A Bible Study by Jack Kelley
Much of the discussion about Israel in the end times revolves around the battle of Ezekiel 38-39. So let me start by offering my opinion as to why Ezekiel’s prophecy is not on the verge of fulfillment and cannot be the next battle on Israel’s horizon.
I think three verses from Ezekiel 38 support my conclusion.
(Ezek. 38:8) After many days you will be called to arms. In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety.
(Ezek. 38:11)You will say, “I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people—all of them living without walls and without gates and bars.”
(Ezek. 38:14)“Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say to Gog: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: In that day, when my people Israel are living in safety, will you not take notice of it?”
This is not the case today. By no standard of measure can Israel be described as living in peace. They are surrounded by enemies sworn to their destruction. They are under constant threat of attack, and have had to build a giant wall along their border to protect themselves. On any given day they could wake up to sirens and a barrage of rockets, and instead of being times when they can relax with family and friends their holidays are especially dangerous. They know that the day they let down their guard could be the day their enemies strike. They learned this in the fall of 1973 when for one of the few times in their history they did let down their guard and were almost overrun. So what will it take for these three verses in Ezekiel to become effective?
For Israel to believe that they are living in peace and are not subject to attack first requires the belief that they have nothing to fear from their next door neighbors. These neighbors are currently being used by Israel’s greater enemies to keep Israel on the brink of war. They will have to be neutralized to create the illusion of peace.
Therefore I don’t think the phrase “and the many nations with you” from Ezekiel 38:6 can be used to include them, as some commentators insist. They say this is a “catch-all” phrase that is meant to include Lebanon, Hezbollah, the Palestinians, Hamas, and others, but I don’t buy it for several reasons.
First, the names listed in Psalm 83 all have their counterparts in our time. Second, no battle like this has ever happened, and third, some of the very words written there have been publicly proclaimed by Israel’s current enemies.
A partial fulfillment may be in view in 2 Chron. 20 which describes Moab, Ammon, and parts of Edom invading Judah during King Jehosophat’s reign (872-848 BC). Interestingly, Jahaziel, a Levite who prophesied Judah’s victory in that battle was a descendant of Asaph, who wrote Psalm 83. Applying one of His favorite tactics, the Lord set Israel’s enemies against each other and they defeated themselves. (Ezekiel 38:21 tells of a future use of this same tactic.)
But the Battle of 2 Chron. 20 doesn’t fully meet the requirements of Psalm 83, having many fewer antagonists, so on that basis we can assume it was a partial fulfillment at best and the ultimate fulfillment is still in the future, perhaps the very near future. If so, it could be the bridge between the current state of affairs in Israel and the conditions necessary for the Battle of Ezekiel 38 to happen.
Asaph, the author of Psalm 83, was a Levite, and one of the chief musicians during the time of King David. (1 Chron. 16:5). Today we might call him a minister of music. 2 Chron. 29:30 tells us he was also a “seer”. That means he had visions of the future. The Hebrew word translated “seer” comes from a root that means “to prophesy”. This lends credence to the view that Psalm 83 is a prophecy, perhaps resulting from one of Asaph’s visions. Let’s read it.
O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still. See how your enemies are astir, how your foes rear their heads. With cunning they conspire against your people; they plot against those you cherish.
“Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
With one mind they plot together; they form an alliance against you- the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites, of Moab and the Hagrites, Gebal, Ammon and Amalek, Philistia, with the people of Tyre. Even Assyria has joined them to lend strength to the descendants of Lot. (Ps. 83:1-8)
The language is out of today’s headlines and the countries lined up against Israel in this Psalm inhabited the lands of Israel’s current neighbors.
Edom was in land called the an-Nafud desert today. It stretches across Northern Saudi Arabia, southern Jordan, southern Israel, and into the Sinai peninsula.
Moab and Ammon were part of today’s Jordan, represented by the Palestinians.
(The same process that led to the rebirth of Israel as the Jewish homeland also created Jordan as the Palestinian homeland. Today about 1/3 of the people living in Jordan identify themselves as Palestinians. Personally, I don’t believe that Jordan will be officially involved. But I don’t think the government will prevent their Palestinian population from joining the attack.)
Some have tried to link the Hagrites to Egypt, saying they were the descendants of Hagar. Remember, she was the Egyptian slave woman Abraham and Sarah acquired there who became the mother of Ishmael (Genesis 16).
Other scholars say the names “Hagrite” and “Ishmaelite” are synonymous. If so, this aligns them with the desert tribes of Ishmael rather than with Egypt and locates them in the desert east and south of Israel. There’s no record of any other children born to Hagar, and since God promised her many descendants (Genesis 16:10) and said that Ishmael would become a great nation (Genesis 21:18) this makes sense to me. You can read about the 12 tribes of Ishmael who became the patriarchs of 12 tribes in Genesis 25:12-18.
(It’s important to note that the desert people of today, called Bedouins now, don’t owe their allegiance to any country and don’t recognize anyone’s borders. Lately they’ve aligned themselves with various Muslim groups, all opposed to both Israel and Egypt. In fact the Sinai Bedouins are currently at war with Egypt.)
Gebal (also called Byblos) and Tyre are cities that can still be found in present day Lebanon, home of Hezbollah.
The Amalekites lived in Israel’s southern desert and Philistia settled in Gaza on Israel’s southern border, where Hamas currently reigns.
Assyria pretty much surrounded Israel and the phrase “descendants of Lot” is another reference to Jordan. Remember, Moab and Ammon were the sons of incestuous unions between Lot and his two daughters (Genesis 19:30-38). They and their families settled in land the Lord gave them east of the Jordan River (Deut. 2:9), land that today is called Jordan.
So here we have all of Israel’s next door neighbors. Now let’s go back to Psalm 83.
Do to them as you did to Midian, as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon, who perished at Endor and became like refuse on the ground. Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna, who said, “Let us take possession of the pasturelands of God.”
Make them like tumbleweed, O my God, like chaff before the wind. As fire consumes the forest or a flame sets the mountains ablaze, so pursue them with your tempest and terrify them with your storm. Cover their faces with shame so that men will seek your name, O LORD. May they ever be ashamed and dismayed; may they perish in disgrace. Let them know that you, whose name is the LORD—that you alone are the Most High over all the earth. (Psalm 83:9-18)
Asaph, the Psalm’s writer, can’t resist telling the Lord exactly how he’d like Israel’s enemies to be dealt with. In that sense he’s just like you and me.
Midian was defeated by a vastly outnumbered force under the command of Gideon. It was another case of the Lord turning Israel’s enemies against each other and causing them to defeat themselves (Judges 7).
Jabin was a king of the Canaanites and Sisera was the commander of his army. The Lord lured the Canaanite army into a trap and the Israelites destroyed them (Judges 4). The commander of Israel’s army was named Barak, just like Israel’s recent Defense Minister. Probably a coincidence.
Oreb, Zeeb Zebah, and Zalmunna were all leaders of the Midianite army. They were executed by Gideon and the Israelites in Judges 7-8.
Asaph’s prayer was that Israel’s current enemies will be just as soundly defeated as were the Midianites and the Canaanites, their armies scattered and their leaders executed.
Should this be the case, Israel will become larger, not smaller, with the contention over the ownership of Gaza, the West bank and the Golan put to an end. Israel will become stronger, not weaker, its military reputation vastly enhanced. The divided land would be divided no more, and Jerusalem would remain a unified city. The controversial security fence could even come down, since the land borders on all three sides would be considered safe and the threat of terrorist attacks diminished. In most people’s minds 60 years of war will have finally ended. It will be the perfect opportunity for Israel to be lured into a false sense of security and become a peaceful and unsuspecting people living in a land of unwalled villages as our verses from Ezekiel 38 require. This is a critical condition that must be met prior to Ezekiel’s battle and the fulfillment of Psalm 83 would go a long way toward meeting it. You can almost hear the footsteps of the Messiah.