The final battle (part 2)

It will be obvious when the end of the world is near because the events that take place will never have occurred before. For instance, there will be a worldwide earthquake that will change the geographical structure of the earth (Ezekiel 38:20). As Ezekiel described the circumstances leading to the final battle between God and mankind, he made it clear that it would come at a time that was unique and identifiable in advance. Ezekiel was told, “Therefore, son of man, prophecy and say unto Gog, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In that day when my people of Israel dwelleth safely, shalt thou know it?” (Ezekiel 38:14). God’s question was a rhetorical one, implying that Israel dwelling safely would be a rare circumstance that everyone would recognize as being out of the ordinary. Israel has been a nation known for its continual conflict with the rest of the world. Even today, we can see that Israel does not dwell safely among her neighbors. In fact, nuclear war has made it possible for Israel’s enemies to annihilate it with little effort, and yet, Israel continues to exist.

The Lord GOD is portrayed as Israel’s personal defender. When the final battle begins, God will immediately step in. Ezekiel said, “And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, that my fury shall come up in my face. For in my jealousy and in the fire of my wrath have I spoken. Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; so that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field, and all creeping things that creep upon the face of the earth, and all that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at my presence, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. The Hebrew word translated shake, ra‘ash means to undulate or to have a continuous up and down motion like waves on the sea (7493). In other words, when God shows up on the scene of the final battle, nothing will be left standing, no one will be able to fight against him.

Revelation 6:12-17 gives further insight into what it will be like when God finally faces his foes in battle. It says:

And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood; and the stars of heaven fell unto the earth, even as a fig tree casteth her untimely figs, when she is shaken of a mighty wind. And the heaven departed as a scrole when it is rolled together; and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. And the kings of the earth, and the great men, and the rich men, and the chief captains, and the mighty men, and every bondman, and every free man, hid themselves in the dens and in the rocks of the mountains; and said to the mountains and rocks, Fall on us, and hide us from the face of him that sitteth on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb: for the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand?

An important aspect of the day of God’s wrath was linked to “the Lamb” who was pictured as the sacrifice for sin and as the mighty conqueror. Jesus’ victory over death was necessary for him to overcome God’s enemies in the final battle.

The final battle (part 1)

A common topic of Old Testament prophecy was the latter days or latter years which represented a period of time when God would bring judgment on all mankind. Jeremiah spoke of God’s wrath during this time period. He said, “Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD is gone forth in fury, even a grievous whirlwind: it shall fall grievously upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the LORD shall not return, until he have executed, and till he have performed the thoughts of his heart: in the latter days ye shall consider it perfectly” (Jeremiah 23:19-20). Basically, what Jeremiah was saying was that things might not make sense right now, but there would come a time when God would settle accounts with his enemies and his people would then understand why he waited to bring judgment on the world.

In order to understand the latter days, you have to look at the beginning of history when God first judged the world. A flood covered the face of the earth and wiped out every sign of life, leaving only one family remaining; Noah and his three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Genesis 7-8). At that time, God made a covenant with every living creature and promised never again to destroy all life on earth (Genesis 9:16-17). It was then that Noah’s sons went forth and began to repopulate the earth, each having a designated territory to develop. The descendants of Noah’s son Ham settled in northern Africa and the land known as Canaan. It is believed that 14 nations came from Noah’s oldest son, Japheth. The Japhethites lived generally north and west of Canaan in Eurasia. The people of Gomer (the later Cimmerians) and related nations lived near the Black Sea. Magog was possibly the father of a Scythian people who inhabited the Caucasus and adjacent regions southeast of the Black Sea.

Some Bible scholars believe the descendants of Japheth occupy the territory formerly known as the USSR or modern Russia. Russia has been associated with Bible prophecy and the latter days when a final battle will occur between God’s army and the kingdoms of this world. The LORD told Ezekiel, “Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophecy against him…And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords… Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee” (Ezekiel 38:2-6).

Israel’s watchman

Ezekiel was identified as a watchman for Israel. In that role, he was expected to keep a close watch on events leading up to the fall of Jerusalem. For seven years, from 593 B.C. to 586 B.C., Ezekiel delivered numerous messages from the Lord indicating that the end was near. In his final warning, Ezekiel’s role as Israel’s watchman was emphasized so that there would be no misunderstanding as to what was happening. He was told:

Son of man, speak to the children of thy people, and say unto them, When I bring the sword upon a land, if the people of the land take a man of their coasts, and set him for their watchman: if when he seeth the sword come upon the land, he blow the trumpet, and warn the people; then whosoever heareth the sound of the trumpet, and taketh not warning; if the sword come, and take him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet, and took not warning; his blood shall be upon him. But he that taketh warning shall deliver his soul. (Ezekiel 33:2-5).

God’s attempt to warn his people showed that he still cared about them, even though they had abandoned him. He told Ezekiel, “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:11). God’s plea for repentance was a sign that he still wanted to have a relationship with his people. His motive in bringing judgment was to restore, not to severe his ties with Israel. The only way God could reconnect with his people was through conversion. “The process called conversion or turning to God is in reality a re-turning or a turning back again to Him from whom sin has separated us, but whose we are by virtue of creation, preservation and redemption” (7725).

On August 14, 586 B.C., Ezekiel received word from someone that escaped that Jerusalem had fallen (Ezekiel 33:21). The news not only vindicated Ezekiel, but also validated him as being Israel’s watchman and a true prophet of God. At the start of Ezekiel’s ministry, when he was first commissioned as Israel’s watchman, God made him dumb, or unable to speak, except for the messages he received from God. In connection with the news of Jerusalem’s fall, Ezekiel said, “Now the hand of the LORD was upon me in the evening, afore he that was escaped came; and had opened my mouth, until he came to me in the morning; and my mouth was opened, and I was no more dumb” (Ezekiel 33:22). Ezekiel’s ability to speak indicated that he was no longer Israel’s watchman. From that point forward, Ezekiel would have a new mission, pastoral comfort or the job of a shepherd.

A riddle

In ancient times, the use of a riddle was a means of demonstrating superior intellect. The Hebrew word translated riddle in Ezekiel 17:2, chiydah (khee – daw´) means “a puzzle, hence, a trick” or conundrum (2420). The word chiydah is derived from chuwd (khood), which is properly translated as “to tie a knot” (2330). It could be said that a riddle was a type of mental exercise intended to keep someone wrapped up or distracted for a long period of time. In essence, a riddle was meant to be unsolvable, therefore, it was designed to be as difficult as possible to interpret it.

God said to Ezekiel, “Son of man, put forth a riddle, and speak a parable unto the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 17:2). The story Ezekiel was given was about an eagle that “cropt off the top of his young twigs, and carried it into a land of traffick” (Ezekiel 17:4). At the core of this story was the issue of interference in God’s plan to bring forth a Messiah in the family of king David. As the kings of Judah had carried on from generation to generation, keeping the blood line of David alive and on the throne, there came a point when king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took Jehoiachin king of Judah into captivity. Jehoiachin was the last of David’s descendants to sit on the throne.

After Jehoiachin was removed from his position as king, Nebuchadnezzar replaced him with an older relative that he intended to use as a means of controlling the nation of Judah from a distance, but king Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar and sought help from an Egyptian pharaoh. Eventually, Zedekiah was taken into captivity and killed. If he had been the true heir to David’s throne, the blood line of David would have been cut off and the Messiah’s birth impossible, but king Jehoiachin remained in Babylon safe and sound.

It says in Ezekiel 17:22-23. “Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon a high mountain and eminent: in the mountains of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all foul of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.” God’s reference to the highest branch of the high cedar was meant to convey the idea of the last living relative of king David; king Jehoiachin, whom God would use to transplant the blood line back to Jerusalem after the 70 years of captivity were completed.

Divine influence

The explanation Ezekiel received for God’s punishment of his children was that they were to serve as a warning to the nations around them. God said, “So it shall be a reproach and a taunt, an instruction and an astonishment unto the nations round about thee, when I shall execute judgments on thee in my anger and in fury and in furious rebukes. I the LORD have spoken it” (Ezekiel 5:15).

God intended to judge the nations surrounding Israel, but first he set an example by punishing the nation of Judah and more specifically Jerusalem because he said, “they have refused my judgments and my statutes, they have not walked in them” (Ezekiel 5:6). According to God, the people of Jerusalem had acted more wickedly than the nations around them by defiling his temple (Ezekiel 5:11) and would be reduced to cannibalism as a sign of their depravity (Ezekiel 5:10).

In a final symbolic act, Ezekiel was instructed to shave his head and beard (Ezekiel 5:1). Afterward, he was told, “Thou shalt burn with fire a third part in the midst of the city, when the days of the siege are fulfilled, and thou shalt take a third part, and smite about it with a knife: and a third part shalt thou scatter to the wind; and I will draw out a sword after them” (Ezekiel 5:2). These gestures signified the ways God’s people would be destroyed: famine, being killed in combat, and being scattered abroad.

The harsh treatment God’s people received was due to their continuous rebellion over a period of more than 400 years. Rather than give up on them completely, God wanted to show them they would not escape judgment if they refused to repent. God’s judgment of the nation of Judah was actually a one-time event that was never to be repeated (Ezekiel 5:9). The outcome would be a strong turning to a new course of action by God. He said, “Thus shall mine anger be accomplished, and I will cause my fury to rest upon them, and I will be comforted” (Ezekiel 5:13).

The Hebrew word translated comforted, nacham (naw – kham´) means to sigh or to be sorry. Nacham is also associated with repentance. “Comfort is derived from ‘com’ (with) and ‘fort’ (strength). Hence, when one repents, he exerts strength to change, to re-grasp the situation, and exert effort for the situation to take a different course of purpose and action” (5162). God’s judgment of his people marked the end of his effort to get them to obey his laws. From that point forward, God would deal with his people as sinners that could only be saved by grace; through his divine influence upon their hearts.

Signs

The extreme measures God took to commission Ezekiel were necessary because Ezekiel was unwilling to serve the LORD as a messenger to a group of people he described as rebellious, impudent, and hardhearted (Ezekiel 2:3-5). Like Jeremiah, Ezekiel would face opposition that would be not only discouraging, but also maddening to the point he would not be able to do his job without God’s help. God told Ezekiel, “Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:8-9).

God went so far as to tell Ezekiel he would not be able to speak any words except those that the LORD gave him. He said, “And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD: He that heareth, let him hear; and him that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house” (Ezekiel 3:26-27). In order to ensure Ezekiel’s messages would be taken seriously, God began his ministry with a series of symbolic acts that would serve as signs or attestations to the validity of Ezekiel’s prophecies (226).

The first sign that was given was a clay model that would portray the siege of Jerusalem (Ezekiel 1:3). Although Jerusalem’s destruction was imminent at the time of Ezekiel’s deportation, many believed God would intervene at the last minute and save his people from the Babylonian army. Even though king Zedekiah knew the truth, he led the people of Jerusalem to believe they would escape destruction and were safe inside the walls of the city (Jeremiah 28:11). Ezekiel’s model of the siege of Jerusalem clearly depicted the end result, a desperate situation in which the people would be forced to use human excrement as a fuel source (Ezekiel 4:12-13).

Perhaps, the most controversial of Ezekiel’s symbolic acts was the one through which he bore the sins of God’s people. Ezekiel was forced to lie on his side and was bound with ropes or chains in order to depict the bondage of sin, representing to God’s people their need for a savior. God told Ezekiel, “Lie thou also upon thy left side, and lay the iniquity of the house of Israel upon it…For I have laid upon thee the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days, three hundred and ninety days…And when thou hast accomplished them, lie again on thy right side, and thou shalt bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed thee each day for a year…And behold, I will lay bands upon thee, and thou shalt not turn thee from one side to another till thou hast ended the days of thy siege” (Ezekiel 4:4-8).

The total number of days Ezekiel would bear the iniquities of God’s people, 430 days, was significant because the period of silence between the last prophetic message the people received through the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ was 430 years (From Malachi to Christ). During that time, Judah was reestablished, but there was no king and the nation was subject to foreign rulers, until finally, Rome captured Jerusalem and the provinces became subject to Rome. Herod the Great, a procurator of the Roman Empire, was ruler of all the Holy Land at the time of Christ’s birth. God said that he had appointed one day for each year of his people’s rebellion. Through this prophecy, God was telling his people when their Messiah would come to rescue them.

 

Face to face

Moses had a unique relationship with God in that the LORD spoke to him face to face, “as a man speaketh unto his friend” (Exodus 33:11). When Moses spoke with God, he didn’t actually see his face. “The Bible clearly teaches that God is a spiritual being and ought not to be depicted by an image or any likeness whatever” (6440). God himself said, “Thou canst not see my face: for there shall no man see me, and live” (Exodus 33:20). Although it’s impossible to see God, Ezekiel’s vision showed him a man upon a throne that had the appearance of the glory of the LORD (Ezekiel 1:27-28).

Ezekiel’s interaction with the man upon the throne suggests that he was seeing the resurrected Jesus Christ. In other encounters in the Old Testament, when the preincarnate Christ was seen, he did not have the glory of the LORD associated with him. It wasn’t until the book of Revelation was written, after Jesus had ascended, that images of God (Jesus) were depicted in the Bible. Not only did Ezekiel see the man on the throne, but he also heard his voice. It says in Ezekiel 2:1-2, “And he said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that heard him that spake unto me.”

Ezekiel’s commission as a prophet was unique in that the spirit that entered into him was able to cause him to do things against his will. As you might think of a person that is demon possessed, Ezekiel was in a sense possessed by an angel or spirit of God. Ezekiel told us that the spirit took him up and supernaturally transported him to another location, against his will. It says in Ezekiel 3:14, “So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the LORD was strong upon me.” Ezekiel was furious that God was able to overpower him in such a way, but could not do anything about it.

Afterward, Ezekiel was devastated, as though he had been violated by the spirit. His anger toward God was clearly an impediment to his ability to carry out his mission, and yet, God was determined to use Ezekiel as his spokesman. Seven days later, Ezekiel received a message from the LORD. He said, “Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 3:17). Ezekiel was told that if he didn’t warn the people as God instructed him to, he would be held responsible for their eternal damnation (Ezekiel 3:18).

A visit from God

Ezekiel was a priest that was taken into captivity in 597 B.C. along with king Jehoiachin and several thousand citizens of Judah and Jerusalem. At the age of 30, Ezekiel saw visions of God while he was in the land of the Chaldeans by the river Chebar (Ezekiel 1:1-3). It says in Ezekiel 1:3 that “the word of the LORD came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest…and the hand of the LORD was there upon him.” What that means is that Ezekiel’s message came directly from God; an intermediary angel was not used to deliver it.

Ezekiel described what he saw in graphic detail using words such as likeness and appearance to convey what he knew to be supernatural manifestations of spiritual beings. In his account of what took place, it is evident that Ezekiel was both awestruck and curious about the vision. The first image that was seen by Ezekiel was a giant cloud that was blown in by a stormy wind, and then four living creatures that looked like men came out of the cloud and stood before him, as if they were trying to get his attention (Ezekiel 1:4-5).

Ezekiel’s description of the four living creatures makes it clear that spiritual beings function differently than human beings and yet, there are similarities that make it possible for us to understand each other. The most obvious difference between angels and humans is that angels have wings and can move about in much more efficient ways than we can. Also, angels are able to operate in a unified manner. The four living creatures were separate individuals, but they moved in unison with one another, as if they were joined together like Siamese twins (Ezekiel 1:9).

Depending on which direction they wanted to go, each of the four living creatures faced forward toward the north, south, east, and west, and led the others to their desired destination without having to turn or go backwards. They each had four faces that enabled them to act according to their circumstances without changing their expressions. The angels’ faces and wings were designed to not only improve their mobility, but also to guarantee they would not be hindered in performing their assignments. It seems as though the four living creatures were tasked with guarding the entry way to God’s throne room, or acting as guides to direct the cloud in which the throne was located to its desired destination.

I think one of the most interesting and important aspects of Ezekiel’s vision was that it came to him while he was in exile in Babylon. The sight of his visitation, the Chebar river was no doubt a busy spot where both Babylonians and Israelites congregated to collect water. Although Ezekiel’s vision was communicated to him alone, the information was made public so that everyone would know God had visited him in Babylon. The remarkable thing about it being there was no place off limits to God, he could transport himself wherever needed to communicate with his people.