also the subject of the prophecy of Eldad and Meidad in the wilderness in the time of Moses (Numbers 11:26, see Targum Yonasan ad loc. and Sanhedrin 17b). There is an historical inevitability about this war that will cause it to come about whether the nations want it or not. Thus God says to Gog: "I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you and all your army." (v 4).


    The peoples of Magog, Meshech and Tuval mentioned in verse 2 were all descendants of the sons of Japheth and are considered to have spread out from where Noah's ark came to rest on Mt Ararat to the regions that became their original habitations in the northeast of Turkey, immediately south of the Black Sea, in Armenia, southern Georgia and the regions west of the Caspian Sea. It is highly likely that in the course of time these peoples wandered far and wide from there. (It is noteworthy that Meshech - Muscovy , Russia - has traditionally been one of the leading persecutors of Israel and Judaism, and its one-time dictator, Joseph Stalin, was from Georgia , embedded in the name of whose capital city of Tbilisi is the name TUVAL.)

    Verse 5 mentions Paras or Persia , Kush (descended from the firstborn son of Ham, Gen. 10:6), identified either with Sudan or with the Hindu Kush in Afghanistan , and Phut, which is identified by some with Libya and by others with Somalia .

    Verse 6 mentions Gomer, which the rabbis identified with GERMAMIA (= Germany , see Targum Yonasan on our verse and Yoma 10b) and Togarma, which was the traditional Hebrew name for Turkey . Verse 6 also mentions "many nations" as well as "the far sides of the north", which might indicate anywhere across the northern hemisphere from North America to Northern Europe, Russia , China and Japan !

    Verse 13 mentions Sheba , identified variously with east Africa ( Ethiopia ?) and Arabia ( Yemen ?), Dedan (=northeast Arabia, the Arab Emirates?) and Tarshish, which has different connotations in different Biblical texts and may indicate Tarsus in Asia Minor, North Africa ( Tunisia ) or Spain .


    Our text explicitly states that the war of Gog and Magog will occur "at the end of days", when the nations will come "against the land that is brought back from the sword and is gathered out of many peoples." (v 8; cf. verse 16). As a follow-on from Ezekiel's prophecy in Chapter 36 about the return of Israel to their land at the end of days, our present text teaches that the assault of the nations occurs AFTER the ingathering of Israel, or the greater part of them, from exile, when they have come back to their land in the hope of dwelling there prosperously and securely, spread out unfortified habitations (vv 8, 11-12 & 14). It is plain that this refers to our present era, when for the first time in two thousand years a majority of the world's population of Jews lives in Israel . Our texts state explicitly that the intention of Gog and his allies is to despoil Israel of their wealth (vv 12-13 of our present chapter) and appropriate their land (as stated in Ezekiel 36: 2 & 5)


    Verses 18-23 depict the divine wrath that will be unleashed against Gog and his armies (which is also the subject of the following chapter). Verse 19 speaks of a great "shaking" (RA'ASH) in the Land of Israel , which indicates a literal earthquake, as prophesied in Zechariah 14:4-5). Verse 20 says that the very fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field and all creeping beings as well as all mankind will shake at God's presence. RaDaK (ad loc.) states that this verse may be taken both metaphorically and literally. (It is well-known that many animals are intuitively aware of earthquakes etc. even before they occur.)

    Verse 21 teaches that the downfall of the nations will come about when tumult breaks out among the forces of Gog and Magog, who will fight "each against his brother". Then God will judge them with "plague, blood and driving rain and stones of algavish (hail shining like the gavish jewel), fire and sulfur" (verse 22). The name of God will then be magnified and sanctified in the eyes of many nations and they will know that HaShem rules (v 23).

    * * * Verses 18-23 of the present chapter together with chapter 39 vv 1-15 are read as the Haftara on Shabbos Chol HaMo'ed Succos - the intermediate Sabbath of the festival of Succos. * * *


    The present chapter continues Ezekiel's prophecy of the war of Gog and Magog, depicting the miraculous overthrow of their invading hordes on the hills and mountains of Israel , where they will be prey for the wild birds and beasts of the field.

    "And I will make My holy name known in the midst of My people Israel and I will not allow My holy name to be profaned any more" (verse 7). "For if Israel are lowly, this is causes desecration of His name because people say that these are the people of HaShem yet He does not have the power to save them" (Rashi ad loc.).

    "And I will give to Gog a place for burial in Israel , the valley of those who travel to the east of the sea." (v 11). Although this verse does not explicitly spell out whether the sea in question is Israel 's "western" sea, i.e. the Mediterranean, or her "eastern" sea, i.e. the Sea (or "Lake") of Tiberius, our commentators agree that it is referring to the latter (Targum, Rashi and RaDaK ad loc.). It would thus appear that the great bulk of the armies of Gog and Magog will fall in a mountain pass to the east of the Kinneret ("Lake Tiberius"), which suggests that they will seek to mount a land invasion of Israel from Jordan and Syria via the Golan Heights , a scenario that in the present age becomes more and more plausible with every passing day.

    Our rabbis taught that the unique privilege of the armies of Gog and Gog in being brought to burial (COVERED under the earth) rather than being ignominiously left out in the open to eternity is a reward "measure for measure" for their ancestor Japheth, who with his brother Shem averted his eyes from the nakedness of their father Noah after he became drunk and COVERED it over (Genesis 9:23; Bereishis Rabbah #36).

    "And all the people of the land shall bury them and it shall be for them for a name" (v 13) - "All the nations will tell their praises and kindness, saying 'There is no other people who are as compassionate as this - can you find anyone who buries the very enemy that stood up against him to kill him?" (Rashi ad loc.). Those who have not been deceived by the contemporary world media campaign to demonize Israel and its people know that until today this outstanding compassion even for their enemies is one of the distinguishing traits of the chosen people.

    God's overthrow of the armies of Gog and Magog and His restoration of Israel to dwell at peace in their land will be the vindication of His glory in the eyes of both Israel and all the nations, who will thereby know that HaShem rules (vv 21-29).