Is the land in Ezekiel 38-39 a metaphor?
Jesus promised his disciples, “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” [John 8:32] He said that the Spirit which God would send to the church will “guide you into all truth.” [John 16:13] These two promises are among the most profound in the whole Bible.
The prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39 tells of the Gog and Magog invasion, which Revelation 20:8-9 interprets as an assault by deceived nations upon the camp of the saints, and the beloved city.
In Ezekiel’s prophecy, the invaders come against the “mountains of Israel,” [Ezekiel 38:8] and against the “prophets of Israel.” [Ezekiel 38:17] No military invaders would come against the prophets of Israel, but that could apply to false teachers, who misinterpret the writings of the prophets.
The mountains of Israel mentioned in Ezekiel 38:8, I suggest, are not literal mountains, but are symbolic of spiritual things that are promised to the saints. The Mosaic legislation was represented by Mount Sinai in Galatians 4:24, and the teachings of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount, significantly, are associated with a mountain. Whereas Sinai was located in Arabia, as Paul noted, Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount upon one of the mountains of Israel. Similarly, the Olivet Discourse is associated with the Mount of Olives, which represents the prophecy Jesus gave when he stood upon it. It too is one of the mountains of Israel. And Mount Zion, where the temple stood, which is a label scripture applies to the church, is another one of the mountains of Israel. All of these represent spiritual things, that are often misinterpreted. Paul said,
Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
Ezekiel’s prophecy about the invading armies of Gog and Magog depicts spiritual wickedness “in high places.” High places refers to the influence of such things upon the church. The saints have come to the heavenly Jerusalem. Paul said the saints are “seated together in heavenly places.”
Among the enemies that the saints wrestle against are false doctrines, and flawed interpretations of scripture. Ezekiel’s prophecy describes the invasion of the church by false doctrines and interpretations, under the figure of a military invasion by armies mounted on horses. The invaders are armed with bows and arrows, swords, handstaves, and spears. They carry shields and bucklers. Swords and bows and arrows are symbolic; they represent “bitter words.” [Psalm 64:3] Horses represent people who lack understanding. [Psalm 32:9]
Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
The things Jude warned about correspond to the events described in the prophecy of Revelation 20:8-9, as well as the invasion described in Ezekiel 38-39.
In the warfare that involves the church, the territory is spiritual. The saints contend for the faith which was once delivered; the truth of the gospel, while the invaders seek to bring the people of God into captivity. The threatened captivity is spiritual too. In the Old Testament, Israel and Judah were taken captive in the lands of their enemies. In spiritual warfare, people who are deceived are brought into bondage. They do not understand the truth of the gospel. Spiritual deception is represented by the metaphor of being taken captive, and removed to another land.
Ezekiel foretold a restoration; he said every one of God’s people who has been taken captive will be brought back to their own land. I suggest the land in Ezekiel’s prophecy is metaphorical, and represents the truth of the gospel.
Then shall they know that I am the LORD their God, which caused them to be led into captivity among the heathen: but I have gathered them unto their own land, and have left none of them any more there.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that the poor in spirit, those that mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, the merciful, and the pure in heart, will be blessed.