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With Daniel 10–11, the text before us this morning (Ezekiel 38–39) may be the most frequently-read text with newspaper in hand. For centuries, people have tried to identify with precision the characters and nations portrayed in this text to map its fulfilment. In the fourth century, Gog was believed to be the Goths. In the seventh, Gog and Magog were the Arab armies threatening the Holy Land. Gog was the Mongol hordes from the East in the thirteenth century and the Catholic pope (or possibly the Turks) in the seventeenth. Rosh was identified with Russia in the nineteenth century, with Meshech and Tubal being equated with Moscow and Tobolsk, respectively. During the First World War, Gomer was thought to be Germany.

These identifications continue today. Unfortunately, they miss the basic message of the vision, which becomes evident when you consider its placement within the broader prophecy. We have observed, in our time in Ezekiel, that the first 24 chapters were God’s word to the exiles warning that the final fall of Jerusalem was imminent. Chapters 25–32 then turned attention to surrounding nations, delivering oracles of judgement to those who delighted or participated in Jerusalem’s fall. Chapter 33 serves as a hinge between the earlier and later chapters. There, word of Jerusalem’s fall reached the exiles in Babylon. God’s wrath had been fulfilled. Chapters 34–37 promise restoration for God’s people: the leadership (chapter 34), the land (35:1–36:15), and the people (chapters 36–37). Chapters 38–39, then, serve as an answer to the next question that naturally arises: Is that it? Is that the end of opposition to God’s people? Is the future one of unmitigated blessing?

Chapters 38–39 show that that would certainly not be the case. In God’s providence, his people would still face (often violent) opposition, but the encouragement of this vision is that judgement of the scope of the exile would never again take place. God would fight for his people.

To demonstrate this, God paints a picture of a vast army of almost mythical proportions coming against Jerusalem. Whether or not the seven nations mentioned can be identified with precision, the point is that these nations come together from the four corners of the earth to destroy God’s people. But, having restored them by his favour, God would not allow them to be carried away again. He would fight for his people to ensure their ultimate security.

The narrative follows a certain flow: First, Gog attacks (38:1–16); second, Gog fails (38:17–23); third, God is soundly defeated (39:1–20); and, fourth, Israel prospers (39:21–29). This latter section is divided into two distinct parts: God reminds his people of past chastening (39:20–24) before promising them that they will never again experience such a heavy hand (39:25–29).

These chapters were not designed as a coded message for people living in “the last days” to unravel the identity of key political parties in a final struggle. Instead, they were revealed to serve as an encouragement to God’s people in all times and in all places that, regardless of the onslaught of the enemy, God’s purpose and victory stands secure. In this regard, we discover at least four lessons.

First, while this world is a place of tribulation, God is in control. While the foes portrayed here form a fearful horde, the battle is never out of God’s hands. In fact, the opposition is nothing less than God’s will for his people. That may sound strange to the modern ear, but it is a biblical truth. Opposition—even to the point of death—is often God’s strategy to glorify himself through his church. The martyrs under the altar in Revelation ask God how long until he avenges their blood. The Lord’s answer is startling: “They were … told to rest a little longer, until the number of the fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Revelation 6:10). The answer was not that there were more lost to be saved by that there were more saved to be martyred! God’s wonderful plan for the lives of his people often includes torture and death for their faith. This is not an anomaly; it is God’s will!

Second, while this world is a place of tribulation, God is going to win. The combined forces of Gog and his friends stood no chance against Jerusalem. If they believed that their numbers guaranteed their victory, they had grossly miscalculated the matchup. Jerusalem may have been smaller than their combined forces, but they were fighting against Yahweh, and they were no match for him. Similarly, the foes that assault God’s people today grossly miscalculate the matchup if they believe that they can defeat Christ’s church.

Third, while this world is a place of tribulation, God’s victory will be displayed in the ultimate destruction of everyone and everything that opposes him. The Bible consistently asserts that, over time, God will crush every enemy under his feet until, at the resurrection, every enemy has been fully defeated. Those who oppose the church have a destiny with defeat.

Fourth, while this world is a place of tribulation, God’s ultimate victory promises eternal security to all who trust in him. The resurrection means final defeat for every enemy of God, but it means eternal security and blessedness for all whose names are written in his book (Daniel 12:2). Tribulation is never pleasant in the moment, but the eternal blessings promised to God’s people make our present troubles more than worth our while (Romans 8:18).

As you meditate on Ezekiel 38–39 this morning, ask God for the strength to endure the tribulations of this age with hope that, when he has crushed every enemy under his feet, we will enjoy eternal security in him.