I’m wondering if you could solve a mystery for me. Ezekiel 39.26 translates “dwell” in the past tense while NASB (and most newer translations) translate it in the present tense as below:
26 After they have borne their shame, and all their unfaithfulness in which they were unfaithful to Me, when they dwelt safely in their own land and no one made them afraid. (Ezekiel 39:26 NKJV)
26 “They will forget their disgrace and all their treachery which they perpetrated against Me, when they live securely on their own land with no one to make them afraid. (Ezekiel 39:26 NASB95)
I would assume a manuscript issue, but I have not found one yet. Why is the tense of the translated word different here? Is the Hebrew ambiguous or is there another translation decision being made. Curiously the NET notes don’t mention any need of a translation decision in this verse.
How do you handle this particular verse in your Ezekiel 38-39 exegesis or do you even address it?
This is a very important inquiry. I’ve often referred to Eze 39:26 as making a crucial distinction that is very instructive, depending only somewhat on how the passage should best be translated. The question basically reduces to this: Does the safe dwelling of Eze 39:26 refer to the security that will exist during the millennium (Eze 34:25-28), or does it look back to conditions that existed sometime in the nation’s past (1Kings 4:25), or even more particularly to the days just preceding the great tribulation (Isa 28:15, 18; Eze 38:8, 11, 14; Dan 8:25; 9:27; 11:23-24; 1Thes 5:3), i.e., the false security under the Antichrist?
“They will bear their shame for all their unfaithful acts against me, when they live securely on their land with no one to make them afraid” (NET Bible). That is a very poor translation in light of the context. The NASB95 is indeed better, but the context demands a relishing of a glory that comes only AFTER they have borne the shame of acts done during a time of security that is clearly before the day of the Lord. The translation is best that reflects consistency between the security described in Eze 39:26 and the security described in Eze 38:8, 11, 14. Manifestly, this is a security that exists sometime BEFORE Israel’s national regeneration at the day of the Lord (Eze 39:8, 22-29).
It is important to note that in Eze 38 & 39, Israel’s promised salvation follows immediately upon the destruction of Gog (Eze 39:4). This is particularly clear from Eze 39:4, 8, 22-29. This stands in marked contrast to the post millennial fulfillment described in Rev 20:7-10, since there, Israel has already existed as a redeemed nation for a thousand years.
Since Israel cannot be dwelling securely anytime after the abomination of desolation that starts the 3 1/2 year period of unequaled tribulation, it becomes very plain that the security and prosperity of Eze 38:8, 11, 14; 39:26 must have existed BEFORE the 3 1/2 years of tribulation that ends in the Day of the Lord. Whether this temporal security is speaking of times of relative security in Israel’s past, or the false security that will distinguish the first 3 1/2 years of false peace under Antichrist, is another question. I would lean towards the latter, because the setting and context would suggest that Israel is dwelling securely in what appears an unprecedented material prosperity at the time the Antichrist descends upon a falsely secure Israel. I do not see Gog as an exact synonym for the Antichrist, but the principality of Satan that will become incarnate in the Antichrist, animating him in his obsession to seize the Holy Land (Eze 38:17). He is the the ‘chief prince’ over the gentile world (Eze 38:2, 17) in the same way that Michael, his angelic counterpart, stands as a “chief prince” over the children of Israel (Dan 10:13; 12:1 with Rev 12:7-14).
Fundamental to the eschatology of both testaments is the recognition that the present age is separated from the golden age of covenant promise by a time of unequaled tribulation ending in the climactic day of the Lord. The question then is, on which side of the tribulation do we find the safe dwelling of Eze 38:8, 11, 14; 39:26? Those who put Eze 38-39 at the end of the millennium make much of the fact that the language of dwelling safely or ‘lying down in safety’ is phraseology that is distinctive of the eschatology of the covenant. That is true. However, if the safe dwelling of Eze 39:26 is consistent with the security described Eze 38:8, 11, 14, we must conclude that it is before Israel’s national regeneration, and therefore, before the tribulation for all the reasons that demonstrate a premillennial fulfillment of the war of Gog and Magog, as necessarily distinguished from its post-millennial replication.
Since the return from exile in Eze 38:8 is clearly pre-tribulational, the translation should properly reflect Israel’s past abuse of the covenant gift of safety in the Land. Unlike millennial safety that will be based on the righteousness of the New Covenant, the safety of Eze 38:8, 11, 14; 39:26 has become the occasion for the apostasy to reach its height of expression. That is the paradox. The language of covenant blessing is used to describe conditions that will prevail BEFORE. the national redemption. Ironically, however, it is these very conditions that become the greater occasion for the full manifestation of the nation’s defection, resulting in the judgement of the tribulation. Although the language of safe dwelling is certainly used in many of the prophetic promises of the age to come, it is also not uncommon that the prophets would raise a cry of warning during times of peace and plenty, precisely because the long suffering of God was being tested through misappropriation of the blessing.
Therefore, the safe dwelling and prosperity described in Eze 38:8, 11-14; 39:26 can only have reference to a provisional and probationary security that can be lost through sin, particularly the sin of presumption, in this case a presumption that has come to its height under a false sense of security. It is humanism’s tower of Babel, and tragically, the elect and beloved nation has imbibed that spirit. This is what must come down. This is the spirit of presumption that will be utterly shattered for a final time by “the chastisement of a cruel one” (Deut 32:36 with Jer 30:14; Dan 12:7).
In marked contrast to this tenuous and short-lived peace, the security of millennial promise is guaranteed of eternal continuance. This is because the nation’s chronic tendency to backslide has been forever cured by the coming in of an ‘everlasting righteousness’ (Jer 32:40; Dan 9:24). At that time, the promise of an everlasting righteousness will include, not only a remnant, as in times past, but each and every living survivor of a fully penitent Israel (Isa 4:3; 45:17, 25; 60:21; Jer 31:34; Eze 20:40; 39:28-29; Zeph 3:13). This gracious preservation in the Land does not end with the first or second generation of Jewish survivors, but extends to every child that will be born to Jewish parentage throughout the thousand years of open demonstration and vindication of His covenant with THEM (Isa 54:13; 59:21; 66:22; Jer 31:34; Ro 11:27).
Throughout Israel’s history, times of tranquility and prosperity were particularly conducive of compromise and the loss of covenant vigilance. In some ways, such favorable conditions find out the disposition of the heart even more than crisis. Will such undeserved grace be credited to natural causes? Even worse, will the blessing be seen as reward for a righteousness of the flesh that is presumed to be acceptable? This is the repeated prophetic indictment against the pride of presumption. Ultimate deception is at hand when the outward tokens of covenant mercy are interpreted as divine approval of a righteousness that is NOT the righteousness of God in Messiah. This is the kind of presumption that will not know when it has entered into a covenant with death and hell, as ultimately embodied in the Antichrist (Isa 28:15, 18; Dan 8:25; 9:27; 11:23).
Notice that this security appears to follow a recent return to the Land (Eze 38:8). Is this the return from Babylon or the modern return? Certainly it cannot be the return from Babylon since the events of Eze 38-39 did not soon follow, certainly not in the form of the everlasting redemption that must immediately follow upon the destruction of Gog on the mountains of Israel (Eze 39:4, 8, 22-29). Clearly then, the peace in view in these chapters is one that we must look for before the tribulation, before Gog’s destruction at the day of the Lord (Eze 39:4, 8). And if Eze 39:26 is to be interpreted in harmony with the earlier references to safe dwelling in Eze 38:8, 11, 14, this time of security was the very time that the nation’s offenses increased to the point of ultimate chastisement. From other scriptures we learn that this consummate offense concerns a deadly league with the Antichrist, a league that is broken by the desecration of the holy place in the middle of the week (Dan 9:27; 12:11; Mt 24:15-22; Rev 11:2).
Read this way, Eze 39:26 (compare also Eze 20:43-44) implies that the shame that is past is for sins that reached the threshold of judgment during a time in the past WHEN Israel “dwelt safely and none made them afraid.” Few times since the return from Babylon, and almost no time since the re-establishment of the modern state of Israel, has the Jewish people dwelt in the kind of security that seems implicit in Eze 38:8, 11, 14.
If we are correct in our view that Eze 38:8 is a reference to the modern return, then we can only suppose that the security of Eze 38:8, 11, 14; 39:26 concludes in the deadly league with the Antichrist, called by Isaiah, “your covenant with death and hell” (Isa 28:15, 18; Dan 8:25; 11:23). To interpret this security as a fulfillment of covenant promise (as many will) will be the ultimate illusion, since it will overflow in disaster just 3 1/2 years after it begins (Dan 9:27; 12:7, 11; Rev 11:2).
The prophets would warn continually of the perilous tendency to interpret temporal blessing (‘common grace’) as a seal of divine approval. This illusion will especially abound during the time of the false peace. It is not essentially new. This eschatological climax is in keeping with a pattern seen all throughout Israel’s history. Times of prosperity were often the times of greatest apostasy, threatening of imminent judgment through the agency of invading foreign powers.
Until the everlasting salvation of the New Covenant, any momentary security must be seen as fragile. In fact, Israel’s continued vulnerability to distress and calamity points ever onward to the need for something more absolute and eternal, namely, an “everlasting righteousness” based on better promises, even the promises of the ‘everlasting covenant’ that guarantees an all righteous nation, able to inherit the Land forever, without further threat of lapse and judgment under the conditional covenant.
Such probationary blessing is gracious and not based on Israel’s righteousness (Deut 9:5-6; Ro 9:11). It is the misuse and misinterpretation of His blessing that tests His longsuffering and brings judgment. In the case of the secular, the security refered to in Eze 38:8, 11, 14; 39:26 may be credited to the self-determination of a nation that has raised itself up out of the ashes of the Holocaust with the bold declaration, ‘never again.’ In the case of the pious, the conditions of security may be credited as reward for a kind of righteousness that, according to NT witness, is ‘not according to knowledge,’ (also the presumption of self-determination).
[Note: ‘Torah observance,’ when trusted apart from the righteousness of God in Messiah, is not in its essence too far removed from Islam’s doctrine of ‘submission.’ Both are ultimately works that must be equally rejected by the God whose standard is Jesus and the righteousness of the Spirit through faith in Messiah’s atoning blood.]
It is profoundly to be considered why it is that Israel’s greatest tribulation comes, not when the nation is weak and beleaguered but when it is strong, at the pinnacle of success, not only exhibiting a coveted national prosperity, but unprecedented religious success (as evident from the re-annexation of the temple with restored sanctuary and sacrifice (Isa 63:18; 64:10-11; Dan 11:31; 12:11; Mt 24:15; 2Thes 2:4). This success will come at the price of a peace league with the Antichrist (Isa 28:15, 18; Dan 8:25; 9:27; 11:23; 1Thes 5:3). It is this very presumption that sells a confident Israel into the final discipline of Jacob’s trouble.
Eze 39:8 compared with Rev 16:17 is absolutely decisive of a premillennial fulfillment at the “great day of God Almighty.” It is “this day,” i.e., the day of Gog’s destruction (Eze 39:8) that ends in Israel’s national regeneration (Eze 39:8, 22-29 with Isa 66:8; Zech 3:9; 12:10; Mt 23:29). In contrast, the abiding security of post-millennial Israel is never more than momentarily threatened by the post-millennial gathering of Gog and Magog. That invasion ends almost as soon as it begins with the fiery dissolution of the present heaven and earth. [Notice how the new heavens and earth are distinguished from the first by the absence of the oceans; “there was no more sea” (Rev 21:1)]. In marked contrast, the post-tribulational destruction of Gog is followed by 7 months of burial and 7 years of burning the weapons to cleanse the Land (Eze 39:9-16), hardly conditions that are compatible with the new heavens and earth of the final perfection.
When a translation is ‘TECHNICALLY’ capable of going either way, context and theological considerations can sometimes decide decisively which translation should be preferred. I believe this is one such instance. For example, the difference of translation between the NKJV and the NASB on Eze 39:26 will naturally reflect the translation team’s most considered interpretation of the larger context. That is virtually unavoidable, simply because translation is not an exact science. I am not a linguist, but a little study of the work of exegetes will expose one to instances where an ‘optional’ reading will be weighed against the larger context, because both are ‘technically’ legitimate in terms of pure linguistics, but only one answers best to the evident intention of the author. When it happens that a translation could legitimately go either way in terms of pure linguistics, this does not mean that the meaning is up for grabs, not if the theological implications of the larger context makes the translator’s choice between options decisive enough, which is what I think we have here.
This passage underscores the great difficulty in distinguishing the order of the modern return, leaving many to assume that the battle of Gog does little more than momentarily threaten Israel’s security, when, in fact, the invasion of Gog begins the 42 months of desolation and persecution that ends in nothing short of the day of the Lord and Israel’s final deliverance at the end of the tribulation (Eze 39:8, 22 with Dan 12:1). This is why we keep pressing the point that God very well intends that we are searching out a mystery where things are not so ‘automatic’ merely on the exegetical and translational level. While the truth will never violate the guidelines provided by a faithfully translated text, arriving at the truth is never automatic to right translation and exegesis alone. We are taught of God that whether by the miracle of revelation or the mercy of illumination, the truth of scripture is uniquely designed to elude the pride of human self reliance.
Even manuscript authority enters into the question, and that too becomes a faith decision. Not so much in the NT, but in the OT, I have found time and again that in close translational questions, the Masoretic tradition comes down most often on the right side of crucial theological considerations. But even within the boundaries of the best evidence and most faithful transmission, there is sometimes a window of latitude whereby a text can be legitimately translated and still show a bias of theological proclivity in the decision. A perfect example is the way that Jews, within the bounds of respected ‘technical’ legitimacy, can translate a text in such a way as to obscure its implications for the rejected and suffering Messiah. You’ll see this as you engage their translation of passages that that make the case for Jesus. It’s not always so easy. That is why the case is best made from the cumulative evidence (line upon line, here a little and there a little).
One final thought: I believe that the security of Eze 39:26, in keeping with 38:8, 11, 14 is instructive of a natural tendency to interpret peace and plenty, even the temporal mercies of divine long suffering and kindness, as a sign of divine acceptance. We see this in Eze 38 & 39. Here Israel has returned from an age long exile (Eze 38:8). This is exactly where we are today. The modern return is a token of covenant favor and promise, much like the return from Babylon. But like that return, the modern return is NOT to final felicity and permanent safe dwelling. Why? Because the great tribulation and the great and notable day of the Lord are still ahead. Until the end of the unequaled tribulation, Israel remains under the threat of covenant discipline (Lev 26; Deut 28-32).
This is what the post-exilic prophet, Zechariah, understood (Zech 13:8-9; 14:1-2). With Daniel and the other prophets of the post-exilic period, his prophecy demonstrates his understanding that the current return from Babylon falls short of the promise. That is why Zechariah will speak of yet another return that will follow a yet coming day of the Lord that will see another time of desolation and captivity (Zech 2:11-12; 8:7-8, 22-23; 10:8-10; 13:8-9; 14:1-2). This is no less the case with the modern return. Again, it is the axiom of OT eschatology that the ‘everlasting righteousness’ of the ‘everlasting covenant’ does not come for the nation ‘until’ AFTER a last great and final crisis of ultimate travail and tribulation. Until then, Israel remains in a state of covenant jeopardy, under the discipline of the conditional covenant.
We have precisely the same state of affairs in Jeremiah’s vision of Jacob’s trouble. Even after the people have returned from exile at the end of the 70 years, a further tribulation of unequaled divine severity is seen as lying still ahead (Jer 30:6-7). Even after the sacrifice and sanctuary will have been restored, Daniel sees another desecration and destruction by the hand of Antichrist at the end of the 70th seven. Who could have conceived that before this there would be a desecration by the Syrian tyrant in the 2nd century B.C and another by Pompey in 63 B.C., all before the final destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. And now, because of the clear language of the prophecy, we look for another temple and sacrifice that will again be stopped, and the holy place in the temple violated by the Antichrist of the final persecution.
In all of these scenarios, whether from the short exile of 70 years, or the long exile after the Roman destruction, Israel is back in the Land, but NOT to final felicity. The Jewish restoration is indeed in specific fulfillment of the promise made to the Fathers (Jer 30:3). It is NOT, however, the final blessing of peaceful continuance for the simple reason that the full blessing of the covenant cannot be established apart from the ‘everlasting righteousness’ of the ‘everlasting covenant,’ (Jer 32:40; Dan 9:24).
Though the church has received the eschatological blessing as ‘earnest’ and ‘first-fruits,’ it is not fully established with ‘all Israel’ until the promised deliverance at the day of the Lord, which concludes the unequaled tribulation (Jer 30:7; Dan 12:1). This is exactly what Daniel’s prophecy is given to show. Only with the destruction of the Antichrist at the end of the 70th seven, will peace in the Land be secure forever, because of a righteousness that is forever. Until then, i.e., until the apocalyptic repentance and regeneration of the nation in one day at the tribulation’s end (Isa 66:8; Eze 39:29 and others), the presumption of security is just that, presumption.
Eze 39:26 teaches the lesson that we see at the end of the millennium, that even under the most auspicious circumstance and conditions, the unregenerate heart is unable to behold the majesty of the Lord (Isa 26:10). Even when God has granted the miracle of the modern return, the unregenerate heart is unable to steward the gift in faithfulness. This is why abiding security in the Land has always depended on more than a righteous remnant. It has waited for the salvation of ‘all Israel,’ since only an abiding faithfulness, not only of the few, but of the nation as a whole can guarantee everlasting continuance.
The nature of the flesh is such that apart from regeneration, peace and plenty invariably tends towards the neglect of God, but if we have correctly interpreted the book of Daniel and the Lord’s Olivet prophecy as future, something more may be in view here. Not only Daniel, but Isaiah’s prophecy anticipates the presence of sanctuary and sacrifice when the Antichrist invades Israel (Isa 63:18; 64:10-11; Dan 12:11) to start the 42 months of Jerusalem’s final desolation (Rev 11:2). This, like the modern return, will be manifestly against all odds. Such unprecedented prosperity and security will surely be interpreted by many as sure and certain evidence of divine vindication and approval. But what if the security that is required for the return of Israel’s holy institutions and landmarks is the result of a peace arrangement with the Antichrist, a ‘covenant with death and hell,’ as ultimate statement of human self reliance? But trust in the Antichrist is just the statement of the nation’s historic trust in itself, and is no different in essence than many other forms of unbelieving confidence in the flesh.
The sudden and unexpected collapse of such a peace with an overflowing flood of destruction by an implacable occupier will be an ultimate revelation of God’s age enduring controversy with His people (Lev 26:25; Mic 6:2). That controversy centers on the ground and source of righteousness whether it be of God or of man, admitting of no mixture. Think about it. The miraculous return from exile followed at long last by the restoration of the ancient landmarks of sacrifice and temple will doubtless be interpreted as an ultimate evidence of divine approval and vindication of a religious zeal that unknowingly substitutes itself for the righteousness of God in Messiah’s atoning blood.
According to the radical and ultimately offensive claims of NT revelation, this righteousness cannot be understood or received apart from the miracle of regeneration (Mt 11:27; Jn 14:17; 1Cor 2:14; Eph 6:19). It is a ‘revealed’ righteousness (Ro 1:17). Although entirely foretold (Acts 26:22; 1Pet 1:11), it existed as a mystery in the writings of the prophets until its appointed time of revelation (1Cor 2:7-8; Ro 16:25-27; Eph 6:19). It remains a mystery wherever the veil remains over the heart (2Cor 3:14-16).
God must severely contend until the revelation of this righteousness has conquered finally and forever the nation’s inveterate humanism, whether secular or religious. It is this deep, resilient, and humanly inescapable confidence in the flesh that the last betrayal will shatter ultimately and forever. The veil now shattered gives way to the revelation and return of their long rejected Joseph, Messiah and Lord (Deut 32:36; Dan 12:7; Mic 5:3-4; Zech 12:10; Mt 23:39; Rev 1:7). Only such a glory decreed could ever account for the lengths to which God will go to bring this people to Himself in such a way that they will never again depart. It is this vision of unspeakable divine glory, together with the knowledge of the cost and rarity of true salvation, that will save us from being offended at the necessary death that precedes resurrection and the suffering that must precede the glory. To know that pattern for ourselves is to know it for Israel.
The law and the prophets point towards this ‘apocalyptic’ (unveiled) righteousness that alone perfectly satisfies and fulfills the law. Any other kind is doomed to disappointment and rejection precisely because it falls ‘short of the glory of the glory of God.’ Though an ultimate offense to natural reason, this divine insistence on spiritual regeneration appears to be the logic of Jesus’ reprimand of Nicodemus, i.e., if a nation is spiritually dead until it is born or raised by the Spirit (Isa 66:8; Eze 36:25; 37:13-14), can it be any different for the individual? (Jn 3:9) Individual salvation under the New Covenant was conceived in terms of the pattern of Israel’s salvation in the coming day of the Lord.
Such a radical transformation assumes a radical death. The betrayal of Antichrist will be an ultimate death blow, not only to the pride of secular humanism, but much more importantly to religious humanism. In that day Israel will learn that the betrayal of the Antichrist is only the betrayal that Israel has always been to its own peace through trust in man. And who, except for the grace of God, is able to escape that fatal tendency? The Antichrist is trusted only because man is trusted. God will have the nation to see that the betrayal of the Antichrist is nothing but their own self-betrayal through confidence in themselves. (Jer 17:5)
If we cannot see ourselves in Israel’s position. If we are not made to cry out, “who is sufficient?” Then we are not being searched and tried by these dread tendencies common to all flesh. That is the point that God makes through Israel. God does not intend a church that can distance itself from Israel in its own estimation, but that sees itself in the mirror of the beloved and privileged nation and and trembles lest it fall after the same example of unbelief. Israel is the saving object lesson of history, not because they are worse than any other nation. God forbid! But because, as David said, “man at his best state is altogether vanity” (Ps 39:5).
It is fitting that the Antichrist is able to come into his place through the confidence of human self trust. The pride of presumption has been the bane of history. It was opened the curse at the beginning and will be broken at the end through the final and unequaled tribulation. In order for mankind to learn the lesson, the elect nation must learn it first and foremost. In the logic of God’s exposure of that most subtle of all lies, it is necessary that Israel’s covenant with death will not be a league between the Antichrist and Israel at its irreligious worst, but at its religious best. It was so when Jesus was rejected and it will be so again when the nation through natural self reliance will betray itself into the hands of the Antichrist. Anyone who believes that they would do differently in the same circumstance, except for the grace of God, is woefully self-deceived and candidate for the same (Mt 23:30-31). That is why the whole world will be caught by the same trap (Isa 8:14-15; 34:8; Zech 12:2-3; Lk 2:34-35; 2Thes 29-11).
(Note: With Joel Richardson I am very certain that an exegesis of Eze 38-39, particularly in light of the order of Daniel, leaves no room to dissociate Gog from the Antichrist. Duly considered, in the larger context of prophecy, Eze 38:17 is absolutely decisive that Gog and Antichrist are one). Let me know your thoughts on this when time permits.