Dean Davis on the battle of Gog and Magog
In a recent post on Ezekiel’s Last Battle (Ezekiel 38-39), Dean Davis pointed out that Premillennialists disagree with each other about when the Gog & Magog invasion occurs. He notes that Fausset said the battle occurs at the close of the Millennium, but Gaebelein, Scofield, Walvoord, and Showers all said the battle was to occur prior to Christ’s Second Coming and the Millennium. Davis listed several reasons why the prophecy is best interpreted in terms of what he called the New Covenant Hermeneutic (NCH). Davis takes an amillennarian approach. He wrote:
Patently Symbolic Language
First, our prophecy contains a number of positive indicators that a symbolic interpretation is in order. Why, for example, is the identity of Gog so obscure and mysterious? What might God mean by it? Why does the number seven appear so frequently (38:1-6, 39:9, 12, 14)? Why do Gog and his hosts brandish six different kinds of weapons (six being the biblical number most frequently associated with man: Gen. 1:24-31, Rev. 13:18). Why does the Valley of Hamon Gog seem suddenly to turn into a city (39:15-16)? And why, in describing what appears to be a strictly local judgment, does God suddenly speak of shaking the whole earth with his presence, and throwing down all mountains, pathways, and city walls, wherever they may be (38:20)?
Why would the place of burial of the corpses of Gog and Magog be called a city? Perhaps their death and burial are symbolic. In spiritual warfare, the weapons are spiritual; Paul said, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood.” [Ephesians 6:12] The philosophy and learning of the ancient world was merged with biblical theology. In a figurative sense it was buried in the promised land, which represents the spiritual things promised to the church.
What is meant by “and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground” in Ezekiel 38:20? Perhaps it is related to Isaiah’s prophecy, about the mountains being made low, and valleys filled up, in Isaiah 40:4. See this post for a discussion of the symbolic meaning of mountains. Davis continued:
Secondly, a literal approach to this prophecy brings it into direct conflict with the other OT prophecies of the Last Battle and the Day of the LORD (e.g., Joel 3, Daniel 7, Zechariah 12-14, etc.). While obviously speaking of the same eschatological event, these OTKP’s differ among themselves regarding the exact identity of Israel’s final foe, the location of the final conflict, the nature and extent of Israel’s involvement in the fight, and the character of the divine intervention that finally resolves it. Our resulting choice is stark: Use the NCH to discern the “mystical” meaning of these texts, or go mad trying to resolve all the conflicts produced by prophetic literalism!
I agree with the observation that the literalist approach to prophecy leads to contradictions. In Isaiah 2:4, nations cease to learn war: “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” If, at the end of the thousand years, the nations are deceived and join with Gog and Magog in their assault upon the camp of the saints and the beloved city, as Premillennialism teaches, how can that be reconciled with Isaiah’s prophecy? Davis wrote:
Thirdly, a literal interpretation entangles us in many anachronisms. Do we really want to say, for example, that in the latter days the nations of Magog, Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, Sheba, Dedan, and Tarshish will again return to the stage of world history? Will whole armies really ride to war on horses? And will they really brandish shields and bucklers, bows and arrows, javelins and spears (38:4, 39:3, 9)?
What of some of the practical problems involved? Would (or could) modern armies bring enough wooden weapons to the field of battle for a nation of millions to use them as fuel for seven years (39:9)? If “all the people of the land” daily buried the dead bodies of their defeated foes for seven months, how many hundreds of millions of corpses would there have to be (39:13)? How could the Israelites bear the stench? How could they avoid the spread of disease or plague?
For all these reasons—and many others found in the NT—it appears we must abandon a literal interpretation, since it will only land us in endless confusion and controversy. Rather, we must yet again take in hand the master key—the NCH—by which alone the door of understanding will open; by which alone we may see the rich NT truth that the Spirit of God embedded in this powerful and picturesque OTKP.
Taking the prophecy of Ezekiel in a spiritual sense, the invading hordes of God and Magog correspond to the false teachers that Peter said would invade the church, in 2 Peter 2. The literalist mantra is one of their weapons. In Psalm 64:3, for example the tongue is called a sword, and arrows are “bitter words.” “Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words.”
The apostle Peter compared the false teachers to animals. He wrote, “But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption.” [2 Peter 2:12]
In Ezekiel 38, the armies of God and Magog all ride upon horses. [vs. 15] These horses are symbolic; in Psalm 32:9, people with no understanding are compared to horses and mules, and in Jeremiah 5:8, carnally minded people are compared to horses: “They were as fed horses in the morning: every one neighed after his neighbour’s wife.”
These scriptures suggest that the invading hordes of Gog and Magog represent people with no spiritual understanding, dominating and dividing the churches, wrongly interpreting Scripture, and seeking to “take a great spoil.” Interpreted in this manner, the prophecy may be applied to the history of the church, since the days of the apostles.
The seven months during which the corpses are buried, and the seven years when their weapons are burned as fuel, are each “seven times.” These allude, I think, to the final “seven times” in Leviticus 26, when God is reconciled to his people and remembers his covenant, and also the final week in Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. This spans all the time from the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist, and of Jesus, to the end of the present age.
The weapons which are burned as fuel are the “bitter words” of false teachers, the enemies of Christ and of the church, and their flawed interpretations. Some examples of these are recorded in the New Testament.