Issuu on Google+


Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future


Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future Identifying the Gog-Magog Alliance

Gary DeMar

American Vision Press POW DER SPR INGS, GEORGI A


Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future Identifying the Gog-Magog Alliance by Gary DeMar Copyright Š 2008 by The American Vision, Inc. The American Vision, Inc. 3150 Florence Road Powder Springs, Georgia 30127-5385 www.AmericanVision.org 1-800-628-9460

All rights reserved. Written permission must be secured from the publisher to use or reproduce any part of this book, except for brief quotations in critical reviews or articles.

Printed in the United States of America. Cover: Joseph Darnell Typesetting: Adam Stiles

ISBN13: 978-0-915815-94-4


Contents Preface

7

1 Doomsday Déjà Vu

13

2 The Literal Interpretation of the Bible

39

3 The Real Rescue of Israel

53

4 Is Russia Mentioned In the Bible?

69

5 The Far North, the Latter Years, and All the Nations

85

6 Rosh Among the Commentators

97

7 Low Tech Eschatology

113

8 Answering Objections

131

9 A Cup That Causes Reeling

147

10

The Piercing of God

159

Appendix A: Looking for New Heavens and a New Earth

175

Appendix B: Peddling Prophetic Snake Oil

189

Appendix C: The End of the World

197


Preface

“J

acob, hurry. There’s not much time.” The vibrating roar of jets was getting closer. The two boys always knew that war was possible, but they didn’t want to believe it could happen. Paolo and Jacob heard how Russian forces and Islamic fighters would attack Israel. Christian missionaries warned them that ancient biblical prophecies were coming to pass in “this generation.” It all seemed too fantastic. What did an old book have to do with our day? Historians dismissed the Bible as a collection of myths. Science had proved it wrong. Men can’t predict the future. “Why didn’t we listen to them,” Jacob cried to himself. “This can’t be happening. Not now! Not to us!” They knew the hills were the only place of refuge from an air attack. Israeli forces positioned themselves to push back the air and land invasions. Getting caught in the crossfire of dozens of jet fighters and crazed Jihadists was not something they could survive. They would be incinerated by the resulting firestorm. “I can’t climb any faster,” Jacob shouted to his brother. “You have to. The mountains are our only hope. Only another 50 meters. You can do it!” The hill was not easy to climb. The rocks are loose and sharp. It was hard enough to get good footing during a slow climb. They had never run up the hill before. With each step, pieces of the hillside came apart from under their feet. It seemed the faster they climbed, the more their footing gave way to the crumbling rock. 7


8

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Mustering all his youthful strength, Jacob fought the burning pain in his lungs and the deadness in his legs and made his way up the moving hillside. His lungs were heaving as he sucked in the hot dustfilled air. His throat burned as he kept muttering to himself, “only 40 meters … only 30 meters….” They saw the heat-searing flash before they felt the concussion of the explosion. Jacob and Paolo were thrown hard against the back wall of the cave. The rock fortress they had used so many times to escape the mid-day heat had saved them from the inferno that filled the valley below. ******* “CUT! That was great boys,” Sal shouted to the two young actors. “No more takes. We got it all for this scene. Rest up this evening. We have a few more shots tomorrow before we film the final scenes. We’re almost there.” “I’m here to see Sal. Can you tell me where I can find him?” “He’s over there talking to the two boys. Are you Gary?” “Yes, I am. I know I’m a little early, but traffic wasn’t as bad as I had expected.” “I’m Jake, Sal’s assistant. LA traffic is a nightmare … a perpetual parking lot, but some days we get lucky. Sal’s expecting you. I’ll let him know you’re here.” Jake made his way through the equipment and the crew to Sal who was showing his enthusiasm for the day’s work. After a few final words to the boys and their proud parents, Jake let Sal know that his guest had arrived. “Gary, it’s great to see you. I was shocked when I got your phone call. When’s the last time we saw each other? It’s got to be nearly 40 years.” “Forty years and counting.” “What made you look me up after such a long time?” “I was at our high school reunion. You were on the list of attendees. When you didn’t show, I made a point of looking you up on my trip to LA. When I heard you were making a film with a Bible prophecy theme, I knew I had to see you.” “I really wanted to make the reunion, but the shooting schedule got delayed. There was no way I could get away.”


Preface

9

“It was at the reunion that I learned that you were doing a movie about the end-times.” “We brought in some of the best prophecy experts to work on the project. They outlined a script for us based on passages like Ezekiel 38–39 and Zechariah 12. I’m no Bible scholar, but what they described in our planning meetings was scary.” “Where are jet planes mentioned in the Bible?” “Excuse me?,” Sal asked. “Jet planes … missiles … and atomic weapons? The scene I saw was fi lmed against the backdrop of an air-war fought with jets and other modern-day weapons. There is nothing in the Ezekiel chapters that would lead any reader to conclude that such a war will be waged. The soldiers are on horseback and fighting with swords and riding chariots.” For a moment, Sal didn’t know what to say. He had never thought about the actual text of Ezekiel. Sensing that he was in over his head, Sal repeated what he had been told in one of the planning meetings. “Ezekiel was describing this future technological battle in ways that he and his readers could understand.” “If the prophecy was written for a time more than 2500 years removed from Ezekiel’s day, why didn’t God describe the battle in terms that we could relate to? Why confuse Ezekiel’s first readers and us?” “Gary, as you probably know, I’m a novice when it comes to the Bible. I became a Christian a few years ago and wanted to use what I had learned in the film industry to make a different kind of movie. This seemed like a great way to make the transition from trash to a story that would make a difference.” “Sal, I understand. I don’t want to put a damper on your production. I’ve spent a lot of time studying this subject so naturally I have an opinion. Since I don’t have much time, let’s get some dinner and I’ll share with what I believe Ezekiel and Zechariah are describing. I think you’ll find it interesting, but it might change the ending of your fi lm.” *******


10

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

My library is fi lled with books that attempt to make the case that the events predicted in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are on our prophetic horizon, and it seems that each month a new book appears insisting that “given the current world situation, nuclear war is inevitable.”1 Of course, a nuclear war might indeed take place, but we have to question whether Bible passages like Ezekiel 38–39 and Zechariah 12 make such a prediction. These and other chapters are used by modern-day prophecy writers to defend the belief that Russia and her Islamic neighbors will attack Israel. It’s argued that this attack will put into motion a series of geopolitical events that will set the stage for a coming world leader and an eventual worldwide “great tribulation” that can only be stopped by the direct intervention of God, but only after the Battle of Armageddon when billions of people have died. This interpretation has a history going back to the eighteenth century but gained near universal acceptance with the publication of the first edition of the Scofield Reference Bible2 in 1909. The extended note that Cyrus I. Scofield adds to Ezekiel 38 in the 1917 revised edition identifies Russia as the subject of the two-chapter prophecy. He includes Zechariah 12:1–4 as a parallel passage. So many contemporary prophecy writers follow the script outlined by Scofield and others before him3 that this interpretation has become a point of prophetic orthodoxy. Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future will challenge the arguments used by today’s prophecy writers who claim modern-day Russia is the subject of Ezekiel and Zechariah’s prophecies that will set off a chain events leading to the end of our world as we know it. In addition to studies of Ezekiel 38–39 and Zechariah 12, I have included a chapter on twentieth-century prophetic speculation and its impact on social and political thinking. My purpose in rehearsing this history is to remind Bible students that what they are hearing today from so-called prophecy experts isn’t anything new. Too often new Christians get the impression that the latest book on Bible prophecy is a digest of recently mined prophetic information. Most are not aware that prophetic speculation has a long but failed history.4 Here’s just


Preface

11

one example. In 1980, Hal Lindsey wrote The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon. Using the prophecy of Ezekiel 38–39, he argued that the Soviet Union “will first invade Iran, or Persia, as it is called in Ezekiel chapter 38, verse five. When we apply this prophecy to modern times, it becomes obvious that the Soviets will use their recent conquest of Afghanistan as a springboard to overthrow Iran and gain control of the Persian Gulf area.”5 For those who are rusty on their history, the former Soviet Union (Russia) was run out of Afghanistan in February 1999 by the Muslim Mujahideen. The war has been described as the Soviet Union’s Vietnam.6 Lindsey went on to speculate that Iran might fall “to the ever-growing Iranian Marxists.”7 None of what Lindsey “predicted” based on his reading Ezekiel 38 and 39 happened. Lindsey now believes the Gog and Magog prophecy of Ezekiel predicted Russia’s invasion of Georgia in August 2008. He comes to this conclusion based on what he explains is a literal interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39. “‘Gog’ refers to modern Russia, from Moscow (Meshech) to Siberia (Tubal). ‘Magog’ refers to the states along the Black Sea, and in particular, the Republic of Georgia.”8 What Lindsey writes next is very important: “Two thousand, five hundred years ago, a Hebrew captive living in Babylon outlined in detail the scenario that has continued to unfold and take shape in precise detail for most of the past generation.” I want you to notice the phrase “in precise detail.” Where in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is there any mention of Russia,9 Moscow, Siberia or the former Soviet Republic of Georgia? In addition, where is there any mention of tanks, “missile receptor batteries,” nuclear weapons, and jet planes, the implements of war that Lindsey and other prophecy writers claim will be used in this inevitable Gog and Magog battle with Israel? There’s an old proverb that goes like this: “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.”10 This works out to mean, don’t assume that something is true until you put the claim to the test, especially when it comes to something found in the Bible (Acts 17:11; Eph. 4:14; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1; 2 Pet. 2:1).11 The proof that expositors are actually interpreting Ezekiel 38 and 39 literally is to test their methodology with the Bible. Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future will do just that.


12

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Notes 1. Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Global Warning: Are We on the Brink of World War III? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2007), 84. 2. Arno C. Gaebelein, The History of the Scofield Reference Bible (New York: Our Hope Publications, 1943). 3. For example, John Nelson Darby, The Hopes of the Church of God in Connexion with the Destiny of the Jews and the Nations as Revealed in Prophecy: Eleven Lectures Delivered in Geneva in 1840, 2nd ed. (London: G. Morrish, 1842), 64 and Henry Cowles, Ezekiel and Daniel with Notes, Critical, Explanatory, and Practical (New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1870), 219 4. Le Roy Edwin Froom, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers: The Historical Development of Prophetic Interpretation, 4 vols. (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1946–1954): http://tinyurl.com/6h854m. These volumes concentrate on the history of interpretation of Daniel and Revelation. Also see Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000). 5. Hal Lindsey, The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon (King of Prussia, PA: Westgate Press, 1980), 74. 6. “Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski: The CIA’s Intervention in Afghanistan,” Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris (January 15–21, 1998): http://tinyurl.com/4tg6t 7. Lindsey, The 1980’s, 74. 8. Hal Lindsey, “Oh, My Gog!” (August 22, 2008): http://tinyurl.com/5a688p 9. I am well aware of how the Hebrew word rosh in Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1, best translated as “chief,” is made to mean modern-day Russia. The use of the very common word rosh will be discussed in great detail in the subsequent chapters. 10. The proverb is often stated as “The proof is in the pudding.” 11. Joe Kovaks, Shocked by the Bible: The Most Astonishing Facts You’ve Never Been Told (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008) and J. Stephen Lang, What the Good Book Didn’t Say: Popular Myths and Misconceptions About the Bible (New York: Citadel Press/Kensington, 2003).


1 Doomsday Déjà Vu

“A

pocalyptic thinking is in the air,” so said University of Connecticut psychologist Kenneth Ring in 1990.1 Long before 1990, speculation about the apocalypse was common, but it wasn’t until 1970 that the topic entered best-seller status and became part of everyday conversation. The 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War focused attention on the Middle East as an apocalyptic hot spot, and prophecy writers began to take advantage of the emerging crisis as sales of prophetic books skyrocketed. Eschatology “The single best-selling nonfiction book of the The study of the last 1970s was not The Joy of Sex or even The Joy things. “Prophecy” of Cooking; it was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great and “eschatology” Planet Earth.”2 It was declared by the New York are often used interTimes to be the “no. 1 non-fiction bestseller of changeably. the decade.”3 Estimates put sales at more than 15 million copies before the close of the decade. Since then, it has sold more than 28 million copies worldwide and remains in print today as evidence of Bible prophecy’s staying power even in light of its shop-worn predictions.4 “As Lindsey says himself, ‘The future is big business.’”5 From books like The Late Great Planet Earth and Beyond the Crystal Ball6 “Evangelicals acquired an abiding interest in ‘signs of the times,’ moments in secular politics that might portend the great religious changes foretold in the Christian scriptures, especially in the Books of Daniel and Revelation. The re-creation of the state of Israel in 1948 signified that the prophetic clock was now ticking, that 13


14

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

the countdown to doomsday had begun.”7 Israel’s national resurgence was seen as the key that would open the end-time meaning of prophecies written long ago. All would be fulfilled in quick order within forty years of 1948. The Late Great Planet Earth had its apocalyptic predecessors, but with a big-name evangelical publisher behind the book, its breezy novel-like writing style, and the instability of world events, Christians were ready for an end-time scenario that would offer some hopeful sign of what The “Rapture” the future might bring for them. It didn’t The “rapture” refers to a matter that Lindsey’s scenario would future event that is said mean disaster for billions of others “left to restart the prophetic behind” to face an apocalyptic nighttime clock that has been mare. Christians would be “raptured” stopped since the time before all hell broke loose. of Jesus’ crucifixion. At The urgency of Lindsey’s book modthe “rapture,” the church ernized prophetic passages from the will be taken to heaven Bible that had been used decades before so God can exclusively to make the case that world events were deal with Jews. The most up-to-date evidence that the countdown popular rapture theory to Armageddon had begun. Herbert W. claims that this event will Armstrong’s 1975 in Prophecy!,8 written take place before the start in 1956 and illustrated by Basil Wolof a seven-year period of verton (1909–1978),9 who also had done “great tribulation.” There work for MAD Magazine, is almost inare five different “rapture” distinguishable from Lindsey’s foray into positions: pre-tribulaprophetic sensationalism. Monte Woltional, mid-tribulational, verton offers this brief perspective on post-tribulational, partial the apocalyptic views of Armstrong, the rapture, and pre-wrath Worldwide Church of God, and his late rapture. father who was a minister in the church: Armstrong thought he had discovered the heretofore lost key to all biblical prophecy, and that the Tribulation spoken of in the book of Revelation would shortly fall on the United States and the nations of


Doomsday Déjà Vu

15

the British Commonwealth. Not unlike many evangelical preachers of the early 1930’s, Armstrong adopted a dispensationalist paradigm, with a pre-millennialist, literal interpretation of the apocalyptic sections of scripture—albeit with his own particular spin. The Bible, he taught, predicted imminent worldwide calamities, followed by the return of Christ and a happy Millennium, followed by the destruction of the wicked, followed by the advent of new heavens and earth.… As Armstrong’s following grew, so did the threat of a second world war. He believed this was it—the Beast, the Antichrist, and the whole end-time enchilada. Armstrong, of course, was wrong—and this would not be the last time.10

Similar to Armstrong, who miscalculated the timing of the “Great Tribulation,” Lindsey was wrong about his prediction that a “rapture of the church” would occur 40 years after the 1948 founding of the modern state of Israel11 with a near certain claim that the end would take place by the year 2000.12 Unlike the Worldwide Church of God which abandoned its end-time dogmatism,13 Lindsey is as convinced as ever that the rapture is just around the corner. Even after most of his predictions did not come to pass as they were outlined in The Late Great Planet Earth, this has not stopped him from creating his own prophecy empire that includes books, articles, CDs, DVDs, and a weekly prophecy update.

A Failed Trail of Predictions There has been a large appetite for end-time books in the modern era—from Oswald J. Smith (1889–1986), who in 1926 predicted that Mussolini was the biblical antichrist,14 to Edgar Whisenant who was emphatic that the rapture would take place in 1988. Then it was 1989.15 Twenty-three reasons were offered in evidence for a 1993 rapture that never came. Still not shaken by his poor prophetic track


16

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

record, Whisenant predicted earth’s destruction by nuclear fire in 1994. He continued to speculate into 1997 with similar results. Those who are new to the world of Bible prophecy have no idea how many of today’s end-time “authorities” have made predictions that did not come to pass or how many of their predecessors also miscalculated when the end would come. Today’s prophecy enthusiasts are under the false assumption that what they are reading in books and magazines, seeing on television, and hearing on the radio are recently discovered end-time truths of what they believe are current events that match particular prophetic passages. Charles Wesley Ewing, writing in 1983, paints a clear historical picture on how dogmatism turns to confusion and uncertainty when it comes to linking current events to the Bible: In 1934, Benito Mussolini sent his black-shirted Fascists down into defenseless Ethiopia and preachers all over the country got up in their pulpits and preached spellbinding sermons that had their congregations bulging at the eyes in astonishment about “Mussolini, the Anti-Christ,” and to prove their point they quoted from Daniel 11:43, which says, “And the Ethiopians shall be at his steps.” Later, Benito, whimpering, was hung by his own countrymen, and preachers all over America had to toss their sermons into the scrap basket as unscriptural.16

Ewing goes on to mention how Hitler’s storm troopers took Czechoslovakia, Poland, France, North Africa, and set up concentration camps where millions of Jews were killed in what has become the modernday definition of a Holocaust. Once again, preachers ascended their pulpits and linked these events to Bible prophecy and assured the church-going public that Hitler was the antichrist. When the allies routed the Nazis and drove them out, sermons were once again tossed out or filed away to be revised at some future date hoping people’s memories would fail. The next end-time-antichrist candidate was Joseph Stalin, the leader of godless Communism, a movement hell-bent on conquering the world. “But on March 5, 1953, Stalin had a brain hemorrhage and


Doomsday Déjà Vu

17

preachers all over America had to make another trip to the waste basket.”17 We’re assured that this time, in our generation, the “prophecy experts” have finally gotten it right. Don’t bet on it. The track record of prophetic certainty is not very good.

A Temporary Lull in the Prophetic Storm When 1988 was about to pass without the promised rapture of the church, Dave Hunt, another writer who has made his reputation with prophetic pot-boiler books, offered this analysis of the prophecy scene: During the 1970s, when The Late Great Planet Earth was outselling everything, the rapture was the hot topic. Pastors preached about heaven, and Christians eagerly anticipated being taken up at any moment to meet their Lord in the air. When Christ didn’t return after 40 years since the establishment of a new Israel in 1948 without the fulfillment of prophesied events, disillusionment began to set in.18

Disillusionment aside, it wasn’t long before the gullible prophetic public was met with another round of end-time recalculations. Jerry Falwell (1933–2007) stated on a December 27, 1992, television broadcast, “I do not believe there will be another millennium … or another century.” He was wrong. Like Falwell, John F. Walvoord, described as “the world’s foremost interpreter of biblical prophecy … [expected] the Rapture to occur in his own lifetime.’”19 It didn’t. Walvoord died in 2002 at the age of 92. He had a long history of prophetic sensationalism. In 1974, he wrote Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis to fit what was then considered to be the latest in “prophetic events”—the OPEC oil production cut and embargo that began in October of 1973 in response to the West’s support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War. Walvoord wrote, “Each day’s headlines raise new questions concerning what the future holds.”20 The book was reprinted in 1976 and then sank without a trace until a revised edition appeared in late 1990 when the six-month build-up for the Gulf War was in its final stages.


18

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

The new edition reflected changing world events linked to an endtime reading of the Bible: The world today is like a stage being set for a great drama. The major actors are already in the wings waiting for their moment in history. The main stage props are already in place.21 The prophetic play is about to begin.… Our present world is well prepared for the beginning of the prophetic drama that will lead to Armageddon. Since the stage is set for this dramatic climax of the age, it must mean that Christ’s coming for his own is very near.22

When the Gulf War ended abruptly, the book was being remaindered for twenty-five cents a copy, if it was bought by the case! But by then the book had sold nearly 1.7 million copies and was “the recipient of the PlatNewspaper Exegesis inum Book Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association.”23 Once The practice of inagain, Walvoord’s prophetic speculaterpreting the Bible tion proved inaccurate. This did not stop though the lens of Tyndale House Publishers from releasing current events rather a third edition in 2007 with a revised title than allowing the Bible and content to reflect a change in headto interpret itself. lines—Armageddon, Oil, and Terror.24 The promotion material assured readers that its content “is as current as today’s newsand every prediction rings true.” Where have we heard this before? That’s right! In 1974 when the first edition of Armageddon, Oil, and the Middle East Crisis was published. Like so much of today’s prophetic speculation, newspaper headlines are being used to interpret the Bible in what one scholar has described as “newspaper exegesis.”25

The Revival of the End-Time Novel With a new millennium on the horizon, interest in Bible prophecy was revived in 1995 with the publication of the first Left Behind novel written by Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. The Left Behind series has


Doomsday Déjà Vu

19

sold more than 70 million copies since the first volume appeared. This does not count its many incarnations in a variety of different media: a PC game based on the Left Behind book series that is selling well and sparking controversy,26 a Kids Series (millions sold),27 graphic novels,28 a daily devotional, films, and so much more. Many people are surprised to learn that left-behind type novels have been around for more than a 100 years.29 Sydney Watson’s Scarlet and Purple (1913), The Mark of the Beast (1915), In the Twinkling of an Eye (1916), which had gone through 25 printings by 1933, and The New Europe (1915) are early examples of the serialization of fictional prophetic themes seen through the lens of current events, the moral state of the nation, anti-Catholic fervor, and destabilized world politics. In 1916, In the Twinkling of an Eye anticipated the LaHaye-Jenkins title and theme with these lines: “Think of what that will mean, unsaved friend, if you are here to-day. Left! Left behind!”30 In 1937, Forrest Loman Oilar’s Be Thou Prepared For Jesus is Coming appeared. Oilar describes the entire left-behind premise in one volume, including the millennial reign and the subsequent Great White Throne Judgment. Like LaHaye, Oilar wrote his novel as an evangelistic tract “to bring to the unbeliever, ‘the Jew first, and also to the Gentile,’ a warning against false doctrines and to show the hope that is yet in store for him if he accepts the true gospel.”31 Dayton A. Manker’s 1941 They That Remain, that is, those who are left behind, followed the Watson and Oilar models with “Fascism, Nazi-ism and Communism” as the new end-time bad guys that are described as “triplets of one blood.”32 Ernest Angley pursued a similar script with his 1950 novel Raptured. Probably one of the most interesting left-behind genre novels is Salem Kirban’s 666, first published in 1970. By 1976, it had gone through fourteen printings with more than 500,000 copies sold. There are a number of striking similarities to the LaHaye-Jenkins Left Behind series. The rapture takes place when the main characters are on an airplane; their wives are believers who were taken in the rapture; the rapture is explained away by those who are left behind; those who do not bow down to worship the beast are martyred, having their heads cut off by a guillotine.33


20

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

“The Delusional is No Longer Marginal” As long as prophecy books like The Late Great Planet Earth and the Left Behind series were viewed as discussions of peculiar religious themes they were generally dismissed by scholars, the media, and political watchers. When social commentators observed that there was a political dimension to prophetic speculation, people started to take notice. In 1977, D. S. Russell warned that end-time theorists might “create the very situation which is being described [in their prophetic writings] so that the interpretation given brings about its own fulfillment.”34 It’s not surprising, therefore, that the issue of eschatology has become a topic of political conversation. Social theorists are beginning to evaluate the possible cultural and political implications of Bible prophecy and how they might affect international relationships, especially in the Middle East. In his book American Theocracy, Kevin Phillips links the end-time scenario of many in the Christian Right to conservative politics as it relates to foreign policy and what the implications might be if that foreign policy is written as a script that requires a certain prophetic ending: Book buyers will understand that in these United States volumes able to sell two or three hundred thousand hardcover copies are uncommon. Not rare, just uncommon. Consider, then, the publishing success of end-times preacher Tim LaHaye, earlier the politically shrewd founder (in 1981) of the Washington-based Council for National Policy. Beginning in 1994 LaHaye successfully coauthored a series of books on the rapture, the tribulation, and the road to Armageddon that has since sold some sixty million copies in print, video, and cassette forms. Evangelist Jerry Falwell hailed it as probably the most influential religious publishing event since the Bible. Several novels of the Left Behind series rose to number one on the New York Times fiction bestseller list, and the series as a whole almost certainly reached fifteen to twenty million American voters. Political aides in the Bush White House must have read several volumes, if only for pointers on constituency sentiment.


Doomsday Déjà Vu

21

***** Twenty years ago, The New York Times would not have considered LaHaye for the bestseller list, and my scenario of his writings influencing the White House could only have been spoof. Not so today. In a late-2004 speech, the retiring television journalist Bill Moyers, himself an ordained Baptist minister, broke with polite convention. He told an audience at the Harvard medical school that “one of the biggest changes in politics in my lifetime is that the delusional is no longer marginal. It has come in from the fringe, to sit in the seat of power in the Oval Office and in Congress. For the first time in our history, ideology and theology hold a monopoly of power in Washington. 35

The highly influential Phillips, among others, demonstrates that eschatology is getting the attention of a broader audience, and not all of it is positive or even dismissive. Radio and print journalist Esther Kaplan writes that “[George] Bush’s Middle East policy perfectly aligns with the religious worldview of LaHaye and his millions of readers.”36 Paul Boyer, professor emeritus of history at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and author of When Time Shall be No More and a long-time analyst of prophetic themes and their impact on politics, 37 pointed out as recently as 2003 that “as the nation debates a march toward war in the Middle East, all of us would do well to pay attention to the beliefs of the vast company of Americans who read the headlines and watch the news through a filter of prophetic belief.”38 Concern for the way Bible prophecy is influencing foreign policy is becoming increasingly prevalent as the number of books and articles show.39 When Robert Dreyfuss, writing for Rolling Stone magazine, describes a prophecy writer like LaHaye as “Reverend Doomsday,”40 Christians should take note. Keep in mind that it’s the push toward the inevitability of an always imminent apocalypse and the near glee that end-time writers express about the prospect of a blood-soaked world brought on by Armageddon and all its horrors that’s most troubling and unsettling. “When Newsweek reporter Kenneth Woodward and his colleagues investigated ‘The Boom in Doom,’ they found that


22

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

‘some expectant evangelicals appear positively cheerful in the face of Armageddon.’ They cite Pat Boone’s comment: ‘My guess is that there isn’t a thoughtful Christian alive who doesn’t believe we are living at the end of history.… I don’t know how that makes you feel, but it gets me pretty excited.’”41 The Bible certainly presents prophetic judgments as inevitable, but there are always warnings and ways to escape. For example, there is no doubt that Jesus made the case that the rebuilt temple standing before Him and His disciples would be destroyed before that firstcentury generation passed away (Matt. 24:34). Notice, however, that it was a local judgment that could be avoided by simply fleeing to the mountains (24:16–20). Today’s prophecy writers are encouraging Jews to return to Israel where, according to their understanding of particular biblical texts, two-thirds of the Jews living in Israel will be slaughtered (Zech. 13:8–9).

“Dr. Armageddon” and His Predecessors The person at the center of much of the rhetoric about an inevitable cataclysmic end is John Hagee, pastor of the 18,000-member Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas. His end-time-inevitability book Jerusalem Countdown has sold nearly a million copies. Christians United for Israel, a Christian support organization for Israel, has tremendous political and fund raising clout. Hagee’s dogmatic assertions about a fiery cataclysm and long political reach are scaring a lot of people: While Hagee has long prophesized about the end times, he ratcheted up his rhetoric this year [2006] with the publication of his book, “Jerusalem Countdown,” in which he argues that a confrontation with Iran is a necessary precondition for Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. In the best-selling book, Hagee insists that the United States must join Israel in a preemptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West. Shortly after the book’s publication, he launched Christians United for Israel (CUFI), which, as the Christian version of the pow-


Doomsday Déjà Vu

23

erful American Israel Public Affairs Committee, he said would cause “a political earthquake.”42

Some of Hagee’s critics say he not only wants “God’s plan—as he sees it—to unfold, but to take an active role in seeing it happen.”43 At a July 19, 2006 CUFI event in Washington D.C., Hagee told the audience, “The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God’s plan for both Israel and the West … a biblically prophesied end-time confrontation with Iran, which will lead to the Rapture, Tribulation … and [the] Second Coming of Christ.”44 Hagee has been described as “Dr. Armageddon” and “Pastor Strangelove”45 by those who believe his prophetic inevitability scenario could lead a president to believe that an all-out Mid-Eastern war is a biblical directive. Hagee is ranked as one of the top ten influential spokesmen among Pentecostals,46 so his words carry a lot of weight. With the ability to influence millions, war with Iran or any other anti-Jewish nation might come about because this large eschatologically driven voting-block could put pressure on politicians to vote in terms of a specific set of prophetic views. To help fuel the fire of another war based on prophetic considerations, books with titles like The Apocalypse of Ahmadinejad: The Revelation of Iran’s Nuclear Prophet and Iran: The Coming Crisis are rolling off the presses faster than people can read them. There is no doubt that Ahmadinejad has certain apocalyptic aspirations. But so did a lot of recent tyrants. In 1942, James C. Hollenbeck wrote The Super Deceiver on the World Horizon.47 And who was he? Syrian Prince Abdul Baraba Baha. Never heard of him? Welcome to the club. He’s an obscure historical footnote, but he was trotted out because certain prophetic passages were made to fit then current events. Dan Gilbert’s Emperor Hirohito of Japan: Satan’s Man of Mystery Unveiled in the Light of Prophecy was another futile attempt to make the headlines of the day fit speculative prophetic propaganda and set the stage for another world war. Gilbert was certain, based on his reading of Bible prophecy, that Hirohito, even after Japan’s surrender, would amass “a gigantic yellow military horde that will total 200,000,000 men—the greatest army that ever was, or ever could con-


24

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

ceivably be, created on earth.”48 Gilbert predicted, based on Revelation 16:20, that “the Jap islands will be sunk to a depth approaching the bottomless pit of hell itself.”49 Gilbert made this prediction in 1944. The only threat that Japan seems to be today is to Detroit and the domestic automobile market. In 1988, Mikhail Gorbachev, the former premier of the former Soviet Union, was being prophetically positioned to be the promised last days’ antichrist. To lend credibility to the claim, the author who suggested Gorbachev as the end-time bad guy is described as “a scientist who has employed research from the fields of mathematics, statistics, history, science, biblical prophecy and linguistics to reach very credible conclusions.”50 Gorbachev was the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union that collapsed in 1991.

Duck and Cover Fear of a nuclear apocalypse has a long history. In 1948, Wilbur Smith wrote This Atomic Age and the Word of God. Smith summarizes a speech that French Prime Minister Charles de Gaulle (1890–1970) gave on June 29, 1947 in which he declared “that Russia had now become such a powerful military nation that she could be considered an actual rival of the United States, and that her power threatened to precipitate ‘a gigantic conflict from which no people and no man on earth will be spared,’ also, that Russia was ready to embark in the future on a final conquest of the world.”51 Similar declarations were made in 1947 by the emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists headed by Albert Einstein and Harold Urey. Their statement warned that “we approach what may be the last hour before midnight.”52 In 1951, using 2 Peter 3:9–13 as a prophetic proof text, as did Smith, M. R. DeHaan wrote: For the first time in history we can now clearly understand the possibility of these statements of the Apostle Peter. It is a most amazing thing that almost two thousand years ago, Peter, an uneducated fisherman, was able to give us this


Doomsday Déjà Vu

25

clear, unmistakable picture of what would happen in the latter days, in the days in which we are living.53

Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, American schools practiced “duck and cover”54 air raid drills, cities enacted civil defense measures, and families built fallout shelters in their backyard. It was a time of great fear and prophetic speculation. Is 2 Peter 3 describing an out-of-control nuclear holocaust that God will use to bring an end to the earth as we know it and recreate a new physical world? If we use twenty-first-century technology as our interpretive authority, then it’s certainly possible. But is this how the Bible is to be interpreted? Remember, the Bible is its own best interpreter. For example, the Greek word translated “elements” in 2 Peter 3:10 and 12 is often understood by modern prophecy writers to refer to the atomic elements that make up the Periodic Table.

Interpretation by Contemporary Events Reading modern-day scientific concepts back into the Bible can cause insurmountable interpretive problems. For example, how many times have you heard a minister claim that the gospel is like “dynamite”? The comparison is made because the Greek word dunamis, translated “power” (e.g., Rom. 1:16), is the word Alfred Nobel chose in 1866 to name his newly developed explosive concoction. Since “power” and “dynamite” share the same Greek word (dunamis), so the argument goes, the New Testament’s use of “power” must share the characteristics of dynamite. D. A. Carson describes this as “an appeal to a kind of reverse etymology,”55 reading modern definitions of words back into ancient writings. Paul was not thinking of exploding sticks of dynamite when he used dunamis to describe the power of the gospel. Our understanding of the biblical use of dunamis has to be understood in terms of how it was understood in Paul’s day. “[Gordon] Fee and [Douglas] Stuart rightly emphasize that ‘the true meaning of the biblical text for us is what God originally intended it to mean when it was first spoken.’56 We must first determine what a text meant ‘in their


26

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

town’ before we can determine what it means and how we should apply that meaning to our own time and culture.”57 Consider DeHaan’s brief commentary on 2 Peter 3: “For the first time in history we can now clearly understand the possibility of these statements of the Apostle Peter.” This is not at all the case. Those who first read Peter’s description of how the “elements” would be “destroyed with intense heat” (v. 10) understood what he meant, and it had nothing to do with “atomic elements.”58 David Chilton’s comments are very helpful on this point: Throughout the New Testament, the word “elements” (stoicheia) is always used in connection with the Old Covenant order. St. Paul used the term in his stinging rebuke to the Galatian Christians who were tempted to forsake the freedom of the New Covenant for an Old Covenant-style legalism. Describing Old Covenant rituals and ceremonies, he says “we were in bondage under the elements (stoicheia) of this world.… How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements (stoicheia), to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years …” (Gal. 4:3, 9–10). He warns the Colossians: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the basic principles (stoicheia) of the world, and not according to Christ.… Therefore, if you died with Christ to the basic principles (stoicheia) of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle’” (Col. 2:8, 20–21). The writer to the Hebrews chided them: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elements (stoicheia) of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Heb. 5:12). In context, the writer to the Hebrews is clearly speaking of Old Covenant truths—particularly since he connects it with the term oracles of God, an expression used elsewhere in the New Testament for the provisional, Old Covenant revelation (see Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2). These citations from Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews comprise all


Doomsday Déjà Vu

27

the other occurrences in the New Testament of that word “elements” (stoicheia). Not one refers to the “elements” of the physical world or universe; all are speaking of the “elements” of the Old Covenant system, which, as the apostles wrote just before the approaching destruction of the Old Covenant Temple in A. D. 70, was “becoming obsolete and growing old” and “ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13).59

A case could be made that the “elements of the Old Covenant” did literally pass away with an “intense heat.” Jesus describes how “their city” would be set “on fire” (Matt. 22:7). “Most interpreters agree,” R.T. France writes, “that this is a specific allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, when large parts of the city were burned by the conquering Romans (Josephus, War 6.353–55, 363–64, 406–8).”60 Like many prophetic passages similar to those found in 2 Peter 3, their fulfillment can be found in events in the past as the Old Covenant passed away and the New Covenant replaced it.

Apocalyptic Violence Getting the interpretation of prophecy right will help in dealing with those who are not familiar with the topic and see danger in some of the talk about an inevitable nuclear holocaust. When a prominent prophecy writer associated with the Christian Right asks, “Is War with Iran Inevitable?,”61 people get nervous. In his book American Fascists, a vitriolic critique of the Christian Right, Chris Hedges includes a chapter on “Apocalyptic Violence.” He describes Revelation as a “bizarre book” that “is one of the few places in the Bible where Christ is associated with violence.”62 He sees the Bible as a text that can lead to “apocalyptic terror.”63 He laments that “mainstream Protestant and Catholic churches,” which are declining in membership, “cannot hope to combat the hysteria and excitement roused by these prophets of doom until they repudiate the apocalyptic writings in scripture.”64 There is no need to repudiate the apocalyptic writings, as Hedges suggests, but there is a need to understand them by using the Bible to


28

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

interpret itself. While not agreeing with all of Hedges’ analysis of the Christian Right, he is on to something with the following comments: [Tim] LaHaye65 and [Jerry] Jenkins had to distort the Bible to make all this fit—the Rapture, along with the graphic details of the end of the world and the fantastic time line, is never articulated in the Bible—but all this is solved by picking out obscure and highly figurative passages and turning them into fuzzy allegory to the apocalyptic vision.66

Unfortunately, Hedges along with many journalists who write on the topic of prophecy assume that the interpretive methodology outlined by LaHaye and Jenkins is the Bible’s methodology. Like so much of the rest of his book, Hedges didn’t do his homework. While the LindseyLaHaye-Hagee end-time paradigm is popular, it is by no means the only one in town. It is being challenged on a number of fronts. But because the alternatives don’t fit the “if it bleeds, it leads” journalistic standard, any challenge to the prevailing prophetic orthodoxy only get a few column inches or none at all.

A City on a Hill The “great prophetic disappointment” of 1988 and the winding down of the Left Behind franchise do not mean that many formerly “raptureready”67 Christians have abandoned a belief in the return of Christ, but it has led to a fundamental reassessment of the interpretive methodology that has been used to make repeated dogmatic arguments for an imminent end-time event. Many Bible-believing Christians who cut their teeth on the works of notable prophecy prognosticators have questioned the popular end-time paradigm to such an extent that they “are not awaiting [Jesus’] return at the Rapture”68 but instead are focusing on John Winthrop’s “city upon the hill” metaphor adopted from his “Model of Christian Charity” (1630). They have come to realize that the version of the end times that defined the twentieth century and continues to hold sway in this new century is a prophetic anomaly that had no history prior to 1830:


Doomsday Déjà Vu

29

Pre-Civil War Evangelical eschatology was largely postmillennial, expecting Christ to return in judgment after a millennial reign of one thousand years. Post-Civil War Evangelical eschatology was dominated by a new doctrine of premillennialism. This view expected Christ to return before the millennium to take the saints out of this world in an event called the “rapture.”69

After the War Between the States, the optimistic worldview espoused by the earlier civilization builders “was replaced by an eschatology that looked for the return of Christ to rescue the ‘saints’ out of this world. Premillennial teaching implied that the world was in such bad shape that it would only get worse until the return of Christ. Some even argued that efforts to ameliorate social conditions would merely postpone the ‘blessed hope’ of Christ’s return by delaying the process of degeneration.” 70 Christians who are rethinking the sensationalism of contemporary apocalyptic rhetoric have come to realize that America would never have been founded if today’s rapture version of eschatology had been prevalent in the seventeenth century. Where there had been an emphasis on “the propagation and advance of the gospel of the kingdom of Christ,” [t]he vision was now one of rescue from a fallen world. Just as Jesus was expected momentarily on the clouds to rapture his saints, so the slum worker established missions to rescue sinners out of the world to be among those to meet the Lord in the air. Evangelical effort that had once provided the impulse and troops for reform rallies was rechanneled into exegetical speculation about the timing of Christ’s return and into maintenance of the expanding prophecy conferences. The extent to which this shift in eschatology was felt throughout Evangelical life and thought is difficult to overestimate. One of the most striking contrasts between pre-Civil War revivalists and those after the war is that the former founded liberal arts colleges while the latter established Bible schools. To the post-war premillennialist the liberal arts college involved too much affirmation of


30

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future the cultural values of this world and took time away from the crucial task of getting minimal knowledge of the Bible before rushing into the inner cities or the mission fields to father as many souls as possible before the imminent return of Christ. In the late nineteenth century the Bible school movement picked up the message of the prophecy conferences and trained a whole generation of Evangelicals in the new doctrines.71

Os Guinness writes that “dispensational premillennialism … has had unfortunate consequences on the Christian mind,” including reinforcing an already developing “anti-intellectualism” and a “general indifference to serious engagement with culture.”72 The implications of a world-be-damned biblical hermeneutic that leads to an “alarmist” worldview means that every negative newspaper headline is another support beam in an inevitable endtime constructed theology. The twentieth century is fi lled with such examples. William Edgar, a professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary, recounts the time in the 1960s he spent studying in L’Abri, Switzerland, under the tutelage of Francis A. Schaeffer (1912–1984), a premillennialist:73 I can remember coming down the mountain from L’Abri and expecting the stock market to cave in, a priestly elite to take over American government, and enemies to poison the drinking water. I was almost disappointed when these things did not happen.74

Edgar speculates, with good reason, that it was Schaeffer’s “premillenarian eschatology” that negatively affected the way he saw and interpreted world events. One of Schaeffer’s last books, A Christian Manifesto, did not call for cultural transformation but civil disobedience as a stopgap measure to postpone an inevitable societal decline. “The fact remains that Dr. Schaeffer’s manifesto offers no prescriptions for a Christian society.… The same comment applies to all of Dr. Schaeffer’s writings: he does not spell out the Christian alternative. He knows that you ‘can’t fight something with nothing,’ but as a premillennialist, he


Doomsday Déjà Vu

31

does not expect to win the fight prior to the visible, bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth to establish His millennial kingdom.” 75 Tom Sine offers a startling example of the effect “prophetic inevitability” can have on some people: “Do you realize if we start feeding hungry people things won’t get worse, and if things don’t get worse, Jesus won’t come?” interrupted a coed during a Futures Inter-term I recently conducted at a northwest Christian college. Her tone of voice and her serious expression revealed she was utterly sincere. And unfortunately I have discovered the coed’s question doesn’t reflect an isolated viewpoint. Rather, it betrays a widespread misunderstanding of biblical eschatology … that seems to permeate much contemporary Christian consciousness. I believe this misunderstanding of God’s intentions for the human future is seriously undermining the effectiveness of the people of God in carrying out his mission in a world of need.… The response of the (student) … reflects what I call the Great Escape View of the future. So much of the popular prophetic literature has focused our attention morbidly on the dire, the dreadful, and the destruction of all that is.76

Eschatological ideas have consequences, and many Christians are beginning to understand how those ideas have shaped the cultural landscape. A world always on the precipice of some great and inevitable apocalyptic event is not in need of redemption but only of escape. As one end-time speculator put it, “the world is a sinking Titanic ripe for judgment.” 77 Any attempt at reformation would be futile and contrary to God’s unavoidable and predestined plan for Armageddon. Thankfully, many Christians are beginning to question this popular apocalyptic scenario, not by rejecting the Bible but by taking a closer look at the very Book they were told taught these things. In addition, they have come to recognize that Western Civilization was not built by head-for-the-hills doomsayers. Unfortunately, the effects of the apocalyptic paradigm are having some unsettling results in the realm of real-world politics. Some are contending that mixing escha-


32

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

tology and politics could lead to some terrifying results. The ultimate question is whether the Bible teaches what popular prophecy writers claim. This can only be settled by following the directive of the Latin phrase ad fontes, “to the sources,” that is, to the Bible (Acts 17:11). In the following chapters, we will consider a popular interpretation of two sections of the Bible that are used to predict an inevitable series of wars that will lead to Armageddon. As history shows, “wars and rumors of wars” (Matt. 24:6) are common, and they have been pointed to as signs that the end was near in nearly every generation. In fact, they are so common, Jesus maintained, that they should not be used as signs. The same is true for earthquakes and famines (24:7) since every generation has experienced them (Matt. 27:54; 28:2; Acts 11:28; 16:26).78 None of this has stopped prophetic speculators from claiming that prophecy is now being fulfilled. They point to Ezekiel 38–39 and Zechariah 12 to make the case that there is something prophetically unique about our day. They can do this because they claim to have found a find a very specific nation mentioned by the prophet Ezekiel—Russia! Who needs the commonality of wars, earthquakes, and famines when there is a named nation right there in the Bible. Why the The End of the World will test the claim that the Bible is describing prophetic events based on what Russia does.

Notes 1. Dick Teresi and Judith Hooper, “The Last Laugh?,” Omni (January 1990), 43 2. Bruce J. Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society, and Politics (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 93. 3. Quoted in Nancy A. Schaefer, “Y2K as an Endtime Sign: Apocalypticism in America at the fin-de-millennium,” The Journal of Popular Culture 38:1 (August 2004), 82–105. 4. http://tinyurl.com/2ko72b 5. Quoted in “Welcome to America’s wildest holy rollers,” Features Section, The Independent on Sunday (London, England) (November 6, 2005). 6. Merrill F. Unger, Beyond the Crystal Ball: What Occult Practices Cannot Tell You about Future Events (Chicago: Moody Press, 1973). 7. Philip Jenkins, Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making


Doomsday Déjà Vu

33

of the Eighties in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 84. 8. http://tinyurl.com/52xcq8 9. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basil_Wolverton 10. Monte Wolverton, “Wolverton’s Worldview”: http://tinyurl.com/3uwbkl. For a brief biography of Basil Wolverton, see http://tinyurl.com/3mbsz3. 11. Hal Lindsey, The Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 53–54. 12. “There are a lot of world leaders who are pointing to the 1980s as being the time of some very momentous events,” Lindsey told Ward Gasque in an April 15, 1977 interview in Christianity Today. He went on to state, “Perhaps it will be then. But I feel certain that it will take place before the year 2000.” For a reproduction of the article that carries this section of the interview, see Gary DeMar, “Questioning History,” Biblical Worldview (December 2007), 16. 13. Today’s Worldwide Church of God has repudiated its earlier foray into doom and gloom eschatology. See Joseph Tkach, Transformed by Truth: The Worldwide Church of God Rejects the Teachings of Founder Herbert W. Armstrong and Embraces Historic Christianity (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1997), 155–160 and J. Michael Feazell, The Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 88–96. Also see the video Millennial Madness produced by the reorganized Worldwide Church of God (1997): http://tinyurl.com/4axtse 14. “There are here portrayed startling indications of the approaching end of the present age from the spheres of demonology, politics, and religion. No one can read this book without being impressed with the importance of the momentous days in which we are living.” (Oswald J. Smith, Is the Antichrist at Hand?—What of Mussolini? [Harrisburg, PA: The Christian Alliance Publishing Co., 1927], front cover copy). The book most likely continued to circulate until the death of Mussolini in 1945. 15. In a brief radio debate I had with Whisenant in 1988, he told listeners that if he was wrong with his calculations then the only possible answer for the mistake was that the Bible was wrong. It turned out that he was wrong but only because he claimed that he had miscalculated. “My mistake,” he wrote in 1989, “was that my mathematical calculations were off by one year.… Since all centuries should begin with a zero year (for instance, the year 1900 started [the twentieth century]), the first century A.D. was a short year, consisting of only 99 years. This was the one-year error in my calculations last year [1988].” (Edgar Whisenant and Greg Brewer, The Final Shout: Rapture Report 1989 [Nashville, TN: World Bible Society, 1989], 1). 16. Charles Wesley Ewing, “The Comedy of Errors,” The Kingdom Digest (July 1983), 45. 17. Ewing, “The Comedy of Errors,” 45–46. 18. Back cover copy of Dave Hunt, Whatever Happened to Heaven? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1988). 19. Quoted in Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Final Days are Here Again,” Newsweek (March 18, 1991), 55. 20. John F. Walvoord and John E. Walvoord, Armageddon, Oil and the Middle


34

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

East Crisis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1974), 7. 21. Notice how Lindsey and Walvoord use the time indicators “near,” “around the corner,” “already,” and “soon” to describe events they believe will take place shortly in our day. Every person who reads their choice of time words knows exactly what they mean by “near,” “soon,” “already,” and “just around the corner.” Yet when these same time words are used in the Bible, all of a sudden they take on a mystical, non-literal meaning. John writes, “for the time is near” (Rev. 1:3). Why doesn’t John’s “near” mean the same as Walvoord and Lindsey’s “near”? Why doesn’t the use of “the Judge is standing right at the door” (James 5:8–9) mean the same as Lindsey’s “just around the corner”? The New Testament writers were describing prophetic events that were on the horizon for those living in the first century leading up to and including the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. See Gary DeMar, Is Jesus Coming Soon?, rev. ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2006). 22. John W. Walvoord, Armageddon, Oil and the Middle East Crisis (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1990), 228. Walvoord claims that “Christ’s coming for his own is very near.” The New Testament, written nearly 2000 years ago, said that Christ’s coming was “near” (James 5:8–9; Rev. 1:3). In his September 16, 2001, International Intelligence Briefing Report, aired on the Trinity Broadcasting Network, Hal Lindsey told viewers: “Tuesday, September 11, 2001, the end began.… The events, even of this week, show us that we’re very near the end. The whole predicted scenario is fulfilled right before our eyes. All the pieces of that predicted puzzle that would indicate Christ’s coming was just around the corner are in place.… I believe that, right now, we need to focus on the great hope that we have that Jesus Christ is soon coming and [is] going to translate [rapture] us from mortal to immortal.” This is the same Hal Lindsey who assured his readers in the 1970 publication of Late Great Planet Earth that Jesus would rapture His church before 1988. He’s the same “prophecy expert” who claimed in his book The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon that “The decade of the 1980’s could very well be the last decade of history as we know it.” You would think that these errors in predicting the end would have been enough for Christians to rethink the basic tenets of dispensationalism or at least reject the false predictions of people like Lindsey. 23. As reported in “Zondervan Book on Prophecy Receives Bestselling Award” by Zondervan Publishing House (1991). On file. 24. John F. Walvoord and Mark Hitchcock, Armageddon, Oil, and Terror: What the Bible Says About the Future of America, the Middle East, and the End of Western Civilization (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 2007). 25. Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Prima Facie Acceptability of Postmillennialism,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction: Symposium on the Millennium, ed. Gary North (Winter 1976–1977), 53–54. This article can also be found in Greg L. Bahnsen, Victory in Jesus: The Bright Hope of Postmillennialism (Texarkana, AR: Covenant Media Press, 1999). 26. http://tinyurl.com/3jhsc6 27. http://tinyurl.com/44enmz (book) and http://tinyurl.com/4c9m7v (audio) 28. http://tinyurl.com/4c2ch6


Doomsday Déjà Vu

35

29. Amy Johnson Frykholm, Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America (Oxford, NY: Oxford University Press, 2004), 205–207. 30. Sydney Watson, In the Twinkling of an Eye (New York: Fleming H. Revell, [1916] 1933), 134. 31. Forrest Loman Oilar, Be Thou Prepared For Jesus is Coming (Boston: Meador Publishing Co., 1937), 7. 32. Dayton A. Manker, They That Remain: A Story of the End Times (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, [1941] 1946), 4. 33. Salem Kirban, 666 (Huntingdon, PA: Salem Kirban, Inc., 1970). 34. D. S. Russell, Apocalyptic: Ancient and Modern (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1977), 64. 35. Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy: The Peril and Politics of Radical Religion, Oil, and Borrowed Money in the 21st Century (New York: Viking, 2006), xiv, xv. 36. Esther Kaplan, With God on Their Side: How Christian Fundamentalists Trampled Science, Policy, and Democracy in George W. Bush’s White House (New York: The New Press, 2004), 30. 37. Paul S. Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA: Belknap/Harvard University Press, 1992). 38. Paul S. Boyer, “When U.S. Foreign Policy Meets Biblical Prophecy,” Alternet (February 20, 2003): www.alternet.org/story/15221. Also see Walter Russell Mead, “God’s Country,” Foreign Affairs (September-October 2006), 24–43. 39. The most recent example is Zev Chafets, A Match Made in Heaven: American Jews, Christian Zionists, and One Man’s Exploration of the Weird and Wonderful Judeo-Evangelical Alliance (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), chap. 3. 40. Robert Dreyfuss, “Reverend Doomsday: According to Tim LaHaye, the Apocalypse is now” (January 28, 2004): http://tinyurl.com/4c2ch6 41. Kenneth L. Woodward, Dewey Gram, and Laurie Lisle, “The Boom in Doom,” Newsweek (January 10, 1977), 51. Quoted in Robert Jewett, Jesus Against the Rapture: Seven Unexpected Prophecies (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1979), 24. 42. Sarah Posner, “Lobbying for Armageddon” (August 3, 2006): www.alternet. org/story/39748/ 43. Dave Eberhart, “Pastor John Hagee’s D.C. Meeting Worries Jews” (May 17, 2007): http://tinyurl.com/3yfslt 44. Eberhart, “Pastor John Hagee’s D.C. Meeting Worries Jews.” 45. Sarah Posner, “Pastor Strangelove” (May 21, 2006): http://tinyurl.com/yr4c27. “Pastor Strangelove” is a reference to the black comedy Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). Dr. Strangelove is played by Peter Sellers who actually uses the phrase “left behind” to describe the survivors of a nuclear holocaust. 46. “Pastors Reveal Major Influencers on Churches,” The Barna Group (January 14, 2005): http://tinyurl.com/6l86bj.


36

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

47. James C. Hollenbeck, The Super Deceiver on the World Horizon (Los Angeles: Harry J. Gardener, 1942). 48. Dan Gilbert, Emperor Hirohito of Japan: Satan’s Man of Mystery Unveiled in the Light of Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1944), 31. 49. Gilbert, Emperor Hirohito of Japan, 43. 50. Robert W. Faid, Gorbachev!: Has the Real Antichrist Come? (Tulsa, OK: Victory House Publishers, 1988), back cover copy. 51. New York Times (June 27, 1947). Quoted in Wilbur M. Smith, This Atomic Age and the Word of God (Boston: W. A. Wilde Co., 1948), 11. 52. Quoted in Smith, This Atomic Age and the Word of God, 11. 53. M. R. DeHaan, Signs of the Times and Other Prophetic Messages (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1951), 145. 54. Pat Zacharias, “When bomb shelters were all the rage”: http://tinyurl. com/3hen7l. See the “Duck and Cover” instructional film produced in 1951 by the United States Civil Defense Department shortly after the Soviet Union began nuclear testing. “In [the animated feature] The Iron Giant, Hogarth Hughes and his classmates in the year 1957 watch a film clearly inspired by Duck and Cover called Atomic Holocaust; it features groundhogs who, like Bert the Turtle, are wearing Civil Defense helmets. Later on in the film, when a nuclear missile is headed for the town, Mansley suggests ‘We can duck and cover!’ (to which General Rogard responds, ‘There’s no way to survive this, you idiot!’).”: http://tinyurl.com/yr4c27. You can see the original “Duck and Cover” film at http://tinyurl.com/jrrmu 55. See D.A. Carson, Exegetical Fallacies, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1996), 34. 56. Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth: A Guide to Understanding the Bible, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1993), 26. 57. J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2001), 97. 58. Even if Peter had used the Greek word atomos, which means “indivisible because of smallness,” this still would not mean that he was describing atomic elements. Like every other biblical word, atomos would have to be defined in the way the New Testament writers used the term. It is used once in the New Testament in 1 Corinthians 15:52 and is translated as “in an instant” or “in a moment.” 59. David Chilton, “Looking for New Heavens and a New Earth: A Study of 2 Peter 3.” See Appendix A. Also see Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church, 4th rev. ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), chap. 15. 60. R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 825. 61. Ed Hindson, “Is War with Iran Inevitable?,” National Liberty Journal (March 2007), 4, 9–10. 62. Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2006), 4.


Doomsday Déjà Vu

37

63. Hedges, American Fascists, 6. 64. Hedges, American Fascists, 7. 65. Ed Hindson is co-author of Global Warning: Are We on the Brink of World War III?, (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2007) with Tim LaHaye. LaHaye has helped found a number of conservative Christian political organizations (e.g., Christian Voice, The Moral Majority, Council for National Policy). 66. Hedges, American Fascists, 184. 67. Todd Strandberg and Terry James, Are You Rapture Ready? Signs, Prophecies, Warnings, Threats, and Suspicions that the Endtime is Now (New York: Dutton, 2003). 68. Jeff Sharlet, “God Blessed America: How the Christian Right is Reinventing U.S. History,” Harper’s Magazine (December 2006), 14. 69. Donald Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage (New York: Harper & Row, 1976), 125. 70. Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, 126. 71. Dayton, Discovering an Evangelical Heritage, 127–28. 72. Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to do About It (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1994), 63–65. 73. See Colin Duriez, Francis Schaeffer: An Authentic Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008), 42. 74. William Edgar, “Francis Schaeffer and the Public Square” in J. Budziszewski, Evangelicals in the Public Square: Four Formative Voices on Political Thought and Action (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 174. 75. Gary North and David Chilton, “Apologetics and Strategy,” in Tactics of Christian Resistance: A Symposium, ed. Gary North (Tyler Texas: Geneva Divinity School, 1983), 127–128. Emphasis in original. 76. Tom Sine, The Mustard Seed Conspiracy: You Can Make a Difference in Tomorrow’s Troubled World (Waco, TX: Word, 1981), 69. 77. Jan Markell, “Kingdom Now: We’re Not Returning to Eden” http://tinyurl. com/yr4c27. For a response, see Gary DeMar, “Is the World a Sinking Titanic?,” Biblical Worldview (May 2007), 4–6. 78. For a study of the signs outlined by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse and their application to the events surrounding the destruction of the temple that took place in A.D. 70, see DeMar, Last Days Madness and Is Jesus Coming Soon? (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2006) and John L. Bray, Matthew 24 Fulfilled, 5th ed. (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2008).


2 The Literal Interpretation of the Bible

M

. R. DeHaan, writing in 1951, identified “the sign of Gog and Magog” to be one of the “three most outstanding signs of the coming of Christ.”1 He’s not alone. Nearly every book being published today points to the Gog and Magog alliance as evidence that we are living in the last days and the world is on the eve of destruction. Ezekiel 38 and 39 are being used by today’s prophecy writers as a modern-day prophetic blueprint for our time. As we’ll see, these same prophecy writers almost never tell their readers that there has been a long history of failed predictions based on these two chapters and other prophetic texts.2 While the world is a dangerous place, this does not mean that Ezekiel was predicting prophetic events 2600 years removed from his time. As I hope to show, Ezekiel’s prophecy had a more immediate fulfillment. The accomplishment of this prophecy was to demonstrate to “the nations” at the time that “the house of Israel went into exile for their iniquity because they acted treacherously against” God (Ezek. 39:23; cp. 38:23). These witnessing nations are described by Ezekiel as Israel’s “adversaries” (39:23). Applying the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39 to modern-day nations is contrary to the historical context. No nation today had any part in Israel’s exile 2600 years ago. The prophecy begins with instructions given to Ezekiel to set his “face toward Gog of the land of Magog” (38:2). Who is Gog and what is the land of Magog? The most popular interpretation is that Gog is modern-day Russia. Magog, a people group that first appears in Genesis 10:2, is thought to be an alliance of nations that join Russia in 39


40

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

a failed end-time invasion of Israel. Added to the mix, a leader of this confederation is said to be the “prince of Rosh,” the leader of Russia. In 1972, Carl Johnson wrote Prophecy Made Plain for Times Like These,3 in which he includes a lengthy quotation from a message Jack Van Impe gave at Canton Baptist Temple in Canton, Ohio, sometime in 1969. Like so many who claim to know what’s on the prophetic horizon, Van Impe made his case for an imminent war with Russia on what the newspapers of 1969 were reporting. This war was so close, he charged, “that the stage is being set for what could explode into World War III at any moment.”4 The passage of four decades hardly seems like “at any moment.”

When a President Spoke, the World Listened Politics and the Gog and Magog Alliance were topics of discussion in the 1970s when the Cold War was hot. The Russian Bear was showing its teeth, and there was an attempt to explain its aggression in prophetic terms. At a 1971 banquet for California state senator James Mills, then-Governor Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) followed a similar prophetic script. Guided by popular prophecy books of the day, most likely Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth (1970) that included a chapter with the title “Russia is a Gog,” Reagan said: In the 38th chapter of Ezekiel, it says that the land of Israel will come under attack by the armies of the ungodly nations, and it says that Libya will be among them. Do you understand the significance of that? Libya has now gone Communist, and that’s a sign that the day of Armageddon isn’t far off. Biblical scholars have been saying for generations that Gog must be Russia. What other powerful nation is to the north of Israel? None. But it didn’t seem to make sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russia has become communistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description of Gog perfectly.... For the first time ever, everything is in place for the battle of Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ. It can’t be


The Literal Interpretation of the Bible

41

too long now. Ezekiel says that fire and brimstone will be rained upon the enemies of God’s people. That must mean that they will be destroyed by nuclear weapons.5

Actually, it was thought to “make sense” to generations of prophecy writers. Like Reagan, they applied the prophecy to the adversary of their day and proclaimed that Gog was about to strike. Reagan’s borrowed interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 has been repeated so often by contemporary prophecy writers that it is now an unquestioned tenet of prophetic orthodoxy akin to believing in the deity of Jesus. Even so, his advisors got nervous every time Reagan addressed the subject.6 This didn’t stop the future president from pulling out the prophecy card when he was before a receptive audience. Ron Rhodes begins his book Northern Storm Rising: Russia, Iran, and the Emerging End-Times Military Coalition against Israel with Reagan giving a similar speech at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Here’s how end-time writer Rhodes describes Reagan’s interest in the subject and his enthusiasm for addressing prophetic themes, especially Ezekiel 38 and 39: Reagan was a big fan of the biblical prophet Ezekiel. In fact, Ezekiel was Reagan’s favorite book of prophecy. Like many other Christians, Reagan believed that the fierce Old Testament prophet foretold that God would one day gather the children of Israel who were scattered among heathen nations back to the promised land. He also believed, based on his reading of Ezekiel 38 and 39, that atheistic Russia—along with various Arab nations of the Middle East—would one day lead an invasion into Israel from the north and that God would intervene and utterly destroy this military coalition. He understood that not everything had fallen precisely into place, but he nevertheless believed the stage was being set for the fulfillment of end-time prophecies. Reagan believed he might even witness the second coming of Jesus Christ in his own lifetime.7

Reagan knew his audience. He understood that evangelicals made up a large percentage of his base. He knew their theological leanings, their


42

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

concern that the Soviet Union would export atheist Communism around the globe, and their commitment to Israel’s always tenuous security. These views would prove advantageous to him when he ran for president in 1980 against incumbent Jimmy Carter who was more enamored with liberal and neo-orthodox theologians.8 Reagan told the late Jerry Falwell that he believed that “we are approaching Armageddon.… Maybe not in my lifetime or yours, but in the near future.”9 At the August 1980 Religious Roundtable’s National Affairs briefing held in Dallas, Texas, Reagan said the following to the 15,000 newly politically involved evangelical crowd: “I know that you can’t endorse me. But … I want you to know that I endorse you,”10 and that included their views of the end times.

Still Right Around the Corner Prophecy writer Ed Hindson, who co-authored Global Warning in 2007 with Tim LaHaye, confirms how important the subject of Gog and Magog is to modern-day prophetic speculation: “Without question,” he wrote, “these two chapters offer the most detailed biblical prophecy outlining a future war. It is also the timeliest indication that we are living in the very period the Bible speaks of just prior to the return of Christ.” He is sure that the fulfillment of this two-chapter prophecy refers to a “forthcoming attack on Israel … [that] could be right around the corner.”11 The August 2008 invasion of Georgia by Russia has re-energized the Gog-Magog alliance theorists. Hal Lindsey, who argued that a Russian-led invasion would take place before 1988,12 has readjusted his prophetic calendar by arguing that a “Russian-led alliance of nations” will “sweep suddenly down upon Israel in a surprise invasion that evokes only a weak diplomatic response from the West.”13 In a later article, he writes that “the first domino has already been pushed over. Now, it’s just a matter of time until the rest of them start to fall.”14 Still later, Lindsey argues, “Twenty-five centuries ago, the Hebrew prophetic Ezekiel predicted the rise of a vast, Russian-led Islamic alliance cryptically called ‘Gog and Magog.’”15 If it is cryptic, then how does Lindsey know Ezekiel was referring to Russia, Iran, modern Georgia,


The Literal Interpretation of the Bible

43

parts of Ukraine, Azerbaijan, and Armenia since none of these names are mentioned anywhere in Ezekiel’s prophecy? The burden of proof rests with those who are making these claims, and as I hope to show, the burden is big and heavy. In earlier prophecy works, Russia was linked with European nations, now it’s Syria, Iran, Iraq, and Turkey that mount an aggressive attack on Israel with God miraculously rescuing His people by destroying the presumptuous invaders. (Those who teach this view then claim that just a few years after God turns back this multi-national assault and rescues Israel, millions of Jews will be slaughtered by the forces assembled by antichrist.) Timothy J. Dailey writes in The Gathering Storm that the Gog/Magog prophecy in Ezekiel 38 and 39 of a “Russian-led invasion of the Middle East” is “so commonly held as to be almost taken for granted.… So ingrained is this theory that books on biblical prophecy have assumed routinely over the years that it was beyond doubt. Without discussing the evidence, for example, John F. Walvoord simply concludes that the description in Ezekiel 38 and 39 ‘could only refer to what we know today as Russia.’ What is the evidence for this commonly held belief? In truth, the Russian invasion theory rests upon scanty foundations indeed.”16

A History of Interpretation Chuck Missler writes in his book Prophecy 20/20 that “the apparent use of nuclear weapons has made this passage appear remarkably timely, and some suspect that it may be on our horizon.”17 Prophecy writers have made similar pronouncements, of course, without the reference to “nuclear weapons.” The latest argument for a wholesale invasion of Israel by modern-day nations is that Israel is sitting on a pile of oil. A quick but careful reading of Ezekiel 38 and 39 will show that there is no direct or indirect mention of nuclear weapons or oil. These new arguments only confirm that current events are guiding interpreters rather than Scripture. Before we make a detailed study of Ezekiel 38 and 39, it will prove helpful to identify some of the more popular interpretations. Many will be surprised that the Gog-Magog alliance theory isn’t the only


44

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

one that has support among evangelical scholars and commentators. Thomas L. Constable lists seven popular views. 1. The invasion is only symbolic of the attempts of evil forces to overcome God’s people. 2. It will occur before the Tribulation, either before or at the time of the Rapture or just after it. 3. It will happen during the Tribulation (cf. Dan. 11:40–41; Rev. 14:14–20). 4. It will take place at the end of the seven-year Tribulation (the battle of Armageddon; cf. Zech. 12; 14:1–4; Rev. 19:11–21). 5. It will happen between the end of the Tribulation and the beginning of the Millennium. 6. It will happen at the beginning of the Millennium. 7. It will occur at the end of the Millennium (see below).18

In addition to the ones mentioned by Constable, a long held interpretive approach understands the prophecy to be a battle fought by ancient peoples around the second-century B.C. William Hendriksen is a good representative of this view: The expression “Gog and Magog” [in Rev. 20:8] is borrowed from the book of Ezekiel [38:2]… Now, in Ezekiel the term undoubtedly indicates the power of the Seleucidae especially as it was revealed in the days of Antiochus Epiphanes, the bitter enemy of the Jews. The centre of his kingdom was located in Northern Syria. Seleuces established his residence there in the city of Antioch on the Orontes. To the east his territory extended beyond the Tigris. To the north the domain over which the Seleucidae wielded the scepter included Meshech and Tubal, districts in Asia Minor.… Accordingly, Gog was the prince of Magog, that is, Syria. Hence, the oppression of God’s people by “Gog and Magog”


The Literal Interpretation of the Bible

45

refers, in Ezekiel, to the terrible persecution under Antiochus Epiphanes, ruler of Syria.19

The above interpretation understands that the prophetic battle is being fought with weapons as they were described by Ezekiel. While this view is attractive, and it’s true that Antiochus was an evil ruler who persecuted the Jews, there is no indication that his actions compare well with the details of Ezekiel 38 and 39. A more recent interpretation holds that Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog battle is fulfilled in the details of Revelation 20:7–10 when Rome and its international armies attacked Israel and destroyed the temple in A.D. 70. This approach is difficult to comprehend since the 1000 years of Revelation 20:4 would have to be contracted into a 40-year period between A.D. 30 and 70. Then there’s the interpretive problem that Israel’s rescue is in focus and not her judgment. The destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was a judgment and not a rescue. Still others teach (Constable’s number 7 above) that Ezekiel’s prophecy takes place near the end of the 1000-year period mentioned in Revelation 20:7–10 and applies it to the church and the forces of evil. Instead of a real battle.20 It’s more likely that John’s use of the Gog and Magog imagery is symbolic, similar to the way Babylon (Rev. 14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21), Egypt (11:8), and Sodom (11:8) are used in Revelation.21 Most interpreters have tried to find the fulfillment in events of their day using current events as the interpretive grid. For example, in the fourth and fifth centuries, Gog was thought to refer to the Goths and Moors. In the seventh century, it was the Huns. By the eighth century, the Islamic empire was making a name for itself, so it was the logical candidate for fulfillment. By the tenth century, the Hungarians briefly replaced Islam as a Gog candidate. But by the sixteenth century, the Turks and Saracens seemed to fit the Gog and Magog profile with the Papacy thrown in for added prophetic juice. In the seventeenth century, Spain and Rome were the end-time bad guys.22 In the nineteenth century, Napoleon was Gog leading the forces of Magog-France.23 For most of the twentieth century, Communist


Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

46

Various Gog & Magog Candidates

Century

Candidates

Fourth

Goths

Fifth Seventh

Goths and Moors Huns

Eighth

Islamic Empire

Tenth

Hungarians

Eleventh

Avars (Turkish Speaking Tribes)

Fourteenth

Tartars (Mongols)

Fourteenth

Persecutors of the Lollards

Sixteenth

Ten Dispersed Tribes of Israel

Sixteenth

Turks and Saracens

Sixteenth

Mohammedans & the Papacy

Seventeenth

Pope and Spain

Seventeenth

Native Americans

Twentieth

Political Leader of Russia

Russia had been the logical pick because of its military power, its atheistic worldview, and its designation of being “far north” of Israel. History shows that when the headlines reflect a change in the political climate, many of the interpretations of the prophetic parts of the Bible change with them. The repeated failure of the interpretive history of Ezekiel 38 and 39 over the centuries is prime evidence that modern-day prophecy writers are not “profiling the future through the lens of Scripture” but through the ever-changing headlines of today’s news. This is why revised prophecy books continue to be published.

Searching for Jets Fighters in an Ancient World A lot has to be read into the Bible in order to make Ezekiel 38 and 39 fit modern-day military realities that include technologically ad-


The Literal Interpretation of the Bible

47

vanced jet fighters, “missiles,” and “atomic and explosive” weaponry. Those who claim to interpret the Bible literally have a problem on their hands. For example, if Tim LaHaye is true to his adoption of a “plain and common sense” literalism, then the Russian attack he and Jerry Jenkins describe in the first volume of their Left Behind series should be a literal representation of the actual battle events as they are depicted in Ezekiel. There should be a one-to-one correspondence between Ezekiel’s description of the battle and modern-day weaponry. This assessment is based on LaHaye’s own interpretive methodology: The best guide to Bible study is “The Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation.” To depart from this rule opens the student to all forms of confusion and sometimes even heresy. When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense, but take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.24

The “Golden Rule of Interpretation” is not found in the Bible but is proposed by David L. Cooper and can be found in his book When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty in the Land of Israel.25 It should be noted that he does not apply his Golden Rule of Interpretation to the weapons described by Ezekiel. He writes that “it becomes very evident that Ezekiel had to speak of the future weapons of warfare in terms of those with which his auditors [first hearers] were familiar. Had he spoken of airplanes or machine guns, he would have had to speak of them in known terms, comparing them with familiar objects, or the Lord would have had to coin names for them, which still could have been unintelligible. This He did not choose to do.”26 God didn’t choose to do it because He did not have a distant future battle in view. God described a battle fought with ancient weapons because He had an ancient battle in view, one that would take place in a future not too far removed from the time He revealed the prophetic future to Ezekiel. Using futuristic terms and descriptions of mechanized weapons unfamiliar to the readers of Ezekiel’s day would have left no doubt that the prophecy was not for them.


48

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

The first readers of Ezekiel’s prophecy would have envisioned a battle fought as Ezekiel described it with the weapons as they are depicted, because that would have been the “plain sense.” There is no way around this simple truth. They would have had justification for taking this approach because they had other Scriptures to confirm what they were reading about Magog, the list of nations, and the armaments being used. Horses, bows and arrows, war clubs, shields, and chariots had been used in previous battles. There was no good reason to understand the battle in any way other than what Ezekiel was describing at God’s direction.

The Plain Sense Ron Rhodes is another example of someone who cliams to follow the plain sense approach but fails to apply it in terms of the primary audience. “Here is a basic rule of thumb for interpreting the Bible: When the plain sense of Scripture makes good sense, seek no other sense.”27 Rhodes, in a book he co-authored with Norman Geisler, expands on the “plain sense” interpretive approach. They say that literal “refers “Here is a basic rule of to the understanding of a text that any thumb for interpreting person of normal intelligence would unthe Bible: When the derstand without the help of any special plain sense of Scripture keys or codes.” The literal meaning of makes good sense, seek Scripture “embraces the normal, evno other sense.” eryday, common understanding of the —Ron Rhodes terms of the Bible. Words are given the meaning they normally have in common communication.” The interpreter should be mindful of the “historical setting.” Sentences of Scripture “should not be taken out of the space-time, cultural context in which they were uttered.” This next point is important: “It is the means by which the interpreter mentally transfers himself into the context in which the author uttered the words. This guards against the interpretive error of making the reader’s historical or cultural context the norm for understanding the text.”28 But this is exactly what Rhodes does


The Literal Interpretation of the Bible

49

when he interprets Ezekiel’s two chapters in terms of today’s historical and cultural context. LaHaye insists that the interpreter, following Cooper, is to “take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.” We learn from LaHaye that the prophecies found in Ezekiel 38 and 39 “are among the most specific and easy to understand in the prophetic word.”29 If this is true, then why do LaHaye and those who follow his interpretive methodology force a less than literal interpretation on Ezekiel’s two-chapter prophecy? As Joel Miller argues, “A better hermeneutic than ‘The Golden Rule of Biblical Interpretation’ is ‘Scripture Interprets Scripture Better than do Newspapers.’”30 There are numerous qualifiers to the so-called plain sense/literal approach that applying the methodology consistently becomes nearly impossible for the average student of the Bible. That’s why many Christians are dependent on Bibles loaded with notes to tell them what the Bible means even though the text is right before their eyes and is clear enough on its own! Eager Bible students read bows and arrows, and someone’s note tells them it’s really missiles and launching pads.

The Bible is the Best Interpreter of Itself The interpretive solution to what Ezekiel 38 and 39 are describing is found within the pages of Scripture. The Holy Spirit revealed to Ezekiel a prophecy that his first readers could and did understand.31 Those who first read or listened to the prophecy read and heard familiar place names that are mentioned elsewhere in Scripture. There was no need to have a scholar’s understanding of ancient languages or knowledge of distant geographical hot spots. These first readers could comprehend the rudimentary elements of the prophecy if they had only a basic knowledge of the Bible. The same is true for someone studying the Bible today. Setting, language, grammar, context, audience, and author perspective are all very important when interpreting the Bible, but these elements only take on meaning when they are compared with other Scripture passages. The biblical writers did not write in a vacuum. They wrote against the backdrop of what was written before, and in the case


50

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

of the prophetic books, of what was to come. If you want to know what a word or phrase means in one passage, you will need to find other passages that use the same word or phrase. It’s not always this simple, but it’s the best place to start. The Bible is one book with a unified message. This is why the Bible is the best interpreter of itself.

Notes 1. M. R. DeHaan, Signs of the Times and other Prophetic Messages (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1951), 74. 2. Stafford North, Armageddon Again?: A Reply to Hal Lindsey (Oklahoma City, OK: Oklahoma Christian University, 1991). 3. Carl G. Johnson, Prophecy Made Plain for Times Like These (Chicago: Moody Press, 1972). 4. Jack Van Impe, The Coming War With Russia (Old Time Gospel Hour Press, n.d.). The quotation is taken from a message that Van Impe gave at Canton Baptist Temple, Canton, Ohio. The talk was recorded on a vinyl record. Quoted in Johnson, Prophecy Made Plain for Times Like These, 82–83. 5. http://tinyurl.com/5qa28b. A shorter version of Reagan’s address is found in Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern Culture (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1992), 162. Lindsey’s views on Russia as an end-time prophetic player have changed with the headlines. In 1981 he wrote, “Today, the Soviets are without question the strongest power on the face of the earth.” (The 1980’s: Countdown to Armageddon [New York: Bantam, 1981], 68). Compare this with what he wrote in 1994: “We see Russia as no longer a world threat, but a regional power with a world-class military—exactly what Ezekiel 38 and 39 predicted it would be.” (Planet Earth 2000 A.D. [1994], 216). 6. Paul Kengor, God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 194 7. Ron Rhodes, Northern Storm Rising: Russia, Iran, and the Emerging EndTimes Military Coalition against Israel (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 11. 8. Steven F. Hayward The Real Jimmy Carter: How Our Worst Ex-President Undermines American Foreign Policy, Coddles Dictators and Created the Party of Clinton and Kerry (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2004), 43–46. 9. Jerry Falwell quoted in Deborah Hart Strober and Gerald S. Strober, The Reagan Presidency: An Oral History of the Era, rev. ed. (Dulles, VA: Potomac Books, 2003), 31. 10. “A Tide of Born-Again Politics,” Newsweek (September 15, 1980), 36. Quoted in Bruce J. Schulman, The Seventies: The Great Shift in American Culture, Society and Politics (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 216. 11. Ed Hindson, “Is War with Iran Inevitable?,” National Liberty Journal (March


The Literal Interpretation of the Bible

51

2007), 9. Also see Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Global Warning: Are We on the Brink of World War III? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2007), 127. 12. Hal Lindsey interview with W. Ward Gasque, “Future Fact? Future Fiction?,” Christianity Today (April 15, 1977), 40. 13. Hal Lindsey, “Oh, My Gog!” (August 22, 2008): http://tinyurl.com/5a688p 14. Hal Lindsey, “The Gog-Magog Alliance” (August 29, 2008): http://tinyurl. com/6qldbh 15. Hal Lindsey, “While we’re not looking” (September 5, 2008): http://tinyurl. com/5pw6tw 16. Timothy J. Dailey, The Gathering Storm (Tarrytown, NY: Revell, 1992), 157– 158. 17. Chuck Missler, Prophecy 20/20: Profiling the Future Through the Lens of Scripture (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 155. 18. Thomas L. Constable, “Notes on Ezekiel” (2008), 185: http://tinyurl.com/ nd3t6 19. William Hendriksen, More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, [1939] 1967), 233. Also see Ralph Woodrow, His Truth is Marching On: Advanced Studies on Prophecy in the Light of History (Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Association, 1977), 43 and T. Boersma, Is the Bible a Jigsaw Puzzle: An Evaluation of Hal Lindsey’s Writings? (St. Catherines, Ontario: Paideia Press, 1978), 106–125. For a description of other views, see G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: The New International Greek Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1999), 1024–1025. 20. For a description and critique of this view, see Douglas Berner, The Silence is Broken: God Hooks Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog (2006), 283–289. Berner believes that Ezekiel 38 and 39 are describing an end-time battle where Russia is the major prophetic player. It’s more likely that John is using Gog and Magog as Old Testament symbols similar to the way he uses Jezebel (Rev. 2:20), Babylon (14:8; 16:19; 17:5; 18:2, 10, 21), Sodom and Egypt (11:8), and other Old Testament symbols. 21. Even futurist Mark Hitchcock understands Gog and Magog in Revelation this way: “The words Gog and Magog in Rev 20:8 are probably used as someone today would apply the word ‘Waterloo’ as a shorthand way to signal a crushing military defeat. During the millennium, the defeat of Gog and Magog in Ezek 38–39 will apparently become legendary among the nations. John applies this overwhelming defeat to a new historical situation. Satan will lead this final invasion and will meet his ‘Waterloo’—his ‘Gog and Magog.’” (“The Battle of Gog and Magog”: http:// tinyurl.com/6lhe7x). Also see Mark Hitchcock, The Complete Book of Bible Prophecy (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House, 1999), 214–215. Henry Morris takes a similar approach: “Despite the duplication of names, this Gog and Magog incursion after the thousand years does not seem to be the same as the invasion of Israel by Gog and Magog before the thousand years, as described in Ezekiel 38 and 39. The combatants in the two battles are quite different from each other and the outcomes are drastically different, as is obvious from even a casual reading of the two accounts. It may be that the names are the same because the


52

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

new leaders of the rebellion (human leaders, that is) come from the same northern regions of Eurasia as the leaders of that earlier invasion of Israel. They may even have deliberately appropriated these Biblical names as a statement of their intent to avenge the defeat and death of their ancestors when they invaded Israel.” (The Defender’s Study Bible [Grand Rapids, MI: World Publishing, 1995], 1463). 22. Francis X. Gumerlock, The Day and the Hour: Christianity’s Perennial Fascination with Predicting the End of the World (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2000), 68. 23. T. R., “Commentary on Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Gog and Magog,” The Gentleman’s Magazine (October 1816), 307. 24. Tim LaHaye, No Fear of the Storm: Why Christians will Escape All the Tribulation (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1992), 240. No Fear of the Storm has been republished as Rapture Under Attack (1998). 25. David L. Cooper, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty in the Land of Israel: An Exposition of Ezekiel Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine, 3rd ed. (Los Angeles, CA: Biblical Research Society, [1940] 1958), [i]. 26. Cooper, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty in the Land of Israel, 104. 27. Rhodes, Northern Storm Rising, 20. 28. Norman Geisler and Ron Rhodes, Conviction without Compromise: Standing Strong in the Core Beliefs of the Christian Faith (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), 196. 29. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?: Current Events Foretold in Scripture … And What They Mean (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999), 84. 30. Joel Miller, “Israel and End-Time Fiction” (April 5, 2002): http://tinyurl.com/ 3lwny5 31. There are things in the Bible that are “hard to understand” (1 Pet. 3:16), but not everything is of the some complexity


3 The Real Rescue of Israel

“A

nti-Semitism will flourish, and Israel will experience her final holocaust.”1 This is the conclusion of prophecy writer Jack Van Impe. As we will see, his understanding of Bible prophecy is followed by most of today’s end-time speculators. Before Israel can be saved, Israel must nearly be destroyed. It’s more accurate to say, according to Van Impe, Tim LaHaye, Ron Rhodes, Mark Hitchcock, and a long list of other prophecy writers, Israel will be rescued from a RussianIslamic invasion only later to be nearly slaughtered in what Charles Ryrie calls “Israel’s greatest bloodbath.”2 But a careful reading of Ezekiel’s two-chapter prophecy will show that there is no holocaust predicted after this divine rescue of God’s people. If the battle described in Ezekiel 38 and 39 does not refer to modern-day nations that will attack Israel, then when and where in biblical history did this conflict take place? The claim is often made that there is no event in history that matches the details of Ezekiel’s two-chapter prophecy so it is assumed that the planned invasion must still be in our future. Instead of looking to the distant future or finding fulfillment in a historical setting outside the Bible where we are dependent on unreliable secular sources for interpreting hints, James B. Jordan believes that “it is in [the book of] Esther that we see a conspiracy to plunder the Jews, which backfires with the result that the Jews plundered their enemies. This event is then ceremonially sealed with the institution of the annual Feast of Purim.”3 Jordan continues by establishing the context for Ezekiel 38 and 39: 53


54

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future Ezekiel describes the attack of Gog, Prince of Magog, and his confederates. Ezekiel states that people from all over the world attack God’s people, who are pictured dwelling at peace in the land. God’s people will completely defeat them, however, and the spoils will be immense. The result is that all nations will see the victory, and “the house of Israel will know that I am the Lord their God from that day onward” (Ezek. 39:21–23).… Chronologically this all fits very nicely. The events of Esther took place during the reign of Darius, after the initial rebuilding of the Temple under Joshua [the High Priest] and Zerubbabel and shortly before rebuilding of the walls by Nehemiah.… Thus, the interpretive hypothesis I am suggesting (until someone shoots it down) is this: Ezekiel 34–37 describes the first return of the exiles under Zerubbabel,4 and implies the initial rebuilding of the physical Temple. Ezekiel 38–39 describes the attack of Gog (Haman) and his confederates against the Jews.5

Ezekiel 38:5–6 tells us that Israel’s enemies come from “Persia, Cush, and … from the remote parts of the north,” all within the boundaries of the Persian Empire of Esther’s day. From Esther we learn that the Persian Empire “extended from India to Cush, 127 provinces” in all (Esther 8:9). Ethiopia (Cush) and Persia are listed in Esther 1:1, 3 and Ezekiel 38:5: “Persia, Ethiopia and Put with them, all of them with shield and helmet.” The other nations were established in the geographical boundaries “from India to Ethiopia” in the “127 provinces” over which Ahasueras ruled (Esther 1:1). “In other words, the explicit idea that the Jews were attacked by people from all the provinces of Persia is in both passages,”6 and the nations listed by Ezekiel were part of the Persian empire of his day. The parallels are unmistakable. Even Ezekiel’s statement that the fulfillment of the prophecy takes place in a time when there are “unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11) is not an indication of a distant future fulfillment as Grant Jeffrey attempts to argue: It is interesting to note that during the lifetime of Ezekiel and up until 1900, virtually all of the villages and cities in the Middle East had walls for defense. Ezekiel had never seen a


The Real Rescue of Israel

55

village or city without defensive walls. Yet, in our day, Israel is a “land of unwalled villages” for the simple reason that modern techniques of warfare (bombs and missiles) make city walls irrelevant for defense. This is one more indication that his prophecy refers to our modern generation. ***** Ezekiel’s reference to “dwell safely” and “without walls … neither bars nor gates” refers precisely to Israel’s current military situation, where she is dwelling safely because of her strong armed defense and where her cities and villages have no walls or defensive bars. The prophet had never seen a city without walls, so he was astonished when he saw, in a vision, Israel dwelling in the future without walls. Ezekiel lived in a time when every city in the world used huge walls for military defense.7

Jeffrey is flat out wrong on his assertions in Esther. We learn that there were Jews who were living in relative peace8 in “unwalled towns” (9:19, KJV) when Haman conspired against them. Israel’s antagonists in Ezekiel are said to “go up against the land of unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11). The Hebrew word perazah is used in Esther 9:19 and Ezekiel 38:11.9 There’s a very good possibility that God did not want the returning exiles to build a wall before the temple was completed to remind them that He would be their wall: “Run, speak to that young man, saying, ‘Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls because of the multitude of men and cattle within it. For I,’ declares the Lord, ‘will be a wall of fire around her, and I will be the glory in her midst’” (Zech. 2:4). These conditions dovetail with the description of events in Esther. Israel’s enemies wanted to stop the newly returned Jews from rebuilding the city. In the beginning of “the reign of Ahasuerus” … they “wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra. 4:6). The complaint charged that the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem were rebuilding “the rebellious and evil city, and are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations” (4:12). The antagonists call for a search of “the record books” that will reveal to the king that “the city is a rebellious city and damaging to kings and provinces,


56

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

that they have incited revolt within it in past days” (4:15). Reference to rebuilding the walls was used to imply a future military threat from Israel. These events might explain why Haman had the ear of Ahasuerus. They also show that Jerusalem was an unwalled city and fits the prophetic description of the period in Ezekiel 38:11 and the historical fulfillment in Esther 9:19. Jeffrey is mistaken in his claim that “Ezekiel had never seen a village or city without defensive walls.” They seemed to be quite common. Nebuchadnezzar is said to have defeated the kingdoms of Kedar and Hazor (Jer. 49:28–32). Notice how the language is nearly identical to what we read in Ezekiel 38:8–13, demonstrating that Ezekiel, like Jeremiah, is describing conditions as they existed in their day: “Run away, flee! Dwell in the depths, O inhabitants of Hazor,” declares the Lord; “For Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon has formed a plan against you and devised a scheme [Esther 8:3; 9:25] against you. Arise, go up against a nation which is at ease, which lives securely,” declares the Lord. “It has no gates or bars; they dwell alone. And their camels will become plunder, and the multitude of their cattle for booty.…”

Moreover, Jeffrey’s contention that Israel today is currently “dwelling safely because of her strong armed defense” is patently untrue. Since 2006, the Israeli government has built more than 435 miles of walls in Israel.10

Haman the Agagite The chief antagonist of the Jews in Esther is Haman, “the son of Hammedatha the Agagite” (Esther 3:1, 10; 8:3, 5; 9:24).11 An Agagite is a descendant of Amalek, one of the persistent enemies of the people of God. In Numbers 24:20 we read, “Amalek was the first of the nations, but his end shall be destruction.” The phrase “first of the nations” takes us back to the early chapters of Genesis where we find “Gomer,” “Magog,” “Tubal,” and “Meshech,” and their father Japheth (Gen. 10:2), the main antagonist nations that figure prominently in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Haman and his ten sons are the last Amalekites


The Real Rescue of Israel

57

who appear in the Bible. In Numbers 24:7, the Septuagint (LXX) translates “Agag” as “Gog.” “One late manuscript to Esther 3:1 and 9:24 refers to Haman as a ‘Gogite.’”12 Agag and Gog are very similar in their Hebrew spelling and meaning. Agagite means “I will overtop,” while Gog means “mountain.” In his technical commentary on Esther, Lewis Bayles Paton writes: The only Agag mentioned in the OT is the king of Amalek [Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:9].… [A]ll Jewish, and many Christian comm[entators] think that Haman is meant to be a descendant of this Agag. This view is probably correct, because Mordecai, his rival, is a descendant of Saul ben Kish, who overthrew Agag [1 Sam. 17:8–16], and is specially cursed in the law [Deut. 25:17]. It is, therefore, probably the author’s intention to represent Haman as descended from this race that was characterized by an ancient and unquenchable hatred of Israel (cf. [Esther] 3:10, “the enemy of the Jews”).13

A cursive Hebrew manuscript identifies Haman as “a Gogite.”14 Paul Haupt sees a relationship between Haman’s descriptions as an Agagite and “the Gogite.”15 These literary links should not be dismissed. There is another link between Haman the Agagite in Esther and Gog in Ezekiel Haman is the “prince38–39. “According to Ezekiel 39:11 and 15, in-chief” of a multithe place where the army of Gog is buried national force that he will be known as the Valley of Hamon-Gog, gathers from the 127 and according to verse 16, the nearby city provinces with the will become known as Hamonah.”16 The initial permission of word hamon in Ezekiel “is spelled in Hebrew king Ahasuerus to wipe almost exactly like the name Haman…. In out Haman’s mortal enemy—the Jews. Hebrew, both words have the same ‘triliteral root’ (hmn). Only the vowels are differet.”17 Haman is the “prince-in-chief” of a multinational force that he gathers from the 127 provinces with the initial permission of king Ahasuerus to wipe out his mortal enemy—the Jews (Ex. 17:8–16; Num. 24:7; 1 Sam. 15:8; 1 Chron. 4:42–43; Deut. 25:17–19). Consider these words: “King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of


58

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes18 who were with him” (Esther 3:1; also see 1:3). Having “authority over all the princes who were with him” makes him the “chief prince.” In Esther 3:12 we read how Haman is described as the leader of the satraps, governors, and princes. The importance of this title will be made clear in the following chapters when we attempt to identify the “chief prince” in Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1. The “chief prince” was Haman.

“Show Me the Money!” Ezekiel writes that the forces gathered to fight against Israel are after silver, gold, cattle, and goods (Ezek. 38:12–13). The Jews who had returned to Jerusalem brought silver, gold, goods, and cattle19 with them (Ezra 1:4–11; 2:69; 5:14; 6:5; 7:15–16, 18, 22; Neh. 7:71–72), the same items mentioned by Ezekiel. Haman promises to “pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who carry on the king’s business, to put into the king’s treasury” (Esther 3:9; see also 3:11; 4:7; 7:4). Where did Haman plan to get the silver to pay the king? From the Jews who had previously returned to Israel with these valuable commodities. “And the king said to Haman, ‘The silver is yours, and the people also, to do with as you please” (3:11). The Jews who had returned to Jerusalem brought silver, gold, goods, and cattle with them (Ezra 1:4–11; 2:69; 5:14; 6:5; 7:15–16, 18, 22; Neh. 7:71– 72), the same items mentioned in Ezekiel 38:12–13.

Although the Jews were, of course, completely impoverished when they were exiled to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar in 597 and 586 B.C., it is quite significant that many were able to give generously to their brethren who returned to Palestine under Zerubbabel in 537 B.C. (Ezra 1:4). In fact, it must have been their growing prosperity in Babylon that deterred the great majority of the exiles from returning to the desolation of their homeland.20


The Real Rescue of Israel

59

Haman’s goal was “to seize their possessions as plunder” (Esther 3:13). He believed the Jews would be an easy mark since they had no standing army or defensive wall. How do futurists interpret the passage that refers to silver, gold, cattle, and goods (Ezek. 38:12–13)? The Israel of today doesn’t have any appreciable gold reserves. It doesn’t even make the top 40 nations holding gold reserves. Russia would do better to invade Germany (no. 2), France (no. 4), and Italy (no. 5) if it’s after gold. Tim LaHaye wrote in 1984 that economic conditions in Russia will deteriorate while Israel’s are “destined to improve.”21 As of this writing, Russia is flush with cash and oil. There are even quite a few billionaires.22 In what modern war can anyone remember armies going after cattle? How much cattle does Israel have? Certainly not enough to feed the Russians! The latest claim is that Israel will discover oil. Maybe so, but Ezekiel doesn’t say anything about oil. Russia has huge oil reserves and is planning to claim oil-rich lands in the Arctic.23 Why would Russia risk going into Israel when its army couldn’t defeat an ill-equipped Afghan army?24 In fact, it’s Afghanistan that seems to have all the wealth “with significant deposits of copper, iron, gold, oil and [natural] gas, and coal—as well as precious gems such as emeralds and rubies” that “in 10 years will make the poor nation “the richest country in the region”25 How will the Russians drill for oil if, according to Thomas Ice, the state of the world will be so bad that it must revert to a pre-technological era? Why will anyone need oil when horses will be the mode of transportation (Ezek. 39:20)? And yet, end-time speculators make a big deal about oil being one of the reasons for Gog’s invasion of Israel.26 Without offering any documentation, Lindsey claims that “Israel will become a cultural, religious, and economic world center, especially at Jerusalem. The value of the mineral deposits in the Dead Sea alone has been estimated at one trillion, two hundred and seventy billion dollars. This is more than the combined wealth of France, England, and the United States!”27 This was in 1970 dollars. And what precious mineral is found in the Dead Sea, according to Lindsey? Potash. He conjectures that when “the population explo-


60

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

sion begins to bring famine, potash will become extremely valuable for food production.”28 Potash has been mined from the Dead Sea since 1929. David L. Cooper referred to Israel’s supposed mineral wealth as a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy 30 years before Lindsey published his 1.270 trillion dollar figure. Cooper claimed in 1940, without documentation, “that the value of the chemicals in the Dead Sea is $1,270,000,000,000” which at the time was “equal to the combined wealth of America, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy.” He went on to argue that the chemicals “that are vital to the manufacturing of war materials are stored up there, awaiting the coming of those who worship the god of war.”29 Before Lindsey and others, Cooper claimed that potash and other chemicals, not oil, were the “spoil” that would be the reason the armies of the Northeastern Confederacy would attack Israel.30 If Israel truly had $1.270 trillion in mineral wealth (in 1940 dollars), then why didn’t Israel exploit it for its own use? The idea that Russia needs these minerals is absurd given what we know of her mineral wealth. Russia is an exporter of potash, producing 5.3 million tons each year.31 Canada and Russia are the largest producers of potash with Belarus a close third.32 Of course, Ezekiel doesn’t say anything about potash. Peter and Patti Lalonde, who share the prophetic views of Hal Lindsey and Tim LaHaye, write that “Russia possesses more natural resources than any other nation in the world. It holds 13% of the world’s crude oil, 35% of the world’s natural gas resources, 12% of the world’s coal supply, 32% of its iron ore, 27% of its tin, and 11% of the world’s copper resources.”33 So why would Russia risk billions of dollars to travel by horseback to Israel? How will the Russians get the potash to Russia? By horse-drawn chariots? (Ezek. 39:20). Ezekiel does mention cattle (38:12–13), and the Lalondes imply that the invasion is food related. We are to believe that Russian soldiers will attack Israel on horseback (38:3, 15) “to take away cattle and goods” (38:13). Cooper tried to claim that Israel’s “citrus fruit industry,” especially oranges, as well as “all kinds of vegetables” would make up the “spoil” that would draw Russia and her confederation to attack Israel.34 While such a theory makes interesting fictional reading, the most natural interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39


The Real Rescue of Israel

61

is that the two chapters are describing a battle fought a long time ago. Horses mean horses, shields mean shields, bows and arrows mean bows and arrows, and chariots mean chariots.

The Plunderer is Plundered In the Bible, the nastiest antagonist of the Jews was Haman. His designs were similar to those of Adolf Hitler; he wanted to exterminate every Jew within the boundaries of the Persian Empire. “Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus.… ‘If it is pleasing to the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed.…’ Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces to destroy, to kill and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month Adar, and to seize their possessions as plunder” (Esther 3:6, 8, 13). Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe a multinational force that will be destroyed before it ever gets to harm a single person living in Israel. “Ezekiel 38–39 gives the impression that all that Gog managed to do was plan the attack, gather the troops, and reach the land Israel; the whole emphasis is on the planning, intention and strategy of Gog. We do not hear of any conquest of the city.”35 Once again, this fits with what we read in Esther. Notice these words: “Thus says the Lord God, ‘It will come about on that day, that thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil plan’” (38:10). We read in Esther 8:3 that Esther called on the king “and implored him to avert the evil scheme of Haman the Agagite and his plot which he had devised against the Jews.” The Hebrew word translated “plot,” “plan,” and “scheme” (chashab) is the same in both accounts. Furthermore, we read, “when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them” (Esther 9:1). This is exactly what Ezekiel prophesies through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and this is exactly what is fulfilled in Esther. God rescues His people! Finally, how do we reconcile the Jews seizing the plunder in Ezekiel (39:10) and “not laying their hands on the plunder” in Esther (9:12,


62

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

15–16)? The fact that both passages mention plunder is significant in seeing a parallel between the two accounts. Ezekiel describes one aspect of what was done with the plunder. It was taken for a national cause, probably to assist in rebuilding the post-exile temple and the wall. Esther’s account may indicate that the plunder was not to be taken and used by individuals: “they did not lay their hands on the plunder.” The king granted the Jews as a people—as an exiled nation— the unconditional right “to plunder their spoil” (8:11). If Darius commanded that money from the “royal treasury out of taxes” (Ezra 6:8) be used to help to rebuild the temple, then it’s conceivable that the plunder from Israel’s enemies would also be used in this way.

“Israel’s Greatest Bloodbath” Those who teach that Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe a period of time when Israel will be rescued by God at the beginning of or soon after a seven-year tribulation period do not explain how God then allows these Charles Ryrie writes in The same Jews to be killed by the forces Living End that the Bible of antichrist later in the tribulation predicts a future holocaust period. Charles Ryrie writes in The for Israel. “Jacob’s trouble Living End that the Bible predicts a is that coming period of future holocaust for Israel. “Jacob’s distress described by Jesus trouble is that coming period of as He spoke to His disciples distress described by Jesus as He on the Mount of Olives spoke to His disciples on the Mount [Matthew 24]. Jeremiah of Olives [Matthew 24]. Jeremiah labeled it ‘Jacob’s trouble’ labeled it ‘Jacob’s trouble’ and said and said it would be unique it would be unique in all history in all history (Jeremiah 30:7). (Jeremiah 30:7). Jesus called it a Jesus called it a period of unprecedented tribulation period of unprecedented tribulation (Matthew 24:21) this will be (Matthew 24:21) this will be the time the time of Israel’s greatest of Israel’s greatest bloodbath.”36 John bloodbath.” F. Walvoord follows a similar line of interpretation:


The Real Rescue of Israel

63

The purge of Israel in their time of trouble is described by Zechariah in these words: “And it shall come to pass, that in all the land, saith Jehovah, two parts therein shall be cut off and die; but the third shall be left therein. And I will bring the third part into the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried” (Zechariah 13:8, 9). According to Zechariah’s prophecy, two thirds of the children of Israel in the land will perish, but the one third that are left will be refined and be awaiting the deliverance of God at the second coming of Christ which is described in the next chapter of Zechariah.37

Eugene Merrill, following a position similar to that of Ryrie and Walvoord and contrary to the close of Ezekiel 39, describes how a future holocaust of the Jews is inevitable: [T]he redemption of Israel will be accomplished on the ruins of her own suffering and those of the malevolent powers of this world that, in the last day, will consolidate themselves against her and seek to interdict forever any possibility of her success. The nations of the whole earth will come against Jerusalem, and, having defeated her, will divide up their spoils of war in her very midst.38

Arnold Fruchtenbaum states that during the Great Tribulation “Israel will suffer tremendous persecution (Matthew 24:15–28; Revelation 12:1–17). As a result of this persecution of the Jewish people, twothirds are going to be killed.”39 Notice how Ezekiel’s prophecy ends. “And I will set My glory among the nations; and all the nations will see My judgment which I have executed, and My hand which I have laid on them.… And the nations will know that the house of Israel went into exile for their iniquity because they acted treacherously against” the Lord (Ezek. 39:21–23; also see 38:23). How does this fit today? It doesn’t. Israel went into exile thousands of years ago. The nations today were not a witness to God’s judgment. The nations that attacked Israel 2600 years ago were. Many who saw this judgment responded in a very unique way since they did not want the same thing to happen to them:


64

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future And in each and every province, and in each and every city, wherever the king’s commandment and his decree arrived, there was gladness and joy for the Jews, a feast and a holiday. And many among the peoples of the land became Jews, for the dread of the Jews had fallen on them (Esther 8:17).

The modern chronology makes no sense. First, God “rescues Israel” when Russia attacks from the “far north,” then after a very short period of peace, He allows all the nations of the world, led by the antichrist, to slaughter millions of Jews (Zech. 13:8) and billions of people worldwide.40 This scenario is lacking in exegetical reality, especially since there is no mention of it at the close of Ezekiel 39. Ezekiel looks forward to when God will pour out His “Spirit on the house of Israel” (39:29), a promise that was initially fulfilled during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and manifested in greater abundance at Pentecost when there were Jews “from every nation under heaven” who came under the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1–12).

God’s Rescue of Israel The Old Covenant promises to Israel are fulfilled in the early years of the New Covenant era as exemplified in Joel’s prophecy. Peter states that events of Pentecost are its fulfillment: “but this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel” (2:16), even the prediction that “your sons and your daughters shall prophesy” (2:17). “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul” (13:1). We also see that the four daughters of Philip the evangelist were “prophetesses” (21:9). The period between Jesus’ ascension and the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70 there was a great ingathering of Jews from all over the Roman Empire. Contrary to the above end-time scenario outlined by these and other prophecy writers, the book of Esther is a spot-on real rescue of Israel unlike the inevitable bloody holocaust that is fundamental to dispensationalism. Israel waits more than 2000 years for the prom-


The Real Rescue of Israel

65

ises to be fulfilled, and just before it happens, two-thirds of them are wiped out. That’s some rescue! The fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy is found in the book of Esther when the Jews—all of them—are rescued. There is no need to manipulate the clarity of the prophetic text to find modern-day fighting implements and newly named nations to make the Bible say what it doesn’t say. For those who have eyes to see and ears to hear, the battle of “Gog of the land of Magog” is fulfilled prophecy, and the writer of the book of Esther was a witness to it. Those who believe the battle is yet to come are putting the nation of Israel at risk because they see an inevitable holocaust on the horizon.

Notes 1. Jack Van Impe with Roger F. Campbell, Israel’s Final Holocaust (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1979), 128. 2. Charles Caldwell Ryrie, The Living End (Old Tappan, NJ: Revell, 1976), 81. 3. James B. Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History (Niceville, FL: Biblical Horizons, 1995), 5. 4. Ezekiel 37 describes the return of the remnant of Judah and Israel from exile. This is plainly established in the book of Ezra where we read, “Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem” (Ezra 3:1). The nation is once again united “as one man” (Ezek. 37:15–23; also see Eph. 2:15). Later we read about how “the sons of Israel, the priests, the Levites, and the rest of the exiles, celebrated the dedication of this house of God with joy” where “12 male goats, corresponding to the number of the tribes of Israel,” were sacrificed (Ezra 6:16–17; cp. 8:35). We are told that “the sons of Israel who returned from exile and all those who had separated themselves from the impurity of the nations of the land to join them, to seek the Lord God of Israel, ate the Passover” (6:21; Ezek. 37:23). It seems clear that many from the northern kingdom made their way to Jerusalem after the exile and joined with Judah, Benjamin, and the Levites (7:7, 13, 28; 8:25). In Ezra 10:1 we learn that “while Ezra was praying and making confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God, a very large assembly, men, women, and children, gathered to him from Israel; for the people wept bitterly.” Edwin M. Yamauchi writes that “the use of the terms ‘Israelites’ rather than ‘Judeans’” was Ezra’s way to describe “a united Israel of those who returned.” (“EzraNehemiah,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988], 4:652). Albertus Pieters writes that “such expressions as ‘Israel,’ ‘The Whole House of Israel,’ ‘The House of Israel,’ are used to denote the entire body of the twelve tribes, as if they were again one nation…. The conclusion to be drawn from all the above considerations, is this, that the exilic prophets and later writers gradually ceased to make any distinction between Israel


66

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

and Judah.” (The Ten Tribes in History and Prophecy [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1934], 48–49). J. B. Shearer writes, “The restored people were called Israel and Jews, interchangeably, by both Ezra and Nehemiah, who were the renewers, the leaders, the prophets and the historians of the commonwealth…. When they make mention of ‘all Israel’ they must have included the twelve tribes, just as Moses and Joshua did when they spake of ‘all Israel’…. When we read Matt. 4:12–16 and Christ’s quotation from Is.1:2, we feel sure that remnants of Zebulun and Naphtali rejoiced in the light of Christ’s visit and teaching.… Anna the prophetess [Luke 2:36], who blessed the babe in the temple belonged to the tribe of Asher. If the ten tribes were lost Paul knew nothing about it. In his defence before Agrippa he spoke of the promise made to the fathers, and said, ‘Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come’ [Acts 26:7].” (“No. 93: The Lost Ten Tribes?,” One Hundred Brief Bible Studies [Richmond, VA Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1912], 211–212). Even the editors of the Scofield Reference Bible admit that “individuals from all the tribes returned to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah…” (1917 edition, note on Ezra 2:1). A similar comment can be found in the New Scofield Reference Bible. This truth is carried over into the New Testament where the Jews are described as “the men of Judea” (Acts 2:14), “men of Israel” (2:22; 13:16), “house of Israel” (2:36; 7:42), and “sons of Israel” (5:21; 7:23; 7:37; 9:15; 10:36), common phrases to describe a united nation (Rom. 9:27; 2 Cor. 3:7). We read in Revelation 7:4 that the “one hundred and forty-four thousand,” which is said by futurists to describe a future united Israel, are “sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel.” So why does “sons of Israel” in Revelation mean a united remnant of Israel, but the same phrase does not refer to a united remnant of Israel in the book of Acts? 5. Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 5–7. 6. Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 7. 7. Grant R. Jeffrey, The Next World War: What Prophecy Reveals About Extreme Islam and the West (Colorado Springs, CO: WaterBrook Press, 2006), 143, 147–148. 8. While the returning exiles were hassled by residents who had occupied the land in Israel’s absence, Darius’ decree put an end to hostilities in a dramatic and definitive way: “And I [Darius] issued a decree that any man who violates this edict, a timber shall be drawn from his house and he shall be impaled on it and his house shall be made a refuse heap on account of this [cp. Esther 8:7]. And may the God who has caused His name to dwell there overthrow any king or people who attempts to change it, so as to destroy this house of God in Jerusalem. I, Darius, have issued this decree, let it be carried out with all diligence!” (Ezra 6:11–12). 9. It’s unfortunate that the translators of the New American Standard Version translate perazah as “rural towns” in Esther 9:19 instead of “unwalled villages” as they do in Ezekiel 38:11. 10. http://tinyurl.com/3r7yye and http://tinyurl.com/3r7yye 11. In the First Targum to Esther, an Aramaic translation of sections of the Hebrew Bible, the following is found: “The measure of judgment came before the


The Real Rescue of Israel

67

Lord of the whole world and spoke thus: Did not the wicked Haman come down from Susa to Jerusalem in order to hinder the building of the house of thy Sanctuary?” (Lewis Bayles Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther [New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, (1908) 1916], 194). 3:1 12. Sverre Bøe, Gog and Magog: Ezekiel 38–39 As Pre-Text for Revelation 19, 17– 21 and 20, 7–10 (Wissunt Zum Neun Testament Ser. II, 135) (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 384. Anton Scholz (1892) comments that “The Book of Esther is a prophetic repetition and further development of Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning Gog.” Quoted in Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther, 56. The point in all these Gog-Agagite references is to show that there are a number of scholars who saw a literary parallel between Ezekiel 38–39 and Esther. 13. Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther, 194. 14. Paton, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Esther, 194. “When 93a makes him a Gogite (cf. Ez. 38–39), and L makes him a Macedonian, these are only other ways of expressing the same idea. . .” (194). 15. Paul Haupt, “Critical Notes on Esther,” OT and Semitic Studies in Memory of W. R. Harper, II (Chicago: 1908), 194–204. 16. Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 7. 17. Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History, 7. This is quite different from identifying the common Hebrew word rosh with modern-day Russia since there is only one common letter between rosh and Russia (see chapter 4). 18. The Hebrew word shar is used for “prince” in Esther, while naw-see (Ezek. 38:2–3; 39:1, 18). They are synonyms. 19. “Every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:4). 20. John C. Whitcomb, Esther: Triumph of God’s Sovereignty (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 69. 21. Tim LaHaye, The Coming Peace in the Middle East (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 125. 22. http://tinyurl.com/5xo6xe 23. “Putin’s Arctic invasion: Russia lays claim to the North Pole—and all its gas, oil, and diamonds” (June 28, 2007): http://tinyurl.com/6bf24w 24. Barbara Slavin, “U.S. studies history in order to avoid repeat,” USA Today (November 8, 2001), 12A. 25. “Afghanistan sitting on a gold mine” (February 20, 2008): http://tinyurl.com/ 4ou8jw 26. For example, John F. Walvoord with Mark Hitchcock, Armageddon, Oil and Terror, 3rd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007) and LaHaye, The Coming Peace in the Middle East, 105. 27. Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth, 156.


68

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

28. Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth, 156. 29. David L. Cooper, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty: An Exposition of Ezekiel Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine (Los Angeles: Biblical Research Society, 1940), 27. He repeats this claim in the 1958 third revised edition (27). 30. Cooper, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty, 28–29. 31. Yoram Gabison and Yael Pollak, “Promise of cheap potash slams ICL” (August 6, 2008): http://tinyurl.com/5o9lzq 32. http://tinyurl.com/4tjqsb 33. Peter and Patti Lalonde, The Edge of Time: The Final Countdown Has Begun (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1997), 225–226. The source for these statistics comes from the Intelligence Digest (July 5, 1996). 34. Cooper, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty, 26. 35. Bøe, Gog and Magog, 118–119. 36. Ryrie, The Living End, 81. 37. John F. Walvoord, Israel in Prophecy (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan/Academie, [1962] 1988), 108. 38. Eugene H. Merrill, An Exegetical Commentary: Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1994), 342. 39. Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, “The Little Apocalypse of Zechariah,” The End Times Controversy: The Second Coming Under Attack, eds. Tim LaHaye and Thomas Ice (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2003), 262. 40. Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., in his comments on Zechariah 13, states: “One of the earth’s most devastating disasters will take place in the end times. ‘Two thirds in [the land of Israel] shall be cut off and die’ (v. 8a). Israel’s present population is somewhere around five million. What it will swell to by the time this text is fulfilled we do not know, but God has promised to lead in a restoration of the Jewish people to the land of Israel. When that takes place there may be some eight to twelve million people in Israel. Think of it: ‘two-thirds’ of whatever the population is in that day will be killed.” (The Communicator’s Commentary: Micah-Malachi [Dallas, TX: Word, 1992], 413). This event, according to futurists, follows just a few years after God rescues Israel when Russia is said to invade. Why would God lure His chosen people to Israel when two-thirds of them will be slaughtered after He has rescued them? Notice in Matthew 24, which is a description of the destruction of Jerusalem that took place 40 years after Jesus’ prophecy, that the Jews are warned to flee the city (24:15–20). Notice also that the conflagration is limited to Judea and is not nationwide. If Kaiser and other futurists believe the scenario where millions of Jews will be killed, why aren’t they warning them to leave Israel?


4 Is Russia Mentioned in the Bible?

W

riting in 1940, Louis S. Bauman told his readers, “No modern nation is set forth so vividly in the prophetic Word as is Russia. Probably the reason is that the Eternal, looking down across the sands of time, beheld Russia, as no other nation, raising her mighty fists and hissing her defiance.”1 Bauman is not alone in explaining the role Russia supposedly plays in Bible prophecy. The twentieth century is replete with books and articles assuring readers that Russia is clearly mentioned in the Bible. Nearly every modern-day prophecy book comes to the same conclusion. Russia is Ezekiel’s “Gog,” with its leader being the “prince of Rosh.” Tim LaHaye claims to know that Ezekiel 38 and 39 “can only mean modern-day Russia” because of “etymology,” that is, by studying the origin of words. The Hebrew word rosh found in Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1 is said to be a people-group that refers to Russia. H. L. Ellison has described this view as “an excellent example of the wish being the father to the thought.”2 As we will see, there is no nation or people group named Rosh mentioned in the Bible. In order to link Ezekiel’s use of rosh with a modern nation, many prophecy writers appeal to the great lexicographer Wilhelm Gesenius (1786–1842) who identifies rosh as “a northern nation, mentioned with Tubal and Meshech; undoubtedly the Russians.”3 Following Gensenius, Clyde E. Billington devotes three long articles to a defense of the rosh = Russia thesis. He admits, however, that “In searching for the Rosh people in ancient documents, one must keep in mind that the name Rosh could be and was spelled in a variety of ways in the ancient world. As James Price points out, the name Rosh was even 69


70

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

pronounced differently and spelled differently in the various Semitic languages used in the ancient Middle East.”4 Of course, none of this means that Ezekiel’s use of rosh has anything to do with these claims. We must ask how the Bible is using rosh. Billington believes he has found a trace of Rosh hidden in the word “Tiras”5 that appears in Genesis 10:2: “The sons of Japheth were Gomer and Magog and Madai and Javan and Tubal and Meshech and Tiras.” See if you can follow Billington’s argument and then ask yourself whether his line of reasoning follows a “plain sense” interpretive methodology: The name Rosh is probably derived from the name Tiras mentioned in Genesis 10:2. The change in the name Tiras to the name Rosh/Rash may be the result of a quirk of the Akkadian language.… The Akkadian language tends either to drop the initial “t” sound in a proper name or to change an initial “t” sound into an “s” sound.… Sometimes an initial “t” sound on a proper noun was changed in Akkadian to an “s” sound.… The Akkadian tendency to drop or to change an initial “t” sound in a name seems to have been especially strong if the initial “t” was followed by an “r” sound, and the name “Tiras” fits this pattern perfectly.6

So now Bible students must learn Akkadian to interpret Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1 and rely on “a quirk” of what the Akkadian language “tends” to do only “sometimes” based on a “tendency” that “seems” to take place whereby “presto-change-o” Tiras turns into ras which morphs into rosh which then becomes rashu, reshu, and rashi then finally Russia.7 It is the proverbial blind guide who strains out a gnat after swallowing a camel (Matt. 23:24). If Tiras became Rosh over time, as Billington and others claim, why is Tiras still used in 1 Chronicles 1:5? Keep in mind that 1 and 2 Chronicles were written no earlier than 538 B.C., around the time Ezekiel’s prophecy was composed.8 Second Chronicles 36:22–23 is most definitely post-exilic since it repeats what is written in Ezra 1. Some scholars argue for an even later date. If Ezekiel was using Rosh to identify Tiras, then it seems reasonable to assume that 1 Chronicles would have done the same to have it comport with Ezekiel’s use


Is Russia Mentioned in the Bible?

71

of rosh if a people group was in view. The fact is, since all the nations listed in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are found elsewhere in the Bible, and a nation named Rosh is not, this seems to be strong evidence that rosh is not being used to identify a nation or people group within the biblical context. Ron Rhodes, who believes rosh is a reference to modern-day Russia, makes my point when he writes, “Certainly it would be logical to find some form of the word Rosh in Genesis 10 because all the other nations in Ezekiel 38:1–6 are found there.”9 It would be logical to find it there if Rosh were a nation revealed to Ezekiel by God. But rosh isn’t found in Genesis 10 no matter how much of the Akkadian language we apply to Tiras to make it read Rosh. Victor P. Hamilton links Tiras “with the Turasha of Egyptian texts, that is, the Tyrrhennians, or later, the Etruscans of Italy.”10 If this is true, then it’s hardly possible that Tiras is an early spelling of Rosh if Rosh is to be identified with modern-day Russia.

Getting to Know Ezekiel’s World All the nations listed by Ezekiel are found in Genesis 10. Ezekiel takes a representative sample of seven people groups from the seventy found in the Table of Nations to make the case that the “the rim of the ancient world”11 would join forces under the direction of a madman hell-bent on destroying the Jews.12 Ezekiel’s antagonist would turn out to be a Herod on steroids (Matt. 2:1–18), and like Herod would fail in his attempt to frustrate God’s redemptive plan and would become a cursed footnote in the historical record. There is no need to speculate beyond the historical boundaries of Ezekiel’s day to force the names of these ancient nations to find a place on a modern-day map to conform them to today’s geo-political landscape. Iain Duguid’s comments are helpful in accounting for the historical realities of Ezekiel’s prophecy: [Gog] is the commander-in-chief ([chief prince]) of a coalition of forces gathered from the ends of the earth. He himself is from the land of Magog, and he rules over Meshech-Tubal.


72

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future His allies include Persia, Cush, and Put (38:5), along with Gomer and Beth Togarmah (38:6). It is no coincidence that together these make up a total of seven nations, and it is significant that they are gathered from the uttermost parts of the known world to the prophet. Meshech-Tubal, Gomer, and Beth Togarmah come from the North, Put (Northwest Egypt) and Cush (southern Egypt) from the south and west, while Persia is to the east of Judah.13

Ezekiel was given a revelation that described his world. Consider the following description of the trading that was taking place among the various nations in Ezekiel’s day and note how these same nations are mentioned in Ezekiel 38. Speaking of Tyre: “Tarshish was your customer because of the abundance of all kinds of wealth; with silver, iron, tin and lead they paid for your wares. Javan, Tubal and Meshech, they were your traders; with the lives of men and vessels of bronze they paid for your merchandise. Those from Beth-togarmah “To seek the fulfillment gave horses and war horses and mules for in the dark region of the your wares. The sons of Dedan were your end of the days is the less possible, because traders. Many coastlands were your market; most of the nations ivory tusks and ebony they brought as your named either no longer payment.… Judah and the land of Israel, exist, or are no longer they were your traders…” (27:12–16, 18). heathen. Magog, Ezekiel was not describing our world; he Gomer, Meshech and was describing the world of his day. Tubal, Phut, Sheba, and You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to Dedan, are no more to figure this out. It’s all in the pages of Scripbe found.” ture. The people living in these nations were — Ernest Hengstenberg alive and well and living in proximity to Israel in Ezekiel’s day. There is no question about this claim. There is no way to refute it except to create an alternative future with new nation names. To maintain that the nations that will attack Israel are nations in our day is not allowing the Bible to speak for itself. “To seek the fulfillment in the dark region of the end of the days,” Ernest Hengstenberg writes, “is the less possible,


Is Russia Mentioned in the Bible?

73

because most of the nations named either no longer exist, or are no longer heathen. Magog, Gomer, Meshech and Tubal, Phut [Put], Sheba, and Dedan, are no more to be found”14 on any modern map. Ezekiel’s prophecy is about the protection of the Jewish people of his day. Without the restoration and rescue of Israel after the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities there could be no Redeemer (see Rev. 12:1–6). If Israel had suffered annihilation at the hands of “Gog,” then God’s redemptive plan would have been thwarted. According to Ezekiel’s prophecy, God rescues Israel so the promised redeemer— Jesus the Messiah—would be born. Jesus makes it clear that He is the focus of the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy and all prophecy, “for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). “Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, Jesus explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (Luke 24:27). Ultimately, the prophecy in Ezekiel 38 and 39 is about Jesus and how the Christ-centered genealogy continued forward so it would read at the time of Jesus’ birth, “Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, by whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah” (Matt. 1:16). If Gog (Haman) had been successful in his day, now long past, the Jewish people would have been wiped off the face of the earth (Esther 3:13), and the world would be a very different place. As it is, God controls history, and God controlled the enemy of His people.

Word Play If these two chapters in Ezekiel do not refer to an end-time battle that includes modern-day Russia, Turkey, Iran, Sudan, and Libya, then the entire prophetic scenario that is promoted in nearly every prophecy book published today is without biblical merit. The reputations of authors, publishing companies, bookstores, Christian colleges and universities, seminaries, pastorates, as well as well-known prophetic ministries will be called into question if this nearly universal interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 is refuted. There is a lot riding on the proper interpretation of these two hotly debated chapters, most of all the integrity of God’s Word.


74

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Those who hold the view that modern-day Russia is the focus of the two chapters translate Ezekiel 38:2 this way: “Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.” The key phrase is “prince of Rosh,” what LaHaye and other prophecy writers would have us to understand as the modern-day “leader of Russia.” Since Meshech and Tubal were trading partners with nations in existence in Ezekiel’s day, including Israel, and no longer exist today, the meaning of rosh is linked inextricably to them and their time and place. One of the most relevant reasons for not linking rosh with Russia is the words aren’t spelled alike. In 1964, S. Maxwell Coder wrote, “If you were to take the name Russia and write it in Hebrew characters today, you would have upon the page before you the very Hebrew characters which have appeared in Ezekiel 38:2 ever since the prophecy was written 2500 years ago when there was no such nation, and when the name existed only in a Biblical prophecy.”15 You don’t have to know Hebrew to see that rosh and Russia don’t even look alike. The modern Hebrew spelling of Russia, reading right to left as you do in Hebrew, is ,16 while the spelling of rosh is . has a long “o” sound, while has an “oo” ( ) sound as in “boot.” The two words only have one letter in common. Reading from right to left, it’s the first letter (resh). There are two different Hebrew letters for “s” in Hebrew: (samech) and (sin or shin). The modern-Hebrew spelling of Russia uses (samech) while rosh uses (shin). In Hebrew, Russia is spelled with five letters while rosh has three (the “o” sound in rosh is part of the second letter [ ] and appears as a dot on top of the letter). Here’s a comparison of the two Hebrew words and their transliteration:

Rusiyah Rosh Merrill F. Unger, who does identify rosh as Russia, makes an important point: “Ancient words in evolving to their modern forms frequently


Is Russia Mentioned in the Bible?

75

undergo a change in vowels, while the consonants tend to remain the same.”17 As we’ve just seen, the consonants are not the same for the simple reason that the words are not related. “Russia” shares one consonant with rosh. In addition, if God wanted to tell people in the twenty-first century that He had modern-day Russia in view in Ezekiel 38 and 39, don’t you think He would have chosen the key word that is supposed to make that identification to look a lot like the modernday Hebrew spelling of that word? God certainly knew how the Jews would spell Russia in Hebrew! Why confuse us by making a supposed people group named Rosh look exactly like the word rosh that means “chief,” “head,” or “beginning” hundreds of times in the Bible? Even scholars who agree with LaHaye on many other prophetic points argue that rosh does not refer to Russia. Dispensationalist Unger admits, “Linguistic evidence for the equation [of Rosh with Russia] is confessedly only presumptive.”18 Charles Ryrie, author of Dispensationalism Today, even takes issue with the New American Standard translation of Ezekiel 38:2 in the notes of his own study Bible. “The prince of Rosh,” he writes, is better translated as “the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.”19 While the New American Standard translation uses “prince of Rosh” in Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1, it has a marginal note in 39:1 which reads “chief prince of Meshech.” As was mentioned earlier, Meshech and Tubal are not linked with a place called Rosh in any other place in the Bible (Gen. 10:2; 1 Chron. 1:5; Isa. 66:19;20 Ezek. 27:13; 32:26), so it is extremely unlikely that in these three cases alone rosh takes on a meaning different from the way it is used elsewhere in the Old Testament. A “plain sense” approach to Bible interpretation should not lead anyone to conclude that rosh is modern-day Russia.

A Geography Lesson As we’ve seen, the rosh=Russia interpretation is not unique to LaHaye. Hal Lindsey popularized it in 1970 with the publication of The Late Great Planet Earth, as LaHaye acknowledges:21 The name Moscow comes from the tribal name Meshech, and Tobolsk, the name of the principal state, comes from


76

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future Tubal. The noun Gog is from the original tribal name, Magog, which gradually became Rosh, then Rus, and today is known as Russia. In the very interesting book The Late Great Planet Earth, my friend Hal Lindsey presents a lengthy discussion of the identity of these nations. I was so impressed by the accuracy of his sources and his readable style that I obtained permission to quote him at length, with numbered footnotes indicating his sources.22

The rosh=Russia designation was introduced to a broad spectrum of Christians interested in Bible prophecy in the first edition of the Scofield Reference Bible in 1909 and in the revised 1917 edition. Scofield writes that “The reference to Meshech and Tubal (Moscow and Tobolsk) is a clear mark of identification (i.e., with Russia).”23 Such a claim is preposterous since Meshech and Tubal were trading partners with surrounding nations in Ezekiel’s day (Ezek. 27:13).24 “This shows that Meshech and Tubal were nations that existed back then, in the 6th century BC. Therefore they cannot possibly refer to Moscow and Tobolsk which were not founded until many centuries later.”25 How does Tobolsk have anything to do with Bible prophecy since it’s in Siberia? Charles H. Dyer, a committed dispensationalist, places Tubal and Meshech in Eastern and Central Turkey.26 A similar position is taken by Ralph H. Alexander in his commentary on Ezekiel in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary.27 Even Mark Hitchcock has to admit that “It is highly doubtful that ancient Tyre was trading with people in the area as far north as Moscow and Tobolsk.”28 In fact, it is doubtful that trading that far away was even possible given the terrain and lack of developed transportation routes, the risks associated with travel in carrying goods and valuables such long distances, and the costs involved. J. Paul Tanner offers a helpful summary of the argument: Any identification of Meshech with Moscow and Tubal with Tobolsk is quite unfounded. Yamauchi states: “Since the late nineteenth century, Assyrian texts have been available which locate Meshech (Mushku) and Tubal (Tabal) in central and eastern Anatolia respectively. These would


Is Russia Mentioned in the Bible?

77

be located in what is today modern Turkey. For Ezekiel, Meshech and Tubal were not Russian cities but ancient ethnic groups that carried on trade with Tyre (27:13).” According to Yamauchi, the Mushki of central Anatolia eventually merged with the Phrygians from the west.29

All Do Not Agree Scofield claims that “all agree” that Russia heads the northern (European) alliance against Israel in “the last days.” All do not agree. The views of Scofield, Lindsey, LaHaye, Hindson, Ice, Hitchcock, Rhodes, and others are not supported by numerous Bible-believing Christian historians, archaeologists, commentators, and linguists. Charles L. Feinberg writes that while “there have been many writers who connected the name Rosh with the Russians, but this is not generally accepted today.”30 Edwin M. Yamauchi, professor of history at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, is an authority on the subject, and takes issue with Lindsey’s analysis. He writes that the Hebrew word rosh “can have nothing to do with modern ‘Russia.’ This would be a gross anachronism, for the modern name is based upon the name Rus, which was brought into the region of Kiev, north of the Black Sea, by the Vikings only in the Middle Ages.”31 He considers such identifications as “groundless,” having “unfortunately gained widespread currency in the evangelical world through many channels.”32 Most evangelical scholars agree with Dr. Yamauchi: There is no evidence from the ancient Near East that a country named Rosh ever existed. Some would understand rosh as modern Russia. Proponents of this view usually appeal to etymology based on similar sounds (to the hearing) between two words. Such etymological procedures are not linguistically sound, nor is etymology alone a sound hermeneutical basis on which to interpret a word. The word “Russia” is a late eleventh-century A.D. term. Therefore, the data does [sic] not seem to support an interpretation of rosh as a proper name of a geographical region or country.33


78

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Explaining what rosh does not mean is the first step in determining what it does mean. The methodology we are following assumes that the Bible is the place to understand a biblical word’s meaning, especially since it’s such a common word.

The Biblical Meaning of Rosh Rosh is a common Hebrew word that is used hundreds of times in the Old Testament. It is most often translated as “chief,” “head,” “beginning,” or “source.” For example, Rosh Hashanah marks the beginning of the Jewish New Year. It is described as a “high holy day,” because it is the chief or head holy day of the year. It literally means “head of the year” or “beginning of the year.” Jews also celebrate Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of the new month in the Jewish calendar and celebrated during the morning worship time in a Jewish synagogue (see 1 Sam. 20:5). There are priests in Israel, and there are “chief priests.” The word for “chief” is rosh (2 Kings 25:18; 1 Chron. 27:5; 2 Chron. 19:11; 24:6; 26:20; 31:10; Ezra 7:5; Jer. 52:24). Michael is called “one of the chief princes” (Dan. 10:13). Rosh is used in Ezekiel 39 times and is, for example, translated as “heads” (1:22), “head,” (5:1), “tops” (6:13), “chief” (27:22), and “beginning” (40:1). Any concordance will show that the Hebrew word rosh is never used as a proper name that refers to a nation.34 Proponents of the rosh=Russia view often look for support among non-dispensational scholars to bolster their case. For example, Mark Hitchcock appeals to John Taylor’s commentary on Ezekiel to support the claim that rosh should be translated as a proper name. He writes, “John Taylor agrees … that this is the best way to translate the Hebrew.”35 A closer look at Taylor’s comments suggests something different. He writes that the interpreter should approach “these two chapters” with “caution” since the “language is the language of apocalyptic,” “largely symbolical and at times deliberately shadowy and even cryptic.” 36 In particular, Taylor criticizes “such fancies” that have been “perpetuated in the Scofield Reference Bible” that Ezekiel is describing modern-day Russia.37 James D. Price offers a scholarly presentation of why he believes rosh must be viewed as a place name. He argues that there are similar


Is Russia Mentioned in the Bible?

79

sounding place names in other Semitic languages, for example, rashu, reshu, and rashi. But this begs the question. Just because a Hebrew word sounds like a word in another language does not mean it is referring to the same thing. It seems to me that Price assumes what he must prove. His next line of argument is more impressive. I couldn’t hope to repeat it in detail here. It depends on certain rules of Hebrew grammar. Essentially, he argues that the grammar requires that rosh be a noun (place name) rather than an adjective (chief prince). As we will see, rosh can be taken as a noun in Ezekiel 38 and 39 and still have the meaning of “chief.” Daniel I. Block translates Ezekiel 38:3, “[Son of Man], set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal.”38 This rendering satisfies the argument of Randall Price and others that rosh should be treated as a noun.39 Here is Block’s opinion: “[Rosh] is therefore best understood as a common noun, appositional to and offering a closer definition of [the Hebrew word] nasi [translated as ‘prince’]. Accordingly, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal, combines Ezekiel’s preferred title for kings with a hierarchical designation, the addition serving to clarify the preceding archaic term.”40 So then, whether rosh is an adjective or a noun, it means “chief.” In this case, Gog is the “prince-in-chief,”41 “the one who stands out from a plurality of princes.”42 A contemporary example would be the president of the United States as the “commander-in-chief” who rules over any number of subordinates. Block goes on to argue that “the popular identification of Rosh with Russia is impossibly anachronistic and based on faulty etymology” with the similarities of sound “between Russia and Rosh being purely accidental.”43 “The construction,” Block writes, “is similar to ‘Pharaoh, the king of Egypt,’ in [Ezek.] 29:2–3; 30:21–22; 31:2; 32:2.…”44 The judgment on Egypt in Ezekiel 29 has been fulfilled; it’s a past event. The language is very similar to what we read in Ezekiel 38. The titles “chief prince” and “king of Egypt” are used twice in the span of two verses in both chapters. This shows support for the claim that “chief” is a title and not a place.


80

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

While Thomas Ice appeals to Price’s article “Rosh: An Ancient Land Known to Ezekiel” in an attempt to make the case that rosh is a people group identified with modern-day Russia, Price never links rosh with Russia. In fact, the word “Russia” never appears in his article.45 So then, even if Price is correct in arguing that Rosh is a place-name that identifies a people group in Ezekiel’s day, this is evidence that rosh is not a moniker for modern-day Russia since a place called Rosh, if Price is correct, was known to the people of Ezekiel’s day. This would mean that Ezekiel was prophesying about a nation that was on his prophetic horizon. Of course, the more reliable interpretation is to understand rosh as the common Hebrew word for “chief.”

Notes 1. Louis S. Bauman, Light from Bible Prophecy: As Related to the Present Crisis, 6th ed. (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1940), 30. Notice that the subtitle indicates that the author wrote against the backdrop of current events in 1940. 2. H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956), 134. 3. Wilhelm Gesenius, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, trans. Samuel P. Tregelles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans [1857] 1949), 752. Gesenius’ arguments will be evaluated in chapter 6 along with the Septuagint (LXX). 4. Clyde E. Billington, “The Rosh People in History and Prophecy (Part 2): The Origin and Early History of the Rosh People,” Michigan Theological Journal, 3.2 (1992), 143–144. 5. “Tiras” is spelled while “rosh” is spelled . The “s” sounds use different Hebrew letters: samek ( ) in “Tiras” and shin ( ) in “Rosh.” 6. Billington, “The Rosh People in History and Prophecy” (Part 2), 166–167. 7. Billington writes: “It should be kept in mind that when Ezekiel wrote the Book of Ezekiel, he was a captive in Babylon, and the Babylonians at that time still spoke Akkadian” (167). First, Ezekiel was written for the Jews not the Babylonians (2:3–7). Second, the Jewish Scriptures were written mostly in Hebrew and only some Aramaic which is very similar to Hebrew. Hebrew is the language of interpretation, not Akkadian. Third, when God wanted to address the world beyond Israel, He chose the sister language of Aramaic not Akkadian (Dan 2:4–7:1–28). Fourth, Tiras includes three Hebrew letters not found in rosh: tav, yod, and samech. 8. In the Hebrew Bible, 1 and 2 Chronicles is one book (Chronicles) and appears last in the order of books. 9. Ron Rhodes, Northern Storm Rising: Russia, Iran, and the Emerging EndTimes Military Coalition Against Israel (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 102.


Is Russia Mentioned in the Bible?

81

10. Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 1–17 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1990), 332. A similar interpretation is offered by G. Ch. Aalders, The Bible Student Commentary: Genesis, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 1:218. 11. Millard C. Lind, Ezekiel: Believers Church Bible Commentary (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1996), 315. See his map on page 385. 12. A similar idea can be seen in Revelation 20:8 where “Gog and Magog” gather the deceived nations from the “four corners of the earth.” Gog and Magog are being used in a way similar to how Revelation uses Balaam (2:14), Jezebel (2:20), Sodom and Egypt (11:8), and Babylon (16:19) as shorthand indicators for the enemies of God’s people. 13. Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 448. 14. E. W. Hengstenberg, The Prophecies of the Prophet Ezekiel Elucidated, trans. A. C. Murphy and J. G. Murphy (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1869), 331. 15. S. Maxwell Coder, “The Future of Russia,” Focus on Prophecy, ed. Charles L. Feinberg (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell, 1964), 82–83. 16. http://tinyurl.com/4k6uxp. A search for “rosh,” as in “Rosh Hashana,” will show that it is spelled . The Hebrew is consistently translated as “chief,” as in Chief of Staff and Chief of Intelligence. 17. Merrill F. Unger, Beyond the Crystal Ball (Chicago: Moody Press, 1974), 82. 18. Unger, Beyond the Crystal Ball, 82. 19. Charles C. Ryrie, ed., The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1978), 1285. 20. Some editions of the New American Standard translation include “Rosh” in Isaiah 66:19: “Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Rosh, Tubal, and Javan.” No other translation includes “Rosh” in this listing. The Hebrew text does not include “Rosh.” The Lockman Foundation’s on-line version of their updated translation of the NASB does not include “Rosh” in Isaiah 66:19. In response to my question regarding this discrepancy, the Lockman Foundation sent a lengthy and technical explanation, but in the final analysis admitted that the word rosh is not found in Isaiah 66:19 in either the Hebrew text or the LXX. 21. Hal Lindsey, Late Great Planet Earth (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1970), 59–71. 22. Tim LaHaye, The Beginning of the End, rev. ed. (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1991), 65. 23. The Scofield Reference Bible, ed. C. I. Scofield (New York: Oxford University Press, 1917), 883n. 24. “Javan, Tubal and Meshech, they were your traders; with the lives of men and vessels of bronze they paid for your merchandise” (Ezek. 27:13). 25. Thomas Williamson, “Will There be a Russian Invasion of Israel?,” Biblical Perspectives (June 1, 2004), 2.


82

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

26. Charles H. Dyer, “Ezekiel,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1281. 27. Ralph H. Alexander, “Ezekiel,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed., Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 6:877, note on verses 13–14. 28. Mark Hitchcock The Coming Islamic Invasion of Israel (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2002), 45. 29. J. Paul Tanner, “Rethinking Ezekiel’s Invasion of Gog,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39:1 (March 1996), 32. 30. Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 220. 31. Edwin M. Yamauchi, Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), 20. 32. Edwin Yamauchi, “Meshech, Tubal, and Company: A Review Article [of Noah’s Three Sons: Human History in Three Dimensions by Arthur Custance],” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19 (1976), 243. 33. Ralph H. Alexander, “Ezekiel,” The Expositors Bible Commentary, gen. ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 6:930. For a discussion of five views of this battle, see Ralph H. Alexander, “A Fresh Look at Ezekiel 38 and 39,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, 17 (Summer 1974), 162–165. 34. One of Benjamin’s sons is named “Rosh” (Gen. 46:21), but no one identifies him with Russia. Russia was not settled by Jews from the tribe of Benjamin. The tribe of Benjamin settled in the most southern part of Israel with Judah. 35. Hitchcock, After the Empire, 30. 36. John B. Taylor, Ezekiel: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, [1969] 1978), 243. 37. Taylor, Ezekiel, 243, note 1. 38. Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25–48 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 432. This would counter arguments made by Thomas Ice in his “Ezekiel 38 & 39 (Part 4),” Pre-Trib Research Center: http://tinyurl.com/52nz8t. 39. Friedrich Heinrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Thesaurus Linguae Hebraeae et Chaldaeae Veteris Testamenti (Lipsiae: Sumtibus Typisque, Fr. Chr., Guil. Vogelii, 1829– 1858), 3:1253. This multi-volume work was completed after the death of Gesenius by Ernst Roediger. Billington writes that Gesenius’ extended discussion of rosh “does not appear in any of the English versions of Gesenius’ Lexicon.” (“The Rosh People in History and Prophecy: [Part 1]: A History of the Translation of the Hebrew Word Rosh as Found in Ezekiel 38–39,” Michigan Theological Journal, 3.1 [1992], 62). Gesenius’ Lexicon, as well as that of Brown-Driver-Briggs, is now “outdated by great advances in linguistic study and the discovery of many ancient documents both in Hebrew and related Northwest Semitic languages.” (Ernst Würthwein, The Text of the Old Testament, trans. Erroll F. Rhodes, 2nd rev. ed. [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995], 127). A more comprehensive discussion of Gesenius’ views will be dealt with in chapter 6: “Rosh Among the Commentators.”


Is Russia Mentioned in the Bible?

83

40. Block, Ezekiel, 2:435 41. E. A. Speiser, “Background and Function to the Biblical nāśi’,” CBQ 25 (1963), 113. Quoted in Block, Ezekiel, 2:435, note 46. 42. Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel—Chapters 25–48, trans. James D. Martin (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 305. 43. Block, Ezekiel, 2:434. 44. Block, Ezekiel, 2:435, note 46. “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh king of Egypt and prophesy against him and against all Egypt. Speak and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, the great monster that lies in the midst of his rivers, that has said, ‘My Nile is mine, and I myself have made it.’ I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your rivers cling to your scales. And I will bring you up out of the midst of your rivers, and all the fish of your rivers will cling to your scales”’” (Ezek. 29:2–3). 45. James D. Price, “Rosh: An Ancient Land Known to Ezekiel,” Grace Theological Journal (1985) 88: http://tinyurl.com/4fznts


5 The Far North, the Latter Years, and All the Nations

S

ome of the objections raised against the premise that Ezekiel 38 and 39 are fulfilled prophecy is the claim that the use of “far north,” the “latter years, and “all the nations” indicate a distant future fulfillment. If we let the Bible interpret itself, we will see that these three phases are common to Scripture and easily support a fulfillment during the time when Haman sought to kill every Jew living in the world of his day (Esther 3:6, 13).

The Far North In the October 16, 1816 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine an article identifies the major prophetic players in Ezekiel 38 and 39 to be France, led by the “Chief Prince” Napoleon Bonaparte against Russia, which “is called the Land of unwalled villages” (38:11).1 In the view of the article’s author, Russia is the Christian good guy and France the antichristian bad guy! France was considered to be an enemy of the church after its many anti-Christian policies during the period of the French Revolution where reason was exalted as divine (the goddess “reason”), and a New Year One was implemented to overthrow the Christian calendar. Napoleon’s rise to power did nothing to change these opinions about anti-Christian France. Russia was considered to be nominally Christian at the time. The war between the two nations was in the news, and like today, the headlines were affecting the inter85


86

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

pretation of the Bible. And France was “far north” of Israel. It seemed to be a perfect fit. In similar fashion, prophecy writers like Tim LaHaye, Grant Jeffrey, and Joel Rosenberg try to establish that the “remote parts of the north” (Ezek. 38:6, 15; 39:2) must refer to Russia because Russia is north of Israel,2 and Russia is a military power with a history of conquest, anti-semitism, and atheism. At the time this theory became popular in America, Russia, in the form of the Soviet Union, was officially atheistic. This point is made by a number of older books on the subject.3 While it is true that Russia were north of Israel, it is also true that a number of ancient nations are north of Israel. Even Mt. Zion is said to be located in “in the far north” (Ps. 48:2). “This is exactly the same expression as used in Ezek 38:6, 15; 39:2 and Isa 14:13,”4 which I suppose means straight up. The Bible often uses north as a designation for a geographical area that includes the north as well as the northeast. For example, Babylon was mostly east of Israel, but Jeremiah 4:6 warns that the disaster that came upon Judah would arrive “from the north,” a reference to Babylon (Jer. 1:13–15; 3:18; 6:1, 22; 10:22; Zech. 2:6–7). Notice that “all the families of the kingdoms of the north will break forth on all the inhabitants of the land” (Jer. 1:15). Charles Dyer, who teaches that Ezekiel 38 and 39 are describing a future battle,5 makes the point that “from the north land” and “remote parts of the earth” (Jer. 6:22) are “an apt description of the Babylonians (cf. Hab. 1:6–11)”6 and their invasion of Israel in the sixth century B.C. If Babylon is said to invade Israel from the north when it is actually mostly east of Israel, and north is the “remote parts of the earth,” 7 then “far north” can have a similar meaning in Ezekiel (38:6, 15; 39:2). The same is also the case when Israel was overrun by the Assyrians (Zeph. 2:13) and Persians (Isa. 41:25; Jer. 50:3). Consider this description of a northern invasion that was on the prophetic horizon, a battle fought with bows and arrows and javelins: “Behold, a people is coming from the north, and a great nation and many kings will be aroused from the remote parts of the earth” (Jer. 50:41). The “remote parts of the earth” seems like a description far beyond the then-known world,


The Far North, the Latter Years, and All the Nations

87

but it wasn’t. Jeremiah was describing the judgment of Babylon (50:42). Is the Bible mistaken? Not at all. The language is typical of prophetic/ poetry passages, and it’s no different from the way Ezekiel uses the “remote parts of the north.” As Timothy Daily concludes, “From the perspective of the Holy Land, the invaders came down from the north, even if their place of origin was actually to the east. Ezekiel is giving the direction of the invasion, not the place of the invader’s origin.”8 Archeologist Barry Beitzel confirms this analysis when he states that “the Bible’s use of the expression ‘north’ denotes the direction from which a foe would normally approach and not the location of its homeland.”9 The same holds true for any invading army that was north and east of Israel. They, too, would have to bring a land army into Israel from the north since the Mediterranean Sea is directly west of Israel. Tanner concludes: “‘North’ refers not so much to the precise geographical direction from Israel, but rather to the direction of advance and attack upon Israel (armies came against Israel from the north). This is how Jeremiah viewed Babylonia, though Babylonia was technically to the east. Consequently there is no firm basis on which to interpret Gog as Russia.”10 Even Wilbur M. Smith, who futurizes Ezekiel 38 and 39, admits that Israel’s greatest enemies always invaded her from [the north].… Syria was immediately north, and the Babylonians, while geographically east of Palestine, were compelled to enter Israel from the north, rather than rush their armies across a vast desert.”11 Scriptural terminology must not be interpreted in terms of modern-day geo-political categories or geography when the nations mentioned by Ezekiel were in existence in his day. To anyone reading Ezekiel’s prophecy around 600 B.C., the “remote parts of the north” would not have extended beyond Asia Minor. The regions beyond this area were inaccessible to common travelers. “One more fact is worthy of observation here. In verse 6 [of Ezekiel 38] this same geographical description (‘farthest north’) is also given of Togarmah, yet virtually all agree that this is eastern Asia Minor! If Asia Minor was far north enough for Togarmah, why not for Gog? The problem [for the futurist] is obvious.”12 Togarmah was mostly likely at the northern edge of the


88

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Persian Empire. From Israel’s perspective, this was “the remote parts of the north.”

The List of Nations Joel Rosenberg, a proponent of the belief that Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe nations in our future that will attack the modern-state of Israel, offers the following argument that is fleshed out in his novel The Ezekiel Option (2005) and appears in so many other prophecy books dealing with the last days: The Ezekiel Option is based on the prophecies found in the Bible, specifically in the Book of Ezekiel, chapters 38 and 39. Remarkably, the Hebrew Prophet Ezekiel, writing more than 2,500 years ago, was able to look down the corridors of time and see nations not yet born, and alliances not yet formed. In doing so, he foretold the rise of a Russian military alliance with Iran and other Middle Eastern countries to annihilate Israel during the earth’s “last days.” This is known by many Bible scholars as the “War of Gog and Magog.” In this war, Ezekiel says the world will see a supernatural judgment of these enemies of Israel, and a spiritual awakening unparalleled in human history.3

Rosenberg tells us that it’s the interpreter’s job to “decode” these “cryptic-sounding countries.”14 These nations aren’t cryptic, and they don’t need decoding. They have a long history in the Bible as Rosenberg admits. But because of his futuristic eschatology, he is forced to see them as code names for modern nations, even suggesting the United States may have an indirect role to play in an end-time coalition war with Israel.15 Consider these words from Rosenberg: As you can see for yourself, the words Russia, Moscow, Soviet Union, and czar never appear in these passages. Nor do they appear anywhere in the book of Ezekiel. Nor are they ever mentioned anywhere in the Bible. But there is no doubt that the ancient prophet was referring to the nation we now know as Russia.16


The Far North, the Latter Years, and All the Nations

89

How can anyone who says he follows a plain sense (literal) interpretive methodology admit that the words in italic in the above quotation are never “mentioned anywhere in the Bible” and then claim that Ezekiel was predicting their place in prophetic history 2600 years in the future? At best, his attempt to link these ancient nations with modern nations and conditions is conjecture that relies on a variety of unproved assumptions. Ed Hindson follows a similar methodology. As you can see from the chart below, there are no contemporary matches.17 According to Rosenberg, God has looked “down the corridors of time” to “see nations not yet born, and alliances not yet formed.” If God is able to do this, and He is, why didn’t He name the nations that would go to battle against Israel in our future? Why don’t we find Iran, Iraq, Sudan, Turkey, Germany, and Armenia mentioned by name, nations that Rosenberg and Hindson say will be a part of this end-time world war? Similar to Rosenberg, John F. Walvoord admits that “none of the place names in Ezekiel 38:1–7 exist on any modern map.” He follows this up with this admission: “Ezekiel used ancient names that were familiar to the people of his day.”18 This should tell us that God wanted His first readers to understand Ancient Name Modern Name that it was these parRussia Rosh ticularly named nations Russia Magog that were a part of the Turkey Meshech invasion that Ezekiel was predicting. Why would Turkey Tubal God confuse us by using Iran Persia ancient names and then Sudan Cush confuse those who first Libya Put read Ezekiel’s prophecy by using names that were Turkey Gomer known to them? WalTurkey Beth Togarmah voord believes he has an answer to this question:


90

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future While the names of these geographical locations have changed many times throughout history and may change again, the geographical territory remains the same. Regardless of what names they may carry at the time of this invasion, it is these specific geographical areas that will be involved. Each of these ancient geographical locations from Ezekiel’s day will be briefly examined, and the modern counterpart will be identified.19

There is no indication from Ezekiel that the only thing that’s important is the geography and not the nations. Why mention the names unless they were important to the prophecy? Certainly those who first read the prophecy would have connected the prophecy to the nations that were in existence in their day. They never would have thought to associate them to a distant time where the names could change. The reason these particular nations are named is because they would be involved in the invasion. Once again, the “plain sense” reading of the prophecy is sold out for a precariously constructed interpretive methodology that can’t stand on its own fundamental principles.

In the Latter Years Ezekiel 38:16 sets the time frame for the battle of Gog and Magog “in the last days.” In many cases, the Hebrew word often translated “last days” means nothing more than “in future days,” “a later time,” or “in days to come.” Old Testament Hebrew does not have a word for “future” or “in the distant future.” This is why J. A. Thompson concludes that “The phrase in the latter days need not be interpreted eschatologically, but merely in the sense of ‘in the future.’”20 There are “former days” (Deut. 4:32)—the past—and there are “future days” (4:30)—an expectation of things to come.21 This is confirmed when Moses describes what will happen after he dies: “For I know that after my death you will act corruptly and turn from the way which I have commanded you; and evil will befall you in the latter days, for you will do that which is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking Him to anger with the work of your hands” (Deut. 31:29). Moses isn’t skipping over thousands of years of history to describe what will happen in the


The Far North, the Latter Years, and All the Nations

91

distant future. The “the latter days” in Deuteronomy actually refers to the period of the Judges: “So the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He said, ‘Because this nation has transgressed My covenant which I commanded their fathers, and has not listened to My voice, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations which Joshua left when he died’” (Judges 2:20–21). Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, explaining to him what will happen in “the latter days” (Dan. 2:28). The events described in Daniel 2 were fulfilled in the future, the “end of the days” of the Babylonian kingdom, when the Medes and Persians conquered Babylon and killed Belshazzar (5:25–31) to be followed by the Greeks overthrowing the Medes and Persians, and Rome overthrowing the Greeks. During the time of Jesus’ ministry, Rome is in power, the fourth kingdom in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (2:40–43). There is no reason to skip over all of this history and nearly 2000 years of the socalled Church age and rework Ezekiel’s prophecy so that it fits an endtime scenario that includes unnamed nations fighting with ancient weapons.

In the Latter Days Genesis 49:1 Numbers 24:14 Deuteronomy 4:30 Deuteronomy 31:29

Fulfillment Jacob’s immediate descendants David crushed the Moabites Period of the Judges Period of the Judges and following

Isaiah 2:2-4; Micah 4:1

Period of the Messiah

Jeremiah 23:30; 30:24

Babylon

Jeremiah 48:47

Pentecost

Jeremiah 49:39

Pentecost

Daniel 2:28 Daniel 8:17,19 Daniel 10:14 Hosea 3:5

Succession of world powers Antiochus Epiphanes (175-164 B.C.) Cyrus to Antiochus Epiphanes Acts 2


92

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

God promises to “restore the fortunes of Moab in the latter days” (Jer. 48:47). A similar promise is made to Elam: “‘But it will come about in the last days, that I shall restore the fortunes of Elam,’ declares the LORD” (49:39). We learn that the fulfillment for Elam is in the New Testament era, the time that Joel described as the “the last days” (Joel 2:28–32). Peter explains that the events of Pentecost are part of the culmination of the Old Covenant, “the last days”: “This [the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost and people coming to Christ] is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall come about in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams’” (Acts 2:16–17). The writer to the Hebrews tells us, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son …” (Heb. 11:1–2). The “last days” were operating in the first century and referred to the close of the Old Covenant era. Who was included in the “last days” blessing?: “Parthians and Medes and Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya around Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs” (Acts 2:9–11). “Jews and proselytes” from “every nation under heaven” were included (2:5), just like the Old Covenant prophesied. This meant descendants of Moab and Elam who heard and embraced Jesus Christ at Pentecost. Even some dispensationalists do not always see “last days” as references to distant eschatological events. Thomas Ice writes: Sometimes Christians read in the Bible about the “last days” or “end times,” and tend to think that all of these phrases, all of the time, refer to the same thing. This is not the case, just as in our own lives there are many endings: there is the end of the work day, the end of the day according to the clock, the end of the week, etc. Just because the word “end” is used does not mean that it always refers to the same time. The word “end” is restricted and precisely defined when it


The Far North, the Latter Years, and All the Nations

93

is modified by “day,” “week,” “year,” etc. So it is in the Bible that “end times” may refer to the end of the church age or to other times.22

Joel Rosenberg, a futurist in his interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39, takes a similar position: “It’s important to note that the Hebrew term translated as ‘the last days’ can also be translated as ‘in the distant future’ (NLT) or ‘in days to come’ (NIV).”23 This means that the phrase is not by definition referring to a distant eschatological future. Once again, this fits with the other descriptive elements we read in Ezekiel 38 and 39 and Esther. Ezekiel is describing what would take place in the future. In Proverbs 31:25 we read about the virtuous woman who “smiles at the future.” The literal translation would be “latter days.” The context makes it clear that “latter days” is not a reference to some distant eschatological future. This is why translators translate it as “in the future” or “things to come.” The Hebrew word used in Proverbs 31:25 (acharown) is nearly identical with the Hebrew of Ezekiel 38:16 (achariyth).24 Ezekiel meant nothing more than to describe what would take place in his future.

All the Nations Ezekiel uses the phrase “all the nations” several times (39:21, 23). It’s quite obvious that the phrase is being used to describe all the thenknown nations, the nations that made up the coalition of forces that joined Haman in his planned attack against God’s people. The people of Israel were told that if they did not obey God’s commandments that they would be scattered “among the nations” (Lev. 26:33, 38; Deut. 4:27; Jer. 9:16; cp. Ezek. 36:19, 21–22) and be dispersed “among the lands” (Ezek. 20:23; 22:15). When we read that “it is reported among the nations” that Nehemiah and the Jews planned to rebel (Neh. 6:6), this can hardly be a description of every nation in the entire world of our day. The scattering of Israel took place among the nations known to Israel at that time. When Judah is described as “like all the nations” (Ezek. 25:8), the reference is to all the nations that were in its geopolitical orbit.


94

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Cyrus king of Persia, states the following: “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah” (Ezra 1:1). “All the kingdoms of the earth” has reference to all the kingdoms under his possession at that time. The Persian Empire was not global. “All the nations” is used repeatedly in the Bible and has reference to the known nations of the day. Here are a few examples: • “Then the fame of David went out into all the lands; and the L ord brought the fear of him on all the nations” (1 Chron. 14:17). • Speaking of Nebuchadnezzar: “And all the nations shall serve him, and his son, and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant” (Jer. 27:7). • “All nations surrounded me; In the name of the Lord I will surely cut them of” (Psalm 118:10). • “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). • “But now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26).

“All the nations” and “every nation” are descriptions of the known world that was ruled by kingdoms that incorporated nations into their political orbit. The first readers of Ezekiel 38 and 39 would have understood that the prophecy was to be fulfilled in their future. They knew the political boundaries of the empire that had subsumed them. “Far north” was understood to mean the northern most border of their known world. The “latter days” was a phrase that meant an unspecified future. There is no indication that Ezekiel is describing a future so distant from his outline that it would necessitate a change in the names of nations.


The Far North, the Latter Years, and All the Nations

95

Notes 1. T.R., “Commentary on Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Gog and Magog,” The Gentleman’s Magazine (October 1816), 307. 2. “The text clarifies that Gog comes from ‘the remote parts of the north’ (38:6, 15), and in 39:2 the NASB specifies ‘the remotest parts of the north.’ An examination of the Hebrew text, however, will reveal that these three phrases are essentially the same (there is no need for the differentiation of the adjectives ‘remote’ and ‘remotest’). The NIV consistently translates the phrase in all three verses as the ‘far north.’” (J. Paul Tanner, “Rethinking Ezekiel’s Invasion of Gog,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39:1 [March 1996], 33). 3. Arno Clemens Gaebelein, The Conflict of the Ages: The Mystery of Lawlessness: Its Origin, Historic Development and Coming Defeat (New York: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1933). John Cumming promoted the Russia theory in his book Destiny of Nations (London, Hurst and Blackette, 1864). 4. Sverre Bøe, Gog and Magog: Ezekiel 38–39 As Pre-Text for Revelation 19, 17– 21 and 20, 7–10 (Wissunt Zum Neun Testament Ser. II, 135) (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 384. 5. Charles H. Dyer, What’s Next? God, Israel and the Future of Iraq (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2004), chap. 6. To his credit, Dyer translates rosh as “chief ” and goes on to comment that “Ezekiel used the name as an adjective to describe this leader. He will be the ‘head prince’ of those other countries.” (World News and Bible Prophecy [Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1993], 109–110, 111). 6. Charles H. Dyer, “Jeremiah,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1139. 7. “They will come from the remote parts of the then-known earth.” (Charles L. Feinberg, “Jeremiah,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, gen. ed., Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986], 6:425). 8. Timothy J. Daily, The Gathering Storm (Tarrytown, NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1992), 166. 9. The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985), 5. 10. Tanner, “Rethinking Ezekiel’s Invasion of Gog.” 35. 11. Wilbur M. Smith, World Crisis and the Prophetic Scriptures (Chicago: Moody Press, 1951), 242. 12. Fred G. Zaspel, “The Nations of Ezekiel 38–39: Who Will Participate in the Battle?” (1985): http://tinyurl.com/6ljqhe. 13. Joel Rosenberg, “The ‘War of Gog and Magog’: Understanding Ezekiel 38–39” (May 5, 2005): http://tinyurl.com/544s66. 14. Joel C. Rosenberg, Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House, 2006), 128. 15. Rosenberg, Epicenter, 131.


96

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

16. Rosenberg, Epicenter, 82. 17. Ed Hindson, “Is War with Iran Inevitable?,” National Liberty Journal (March 2007), 9. Also see Tim LaHaye and Ed Hindson, Global Warning: Are We on the Brink of World War III? (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2007), 127. 18. John F. Walvoord with Mark Hitchcock, Armageddon, Oil and Terror, 3rd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007), 89. 19. Walvoord, Armageddon, Oil and Terror, 89. 20. J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 108. 21. Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy, NICOT (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), 141. 22. Thomas Ice, “Are We Living in the Biblical ‘Last Days’?,” National Liberty Journal (September 2006), 4. 23. Rosenberg, Epicenter, 252. 24. The Hebrew word achariyth used in Ezekiel 38:16 is paralleled with Daniel 10:14 where it is applied to “the age of Antiochus Epiphanes” in the fourth-century B.C. See Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1952), 31.


6 Rosh Among the Commentators

T

hose who defend the rosh=Russia link appeal to a number of older historical authorities to support their case. These are the Septuagint (LXX), the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, the great nineteenth-century lexicographer Wilhelm Gesenius, and commentators William Lowth and Carl Friedrich Keil of the famed Keil and Delitzsch Old Testament commentary series. While the arguments of these older scholars can’t be summarily dismissed, their views should not be considered unassailable. Since their time, a great deal of new scholarship has been published that sheds greater light on the biblical books in the areas of archeology, language studies, grammar, history, and lexicography.

The Septuagint (LXX) Probably the most formidable argument for a place named Rosh in antiquity is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament known as the Septuagint, most often abbreviated as LXX. Its full title in Latin is Interpretatio septuaginta vitorum or “The Translation of the Seventy Men.”1 The translation was done in stages between the third and first centuries B.C. in Alexandria, Egypt.2 This means the LXX was translated during the waning years of the Greek Empire and the ascendency of the Roman Empire as a world power. Knowing the time and history of the LXX’s composition might help to understand why the men who translated Ezekiel chose to transliterate the Hebrew into Greek as the place name ‘Ρως (Rōs or Rhōs).3 Keep in mind, however, 97


98

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

that the LXX is a translation of the Hebrew, and it “differs from the Hebrew canon in the quality of its translation.… [S]ome have maintained that the translators were not always good Hebrew scholars.”4 There are numerous differences in the LXX when compared to the Hebrew text of Ezekiel 38 and 39. For example, the LXX has “land” instead of “mountains” in 38:8, and in 39:6 “Magog” is rendered as “Gog.” The last two clauses of Ezekiel 39:28 are missing,5 and the Hebrew word for “Spirit” (ruwach) in 39:29 is translated as “anger” (thumos) in the Greek. In addition to some of the translation problems rarely noted by those who see the LXX as authoritative on the proper translation of rosh, Clyde E. Billington reminds us “that all Bible translations, to a greater or lesser extent, reflect the theological biases of their translators,”6 and I would add, the cultural conditions of their day. For example, the Greek word pascha appears 29 times in the New Testament, and it’s only in Acts 12:4 that the King James Version (1611) translates it as “Easter.”7 The translators took a celebratory religious festival that had been practiced by the church for centuries and applied its meaning to an event described in the New Testament. The only possible translation is “passover” based on the Hebrew pesach, “to pass over” (Ex. 12:11). The word “Easter” was unknown in the first century. The translators of the LXX were no different from today’s translators who disagree on whether to render Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1 as “chief prince” or “prince of Rosh.” The New American Standard,8 New King James, English Revised, and other translations render the word group as “the prince of Rosh,” while Jerome’s Latin Vulgate (A.D. 425), Geneva Bible (1587), original King James (1611), New Living Translation, New International, English Standard, and other versions translate the phrase as “chief prince.” In addition, the translations of the Jewish Publication Society, the Complete Jewish Bible, and the Peshitta (Syriac) versions translate Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1 as “chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” and not “prince of Rosh.” All those who worked on these various translations had access to the LXX, and most of them did not find its translation of rosh as a place name convincing.


Rosh Among the Commentators

99

As Ron Rhodes admits, “The problem for Bible interpreters is that in Ezekiel 38–39, the term could either be a proper noun or an adjective. Many English translations take the term as an adjective and translate the word as ‘chief.’”9 The reason for this is quite evident: The word rosh means “chief” or “head” and is used hundreds of times in the Bible and in no place is rosh identified as a nation or people group. To translate rosh in such a way that it refers to a people group is reading history back into the Bible without any biblical justification. What was going on politically during the formation of the LXX that might have influenced the transliteration of the Hebrew word rosh into a place-name noun? Rome was the kingdom threat for Israel from the north. It’s quite possible, like those who attempt to associate rosh with modern-day Russia, that these Jewish translators might have thought to link rosh with Rome because of a possible threat of an invasion similar to the way Antiochus IV (c. 215–163 B.C.) invaded Israel. Identifying rosh as Rome has some history behind it. Consider the following: In early Christian terms, Gog and Magog were often identified with the Romans and their emperor. Eusebius [of Caesarea] seems to have been the first church father to suggest this identification. In his view, Gog is the prince of “Ros,” which stands for the Roman Imperium.10

In his Demonstration of the Gospel, Eusebius (c. 263–339) wrote that “the Prophet Ezekiel also mentions Gog, naming him Ruler of Ros, Mosoeh, and Thobel, probably disguising the city of Rome under the name of Ros, because empire and power are signified in Hebrew by that word [rosh],”11 since it has the meaning of “head.” It’s possible, therefore, that the translators of the LXX saw the Hebrew word rosh, as did Eusebius hundreds of years later, as a way to identify the emerging frightful enemy to their north in their day.12 They were warned by God in Daniel that there would be “a fourth beast, dreadful and terrifying and extremely strong” that would have “large iron teeth” that would devour and crush and trample “down the remainder with its feet; and it was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it


100

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

had ten horns” (Dan. 7:7). Rome was the perfect candidate for those who feared an invasion from the “far north.” By the time the LXX was nearing completion, Greece had been broken apart (Dan. 8:8, 22) and later was “crushed and trampled down” by Rome, the fourth beast that Daniel saw “coming up from the sea” (Dan. 7:3; also see 2:40–43).

Wilhelm Gesenius Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius (1786–1842) was a Hebrew lexicographer and professor of theology of extraordinary ability at the University of Halle in Prussia. His most noted work is the Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, the first part of which was published in 1829. His lexicon identifies rosh, as he explains it, as “a northern nation, mentioned with Tubal and Meshech; undoubtedly the Russians.”13 As one would expect, those who hold the position that rosh should be identified as modern-day Russia appeal to Gesenius for support. So would I if I did not have a solid biblical argument for my position. Gesenius identifies rosh as Russia based on the selective opinions of others.14 Moreover, and this is important, to find sound-alike names of people groups in antiquity does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that they relate to modern-day Russia! In all the works I’ve studied that use arguments similar to those outlined by Gesenius, there is a single line of faulty reasoning: Because there are people groups with names that sound like the Hebrew word rosh there must be a relationship with these people groups and what Ezekiel is describing. This is an example of “parallelomania” similar to the Jesus-mystery religion proponents are guilty of. As I’ve mentioned in a previous chapter, it’s rather odd that all the place names listed in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are found prominently in Scripture except one named Rosh. Since Meshech and Tubal are always linked in secular and biblical literature (Gen. 10:2; Ezek. 27:13; 32:26),15 it seems that the burden of proof is on those who claim that Ezekiel is using rosh as a place name to make their case from the Bible and indisputable historical sources. Consider how the very able work of James Price limits the ability of even the above average Bible student to study Scripture unless he is equipped with specialized knowledge


Rosh Among the Commentators

101

that is more conjecture than established fact that has an indisputable bearing on the interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39: Due to the phonetic phenomenon known as the Canaanite shift, the word is pronounced ros in Hebrew and the Canaanite dialects but in other Semitic languages it is pronounced as “rasu” (Arabic), “res” (Aramic), “ris/resu” (Akkadian). The final vowel (u) is the nominative case ending: alternative final vowels supply the genitive (rasi/resi) and the accusative (rasa/resa).16

If Price is right (and who would know except a few specialists?), then his argument only proves that there were people groups in Ezekiel’s day whose name designation sounds like the Hebrew word rosh which everywhere else in Scripture never refers to a place name. There is no logical link between Price’s argument and the claim that Ezekiel was recording a prophecy about modern-day Russia because rosh and Russia happen to sound alike to us today!17 The question we need answered is whether Ezekiel means to identify a people group named Rosh that will attack Israel more than 2600 years from his time. On this question, Gesenius, James Price, and Clyde Billington cannot give a “Thus saith the Lord” answer. It’s more likely that Ezekiel was identifying a leader, a “chief prince,” who would direct an armed force against Israel some years after the prophecy was revealed to encourage the Israel of his day that God would rescue them. We know from the Bible that such a threat was made and turned back by God in the events described in Esther. We also know that Haman was described as having “authority over all the princes who were with him” (Esther 3:1). There is no need to search for a distant future fulfillment when the Bible has given us its uncontested and indisputable answer. Like the translators of the LXX and so many past and present prophecy writers, Gesenius may have been influenced by the politics of his day. “In the nineteenth century,” Iain Duguid points out, “against the background of the tensions in Asia Minor that culminated in the Crimean War, Wilhelm Gesenius identified Rosh as Russia.”18 In fact, his definition of rosh begins with “undoubtedly the


102

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Russians” as an operating assumption. Russia had been flexing its military muscle and expansionist goals for some time, and Prussia, where Gesenius was teaching at the time, was impacted. Dwight Wilson asks, “If Gesenius and other German scholars had not been writing in an age of intense German nationalism (in the post-Napoleonic era following the Treaty of Tilsit [1807] by which Czar Alexander I and Napoleon had carved up Prussia), would they have been quite as certain about their identification?”19 An additional point needs to be made. Billington argues that we need to go to the original Latin version of Gesenius’ lexicon titled Thesaurus Linguae Hebraeae et Chaldaeae Veteris Testamenti20 for a definitive answer to the proper use of rosh. This multi-volume work was completed after the death of Gesenius by Ernst Roediger. Billington writes that Gesenius’ extended discussion of rosh “does not appear in any of the English versions of Gesenius’ Lexicon.”21 It’s here he claims that we will find irrefutable evidence that rosh is Russia. Gesenius does not offer a single biblical argument, something that one expects in a lexicon on the Hebrew Bible. He maintains that “the [Aramaic] Targum Pesch, Aquila [117–138], and the Latin Vulgate [5th-century A.D.] incorrectly translated ‘Rosh’ as an adjective ‘chief prince of Meshech and Tubal,’” but he does offer a biblical rationale why their translation was improper. To state an objection does not prove the argument. While Gesenius was a great lexicographer, he was not an authority on ancient history. As far back as 1886, Charles H. Wright pointed out that Gesenius was dependent on “Byzantine writers of the tenth century to affirm that the Rosh of Ezekiel… was a Scythian nation belonging to those living near the the Taurus range of mountians…. It has, however, since been shown by scholars that the name of Russian is of Scandinavian origin… Hence there is no real connection between the names Rosh and Russian. Nor is it absolutely certain that the translation ‘Prince of Rosh’ is the most correct rendering.”22 Once Gesenius’ lexicon was translated into English, British and American prophecy writers began to apply his interpretation on the identity of rosh to the politics of their day since Russia was the mega-


Rosh Among the Commentators

103

nation in the news sources of their day. For example, “John Darby identified Gog as Russia in his writings and lecture tours. ‘In the present day,’ he declared in 1840, ‘we may observe Russia extending her power exactly over the nations who will be found under Gog.’”23 John Cumming’s The End was published in 1855 against the backdrop of the Crimean War “which pitted Russia against England and other countries for dominance in southeastern Europe.…”24 Cumming describes Russia as being “like a gigantic northern avalanche, ready to burst upon the nations of Christian Europe.”25 With Russia allied with Germany, he asked his readers in 1855, “Does it not look as if the fulfillment were taking place before our eyes?”26 Reading further, Cumming believed that Russia was in the process of fulfilling the prophecy to the point that she would “burst forth, overcome all resistance” and “march to Palestine.”27 Change the dates and some of the major political players, and Cumming’s work reads like any number of contemporary prophecy books. The same can be said for F. E. Pitts who authored The U.S.A. in Prophecy.28 Tim LaHaye uses Pitts to support his argument that Russia is the leader of the invasion force of Ezekiel 38 and 39. What he does not tell his readers is that Pitts also believed that the United States was to be the new Zion or the “Regathered Israel.”29 Cumming and Pitts were dependent on Gesenius for their views on rosh as Russia. It should not surprise anyone that Gesenisus’ work “was subsequently popularized by the Scofield Reference Bible, along with the idea taken from other sources that ‘Meshech’ and ‘Tubal’ are the Russian cities of Moscow and Tobolsk.”30 With Germany’s designs on Europe during the First World War and the rise of the Russian Revolution in 1917, it’s no wonder that in 1918 Arno C. Gaebelein saw “Gomer” (38:6) as Germany and rosh as Russia.31 The history of interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 is the history of what prevailing world power was dominant at the time the interpretations were put forth. Gesenius’ discussion of rosh in his lexicon is no exception. It’s unfortunate that nearly all contemporary prophecy writers uncritically cite Gesenius as if his word is irrefutable.


104

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

William Lowth and C. F. Keil’s Commentaries on Ezekiel One of the earliest commentators to mention the Rosh=Russia connection is Bishop William Lowth (1660–1732) of England who wrote that the interpreters of the LXX “take the word Rosh, commonly translated chief, for a proper name; so they render the sentence thus, The prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. Rosh, taken as a proper name, signifies the inhabitants of Scythia, from whence the Russians derive their name.…”32 Lowth does not offer any biblical support for this claim, and it’s hard to tell if this is his opinion or if he’s just citing what some believed since the translation of rosh in his commentary section on Ezekiel 39:1 is “chief.” He seems to be appealing to comments made by first-century historian Josephus (A.D. 37–100) who identifies Magog, based on the table of nations in Genesis 10, with the Scythians of his day: “Magog founded the Magogians, thus named after him, but who were by the Greeks called ‘Scythians.’”33 Notice that Josephus says nothing about Ezekiel and the identity of Gog. Nothing in the context suggests that Josephus expected the Scythians to play a role in an eschatological war like the one described in Ezekiel 38–39. His orientation is purely with Genesis 10 and the contemporary situation. Thus Josephus, whose writings are contemporary with Revelation, witnesses that Magog still could be referred to individually without eschatological overtones from associations with Gog-oracles in Ezekiel 38–39.34

Moreover, the Scythians lived at the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy and were still around when Josephus wrote his Antiquities of the Jews. They were “subjugated by the Persians”35 and “were among the earliest mounted archers in antiquity,” being “among the most skilled, able even to fire backwards while riding at a gallop.”36 Was Ezekiel describing the Scythians as coming from “the remote parts of the North … riding on horses” and using “bows and arrows” (Ezek. 38:15; 39:9)? Alfred J. Hoerth points out that Scythians “either fought on their own or hired out as mercenaries to other nations; they were


Rosh Among the Commentators

105

little concerned about whose side they were on, as long as there was the prospect of plunder.”37 Did Haman hire these skilled archers with promises of plunder? C.F. Keil, like Gesenius, is also appealed to for authoritative support for the claim that rosh should be translated as a place name and identified as modern-day Russia. Thomas Ice is a representative example of this view: “[T]he eminent Hebrew scholars C. F. Keil and Wilhelm Gesenius both hold that the better translation of Rosh in Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1 is as a proper noun referring to a specific geographical location.”38 In fact, nearly every modern-day prophecy book I consulted mentions the LXX, Gesenius, and Keil in support of the rosh=Russia thesis, and if they don’t quote these authorities, they quote others who do. While Keil does follow the arguments of Gesenius, he adds that the translation “chief prince” is “possible” because of a similar construction of the Hebrew in 1 Chronicles 27:5.39 The fact that there is a parallel construction of “chief priest” found in 1 Chronicles 27:5 (also see 2 Kings 25:18; 2 Chron. 19:11; 26:20; 31:10; Ezra 7:5; Jer. 52:24) and no mention of a place called Rosh in the Bible not only makes it possible but probable that the best translation is to understand the use of “chief” is “an intensification of the title [prince],”40 as in “chief prince.” Keil goes on to argue that since the Hebrew “rosh nisi [‘chief prince’ or ‘prince of Rosh’] occurs again in v. 3 and Ezek. 39:1, and in such repetitions circumstantial titles are generally abbreviated,” it’s unlikely that the translation is “chief prince.” This argument is baffling since he states that chapter 39 “commences with a repetition of the command to the prophet to prophesy against Gog (ver. 1, cf. xxxviii. 2, 3).”41 In the book of Esther, Haman is described as “Haman the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite” four times, twice in the same chapter (Esther 3:1, 10; 8:5; 9:24).42 Why is there no abbreviation in the identification of Haman in Esther? While I don’t find anything wrong in using Keil for support, I wonder why his opinion is any better than that of Ernest W. Hengstenberg (1802–1869) who also wrote a commentary on Ezekiel and was Keil’s instructor in Hebrew. Here are Hengstenberg’s comments on the meaning of rosh:


106

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future Gog is prince over Magog, moreover chief prince, king of the kings over Meshech and Tubal, the Moschi and Tibareni (ch. xxvii. 13, xxxii. 26), who had their own kings, but appear here as vassals of Gog. Many expositors render, instead of chief prince, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. But the poor Russians have been here very unjustly arranged among the enemies of God’s people. Rosh, as the name of a people, does not occur in all the Old Testament.43

So here we have two commentators dealing with the same passage and published about the same time (1861 and 1869), one the pupil (Keil) of the teacher (Hengstenberg), and they take different approaches to the text. Ice does not mention Hengstenberg once in his multi-article exposition of Ezekiel 38 and 39.

Recent Scholarship Since the publication of these older commentaries, a great deal of progress has been made in the areas of archeology, history, and language studies. The impact of this scholarship on a book like Ezekiel is considerable. For example, Daniel I. Block’s 1600-page two-volume commentary on Ezekiel is hardly ever referenced by today’s prophecy writers even though it has been described as “the best commentary on any book of the Old Testament.”44 Block’s scholarship is certainly equal to that of Lowth, Keil, and any contemporary commentator on Ezekiel. He includes an extended discussion on why rosh should be translated as “chief” and that there is no rosh=Russia connection while interacting with all past and recent scholarship. Block is not alone. There are numerous commentaries that do not follow the rosh=Russia connection.45 Nearly every contemporary prophecy writer who makes the rosh=Russia connection rarely interacts with contrary opinions. Moreover, they have the frustrating habit of citing their own circle of authorities. For example, in his revised edition of Epicenter (2008), Joel Rosenberg references a number of “Bible scholars” in an attempt to defend his view that Ezekiel 38 and 39 point to modern-day Russia.46 Of the list that includes C. I. Scofield, Tim LaHaye, Hal Lindsey, and


Rosh Among the Commentators

107

John Cumming, only Charles Ryrie, John Walvoord, and William Lowth could be counted as scholars. Rosenberg quotes Lindsey quoting Lowth who says very little on the subject (see comments above). Ryrie actually disagrees with the rosh=Russia connection. In his own study-Bible notes Ryrie writes that “the prince of Rosh” construction is better translated as “the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.”47 So I don’t see how Ryrie helps Rosenberg’s cause. John Walvoord does little more than make the statement that Ezekiel 38–39 “reveals a future invasion of the land of Israel by the armies of Russia and five other nations,” even though in the previous paragraph he admits that “the word ‘Russia’ never occurs in Scripture.”48 In his book on Major Bible Prophecies, Walvoord takes for granted that Russia is the focus of the chapter and then builds his case from this unproven assumption which is typical of nearly every contemporary prophecy writer.49 He does not interact with or even mention contrary evidence or recent scholarship. David Jeremiah follows a similar method of non-analysis in his book What in the World is Going On? When he’s not quoting internet articles, he appeals to Walvoord, Rosenberg, LaHaye, and two prophecy writers from the 1950’s Cold War era. These authors, as well as Jeremiah, try to link Tarshish to modern-day Great Britain and her satellites, including the United States. As any Bible student knows, Tarshish is first mentioned in the table of nations in Genesis 10. Biblical history describes Tarshish as a busy trading port during Solomon’s reign, proving that it has nothing to do with Great Britain or the American continent (1 Kings 10:22; 22:48; 2 Chron. 9:21).50 It was the place where Jonah hoped to escape (Jonah 1:3; 4:2). Note that a person named Tarshish is mentioned in Esther 1:14. The Bible’s world-context must be considered when interpreting passages and identifying nations and people groups, as even some more responsible futurists acknowledge: In the Old Testament, Tarshish was the farthest western region in the known world at that time. Remember that all directions when given in the Bible, unless otherwise indicated, are to be interpreted in relationship to the land of Israel, since this is where God was working with His cov-


108

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future enant people. Some claim that Tarshish could be used in the context to represent all the western nations from the land of Israel including Britain and those who evolved from Britain such as Canada, Australia and the United States. The “young lions” are taken to mean those nations such as America who stemmed from Britain. Thus, it is suggested that Tarshish with her young lions is a veiled reference to the United States. But once again this seems to strain the obvious meaning of the text and make it say much more then God ever intended it to mean.…51

There is a dearth of critical analysis in David Jeremiah’s work. He simply repeats the opinions of other authors who have repeated the opinions of earlier authors who have repeated the opinions of even earlier authors. Hardly anyone actually questions the source material that these books use to make their outrageous claims. They assume that if the person being quoted is said to be a “scholar,” then who are they to question their views? David Jeremiah concludes that Ezekiel’s ancient prophecy “informs us as to what is going on in the world today right before our very eyes.”52 Actually, Ezekiel’s prophecy informed the people of his own time what would take place before their eyes.

Notes 1. An unsupported tradition argues that “Ptolemy’s librarian requested the high priest of the temple in Jerusalem to send translators with the Hebrew Torah scrolls to Alexandria. The high priest sent six men from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, that is, seventy-two translators.” (Karen H. Jobes, “Excerpts from Invitation to the Septuagint”: http://tinyurl.com/3wrtn3). There is no way to substantiate this claim. If this is true, however, it would show that the twelve tribes of Israel were united after the exile and prior to the time of Christ. 2. Karen Jobes and Moises Silva, Invitation to the Septuagint (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic/Paternoster Press, 2000), 29–37. 3. The Greek uppercase Ρ and lowercase ρ look like the English “P” and “p,” but they are the Greek letter rho and correspond to our “R” and “r.” The Greek letter ω, while it looks like our “w,” carries a long ō sound. The Greek ς is only used as the final letter in a word and is translated as “s.” 4. Norman L. Geisler and William E. Nix, A General Introduction to the Bible, rev. ex. ed. (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1986), 504.


Rosh Among the Commentators

109

5. Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25–48 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 478, note 87. 6. Clyde E. Billington, “The Rosh People in History and Prophecy (Part One): A History of the Translation of the Hebrew Word Rosh as Found in Ezekiel 38–39,” Michigan Theological Journal, 3.1 (1992), 59, note 59. 7. The Tyndale Bible (1534) uses “Easter” to translate pascha in 24 places in the New Testament. The reasons why the KJV translators chose “Easter” is not sinister. They saw this particular Passover as something different from the Jewish celebration. Even so, it’s always best to translate than interpret. 8. The New American Standard Version has a note on Ezekiel 38:2–3 and 39:1 that reads “Or ‘chief prince of Meshech.’” 9. Ron Rhodes, Northern Storm Rising: Russia, Iran, and the Emerging EndTimes Military Coalition Against Israel (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), 105. 10. J. Lust, “Gog,” Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible, eds. Karel Van Der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. Van Der Horst, 2nd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1995), 375. 11. Eusebius, Demonstratio Evangelica or Evangelical Demonstration, trans. W. J. Ferrar, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, [1920] 1981), Book 9, chap. 3.6 (2:157): http://tinyurl.com/4tmltc. This work also goes by the title The Proof of the Gospel. 12. “[Rosh] chief, i.e., a person or national entity who rules and governs as a figurative extension of the head as a crucial body part (Ex 18:25).” (James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew [Old Testament]. Electronic ed. [Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997], 8031, #4). 13. Wilhelm Gesenius, Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon, trans. Samuel P. Tregelles (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans [1857] 1949), 752. 14. Joel Rosenberg comments: “What is interesting to me about [the assessment by Gesenius that rosh is modern-day Russia] is that it was written in 1846, long before the Communist revolution or the subsequent rise of the Soviet Union as a nuclear superpower. In this case, Gesenius was not using a political or economic lens to reach his conclusions. He was using only the third lens of Scripture, and the evidence pointed him to Russia more than 160 years ago.” (Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East will Change Your Future [Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2006], 86) Contrary to Rosenberg, Russia was a military threat in the nineteenth century. Rosenberg’s claim that Gesenius used “only the third lens of Scripture” to come to his conclusions is false. He relied on secular historical sources and does not make a cogent biblical argument. In fact, the only Bible references for the rosh entry in his lexicon are the passages that he is dealing with (Ezek. 38:2–3; 39:1; Gen. 46:21). 15. G. R. Beasley-Murray, “Ezekiel,” The New Bible Commentary, 3rd rev. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 682. 16. James D. Price, “Rosh: An Ancient People Known to Ezekiel,” Grace Theological Journal, 6.1 (1985), 69–70. 17. Price makes a point that he and those who use his arguments to support the rosh=Russia connection do not consider: “The word that means ‘head’ as a noun and ‘chief ’ as an adjective is common to most of the Semitic languages, but its


110

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

pronunciation varies.” (“Rosh: An Ancient People Known to Ezekiel,” 69).Why is this important? There might be a very good reason why certain tribes used rosh-like names since the word means “chief,” “head,” and “leader.” They thought of themselves as the dominate tribe in their geographical area. 18. Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 452. “‘And I will turn thee back.’ It was amusing to note how many English ‘students of propehcy’ availed themselves of this sentence to modify their previous predictions about Russia, when, after the opening battles of the Crimean war, the great northern power appeared, contrary to their original expectations, likely to be worsted in its struggle with the allied forces of Turkey, England, and France. These world-be expositors then turned back to their ‘prophetical studies,’ and endeavoured to twist the sentence of Ezekiel into a prophecy of the defeat of Russia at the first onset, theough they held fast to their notion that the prophet spoke of a great victory to be achieved by Gog in a second campaign.” (Charles Henry Hamilton Wright, Biblical Essays; or, Exegetical Studies on the Books of Job and Jonah, Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Gog and Magog, St. Peter’s “Spirits in Prison,” and the Key to the Apocalypse [Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1886], 117). 19. Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now!: The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1977), 152. 20. Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius, Thesaurus Linguae Hebraeae et Chaldaeae Veteris Testament (Lipsiae: Sumtibus Typisque, Fr. Chr., Guil. Vogelii, 1829– 1858), 3:1253. 21. Billington, “The Rosh People in History and Prophecy (Part One),” 62. 22. Wright, Biblical Essays, 105–106. 23. Paul Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1992), 154. 24. Boyer, When Time Shall Be No More, 155. 25. John Cumming, The End: or, The Proximate Signs of the Close of This Dispensation (Boston: John P. Jewett and Co., 1855), 66. 26. Cumming, The End, 203. 27. Cumming, The End, 210, 212. 28. F. E. Pitts, The U.S.A. in Prophecy (Baltimore: J. W. Bull, 1864). 29. F. E. Pitts, “The United States Of America Foretold In The Holy Scriptures and The Battle Of Armageddon,” preached before the United States Congress on February 22 and 23, 1857: http://tinyurl.com/53nvad 30. Duguid, Ezekiel, 452. Also see the views of Donald Gray Barnhouse that appeared in Eternity magazine and were republished in Lehman Strauss, The End of This Present World (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1967), 77–79. 31. Arno C. Gaebelein, The Prophet Ezekiel, 2nd ed. (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, [1918] 1972), 258–259. 32. William Lowth, “A Commentary Upon the Prophet Ezekiel,” A Critical Com-


Rosh Among the Commentators

111

mentary and Paraphrase on the Old and New Testament and the Apocrypha, ed. J. R. Pitman, 6 vols. (London: J. F. Dove, 1822), 4:66. 33. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 1, chap. 6: http://tinyurl.com/3srf48 34. Sverre Bøe, Gog and Magog: Ezekiel 38–39 As Pre-Text for Revelation 19, 17– 21 and 20, 7–10 (Wissunt Zum Neun Testament Ser. II, 135) (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 186. Also see page 222. 35. Edwin M. Yamauchi, Foes of the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), 101. 36. Yamauchi, Foes of the Northern Frontier, 91. 37. Alfred J. Hoerth, Archeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 358. 38. Thomas Ice, “Ezekiel 38 and 39: Part III”: http://tinyurl.com/3k8q7l 39. Carl Friedrich Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Ezekiel, trans. James Martin, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, [1861], 1950), 2:159. 40. Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel—Chapters 25–48, trans. James D. Martin (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983), 284. 41. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Ezekiel, 2:171. 42. See Chapter 3 on the identification of Haman as Gog. 43. E. W. Hengstenberg, The Prophecies of the Prophet Ezekiel Elucidated (Minneapolis, MN: James Publications, [1869] 1976), 333. 44. John Glynn, Commentary and Reference Survey: A Comprehensive Guide to Biblical and Theological Resources, 9th ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2003), 87, note 15. 45. “[A]ny connexion between the name [rosh] and Russian is to be rejected.” (A. B. Davidson The Book of the Prophet Ezekiel [Cambridge: The Cambridge University Press, 1892], 275); “The word for head is misunderstood as a proper name, [Ros], leading to a bizarre identification by the misinformed with Russia!” (J. W. Wevers, Ezekiel, New Century Bible [London: Thomas Nelson, 1969], 202); “Certainly Rosh ‘Chief;’ is to be connected with ‘Prince’ and is not to be interpreted as a geographical indication.” (Walther Zimmerli, Ezekiel 2: A Commentary on the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel Chapters 25–48 [Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1969], 305); “There have been many writers who connected the name Rosh with the Russians, but this is not generally accepted today.” (Charles Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel: The Glory of the Lord [Chicago: Moody Press, 1969], 220); “Quite apart from the many who have always refused to identify Rosh with Russia, there is a strong tendency among moderns, e.g.. RSV, Knox, Bertholet, ICC, to return to the old Hebrew Massoretic tradition and to translate with AV and RV mg. ‘chief prince.’” (H. L. Ellison, Ezekiel: The Man and His Message [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956], 134). 46. Joel C. Rosenberg, Epicenter: Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East will Change Your Future, rev. ed. (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale, 2008), 364, note 8. 47. Charles C. Ryrie, ed., The Ryrie Study Bible (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1978), 1285.


112

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

48. John F. Walvoord, The Prophecy Knowledge Handbook: All the Prophecies of Scripture Explained in One Volume (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1990), 190. 49. John F. Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies: 37 Crucial Prophecies that Affect You Today (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), chap. 28. 50. Here’s how one dispensational writer tries to apply the Tarshish theory to our day: “So the young lions of Tarshish would definitely refer to the North American colonies as well as the European colonies, and hence bring the U.S. into this prophecy as one of the nations that will strongly protest the Russian invasion of Israel in the last days.” (David Allen Lewis, Prophecy 2000 [Green Forest, AR: New Leaf Press, 1990], 103). 51. Kelly Sensenig, “America in Bible Prophecy”: http://tinyurl.com/3s5bm4 52. David Jeremiah, What in the World is Going On?: 10 prophetic Clues You Cannot Afford to Ignore (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 172.


7 Low-Tech Eschatology

O

ne of the problems encountered by those who interpret Ezekiel 38 and 39 as a battle yet to be fought is that the weapons described are no longer used by nations like Russia, the supposed leader of the invading force. All the soldiers are riding horses (38:4, 15; 39:20). These horse soldiers are “wielding swords” (38:4), carrying “bows and arrows, war clubs and spears” (39:3, 9). There are charioteers (39:20) which means there must be chariots. Many of these weapons are constructed of wood (39:10), and it is these abandoned weapons that serve as fuel for “seven years” (39:9). But most end-time writers describe a highly technological future when they say Ezekiel’s prophecy is to come to pass. In the book Future Wave, a prophetic future is outlined that includes computers, space travel, expanding global telecommunications, biotechnology, alternative energy, microchips, and nanotechnology. Tim LaHaye writes that “a wave of technological innovation is sweeping the planet.… The future wave has already begun. We cannot stop it.… [T]he Antichrist will use some of this technology to control the world.”1 Ed Hindson and Lee Fredrickson consider the possibility “that the beast might be a computer” or “the Internet.”2 This presents a problem for those who futurize Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog prophecy. On the one hand, they claim that technology will be used by the antichrist to control billions of people. (How else will those marked with the dreaded number 666 be tracked?) On the other hand, Ezekiel describes a war with weapons that are decidedly low tech. One hundred and fifty years ago there were few interpretive 113


114

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

problems since most weapons were of a low tech nature, although I doubt that even then battles were being fought using chariots.3 In the first volume of their Left Behind series, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins devote twelve pages to a discussion of the battle described in Ezekiel 38 and 39. In their non-fiction commentary on the Left Behind series, Are We Living in the End Times?,4 they never explain how they are able to turn horses, war clubs, swords, bows and arrows, and spears into “war planes,” “intercontinental ballistic missiles,” “nuclear-equipped MiG fighter-bombers,”5 and “chunks of burning, twisted, molten steel smashing to the ground”6 while maintaining a “literal interpretation” where “every word” is to be taken “at its primary, literal meaning.”

Giving Up the “Original Sense” Chuck Missler attempts to get around the description of ancient war implements by claiming that the various Hebrew words used to describe them “is simply 2,500-year-old language that could be describing a mechanized force.” 7 The word translated “horse,” he claims, “actually means leaper” that “can also mean bird, or even chariot-rider.” He tells us that the Hebrew word translated “sword” “has become a generic term for Hermeneutics any weapon or destroying instrument.” This is true in some contexts, but he hasn’t The science and skill of proved that this is the way “sword” is being interpreting any type of used in Ezekiel. In a similar way, “arrow” literature. Biblical hermeis said to mean “piercer” and “is occasionneutics deals exclusively with the methods used ally used for thunderbolt” and could be in the interpretation of “translated today as a missile.” We are to Scripture. believe, according to Missler, that “‘Bow’ is what launches the [missile].”8 Following Missler’s interpretive model, that when Ezekiel wrote “bow” and “arrow,” God really meant a launching pad for a missile. To follow his unique hermeneutical principles requires us to believe that the meaning of the Bible has been inaccessible to its readers for thousands of years. Missler not only breaks the so-called


Low Tech Eschatology

115

Golden Rule of interpretation, he breaks all the rules of standard interpretive principles, including his own: The initial step in any textual analysis is exegesis: determining what the text actually says. This embraces such issues as translation, lexicography, and grammar. Fortunately, relatively few controversies we will encounter depend upon exegetical issues.9

Notice that he defines exegesis as “determining what the text actually says.” Exegesis The text actually says horses, horsemen, From two Greek words swords, arrows, bows, and charioteers. that mean to “lead out.” There isn’t a lexicographer in the world A person who studies who would follow Missler’s interpretive the Bible must be careful to take from a word or methodology. It is counter to every tested passage only what is acprinciple of biblical interpretation ever detually stated and not add veloped and practiced. words or concepts to the How does this description of the near text that are not there. prophetic future square with a supposed seven-year tribulation period when Jews living in Israel will “take wood from the field” and “gather firewood from the forests”? (39:10). Grant Jeffrey follows a similar line of argument. He claims, “In Ezekiel 38:7 the prophet foretells that in this future conflict Russia (Magog) will also be the arms’ supplier for all of these nations. God says, ‘Be thou a guard unto them.’ It is fascinating to observe that the armories of these nations (as listed by Ezekiel), without exception, are filled with Russian AK-47 assault rifles, SAM missiles, RPG7 antitank weapons and various other Russian-manufactured arms, exactly as the Bible foretold thousands of years ago.”10 David Jeremiah is the latest to abandon the plain sense approach by claiming the weapons are different from what Ezekiel describes: Some readers of Ezekiel are troubled that the prophet described these as weapons of ancient origin, whereas a battle that is yet to occur in the future will surely employ


116

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future modern weaponry and highly sophisticated military equipment—guns, tanks, planes, bombs, missiles, and possibly even nuclear weapons. But we must allow common sense to prevail in our reading of Ezekiel. He did what all prophets have done; he spoke of the future using terms and descriptions that he and the people of his day would understand. If he had written of tanks and missiles and bombs, those living in his time would have been utterly mystified, and his message would have had no meaning to them.11

There is nothing in the context of Ezekiel’s prophecy that have led the readers to conclude that horses, war clubs, swords, bows and arrows, spears, and charioteers meant anything other than horses, war clubs, swords, bows and arrows, spears, and charioteers. The use of one instrument might suggest a symbolic interpretation but not a full arsenal of weaponry. What justification do these end-time prophecy writers, who claim to follow a “plain sense” and “common sense” approach to interpretation, have for turning Ezekiel’s prophecy into a war fought with highly sophisticated, technologically advanced super weapons? Someone reading Ezekiel’s prophecy in Ezekiel’s day would never have thought to project the prophecy into the distant future. Following a “common sense” approach, they would have believed the battle would be fought with the weapons as they are described.

Horses or Horsepower? Some older prophecy writers took the literal approach based on the way Russia used its cavalry in World War I.12 “[I]n terms of the use of horses, the Russians were said to be accumulating huge numbers of them in preparation for an invasion.”13In 1956, prophecy writer Theodore Epp claimed that Russia was breeding horses with “untiring endurance” that are able “to resist the sub-zero winters of the north” and “dig with its hoofs in the snow for its own sustenance.”14 Epp goes on to claim that “the latest statistics available, from 1934, show that Russia owns 70% of the horses in the whole world. Not only are the Russians breeding horses, but from all over the world they are buying them. They are not buying heavy draft horses, but rather, light, fast


Low Tech Eschatology

117

horses to be used for military horses.”15 What Epp thought was a literal fulfillment in 1956, no one mentions today. In fact, as of 2006 the United States has had the highest total number of horses with approximately 9,500,000. China (7,402,450), Mexico (6,260,000), Brazil (5,787,249), Argentina (3,655,000), Columbia (2,533,621), and Mongolia (2,029,100) have more horses than Russia (1,319,358).16 Many of these same futurists claim that China will ride to Israel as a 200 million-man army on horseback. In his There’s a New World Coming, Hal Lindsey writes, “The four angels of Revelation 9:14, 15 will mobilize an army of 200 million soldiers from east of the Euphrates.… I believe these 200 million troops are Red Chinese soldiers accompanied by other Eastern allies.”17 Revelation 9:16–17 explains that these soldiers are “horsemen.” With only around 58 million horses in the world today, this end-time alliance is considerably short of its intended goal of 200 million, especially since Lindsey claims that a fourth of the world will be destroyed before this army makes it trek. I assume that this also means a fourth of the horses in the world.18 Others, however, have suggested that Ezekiel’s description of military equipment should all be taken figuratively. For example, quoting William L. Hull, Jon Mark Ruthven writes that “‘horses’ are a way of talking about the troops being ‘carried,’ irrespective of physical means, while the other equipment represents the only way in his time Ezekiel could communicate the powerful and well-equipped nature of the invaders.”19 Again, such an interpretation would have to be developed from the passage of Scripture under study, and there is nothing in Ezekiel 38–39 that suggests such an interpretation. And if these two chapters in Ezekiel are to be interpreted in this way, does this same approach apply to other passages in Ezekiel where horses are mentioned (e.g., 17:15; 23:6, 12, 20, 23; 26:7, 10–11; 27:14)? Those who see Ezekiel describing an end-time battle that will take place in our future argue, as David Jeremiah does, that Ezekiel could only describe such events in terms that he and his contemporary readers could understand. Consider this line of reasoning from prophecy writer Mark Hitchcock:


118

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future Ezekiel, inspired by the Holy Spirit, spoke in language that the people of that day could understand. If he had spoken of planes, missiles, tanks, and rifles, this text would have been nonsensical to everyone until the twentieth century. ***** This “modernizing” of the weapons is not spiritualizing the text but rather understanding God’s Word in its historical context in light of the original audience.20

Thomas Ice and Hitchcock write something similar in their book The Truth Behind Left Behind. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Ezekiel spoke in language that the people of his day could understand. If he had spoken of MIG–29s, laser-fired missiles, tanks, and assault rifles, this text would have been nonsensical to everyone until the twentieth century.21

Why would the Holy Spirit confuse the people of Ezekiel’s day and those who have read this prophecy for more than 2600 years and then confuse the generation it was meant for by describing a battle fought with ancient weapons? How do Missler, LaHaye, Hitchcock, Ice, and David Jeremiah know that this is what the Holy Spirit really means when the text is clear enough without any modern-day reinterpretation? Consider how Hitchcock and Ice argue against interpreting the weapons in a literal way: “The focus clearly is not the specific weapons that will be used by these invaders.”22 The weapons may not be the “focus” of the chapters, but they can’t be dismissed as inconsequential to the narrative. The weapons are part of the story from beginning to end, and if taken literally would negate the distant future scenario outlined by the authors or require a different future altogether (see below). To show their inconsistency, Hitchcock and Ice criticize C. Marvin Pate and J. Daniel Hays for interpreting the list of nations as symbolic.23 “If this is true,” they write, “then why does Ezekiel take the time to specifically mention ten proper names? Why be so exact with names? Why not just say that ‘a vast group of nations will invade’ if that’s what you


Low Tech Eschatology

119

mean?”24 I agree! In the same way, why is the text so exact in identifying what weapons are being used? Why not just say “a vast group of terrible and fierce weapons will be used”? The answer is obvious: The weapons are ancient because the battle is ancient. Those who first read the prophecy understood the battle in this way, and we who read it today should also understand it in the same way. Attempts have been made to make horses mean “horse power,”25 wooden weapons are said to be rifles made from very dense wood,26 and arrows are really guided missiles. David L. Cooper, the originator of the “Gold Rule of Interpretation,” uses a passage from Isaiah to support his belief that “At the time of the final restoration of Israel to the land of her fathers, dirigibles and aeroplanes will be in use, because Isaiah foretold this fact. ‘Who are these that fly as a cloud, and as the doves to their windows?’ (Isa. 60:8). The prophet saw the children of Israel flying as a cloud and as a dove. He states that they flew.… The flying is literal.”27 At the same time he says this, he disagrees with those who insist that Ezekiel 39:9–10 “must be taken at its face value.” He argues for a nonliteral interpretation. “In an effort to impart knowledge concerning something that is novel or strange, one must either use familiar terms which are known to both speaker and hearer, or he must by comparison express his ideas.… In view of this principle it becomes very evident that Ezekiel had to speak of the future weapons of warfare in terms of those with which his auditors were familiar.”28 This is not to say that weapons cannot be used symbolically. When they are used in this way, generally the application is obviously symbolic based on the context, literature in which the symbol is being used, and the supporting elements of the text. The Bible tells us to “take up … the sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17), that the “word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12), and a sharp sword comes out of Jesus’ mouth (Rev. 19:15). Faith is described as a “shield” (Eph. 6:16). Even the symbolic image of “swords” being beaten into “plowshares” has been applied by early church writers to their time, when swords and plowshares were in common use.29 Children are compared to a “quiver full” of arrows (Psalm 127:5). Even so, there doesn’t seem to be any indication in the “immediate context”


120

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

of Ezekiel 38–39 that these implements of war are being used symbolically to stand for sophisticated modern weapons. And even if they are symbols, it is a great leap in logic to assume that they symbolize twenty-first-century weaponry. LaHaye accuses those who criticize the way he applies his interpretive methodology of “allegorizing” prophecy.30 This is an odd accusation coming from someone who does a complete rewrite of Ezekiel 38–39 to make it fit a technologically contemporary setting. There is nothing in these two chapters that should lead any interpreter to consider that the weapons are anything but literal old-world fighting implements designed for a battle that has already been fought and won by God’s people.

Bible Students … We Have a Problem The dean of dispensational theology, John F. Walvoord, understood that the claim of literal interpretation could be compromised if the weapons of Ezekiel 38 and 39 are not interpreted literally, even though he did not interpret them literally. “These, of course, are antiquated weapons from the standpoint of modern warfare,” he writes. “This certainly poses a problem.”31 In light of the obvious interpretive difficulty, Walvoord offers some possible solutions: One of them is this that Ezekiel is using language with which he was familiar—the weapons that were common in his day—to anticipate modern weapons. What he is saying is that when this army comes, it will be fully equipped with the weapons of war. Such an interpretation, too, has problems. We are told in the passage that they used the wooden shafts of the spears and the bow and arrows for kindling wood. If these are symbols, it would be difficult to burn symbols. However, even in modern warfare there is a good deal of wood used.…32

Walvoord wrote the above in 1967. Some parts of weapons might have been made out of wood then, but this is not the case today. Most weapons are made from light composite carbon materials. In any case,


Low Tech Eschatology

121

such an interpretive approach goes against the plain-sense methodology that he and other end-time writers insist on. He continues: A second solution is that the battle is preceded by a disarmament agreement between nations. If this were the case, it would be necessary to resort to primitive weapons easily and secretly made if a surprise attack were to be achieved. This would allow a literal interpretation of the passage.33

This is highly unlikely and not mentioned in Ezekiel 38–39. Walvoord’s interpretive approach reads into Scripture what is not found in Scripture. Disarmament would take decades. The United States and Russia still have not totally disarmed their nuclear devices. Weapons like those described in Ezekiel 38–39 are not easy to manufacture by unskilled craftsmen. An effective compound bow takes months to construct. Who today has the skills to make swords and chariots? Where would warring factions get the materials? How could any of this be done in secret when trees would have to be cut down and transported to large factories to assemble enough weapons that could be used for fuel for seven years? Walvoord’s third solution shows how getting away from what the Bible actually says leads to ridiculous interpretations. A third solution has been suggested based on the premise that modern missile warfare will have been developed in that day to the point where missiles will seek out any considerable amount of metal. Under these circumstances, it would be necessary to abandon the large use of metal weapons and substitute wood such as is indicated in the primitive weapons. Whatever the explanation, the most sensible interpretation is that the passage refers to actual weapons pressed into use because of the peculiar circumstances of that day.34

Missiles made out of wood? Wood is heavy, expensive, and limited in the way it can be shaped. Additionally, where would the equipment and the skilled workers come from to make the weapons? Radarevading jets are made from non-metallic materials.


122

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Randall Price’s explanation isn’t any more satisfying: “some see these terms as ‘prophetically anachronistic’ (or phenomenological), since Ezekiel had no frame of reference to describe the weapons of this future age.”35 Simply put, Ezekiel wrote down what he knew, and the weapons he was familiar with were horses and charioteers. The problem with this way of handling the text is that Ezekiel wrote what God revealed to him. Certainly God’s “frame of reference” included “weapons of this future age” whether anyone in Ezekiel’s day understood what he had written. In Psalm 22, David is given a prophecy about a crucifixion. This form of execution was unknown in David’s day. But since God was the One revealing the future, David wrote down what was revealed to him: “For dogs have surrounded me; a band of evildoers has encompassed me; they pierced my hands and my feet” (Ps. 22:16). Dispensationalists are fond of reminding us that every messianic prophecy was fulfilled literally. So why not Ezekiel’s prophecy? If the prophecy was written for a time more than 2600 years removed from Ezekiel’s day, why didn’t God, the true Author of the Bible, describe the battle in terms that we could relate to? Have you read the first chapter of Ezekiel? It’s a vision of “glowing metal … burnished bronze … wings spread out … like burning coals of fire … like bolts of lightning … sparkling beryl … wheels within wheels … rising wheels … the gleam of crystal … like the sound of an army camp.” God is describing the indescribable, “the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezek. 1:28). If God had wanted to describe the unexplainable, especially a high-tech battle,36 then why didn’t He use this kind of language in Ezekiel 38 and 39 to alleviate any confusion? Instead, we read about horses, bows and arrows, spears, clubs, and chariots.

Thomas Ice Changes His Position Since writing The Truth Behind Left Behind with Mark Hitchcock, Thomas Ice has “come to disagree” with the following statement that he and his co-author made about the weapons described by Ezekiel: “Ezekiel spoke in language that the people of his day could understand. If he had spoken of MIG-29s, laser-fired missiles, tanks, and assault rifles, this text would have been nonsensical to everyone until


Low Tech Eschatology

123

the twentieth century.’”37 He has come to see that Ezekiel’s prophecy must be interpreted on its own terms: Gary DeMar criticizes such an approach when he says, “If someone like Tim LaHaye is true to his claim of literalism, then the Russian attack he and Jerry Jenkins describe in Left Behind should be a literal representation of the actual battle events as they are depicted in Ezekiel 38 and 39.”38 DeMar continues, “How do Hitchcock, Ice, and LaHaye know that this is what the Holy Spirit really means when the text is clear enough without any modern-day embellishment?”39 This may surprise some, but I think DeMar is basically right in his criticism of us on this point, even though he is demonstrably wrong about so many other items he addresses in the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39.40

He goes on to write, “Instead, I have come to agree with DeMar who says: ‘A lot has to be read into the Bible in order to make Ezekiel 38 and 39 fit modern-day military realities that include jet planes, ‘missiles,’ and ‘atomic and explosive’ weaponry.’”41 Now that Ice believes the weapons described by Ezekiel should be interpreted as they are described, how do these ancient weapon systems fit with an end-time scenario that includes Russia, Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey? He begins by claiming that conditions during his version of a post-rapture tribulation period will adversely affect modern weapons: Without intending to be dogmatic on this issue, the view I think that makes the most sense is one I heard pastor Charles Clough42 teach on an audiotape in the late [19]60s or early [19]70s. Clough was at the time a trained and experienced meteorologist who thought the events of the tribulation could likely degrade modern weapons systems so as to render them unusable. Later, Clough would go on to work for about 25 years as a meteorologist for the U. S. Army where he studied the impact of weather on weapons systems. He still holds the same view today.43


124

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

I don’t understand how being a meteorologist lends credibility to this speculative interpretation. Wars have been fought in all types of horrible weather conditions. The Battle of the Bulge, a conflict fought in dense fog and wintery conditions, is a good example. The tanks still operated. A lack of fuel was the deciding factor for the Germans. If the point being made is that atmospheric conditions can affect weapon systems, then there is no argument. But such conditions would have to be known years in advance to prepare for a different type of war. If you read the first Left Behind book, Ezekiel’s descriptive battle takes place before the events of the “great tribulation.” Climate change and other effects don’t happen until after the battle begins (Ezek. 38:18–22; 39:2–6), so there would be no degrading of modern weapon systems until after the battle had commenced. By then it would be been too late to retool. Ice has compounded his problem by having to jerry-rig his entire prophetic system to make it fit a modern setting. He’s not alone. Ron Rhodes suggests that Israel might “detonate one or more nuclear weapons in the atmosphere of these countries, thereby causing an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that completely fries all electronic components in these countries including computers, phones, radios, all kinds of communication devices, transportation systems, guidance systems, radar, and the like.”44 With all their electronic gear inoperative, these nations are going to make enough wooden weapons that if used for fuel would last seven years? Then we are to believe that soon after this takes place, the antichrist is going to set up his technologically advanced headquarters so he can implement a cashless society and keep track of every person in the world to govern their buying habits by computers and implanted microchips (Rev. 13:16–17). Here’s how Timothy Demy and Thomas Ice explain their understanding of the tribulation: “It is during the time of the tribulation, specifically from the midpoint to the end of seven years, that a cashless society will most probably be enacted to control commerce and people.”45 You can’t have a cashless society if you’ve just fried the computers of the people you want to control.


Low Tech Eschatology

125

Randall Price offers his explanation as to how a modern-day battle could be fought with ancient weapons. If the battle takes place in the Tribulation period, the conditions predicted for that time, such as seismic activity, meteor showers, increased solar effects, and other cosmic and terrestrial catastrophes (Matthew 24:7; Revelation 6:12–14; 8:7–12; 16:8–9, 18–21) would so disrupt the environment that present technology depending on satellite and computer-guided systems as well as meteorological stability would utterly fail. Under such conditions most of our modern weapons would be useless and more basic weapons would have to be substituted. At any rate, there is no reason to relegate the text to the past on the basis of supposedly anachronistic language.46

Please tell me why a multi-national war against Israel is going to be fought after meteor showers and cosmic and terrestrial catastrophes have just decimated the area. Any time there has been an earthquake in the regions surrounding Israel, the people are incapacitated. The collapse of bridges would restrict the movement of army divisions, even if they are riding horses and chariots. The last thing on the minds of people who have undergone a devastating earthquake is a war, especially as far away as Russia. We’re to believe that the Russian army is going to ride to Israel on horseback after all these catastrophes to steal silver and gold (that Israel doesn’t have) and cattle? And while all of this is going on, the temple in Jerusalem is going to be rebuilt. I’m sorry, but none of this makes any sense, especially when there is no need to resort to such an inventive interpretive scheme when a plain-sense reading makes very good biblical sense. Even so, there will be enough people to believe these alternative prophetic scenarios because they are impossible to believe. This is often the appeal of this type of interpretive methodology. The more far out an interpretation is, the more some people want to believe that God is behind it.


126

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Applying Occam’s Razor William of Occam was a fourteenth-century Franciscan friar who formulated the principle that “one should not increase, beyond what is necessary the number of entities required to explain anything.” To put it more simply, “All other things being equal, the uncomplicated solution is the best.” And what is the uncomplicated solution in the case of Ezekiel’s prophecy? God revealed to Ezekiel that a battle was going to be waged sometime in the future. This battle would be fought with the weapons of the day: swords, bows and arrows, chariots, and clubs. The nations that would participate in this battle were known to Ezekiel. Futurists have dulled Occam’s Razor. The weapons either have to be symbols of modern weapons or all modern weapons have to be neutralized by a sophisticated weapon that damages all electrical equipment. Ancient weapons will have to be manufactured to fight this war because stellar and meteorological conditions will so change the landscape for warfare that these warring factions will have to resort to ancient weapons. Armies from Russia will have to be equipped with tens of thousands of horses, swords, bows and arrows, shields, and chariots as they make their way to war against Israel. Of course, with God all things are possible, but reading Ezekiel’s prophecy with a “plain sense” understanding doesn’t make anything proposed by these end-time prophecy writers even remotely necessary given the fact that the book of Esther, a book in the Bible, describes such a battle that nicely lines up with what was revealed to Ezekiel.

Notes 1. Tim LaHaye, “The Coming Wave,” in Ed Hindson and Lee Fredrickson, Future Wave: End Times, Prophecy, and the Technological Explosion (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2001), 7–8. 2. Hindson and Lee Fredrickson, Future Wave, 214–215. 3. Henry Adams, the great-grandson of John Adams, wrote the following about the United States as it was in 1800: “Even after two centuries of struggle the land was still untamed; forest covered every portion, except here and there a strip of cultivated soil; the minerals lay undisturbed in their rocky beds, and more than two-thirds of the people clung to the seaboard within fifty miles of tidewater, where alone the wants of civilized life could be supplied. The center of population rested within eighteen miles of Baltimore, north and east of Washington. Except


Low Tech Eschatology

127

in political arrangement, the interior was little more civilized than in 1750, and was not much easier to penetrate than when La Salle and Hennepin found their way to the Mississippi more than a century before.” (Henry Adams, History of the United States During the Administrations of Thomas Jefferson [New York: The Library of America, (1889–1891) 1986], 5). 4. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Are We Living in the End Times?: Current Events Foretold in Scripture …And What They Mean (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1999). 5. Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, Left Behind: A Novel of the Earth’s Last Days (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1995), 10. 6. LaHaye and Jenkins, Left Behind, 14. 7. Chuck Missler, Prophecy 20/20: Profiling the Future Through the Lens of Scripture (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2006), 165. 8. Missler, Prophecy 20/20, 165. 9. Missler, Prophecy 20/20, 60. 10. Grant R. Jeffrey, “Russia’s Day of Destruction in Israel”: http://tinyurl.com/ 3syxh4. From his book Armageddon: Appointment with Destiny. 11. David Jeremiah, What in the World is Going On?: 10 prophetic Clues You Cannot Afford to Ignore (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2008), 182–183. 12. Louis S. Bauman, Russian Events in the Light of Bible Prophecy (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1942), 99–104; Louis S. Bauman, Light From Bible Prophecy: As Related to the Present Crisis (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1950), 35); M.R. DeHaan, Signs of the Times and Other Prophetic Messages (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1951), 88–90. 13. William L. Hull, Israel—Key to Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1964), 36. “Other nations may put their trust in gasoline for mobile purposes if they wish to do so. But the wily old northern bear scents the possibility of bombs breaking up the oil fields of the earth to such an extent that the great gas-propelled war machines will be stalled in their tracks—out of gas!” (Louis S. Bauman, “The Russian Bear Prowls Forth to His Doom,” The King’s Business, XLI [September 1950], 11). In the 1950s, Russia was said to possess 70 percent of the world’s horseflesh! (Merv Resell, “God PreWrites the Headlines,” The King’s Business, XLIX [July 1958], 3). Quoted in Dwight Wilson, Armageddon Now! The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917 (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), 183. 14. I don’t see how this type of horse will help in the arid climate of the Middle East. 15. Theodore H. Epp, Russia’s Doom Prophesied in Ezekiel 38 and 39 (Lincoln, NE: Back to the Bible Publishers, 1956), 29. Epp is one of the “scholars” that David Jeremiah cites in his book What in the World is Going On? (172). 16. “World horse population estimated at 58 million” (September 12, 2007): http://tinyurl.com/5xeekx 17. Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming: “A Prophetic Odyssey” (Santa Ana,


128

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

CA: Vision House Publishers, 1973), 140. The same quotation appears in the 1975 Bantam edition on page 125. 18. I doubt that after “one-fourth of the world population” has been “destroyed by the judgments described in Revelation 6:8,” which includes “poisoning of freshwater sources,” as Lindsey explains it (There’s a New World Coming, 124–125), that China is going to put together 200 million horse soldiers and travel thousands of miles to Israel over nearly impassable terrain. Keep in mind that Revelation is a book of “symbols.” John is told “‘to show’ … the message being ‘signified’ … by His angel (Rev. 1:1, NKJV).” (Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Book of Revelation Made Easy: You Can Understand Bible Prophecy [Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 2008], 21). John “sees” a series of real images (e.g., lampstands, beasts, dragons, a giant woman, sun, moon, stars) mostly written against the backdrop of the Old Testament and notes that they symbolize some theological truth for his time (Rev. 1:1, 3; 22:10). See Mark Wilson, Charts on the Book of Revelation: Literary, Historical, and Theological Perspectives (Grand rapids, MI: Kregel, 2007) on the varieties of symbols, figures of speech, numbers, etc. in Revelation. 19. Jon Mark Ruthven, The Prophecy that is Shaping History: New Research on Ezekiel’s Vision of the End (Fairfax, VA: Xulon Press, 2003), 3 20. Mark Hitchcock, Iran: The Coming Crisis—Radical Islam, Oil, and the Nuclear Threat (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2006), 186, 187. 21. Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice, The Truth Behind Left Behind: A Biblical View of the End Times (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press, 2004), 47. 22. Hitchcock and Ice, The Truth Behind Left Behind, 47. 23. C. Marvin Pate and J. Daniel Hays, Iraq—Babylon of the End Times? (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2003), 75. What Hitchcock and Ice do not tell their readers is that Pate and Hays do not interpret the weapons literally. At least they’re consistent. 24. Hitchcock and Ice, The Truth Behind Left Behind, 17. 25. Rob Linsted, The Next Move: Current Events in Bible Prophecy (Wichita, KS: Bible Truth, n.d.), 41. 26. Harry Rimmer, The Coming War and the Rise of Russia (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1940), 48–51. 27. David L. Cooper, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty in the Land of Israel: An Exposition of Ezekiel Thirty-Eight and Thirty-Nine, 3rd ed. (Los Angeles, CA: Biblical Research Society, [1940] 1958), 106. 28. Cooper, When Gog’s Armies Meet the Almighty in the Land of Israel, 104. 29. Christians writing less than 100 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of the temple understood that Isaiah 2 was looking forward to the ministry of the gospel in the world among the nations. Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic words when He said, “Come to Me” (Matt. 11:28). Consider the brief commentary by Justin the Martyr (c. 100–165): And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: “For the law will go


Low Tech Eschatology

129

forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never will they learn war” [Isa. 2:3– 4]. And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we might not lie or deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ. (Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” Chapter XXXIX: Direct Predictions by the Spirit, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:175–76). Irenaeus (c. 130–200), another second-century Christian writer, taught that Isaiah 2 was fulfilled at the time of “the Lord’s advent,” that is, the first coming of Jesus. You will notice that he believed that the message of “the new covenant” had a worldwide impact before Jerusalem’s fall: If any one, however, advocating the cause of the Jews, does maintain that this new covenant consisted in the rearing of that temple which was built under Zerubbabel after the emigration to Babylon, and in the departure of the people from thence after the lapse of seventy years, let him know that the temple constructed of stones was indeed then rebuilt (for as yet that law was observed which had been made upon tables of stone), yet no new covenant was given, but they used the Mosaic law until the coming of the Lord; but from the Lord’s advent, the new covenant which brings back peace, and the law which gives life, has gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and He shall rebuke many people; and they shall break down their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, and they shall no longer learn to fight.” (Irenaeus, “Proof Against the Marcionites, that the Prophets Referred in All Their Predictions to Our Christ,” Against Heresies,” in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Book IV, Chapter 34,). Tertullian (160–225) makes a similar application when he argues that it is “among us, who have been called out of the nations,—‘and they shall join to beat their glaives into ploughs, and their lances into sickles; and nations shall not take up glaive against nation, and they shall no more learn to fight.’ Who else, therefore, are understood but we, who, fully taught by the new law, observe these practices,—the old law being obliterated, the coming of whose abolition the action itself demonstrates?” (Tertullian, “Of Circumcision and the Supercession of the Old Law,” An Answer to the Jews, Chapter III). 30. Tim LaHaye, The Truth Behind Left Behind, 9.


130

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

31. John F. Walvoord, The Nations in Prophecy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1967), 115. 32. Walvoord, The Nations in Prophecy, 115–116. 33. Walvoord, The Nations in Prophecy, 116 34. Walvoord, The Nations in Prophecy, 116. 35. Randall Price, Unpublished Notes on The Prophecies of Ezekiel, (2007), p. 42. 36. UFOlogists have used Ezekiel to support their claim that earth was once visited by beings from outer space because the language of chapter one seems technologically futuristic. For example, Josef F. Blumrich writes in his The Spaceships of Ezekiel that “Ezekiel begins his book with the description of the final phase of a spaceship’s descent from a circular orbit to the earth and its subsequent landing.” (New York: Bantam, 1974, 2). He spends much of his book explaining how Ezekiel used the best means possible to describe what was to him and his audience indescribable. Of course, I am not defending Blumrich’s spaceship interpretation. I am using it to point out that there was language available to Ezekiel to describe concepts beyond the everyday experiences of his present audience. 37. Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice, The Truth Behind Left Behind: A Biblical View of the End Times (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Press, 2004), 47. 38. Gary DeMar, “Ezekiel’s Magog Invasion: Future or Fulfilled?” Biblical Worldview Magazine, vol. 22 (December 2006), 4. 39. DeMar, “Ezekiel’s Magog Invasion,” 6. (italics in original) 40. Thomas Ice, “Ezekiel 38 and 39: Part VIII: http://tinyurl.com/45y335 41. Ice, “Ezekiel 38 and 39: Part VIII.” Ice quotes my article “Ezekiel’s Magog Invasion: Future or Fulfilled?,” 4. 42. At the time, Charles A. Clough was pastor of Lubbock Bible Church in Lubbock, Texas. 43. Ice, “Ezekiel 38 and 39: Part VIII.” 44. Ron Rhodes, Northern Storm Rising (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), 140–141. 45. Thomas Ice and Timothy Demy, The Coming Cashless Society (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1996), 103. 46. Randall Price, Unpublished Notes on The Prophecies of Ezekiel, (2007), 42. Quoted in Ice, “Ezekiel 38 and 39: Part VIII.”


8 Answering Objections

S

ince first proposing that the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38 and 39 is most likely a prophecy about the events described in Esther, Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice have offered a critique of my interpretation in their book The Truth Behind Left Behind. While theirs is not a full critique, it does offer me an opportunity to expand on some of my earlier arguments that I first proposed in my book Last Days Madness (1999). Curiously, they don’t deal with the many parallels between Ezekiel 38–39 and Esther that I presented in a chapter of my full-length book End Times Fiction,1 a critique of the Left Behind series. Instead, they write that I fail “to account for several striking differences between Ezekiel 38–39 and Esther 9.” Modern prophecy writers who claim that the prophetic clock does not start moving again until after the so-called “rapture of the church,” are at an advantage since they don’t have to deal with historical fulfillment. They can always say that these events haven’t happened yet. “Just wait and see,” they say. “It will happen just like we say it will happen.” There have been others with equal certainty about the Gog-Magog prophecy. For example, Ambrose in the fourth century “confidently identified Gog as the Goths, and William Greenhill2 in the seventeenth century “identified Gog as the Roman Emperor, the Pope, or the Turks.”3 These expositors had interpreted the Bible in the light of the current events of their day. My responses to the arguments of Hitchcock and Ice are based on a chart that appears on page 45 of their bookThe Truth Behind Left Behind. The chart lists five examples that they claim are not parallels. The chart has been broken up into five parts for easy reference: 131


132

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Part One Ezekiel 38-39 The land of Israel itself was invaded (38:16). The enemies fall on the mountains of Israel (39:4). Gog, the leader of the invasion, is buried in Israel (39:11).

Esther 9 Jews are attacked in cities throughout the Persian empire and defend themselves (9:2). The enemies die throughout the Persian empire.

Hitchcock and Ice state that in Ezekiel “the land of Israel is invaded (38:16),” and the enemies fall “on the mountains of Israel,” while in Esther 9 “Jews are attacked in cities throughout the Persian empire.” First, there were many cities in Israel and throughout the Persian Empire. There were thousands of Jews living in Israel and Jerusalem, and they were loaded down with gold, silver, cattle, and goods that they brought back with them from their time in exile (Ezra 1:4, 6). Second, “Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:6). This would have included “the land of Israel” and not just a few cities here and there. The use of the phrase “on the mountains” is used repeatedly in Ezekiel. As you can see by looking at a topographical map of the region and a list of the named mountains,4 it would be impossible to fight a war or do anything else in Israel without being “on the mountains” (Ezek. 6:3; 7:7, 16; 19:9; 31:12; 32:5–7; 33:28; 34:13–14; 36:1; 37:22). Billye Brim, a Bible instructor at Elon Moreh located in the Samarian Hills of the West Bank in Israel, states, “Ninety two percent of the Bible place names are in the mountains of Israel in what the Bible calls Judea and Samaria and the world calls the West Bank.”5 The New Testament shows Jesus delivering a sermon on a mountain (Matt. 5–7). The prophetic discourse found in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21 is delivered on the Mount of Olives. “‘Jeru-


Answering Objections

133

salem is a mountain city enthroned on a mountain fastness [stronghold]’ (compare Ps. 68:15, 16; 87:1; 125:2; 76:1, 2; 122:3). It stands on the edge of one of the highest tablelands in Palestine, and is surrounded on the southeastern, the southern, and the western sides by deep and precipitous ravines.”6 The city of Jerusalem rests on a limestone plateau 2500 feet above sea level. It is located in the central hill country, and is near the border of the Judean desert. It is far removed from any major trade routes. On the west side of Jerusalem are the Judean mountains, on the east side is the Judean desert which descends 4000 feet in 10 miles at the Dead Sea. The rugged terrain of Jerusalem was a definite military advantage, it was easy to defend because the city can only be reached on its northern side. The east, west, and southern sides had steep valleys. Jerusalem rests upon four hills or mountains, but only two of them have biblical names, Mount Zion and Mount Moriah.7

In addition, Charles Feinberg, a dispensationalist who argues for a future fulfill“‘Jerusalem is a mounment for Ezekiel 38 and 39, comments tain city enthroned on that “mountains of Israel”8 functions as a mountain fastness 9 a metonymy, a symbol representing “the [stronghold]’ (compare Ps. 68:15,16; 87:1; 125:2; people as well as the land” (e.g., Ezek. 76:1, 2; 122:3). It stands 6:2–3; 36:1, 8–10). on the edge of one of the If it was Haman’s agenda “to destroy highest tablelands in Palall the Jews … throughout the whole estine, and is surrounded kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:6), and on the southeastern, Israel was part of the Persian Empire the southern, and the where 50,000 Jews lived at that time, it western sides by deep stands to reason that the land of Israel and precipitous ravines.” would have been invaded. In fact, relatively few of Haman’s people were killed in Susa, the capital of Persia, as compared to what had been “done in the rest of the king’s provinces” (9:12). Consider Esther 9:16: “Now


134

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces assembled, to defend their lives and rid themselves of their enemies, and kill 75,000 of those who hated them.” Surely many of Haman’s men died “on the mountains of Israel” (Ezek. 39:4) as Haman’s forces attempted to invade the newly reconstituted nation. Hitchcock and Ice write that “Gog, the leader of the invasion, is buried in Israel (Ezek. 39:11).” If Haman the Agagite is the Hamon-gog of Ezekiel,10 then it’s possible that while he was executed in Susa (Esther 7:10; 9:25), he was buried along with his “multitude” in Israel “by east of the sea” (Ezek. 39:11).11 This “troubler of Israel” was made an example by his victors. The Jews wanted all who passed by the site to see what happens to those who oppose the favored people of God. There is precedent for this. In 1 Samuel 17:54 we read that David took the head of Goliath to Jerusalem although he was killed at Socoh which is located fifteen miles southwest of Jerusalem. Most likely the head was placed just outside the holy city on what the New Testament identifies as Golgatha, “a contraction of Goliath of Gath (Hebrew: Goliath-Gath).”12 Consider also that Ahasuerus is said to have “arose in his anger” (7:7) when he fully understood Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews. In fact, the king perceived an immediate threat to his house from Haman (Esther 7:8). Haman was so disgraced that his house had been given to Esther (8:1), and his signet ring had been given to Mordecai. The king set Mordecai and Esther “over the house of Haman” (8:2). With all this in mind, does it seem likely that the king would have allowed Haman to be buried in Susa? There may be another way to look at Ezekiel 39:11 which states that “they will bury Gog there with all his multitude, and they will call it the valley of Hamon-gog.” “Gog” could be the person who led the military force for Haman. Even Hitchcock identifies Gog as “the general over this coalition of nations in its great military campaign against Israel.”13 Haman had surrogates. Ezekiel focuses on the Jews in Israel, while Esther focuses on the Jews in Susa.


Answering Objections

135

Part Two Ezekiel 38-39 The Jews bury the dead bodies over a period of seven months to cleanse the land of Israel (39:12).

Esther 9 No need to cleanse the land because the dead bodies aren’t in Israel.

Hitchcock and Ice argue that in Ezekiel “the Jews bury their dead bodies over a period of seven months to cleanse the land of Israel (39:12), but in Esther there is “no need to cleanse the land because the dead bodies aren’t in Israel.” This is an argument from silence. The war against the Jews was kingdom-wide, including the land of Israel since that’s where most of the Jews were living. They were easily identifiable as Jews because they were back in their land. If you want to kill Jews, you go where the Jews are. Many Jews in the Diaspora kept their identity hidden: “Esther did not make known her people or her kindred, for Mordecai had instructed her that she should not make them known” (Esther 2:10). This would not have been the case in the land of Israel. Remember Haman’s words to the king: “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom” (Esther 3:8) which included the land of Israel. We know this is the case since “Letters were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces to destroy, to kill and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children, in one day” (3:13), and Israel was in one of the “king’s provinces.”

Parts Three and Five Hitchcock and Ice claim that in Ezekiel “the invaders are destroyed by a massive earthquake in the land of Israel, infighting, plagues, and fire from heaven (38:19–22). God destroys the enemies supernaturally,” while in Esther the “attackers are killed by the Jewish people themselves, assisted by local government leaders” (Esther 9:3–5). A careful


136

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Ezekiel 38-39

Esther 9

The invaders are destroyed by a massive earthquake in the land of Israel, infighting, plagues, and fire from heaven (38:19-22). God destroys the enemies supernaturally.

Attackers are killed by the Jewish people themselves, assisted by local government leaders (9:3-5).

God even sends fire upon Magog and those who inhabit the coastlands (39:6).

There is nothing even close to this in Esther 9.

reading of Ezekiel and Esther will show this is not the case. In Esther 9:5 we read that “the Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying.” We learn from Ezekiel 38:21 that God calls “‘for a sword against Gog on all My mountains,’.… ‘Every man’s sword will be against his brother.’” In both instances, swords are the weapons of choice. In addition, we read in Ezekiel 38:4 “the Lord brings Gog forth while in 38:10 Gog himself devises the plan of conquest.”14 There are two perspectives in view. God could have used some supernatural events to intimidate Israel’s foes: “And no one could stand before them, for the dread of them had fallen on all the peoples” (Esther 9:2). Who brought this “dread” so “no one could stand before them”? Most likely it was God. The fact that Esther does not mention earthquakes does not mean they didn’t happen. If we follow the logic of Ice and Hitchcock, then we have a problem with the fact that only Matthew mentions earthquakes at the crucifixion (Matt. 27:54) and resurrection (28:2) with no mention from the other three gospels. In Esther 9:12, there is a passing reference to what had been “done in the rest of the king’s provinces.” We’re not given a full account in Esther of these events, but we know they happened.


Answering Objections

137

But this isn’t unusual for the way the Bible presents history in its prophetic sections. Kenneth A. Kitchen’s comments are helpful on this point: “When prose and poetry accounts coexist, it is prose that is the primary source and poetry that is the secondary celebration.”15 The destruction of Egypt is described in similar terms (Ezek. 32), and yet there is no biblical history to show that it happened this way, but we know it did because the Bible said it would. Keep in mind that this prophecy is not about a future judgment on Egypt that will take place after “the rapture.” It’s a “lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt” (32:2) who is ravaged by the king of Babylon (32:11). Notice how the judgment that came up against Egypt is described in terms similar to the way the battle of Gog and Magog is described in Ezekiel 38– 39. Pharaoh is pictured as a sea monster caught in a net and thrown on the land to be devoured by birds. In Ezekiel 38, the multitude of Gog is shown being brought out by hooks in their jaws (38:4). The imagery is striking, especially when we read earlier about the future of Egypt: “Son of man, set your face against Pharaoh, king of Egypt, and prophesy against him and against all Egypt” (29:2). This is reminiscent of Ezekiel 38:2: “Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him.” These are both fulfilled prophecy. Now consider Ezekiel 32: Thus says the Lord God, “Now I will spread My net over you with a company of many peoples, and they shall lift you up in My net. I will leave you on the land; I will cast you on the open field. And I will cause all the birds of the heavens to dwell on you, and I will satisfy the beasts of the whole earth with you. I will lay your flesh on the mountains and fill the valleys with your refuse. I will also make the land drink the discharge of your blood as far as the mountains, and the ravines will be full of you. And when I extinguish you, I will cover the heavens and darken their stars; I will cover the sun with a cloud and the moon will not give its light. All the shining lights in the heavens I will darken over you and will set darkness on your land,” declares the Lord God. “I will also trouble the hearts of many peoples when I bring your destruction among the nations, into lands which you have not known. I will make many peoples appalled at you, and their kings will be horribly afraid of you when I brandish


138

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

My sword before them; and they will tremble every moment, every man for his own life, on the day of your fall.” For thus says the Lord God, “The sword of the king of Babylon will come upon you. By the swords of the mighty ones I will cause your hordes to fall; all of them are tyrants of the nations, and they will devastate the pride of Egypt, and all its hordes will be destroyed. I will also destroy all its cattle from beside many waters; and the foot of man will not muddy them anymore and the hoofs of beasts will not muddy them. Then I will make their waters settle and will cause their rivers to run like oil,” declares the Lord God. “When I make the land of Egypt a desolation, and the land is destitute of that which filled it, when I smite all those who live in it, then they shall know that I am the Lord. This is a lamentation and they shall chant it. The daughters of the nations shall chant it. Over Egypt and over all her hordes they shall chant it,” declares the Lord God (Ezek. 32:3–16).

The above description of the judgment of Old Testament Egypt seems universally apocalyptic with phrases like “whole earth” (32:4), covering the heavens and darkening stars (32:7), covering the sun and moon (32:7), darkening the shining lights of heaven (32:7), and destruction among the nations (32:9). But it’s a local judgment fought with swords (32:11). So then, the remarks of Hitchcock and Ice do not take into account how the prophets describe prophetic events and how prophetic language is often different from the actual historical record. Notice how David expresses his thanksgiving to God for delivering “him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul” (2 Sam. 22:1; also see Ps. 18). Consider the following and compare these phrases with what actually took place historically in David’s battles with Saul and the use of similar language in Ezekiel 38–39: • “The land shook and quaked” (2 Sam. 22:8; cf. Ps. 18:7; Ezek. 38:19). • “The foundations of the mountains were trembling and were shaken, because He was angry” (Ps. 18:7b; Ezek. 38:18).


Answering Objections

139

• “He sent out arrows, and scattered them, lightning, and routed them” (2 Sam. 22:15; cf. Ps. 18:14). • “From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, hailstones and coals of fire” (Ps. 18:12; Ezek. 38:22). • “The channels of the sea appeared, the foundations of the world were laid bare, by the rebuke of the LORD, at the blast of the breath of His nostrils” (2 Sam. 22:16; cf. Ps. 18:15; Ezek. 38:20).

Where in the historical narratives of David’s battles with Saul are these events detailed as they are presented in Psalm 18? They aren’t. In a similar way, Ezekiel is describing the events of this future battle in words that are common to prophetic writing. The account in Esther is written in a straight historical narrative form in a single brief chapter. To “send fire upon Magog” (Ezek. 39:6) is comparable to “the blast of the breath of His nostril” (2 Sam. 22:16). It’s a metaphor for destruction (Amos 1:10, 12; 2:2, 5) and protection (Zech 2:5). Ezekiel writes that “the mountains also will be thrown down, the steep pathways will collapse” (38:20). Similar language is used in the New Testament for the coming of the Messiah, and yet nothing of this physical description actually happened (Mark 11:23; Luke 3:5; cf. Isa. 40:4). Ezekiel describes events from a God’s-eye-view, while Esther explains things from a man’s-eye-view. Ezekiel uses poetic language similar to the way David does in 2 Samuel 22 and Psalm 18 to describe how Israel’s enemies were defeated. Esther describes the actual battle similar to the way David’s battles were fought, with swords by an army of his men. There is a similar example in Judges 4 and 5 where we are told “the LORD routed Sisera and all his chariots and all his army, with the edge of the sword before Barak” (4:15). Who had the swords? Barak’s soldiers. But who is given credit for the victory? God. We learn that Jael killed Sisera by pounding a “peg into his temple, and it went through into the ground; for he was sound asleep and exhausted. So he died” (4:21). Notice the description of what follows: “So God subdued on that day Jabin the king of Canaan before the sons of Israel. The hand of the sons of Israel pressed heavier and


140

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

heavier upon Jabin the king of Canaan, until they had destroyed Jabin the king of Canaan” (4:23–24). God did the subduing while we’re told the sons of Israel “had destroyed Jabin.” When we read the Song of Deborah in Judges 5, we learn some additional facts about the battle that are not mentioned in Judges 4: • “The land quaked” (5:4c). • “The heavens dripped, even the clouds dripped water” (5:4d). • “The mountains quaked at the presence of the Lord ” (5:5a). • “The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (5:20).

Commentators have argued that one of the reasons the Israelites were able to defeat the more advanced army of Jabin with their chariots was because God caused it to rain. The chariots got stuck in the mud. There may have been rock slides as well. We would not know this by reading the historical narrative of Judges 4 alone. These additional points only come out in poetic form in Judges 5. The same is true as we study Ezekiel 38 and 39 along with Esther 3 and 9. The decreation language of Ezekiel 38:18–21 is typical of prophetic descriptions of local judgments (see Jer. 4; Zeph. 1:2–4, 18; Joel 3:16; Nahum 1:5–6; Haggai 2:6, 20–23). There is no change in the physical world on a global scale. Similar language is used in the New Testament by Jesus to describe the end of the old covenant, “the end of the age” (Matt. 24:3), by describing its end by the use of the sun and moon going dark and stars falling from the heavens with the result that “the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (24:29). The writer to the Hebrews uses similar language to make the same point: “And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘Yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’ And this expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken,


Answering Objections

141

as of created things, in order that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire” (12:26–29).

Part Four Ezekiel 38-39 Invaders are from as far west as ancient Put (modern Libya) (Ezekiel 38:5) and as far north as Magog, the land of the Scythians.

Esther 9 The Persian empire did not include these areas. It only extended as far west as Cush (modern Sudan) (Esther 8:9) and as far north as the bottom part of the Black and Caspian Seas.

Hitchcock and Ice assert that the “invaders are from as far west as ancient Put (modern Libya) (Ezek. 38:5) and as far north as Magog, the land of the Scythians,” while the Persian empire “only extended as far west as Cush (modern Sudan) (Esther 8:9) and as far north as the bottom of the Black and Caspian Seas.” The authors claim that Put was not part of the Persian Empire. The Macmillan Bible Atlas16 includes Put (modern-day Libya) in the territorial boundaries of the Persian Empire. Hitchcock and Ice then try to identify Magog with “the land of the Scythians.” This is highly debatable. The dogmatism of Hitchcock and Ice on points of geography from a time 2600 years ago is astounding. Edwin Yamauchi, an unparalleled scholar in this area, writes, “The baffling nature of the names ‘Gog and Magog’ has led to a variety of identifications down through the centuries.… Thus various attempts to explain the background of Gog and Magog have not won universal consent.”17 We just don’t know the exact boundary lines of these ancient nations. The fact that ancient designations are


142

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

used for these nations and ancient weapons are used for the battle that takes place throughout the empire shows that Ezekiel 38 and 39 describe prophetic events that were fulfilled a long time ago.

A “Bizarre” Interprtation In addition to the critique by Hitchcock and Ice, Ron Rhodes writes the following in Northern Storm Rising: “One preterist makes a bizarre case for the idea that the invasion of Ezekiel A preterist, derived 38–39 was fulfilled in the events of Esther 9. from a (Latin) word Such a view ignores the biblical case for bibmeaning “past,” is lical teaching that the invasion takes place in someone who believes the ‘latter years’ and ‘last days’ (Ezekiel 38:8, a prophecy has been 16) by a specific coalition of nations nowhere fulfilled as opposed to even remotely found in the book of Esther a futurist who believes (see Ezekiel 38:1–6).”18 The “one preterist” is a prophecy is yet to be me. Actually, there are two preterists, James fulfilled. B. Jordan and me. Jordan suggested the interpretation, and I’ve expanded on it. Rhodes’ argument about the “latter years” and “last days” has been dealt with in Chapter 5, but let me add a few additional thoughts. The Brown-Driver–Briggs (BDB) Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament translates Ezekiel 38:16 as “in the end of days” and defines it as a “a prophetic phrase denoting the final period of the history so far as the speaker’s perspective reaches; thus the sense varies with the context, but it often [equals] the ideal or Messianic future.” 19 BDB offers the following examples: “the period of Israel’s possession of Canaan” (Gen. 49:1), “the period of Israel’s return to God after adversity” (Num. 24:14; Deut. 4:30), “the period of Israel’s rebellion” (Deut. 31:29), “the period of Gog’s attack upon restored Israel” (Ezek. 38:16), and “the age of Antiochus Epiphanes” (Dan. 2:28; 10:14). Notice that these examples describe future events, from the reference point of the author, that have already been fulfilled. They are part of Israel’s past (preterist) history, including Ezekiel 38:16 since we know that the Jews did return to their land and rebuilt the city and temple. The phrase is best translated as “days to come,” a time in the future unknown by the author.


Answering Objections

143

What about Rhodes’ argument that “a specific coalition of nations” mentioned in Ezekiel 38:1–6 is “nowhere even remotely found in the book of Esther”? Watch out when someone uses words like “never,” “always,” and “nowhere even remotely.” Esther begins with this geographical introduction: “Now it took place in the days of Ahasuerus, the Ahasuerus who reigned from India to Ethiopia over 127 provinces” (Esther 1:1; 8:9). The Medo-Persian Empire would have included all the nations listed by Ezekiel.20 Mr. Rhodes needs to demonstrate, given his futuristic interpretation, that the “specific coalition of nations” listed by Ezekiel are found on any modern-day map. They aren’t. Anyone reading Ezekiel 38–39 would have immediately recognized the list of nations as people groups that were living among them in their day. Mark Hitchcock raises the following objection: “One important question we might ask at this point is—if Ezek 38–39 was fulfilled in the events of Esth 9, why did this escape the notice of everyone in Esther’s day? Why is there no mention in Esther of this great fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy?”21 It’s possible that these exiles had no knowledge of Ezekiel’s prophecy since even the word “God” is not mentioned in Esther. “When we turn our attention to the purpose of the book [of Esther],” John Whitcomb writes, “the question immediately arises as to why all references to prayer, worship, Jerusalem, the temple, and the name of God are omitted, with the exception of some hints of prayer and providence (Est 4:14; 4:16; 9:31).”22 Whitcomb continues that “there seems to be no evidence that Mordecai or Esther harbored any desire to relate to the heart of God’s theocratic program by journeying to Jerusalem, offering the prescribed sacrifices on the altar through Levitical priests, and praying to Jehovah in His holy temple.”23 The interpretation offered by Hitchcock and most of today’s popular prophecy writers had no history prior to the nineteenth century. In fact, there has not been a consensus interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39 for 2000 years. The reason for this is clear given what I’ve outlined in these seven chapters: Those interpreting these two seemingly enigmatic prophetic chapters have tried to find an in-


144

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

terpretive solution outside the biblical record when all along the Bible itself had the answer. The burden of proof is on prophecy writers who claim to interpret the Bible literally, according to the “plain sense,” as they like to say, to demonstrate that the weapons of war described by God and revealed to Ezekiel are in reality modern-day weapons, the nations are renamed to fit with new political alignments, and the Hebrew word rosh is a prophetic cryptogram for Russia. Until they can do so, students of the Bible should look for an interpretive solution in the Bible itself.

Notes 1. Gary DeMar, End Times Fiction: A Biblical Consideration of the Left Behind Theology (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 12–15. 2. William Greenhill, Ezekiel (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, [1645–1667] 1994). 3. Iain M. Duguid, Ezekiel: The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 452. 4. Note the list of 20 named mountains in Israel and the topographical map at the end of the list: http://tinyurl.com/4yld2c 5. Quoted in Chris Mitchell, “The Mountains of Israel,” CBN News: http:// tinyurl.com/4q62wf 6. http://tinyurl.com/4lyg83 7. http://tinyurl.com/3vgeqr 8. Charles Lee. Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel: The Glory of the Lord (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969), 206. Also see Norman Habel, “The Silence of the Lands: The Ecojustice Implications,” Ezekiel’s Hierarchical World: Wrestling with a Tiered Reality, eds. Stephen L. Cook and Corrine L. Patton (Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2004), 135–136. 9. A metonymy (lit, “change of name”) is when one word is used in place of another to show some relationship between the things signified. See Walter C. Kaiser and Moisés Silva, An Introduction to Hermeneutics: The Search for Meaning (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 96–97. 10. Haman is an Agagite (Esther 3:1, 10), a descendant of the Amalekite king Agag who was captured by Saul and hacked to pieces by Samuel (1 Sam. 15). Gog and Magog, the people of Gog, may be symbolic names for Israel’s long-time enemy, the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:18). In Ezekiel 39:11, Gog is said to be buried in a place called “Hamon-gog.” Is Esther’s Haman (the Agagite) Ezekiel’s Hamon-Gog”? See James B. Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History (Niceville, FL: Biblical Horizons, 1995), 7–9.


Answering Objections

145

11. There is some debate whether “east of the sea” refers to the Mediterranean Sea or the Dead Sea. Those who travel north and south along Israel’s coast are always “east of the sea.” Why mention east? Why not just say “the sea”? The Dead Sea has an east and west shoreline. 12. James B. Jordan, “The Meaning of the Mount of Olives,” Biblical Horizons Newsletter, 84 (April 1996): http://tinyurl.com/4s7zl7 13. Mark Hitchcock, After the Empire: Bible Prophecy in Light of the Fall of the Soviet Union (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1999), 17. 14. Andrew W. Blackwood, Jr., Ezekiel: Prophecy of Hope (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1965), 228. 15. Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), 252. Emphasis in original. 16. Yohanan Ahoroni and Michael AviYonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, rev. ed. (New York: Macmillan, 1977), 168. The historian Herodotus (480–429 B.C.) says Darius “established 20 governments of the kind which the Persians call Satrapies, assigning to each its governor, and fixing the tribute which was to be paid him by the several nations” (Histories iii:89). Then he proceeds to enumerate a long list embracing nearly all the nations of the East—Asia Minor, Phoenicia Syria, Cyprus, Egypt, Libya, Cyrene, Susa, Babylon, Assyria, Media, Armenia, Parthia—these are all enumerated, with the amount of the tribute paid by each nation (Histories iii: 90–94). 17. Edwin Yamauchi, Foes From the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1982), 22, 24. 18. Ron Rhodes, Northern Storm Rising: Russia, Iran, and the Emerging EndTimes Military Coalition Against Israel (Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 2008), 14, note. 19. Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles Briggs, eds., A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (Oxford University Press, [1907] 1976), 31. Emphasis added. 20. See Herbert G. May, ed., Oxford Bible Atlas, 2nd ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1974), 78–79. 21. Mark Hitchcock, “The Battle of Gog and Magog”: http://tinyurl.com/3jtgxz 22. John C. Whitcomb, “Esther,” The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, eds. Charles F. Pfeiffer and Everett F. Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), 447. 23. John C. Whitcomb, Esther: Triumph of God’s Sovereignty (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 22.


9 A Cup That Causes Reeling

“Z

echariah 12:1–3 flares from the pages of newspapers and hourly TV and Internet news updates. All focus is on that tiny nationstate. Iran’s leaders threaten to erase Israel from the Middle East and from off the planet. Syria’s dictator, Bashar Al-Assad, feigns desiring making a treaty with its much-hated neighbor, all the while romancing and being romanced by Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who wants a better foothold in the region.” This commentary on current events based on Zechariah 12 is typical of end-time prophecy writers.1 Almost any discussion of Bible prophecy leads to the book of Zechariah. Zechariah is quoted or alluded to in the New Testament more than 40 times.2 Chapters 9–14 “are the most quoted section of the prophets in the passion narratives of the Gospels and, next to Ezekiel, Zechariah has influenced the author of Revelation more than any other Old Testament writer.”3 These statistics alone should impress upon us the need to understand the book that Jerome portrayed as “obscure” and Philip Carrington described as “confused and difficult.”4 Is it possible that a section of Scripture that is quoted so often in the New Testament should be so difficult to understand? Are we missing something? Cyrus I. Scofield, author of the notes of the Scofield Reference Bible, remarks that Ezekiel 38 and 39 “should be read in connection with Zech. 12:1–4”5 since, of course, he believes the prophecies are describing the same prophetic events and the same period of time, the “Great Tribulation” that follows a “pre-tribulational “rapture of the church” that supposedly is still in our future. There are others who see Zechariah 12 as a description of a second war against Israel 147


148

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

that takes place within this same tribulation period. Similar to my interpretation of Ezekiel 38 and 39, I contend that Zechariah 12 is a prophetic description of what takes place in Esther. The following two-chapter exposition of Zechariah 12 argues for a fulfillment after the Babylonian exile when thousands of Jews in captivity had returned to their homeland to participate in the rebuilding of the temple and the reconstruction of the city of Jerusalem. In all that I’ve read, T. Boersma comes closest to getting the historical setting right: To what might this oracle relate? Imagine the setting that Zechariah is projecting. The Jews have returned out of exile. The second group, with Ezra and Nehemiah, have also returned. God’s people are again centered around Jerusalem.6

So far so good. But then he takes an unnecessary detour by failing to identify the conflict that fits the chronology of Zechariah and the events described in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther: Did a battle occur in the time following the return? Yes, to be sure! There is only one conflict which is worthy of consideration in this context, namely, the fierce war that Antiochus waged against Jerusalem and the people of God. This occurred in about 167 B.C., 350 years after Zechariah prophesied, and 280 years after the Jewish exiles were reunited in Jerusalem. The Syrian King Antiochus Epiphanes had many allies to help him fight against Israel.… Did this complete the fulfillment of the prophecy? Not at all. In this prophetic perspective we see the Lord protecting His Church throughout all the centuries against the ungodly forces that are set on her downfall.7

Is Zechariah really describing the “Church throughout all the centuries”? Boersma develops a brand of futurism that morphs Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem into the New Testament Church. As I hope to show, this approach is speculative, unnecessary, and counter to a grammatical-historical interpretive methodology that we are compelled to follow if we are to be faithful to the Bible’s own methodology.


A Cup That Causes Reeling

149

Interpretive Historical Clues Zechariah 12 has its own interpretive historical clues to help us identify the time of fulfillment: battles are fought by men riding horses (Zech. 12:4); those in captivity have returned to Jerusalem after a period of exile (12:7; cf. Jer. 30:10, 18); the southern kingdom of Judah is the main population center (Zech. 12:4, 6–8); the people are grouped by tribes (12:5, 10, 12, 13); the “glory of the house of David” is still recognized (12:7–8, 10; cf. Neh. 3:15; 12:24, 36, 45); and the death of King Josiah by Pharaoh Necho (2 Kings 23:29–30; 2 Chron. 35:22–27) is still remembered as a national tragedy (Zech. 12:11). These historical events would not be significant to Jews living in Israel in the twentyfirst century or the church throughout its history. Today’s Jews would recall events related to the Balfour Declaration of 1917, the tragedy of the holocaust, the founding of the State of Israel in 1948, the 1967 Six-Day War, and on-going battles with Muslim extremists, none of which are mentioned in Zechariah 12.

Historical Setting Why was Zechariah written? Who was the intended audience? The Persian king Cyrus issued a decree around 538 B.C. that opened the way for the Jews to return to their homeland where they would be permitted to rebuild the temple and reestablish themselves as a nation (1 Chron. 36:22–23; Ezra 1:1–4).Taking advantage of the decree, about 50,000 Jewish exiles returned to the land of their fathers. In the second month of 536 B.C., they laid “the foundation of the home of the LORD” (Ezra. 3:11–13). But soon thereafter the building stopped. God then raised up Haggai and Zechariah to admonish and encourage the people who had begun the ambitious work in the face of fierce opposition to get back to the task at hand and rebuild the temple. In time the opposition ceased. It’s relatively easy to date Zechariah’s prophecy since he wrote “in the eighth month of the second year of Darius” (Zech. 1:1). Darius’ reign began in 522 B.C. This means that Zechariah wrote in the year 520 B.C. If Zechariah’s prophecies are a unit, not divided into First


150

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Zechariah (1–8) and Second Zechariah (9–14) and separated by a long period of time as some claim, then the sequence of events fits the predictive elements of Zechariah 12 being fulfilled in the events recorded in the books of Ezra and Esther. The chronology looks like this: • The edict of Cyrus to allow the Jews to return to their land (538 B.C.): Ezra 1:1–4 • Rebuilding of the temple begins (536 B.C.) • Zechariah’s prophecy (520 B.C.) • Temple completed (516 B.C.): Ezra 6:15 • The events described in the book of Esther (479–473 B.C.)8

There are other suggested dates, but nearly all commentators agree that the events of Esther and much of Ezra take place after the prophecy found in Zechariah 12.9 We learn in Ezra that Haggai the prophet and Zechariah “prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem in the name of the God of Israel” to take up work to complete the temple (Ezra 5:1–2). The city walls were not completed until around 454 B.C.10

Temporary Opposition There was early opposition to the returning exiles from the Babylonian captivity and their desire to rebuild the city of Jerusalem and the temple. The resistance groups are described by Ezra as “the enemies of Judah” (Ezra 4:1). “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and frightened them from building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their counsel in the days of Cyrus the king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia” (4:4–5). Word of the trouble brewing in Jerusalem reached Ahasuerus: “Now in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” (4:6; cf. Esther 1:1). Derek Kidner writes: “For about sixteen years, to 520


A Cup That Causes Reeling

151

BC, the pressure against them was kept up, and as verse 24 [of Ezra 4] will show, it was wholly effective.”11 It was Haggai and Zechariah who “prophesied to the Jews who were in Judah and Jerusalem” to get busy rebuilding “the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 5:1–2). The rebuilding commenced in 518 B.C., two years after Zechariah received and delivered his prophecies: “Then the work of the house of God in Jerusalem ceased, and it was stopped until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (4:24; cf. Zech. 1:1). This means that Zechariah’s prophecies must have circulated in the two-year interval between 520 and 518 B.C. Nothing would stand in the way of this God-ordained program of restoring Israel, not even Haman’s plan to destroy all the Jews in all the provinces of the Persian kingdom ruled by King Ahasuerus (Esther 3 and 9). It is my contention that the failed attempt by Haman to kill all the Jews throughout the Persian Empire is the conflict described in Zechariah 12.

“In That Day” Zechariah 12 begins with new creation language in describing the rebirth of Israel from their days of captivity among the nations. Just like God created the heavens and the earth and formed the first man, God will recreate Israel back in their land (Zech. 12:1b; Ezek. 37). He will do this by defeating her enemies in a dramatic way. Keep in mind that Zechariah is writing to offer encouragement to the Jews of his day. It’s “a burden … concerning Israel” (Zech. 12:1a). John Calvin makes the point “that the Israelites were now as it were rotting among foreign nations without any hope of deliverance, having refused to be gathered under God’s protection [cf. Isa. 12:12–13], though he had kindly and graciously invited them all to return.”12 If this was the condition of Israel and Judah when Zechariah delivered his prophecy, it hardly seems reasonable to offer Israel hope that the promises will not be realized for 2500 years or more! Those who futurize the passage beyond its immediate context turn to Zechariah’s use of “in that day” (12:3) for support of a distant fulfillment. Barry G. Webb, a non-dispensational futurist, argues that “the expression On that day … serves to establish and maintain its


152

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

focus on the end to which everything is finally moving.”13 In other contexts, however, “in that day” simply means “in the day of fulfillment” and says nothing about “the end to which everything is finally moving” (e.g., 1 Sam. 3:12; 8:18; Isa. 3:18; 7:20, 21, 23). John A. Martin, writing on Isaiah in the dispensational-oriented Bible Knowledge Commentary, acknowledges that “in that day” sometimes “refers to a judgment to come on the nation soon [Isa. 7:21].”14 In his comments on Isaiah 4:2, Martin writes that “Sometimes the phrase in that day refers to the Babylonian attack on Jerusalem (e.g., 3:7, 18: 4:1)”15 which took place in the sixth century B.C., a past event for us but future for Isaiah. To assume, therefore, that “in that day” is always “eschatological” (remotely distant in its fulfillment) is not supported by the way the phrase is used elsewhere in Scripture (e.g., Lev. 7:35; Deut. 31:17–18; 1 Sam. 3:12; 8:18; Isa. 2:20; 4:1; etc.). In Tim LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible, we are told that the events of Zechariah 12:1–9 “look ahead to the Tribulation period when the Antichrist will invade the land of Israel and bring all the nations of the earth (Gentiles) against it.”16 A reading of Zechariah 12 will show that nothing is said about “the Antichrist.” The editors go on in the same note to insist that “in no way does this passage relate to the Roman invasion of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This prophecy predicts victory, not defeat, for Jerusalem.”17 On this, I agree, not because it’s a prophecy yet to be fulfilled but because it’s a prophecy that has been fulfilled Kenneth L. Barker begins his exposition of Zechariah 12 by stating that the “oracle basically revolves around two scenes: the final siege of Jerusalem and the Messiah’s return to defeat Israel’s enemies and to establish his kingdom fully.”18 Where does the passage say anything about a final siege? Where is there any mention of “the Messiah’s return”? James Montgomery Boice writes that “the battle referred to in Zechariah 12:1–9 must be the last great battle, Armageddon, and the repentance of verses 10–14 a time of national salvation prior to the second coming of the Lord.”19 Boice has read his own eschatological views into the passage. David Baron also consigns this chapter “to the more distant future” because it “is eschatological and apocalyptic in its character.…”20 Webb concludes


A Cup That Causes Reeling

153

that Zechariah is describing “the final assault the nations will make against” Jerusalem.21 There is nothing in the context of Zechariah 12 that indicates that these events take place in a post-rapture tribulation period thousands of years in the future or that anything “final” is in view except for the destruction of Israel’s enemies.

Israel or the Church? Many non-dispensational interpreters apply the events of Zechariah 12 to the post-resurrection church age to the time of the second coming. The imagery is viewed more as symbol than history. G. N. M. Collins is representative of this view: In this picture of the impregnable city Jerusalem represents the Church. The literal Jerusalem was to be laid waste by the Romans, as it has been on former occasions by other enemies; but the spiritual Jerusalem shall never know defeat by the ‘gates of hell’.22

While there is truth to the claim that the church will never be conquered (Matt. 16:18), it’s quite a stretch to turn explicit references to Judah and Jerusalem into spiritual Jerusalem, the church. While disagreeing with Boice on his overall approach to Zechariah 12, I do agree with him that Jerusalem and Judah cannot be transformed into the New Testament church: [T]he chapter does not speak generally about “the people of God” or even merely about “Israel.” It repeatedly stresses the names of Jerusalem and Judah. And when it talks about Israel’s repentance, it does so by reference to the specific Jewish clans or tribes: “the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives” (Zech. 12:12–14). There is probably no more specifically Jewish prophecy in the book.23

The historical setting points to a time when the Israelites still knew their tribal identity. It’s unlikely that Jews living today would describe


154

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

themselves in terms of clans or tribes. Do genealogies exist that could identify a descendant of David or Levi? We know genealogies were available in the first-century A.D. (Matt. 1:1–17; Luke 3:23–38; 1 Tim. 1:4), and people still identified themselves according to their tribal affiliation. We know that Jesus was from the tribe of Judah (Luke 3:33), the prophetess Anna was from the tribe of Asher (2:36), and Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1; Phil. 3:5). James addressed his letter “to the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (James 1:1).24 Israel’s genealogical records no longer exist and are not necessary since Jesus is the focus of redemptive history.

Establishing the Time Frame Determining the historical setting for Zechariah 12–14 has been problematic for all interpreters. F. F. Bruce states that “there are few Old Testament passages to which it is so difficult to assign a historical ‘life-setting’” as it is with “the second oracle (Zech. xii-xiv).” He goes on to write, that, at least in 1961, he was still hoping “that some fresh discovery will illuminate our darkness” on the content of these chapters. “At the present,” he continues, “it does not look as if the discoveries at Qumran will provide this particular illumination.”21 Dispensationalists apply the fulfillment of Zechariah 12 to the distant future because they claim that there are no historical events that are near to Zechariah’s day that fit the details of the text. This is why David Baron, after rejecting fulfillments related “to events at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar,” “the taking of Jerusalem by Antiochus Epiphanes,” or “to the destruction of the city and Temple by the Romans” in A.D. 70, believes that he has no choice but to relegate the passage’s fulfillment to “Israel’s sudden deliverance by the interposition of God and the destruction of the armies of the confederated anti-Christian world-powers in the final siege of Jerusalem.”22 Charles L. Feinberg, writing in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, follows Baron’s line of thought and concludes that “the prophetic passages compel us to place it before the visible return of Christ to earth.”23 Even Calvin concluded that “in reviewing all histories, nothing of a corresponding character is to be found.”24 Like Calvin, Thomas Ice is em-


A Cup That Causes Reeling

155

phatic that these events have “not yet happened in history” since they describe “Israel’s rescue.”25 G. K. Beale concurs: “Zechariah 12 does not prophesy Israel’s judgment but Israel’s redemption,”26 a redemption that he maintains is still in Israel’s future. Contrary to what these commentators maintain, there is a series of historical events that fits the setting, chronology, and details of the text: God’s rescue of Israel from the evil intentions of Haman and the army of soldiers, most probably on horseback, who sought to wipe out every last Jew from the face of the earth, including those residing in Jerusalem. Esther gets scant attention from Bible commentators and historians. It reads like a story out of place. A number of liberal commentators regard the story as pure fiction.27 The argument is made that events recorded in Esther are not found in contemporary secular sources or even in other parts of the Bible! Part of the problem with this view is that we don’t have much in the way of corroborating information from the Persian period about anything. Kenneth A. Kitchen writes, “For all its vastness, and its immense impact in ancient history, we possess only very uneven original and allied sources for the Persian Empire. Most familiar to Western readers are the accounts given by Herodotus, in his famous Histories—of great value, but much of it is necessarily at second hand.”28 Most conservative Bible commentators have determined that the setting for Esther is in the days of Xerxes I (485–465 B.C.),29 a generation after the prophetic events of Zechariah 12–14 were written. We learn from the book of Esther that “Haman sought to destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:6). Haman is described as “the enemy of the Jews” (3:10; 7:6). Letters were sent “to all the king’s provinces to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, women and children. . .” (3:13; cf. 7:4). This would include Jerusalem, since the holy city and the rebuilt temple were the focal point of Jewish identity. There is no doubt that if Israel survives this planned holocaust, then it satisfies the requirement of Beale and Ice that Israel must be rescued.


156

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

The Rescue of Israel The Bible tells us that the Jews were rescued in dramatic form. There is no event in history that compares to it or will compare to it. Dispensationalists make a point of how God will once again deal with the Jews after the “rapture.” But their post-rapture scenario has twothirds of the Jews wiped out during the “Great Tribulation” (Zech. 13:8). When compared to Esther, this hardly counts as a “rescue of Israel” since only a remnant of Jews is actually rescued. Compare the dispensational view with the actual events of Esther: • First, Haman, “the enemy of the Jews,” is hanged (7:10; 9:25), and his ten sons are later executed (9:7–9). • Second, “on the day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, it was turned to the contrary so that the Jews themselves gained the mastery over those who hated them” (9:1; see Zech. 2:9). • Third, we are told that anyone who sought the harm of the Jews could not stand before them (Esther 9:2). • Fourth, “the Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying; and they did what they pleased to those who hated them” (9:5). • Fifth, more than 75,000 of those who hated the Jews were killed (9:16).30 This was no small battle. • Sixth, what could have been days of “sorrow” and “mourning” for the Jews were turned into days of “gladness” and celebration (9:22) because the wicked scheme which Haman devised was returned “on his own head” (9:25). Israel was indeed a “cup that causes reeling” and a “heavy stone for all the peoples around” (Zech. 12:2; cf. 2:3–4, 6). • Seventh, this rescue of Israel was so significant that it was to be remembered by “every generation, every family, every


A Cup That Causes Reeling

157

province, and every city” so that the “days of Purim were not to fall from among the Jews, or their memory fade from their descendants” (Esther 9:28).

From this history we can conclude that God’s dramatic rescue of His people who had just recently returned to their homeland to rebuild the temple and would later rebuild their city and its walls is a fulfillment of what Zechariah predicts. There is no need to project this prophecy more than 2500 years and counting into the future.

Notes 1. Terry James, “End-Time Closet Christians”: http://www.raptureready.com/ terry/etcc.html 2. “Nestle and Alan list 41 New Testament citations or allusions to Zechariah’s book (Eberhard Nestle and Kurt Aland, eds., Novum Testamentum Graece. New York: American Bible Society, 1950, pp. 670–1).” F. Duane Lindsey, “Zechariah,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, eds. John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), 1545. Also see Robert G. Bratcher, Old Testament Quotations in the New Testament (London, England: United Bible Societies, 1967). 3. Joyce G. Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1972), 59. Also see Philip Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation (London: SPCK, 1931), 268–271. 4. Carrington, The Meaning of the Revelation, 268. 5. Cyrus I. Scofield, “The War in the Light of Prophecy,” The Weekly Evangel (October 28, 1916), 6. Quoted in Dwight Wilson Armageddon Now!: The Premillenarian Response to Russia and Israel Since 1917, 2nd ed. (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, [1977], 1991), 16. 6. T. Boersma, Is the Bible a Jigsaw Puzzle …: An Evaluation of Hal Lindsey’s Writings (St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada: Paideia Press, 1978), 96. 7. Boersma, Is the Bible a Jigsaw Puzzle, 96–97. 8. Some chronologists shorten the time period between Zechariah’s prophecy in 520 B.C. and the events in Ezra, Esther, and Nehemiah. Esther becomes queen and Ezra arrives in Jerusalem (515 B.C.), Darius promotes Haman and Darius issues decree that the Jews may defend themselves (510 B.C.), and the Jews defend themselves (509 B.C.). James B. Jordan and Floyd Nolen Jones argue that the Mordecai in Esther is the same Mordecai mentioned in Ezra (2:2) and Nehemiah (7:7). See Jordan, Esther in the Midst of Covenant History (Nicevelle, FL: Biblical Horizons, 1995), 15–27, 39–42. Jones argues, “Indeed, the Mordecai of Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 should, in all likelihood, be identified as the Mordecai of the Book of Esther such that we have only one Mordecai, not two as is being taught today.” (The Chronology of the Old Testament, 204).


158

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

9. Floyd Nolen Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, 15th ed. (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1993–2005). 10. Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, 305. 11. Derek Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 50. 12. John Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1950), 5:340–341. 13. Barry G. Webb, The Message of Zechariah (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 156. 14. John A. Martin, “Isaiah,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1050. Emphasis added. 15. Martin, “Isaiah,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1041. 16. Dispensationalist Paul R. Fink takes a similar position: “[These events] refer primarily to the gentile invasion of Palestine and the Battle of Armageddon in the last three and one-half years of the Great Tribulation.” (“Zechariah,” Liberty Bible Commentary: Old Testament, exec. ed. Jerry Falwell [Lynchburg, VA: The Old-Time Gospel Hour, 1982], 1935). 17. Tim LaHaye, gen. ed., Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), 990. 18. Kenneth L. Barker, “Zechariah,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), 7:680–681. 19. James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: Two Volumes Complete in One Edition (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 1983, 1986), 2:208. 20. David Baron, The Visions and Prophecies of Zechariah (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, [1918] 1972), 422. John MacArthur’s view is similar. See MacArthur, The Return and Reign of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1988), 87. 21. Webb, The Message of Zechariah, 156. 22. G. N. M. Collins, “Zechariah,” The New Bible Commentary, ed. F. Davidson, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1954), 760. Also see Theodore Laetsch, Minor Prophets (St Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 1956), 478–481. 23. Boice, Minor Prophets, 208. 24. Notice that James refers to the “twelve tribes.” Some contend that those Jews taken into captivity by Assyria never returned to the land, that it was only those of the southern kingdom from Babylonian captivity who returned. This is an argument from silence. Some of all the tribes returned (Acts 2:5), and as James tells us, some of all the tribes did not. See J. B. Shearer, “The Lost Ten Tribes.” One Hundred Brief Bible Studies (Richmond, VA: Presbyterian Board of Publication, 1912), 210–212.


10 The Piercing of God

Z

echariah writes that “all the nations of the earth will be gathered against” Jerusalem, and “it will come about in that day that I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem” (Zech. 12:9). For the dispensationalist, “all the nations” must refer to every nation in the world during the seven-year post-rapture great tribulation period. This is impossible on logistical grounds alone. In what way could all the nations of the earth descend on Israel today? If they are destroyed as nations, then what’s left to redeem out of the nations? But what’s impossible logically in terms of modern-day prophetic assumptions is possible in terms of biblical history. The political situation in Esther’s day shows that a conquering king assumed the sovereign rule over the nations he conquered. Ahasuerus used warriors from these conquered nations to expand his kingdom by subjecting other nations after subduing their armies and incorporating their best soldiers into his own army. J. A. Thompson in his comments on Jeremiah 34:1 makes a similar point: “The picture is of a suzerain with contingents of troops from the vassal states. It was one of terms of a treaty between a suzerain and a vassal that the vassal supplied troops to assist the overlord in a campaign against his enemies.”1 Rome at the time of Christ was not made up entirely of Romans. By the fifth-century A.D., Rome shifted its military capacity “to various Germanic groups, such as the Goths, Huns, Vandals, Burgundians, and Franks. Moreover, when the last battles came, Germans made up the larger proportion of the Roman army as well and in that sense had already supplanted the ethnic Romans.”2 Keil, in his commentary 159


160

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

on Daniel, makes a similar point: “[T]he Roman kingdom spread its power and dominion over the whole oikoumene3 over all the historical nations of antiquity in Europe, Africa, and Asia. ‘There is,’ (says Herodian, ii. 11.7) ‘no part of the earth and no region of the heavens whither the Romans have not extended their dominion.’”4 Cyrus, the king of Persia who conquered Babylon and under whom the Jews were allowed to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple (Ezra 1:1–4; Isa. 44:28; 45:1, 12, 13), declared, “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth” (Ezra 1:2; 2 Chron. 36:23).5 The Persian Empire was nowhere near global, and yet Cyrus considered his rule to encompass “all the kingdoms of the earth.” The Persian Empire consisted of conquered nations throughout its “127 provinces,” from “India to Ethiopia” (Esther 1:1). This included Israel, Judah, and Jerusalem. When Persia conquered Babylon, it inherited the nations that Babylon had conquered. Nebuchadnezzar thought of himself as “the king to all the peoples, nations, and men of every language that live in all the earth” (Dan. 4:1; cf. Jer. 27:7). Ahasuerus, better known to us in the Greek form Xerxes, thought of himself in equal terms. An inscription of Xerxes found at Persepolis and translated in [Ancient Near Eastern Texts] (p. 316) enables us to read his own testimony: ‘I am Xerxes, the great king, the only king, the king of all countries which speak all kinds of languages, the king of this big and far-reaching earth.…’ There follows a list of nations he ruled.6

Edward J. Young writes that the “Assyrian and Babylonian kings regarded themselves as kings of all the earth, and in their inscriptions were accustomed thus to speak of themselves. This practice was also in vogue among Persian rulers.”7 Consider that when a communiqué was sent out by the king that it had to be translated into “the scores of languages spoken throughout the empire.”8 A variety of languages meant a variety of nations. “Herodotus says sixty nations were under Persian rule.”9 The armies that came up against the Jews, and this would have included Jerusalem, came from “all the nations” under Persian rule at that time. Notice in the following examples how “all nations” is used to describe nothing more than a kingdom-wide dominion:


The Piercing of God

161

• Speaking of Nebuchadnezzar, “And all the nations shall serve him, and his son, and his grandson, until the time of his own land comes; then many nations and great kings will make him their servant” (Jer. 27:7). • “And Hananiah spoke in the presence of all the people, saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Even so will I break within two full years, the yoke of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon from the neck of all the nations”’”(Jer. 28:11). • “I scattered them with a storm wind among all the nations whom they have not known. Thus the land is desolated behind them, so that no one went back and forth, for they made the pleasant land desolate” (Zech. 7:14). • “Now there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5).

As these examples show, “all nations” does not always refer to every single nation of what we know of the world today.10 In Nehemiah we read that the Jews “were sold to the nations” (Neh. 5:8). In Sanballat and Geshem’s letter to Nehemiah, it was written, “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel” (Neh. 6:6). Obviously, in context, “the nations” is a reference only to those nations that were geographically near to Israel. Notice also the use of “the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 3:3). Zechariah 12:2 uses similar language: “Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around; and when the siege is against Jerusalem, it will also be against Judah.” With the above references in hand, there is no need to look beyond the geography of Zechariah’s day to find the time and place of fulfillment. So how did God “destroy all the nations” that came against Jerusalem? Notice that the destruction comes only to those nations “that come against Jerusalem,” not every nation in the world or even every nation, as arguing from my perspective, in the Persian Empire. Herodotus wrote that there were 60 nations living in Persia. This means that only those who conspired with Haman against the Jews


162

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

were destroyed. They are described as “the enemies of the Jews” (Esther 9:1, 5), “those who hated them” (9:2), “those who sought them harm” (9:2). The dread of the Jews “had fallen on all the peoples” (9:2), the same language that’s used in Zechariah 12:2: “Behold, I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that causes reeling to all the peoples around.” The book of Esther tells us that “the Jews struck all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying” (Esther 9:5).

Judah and Jerusalem An argument that might be raised against the above interpretation is that while Zechariah 12:1–9 describes the failed siege as against Jerusalem and Judah (12:2), the book of Esther makes no mention of Judah and Jerusalem. First, Esther is written from the perspective of the Persian-dwelling Jews. There is little reference to anything particularly religious in the book. God is not mentioned. Nothing is said about Jewish laws, feasts, or customs,11 although Esther 4:14 may be an exception, a hint that God’s providence was at work: “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” Individual Jews may have practiced Judaism, but Esther is silent on the subject. Second, since it was Haman’s goal to “destroy all the Jews… throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:6), Jerusalem would have been a prime target even though the city is not mentioned by name. We do know there were Jews who were “assembled in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahaseurus” (9:2). This must have included Jerusalem.12 Notice what Esther 9:16 says: “Now the rest of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces assembled to defend their lives and rid themselves of their enemies, and kill 75,000 of those who hated them.…” We know from Ezra and Nehemiah that the Jews in Jerusalem had enemies who did not want them to rebuild their city. • The “sons of Israel” were “terrified because of the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 3:3).


The Piercing of God

163

• “Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel” (Ezra 4:1). • “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and frightened them from building” (Ezra 4:4). • “And when Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official heard about it [the rebuilding of the walls], it was very displeasing to them that someone had come to seek the welfare of the sons of Israel” (Neh. 2:10). • “But when Sanballat the Horonite, and Tobiah the Ammonite official, and Geshem the Arab heard it, they mocked us and despised us and said, ‘What is this thing you are doing? Are you rebelling against the king?’” (Neh. 2:19). • “Now it came about when it was reported to Sanballat, Tobiah, to Geshem the Arab, and to the rest of our enemies that I [Nehemiah] had rebuilt the wall.… they were planning to harm me” (Neh. 6:1, 2).

As Ezra and Nehemiah show, no harm came to the Jews. God had enveloped them in perfect security. Opposition existed prior to and after the events recorded in Esther. Zechariah, in a prophetic way, describes what God did to Israel’s enemies. Esther shows what the Jews did to Israel’s enemies. Third, we learn from Ezra that “in the reign of Ahaseurus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra. 4:6; cf. Esther 1:1). Derek Kidner’s comments are helpful: “The mention of Ahasuerus [Xerxes I (486–465)] here marks simply the passage of time, which had still not cooled the enemy’s antagonism. But evidently nothing came of this attempt.”13 What if there was a connection? Did Haman see this communiqué as an opportunity to rekindle the flames of opposition against the Jews which had been fomenting among some of the occupants of the land who were displaced because of Israel’s return?


164

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

The Bible gives us a clear record of what actually happened in history. In addition to Israel’s dramatic rescue from her enemies, “many Pagans were induced by it to become proselytes to the Jewish religion, so evident and palpable was the interposition of heaven in their behalf. Thus was accomplished the prediction uttered some time before by the prophet Zechariah [Zech. 2:11; cf. Esther 8:17].”14

The Place of Zechariah 12:10–13:1 But how do the events of Zechariah 12:10 and following fit into the proximate historical context? We know from John 19:37 that Zechariah 12:10 was fulfilled when Jesus was crucified: “For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of Him shall be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him Whom They pierced.’”

Those who pierced Jesus were the ones who looked on Him. The editors of the LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible are correct when they write that “this act fulfills Zechariah 12:10, which says, ‘They shall look upon me whom they have pierced’ (cf. Rev. 1:7).”15 Of course, they are agreeing with what John makes abundantly clear. But if the events of Zechariah 12:1–9 were fulfilled during the time when the events in Esther took place, then why a gap of nearly 500 years before the fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10? To answer this question, we must establish whether the first section of the chapter should be separated from Zechariah 12:10 and following without breaking the literary continuity of the passage. Peter J. Leithart takes the position that “there are several reasons for treating 12:2–9 as a separate section. First, verses 2 and 9 both promise that the Lord will judge the nations that come up against Jerusalem, thus providing a frame for the section. Second, these verses are concerned with the siege of Jerusalem, but in the following section (12:10–13:1), the siege is not alluded to. Finally, … 12:10–13:1 is marked out as a distinct section of text; therefore, the text breaks after 12:9.”16 So then, Zechariah 12:1–9 could be treated as a self-contained pericope with the remainder of the chapter dealing with another unrelated event.


The Piercing of God

165

Without dismissing Leithart’s analysis, there may be another way to look at the passage. F. W. Farrar argues that Zechariah 12:10 “was a striking type and foreshadowing of the death of the King of Martyrs, the Son of God, and of the remorse which pierced to the heart those who had slain Him (Acts ii. 37; vii. 54).”17 If this is true, then we should look for a more immediate historical setting that would establish the “piercing” as a type of the piercing of Christ on the cross (John 19:37). Farrar offers the following possibilities: Who was this martyr whose murder has been so great a crime, whose memory should awaken so bitter and universal a repentance? We are naturally tempted to suppose that it is the suffering servant of Jehovah so pathetically depicted in Isaiah liii. It was clearly some great shepherd of the people, who was near and dear to God ([Zech.] xiii. 7), in whose death the House of David, as well as the people of the city, had taken a shameful part (xii. 10–12; xiii. 1). Was it Isaiah himself slain by Manasseh, as tradition tells us? Was it the prophet Urijah murdered by Jehoiakim and his people (Jer. xxvi. 20–23)? Or was it some other prophet, like Jeremiah, who suffered so many years of cruel persecution, which pointed to his future martyrdom?18

By viewing Zechariah 12:10 as type of piercing that is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the way supplying a ram in the place of Isaac was a type of Christ, the historical cohesion of the chapter is maintained. In fact, we see something similar in the life of David. Psalm 22 is first of all David’s cry of anguish, even though it is filled with obvious Messianic elements that ultimately find their fulfillment in the redemptive work of Jesus. C. Hassell Bullock writes that the Psalm was spoken by “David himself at some God-forsaken moment of his life. The fact that Jesus cried out these words from the cross does not mean that our interpretation should start there. It is much safer and fairer to the text to begin at the historical/cultural level and hear in them the suffering of an ancient Israelite.”19 He states that there are two ways to understand Jesus’ use of Psalm 22: “either as fuller sense (sensus plenior) or typology.”20


166

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Gerard Van Groningen, in his masterful work on the messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, writes that the experiences recorded [in Psalm 22] are in keeping with David’s historical pilgrimage to the throne and his actual sitting on it. The poetic symbols reflect a Davidic awareness of life in the open country. And the perception of the relationship between God and the king, even in times of suffering, is clearly present.… As he functions as a prophet, serves as a priest, and reigns as the anointed royal one, David is a messianic type in the fullest meaning of that concept. What he was, experienced, and proclaimed in his day was directly related to what his offspring would be, have, and do in the fullness of time.21

Zechariah 12:10 could be read in a similar way. While some historical person may be in view, it’s more likely that something more striking is being described. Notice who is pierced: “they will look on Me whom they have pierced” (12:10). Who is the “Me”? It’s Jehovah. How is this possible? Physically, prior to the incarnation, it isn’t. The piercing is metaphorical and typological, as Homer Hailey argues: “They could not pierce Jehovah in the sense of putting Him to death; but they pierced Him through insult, blasphemy, and rejection.”22 The use of “pierce” in this way is not uncharacteristic of the Bible. It’s said of Mary, the mother of Jesus: “and a sword will pierce even your own soul” (Luke 2:35). In Hebrews 4:12 we read: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” In these cases, the piercing is being used “metaphorically.”23 The same is probably true in Zechariah 12:10. R. T. France comments: And in the overall pattern of Zech 9–14 this “one they have pierced” is usually interpreted as a rejected messianic figure, who appears also as the rejected shepherd in Zech 11:4–14 and the shepherd killed by the sword in Zech 13:7–9. In this gospel [i.e., Matthew] both of those latter passages will be applied to Jesus’ death in Jerusalem (see 26:32; 27:9–10), and


The Piercing of God

167

the present allusion should therefore probably be taken in the same way. Jesus’ words here suggest then, in the light of their OT background, that the people of Jerusalem will recognize what they have done to their Messiah, but their mourning will be prompted by seeing his eventual vindication and triumph, when it will be too late to avert the consequences of having rejected him.24

It was the “piercing” of Jehovah that sent the residents of Israel and Judah into exile. It was only after recognizing their grave sin that they called out for mercy and were redeemed. The type is fulfilled in the piercing of Christ and the call for mercy and the granting of grace that followed. This is why “in John 19:37 the verse is given an interpretive paraphrase: They shall look on him. John has made an application of the prophecy in the light of the fulfillment (as far as the piercing is concerned) to Jesus. John knew that in its Old Testament context the first person was used, and that the pronoun referred to Yahweh.”25 Consider Calvin’s wise and perceptive comments on John 19:37: They shall look on him whom they pierced. This passage is violently tortured by those who endeavour to explain it literally as referring to Christ. Nor is this the purpose for which the Evangelist quotes it, but rather to show that Christ is that God who formerly complained, by Zechariah, that the Jews had pierced his heart (Zech. xii.10). Now, God speaks there after the manner of men, declaring that He is wounded by the sins of his people, and especially by their obstinate contempt of his word, in the same manner as a mortal man receives a deadly wound, when his heart is pierced; as he says, elsewhere, that his Spirit was deeply grieved [Matt. 26:38 and Isa. 63:10]. Now, as Christ is God manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16), John says that in his visible flesh was plainly accomplished what his Divine Majesty had endured from the Jews, so far as it was capable of enduring;…What was done by the hand of a Roman soldier the Evangelist John justly imputes to the Jews; as they are elsewhere said to have crucified the Son of God, (Acts ii. 36,) though they did not lay a finger on his body.26


168

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Every Family will Mourn This leaves us with the final section of Zechariah 12 where we are told that “every family by itself” will mourn. Did this happen in the time frame outlined above? The defeat of Haman and the rescue of the Jews took place around 473 B.C. The events described in Ezra and Nehemiah take place during and soon after the events recorded in Esther. There is the recognition of “the sins of the sons of Israel” which were committed against God (Neh. 1:6): “We have acted very corruptly against Thee and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which Thou didst command Thy servant Moses” (1:7). Because of their unfaithfulness, God scattered them “among the peoples” (1:8) but with a promise of a return if they “return to Me” (1:9). This return would come by way of mourning because of their sin, a mourning that would lead to true repentance. Zechariah 12:12 requires that “every family by itself” mourn. In Nehemiah 7 we find that “the nobles, officials, and the people” were “enrolled by genealogies” (7:5) with an extended list of families following (7:8–60). If the Mordecai of 7:7 is the Mordecai of Esther,27 then the mustering “of the men of the people of Israel” (7:7) for the reading of the law (8:1–5) that leads the people to “mourn” (8:9), “fast” and put on “sackcloth” (9:1), the attire of mourning, fulfills Zechariah 12:12. They “confessed their sin and the iniquities of their fathers” (9:2) and “confessed and worshiped the LORD their God” (9:3). Even the family of the house of Levi was represented and participated in the time of mourning and worship (9:4–38).

The New Testament Fulfillment With so much of the Old Testament, there is a forward-looking fulfillment that centers on the life and work of Christ and its relation to the culmination of all the promises made to Israel. “And beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, Jesus explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.… ‘These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets


The Piercing of God

169

and the Psalms must be fulfilled’” (Luke 24:27, 44). The first converts were Jews made up from all the tribes of Israel. E. W. Hengstenberg explains the significance of the reference to David and Levi and their first-century A.D. fulfillment: We have thus the two leading families in the early theocracy, the royal and the priestly; and with these there are associated two minor subdivisions to show that the conversion would entirely pervade every family from the highest to the lowest of its members. The prominent position taken by women in the gospel history, from the daughters of Jerusalem in Luke xxiii.27 … to the weeping Mary in John xx.16, answers to the peculiar emphasis laid upon the women here.28

What about those “from the house of Levi” (Zech. 12:13), many of whom were priests? Once again, the fulfillment is found in the words of the New Testament. One of the first Israelites to hear God’s call was Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. Zacharias was a Levite as was his wife Elizabeth (Luke 1:5). While most chief priests opposed Jesus and the gospel message (e.g., Matt. 27:1; Acts 9:14), this does not seem to be true for priests in general: “And the word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Not just a few, but “a great many of the priests” came to Christ. The case could be made that since genealogical records were destroyed in A.D. 70, it would be impossible to determine today who was from the tribes of Judah and Levi. Another indication that the first-century is the historical context for the events described in Zechariah can be seen in the following: “And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born” (12:10). When did this happen? John writes, “For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, ‘Not a bone of Him shall be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They shall look on Him Whom they pierced’” (19:36–37;


170

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

[Zech. 12:10]). The context is obviously with Jesus’ contemporaries, fulfilled in Jesus’ day. Zechariah 12:10 is Christologically fulfilled in John 19:36–37. Colin Chapman concurs: “In Matthew 24:30 there is an echo of Zechariah 12:10, when he says that all nations of the earth29 will ‘mourn’ at the coming of the Son of man, in other words, in the period immediately after his death.”30 When was “the Spirit of grace and of supplication” poured out on those who pierced Him (Zech. 12:10; John 19:36–37)? It began at the foot of the cross: “And all the multitudes who came together for this spectacle, when they observed what had happened, began to return, beating their breasts” (Luke 23:48). The Bible says “multitudes,” not just a few here and there. These were Jews from the house of Judah and the house of Israel. Peter addresses the “men of Israel” (Acts 2:22) with the following indictment: “This Man, delivered up by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death” (2:23). And the response? “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (2:37). The men of Israel who pierced Jesus through crucifixion had their hearts “pierced” by God. This brought about their repentance and gave them “the gift of the Holy Spirit” (2:38). Peter quotes Joel to confirm the Old Covenant promise that God would pour out His Spirit on that first-century generation of Jews that would bring repentance, a true godly sorrow (2 Cor. 7:10–11): “But this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel: ‘And it shall be in the last days,’ God says, ‘That I will pour forth of My Spirit upon all mankind’” (Acts 2:16–17; cf. Zech. 14:21). Ice is so intent on futurizing all prophecy that he adds the word “like” to Acts 2:16 to remove its fulfillment from its obvious first-century context: But this is [like] that which was spoken by the prophet Joel. The text of Joel 2:28–32 describes the activity of God’s Spirit at work in events surrounding the second coming of Christ. Peter’s point is that of similarity between what the Holy Spirit will do in the future with the nation of Israel and what He was doing at the opening of the Church age. The Spirit’s ac-


The Piercing of God

171

tivity in Joel is linked to the events that will transpire during the tribulation; thus, it could not have been fulfilled in Acts 2. The unique statement of Peter (‘this is that’) is in the language of comparison and similarity, not fulfillment.”31

Acts 2:16 states unequivocally that “this is what was spoken of through the prophet Joel.” What was happening at Pentecost in the delivery of Peter’s message to his countrymen would have a worldwide impact, beginning in Jerusalem and including “every creature under heaven” (Col. 1:23) and “all the nations” (Rom. 16:25–26) before that firstcentury generation passed away. In fact, Paul writes without hesitation that the gospel “has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26). We learn from Luke that “there were Jews living in Jerusalem, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). With the inclusion of “like” in Acts 2:26, it’s Ice who denudes the passage from its true historical context. Whatever happened to the dispensational insistence that the Bible be interpreted literally? Does adding words to a perfectly clear text constitute literalism? Literalism demands a first-century fulfillment, as Charles Wright maintains: “The literal fulfillment of the prophecy took place when thousands, awakened to a sense of the sin they had committed in crucifying the Lord of life and glory, bitterly bewailed their transgression. The penitential sorrow of those days was not confined to Jerusalem, but pervaded the whole land of Judea. Many thousands of the Jews believed (Acts xxi. 20), a fact too much lost sight of in the contemplation of the rejection of the Gospel by the majority of the Jewish people.”32 There is no question, therefore, that the redemptive context of Zechariah 12 is the first-century A.D., a position supported by Hengstenberg: By the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem we are to understand the members of the ancient covenant nation, those whom Peter addresses in Acts iii.25 as “sons of the prophets and of the covenant.” … The crowds, who but a short time before had cried out “Crucify him,” now smite their breasts, overpowered by the proofs of the superhuman


172

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future dignity of Jesus, and mourn for the deceased, and for their own sin. This was the commencement of a powerful movement, which brought large bodies of penitent Jews to the Christian Church. The first Christian Pentecost formed its central point. The point of Peter’s address is contained in the words, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God had made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ;” and the result is thus described in ver. 37, “When they heard, they were pricked in their heart.” The theme of Peter’s discourse is described as being this, “Ye have killed the Prince of life” (chap. iii. 15); and the following is the result, “Many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.” The extent of the movement is also apparent from chap. v. 14, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.”33

The redemptive context is clear. Zechariah had been shown through revelation what would happen to the remnant of Israel when they repent of their sins and embrace the long-promised Messiah.

Notes 1. J. A. Thompson, The Book of Jeremiah (NICOT) (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980), 607. 2. Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003), 130. 3. The Greek word oikoumene is most often translated “inhabited earth” and refers, at least when used in the New Testament, to the known world or the Roman empire (Matt. 24:14; Luke 2:1; Acts 11:28; Rev. 3:10). 4. C. F. Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Book of Daniel, trans. M. G. Easton (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 268. 5. It should be pointed out that the Hebrew word eretz can be translated as “earth” or “land.” If translated “earth,” then it’s obvious from the context that the reference is to what people knew of their world. 6. Joyce G. Baldwin, “Esther,” The New Bible Commentary: Revised, eds. D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer, A.M. Stibbs, and D.J. Wiseman, 3rd. ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1970), 413.


The Piercing of God

173

7. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel: A Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1949), 97. 8. John C. Whitcomb, Esther: Triumph of God’s Sovereignty (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 43. 9. F. B. Huey, Jr., “Esther,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, 12 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988, 4:792. 10. I’ve dealt with the issue of limited geography in biblical interpretation. Articles available on request. 11. John H. Walton, Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 52–54. 12. Nehemiah “was in Susa the capitol” with “some men from Judah …concerning the Jews who had escaped and had survived the captivity, and about Jerusalem” (Neh. 1:1–2). 13. Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah, 50. 14. Thomas M’Crie, Lectures on the Book of Esther (New York: Robert Carter, 1838), 257. 15. Tim LaHaye, gen. ed., Prophecy Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), 1160. 16. Peter J. Leithart, Death and Transfiguration of the Holy City: The Literary Structure of Zechariah 9–14 (Niceville, FL: Biblical Horizons, 1995), 15. 17. F. W. Farrar, The Minor Prophets (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1890), 220. S. R. Driver comments: “The context points plainly to some historical event in the prophet’s own time, for which the people would eventually feel the sorrow here described…. Accepting the text as it stands, the meaning can only be that, in the murder or martyrdom referred to. Yahweh had been thrust through in the person of His representative.” (The Minor Prophets [Edinburgh: T. C. &E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1906], 265). J. Gordon McConville follows a similar line of thought: “Though John 19:37 applies this verse to Jesus’ crucifixion the reference in Zechariah is to some event in the prophet’s time, or Israel’s history (cf. Baldwin 1972, p. 191). It may have been a murder or execution of some figure in a conflict over the leadership or direction of the post-exilic community” (Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Prophets [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002], 4:250). 18. Farrar, Minor Prophets, 219–220 19. C. Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literal and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2001), 43–44. Bullock’s entire discussion on this subject is helpful. 20. Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms, 44. 21. Gerard Van Groningen, Messianic Revelation in the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1990), 354, 358. 22. Homer Hailey, Commentary on the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972), 390.


174

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

23. Randolf O. Yeager, The Renaissance New Testament (Woodbridge, VA: Renaissance Press, Inc., 1979), 4:219. 24. R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew: The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2007), 925. 25. James Smith, What the Bible Teaches About the Promised Messiah (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1993), 453. 26. John Calvin, Commentary on the Gospel According to John, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956), 2:242. 27. Floyd Nolen Jones, The Chronology of the Old Testament, 15th ed. (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 1993–2005), 204. 28. E. W. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament and a Commentary on the Messianic Predictions, 4 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, [1872– 1878] 1956), 4:86. 29. Matthew 24:30 actually says, “tribes of the land.” 30. Colin Chapman, Whose Promised Land? The Continuing Crisis over Israel and Palestine (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 300. 31. Thomas Ice, “Notes on the Book of Acts,” Prophecy Study Bible, 1167. 32. Charles H. Wright, Zechariah and His Prophecies (Minneapolis, MN: Klock & Klock, [1879] 1980), 405. 33. Hengstenberg, Christology of the Old Testament, 4:64, 67.


Appendix A Looking for New Heavens and a New Earth A Study of 2 Peter 3 By David Chilton

A

ccording to St. Peter’s second epistle, Christ and the apostles had warned that apostasy would accelerate toward the end of the “last days” (2 Pet. 3:2–4; cf. Jude 17–19)—the forty-year period between Christ’s ascension and the destruction of the Old Covenant Temple in A.D. 70.<?>1 He makes it clear that these latter-day “mockers” were Covenant apostates: familiar with Old Testament history and prophecy, they were Jews who had abandoned the Abrahamic Covenant by rejecting Christ. As Jesus had repeatedly warned (cf. Matt. 12:38–45; 16:1–4; 23:29–39), upon this evil and perverse generation would come the great “Day of Judgment” foretold in the prophets, a “destruction of ungodly men” like that suffered by the wicked of Noah’s day (2 Pet. 3:5–7). Throughout His ministry Jesus drew this analogy (see Matt. 24:37–39 and Luke 17:26–27). Just as God destroyed the “world” of the antediluvian era by the Flood, so would the “world” of first-century Israel be destroyed by fire in the fall of Jerusalem. St. Peter describes this judgment as the destruction of “the present heavens and earth” (2 Pet. 3:7), making way for “new heavens and a new earth” (2 Pet. 3:10). Because of what may be called the “collapsinguniverse” terminology used in this passage, many have mistakenly assumed that St. Peter is speaking of the final end of the physical heaven and earth, rather than the dissolution of the Old Covenant world order. The great seventeenth-century Puritan theologian John Owen answered this view by referring to the Bible’s very character175


Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

176

istic metaphorical usage of the terms heavens and earth, as in Isaiah’s description of the Mosaic Covenant: For I am the LORD your God, who stirs up the sea and its waves roar (the LORD of hosts is His name). I have put My words in your mouth and have covered you with the shadow of My hand, to establish the heavens, to found the earth, and to say to Zion, “You are My people” (Isa. 51:15–16).

Owen writes: The time when the work here mentioned, of planting the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth, was performed by God, was when he “divided the sea” ([Isa. 51] v.15), and gave the law (v. 16), and said to Zion, “Thou art my people”—that is, when he took the children of Israel out of Egypt, and formed them in the wilderness into a church and state. Then he planted the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth—made the new world; that is, brought forth order, and government, and beauty, from the confusion wherein before they were. This is the planting of the heavens, and laying the foundation of the earth in the world. And hence it is, that when mention is made of the destruction of a state and government, it is in that language that seems to set forth the end of the world. So Isaiah 34:4; which is yet but the destruction of the state of Edom. The like is also affirmed of the Roman empire, Revelation 6:14; which the Jews constantly affirm to be intended by Edom in the prophets. And in our Saviour Christ’s prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem, Matthew 24, he sets it out by expressions of the same importance. It is evident then, that, in the prophetical idiom and manner of speech, by “heavens” and “earth,” the civil and religious state and combination of men in the world, and the men of them, are often understood. So were the heavens and earth that world which was then destroyed by the flood.2


Appendix A

177

Another Old Testament text, among many that could be mentioned, is Jeremiah 4:23–31, which speaks of the imminent fall of Jerusalem (587 B.C.) in similar language of decreation: I looked on the earth, and behold, it was formless and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.… For thus says the LORD, the whole land shall be a desolation [referring to the curse of Lev. 26:31–33; see its fulfillment in Matt. 24:15!], yet I will not execute a complete destruction. For this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above be dark.… From

the very beginning, God’s covenant with Israel had been expressed in terms of a new creation: Moses described Israel’s salvation in the wilderness in terms of the Spirit of God hovering over a waste, just as in the original creation of heaven and earth (Deut. 32:10–11; cf. Gen. 1:2).3 In the Exodus, as at the original creation, God divided light and darkness (Ex. 14:20), divided the waters from the waters to bring forth the dry land (14:21–22), and planted His people in His holy mountain (15:17). God’s miraculous formation of Israel was thus an image of Creation, a redemptive recapitulation of the making of heaven and earth. The Old Covenant order, in which the entire world was organized around the central sanctuary of the Jerusalem Temple, could quite appropriately be described, before its final dissolution, as “the present heavens and earth.” The 19th-century expositor John Brown wrote: “A person at all familiar with the phraseology of the Old Testament scriptures knows that the dissolution of the Mosaic economy, and the establishment of the Christian, is often spoken of as the removing of the old earth and heavens, and the creation of a new earth and heavens.…The period of the close of the one dispensation, and the commencement of the other, is spoken of as ‘the last days’ and ‘the end of the world’; and is described as such a shaking of the


178

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future earth and heavens, as should lead to the removal of the things which were shaken (Hag. 2:6; Heb. 12:26–27).”4

Therefore, says Owen, “On this foundation I affirm that the heavens and earth here intended in this prophecy of Peter, the coming of the Lord, the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men, mentioned in the destruction of that heaven and earth, do all of them relate, not to the last and final judgment of the world, but to that utter desolation and destruction that was to be made of the Judaical church and state”—i.e., the Fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.5 This interpretation is confirmed by St. Peter’s further information: In this imminent “Day of the Lord” which was about to come upon the first-century world “like a thief” (cf. Matt. 24:42–43; 1 Thess. 5:2; Rev. 3:3), “the elements will be destroyed with intense heat” (v. 10; cf. v. 12). What are these elements? So-called “literalists” lightly and carelessly assume that the apostle is speaking about physics, using the term to mean atoms (or perhaps subatomic particles), the actual physical components of the universe. What these “literalists” fail to recognize is that although the word elements (stoicheia) is used several times in the New Testament, it is never used in connection with the physical universe! (In this respect, the very misleading comments of the New Geneva Study Bible on this passage violate its own interpretive dictum that “Scripture interprets Scripture.” For possible meanings of this term, it cites pagan Greek philosophers and astrologers—but never the Bible’s own use of the term!) Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of New Testament Words observes that while in pagan literature the word is used in a number of different ways (referring to the “four elements” of the physical world, or to the “notes” on a musical scale, or to the “principles” of geometry or logic), the New Testament writers use the term “in a new way, describing the stoicheia as weak and beggarly. In a transferred sense, the stoicheia are the things on which pre-Christian existence rests, especially in pre-Christian religion. These things are impotent; they bring bondage instead of freedom.”<?>6 Throughout the New Testament, the word “elements” (stoicheia) is always used in connection with the Old Covenant order. St. Paul used the term in his stinging rebuke to the Galatian Christians who were tempted to


Appendix A

179

forsake the freedom of the New Covenant for an Old Covenant-style legalism. Describing Old Covenant rituals and ceremonies, he says “we were in bondage under the elements (stoicheia) of this world.… How is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements (stoicheia), to which you desire again to be in bondage? You observe days and months and seasons and years….” (Gal. 4:3, 9–10). He warns the Colossians: “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the basic principles (stoicheia) of the world, and not according to Christ.… Therefore, if you died with Christ to the basic principles (stoicheia) of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations—‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle’” (Col. 2:8, 20–21). The writer to the Hebrews chided them: “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elements (stoicheia) of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food” (Heb. 5:12). In context, the writer to the Hebrews is clearly speaking of Old Covenant truths—particularly since he connects it with the term oracles of God, an expression used elsewhere in the New Testament for the provisional, Old Covenant revelation (see Acts 7:38; Rom. 3:2). These citations from Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews comprise all the other occurrences in the New Testament of that word “elements” (stoicheia). Not one refers to the “elements” of the physical world or universe; all are speaking of the “elements” of the Old Covenant system, which, as the apostles wrote just before the approaching destruction of the Old Covenant Temple in A. D. 70, was “becoming obsolete and growing old” and “ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13). And St. Peter uses the same term in exactly the same way. Throughout the Greek New Testament, the word elements (stoicheia) always means ethics, not physics; the foundational “elements” of a religious system that was doomed to pass away in a fiery judgment. In fact, St. Peter was quite specific about the fact that he was not referring to an event thousands of years in their future, but to something that was already taking place: “But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements (stoicheia)


180

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. Therefore, since all these things are being dissolved, what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be dissolved, being on fire, and the elements (stoicheia) are being melted with fervent heat? (2 Pet. 3:10–12)

Contrary to the misleading renderings of translators blinded by their presuppositions, St. Peter insists that the dissolution of “the present heaven and earth”—the Old Covenant system with its obligatory rituals and bloody sacrifices—was already beginning to occur: the “universe” of the Old Covenant was coming apart, never to be revived: When did prophet and vision cease from Israel? Was it not when Christ came, the Holy one of holies? It is, in fact, a sign and notable proof of the coming of the Word that Jerusalem no longer stands, neither is prophet raised up, nor vision revealed among them. And it is natural that it should be so, for when He that was signified had come, what need was there any longer of any to signify Him? And when the Truth had come, what further need was there of the shadow? …And the kingdom of Jerusalem ceased at the same time, kings were to be anointed among them only until the Holy of holies had been anointed.7

St. Peter’s message, John Owen argues, is that “the heavens and earth that God himself planted—the sun, moon, and stars of the judaical polity and church—the whole old world of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinacy against the Lord Christ—shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed.”8 As we have seen, Puritan theologian John Owen argued that the teaching of 2 Peter 3 about the coming “Day of the Lord” was not about the end of the physical universe, but of the Old Covenant and the nation of Israel. He points out that the phrase “heavens and earth” is often used in the Old Testament as a symbolic expression for God’s covenantal creation, Israel (see Isa. 51:15–20; Jer. 4:23–31). Owen writes: “the heavens and earth that God himself planted—the sun, moon, and stars of the judaical polity and church—the whole old world


Appendix A

181

of worship and worshippers, that stand out in their obstinacy against the Lord Christ—shall be sensibly dissolved and destroyed.”<?>9 Owen offers two further reasons (“of many that might be insisted on from the text,” he says) for adopting the A.D. 70 interpretation of 2 Peter 3. First, he observes, “whatever is here mentioned was to have its particular influence on the men of that generation.”<?>0 That is a crucial point, which must be clearly recognized in any honest assessment of the apostle’s meaning. St. Peter is especially concerned that his first-century readers remember the apostolic warnings about “the last days” (vv. 2–3; cf. 1 Tim. 4:1–6; 2 Tim. 3:1–9). During these times, the Jewish scoffers of his day, clearly familiar with the Biblical prophecies of judgment, were refusing to heed those warnings (vv. 3–5). He exhorts his readers to live holy lives in the light of this imminent judgment (vv. 11, 14); and it is these early Christians who are repeatedly mentioned as actively “looking for and hastening” the judgment (vv. 12, 13, 14). It is precisely the nearness of the approaching conflagration that St. Peter cites as a motive to diligence in godly living! An obvious objection to such an exposition is to refer to what is probably the most well-known, most-misunderstood text in St. Peter’s brief epistle: “But, beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). This means, it is said, that “God’s arithmetic is different from ours,” so that when Scripture uses terms like “near” and “shortly” (e.g., Rev. 1:1–3) or “at hand” (e.g., James 5:5–7), it doesn’t intend to give the impression of soon-approaching events, but of events possibly thousands of years in the future! Milton Terry refuted this seemingly plausible but spurious theory: The language is a poetical citation from Psalm 90:4, and is adduced to show that the lapse of time does not invalidate the promises of God.… But this is very different from saying that when the everlasting God promises something shortly, and declares that it is close at hand, He may mean that it is a thousand years in the future. Whatever He has promised indefinitely He may take a thousand years or more to fulfill;


182

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future but what He affirms to be at the door let no man declare to be far away.1

J. Stuart Russell wrote with biting disdain: Few passages have suffered more from misconstruction than this, which has been made to speak a language inconsistent with its obvious intention, and even incompatible with a strict regard to veracity. There is probably an allusion here to the words of the Psalmist, in which he contrasts the brevity of human life with the eternity of the divine existence.… But surely it would be the height of absurdity to regard this sublime poetic image as a calculus for the divine measurement of time, or as giving us a warrant for wholly disregarding definitions of time in the predictions and promises of God. Yet it is not unusual to quote these words as an argument or excuse for the total disregard for the element of time in the prophetic writings. Even in cases where a certain time is specified in the prediction, or where such limitations as ‘shortly,’ or ‘speedily,’ or ‘at hand’ are expressed, the passage before us is appealed to in justification of an arbitrary treatment of such notes of time, so that soon may mean late, and near may mean distant, and short may mean long, and vice versa…. It is surely unnecessary to repudiate in the strongest manner such a non-natural method of interpreting the language of Scripture. It is worse than ungrammatical and unreasonable, it is immoral. It is to suggest that God has two weights and measures in His dealings with men, and that in His mode of reckoning there is an ambiguity and variableness which will make it impossible to tell ‘What manner of time the Spirit of Christ in the prophets may signify’[cf. 1 Pet. 1:11]... The Scriptures themselves, however, give no countenance to such a method of interpretation. Faithfulness is


Appendix A

183

one of the attributes most frequently ascribed to the ‘covenant-keeping God,’ and the divine faithfulness is that which the apostle in this very passage affirms.… The apostle does not say that when the Lord promises a thing for today He may not fulfill His promise for a thousand years: that would be slackness; that would be a breach of promise. He does not say that because God is infinite and everlasting, therefore He reckons with a different arithmetic from ours, or speaks to us in a double sense, or uses two different weights and measures in His dealings with mankind. The very reverse is the truth…. It is evident that the object of the apostle in this passage is to give his readers the strongest assurance that the impending catastrophe of the last days were on the very eve of fulfillment. The veracity and faithfulness of God were the guarantees of the punctual performance of the promise. To have intimated that time was a variable quantity in the promise of God would have been to stultify and neutralize his own teaching, which was that ‘the Lord is not slack concerning His promise.’2

Continuing his analysis, John Owen cites verse 13: “But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.” Owen asks: “What is that promise? Where may we find it?” Good question. Do you know the answer? Where in the Old Testament does God promise a New Heaven and Earth? Incidentally, this raises a wider, fascinating issue: When the New Testament quotes or cites an Old Testament text, it’s often a good idea to hunt down the original citation, see what it meant in its original context, and then see the “spin” the New Testament writer places on it. (For example, Isaiah’s prophecy of a gigantic highway-construction project [Isa. 40:3–5] is not interpreted literally in the New Testament, but metaphorically, of the preaching ministry of John the Baptist [Luke 3:4–6]. And Isaiah’s prophecy of a “golden age” when the wolf dwells peaceably with the lamb [Isa. 11:1–10] is condensed and cited by St. Paul as a present fulfillment, in the New Covenant age [Rom. 15:12])!


184

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

But John Owen, this Puritan scholar, knows his Bible better than most of the rest of us, and he tells us exactly where the Old Testament foretells a “new heaven and earth”: What is that promise? Where may we find it? Why, we have it in the very words and letter, Isaiah 65:17. Now, when shall this be that God will create these “new heavens and new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness”? Saith Peter, It shall be after the coming of the Lord, after that judgment and destruction of ungodly men, who obey not the gospel, that I foretell. But now it is evident, from this place of Isaiah, with chapter 66:21–22, that this is a prophecy of gospel times only; and that the planting of these new heavens is nothing but the creation of gospel ordinances, to endure forever. The same thing is so expressed in Hebrews 12:26–28. 3

Owen is right on target, asking the question that so many expositors fail to ask: Where had God promised to bring “new heavens and a new earth”? The answer, as Owen correctly states, is only in Isaiah 65 and 66—passages which clearly prophesy the period of the Gospel, brought in by the work of Christ. According to Isaiah himself, this “New Creation” cannot possibly be the eternal state, since it contains birth and death, building and planting (65:20–23). The “new heavens and earth” promised to the Church comprise the age of the New Covenant—the Gospel’s triumph, when all mankind will come to bow down before the Lord (66:22–23). John Bray writes: “This passage is a grand description of the gospel age after Christ came in judgment in 70 A.D. and took away the old heavens and the old earth. We now have the new heavens and the new earth of the gospel age.”4 St. Peter’s encouragement to the Church of his day was to be patient, to wait for God’s judgment to destroy those who were persecuting the faith and impeding its progress. “The end of all things is at hand,” he had written earlier (1 Pet. 4:7). John Brown commented: “The end of all things” here is the entire end of the Jewish economy in the destruction of the temple and city of Jerusalem, and the dispersal of the holy people. That was at hand; for this epistle seems to have been written a very short


Appendix A

185

while before these events took place.… It is quite plain that in our Lord’s predictions, the expressions “the end” and probably “the end of the world” are used in reference to the entire dissolution of the Jewish economy (cf. Matt. 24:3, 6, 14, 34; Rom. 13:11–12; James 5:8–9).5

Once the Lord came to destroy the scaffolding of the Old Covenant structure, the New Covenant Temple would be left in its place, and the victorious march of the Church would be unstoppable. According to God’s predestined design, the world will be converted; the earth’s treasures will be brought into the City of God, as the Paradise Mandate (Gen. 1:27–28; Matt. 28:18–20) is consummated (Rev. 21:1–27). This is why the apostles constantly affirmed that the age of consummation had already been implemented by the resurrection and ascension of Christ, who poured out the Holy Spirit. St. Paul, writing of the redeemed individual, says that “if any man is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17). St. John, recording his vision of the redeemed culture, says the same thing: “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth…. The first things have passed away…. Behold, I am making all things new” (Rev. 21:1–5). The writer to the Hebrews comforts his first-century readers with the assurance that they have already arrived at “the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22; cf. Gal. 26–28; Rev. 21). Even as the old “heaven and earth” were being shaken to rubble, the early Christians were “receiving a Kingdom which cannot be shaken,” the eternal Kingdom of God brought in by His Son (Heb. 12:26–28). Milton Terry has written: The language of 2 Pet. 3:10–12 is taken mainly from Isa. 34:4, and is limited to the parousia, like the language of Matt. 24:29. Then the Lord made “not only the land but also the heaven” to tremble (Heb. 12:26), and removed the things that were shaken in order to establish a kingdom which cannot be moved.6

It is crucial to note that the apostle continually points his readers’ attention, not to events that were to take place thousands of years in the


186

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

future, but to events that were already beginning to take place. Otherwise, his closing words make no sense at all: “Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless.… You, therefore, beloved, since you know these things beforehand, beware lest you fall from your own steadfastness…” (2 Pet. 3:14–17). If these things refer to a 21st-century thermonuclear holocaust, why would the inspired apostle direct such a serious exhortation against “falling from steadfastness” to thousands of readers who would never live to see the things he foretold? A cardinal rule of Biblical interpretation is that Scripture must interpret Scripture; and, particularly, that the New Testament is God’s own inspired commentary on the meaning of the Old Testament. Once the old had been swept away, St. Peter declared, the Age of Christ would be fully established, an era “in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet. 3:13). The distinguishing characteristic of the new era, in stark contrast to what preceded it, would be righteousness—increasing righteousness, as the Gospel would be set free in its mission to the nations. There have been many battles throughout Church history, of course, and many battles lie ahead. But these must not blind us to the very real progress that the Gospel has made and continues to make in the world. The New World Order of the Lord Jesus Christ has arrived; and, according to God’s promise, the saving knowledge of Him will fill the earth, as the waters cover the sea (Isa. 11:9).

Notes 1. For a defense of this position, see David Chilton, Paradise Restored: A Biblical Theology of Dominion, 2nd ed. (Horn Lake, MS: TX: Dominion Press, [1985] 2007), 112–122. The fact is that every time Scripture uses the term “last days” (and similar expressions) it means, not the end of the physical universe, but the period from A.D. 30 to A.D. 70—the period during which the Apostles were preaching and writing, the “last days” of Old Covenant Israel before it was forever destroyed in the destruction of the Temple (and consequently the annihilation of the Old Covenant sacrificial system) described by Jesus in the Olivet Discourse (Matt. 24:1–34; Acts 2:16–21; 1 Tim. 4:1–3; 2 Tim. 3:1–9; Hebrews 1:1–2; 8:13; 9:26; James 5:7–9; 1 Peter 1:20; 4:7; 1 John 2:18; Jude 17–19). See also John Bray’s excellent booklet Are We Living in the Last Days? (Lakeland, FL: John L. Bray Ministry). 2. John Owen, “Providential Changes: An Argument for Universal Holiness,” in


Appendix A

187

William H. Goold, ed., The Works of John Owen, 16 vols. (London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965–68), 9:134. 3. See Chilton, Paradise Restored, 59. 4. John Brown, Discourses and Sayings of Our Lord, 3 vols. (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, [1852] 1990), 1:171f. 5. Owen, “Providential Changes: An Argument for Universal Holiness,” 9:134. 6. Gerhard Kittel and Gerhard Friedrich, eds., Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, one-volume edition edited by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1985), 1088. 7. St. Athanasius, On the Incarnation of the Word of God (New York: Macmillan, 1946), [40] 61f. 8. Owen, “Providential Changes: An Argument for Universal Holiness,” 9:135. 9. Owen, “Providential Changes: An Argument for Universal Holiness,” 9:135. 10. Owen, “Providential Changes: An Argument for Universal Holiness,” 9:134. 11. Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics: A Treatise on the Interpretation of the Old and New Testaments (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1974), 406. 12. J. Stuart Russell, The Parousia (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, [1887] 1983), 321ff. Owen, “Providential Changes: An Argument for Universal Holiness,” 134– 35. 13. Owen, “Providential Changes: An Argument for Universal Holiness,” 9:134f. 14. John L. Bray, Heaven and Earth Shall Pass Away (Lakeland, FL: John L. Bray Ministry), 26. 15. Quoted in Roderick Campbell, Israel and the New Covenant (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1954), 107. 16. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, 489.


Appendix B Peddling Prophetic Snake Oil

H

al Lindsey claims that the Bible predicts that oil will be discovered in Israel.1 Now there is a book that attempts to make the same case: Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil.2 The book’s description reads as follows: A treasure map was hidden in the Bible more than three thousand years ago. The treasure, a gift from God to Israel, was buried in the sands of the Promised Land to ensure her prosperity and protection. “Breaking the Treasure Code” pieces the map together and reveals the clues that lead to a vast oil reserve; the source of Israel’s wealth and the key to her survival in the last days.

That’s the good news. Now the bad news. Israel will be invaded. “The interesting thing is,” Lindsey writes, “that this invasion will be triggered by the enormous wealth that the nation accumulates in this time.” Israel just can’t win. The Arab countries have been swimming in oil for decades and living the luxurious life from the accumulated revenue, but soon as Israel discovers the long-buried energy source, she’s going to be invaded! Bummer. Israel may in fact discover oil. This would not be too surprising since the region is glutted with the black gold. But can a biblical case be made for the prophetic significance of oil as it relates to Israel and a future end-time scenario made popular by writers like Lindsey? Let’s follow Lindsey’s line of logic through Scripture to see if he has made his case.

189


190

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Israel’s Birth Dearth Lindsey quotes part of Genesis 49:25 (in italic) which describes the blessings that will come to Joseph: “From the God of your father who helps you, and by the Almighty who blesses you with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lies beneath, blessings of the breasts and of the womb.” Lindsey says of this verse: “Note that it predicts his great blessing will come from ‘the deep that lies beneath’ his land.” By “deep,” Lindsey means oil buried deep in the ground! A careful reader would have looked up the verses quoted by Lindsey (Acts 17:11) and noticed that he conveniently left out “breasts and of the womb.” The dispensational oriented Bible Knowledge Commentary states that this phrase refers to “abundant offspring.”3 Henry M. Morris, a noted dispensationalist, agrees and writes that it’s a promise of “an abundance of healthful progeny, of both man and animal.”4 Gerhard Charles Aalders, not a dispensationalist, concurs with the above authors: “‘Blessings of the breast and womb’ certainly refer to abundance in the bearing and feeding of children, as well as for human children as for the young of the livestock.”5 Earlier in Genesis we read of a promise of an increase in population that would result in Israel being as numerous “as the stars of the heavens, and as the sand which is on the seashore” (22:17; cf. 32:12).6 And when was this fulfilled?: • “And Thy servant is in the midst of Thy people which Thou hast chosen, a great people who cannot be numbered or counted for multitude” (1 Kings 3:8). • “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance” (1 Kings 4:20).

If Genesis 49:25 refers to the distant future, as Lindsey speculates, then there is a problem. By the year 2020, Arnon Sofer of the University of Haifa forecasts about 6.4 million Jews will live in Israel, “based on population growth and an average 50,000 Jewish immigrants a year. He expects the Arab population to reach around 8.5 million, in addition to 1 million non-Jews of other origins.”7 The most optimistic


Appendix B

191

projections show Jews and Palestinians about even in population in 25 years.8 Beyond the borders of Israel, there are more than a hundred million non-Jews. It seems by present-day demographics that in comparison, it’s the wombs of Israel’s enemies that have been blessed.

“The Deep that Lies Beneath” Lindsey believes the phrase “the deep that lies beneath” is a reference to crude oil. As far as I can tell, he’s the first person to make this discovery. If the “deep” refers to oil, then what are the “blessings of heaven above”? He doesn’t say. You can see that Genesis 49:25 is a classic example of Hebrew parallelism. How does one of Lindsey’s fellow dispensationalists interpret the passage? “Blessings from heaven above” is a reference to “rain for crops,” while “from the deep” refers to “streams and wells for water”9 (Gen. 7:11; 8:2; Deut. 33:13). H. C. Leupold captures the meaning of the Hebrew imagery: The following blessings are specialized: first “blessings of the heavens above”—those would be such blessings as the heavens hold within their grasp—rain, sunshine and pleasant breezes. Then follow “blessings of the deep,” i.e. tehom, the deep source of the subterranean waters, which is pictured as being “that coutheth (or croucheth) beneath” the earth. This involves the waters stored in the earth that are so essential to all vegetable growth as well as the sources of the much needed streams and of the fountains.10

Contextually, this interpretation makes sense since the lack of rain and dry wells, especially for people living in a region not far from desert conditions, would invariably lead to failed crops and depleted livestock. There is nothing in all of Genesis 49 that would lead the interpreter to conclude that crude oil is buried in the deep. Lindsey is reading modern-day geo-politics and technology into the text. He did a similar thing in his 1973 book There’s a New World Coming when he seems to accept the identification of the locusts that came up out of the pit in Revelation 9 as Vietnam-era “Cobra helicopters.”11


192

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

“Let Him Dip His Foot in Oil” Lindsey continues by appealing to Deuteronomy 33:24 to support his crude oil theory: “And of Asher he said, ‘More blessed than sons is Asher; may he be favored by his brothers, and may he dip his foot in oil.’“ Once again, Lindsey is projecting a verse meant for a contemporary context and setting into the distant future to fit a system of interpretation that requires a future context and setting. The “oil” of this verse is a reference to “olive oil.” Jack S. Deere, writing on Deuteronomy in the dispensational oriented Bible Knowledge Commentary, states that “to bathe one’s feet in oil rather than simply to anoint them would be an extravagant act. Thus the tribe of Asher would experience abundant fertility and prosperity.”12 Jan Ridderbos makes a similar observation: “his land will be so rich in oil that it is possible, so to speak, to wade in it. Indeed, Galilee, Asher’s territory, was rich in olive trees.”13 J. A. Thompson adds further insight to the meaning of the passage: The last phrase in verse 24, He dips (or, may he dip) his feet in oil is to be understood as a wish that Asher may enjoy prosperity. The Galilean highlands were famous for olives and both Josephus and one of the Jewish Midrashim refer to this fact. The latter contains the saying, ‘It is easier to raise a legion of olives in Galilee than to bring up a child in Palestine.’14

“The land of Asher was agriculturally rich, and is still known for its olive groves.”15 Once again, determining the context and setting are crucial in determining the meaning of a text. Did the prophecies concerning Asher come to pass? Throughout the Old Testament, Asher is identified as a tribe blessed by God (1 Chron. 7:40; 12:36) and a protector of the nation (Judges 6:1–8, 35; 7:23; 1 Sam. 11:7; 1 Chron. 12:23, 36). Asher is one of the few tribes even mentioned in the New Testament. While many Israelites were “dispersed abroad” (James 1:1), a descendant from the tribe of Asher was waiting for the promised Messiah in Jerusalem (Luke 2:36), a wonderful fulfillment of prophecy.


Appendix B

193

The Bible and Petroleum When the word “oil” appears in the Bible, it is never a reference to crude oil or petroleum but olive oil.16 Petroleum substances (bitumen) were known and used in Bible times, but they were not identified as “oil.” There were pools of an asphalt-like material often translated as “pitch” or “tar” (KJV: “slime”): “Now the valley of Siddim was full of tar pits…” (Gen. 11:14). The “pitch” or “tar” was used for waterproofing (Gen. 6:14; Ex. 2:3) and mortar (Gen. 11:3). If God wanted to identify a future discovery of crude oil in Genesis 49:25 and Deuteronomy 33:24, He could have chosen any of the Hebrew terms already in use at that time to make the point.

Crude Oil in Job Given the way dispensationalists continually read the Bible through the lens of modern-day events and refuse to acknowledge the time texts and the contemporary context of so many passages, the Bible can be made to say almost anything. Consider this verse: “He reveals mysteries from the darkness, and brings the deep darkness into light” (Job 12:22). The use of oil as a fuel to run automobiles, buses, trucks, and other motorized vehicles would have been a “mystery” to the people of Job’s day. Drilling into the earth to get out the oil would have been inconceivable. Of course, because oil is deep in the ground, it’s in perpetual “darkness”—the darkest of the dark since oil itself is dark. But the oil drillers bring the darkness into light. Once oil is struck, it gushes into the brightness of day. Job was prophesying about the discovery of oil! It says so right in the Bible!

Conclusion Dispensationalists like Hal Lindsey insist that they interpret the Bible literally, and everyone else is an allegorizer. Tim LaHaye tries to sell this point in the Introduction to Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice’s The Truth About Left Behind:


194

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future Jerry [Jenkins] and I have unashamedly taken the position that all prophecy should be interpreted literally whenever possible. We have been guided throughout by the golden rule of interpretation: When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, seek no other sense. Take every word at its primary, literal meaning unless the facts of the immediate context clearly indicate otherwise.17

If only it were so. Lindsey, who follows the same “golden rule,” is certainly not applying the principle in Genesis 49:25, Deuteronomy 33:24, and Ezekiel 38–39, and neither are LaHaye, Ice, and Hitchcock in their interpretation of Ezekiel 38–39 where ancient weapons are said to be descriptions of Russian MIG fighters. Like snake-oil salesmen, these modern-day prophetic hucksters are selling false remedies to a gullible audience willing to believe anything their prophetic heroes say about their product.

Notes 1. Hal Lindsey, “Israel, nation of miracles” (April 1, 2004): http://tinyurl.com/ 4l67b4 2. James R. Spillman and Steven M. Spillman, Breaking the Treasure Code: The Hunt for Israel’s Oil (Travelers Rest, SC: True Potential Publishing, Inc., 2005). 3. Allen P. Ross, “Genesis,” The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books/Scripture Press, 1985), 99. 4. Henry M. Morris, The Genesis Record: A Scientific and Devotional Commentary on the Book of Beginnings (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1976), 660. 5. Gerhard Charles Aalders, Genesis: Bible Student’s Commentary, trans. William Heynen, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1981), 2:287. 6. “As numerous as the sands of the sea and the stars of heaven” are hyperbolies (Gen. 41:49). 7. Phil Brennan, “Israel’s Population Bomb in Reverse,” www.newsmax.com (October 19, 2002). 8. Ben Wattenberg, “Israel Needn’t Worry About a Population Implosion” (May 18, 2002). www.tzemachdovid.org/Facts/demography.shtml 9. Ross, “Genesis,” 99. 10. H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, [1942), 1976), 2:1196.


Appendix B

195

11. Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming (Santa Ana, CA: Vision House, 1973), 138–139. You can find the quotation in the Bantam paperback edition in chapter 9 page 124. 12. Jacks S. Deere, “Deuteronomy”, Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, 322. 13. Jan Ridderbos, Deuteronomy: The Bible Student’s Commentary, trans. Ed M. van der Maas (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 311. 14. J. A. Thompson, Deuteronomy: An Introduction and Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1974), 316. 15. Cyril J. Barber, “Tribe of Asher,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, ed. Walter A. Elwell, 2 vols. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2:212. 16. See entry of “ ” in Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998), 603–604. 17. Tim LaHaye, “Introduction,” Hitchcock and Ice, The Truth Behind Left Behind, 7.


Appendix C The End of the World “The destruction of Jerusalem was more terrible than anything that the world has ever witnessed, either before or since. Even Titus seemed to see in his cruel work the hand of an avenging God.”1 “[The] tribulation to Israel [was] unparalleled in the terrible past of its history, and unequalled even in its bloody future. Nay, so dreadful would be the persecution, that, if Divine mercy had not interposed for the sake of the followers of Christ, the whole Jewish race that inhabited the land would have been swept away.”2 “No judgment had ever and can ever be so severe. In the history of the world no judgment can be compared with this that wiped out the Jews as a nation.”3

W

hen Christians hear the phrase the “end of the world,” most assume it’s a reference to a great end-time prophetic event like Armageddon, the Second Coming of Christ, or the cataclysmic end of heaven and earth as a prelude to a New Heavens and New Earth. Actually, the phrase “end of the world,” as in the end of the physical world, is not found in the Bible. There is Psalm 19:4, but in context “end of the world” is a geographical description: “Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world.” The same is true of its use in the New Testament (Acts 13:47; Rom. 10:18). 197


198

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

The “end of the world” appears a number of times in the King James translation of the Bible. The Greek word kosmos, the word we would expect to find for the translation of these “end of the world” passages is not used. Modern translations render the passages as the “end of the age” because the Greek word aion not kosmos is used. The New King James translation remedies the translation error of the original KJV by translating aion as “age” and not “world” (Matt. 13:39, 40, 49; 24:3; 28:20; Heb. 9:26). Aion refers to a period of time, not the physical world (1 Cor. 10:11; Heb. 9:264). Peter writes from the vantage point of his day that “the end of all things is at hand” (1 Peter. 4:7; cf. 1:20). This can hardly be a declaration that the end of the physical universe was about to take place. The Bible’s use of “at hand” (near) indicates that whatever this end is, it was near for Peter and his first-century audience. Jay E. Adams offers a helpful commentary on the passage, taking into account its historical and theological context: [First] Peter was written before A.D. 70 (when the destruction of Jerusalem took place)…. The persecution (and martyrdom) that these (largely) Jewish Christians had been experiencing up until now stemmed principally from unconverted Jews (indeed, his readers had found refuge among Gentiles as resident aliens)…. [H]e refers to the severe trials that came upon Christians who had fled Palestine under attack from their unconverted fellow Jews. The end of all things (that had brought this exile about) was near. In six or seven years from the time of writing, the overthrow of Jerusalem, with all its tragic stories, as foretold in the Book of Revelation and in the Olivet Discourse upon which that part is based, would take place. Titus and Vespasian would wipe out the old order once and for all. All those forces that led to the persecution and exile of these Christians in Asia Minor—the temple ceremonies (outdated by Christ’s death), Pharisaism (with its distortion of O.T. law into a system of works-righteousness) and the political stance of Palestinian Jewry toward Rome—would be


Appendix C

199

erased. The Roman armies would wipe Jewish opposition from the face of the land. Those who survived the holocaust of A.D. 70 would themselves be dispersed around the Mediterranean world. “So,” says Peter, “hold on; the end is near.” The full end of the O.T. order (already made defunct by the cross and the empty tomb) was about to occur.5

Similar language is used by the writer to the Hebrews where his own day is described as “the consummation of the ages,” a time when Jesus had been “manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself” (Heb. 9:26). Jesus’ appearance on earth as “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) coincides with the consummation of the ages, a first-century reality. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews opens his epistle with the claim that he was living in “these last days” because of the first coming of Christ in the world (Heb. 1:2). The temple had become incarnate (John 1:14) and personalized (2:13–22) in Jesus Christ. Peter uses similar language when he writes, “For [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world [kosmos], but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you” (1 Peter 1:20). Paul tells his Corinthian audience that “the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor. 10:11). The end of the age was the real end of the world, the world of old covenant Judaism, and the inauguration of a new era where God no longer speaks in types and shadows but “in His Son” (Heb. 1:2). There was such a dramatic transference from one age to the next that Peter described it as “the end of all things.” The use of this end-time language is “typical Jewish imagery for events within the present order that are felt and perceived as ‘cosmic’ or, as we should say, as ‘earth-shattering’. More particularly, they are regular Jewish imagery for events that bring the story of Israel to its appointed climax. The days of Jerusalem’s destruction would be looked upon as days of cosmic catastrophe. The known world would go into convulsions: power struggles and coups d’état would be the order of the day; the pax Romana, the presupposition of ‘civilized’ life throughout the then Mediterranean world, would collapse into chaos. In the midst of that chaos Jerusalem would fall.”6


200

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

Jerusalem was the redemptive center of the then known world: “Thus says the Lord GOD, ‘This is Jerusalem; I have set her at the center of the nations, with lands around her’” (Ezek. 5:5). The Jews lived “at the center of the world” (38:12). To be far from Jerusalem was to be at “the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). For a Jew, Jerusalem was the center of life (2:5–11). Medieval maps show Jerusalem to be the geographical center of the world because it was the center of redemptive history. Isaiah predicted that the nations would look “to the house of the God of Jacob” for redemption and instruction: In the last days, the mountain of the house of the LORD will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; and all nations will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths” (Isa. 2:2–3).

The nations did look to the “house of Jacob” for their redemption. Paul writes that the gospel “has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith” (Rom. 16:26). The “mystery of godliness” had been “proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world” (1 Tim. 3:16). Christians writing less than 100 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of the temple understood that Isaiah 2 was looking forward to the ministry of the gospel in the world among the nations. Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophetic words when He said, “Come to Me” (Matt. 11:28). Consider the brief commentary of Justin the Martyr (c. 100–165): And when the Spirit of prophecy speaks as predicting things that are to come to pass, He speaks in this way: “For the law will go forth from Zion, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. And He will judge between the nations, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never will they learn war” [Isa. 2:3–4]. And that it did so come to pass, we can convince you. For from Jerusalem


Appendix C

201

there went out into the world, men, twelve in number, and these illiterate, of no ability in speaking: but by the power of God they proclaimed to every race of men that they were sent by Christ to teach to all the word of God; and we who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies, but also, that we might not lie or deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.7

Irenaeus (c. 130–200), another second-century Christian writer, taught that Isaiah 2 was fulfilled at the time of “the Lord’s advent,” that is, the first coming of Jesus. You will notice that he believed that the message of “the new covenant” had a worldwide impact before Jerusalem’s fall: If any one, however, advocating the cause of the Jews, does maintain that this new covenant consisted in the rearing of that temple which was built under Zerubbabel after the emigration to Babylon, and in the departure of the people from thence after the lapse of seventy years, let him know that the temple constructed of stones was indeed then rebuilt (for as yet that law was observed which had been made upon tables of stone), yet no new covenant was given, but they used the Mosaic law until the coming of the Lord; but from the Lord’s advent, the new covenant which brings back peace, and the law which gives life, has gone forth over the whole earth, as the prophets said: “For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem; and He shall rebuke many people; and they shall break down their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks, and they shall no longer learn to fight.”8

Tertullian (160–225) makes a similar application when he argues that it is “among us, who have been called out of the nations,—‘and they shall join to beat their glaives into ploughs, and their lances into sickles; and nations shall not take up glaive against nation, and they shall no more learn to fight.’ Who else, therefore, are understood but we, who, fully


202

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

taught by the new law, observe these practices,—the old law being obliterated, the coming of whose abolition the action itself demonstrates?”9 With the advent of Jesus and the ministry of the gospel to the nations, earthly Jerusalem would no longer be the geographical center of the world. The world had come into view, so much so that Paul could write that the gospel had been “proclaimed in all creation under heaven” (Col. 1:23; cf. 1:6; Rom. 1:8; 10:18; 1 Tim. 3:16d). The temple and the city of Jerusalem were shadows of better things to come. The tabernacle was a “copy and shadow of heavenly things … according to the pattern which was shown [to Moses] on the mountain” (Heb. 8:5). Jesus is the “true tabernacle” (8:2). The “new covenant … made the first [covenant] obsolete” (8:13). The writer to the Hebrews describes it this way: “But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear” (8:13). The word translated as “ready” is actually the Greek word engus, “near.” James C. DeYoung writes: The total impression gained from the accumulation of evidence from Jesus’ teaching and prophecy concerning the rejection and doom of Jerusalem, as well as from the teaching of Galatians and Hebrews is that the significance of Jerusalem in the history of redemption had come to an end with the death of Jesus. Thus, the antithesis between the earthly and heavenly Jerusalem is based upon the cross of Christ. Jerusalem’s rejection and crucifi xion of her Messiah, whether viewed retrospectively by the Apostles, or prospectively by Jesus himself, formed the basis for the pessimistic view of the future of the city. Thus the investigation of the relevant passages from the Gospels has shown that the Christian break with Jerusalem came long before her destruction in A.D. 70.10

Jesus is the center of redemptive history. He far surpasses anything the temple of stone and the sacrificial system of bloody animals were thought to be. “We have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh” (10:19–20). There is no longer any need for an earthly temple with priests and animal sacrifices, things dispensation-


Appendix C

203

alists claim must be reinstituted in a post-rapture tribulation period. They even insist that another temple will be rebuilt during an earthly millennium that will include animal sacrifices and the requirement to be circumcised to enter the temple. We find the following in Tim LaHaye’s Prophecy Study Bible: “No foreigner who is uncircumcised in heart and flesh may enter [the temple], neither will any descendants of the Levites conduct services, other than the godly descendants of Zadok.” 11 In addition to circumcision of Jews and non-Jews, dispensationalism requires that animal sacrifices for atonement must also be reinstituted. John C. Whitcomb, in his article on “The Millennial Temple,” writes that “five different offerings in Ezekiel (43:13–46:15), four of them with bloodletting, will serve God’s purposes. These offerings are not voluntary but obligatory; God will ‘accept’ people on the basis of these animal sacrifices (43:27), which make reconciliation [atonement] for the house of Israel (45:17, cf. 45:15).”12 This is an impossible interpretation for at least three reasons. First, these sacrifices are said to be “for atonement” (reconciliation) (Ezek. 45:15, 17) not, as Whitcomb claims, “as effective vehicles of divine instruction for Israel and the nations during the Millennial Kingdom.”13 Second, Jesus is the once for all sacrifice whose blood cleanses us from sin (Heb. 7:26–27; 8:13; 9:11–15; 10:5–22; 1 Peter 3:18). Third, sanctification comes under the new covenant by “the washing of water with the word” (Eph. 5:26) not by the washing of blood from sacrifices.

Notes 1. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Commentary on Matthew (Grand Rapids, MI: Fleming H. Revell, [1987] 1995), 340. This commentary was originally published as Matthew: The Gospel of the Kingdom (London: Passmore and Alabaster, 1893). 2. Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, two-volume ed. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, [1883] 1971) 2:449. 3. R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of Matthew (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1943), 940. 4. Kosmos is used in Hebrews 9:26 and is translated as the “foundation of the world,” that is, the physical world. It seems odd that the translators of the KJV would have translated two different Greek words in the same verse as “world.” 5. Jay E. Adams, Trust and Obey: A Practical Commentary on First Peter (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1978), 129–130. Adam Clarke (1762–


204

Why the End of the World is Not in Your Future

1832) writes the following in his commentary on 1 Peter 4:7: “Peter says, The end of all things is at hand; and this he spoke when God had determined to destroy the Jewish people and their polity by one of the most signal judgments that ever fell upon any nation or people. In a very few years after St. Peter wrote this epistle, even taking it at the lowest computation, viz., A. D. 60 or 61, Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans. To this destruction, which was literally then at hand, the apostle alludes when he says, The end of all things is at hand; the end of the temple, the end of the Levitical priesthood, the end of the whole Jewish economy, was then at hand.” (Clarke’s Commentary on The New Testament of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 2 vols. [New York: Carlton & Porter, 1810], 2:864). 6. N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996), 362 7. Justin Martyr, “The First Apology of Justin,” Chapter XXXIX: Direct Predictions by the Spirit, Ante-Nicene Fathers, 1:175–76. 8. Irenaeus, “Proof Against the Marcionites, that the Prophets Referred in All Their Predictions to Our Christ,” Against Heresies,” Book IV, Chapter 34: http:// www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-01/anf01-62.htm#P8735_2467393 9. Tertullian, “Of Circumcision and the Supercession of the Old Law,” An Answer to the Jews, Chapter III: http://www.ccel.org/fathers2/ANF-03/anf0319.htm#P2069_705019 10. James Calvin DeYoung, Jerusalem in the New Testament: The Significance of the City in the History of Redemption and in Eschatology (Kampen, Netherlands: J. H. Kok, 1960), 109–110. 11. Tim LaHaye, gen. ed., Prophecy Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), 886, comments on Ezekiel 44:5–15. 12. John C. Whitcomb, “The Millennial Temple,” Prophecy Study Bible, 883. 13. Whitcomb, “The Millennial Temple,” 883.



WhyEndWorldNotFuture