The land of unwalled villages

October 30, 2011

In The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy, dispensationalist author Arnold Fruchtenbaum argued for a literal approach to the interpretation of prophecy. Ezekiel 39:4 describes the judgment of the invading armies of Gog and Magog upon the mountains of Israel, which Fruchtenbaum considers can be nothing other than literal hills and mountains in Palestine. He wrote: [1]

When the prophet refers to “the mountains of Israel,” he refers to the central mountain range that makes up the backbone of the country. In the Old Testament, these mountains were known as the hill country of Ephraim and the hill country of Judah… These armies will penetrate the central mountain ranges of Israel because their target, obviously, is the city of Jerusalem. However, from 1948 until 1967, these mountains were not in Israel–they were in Jordan. They are now in the region known as the West Bank.

Even if the West Bank is included, the wall that separates the occupied West Bank from Jewish areas, and other walls, such as remaining parts of the ancient walls of Jerusalem, preclude interpreting Ezekiel’s prophecy as an invasion of the modern Jewish state.

According to Ezekiel 38:10-12, the armies of Gog and Magog invade “the land of unwalled villages.” Clearly, the prophecy cannot literally apply to the modern era, as the presence of the West Bank Separation Barrier, 760 kilometres long, thwarts that interpretation. If “the mountains of Israel” are to be understood literally, then ought not the phrase “the land of unwalled villages” be taken as literal too? The land to which the prophecy applies is characterized by unwalled villages, but a great and high wall exists in the Palestine of today, dominating the lives of many of the people living there. Ezekiel wrote:

Ezekiel 38:10-12
Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought:
And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates,
To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land.

Furthermore, in Ezekiel’s prophecy, the armies of Gog and Magog are described as mounted upon horses, and they are armed with weapons such as swords, spears, bows and arrows, shields and bucklers. [Ezekiel 38:4; 39:9] To be consistent, the weapons must be understood literally too. In the same book, Wayne House and Robert Thomas quote Ryrie: [2]

Consistently literal, or plain, interpretation indicates a dispensational approach to the interpretation of Scripture. And it is this very consistency–the strength of dispensational interpretation–that seems to irk the nondispensationalist and becomes the object of his ridicule.

Israel

West Bank Wall

Where is the consistency in the literal approach to Ezekiel’s prophecy? Where is its strength? To claim that a huge army of horses and horsemen will soon threaten the Jews would be silly. Therefore dispensationists set aside their literalist mantra; they claim that the horses represent modern vehicles such as troop carriers, tanks, and perhaps even helicopters. They claim that the spears and bows and arrows of the armies represent modern missiles and guns. In the quote below, the authors infer a literal interpretation is preferred, expressing distain toward the alternative spiritual approach. [3]

When the Scripture speaks of the wolf dwelling with the lamb, is it speaking of some deeper meaning or higher truth like peace in the world, or does it mean in fact that the wolf and the lamb will exist without hostility? When the text tells us that the Messiah will actually descend to the Mount of Olives and that it will split in two, north and south, is this speaking of a higher principle of the Messiah’s majesty, or will the real mountain east of Jerusalem split apart? When Zechariah the prophet spoke of a river flowing at the Temple that goes into both the Mediterranean and Dead Seas, complete with descriptions and boundaries, does this refer merely to some spiritual truth? Is Ezekiel’s Temple only a vague description of Jesus as the temple of God?

Security Barrier between Israel and West Bank/...

Security Barrier between Israel and West Bank/Palestine

Notice especially the use of the phrases “merely … some spiritual truth,” and “only a vague description of Jesus as the temple of God.” Jesus identified himself as the temple in John 2:19. Ezekiel’s prophecy implies that the prophetic temple is identified with Jerusalem, because it encompasses the entire city. In the New Testament the Church is identified with both Jerusalem and the temple. In John’s description of the heavenly Jerusalem, Jesus is the temple of it: “And I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” [Revelation 21:22]

Hugh of St Victor (1096-1141) wrote about learning the allegorical meaning of Scripture; he wrote: “… the Divine Page, in its literal sense, contains many things which seem both to be opposed to each other and, sometimes, to impart something which smacks of the absurd or impossible. But the spiritual meaning admits no opposition; in it, many things can be different from one another, but none can be opposed.” [4]

The prophecies about Gog and Magog include statements that, taken literally, seem to oppose one another. For example, their judgment consists of pestilence or plague, and blood, and rain, and an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, and fire, and brimstone. [Ezekiel 38:22] Their armies fall on the mountains, and on the open field; the corpses are buried for seven months, and their weapons burned as fuel for seven years. The decaying corpses produce a stench that “stops the noses of the passengers.” Besides all this, they are devoured by ravenous birds, and animals. [Ezekiel 39:4, 9, 11]

Taken literally, these various judgments clearly oppose each other, and present a rather confusing spectacle. On the other hand, interpreting the prophecy spiritually, as an allegory of the judgments of God contained in the Scriptures, which, over the entire history of the Church, come upon various heretical movements, divisions, sects, and apostasy, agrees with John’s interpretation in Revelation 20:8-9.

Symbolic time depicted on the cover of the book by LaHaye & Hindson

The seven months and seven years no doubt are symbolic, as they are each seven times, and correspond to the 70th week of Daniel 9:24-27, when Jesus confirms the covenant with his Church. See What covenant is meant in Daniel 9:27?.

Properly interpreted, no contradiction is involved; fire, rain, hail are metaphors for the word of God, and strong reproof. The weapons of the invaders, such as swords, and bows and arrows, are “bitter words.” [Psalm 64:3] Horses represent people who lack understanding. [Psalm 32:9]

The armies of Gog and Magog come against the “mountains of Israel,” which are symbolic of lofty spiritual promises to the saints, and prophecies, covenants, and blessings of God. In Genesis 49:26, when Jacob blessed Joseph, he said, “The blessings of thy father have prevailed above the blessings of my progenitors unto the utmost bound of the everlasting hills: they shall be on the head of Joseph, and on the crown of the head of him that was separate from his brethren.” These blessings were identified with mountains as they are durable, and eternal, and also spiritual in nature. They include the promise of life in the kingdom of God. This is the meaning that Scripture attaches to the mountains of Israel. See H. A. C. Hävernick on the mountains of Israel.

The armies of God and Magog also come against the prophets of Israel; Ezekiel wrote: “Thus saith the Lord GOD; Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them?” [Ezekiel 38:17] No modern military invasion would assault the prophets of Israel, but false teachers, who misinterpret Bible prophecy, do that. Ezekiel said the invaders seek to “take a spoil.”

In his second epistle, the apostle Peter also foretold the rise of many false teachers in the church; he said that their judgment “lingers not.” [2 Peter 2:3]

References

1. Tim LaHaye, Edward E. Hindson, ed. The Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy: Over 140 Topics from the World’s Foremost Prophecy Experts. Harvest House Publishers, 2004. p. 157.

2. Ibid., p. 296.

3. Ibid.

4. Jerome Taylor. The Didascalicon of Hugh of St Victor: a medieval guide to the arts. Columbia University Press, 1999. p. 140.

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