… if God is the biblical God, and Israel is his text book to the nations, it is not possible they can ever win [a great military victory] while in their unbelieving condition. If they can [win], everything I have ever learned goes out the window. Art always had it right when he pointed out our view of Israel finds us out as a people who also still put our hope in our own flesh.
Your use of the word, ‘win’, gives opportunity for an important distinction that is too often overlooked. Obviously, we are not saying that Israel may not have some temporal success through diplomacy or even war. They have before, and prophecy shows that they will again before the final judgments come that will prepare Jacob for that great change that comes at Christ’s return (Mt 23:39; Ro 11:26).
In fact, we believe there will be a time of jubilant euphoria when it will appear that peace has finally come to the region. This will be the result of the deadly peace that will last only 3 1/2 years before the great tribulation begins with the desecration of the holy place by the self exalting Antichrist. That is why we say that the real test of the heart towards the Word of God will be seen, not in how we interpret Israel’s present perils, but her future success.
Will we believe that because Israel wins in battle or diplomacy that the issue of Jacob’s trouble has been settled, that it is now shown to be obviously past, and no longer a future necessity of prophecy and divine foreknowledge? That will be the question.
The real test is how we interpret what appears to be the blessing of God on Israel’s return. Has God’s ancient covenant contention (Lev 26:25) abandoned its jealous resolve to bring Israel back under the “bond of the covenant” (Eze 20:34-37)? It is a question of how we read the covenant. It will show either an inherent humanism or a prophetic perspective of necessary crisis and apocalyptic intervention. At the heart, it is two opposing world views. It has nothing to do with a lack of love or priestly identification with the struggling and beloved Jacob nation.
It is really the same test of the heart that inheres whenever we see a beloved child outside the bond of the covenant in known or willful disobedience. As parents, we rejoice in every good thing. We wince at the dread prospect of pain, and pray for the preservation of that precious life until the hoped for day of salvation. But as believers, we also know, that as certainly as that child is foreknown of the Father, a time of “Jacob wrestling” must come.
We so much wish it would not require such a deep and traumatic divine dealing, but the degree of rebellion will determine how deep the Spirit must go to get at the root, and only the Father knows ‘what it will take’. Only a parent can know this fear and this pain, but a believing parent is willing for anything of temporal distress, rather than that child should perish eternally.
I believe we must see Israel in much the same way. The hard Word of God concerning Israel is hardest to bear for those who love her the most. That is why it is only the vision of the unveiled glory that comes in no other way that sustains us in our prayer and expectation through all the things that must come. If we are not prepared, then we will be deceived in one way or another, but the antidote for deception has always been, “But take ye heed, Behold, I have foretold you all things” (Mk 13:23).
I also think we have to see Israel’s return as something more than the necessary first stage towards God’s final dealings with them in the Land. It is true, though too little considered, that such passages as Zeph 2:1-2 speak of a preliminary “self-gathering” that is unto final crucible in the Land. That, however, is not the only purpose of Israel’s return.
Though somewhat difficult to interpret, Ezek 38-39 is clear that it is God who has brought the nation back from the “many generations” of the long exile (Ezek 38:8). If the context is carefully examined, the returning exiles prosper and increase in wealth, so much so, that their prosperity excites the attention and covetousness of the northern invader.
But this does not mean that Jacob’s trouble (i.e., the great tribulation) does not still stand between this momentary prosperity the time of last peace based on regeneration (Ezek 39:29). On the contrary, we see Gog and his hordes coming down to ravage the newly returned nation.
It is particularly noteworthy that according to Ezek 39:26, this present return back from the generations of estrangement from the Land does not end in the everlasting righteousness of covenant promise. Instead, Israel’s sins increase during this time of safety. This is paradox indeed, but it completely explains many of the mysteries concerning Israel and the order of the modern return versus another return that is complete and everlasting.
To appreciate this point, we need to see that Israel’s national deliverance does not come until the end of the great tribulation, which is the day of the Lord (Ezek 39:8). The final deliverance happens only after the destruction of Gog [which I see as the Antichrist, or more precisely the demonic prince, Satan, that will be incarnate in the AC (see Ezek 38:17).]
With his (Gog’s / Antichrist’s) destruction (Ezek 38:17), we see all the promised glories of the millennial age that follows Israel’s post-tribulational, day of the Lord, deliverance (Ezek 39:8, 22-29). So it is clear that this is not speaking about a war that only happens at the end of the millennium (though that will repeat something of the same in essence). In such case, Israel would have already known the Lord for a thousand years, whereas in Eze 39:22-29, Israel has been newly regenerated. On the contrary, Ezek 38-39 speaks of the great day of God (compare Ezek 39:8 with Rev 16:14-17) that ends in Israel’s final salvation and final regathering of the penitent remnant, ‘to the last man’ (see Ezek 39:28). This final and everlasting return is, of course, much to be distinguished from the partial return of the events leading up to 1948.
So where is the tribulation of Jacob’s trouble in Ezek 38-39? Many have supposed that the war of Gog only threatens Israel, that the northern foe comes down, only to be suddenly destroyed on the mountains of Israel, much the same way that the Assyrian was met with a plague that saved Jerusalem at the time of Hezekiah. This is incorrect. In all the prophets, Israel knows the Lord in penitent revelation of Him whom they pierced, after the time of unequaled distress of ‘Zion’s travail’ (Isa 13:6-9; 66:7-8; Jer 30:6-7; Dan 12:1; Mic 5:3; Hos 5:15 – Hos 6:1-2).
This is the well known day of the Lord. It is the time the Deliverer comes out of Zion (Isa 59:17-21; Ro 11:26). It is the time that Ezek 39:22-29 is fulfilled. But Daniel and Revelation shows that this day does not come until after a 3 1/2 year period of unequaled distress. Therefore, we must conclude that Ezek 38-39 is comprehensive of the last war in all of its stages. It begins with the initial desolation of Jerusalem by the Antichrist and the ten kings, and continues to Armageddon. Here’s the evidence for this statement:
The pre-millennial war of Gog and Magog begins at a time when Israel is dwelling safely. Clearly, this is not Israel’s millennial peace, but the false peace that much precede the day of Israel’s greatest discipline (Isa 28:15; Dan 8:25; 11:23-24; 1Thes 5:3). Obviously, such safety and security would not be possible anytime after the tribulation has begun. But note also, the war does not end anytime short of Israel’s salvation at the day of the Lord. “Until the end of the war, desolations are determined” (Dan 9:26).
So it is clear that the battle begins with the violation of the covenant and the invasion of the armies of Gog, and it ends with Christ’s return at Armageddon (Rev 16:14-17). Then will be the seven months of burying the dead bodies, and the seven years of burning the weaponry, which certainly doesn’t fit with some earlier time, let alone after the millennium.
The war that ends the age comes in two installments. First, the Antichrist sweeps down upon Jerusalem. At the end of Jerusalem’s 42 months of continual treading down (Rev 11:2), the armies of the earth gather at Armageddon (Dan 11:40-45 with Rev 16:12-17). This ends the war that ends the age, but it anticipates another war of like kind at the end of the millennium. What Rev 20 is interested to show is that there is a post-millennial repeat of the same thing in essence. [Note: Unless Ezek 38-39 can be harmonized with Rev 20 in this way, many clear scriptures become forfeit of real and literal fulfillment. This would be unique and contrary to a host of parallel OT passages in the OT that assign a post-tribulational, day of the Lord fulfillment to these events, not to be confused with its post-millennial counterpart, which is very different in several important details.]
So Ezek 38-39 clearly must include the 42 months of Jerusalem’s final desolation. The armies of Gog will indeed have a momentary and short-lived success in the conquest of Jerusalem that will result in terrific suffering and world upheavals without parallel in history (Mt 24:21-22). As in all the scriptures that describe the end of the Antichrist, this war ends in all the glories described in Ezek 39:22-29. The time is clear.
But here’s what I said all this to say: God has brought Israel back, not only for the time of Jacob’s trouble, but for a necessary preliminary time of “divine probation”. God is using this to make all things clear if we will only listen, not to part, but to ‘all’ that He says on this matter. We know and agree that a mighty divine providence has, against all odds, brought the Jewish people back from the centuries of exile (Ezek 38:8). This has significantly come after Israel’s worst Holocaust, since the destruction of Jerusalem in the first century. This is very significant, both prophetically, and to demonstrate the tender heart and amazing patience and pleading of God, even to an unbelieving people.
He has granted them the Land for a moment of opportunity, even blessing, but this is not to be confused with the return that will accompany the day of salvation. This return was known of God to be a further test of the heart, not only of Israel, but of all the nations in their long history with the Jew in the midst. That is why He has left them constant reminder through the hatred of their enemies that nothing is yet over or resolved concerning His ancient covenant contention and the claims of righteousness. Israel is being pressed to consider that something is still profoundly in contention, but for those who ignore this call, there is coming the greatest delusion of all time.
Israel is being called through the Holocaust and the constant attrition of the relentless conflict over the Land and Jerusalem, to consider the claims of the covenant, which only have their end in Christ. But due to the sin of the natural heart, this ‘probationary return’ of Ezek 38:8 does not result in the kind of searching that ends in the revelation of Messiah. Rather, during the time of this momentary prosperity and relative peace, Israel’s sin has only increased. This is what we read in Ezek 39:26, which is a real key.
This will be particularly true during the false peace of the Antichrist (which, if you’ll carefully observe, is not millennial peace, but a misuse of a peace that is prior to the millennium). So, although the orthodox will offer sacrifices again, it is folly to suppose that these are acceptable to God, since their offering is part of the immediate chain of events that lead to the disaster of Jacob’s trouble. It will be the ultimate provocation of their long slighted God.
So here is the order I see: First, God pleads with His deeply chastened nation through the Holocaust. Then He brings them back, against all odds, miraculously delivers them from their enemies, and grants them prosperity and and the opportunity of a new beginning. Of course, the mercy and blessing of God is misinterpreted to strengthen the slogan, “never again”, through natural might and vigilance.
Still, the present return, though fatally mixed with secular self reliance, is ordained to show the patience and kindness of the Lord. This has many purposes, not least to raise up a Jewish remnant of faith in the Land that will be in strategic positions of witness for the time of the ultimate crisis.
The probation will soon end. The time of pleading through patience and prosperity will be over. The Land will be invaded and overrun by an implacable enemy. This will come at precisely the time it looked like Israel’s troubles were over and true security could be finally celebrated as here to stay. This will test many hearts, but it will be short lived.
Then God will plead with Israel again, but this time it will be in the wilderness, where the greater number of those that will survive have fled into the surrounding countries, but that’s another topic. That point is this: It is not entirely correct to believe that the only reason God has permitted the Jews to return is to prove their presumption or set them up for final crucible. He is dealing with presumption, and crucible will come, but there is much more. He is jealous in how and when it comes. He has determined to first plead through blessing and patience. Though its end will be terrible before it will be glorious, there is tender kindness to be seen in the present return.
It is sure and certain that though He bear long, He will at length arise. His grace will prevail to the highest glory. Just as God was able to ‘get His man’ on the Damascus road, He is able to get His nation, not only back to the Land, but back to His heart, as their Joseph reveals Himself to them in the great day of the uncovering of all things.
Yours in His precious service, Reggie