How do you spell “relief”? P. L. A. N. When there’s a plan in place, I can relax. Yesterday, I texted my girls to find out what they’ll bring for Thanksgiving dinner. Not planning in the past has left us doing a lot of last minute cooking the day of, but this year, I thought to ask ahead for help. The result is a plan–and relief.
These two chapters of Ezekiel would be disturbing today if not for the certainty that God has the plan for what’s ahead. Even so, I resisted reading them, especially when my eye caught this detail, “At my table you will eat your fill of horses and riders, mighty men and soldiers of every kind,” Ez 39:20. Thankfully, horse-and-rider is not on the menu for next week.
God tells about a future battle between many allied nations against Israel. Collectively they’re called Gog, but there are individual names given, too. These names aren’t easily recognizable in our modern day–names like Gog and Magog, Tubal and Meshech. But some students of Bible prophecy connect them to the names of known nations and believe they’re geographically dispersed around the nation of Israel in all directions, north, south, east, and west, (enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel-38/). Revelation 20:9 hints at this.
Will this battle be a literal, physical battle on earth? Or a metaphorical battle in the spiritual world? Or both? I don’t pretend to be a prophecy student, nor am I keenly interested in what isn’t plain in God’s word. But since he’s devoted two chapters to this battle in the Bible, I’m thinking there’s something to learn in them. As usual, I’m looking for who God is and for signs of his love.
The time of this prophecy will be after Israel is restored to her land, Ez 38:8, (for the story of that restoration, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/18/November-18/). There is disagreement about whether or not this restoration has already happened. And there’s disagreement over whether or not it will be a literal restoration of the Jewish people to the literal land of Israel. But there’s wide agreement that the battle described in chapters 38-39 hasn’t happened yet and will happen at the end of time as we know it.
From 20,000 feet and in the most general of terms, these allied nations, called Gog, will gather against God’s people to fight a battle. Whether “Israel” means literal Jews or the people of God in the worldwide church, Gog sees God’s people as an easy mark for financial gain. Despite Gog’s eagerness to oppress, God says he’s the one who calls these nations together. He tells them, “Get ready; be prepared,” because he will let them know when it’s time to advance, “O Gog, I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me when I show myself holy through you before their eyes,” 38:1-16.
And here’s God’s purpose for this battle: so that all nations will know him. Sound familiar? Since we’ve been reading through Ezekiel this month, this language has become all too familiar. In nearly every story thus far, the refrain has been that God has said or done what he’s said or done in order that all people will know he’s God, (for the story of what knowing him means, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/17/November-17/).
He compared Jerusalem to a boiling cooking pot so that they will know he is God. He compared Judah to an unfaithful wife-turned-whore so they will know he is God. He brings in Babylon to pummel his people so they will know he is God. In yesterday’s post about the restoration of his people, God said it would be done not for the sake of the nation of Judah, but for the sake of all nations to know he is God. If he’s said it once, he’s said it over 180 times in the book of Ezekiel, he wants everyone to know he is God.
As unsettling as knowing that an enormous worldwide battle is coming, hearing about it ahead of time keeps it from being a shock. “To be forewarned is to be forearmed.” But more than that, knowing there’s a plan, and that it’s God’s plan is fortifying. He isn’t just unseen and outside the battle; he’s a player in it, and it’s his idea. While I often scratch my head over God’s plans, the fact that he has them, and that he’s not flying by the seat-of-his-pants helps me relax, much the same way that knowing that pecan pie and rutabagas will magically appear along with the grandkids next week. It’s relieving.
Because God is good, I can trust that he has a good reason for this battle. If I knew the details like God does, I’d agree with him that a battle like this is an essential part of his Big Picture Plan for the earth and its people. I think he gives us an inkling of it to comfort us, not to terrify us, that he knows what’s ahead and he is in control of all the parts.
In case you haven’t already read this passage, there’s an intense earthquake mentioned that will be felt by every person and creature on earth. Gog will attack Israel and arouse God’s “fiery wrath,” and God’s response will be to bring the earthquake, Ez 38:19-20. This detail sounds more frightening than the horse-and-rider side dish, since I can claim to be too full to try it, but where do you go to feel safe when the entire world shakes?
As far as I can tell from Ezekiel, this earthquake will be the worst part of the battle. But there’s relief here because if God brings it, then the earthquake is in his control. It could be a literal earthquake or it could be figurative, but the point is, if God is in control of it, we are in good hands. God has a history of protecting his people from catastrophe, like when the angel of death flew over Egypt and killed the firstborn Egyptians but not the firstborn Jews. God’s the same God today he was then, and he knows where his people are.
And there’s more relieving news: God’s people aren’t mentioned as fighters in this battle. The battle is between God and Gog. In a medley of some of his classic battle tactics, God will cause the nations of Gog to attack one another with swords, bring plague and bloodshed to them, and “pour down torrents of rain, hailstones, and burning sufur,” 38:21-22. The only mention of the people of Israel in these verses is that they’re in charge of the clean up afterwards. They’ll come out of their towns and gather Gog’s weapons and use them as fuel for seven years, and they will bury the bodies and purify the land, 39:9-12.
There’s a lot of specific detail in these verses that seems irrelevant if the battle and its clean up isn’t meant literally. But here I stick to local wisdom, “if it ain’t clear, let it lie.” This is advice for whether or not to send a child to school with a runny nose. If the runout is clear, it’s OK to let him go. If it’s not, keep him lying down at home. I’m thinking, if the meaning of a verse is cloudy, let it lie; there are plenty of clear verses to ponder.
Maybe it’s obvious, but here’s another piece of relief: the bad guys lose. They lose so badly that horse-and-rider along with “the flesh of mighty men” and “the blood of the princes of the earth” are served as food for “every kind of bird and all the wild animals.” Creatures will feast on the fat until “you are glutted and drink blood till you are drunk,” 39:17-20.
It’s a “sacrifice” that God prepares for them “at his table,” a reference to the temple sacrifices of fattened animals. Only at this table, people are the sacrifices for the wild animals and birds, (Vawter and Hoppe, http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/ezekiel 39). [Sometimes God seems a little twisted.]
As gruesome as this feast is to read about, it would have felt even more horrifying to those who first heard of it in Babylon. The thought of not being buried after death and having wild animals feeding on flesh instead would have been extremely abhorrent in that day. I’m thinking these are abhorrent thoughts in any day, but proper burial was considered more of an issue then, (http://enduringword.blog/bible-commentary/Ezekiel-39/).
The totality of his enemies’ destruction, their dishonor after death, the amount of flesh and blood that’s described, all of these details are given to shock and signal the listener of Ezekiel’s day. Why? So that all people in any day will be convinced that God alone reigns.
He is sovereign over all events and people, even one of the magnitude of this battle. He’s mightier than all of the greatest armies joining forces on the earth. And he will be victorious over his enemies in just this way, in complete and utter victory, as if he’s planned a feast for animals to feed when the war is won, and all his people have to worry about is helping with the clean up.
The apostle John linked this feast in Ezekiel to the one after the Battle of Armageddon and the Beast at the end of life on earth as we know it in Revelation. He also linked the Battle with Gog to this same time, Re 19:17-21, 20:7-9. My guess is that they’re all one in the same thing.
Regardless of the unknown details of when and how, the bottom line is that because the future is in God’s hands, we have nothing to lose and nothing to fear. The God who made us and saved us won’t abandon us at the end of time or forget us while he battles it out with the bad guys. The blood of Jesus poured out for us assures us that we have inestimable worth to the Father.
We can rest in his good plans and relax in his timing of events. If he’s provided us with salvation, won’t he also provide us with everything else we need? “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Ro 8:32
God’s reason for the battle is to display who he is before all nations so they will know who he is, so they will believe. But it’s also to assure his own people that he is their God. If that is his goal, and he says it is, then it’s another reason for relief. If saving the world is what God’s most about, surely he’s not going to let anyone already saved slip through the cracks. God’s got our back.
He says, “‘I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay upon them. From that day forward the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God. And the nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin because they were unfaithful to me…I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord,'” Ez 39:21-29.
It sounds like a worldwide win for God and his people–a people who will include those from every tribe and nation and tongue. “‘For I know the plans I have for you’ declares the lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord,” Je 29:11-14.
We can trust the God who has the plan, a plan for our good, and to execute that plan with regard to prospering and not to harming us, giving us hope and a future. What is worth our energy for today is seeking God with all our hearts, because it’s a journey with a promise that we will find him.
Have you ever wondered why we look for a happy ending for our stories? I think it’s because a happy ending is what’s ahead. I don’t think we can long for anything good that’s not part of God’s plan. If we could, that would make us better planners than God is, with better dreams and better ideas of love and goodness than he has.
We long for happily-ever-after because it’s hard wired in us. God put it there, this longing for goodness and for everything to turn out well in the end. It’s a longing for him. And he tells us it’s how the world will end. Good overcoming evil is part of the plan, and it’s hard wired in, too. All the good things you long for and can think up aren’t even close to all the good he has coming for us, “How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you,” Ps 31:19.
God is good and he wins.
So dream on.
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. Such ‘wisdom’ does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, of the devil. For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness,” Js 3:13-18.
There’s a lot packed into those verses, but what most gets my attention is the comparison of earthly wisdom with heavenly wisdom.
Heavenly Wisdom “comes down from heaven” and is
–full of mercy
–full of good fruit
–seen in a good life
–seen in humble deeds
Earthly Wisdom comes from harboring bitterness and selfish ambition in the heart and comes from the devil, and is
–ambitious for self
–seen in disorder
–seen in every evil practice
True wisdom is bestowed. It “comes down from heaven.” It’s not something we can drum up within ourselves. Job said that only God knows where it’s kept, Jb 28:23. It’s marked by the qualities in the list, and it’s God’s gift, “For the Lord gives wisdom…” Pr 2:6.
Wisdom herself says that she is gained by those who listen to her rebuke, “Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings,” Pr 1:23.
It takes a lot of soaking in God’s love to open my ears enough to hear him in his word and through others. God’s love frees me to trust that all his nudges are loving ones, and that they’re for my good. His still, small voice is never condemning and is always kind. I can listen to a voice like that from someone who loves me so much.
“In my anguish I cried to the Lord,
and he answered by setting me free.
The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.
What can man do to me?
The Lord is with me; he is my helper.
I will look in triumph on my enemies,” 6-7.
The psalmist was in anguish and cried out to God. God delivered him by setting him free from fear of his enemies. He doesn’t say the enemies are gone, only that he’s no longer afraid of them, because he’s remembered that God is with him and helps him.
Letting go of fear happens when we realize that no person can take away the only essential thing for living, which is our relationship with God, “The Lord is with me.” So I literally have nothing to lose at the hand of my enemy, “I will not be afraid.”
It’s our choice to be or not be afraid. The psalmist chooses not to be afraid, because he realizes the worst thing man can do is take his life. And if that happens, he will be immediately at home with the Father. A win.
Any power the enemy has over us, we give them through our fear of what they might do. In understanding they can’t harm us in any way that truly matters, our personal power returns to us.
That is a bolstering piece of truth.
What’s more, the Lord isn’t just with him. He helps him. Having God’s help is more than enough to face any difficulty. He knows exactly what is needed, and he is with us to give it.
For the psalmist, the enemies are still there, but his perspective has completely turned around. He now looks on them in triumph rather than in fear.
Only a sturdy faith in God can empower such a change.
My take away today is the connection I feel with God because he said,”I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind (Ezekiel), and because he rebukes me to make me wise, not because he doesn’t love me (Proverbs), and because no-one-and-nothing can take him away from me (Psalms). Thank you God for all these tethers today between your heart and mine. I love you.