Ezekiel 38 & 39 (Part 14)

Dr. Thomas Ice

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Thus saysthe Lord God, "It will come abouton that day, that thoughts will come into your mind, and you will devise anevil plan, and you will say, 'I will go up against the land of unwalledvillages. I will go against thosewho are at rest, that live securely, all of them living without walls, andhaving no bars or gates, to capture spoil and to seize plunder, to turn yourhand against the waste places which are now inhabited, and against the peoplewho are gathered from the nations, who have acquired cattle and goods, who liveat the center of the world.'"


Verses10 through 13 records the intentions of the invaders. It is no problem for the God of the Bible to know thethoughts and intentions of one's mind and heart (Heb. 4:12–13) and thusreveal to us what one's motives are. Even though the Lord "put hooks in their jaws" (38:4) in order to bringthe invaders down, the human thought process isrevealed in this section.

Bad Intentions

"TheLord God" is a term that denotes "the sovereign Lord of the nations,"[1]which is certainly on display in this passage. "On that day" is a reference to the preceding section whenIsrael is again settled in the land and the time when the invasion will take place. It is on that day that "thoughts willcome into your mind." The Hebrewword translated "thoughts" is a common noun dabar, which is usually translated "word," "speech" or "thing"[2]depending on the context. In thiscontext, the best rendering is "not words, but things which come into hismind. What things these are, welearn from verses 11 and 12."[3] The Hebrew language does not have aword for "mind," even though it is used in the New American Standardtranslation from which I have quoted throughout this series. That is surely the sense of the word,but it is translated "mind" and is the Hebrew labeb that has the basic meaning of "inner man" or"heart."[4] Thus, inner activity like thinking wasassigned to the "heart." In thiscontext, the passage speaks of the things that will take place in the innerman, which would be "thoughts."

Verse10 concludes with the line, "you will devise an evil plan." This phrase is made up of three Hebrewwords. "You will devise" is theHebrew verb hasabat, which has the ideaof "to weave," and in relation to the heart or mind it would convey the idea ofweaving, scheming or devising a plan.[5] The noun is from the same exact root asthe verb. Thus, a literaltranslation would convey the idea of thinking thoughts. But since the third word is anadjective meaning "evil,"[6]it is clear that the sense of this passage refers to an evil plan against God'schosen people, Israel. Therefore,this verse appears to be telling us that even though the general idea to attackIsrael is the result of God's sovereign plan (38:4), the details are conceivedand developed within the mind of Rosh and his band will invaders. Because it is characterized as amanmade scheme or plan, Rosh and his fellow attackers are held responsible.

The Plan Revealed

Theevil scheme is disclosed in verse eleven. The evil thoughts are those of Rosh and say, "I will go up against theland of unwalled villages." Verse11 describes Rosh's perception of a regathered Israel at this time inhistory. There is no reason tothink that Rosh's description is inaccurate. The verb "go up" is a very common Hebrew expression thatmeans "to ascend, go up." It iscommonly used of anyone going to the land of Israel or Jerusalem from outsidethe country. There is no militaryovertone in this verb.[7] The land of Israel is described in thispassage in the following four ways: 1) the land ofunwalled villages; 2) those who are at rest; 3) that live securely; and 4) allof them living without walls, and having no bars or gates.

The first characterizationof Israel as a land of unwalled villages means that they will not build wallsaround their villages for protection as in ancient times. Randall Price notes: "only the Old Cityof Jerusalem has a wall and the modern city since the late 1800's has existedoutside these walls."[8] This probably means that the nationwill lack protection from invasion since that was the purpose of building wallsin ancient times. Rabbi Fischsays, "Israel will have made no preparations against attack by building wallsaround his cities."[9]

Thesecond phrase tells of a people who are at rest. The Hebrew participle saqat describes a people who are "quiet, undisturbed, and at rest."[10] This verb is used frequently in Joshuaand Judges to note the quiet or rest that resulted from Israel's militaryvictories over the Canaanites as they conquered the Land under Joshua.[11] This term refers to quiet or rest frommilitary conflict. The third term is betah and was used in verse 8. We saw that it refers to Israel living in security, whichmeans confidence.[12]

The fourth characterizationis all of them living without walls, and having nobars or gates. We have seenearlier that living without walls would literally mean that none of theircities or towns will have walls that the ancients had in order to hold off aninvading army. This picture isreinforced by the note that they will not have bars or gates, presumably inwalls that they do not have. Barsand gates were important points of defense in ancient city walls.

What does thismean in relation to the invasion? First, this passage is the perspective of Gog, who thinks that Israel isnot properly defended and thus vulnerable to a surprise attack. Second, Price points out that, "Israel'ssecurity is based on the strength of its military, which is acknowledged as oneof the best in the world and which has defended the country againstoverwhelming odds in numerous past invasions."[13] Third, these conditions were never trueat any time in Israel's past, thus it must refer to a future time as alreadynoted by the phrases "after many days" and "in the latter years" (38:8). Keil says, "This description ofIsrael's mode of life also points beyond the times succeeding the Babyloniancaptivity."[14]

Follow The Money

Two reasons arerevealed by God in verse 12 as Gog's motive for the future invasion ofIsrael. These reasons areindicated by a pair of infinitival phrases and are first, "to capture spoil"and second, "to seize plunder." Inboth instances the Hebrew text uses the same word twice, a verb as aninfinitive followed by the noun in construct to the verb to describe Gog'smotive for the invasion.

The first phrase,"to capture spoil," comes from the Hebrew root word shalal and means "to congregate, assemble together in order torob."[15] Thus, since both the verb and the nounare from the same Hebrew root, it would mean something like "to spoilspoil." However, that is not goodEnglish. The Hebrew idem is betterrendered "to capture spoil," even though the fact that both words are from thesame root is lost in translation.

The second idem,"to size plunder" comes from the Hebrew root baz and means "to plunder, spoil, take booty, rob."[16] Thus, it would have the sense in Hebrewof "spoiling spoil." This word carrieswith it the idea of dividing up the spoil or bounty captured in a raid ormilitary conquest. Thus, the clearmotive for invasion is to gain material wealth. Charles Feinberg notes, "The enemy, greedy of Israel'swealth, will embark on a campaign of conquest for gain."[17]

The rest of verse12 reinforces the two opening declarations concerning Gog's motive forinvasion. A third infinitivedeclares that Gog desires "to turn your hand against the waste places which arenow inhabited, and against the people who are gathered from the nations, whohave acquired cattle and goods." The notion of "turning one's hand against" pictures one doing a 180degree turn around from the direction they were headed in order to attackanother. This is described inverse 10 as Gog devising an evil plan, but must be seen as the human means toan overall process originally initiated by God Himself (38:2–4). To make matters worse concerning Gog'sevil thoughts is the picture painted by the last part of verse 12, which speaksof Israel returning to her land which had become a waste place in her absence,then turning it into a wealth producing land, that Gog and his attackers nowwant to invade in order to take this wealth for themselves. Israel has survived over 2,000 years ofdispersion among the nations and God brings them back to her land in which theybecome highly productive and wealthy, only to have Gog and his allies attackthem to take away her newly gained wealth. Maranatha!

(ToBe Continued . . .)


[1] Merrill F. Unger, Unger's Commentary on TheOld Testament (Chattanooga, TN:AMG Publishers, [1981] 2002), p. 1578.

[2] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, Hebrewand English Lexicon of the Old Testament (London: Oxford, 1907), electronic edition.

[3] C. F. Keil, Ezekiel, Daniel, Commentary on theOld Testament, trans. JamesMartin (Reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), p. 164.

[4] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon, electronic edition.

[5] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, TheHebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, electronic version (Leiden, The Netherlands:Koninklijke Brill, 2000).

[6] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon, electronic edition.

[7] Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew Lexicon, electronic version.

[8] Randall Price, Unpublished Notes on TheProphecies of Ezekiel, (2007), p.40.

[9] S. Fisch, Ezekiel: Hebrew Text & Englishtranslation with an Introduction and Commentary (London: The Soncino Press, 1950), p. 255.

[10] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon, electronic edition.

[11] See Joshua 11:23; 14:15; Judges 3:11, 30; 5:31;8:28.

[12] See Thomas Ice, "Ezekiel 38 and 39, Part XIII," Pre-TribPerspectives (Feb. 2008), pp.6–7.

[13] Price, Ezekiel, pp. 40–41.

[14] Keil, Ezekiel, p. 165.

[15] Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew Lexicon, electronic version.

[16] Brown, Driver, and Briggs, Hebrew Lexicon, electronic edition.

[17] Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), p. 222.