A Question I Was Asked:

Can You Explain the Historical Placing of Ezekiel 38-39?

QUOTE: "...Perhaps futurist adventists and dispensationalists had better make sure they are sitting down before reading any further!"

Ezekiel's Visions

Ezekiel the Prophet had some startling visions, some we can understand, several we cannot fully understand right now and we should admit this rather than indulging in unbridled speculation then insisting that only our interpretation is correct.

Can you explain the historical placing of Ezekiel 38-39? I am not convinced by those who insist its fulfillment is way off in the distant future. Can you help in this matter?

UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, the Scripture under consideration here is Ezekiel 38-39.

I would suggest that any who are interested in this topic read those chapters before we start since I am not going to quote them in full right here. That would be too time and space consuming, however, this is not going to be a verse-by-verse Bible study, so I am here assuming at least some basic familiarity with these two chapters by the reader.

We are probably all aware of the popular Futurist/premillennial position on this Scripture; in short, according to this popular view and interpretation, Ezekiel prophesied of a Russian-led attack on national Israel, possibly also including the forces of China, which will take place in the future, for some, just prior to Christ's return, but for many 'premillenialists' over 1,000 years into the future, at the conclusion of a literal 1,000 year 'millenium.'

As many of our regular readers will be aware, after extensive study over many years, I no longer support the concept of a "millennium," although I once did. I feel it is imposed upon the Scriptures on the strength of just a very few verses, verses which can easily be read differently. Both Jesus and Paul are silent on the concept as are the other New Testament writers, you end up with no more than a very few verses by John in Revelation which could be read that way (but are quite capable of being explained differently). I respect Christians of all eschatological viewpoints, but - for myself - I feel that it amounts to very unsafe and 'iffy' biblical exegesis. We should always let the strong and clear Scriptures explain those of less clarity - never the other way around!

Okay, at the outset let me say that this is not an easy subject to deal with. Many American prophecy-centred dispensationalists and adventists will remain convinced that these two chapters refer to 'end-time events,' since they are prophetic futurists and only seem able to handle Bible prophecy in that particular manner. In the past I have referred to this approach as the '19th-21st century adventuristic approach,' because it tends to cut off the subject of prophecy from its Old Testament moorings, becoming something to be interpreted by any who are clever and slick enough! It will come as a shock to many but the truth is that the originator of this teaching (that is, the futuristic approach to Bible prophecy) was actually a Jesuit priest called Francisco de Ribera, who first published it in 1585. He did it in order to oppose the Historicist interpretation which identified the Papacy as the Antichrist and the Church of Rome as "Babylon." He wished to encourage the idea that almost all Bible prophecy concerned the far distant future. The irony is how it is Protestants who have taken over most of this approach lock, stock and barrel. Some of these prophecy futurists are not even prepared to countenance that any other fulfilment of these chapters might have already occurred within human history. Ever-helpful Bible commentator Henry Halley ('Halley's Bible Handbook') is usually excellent in stating where various Bible prophecies might have been fulfilled in the past but, on this one, he 'keeps his powder dry,' but others have certainly made intriguing claims.

Truthfully - and perhaps futurist adventists and dispensationalists had better make sure they are sitting down before reading any further! - there is very strong evidence that these prophecies are already fulfilled - I repeat: already fulfilled. Some believe the chapters were fulfilled during the Maccabean period (167 BC - 160 BC), this view would argue that the enemy in question is Antiochus Epiphanes [Kenneth Gentry, for example, argues in this way, as does William Hendriksen], we already pretty much know that Antiochus Epiphanes is referred to in Daniel, others believe that these chapters were all fulfilled circa AD 70-73 with Rome's attack on Israel and with Revelation 20:7-8 referring to the same event (Kurt Simmon, for instance), others believe the chapters were fulfilled during the First Crusade (1096-1099), but still others - in rather a stronger position, I feel - believe that this prophecy was fulfilled at the time of Esther (David Lowman and Gary DeMar, for example, support this view), during the days of the Persian empire. The latter view is actually surprisingly strong. Adam Maarschalk writes this:

'Haman is the "prince-in-chief" of a multi-national 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 Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him" (Esther 3:1). 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..."

David Lowman, who supports the Esther view, attacks the view (popular with adventism and premillenialism) that these chapters identify Russia, stating this:

The term "Rosh" in Hebrew means "chief" or "leader" [and] is a Hebrew word. "Russia" comes from the 11th century Scandanavian word "Rus" and has no relation in root and etemology to the word "rosh." It's beyond a stretch of all credulity [to link the two]... "Meshach" and "Tubal" were actual city/nations before the time of Christ and were part of the larger Persian Empire. These words come from the Asiatic words "Mushka" and "Tabal" and they are both literal locations located in modern day Turkey and, again, have NO relation to the nation of Russia in any way. This is such poor exegesis and now many modern Dispensationalists have abandoned these claims, though the more popular prophecy experts still promote it. (Source: https://adammaarschalk.com/tag/ezekiel-38/)

So Lowman submits that the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 can be "...found during the time of Esther and the Persian empire and involves the Israelite victory over Haman's "schemes" and complete victory of the outmatched Israel forces." (Source, as before).

In evaluating some of these possibilities Adam Maarschalk also states this:

Fascinating, and there is other evidence of the Esther link as well, for example the great battle of Ezekiel 38-39 is fought with ancient weapons (Ezekiel 38:4), not modern ones! But right now we really do have to say that 'the jury is out,' we just don't have enough strong and unbiased information to be able to fully evaluate all of these views but, suffice it to say, we should begin to see that the usual futurist adventist/dispensationalist view is not necessarily correct.


Okay, as many of you will know, I always like to give the most biblical explanation of a Scripture, or to point out exactly where some Scripture is fulfilled, or will be fulfilled, but here it is impossible to be too dogmatic due to a dreadful 'muddying of the waters' which has taken place. Whilst I don't take any particular view on the proper and correct understanding of Ezekiel 38 and 39, I admit to having some sympathy with the 'Esther/Persian Empire fulfillment view,' although the Antiochus Epiphanes view is probably stronger, both of those views are based on things we know, rather than on hype and speculation. But this does not mean that I fully support any one view and that further questions never arise. One would like further, more substantial, evidence from history but we have to face the fact that nations and empires rarely record their own ignominious defeats!

Having stated all of the above (it is always helpful to keep an open mind), one should never rule out the possibility that much of Ezekiel 38-39 does indeed have its fullest focus on events leading up to the Second Coming of our Lord, Revelation 20 certainly does use the Ezekiel model in warning of events just prior to the parousia, even with mention of 'Gog and Magog.' (see Revelation 20:8). Yet I am fully of the view that apart from events like the Second Coming in glory and power, and the Resurrection of the Dead, a large chunk of Bible prophecy stands as already fulfilled.

Robin A. Brace. May 18th, 2016.