The second half of the oracles of restoration include a vision including a valley full of dry bones, a sign-act with two sticks, and an apocalypse featuring Gog of the land of Magog. I include some Hebrew text upon request because of the popularity of associating the place names in Ezekiel 38-39 with modern place names, an approach that I quote others to debunk so that you will know it is not just my own opinion. These three chapters are among the most well known of the entire book and are worth your reading before and after reading this post
The first half of Ezekiel 37 brings to mind the opening of Ezekiel because of the way it begins, “The hand of YHWH was upon me, and He brought me out in the Spirit of YHWH and set me down in the middle of the valley…” (37:1). What we have here is a vision where Ezekiel is “carried” by the Spirit of YHWH to see a valley full of dry bones.
There are three major parts of this section. There is a two-fold re-creative act mirroring the original creation of Adam. Adam was formed from the dust and then breathed into with the breath of life. Thus the first major part shows us Ezekiel prophesying and the bones came together, then sinews and flesh came upon the bones, and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them. The second major part then shows us Ezekiel prophesying to the breath to breathe on the slain so that they might live and it came to pass. The third part then gives us the interpretation of this vision.
The interpretation of this vision to the “house of Israel” who are saying, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off,” is as follows: “Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am YHWH, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am YHWH; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares YHWH” (Ezekiel 37:12-14).
This vision is about the restoration of Israel. After all, this whole section gives us the oracles of restoration. The valley was a deserted desert – worse yet, it was full of dry bones and so everywhere one would look were signs of death and no hints of life. The valley was a picture of the cross without the resurrection. And so how appropriate then that the restoration is described as a resurrection event.
The second half of the chapter then begins, “The word of YHWH came to me: ‘Son of man…’” (Ezekiel 37:15-16a). Here we see a sign-act. We saw several sign-acts in the parallel part of the book where the signs showed us the coming judgment on Jerusalem. But here the sign-act, as we would expect, shows us the coming restoration. Thus the return from exile (the people coming back from the nations to the land and God returning to them) is prophesied again in this way.
Many themes from the other chapters of restoration reappear here: he mentions the mountains of Israel reminding us of chapter 36 where he spoke to the mountains of Israel, there is the promise of cleansing the people from their idolatry (Ezekiel 37:23, 36:25), the covenant formula of “They shall be my people and I will be their God” and “I will be their God, and they shall be my people” is repeated again here (here it is Ezekiel 37:23, 27), David is coming as the shepherd of the people (Ezekiel 37:24) and their prince (Ezekiel 37:25), both points made also in chapter 34.
“Walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes” (Ezekiel 37:24) simply repeats in reverse order Ezekiel 36:27. And Ezekiel has also called the new covenant a “covenant of peace” before (Ezekiel 37:26, 34:25).
Remembering the kingship of David as the model for the coming Christ was quite appropriate since the picture takes us back before the nation split into two. The restoration from exile will not restore two nations but one kingdom under one king. Thus the sign-act is the bringing together of the stick of Joseph/Ephraim and the stick of Judah.
It is not an accident that the covenant formula is repeated in chiastic fashion with the center focused on God. This unity that Ezekiel describes with this sign-act is one nation under one God. This one nation in view is the church.
What this chapter also adds is the idea of God setting His sanctuary in their midst forevermore. This is a crucial point – the restoration has not really happened until God comes to dwell with them again (which happens in a special way at the first coming of Christ).
The next two chapters are apocalyptic in genre. The setting for all this is “in the latter years” (Ezekiel 38:8, same Hebrew word for “latter” that we saw in the Torah of Moses). There is no figure from history that sounds like a plausible match with Gog. Ezekiel is creating a mythical figure – Gog of the land of Magog. The New Testament apocalyptic book of Revelation also mentions Gog and Magog (Rev 20:8). The Greek words Gog and Magog (Γὼγ καὶ Μαγώγ) are simply a transliteration of the Hebrew
(גּוֹג אֶרֶץ הַמָּגוֹג)
[Gog of the land of Magog].
Gog is said to be the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal (מֶשֶׁךְ וְתֻבָל). Again, these are just transliterations of the Hebrew. You may recall that Gomer, Magog, Tubal and Meshech are four of the seven sons of Japheth in Genesis 10:2 and these four are all mentioned here in Ezekiel 38 as is Togarmah the daughter city of Gomer in Genesis 10:3. Persia, Cush and Put are with them. Geographically then Israel is surrounded – Gog and company are in the far north (though nowhere near as far north as Russia), Cush and Put are in Africa to the far west, and Persia is to the far east.
In Ezekiel 27:10 Persia, Lud, and Put were said to be in the army of Tyre as men of war. In Ezekiel 30:5 Cush, Put, and Lud were said to be in league with Egypt. Thus Og is a figure like the king of Tyre and Pharaoh of Egypt in the oracles against foreign nations. Og is the end-time personification of all those nations that would stand against God and the people of God. After all, the oracles against foreign nations have already addressed the nations that were nearby. So this is a last-ditch effort by the nations of men to resist the coming kingdom-rule of God.
The Dillard-Longman introduction rightly critiques the popular misunderstanding of this kind of literature. “Simply on the basis of phonetic similarity, Meshech is said to be Moscow, and Tubal is identified with the Russian city Toblosk, both localities geographically far removed from the region Ezekiel is describing. Further, since the word chief in the phrase “chief prince” is the Hebrew word רֹאשׁ , some have insisted that the phrase means “prince of Russia.” Even if one reached the improbable conclusion that this term should have been translated as a geographical name instead of as “chief,” it would scarcely refer to modern Russia. The word “Russia,” insofar as can be determined, was brought into the region north of Kiev in the Middle Ages by the Vikings, and therefore would not have been in use over a millennium earlier in Ezekiel’s time as a designation for modern Russia. The terms Meshech and Tubal are known from Assyrian documents dated in the twelfth to eighth centuries B.C.; they are also mentioned by Herodotus (7:72) and Josephus (Ant 1:124). In these ancient sources Meshech and Tubal designated tribes that lived in central and eastern Anatolia” (p.322-323). Anatolia is part of Turkey today.
They also note that King Midas (Mitas) known for his riches was a king of Meshech (Mushku).
Their conclusion: “Since Ezekiel’s terms have recognizable equivalents in use at his own time and geographically proximate to the biblical world, speculation about some sort of Russian invasion of other lands in the Middle East receives no warrant from this passage.”
Since the nations that conquered Israel and Judah came from the north, Ezekiel used these northern place names as symbolic of those against Israel.
Dillard and Longman’s introduction note that although Ezekiel has many oracles against foreign nations none of them are directed against his place of captivity (Babylon). Thus many interpreters argue that Magog, Meshech, and Tubal really stand in for Babylon. This fits what one would expect in apocalyptic literature. Apocalyptic literature allows the author to speak about things in code rather than writing something that would get you arrested. Later Babylon would become the code word in apocalyptic writing, but this was after that threat had passed. Babylon came to stand for world-government against God. Speaking of codes, it is possible that Magog is code for Babel. Doing this would make the consonants BBL for Babel become MGG for Magog. One would get there either by going to the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet and reversing the order (thus B becomes G and L becomes M and you reverse GGM to be MGG) or perhaps some other variation on Atbash writing.
Likewise here the world government is led by an antichrist figure (Gog) who ruled most directly over northern tribes but also had the far eastern and western nations under his dominion too. This is set at a time when the nation of Israel (i.e., the people of God, the church) has been restored – so they are “dwelling securely” (language we have seen before in the oracles of restoration) (Ezekiel 38:14). God says, “In the latter days (aharith of the days) I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes” (Ezekiel 38:16).
Apocalyptic literature often does not sound all that reassuring at first because of this war talk, but the purpose of God causing Gog to attack the land is simply to usher in Gog’s defeat. The text sounds very exciting, which is a large part of the reason that people enjoy speculating about the details.
Chapters 38 and 39 are parallel panels. Both say, “Thus says the Lord YHWH: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about” (Ezekiel 38:3, 39:1-2).
The second panel focuses on the issue of cleansing the land, especially appropriate for someone who would have been a priest to stress. The second panel also goes a step further to the end than the first did by talking about a burial place for Gog and the great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel where the birds of prey would come devour the fallen. The chapter ends with a summary of the restoration message.
“Now I will restore the fortunes [return from exile] of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel, and I will be jealous for my holy name. They shall forget their shame and all the treachery they have practiced against me, when they dwell securely in their land with none to make them afraid, when I have brought them back from the peoples and gathered them from their enemies’ lands, and through them have vindicated my holiness in the sight of many nations. Then they shall know that I am YHWH their God, because I sent them into exile among the nations and then assembled them into their own land. I will leave none of them remaining among the nations anymore. And I will not hide my face anymore from them, when I pour out my Spirit upon the house of Israel, declares the Lord YHWH” (Ezekiel 39:25-29).
In any case, these chapters are describing the battle of Har Magedon that you see also described as led by Babylon in various parts of the apocalyptic book of Revelation. The oracles of restoration then bring us to the full restoration of Israel (i.e., the church) where there are no nations that can stand against her.