All posts by Nigel Fortescue

Ezekiel 38-39 – Evil in the Hands of the Living God

Ezekiel 38-39 are two of the more difficult chapters in Ezekiel. They have been used and misused since they were inked or otherwise ignored. The problem is, that when we come to chapters like these we want to be able to identify who Gog is, where Magog is, when the events described here happened and what the overall result was. Sadly no one has been able clearly to identify historical events connected with the descriptions in these chapters. That doesn’t mean they are pretend or wrong, just that perhaps they are not historical in the literal linear sense. Our bigger problem as we come to these chapters is that our groups may feel fatigued by Ezekiel 1-37 and they may want to rush in for quick easy answers. The answers are there but they may not be quick to find.

Can I encourage you to remember two things as you seek answers from these chapters:

  1. The OT is about Jesus (John 5:39-40; Luke 24:44-48). Ask yourself, how do these chapters testify to Jesus.
  2. Bible reading does take effort and the effort you put into these chapters as a group will reap rewards.

AN IDEA FOR HOW TO RUN YOUR GROUP

1. SharingQuestion

Thinking specifically about today or tomorrow, what would make it a bad day? LINK: Despite the restoration and joy pictured in Ezekiel 37, Ezekiel 38-39 say that a bad day is coming for Israel, a day on which Gog from Magog will come and attack them. Despite the promise of Ezekiel 37:27-28, everything is not yet perfect.

2. READ both chapters

It will be best for you to print out both chapters and have them for people to write on with pens and highlighters. As you hand them out, have people take notice of:

  • The story itself
  • Repeated ideas
  • Allusions to other Old Testament passages
  • What God does
  • What Israel does
  • When these events will happen
  • The reason these events take place

Some help for you along the way…

• The story itself

God is going to raise up Gog (38:4, 39:2), a mighty ruler with vast armies at his disposal (38:15-16), to come out against his people in battle (38:8) together with other rulers and nations (38:6). This will all happen in future years, at a future time, in days ahead but it will be in God’s timing (38:7, 16), according to Gog’s plans (38:10) when God’s people are at peace and not expecting any evil (38:16). 

When Gog and the forces come upon the land, God will thoroughly defeat them (38:18-22). Their carcasses will be eaten by animals (39:4, 17-20), their weapons taken by Israel for firewood (39:9) and their bones buried in the Valley of Hamon Gog (39:11). Israel will send people around to collect the leftover bones and bury those too so the land will be clean (39:14-16).

• Repeated ideas

God in charge, Nations against God’s people, large armies and more

• Allusions to other Old Testament passages

38:4, 15 – Horses and vast armies – Exodus 14
38:9 – nations going up to Israel – Isaiah 2:2-4 (note the reversal of expectation)
38:15 – a mighty army – Ezekiel 37:10 – could be a connection with the valley in which the bones Gog and the hordes are placed too.
38:20 – Description of creation – Genesis 1:27-30
38:22 – Plagues – Exodus 7-11
39:17-20 – the feeding of the people to the birds – 1 Samuel 17:45-47 (David and Goliath)

What do these and other passages add to our understanding of what is going on here?

• What God does

He raises up Gog.
He defeats Gog.

It is fascinating isn’t it that God brings Gog against his people. No doubt there will be some consternation in your group about this. But why does it do this to us? Is God not free to do as he pleases? Has God promised you peace and calm every day of your life? Cannot God use both the righteous and the unrighteous to bring about his plans? Consider the cross!

• What Israel does

All Israel does is mop up after the battle is over.

• When these events will happen

38:8, 10, 14 – it is all very vague. It points to “later” which is odd given the language in Ezekiel has been to this point all immediate – soon, now, it is happening.There is something very different in the language here. Note too that the use of the OT allusions and the broad cosmological language of creation, plagues, feasting birds and armies like clouds points to something bigger. They are all clues for what is being described here, it is not something specific, it is something bigger and more significant. It is not about an event, it is about a reality.

• The reason these events take place

38:16
38:23
39:7-8
39:21-29

Looking in detail at these passages does unlock the question of why God does what he does. I would spend a fair bit of time looking at these passages.

3. Summarise in a sentence what the chapters are saying

I have come up with something like this:

Evil will still come upon God’s saved people but it is never out of God’s control and God’s people are never left to fend for themselves because God always wins.

One commentator helpfully says:

“The point of Ezekiel 38-39 is not that at some point in the distant future in history that these particular nations will attack Israel and that others will rally to her aid. Rather, these 7 nations from the ends of the earth, from all 4 points on the compass, represent symbolically a supreme attempt by the forces of evil to crush God’s people and destroy them. God will not let that happen. […] Therefore the message of Ezekiel 38-39 is not a coded message for those who live in the last days… It is a word of encouragement to all the saints of all times and places that no matter what the forces of evil may do, God’s purpose and victory stands secure. If God can defeat the combined forces of Gog and his allies and turn them into fodder for the birds, how much more can he take care of us!”

It is a powerful message of hope for God’s saved people.

4. How does this testify to Jesus?

I wonder if this gives us some insight into the defeat of Satan at the cross?
Colossians 2:15
Ephesians 2:1-4
Hebrews 2:14-15

God does the work of defeating even Satan and we have nothing to do with that? While evil prevails it is like a chained lion, dangerous to those who would close to it but completely safe if you stay away.

5. What does this mean for us?

(a) Although bad things happen in the world as we await our ulimate salvation, God is in control. It is critical that Christians get this right and believe it in the good times because God does not change just because your circumstances have. When bad things happen, God has not abandoned you. Pastorally, this is hard to hear when things are difficult. Gog comes intent to plunder but he can only do what God’s plans and purposes allow. This means we must reject trite summaries of the Christian life.

  • Nothing can go wrong, I trust Jesus: WRONG.
  • God loves me and has wonderful perfect plans for my life: WRONG.

God does love you and nothing eternally can go wrong, but in this world, right now, God’s plan for you might be that you undergo terrible struggles and trials so that you might display his glory through your trust in him. This is a wonderful plan of God too. God’s plan for you might be that you are put to death in a foreign land for being a Christian. This too is God’s wonderful plan for you. He is always in control.

In face of the reality painted in these chapters, can you see how foolish the following statements sound:

Meditate on the good things, at least you are alive.
Don’t worry, God will rescue you and make your life great again.

Too often we think in very earthly and temporal terms. We need to see the bigger picture of God’s victory over Gog and our real permanent home in heaven. If we actually had the mind of Christ, life in all its joys and disasters would make more sense and be easier to deal with.

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day
By his love and power controlling,
All I do and say, All I do and say.

(b) No matter what happens, God always wins and his love always prevails. This may seem trite but the reality is that no matter how big or organized or powerful the opposition is, or how paltry our faith is, ultimately the plans of God’s enemies come to nothing. Nothing can stop God from loving you and nothing will stop God from saving you and nothing can steal you out of Jesus’ hands.

Read Romans 8:31-39 and John 10:25-30 (just do Romans if you are out of time).

Romans 15:14-33 – You’ve Got Mail!

I am not in the habit of reading other people’s mail. I suspect you aren’t either but you may be surprised to know that if you do, you stand to be fined! Stealing and reading other people’s mail could actually land you in gaol!

Well, I felt like I was reading Paul’s personal mail when I started work on Romans 15:14-33. As we draw to the end of this great letter Paul has some personal reflections, personal news and personal greetings to pass on. But they are not without theological intent and the potential to teach us.

With this in mind, you may want to start your growth group asking the question: if you could obtain and read someone else’s mail of any secret file, what would you want to read and why?
(I’d be glad to know if aliens were real! Or to read the Queen’s mail for a day!)

While it feels personal, this passage has a lot to teach us. The passage itself can be broken into two parts
Paul’s task 15:14-22
Paul’s future 15:23:33

Some questions you may want to ponder…

PAULS TASK
1. Do you think Paul is being sarcastic in verse 14-15 or is he making a point about Christian growth (that despite fullness there is more room for growth)?

I suspect the latter is correct and it reminds us not to be lazy in our faith or to think you don’t need to keep growing!

2. How do verse 15-16 help us understand the Christian’s relationship to the OT laws and sacrifices?

I think this is a really helpful way of Paul expressing the reality that Jesus is the fulfillment of all the OT and we are acceptable to god because we trust I his sacrifice of Jesus for us. There are depths to be plunged here in terms of assurance. God in Christ has done all that is necessary for us to be accepted by him. The job is done as we trust in Christ! Paul overflows with joy becasue of this in verse 17. It has not been about Paul but about Paul preaching Jesus to those who don’t know him.

3. No doubt people will want to ask about v.19 – put simply it is a description of what happened with Paul not what will happen with our preaching of the gospel. The Spirit of God is still at work to be sure – opening blind eyes so they may see the glory of Christ and equipping the Church with gifts and fruit of service – transforming lives to be like Christ. This work is often amazing and miraculous!

PAULS FUTURE
In a second post I will provide a map that will help you here and perhaps through the whole passage. It is quite a visual learners nightmare without a map!

You can work your way through v.23-29 and then focus on the urgency to prayer.

4. Why does Paul call for urgency in prayer in these matters? What matters matter to you that you might call for urgent prayers? Do you pray for things that matter? What shapes your prayer life? What should shape your prayer life? What do the prayers of all of chapter 15 indicate should be the focus of our prayers and concerns?

Remember that this is not a call to not pray for the little things, it is a call to expand our prayers beyond our own concerns or navels to the big things that matter more than our own desires. You may want to explore with your group the content of your group’s prayers and how might you add other matters to your prayer life together in a disciplined and constant way – not just in response to what we heard this week?

I hope these thoughts are helpful and I look forward to hearing how your groups go this week!