Gog and Magog – Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 20 (Part 2)

Textually, Gog cannot be clearly identified, but that doesn’t matter because the focus is supernatural evil.

Welcome to Gog and Magog – Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 20 (Part 2)

In part 1 of this study, we focused primarily on the grammar of Gog, and geographical location of Magog. In this part, we will be focused more on the interpretation of the passage itself.

By the end of this presentation, we will see that the major takeaway will be that Gog and his swarm are part of the “cosmic north.” We will explain why that interpretation works better with the Biblical text than that of bringing modern day Russia into the picture. In order to better follow along, take some time to read Ezekiel 38-39 and Revelation 20. Other scripture references will be incorporated as we go along.

The view that Gog is connected to an eschatological person, and Magog, to an eschatological geographical place is seemingly the most popular evangelical interpretation of the passages in Ezekiel and Revelation.

There is, however, in the Old Testament, a reoccurring theme that the far north represented evil powers of darkness in a cosmic sense. This theme almost always involves human warfare because of this linkage between the powers of darkness and humanity. In this particular passage, however, human participants are not the primary focus.

Two Points to Keep in Mind as we go Along

One. The primary focus when it comes to Ezekiel 38-39 is supernatural evil. That is why it doesn’t matter if Gog can be satisfactorily identified as a specific person, -either in the past, present, or future. Textually, Gog cannot be clearly identified, but that doesn’t matter because the focus is supernatural evil. It’s also why it’s pointless to try to impose modern weapons of warfare into the chapter or modern countries into the narrative -or to come up with some kind of reason why armies in the future will fight with weapons of the past. The battle is a battle between supernatural evil and God's own people and land, and of course -ultimately, Him.

Two. The reference to Gog and Magog is repurposed in Revelation 20:7-9. If we accept the New Testament as an inspired commentary of the Old, then that repurposing is significant, and we shouldn’t ignore it. We need to let the New Testament writer be our guide when it comes to understanding Gog and Magog.

Who is Gog? Scriptural Clues

The first prophecy in which Gog is addressed by the term "Gog", occurs in Ezekiel chapter 38. In verse 17 specifically, God asks him: "Are you he of whom I have spoken in former days by My servants the prophets of Israel, who prophesied for years in those days that I would bring you against them?" This passage has been perplexing for some interpreters in search of "Gog" as a specific person. This is because no direct reference to Gog is made by any of the previous prophets.

If we go back to verse 4, however, at Gog's first occurrence, there is a connection that could be made for an approach to Gog, as more of an entity of supernatural evil. This is done by tracing similar descriptive language back to other passages. Let's examine these passages and see if the perspective of a supernatural terror for Gog can be validated. we'll start with Ezekiel 38:3-4. God is speaking to Gog here.

Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords.

We see here, this notion of putting hooks into Gog’s jaws and bringing him out. This language can also be seen elsewhere in Ezekiel, specifically Ezekiel 29:3-4. In this passage, God is speaking to the Pharaoh of Egypt.

Behold, I am against you, O Pharaoh king of Egypt, O great monster who lies in the midst of his rivers, Who has said, ‘My River is my own; I have made it for myself.’ But I will put hooks in your jaws, And cause the fish of your rivers to stick to your scales; I will bring you up out of the midst of your rivers, And all the fish in your rivers will stick to your scales.

We have two references here of a figure that is clearly, in opposition to Yahweh. Both references have similar language. We'll highlight four of these similarities below.

One. Each subject is clearly someone or something that Yahweh will one day overcome.

Two. Each subject is pictured as a leader.

Three. Each subject has followers (or helpers).

Four. Both subjects include God putting a hook in their jaw and leading them out, along with their followers (or helpers).

In the Ezekiel 29 passage, the imagery seems to be Leviathan. The name “Leviathan” appears 6 times in the Bible. (Job 3:8, Job 41:1, Psalms 74:14, Psalms 104:26, Isaiah 27:1). (It is the Hebrew name of a mythical monster associated with the sea. First attested in a Ugaritic text (KTU 1.5 I:1 || 27), the name is related to the root LWY. Etymologically it might be interpreted either as ‘the twisting one’ (Arabic lawiyā) or ‘the circular’ (Hebrew liwyâ). Both possibilities point to an original concept of Leviathan as a snake-like being.) Let's take a look at Job 41:1-2, where the same language attested to Leviathan, holds similarities to the previous Ezekiel passages. It reads:

Can you draw out Leviathan with a hook, Or snare his tongue with a line which you lower? Can you put a reed through his nose, Or pierce his jaw with a hook?

The chapter consists of the most extensive biblical text in which a description of Leviathan appears and is part of the discourse in which Yahweh emphasizes his power. They contain a description of Leviathan, suggesting that he dwells in the sea; he breathes fire, and the mere sight of him is terrifying. No human weapon can touch him, and the waters boil when he swims through the sea.

Psalms 104:26, expresses the idea that God created Leviathan, and designated a place for him already at creation. This idea is laid out in more detail in some passages in the extrabiblical texts (You can find those here).

Gog's Helpers

In the section above we explored who the character Gog may be referring to. In this section we will begin with taking a look at his helpers, and then we will see if scripture gives us clues about when, and where, this battle will take place.

Ezekiel 38:5-6, provide a list of Gog’s helpers from the cosmic north: We say "cosmic north" because these places are not all geographically north. Let’s read.

Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you.

While the human participants in this passage are secondary, their inclusion in the description reinforces the supernatural emphasis. You might ask, “How does that work?” You’ll notice that Israel’s enemies come from the south (Cush and Put), the East (Persia), and the west (Greece). In part 1 of this study, we explained the geographical locations and the connection to the “far north” and thus being figuratively alluding to the “supernatural cosmic north.”

The layout in Ezekiel of Israels enemy’s being from the south, east, west, and north could be there to paint the image of Israel’s enemies to come from the “four corners” of the earth. That would sound familiar to Revelation 20:7-8, where it reads.

Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.

There’s a connection here. Gog and Magog are specifically mentioned. You get this idea that their helpers -all the enemies there in Revelation 20, are from the four corners of the earth. It’s interesting because if we look at Ezekiel 38, that’s what we have there. We’ve got enemies from the four corners of the Earth.

In the Old Testament "corners of the earth" (or "ends of the earth") is often linked in reference to the nations and people that are still in rebellion (1 Samuel 2:10, Isaiah 45:22, Isaiah 52:10, Jeremiah 16:19). The terms also emphasize the worldwide character of the rule of Yahweh (Psalms 22:28, Psalms 67:7) or His earthly representative (Deuteronomy 33-17, Micah 5:3, Psalms 2:8, Psalms 72:8, Psalms 93:3-4).

As we make the connection here, we could easily conclude that Gog and his helpers suggest the interpretation of a Satan empowered system that spans across the whole earth. The battle will be Satan’s last effort at robbing Yahweh of His people and His kingdom.

Day of the Lord

In light of having considered Gog as a likely reference to leviathan in this study so far, Isaiah 27:1, may be the most important passage in the Old Testament referencing Leviathan's ultimate fate. It foretells his destruction "in that day". The term "in that day" is usually linked to the final Judgment of God when wrong is made right. This is the day when the nations that are still in rebellion (and their supernatural evil rulers) are judged in a permanent sense, and the righteous are vindicated. In biblical thinking this is called the "day of the Lord" because this is when God returns to earth to set things right. Let's read the passage.

In that day Yahweh with his hard and great and strong sword will punish Leviathan the agile serpent, Leviathan the twisting serpent, and he will slay the monster of the sea.

Here Leviathan, referred to as the agile serpent, the twisting serpent, and the monster of the sea, signifies the source of wickedness and chaos that will be destroyed "in that day". Isaiah expresses the notion that Yahweh will ultimately triumph over all "In that Day".

Ezekiel situates the invasion in the “latter days.” The description of the conflict uses stock expressions associated with "Day of the Lord".  Let's take a look at Ezekiel 38:16.

You will come up against My people Israel like a cloud, to cover the land. It will be in the latter days that I will bring you against My land, so that the nations may know Me, when I am hallowed in you, O Gog, before their eyes.

And then there is Ezekiel 38:18-20.

"And it will come to pass at the same time, when Gog comes against the land of Israel,” says the Lord God, “that My fury will show in My face. For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath I have spoken: ‘Surely in that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel, so that the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that creep on the earth, and all men who are on the face of the earth shall shake at My presence. The mountains shall be thrown down, the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.

As we can see so far, there seems to be some relationship between the battle of Gog in Ezekiel, Leviathan, and the day of the Lord.

Mountains of Israel

According to Ezekiel 38:8 and Ezekiel 39: 2-4, the battle of Gog and his hordes takes place on or at the “mountains of Israel.” The phrase is used elsewhere in Ezekiel as a general reference to the land of Israel or Judah.  Let’s go to Ezekiel 37:21-22. God is the speaker here.

Thus says the Lord God: “Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again.

When we read a verse like that, “One nation in the land on the mountains of Israel,” it’s very clear that it's a phrase that’s used generally for the whole land. Let's look at Ezekiel 6:2-3.

Son of man, set your face toward the mountains of Israel, and prophesy against them, and say, ‘O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Lord God! Thus says the Lord God to the mountains, to the hills, to the ravines, and to the valleys: “Indeed I, even I, will bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places.

Here, in the immediate context of Ezekiel, he’s referring to Jerusalem and Judah. Two samples there that show a little bit of variety, but still consistent when it comes to the mountain language. The chief Mountain, though, in Israel, where the Lord is, is Zion. We get this language in other passages in the Old Testament. Isaiah 2:2 reads:

Now it shall come to pass in the latter days That the mountain of the Lord’s house Shall be established on the top of the mountains And shall be exalted above the hills; And all nations shall flow to it.

Isaiah 27:13 is another one.

So it shall be in that day: The great trumpet will be blown: They will come, who are about to perish in the land of Assyria, And they who are outcasts in the land of Egypt And shall worship the Lord in the holy mount at Jerusalem.

This is an obvious reference showing us that Jerusalem is Mount Zion. Even though we have a plural reference here (“mountains of Israel"), the Day of the Lord is still associated with one particular mountain, and that is Zion (Jerusalem) where the temple was and where the presence of God was situated.

Valley of the Travelers: Ezekiel - Revelation Connection

In the Judgment described in Ezekiel 38:22 and Ezekiel 39:6, God destroys Gog and His hordes with fiery hail stones from the sky. In Ezekiel 39:11 and Ezekiel 39: 15, Gog and his hordes are buried in the valley of the travelers, east of the sea.

Let's take some time and look at different interpretive perspectives regarding "valley of the travelers."

In Ezekiel 39, the destruction and burial language of Gog and his hordes in the valley of the travelers is significant. There is a conceptual and geographical backdrop to what is happening here in Ezekiel that is actually quite consistent with Revelation 20:7-10, which reads...

Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

After Gog and Magog and the four corners of the earth people are consumed with fire from heaven, their leader (the devil here in Revelation 20) gets thrown in the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet are. If you go back to Ezekiel 39:11 and Ezekiel 39:15, what happens after Gog and His hordes are defeated with the fiery hail stones from the sky? They are buried in this valley - The Valley of The Travelers, east of the sea, -also called the Valley of Hamon-gog. Let’s take a closer look at the passage.

It will come to pass in that day that I will give Gog a burial place there in Israel, the valley of those who pass by east of the sea; and it will obstruct travelers, because there they will bury Gog and all his multitude. Therefore they will call it the Valley of Hamon Gog.

In the New King James Version, the phrase reads: “the valley of those who pass by east of the sea”. The Hebrew literally translated reads, “The valley of the travelers.” While many scholars debate the precise location of this valley, perhaps there is a deeper meaning here then just literal bodies being buried. Perhaps it’s more of a metaphor. Let’s look at a few trans-literary options.

According to Dictionary of Deities and Demons in The Bible, "travelers" (ʿōbĕrîm in Hebrew) seem to have a special meaning in the context of the cult of the dead.

In Ezekiel the Hebrew word ʿōbĕrîm occurs several times, usually as an indication of spectators watching the misery of Israel being punished by Yahweh (Ezekiel 5:14, Ezekiel 36:34) or to indicate that it was made impossible to pass through the land (Ezekiel 14:15, Ezekiel 29:11, Ezekiel 33:28). In chapter 39 the emphasis is on the action of men going through the land looking for the corpses of Gog and his ‘horde’. In verse 14 (Ezekiel 39:14), however, the second occurrence indicates the dead. A possible solution to understanding this, is to relate ʿōbĕrîm, here and in verse 11 (Ezekiel 39:11), to its Ugarit linguistic cognate ʿbrm, mentioned in the Ugaritic text KTU2 1.22, denoting the spirits of the dead.

In the Ugaritic text KTU2 1.22 describing a necromantic session, the king invokes the spirits of the dead Rephaim and celebrates a feast with them. It is told that they came over traveling by horse-drawn chariots. As they are taking part in the meal served for them, they are explicitly called ‘those who came over’.

The valley of the travelers is located ‘east of the sea’, which is probably the Dead Sea. So it was part of Transjordan. This area was known as the place where the Giant clan population (known in Hebrew as the Rephiam) resided in the underworld. This is also a region which shows many traces of ancient cults of the dead, such as the megalithic monuments called dolmens, as well as placenames referring to the dead and the netherworld, Obot (‘Spirit-of-the-Dead’), Peor (Baal of Peor), and Abarim.

Let’s look at some references to the geographical place name Abarim that we now know as Transjordan. Here’s what Numbers 21:10-11, says:

Now the children of Israel moved on and camped in Oboth. And they journeyed from Oboth and camped at Abarim, in the wilderness, which is east of Moab, toward the sunrise.

Oboth (ʿōbĕrîm in Hebrew) means “spirits of the dead.” The Medium at Endor in 1 Samuel 28 is literally translated in Hebrew as “Mistress of the ʿōbĕrîm in Endor.”

There are a few of these references that link the ōbĕrîm with Oboth. They’re very close to each other. Again, these are gateways. Viewing the passage in a cosmic sort of way makes the connection to Revelation 20 pretty obvious. In Ezekiel 39, Gog, a symbol of cosmic darkness, and all his hordes wind up in the bad place in the valley of the ōbĕrîm, the ones who have passed into the underworld before them, where the Rephaim are.

In the Old Testament, belief in Yahweh left no room for the veneration of the dead, but apparently such Canaanite practices were never eliminated completely. Ezekiel 39:11-16 could be regarded as an attempt to eradicate such ancient beliefs: The powerful spirits of the dead who came over to the land of the living are defeated and buried forever by ordinary people. The only ‘crossing’ that remains is their crossing over the land to search for those who have embarked upon the journey of no return.

Valley of the Travelers - Moloch Imagery

The Valley of the Travelers is also known as the Valley of Hamon-gog. Some scholars prefer to see the reference here in Ezekiel 39 to Moloch imagery. Their argument is made on the reasoning that the valley of Hamon-Gog in Ezekiel 39, sounds in Hebrew, similar to the Valley of Hinnom (Joshua 15:8, Joshua 18:16). Valley of Hinnom was a location known in the Old Testament for being the place of child sacrifice to the Ammonite god, Moloch. This is why some scholars prefer Moloch imagery to interpret the “valley of the travelers” in Ezekiel 39. If Moloch is behind the phrasing, then the death of Gog and his hordes therefore become a sacrifice to Yahweh in Reverse to the sacrifices of children in the valley of Hinnom.

That sacrificial aspect that these scholars point out is valid, but it can still be in view without an isolated reference to just Moloch. Let's look at Ezekiel 39:17-19.

And as for you, son of man, thus says the Lord God, ‘Speak to every sort of bird and to every beast of the field: “Assemble yourselves and come; Gather together from all sides to My sacrificial meal Which I am sacrificing for you, A great sacrificial meal on the mountains of Israel, That you may eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, Drink the blood of the princes of the earth, Of rams and lambs, Of goats and bulls, All of them fatlings of Bashan. You shall eat fat till you are full, And drink blood till you are drunk, At My sacrificial meal Which I am sacrificing for you.

So this is actually imagery of Yahweh slaying Gog and his hordes as a sacrificial meal for his guests. It’s at this point that we’d want to return for interpretation’s sake to the “hooks in the Jaws” description in Ezekiel 38:4, where Gog is described in this way, but like Leviathan imagery in other passages, thus linking him to Leviathan -the symbol of all that opposes God, the symbol of chaos, wickedness, evil, upheaval, and turmoil.

The death of Gog and his hordes signifies a sacrificial banquet of Yahweh, but where does Leviathan come in? This same sacrificial language and imagery is used in reference to Leviathan in Psalms 74:14, Job 41:6, and extra-biblical sources, such as 2 Baruch 29 verses 3 to 4. The thinking was that when God returns to earth and defeats Leviathan (Isaiah 27:1), that He is going to kill Leviathan -and when that happens, Leviathan is basically served up as a meal to the righteous (Psalms 74:14, Job 41:6). It sounds very grotesque, but this was symbolic language. This is a picture of ultimate victory. It's not that there is going to be literal eating. The meal imagery is drawn from the Old Testament and extra-biblical material, that what’s going to happen to evil at the end is it’s going to be totally gone. It’s not going to be wounded and kind of left over. It’s going to be totally consumed. It's a picture of the final, ultimate victory over evil at the end of the age.

In Summary: Three Questions to Consider

  • How are we to read Ezekiel 38-39 as to its meaning on Gog and Magog?
  • How does the New Testament re-purpose Ezekiel 38-39? We know that it does, but how does it do it?
  • Are the New and Old Testament portrayals of Gog and Magog consistent with each other?

Even though some people would consider the event in Revelation 20 a different Gog and Magog battle than the one in Ezekiel, I would consider them the same incident. that is because Revelation 20 re-purposes imagery from Ezekiel 38-39.

In Ezekiel, we’ve got Day of the Lord expressions, Mountains of Israel, Gog and Magog, four corners of the earth, and then fire from heaven. All things that coincide well with the text in Revelation 20, depicting the final battle and judgement scene when the Lord returns to finally defeat Satan and all the evil and chaos and wickedness and they get sent to the Lake of Fire.

Gog is a symbol of supernatural evil. We’ve not denied that humans are involved. We get that it’s always both involved. We understand that, but if we focus only on earthbound literalism, we’re going to miss how Ezekiel 38-39 gets repurposed in Revelation 20. We're also going to miss how it describes the final conflict when all that opposes Yahweh is put to an end at the ultimate victory at the end of the age.

So, what’s Gog and Magog really about? Likely, it’s an event associated with (and ended by) the second coming. It’s associated with the day of the Lord. How that plays out in terms of human participants is anybody’s guess. The human element is secondary. The important point is that Gog is a Satan figure, and the battle describes Satan’s last effort at robbing Yahweh of His people and His kingdom.

Scripture is clear with regards to who will win that battle.

Study guides
Dictionary of Deities and Demons in The Bible
Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, Volumes 1-15

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  1. I very much enjoyed the study and have taken on board many new interesting points, but one point is hard for me to grasp. It's this; that EZ 38-39 and Rev 20 refer to the one event. Revelation 20 vs 6-10 shows Satan leading Gog and Magog in a final rebellion AFTER Christ has reigned for 1,000 years and NOT at His return as you suggest in your article. Your take on this query would be genuinely appreciated. Thanks for posting.

  2. Hi Bian, Thank you for your interest in the study. I was meaning to convey in the article that both passages seem to be a reference to the final rebellion after the 1000-year reign. Some understand the 1000-year period to be figurative for the "church age", others believe in a literal 1000-year reign. Either way, I believe the battle will happen, as you said, after (or at the end of) the 1000-year period and will summon the ultimate consumption of all evil.

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