Relevance of Israel: the Future Wars
Summary: There is scriptural evidence for three major Middle East wars involving Israel (future wars as of 2011): the Psalm 83 war, the Magog invasion and the battle of Armageddon.
“In future years you will invade a land that has recovered from war, whose people were gathered from many nations to the mountains of Israel, which had long been desolate. They had been brought out from the nations, and now all of them live in safety. . . . You will say, ‘I will invade a land of unwalled villages; I will attack a peaceful and unsuspecting people — all of them living without walls and without gates and bars.’” (Eze 38:8, 11)
This is an excerpt from Ezekiel 38, which describes what is commonly known as “the Magog Invasion.” It describes Israel as a land that has recovered from war, a people who live in safety in unwalled villages.
Does this describe modern Israel, 1948 to the present? Definitely not. Israel has been involved in several wars since 1948 and now is subject to frequent terrorist attacks with rockets and bombs and the threat of war hangs over the nation. Israel hasn’t “recovered from war” because war is a constant threat.
Israel isn’t a “land of unwalled villages” because it has major security barriers in areas of greatest risk. The biggest of these is the Security Barrier between Israel and the Palestinian West Bank. This barrier is mostly a network of barbed wire and tall fences, but 10% of it is a concrete wall 25 feet high. Its planned length is 810 km (502 mi) and its completed length as of July 2010 was 520 km (322 mi). It includes 57 gates for pedestrians and vehicles with limited opening times. There also are security fences on other borders, such as Gaza.
Point #1: The conditions described in Ezekiel 38 don’t exist today and even seem unlikely.
Point #2: The greatest threat to Israel’s security today is from its immediate neighbors. But as we’ll discover, none of them is listed in Ezekiel 38. Consider the following possibility.
1 O God, do not keep silent;
be not quiet, O God, be not still.
2 See how your enemies are astir,
how your foes rear their heads.
3 With cunning they conspire against your people;
they plot against those you cherish.
4 “Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation,
that the name of Israel be remembered no more.”
5 With one mind they plot together;
they form an alliance against you —
6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
of Moab and the Hagrites,
7 Gebal, Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia, with the people of Tyre.
8 Even Assyria has joined them
to lend strength to the descendants of Lot. Selah (Ps 83:1-8)
This is a very interesting Psalm but it seems mysterious unless we consider it in the context of the End Times.
In verse 4, Israel’s enemies threaten to destroy her as a nation and even cause the name of Israel to be forgotten. Does this sound familiar? Israel’s enemies today pledge to “wipe Israel from the face of the earth.” Let’s consider the members of this alliance, keeping in mind that it may refer to people groups regardless of geographical area, or people living in specific geographical areas. (Refer to the Psalm 83 map)
Edom refers to the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. Esau’s descendants lived in the territory east of the Jordan River, south of the Dead Sea, which currently is part of Jordan. The Old Testament mentions judgment against Edom more than against any other foreign nation or people.
The Ishmaelites were the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s first son by Hagar, an Egyptian maidservant (see Gen 16:1). They’re associated with the Midianites, who were descendants of Keturah, a later wife of Abraham. Midian is located east of the Gulf of Aqabah and currently is part of Saudi Arabia.
Moab was the land of the descendants of Lot by his older daughter. It was a territory east of the Dead Sea and currently is part of Jordan.
The Hagrites were descendants of Hagar, Ishmael’s mother. Galatians 4:24-25 provides some insight: “These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia . . . .” So Hagar was associated with Arabia, which currently is Saudi Arabia. Or Hagar may represent Egypt, since she was Egyptian by birth.
Until 2011, Egypt had a treaty with Israel and both were American allies. Egypt had the largest and best equipped army of any Middle East nation other than Israel. With the fall of President Mubarak in Egypt, the treaty with Israel is now meaningless and the Muslim Brotherhood is calling for Egypt to destroy Israel.
The next member of the alliance opposed to Israel in Psalm 83 is Gebal, a coastal city in southern Lebanon, north of Israel.
Ammon was a region east of the Jordan River settled by the descendants of Lot by his younger daughter. That area today is Jordan, whose capital is Amman.
Amalek represents the descendants of Esau’s grandson. They lived in the region south of Israel, from the Gulf of Aqabah to the Mediterranean Sea, along the current southern border of Israel.
Philistia was the Mediterranean coastal plain, the region west of Israel currently called Gaza.
Tyre is a city on the Mediterranean coast in southern Lebanon, north of Israel.
Assyria was the land on the west bank of the Upper Tigris River, a region currently in northern Iraq and northern Syria. Assyria may include Iraq or Syria or both.
The final reference to the alliance is the descendants of Lot, which were Moab and Ammon.
Most of these people and regions are related to Abraham. It’s significant these are all Muslim people or regions, not Arab. Israel’s conflicts today are with Muslims, not Arabs.
Psalm 83 describes the hostile intentions of Israel’s neighbors, then describes the result of the war.
13 Make them like tumbleweed, O my God,
like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest
or a flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15 so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your storm.
16 Cover their faces with shame
so that men will seek your name, O Lord.
17 May they ever be ashamed and dismayed;
may they perish in disgrace. (Ps 83:13-17)
It seems Isaiah 11:12-14 is a parallel passage which describes the same conflict.
12 He will raise a banner for the nations
and gather the exiles of Israel;
he will assemble the scattered people of Judah
from the four quarters of the earth.
13 Ephraim’s jealousy will vanish,
and Judah’s enemies will be cut off;
Ephraim will not be jealous of Judah,
nor Judah hostile toward Ephraim.
14 They will swoop down on the slopes of Philistia to the west;
together they will plunder the people to the east.
They will lay hands on Edom and Moab,
and the Ammonites will be subject to them.
Notice the references to Ephraim and Judah. Ephraim was northern tribes of Israel and Judah was the southern tribes. This passage states that when the people return to Israel, the hostility between the northern and southern tribes will no longer exist.
Significantly, the Isaiah 11 passage refers to some, but not all of the nations and peoples identified in Psalm 83. It says Israel will swoop down on Philistia (Gaza), plunder the people to the east (possibly including Syria or Iraq) and subject or control Edom, Moab and Ammonites (Jordan).
- There likely will be a Middle East war in which Israel destroys or neutralizes Jordan, the West Bank, Gaza and Lebanon; possibly Syria, Iraq and either Saudi Arabia or Egypt.
- After eliminating the threat from her immediate neighbors, Israel will be at peace and free to remove the current security barriers, becoming a “land of unwalled villages.”
- This war will inflame world opinion — which already is antisemitic and pressing for a two-state solution — and provide the motivation for the Ezekiel 38 invasion of Israel, probably authorized by United Nations resolutions.
This is speculation based on unrelated passages, but it presents intriguing explanation for Israel’s immediate neighbors, currently her greatest threat, not being listed in Ezekiel 38.
Now let’s consider the nations and peoples who participate in the Magog invasion.
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal; prophesy against him 3 and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. 4 I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army — your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords. 5 Persia, Cush and Put will be with them, all with shields and helmets, 6 also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops — the many nations with you.’” (Eze 38:1-6)
Verse 2 reads, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” Most of the 14 translations in my Bible software read either “the chief prince” or “the prince.” Three translations read, “prince of Rosh.” The debate centers on the meaning of the Hebrew word Rosh. Traditionally, Rosh is believed to be an early form of the name “Russia,” as represented by the Scythians. So most commentators and teachers follow the “Scythian trail” and conclude Russia will lead the invasion of Israel. Other languages have words similar to “Rosh,” which facilitates applying it to Russia, but what matters is the biblical Hebrew meaning.
The Hebrew word Rosh means: (1) literal head of one’s body; (2) head or leader of a group; (3) the beginning of something; typical application is Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year, or lit. “head of the year”); (4) the top of something; e.g., top of a hill. So the Hebrew phrase used in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is best translated “the head, top or chief prince,” not “prince of Rosh.”
What is Gog’s identity? During Ezekiel’s day, Gog was the name given to the King of Lydia, which is in modern Turkey. The Lydian kingdom comprised the central and western portions of modern Turkey. So Ezekiel 38:2 states that Gog is of Magog and is the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.
Traditionally, Magog is believed to be Russia, based on statements by Josephus and other ancient historians. (Refer to the Traditional Ezekiel 38 Interpretation map) Scythia was a vague term that referred to any number of barbaric northern peoples, so to call someone a Scythian was the same as calling them a barbarian. The Scythians were a nomadic people and didn’t remain in one geographical area; generally, they stayed in the southern part of modern Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and neighboring areas. If Magog refers to the Scythians, it could represent any number of nations north or east of Israel, not just Russia.
Another possibility is that Magog refers to part of Asia Minor and the Lydians; that is, modern Turkey. There are solid reasons for this interpretation, including the close proximity to the other peoples listed in Ezekiel 38. The first occurrences in scripture show that Magog, Gomer, Tubal and Meshech were sons of Japheth, grandsons of Noah (Gen 10:2; 1 Chron 1:5). Meshech and Tubal are regions of modern Turkey and Gomer became known as Cappadocia, which is central Turkey. Placing the descendants of Magog in the same geographical region as the descendants of his brothers makes complete sense without stretching the scriptures. (Refer to the Alternate Ezekiel 38 Interpretation map)
Ezekiel 38 also lists Persia among the nations invading Israel. Persia primarily is modern Iran, though the ancient Persian empire also included parts of modern Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Turkmenistan.
Cush was a region south of Egypt; primarily modern Sudan, but may include Ethiopia, Somalia, Djibouti and Yemen.
Put corresponds to modern Libya, but may include nations such as Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania.
Beth Togarmah in Hebrew means “house of Togarmah.” Togarmah is primarily northeastern Turkey, but could include parts of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq and Syria. Notice Ezekiel 38 refers to “Beth Togarmah from the far north.” Ezra 7:8-9 shows it took Ezra exactly four months to travel from Babylon to Jerusalem, so it could easily have taken two or three months to travel from Jerusalem to northern Turkey. That means northern Turkey would have been considered “the far north” in Ezekiel’s time.
It’s very significant that the list of nations and peoples in Ezekiel 38 doesn’t include those listed in Psalm 83: Gaza, West Bank, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia; maybe Syria and Iraq. All of these are Muslim nations or peoples.
At the time of this writing (2011), Turkey is trying to assert itself as the leader of the Muslim world; in essence, it’s trying to restore its glory as the capital of the Ottoman Empire. This suggests Turkey’s reason for leading the Ezekiel 38 invasion after Israel defeats the surrounding Muslim nations in the Psalm 83 war.
- The nations listed in the Psalm 83 invasion include those that are the greatest current threat to Israel, including those that sponsor terrorism against Israel.
- Regardless of the location of Magog and Gomer (i.e., traditional vs. alternate interpretation), it’s very clear the nations listed in Psalm 83 are not included in the Ezekiel 38 Magog invasion.
- Therefore: Psalm 83 seems to describe a war in which Israel defeats the neighboring nations that currently pose the greatest threat to its existence.
- Israel will certainly “occupy” new territory as a result of this war (probably Gaza and the West Bank), which will earn it condemnations from the U.N. for capturing new territory during war, as has happened in the past.
- Given its current antisemitism and pressure for a two-state solution, it’s likely the U.N. will authorize military action against Israel.
- In response, Turkey will lead the attack against Israel described in Ezekiel 38 to establish itself as leader of the Muslim world and avenge Israel’s defeat of its Muslim neighbors.
It ultimately doesn’t really matter to us whether the traditional or alternate interpretation of Gog and Magog is correct. God is in control and absolutely everything will happen exactly as he said.
He will strengthen us, provide everything we need to do his work while we’re on earth, regardless of what happens while we’re here. Don’t worry about wars, rumors of wars or anything else. Those are the convulsions of the dying world system, birth pains of the new kingdom and the transition between the two. We’re not of this world; we belong to God’s family and kingdom.
Jesus said he told us what’s coming so our faith will be strengthened, not so we’ll be paralyzed with fear. Fear is faith in evil, believing evil is greater than God, who has promised to care for us and do only what is good for us. Don’t be afraid. When you see these things beginning to happen, know that the Lord’s return is near.
Many people think the Magog invasion is the same as the battle of Armageddon due to the similarities in the biblical descriptions. It’s possible the Magog invasion is a broad treatment of the entire campaign and Armageddon is the final battle. Or they may be two separate invasions of Israel, as proposed in the charts below. Examine the charts, read the scriptures and decide for yourself.
I suggest there will be three major Middle East wars involving Israel after 2011: the Psalm 83 war, the Magog invasion and the Battle of Armageddon.
First Invasion (Psalm 83, Isaiah 11)
- neighboring nations try to destroy Israel (Ps 83:4)
- Israel defeats invading nations (Ps 83:13-17; Isa 11:14)
Second Invasion (Joel 1-2)
Magog Invasion (Ezekiel 38-39)
- invasion strips the land (Joel 1:1-2:11); objective is plunder & loot (Eze 38:12-13; 39:10)
- northern army (Joel 2:20); from the far north (Eze 38:6, 15; 39:2)
- “a nation” (large body of people), not all nations of the earth (Joel 1:6); involves specific nations (Eze 38:2, 5, 6)
- army stretches from Dead Sea to Mediterranean (Joel 2:20)
- leaders are buried in Israel with army (Eze 39:11)
- afterward, Jews return from all nations (Eze 39:25-29)
- God pours out his Spirit on all people (Joel 2:28-29); salvation for Israel (Joel 2:32); God pours out his Spirit on Israel (Eze 38:29)
- occurs before Day of the Lord (Joel 2:28-31)
- no mention of the Lord’s personal return or establishing his kingdom (two of the most important events in the Bible); therefore, this is not the final invasion
Third Invasion (Joel 3, Zechariah 14)
- involves “all nations” (Joel 3:2, 11); “all the nations” gathered (Zech 14:2); armies of “the whole world” (Rev 16:14)
- sickle & harvest (Joel 3:13; Rev 14:14-18)
- winepress (Joel 3:13; Rev 14:19-20)
- Armageddon (Rev 16:16; staging area for the battle)
- location of the battle: valley of Jehoshaphat (Kidron Valley at Jerusalem), valley of decision (Joel 3:2, 12, 14)
- during day of the Lord (Joel 3:14; Zech 14:1); during day of God Almighty (Rev 16:14)
- final invasion of Israel (Joel 3:17; Zech 14:11)
- God dwells in Zion (Joel 3:17; i.e., returns to Jerusalem); Lord returns, stands on Mount of Olives (Zech 14:4-5)
- Lord sets up his kingdom (Zech 14:9; Rev 11:15, 17; 20:6)