During the Babylonian exile, the prophet Ezekiel was granted several visions that explained why the Lord judged His people. Some of these visions looked forward to the final restoration of Israel in holiness and glory. This restoration would be a resurrection for Israel — the nation’s plight in exile was akin to death, and it would receive a new breath of life the day it trusted in and remained faithful to God alone (Ezek. 37). Today’s passage speaks of the aftermath of Israel’s salvation.
Ezekiel sees a vision of the evil king Gog, born in the land of Magog, ruler over Meshach and Tubal, who will lead an army from the four corners of the earth against Israel (38:1–6). The identity of Gog and the northern land of Magog from which he originated has been the source of much speculation, especially among those within the dispensational tradition. Based on a supposed linguistic link between the Hebrew term for prince and the name Russia, dispensational thinkers have often said this passage predicts a Russian invasion of Israel during the last days. Such theories were especially rampant in the days when the Soviet Union still stood.
But this connection is impossible. The name Russia was introduced long after Ezekiel’s day, rendering a linguistic link impossible. Moreover, the prophets often refer to northern peoples in general as the foes of Israel, since the nation’s historic enemies of Assyria, Babylon, and Persia were based north of the Holy Land (Isa. 41:25; Jer. 1:13–15). In light of all this, though we can identify Gog as an ancient pagan king and Meshach and Tubal with the land of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), it seems that Gog in this instance merely represents all of Israel’s foes. Ezekiel is saying that during the restoration from exile, God’s enemies will attempt to crush His people, a people who seem defenseless, having no walls or gates (Ezek. 38:7–16).
Yet these people are not truly without defenses. They do not build walls and gates because they trust in the Lord to protect them. And the Almighty does in fact protect them (vv. 17–23). He has promised to keep His people safe, and in defeating Israel’s enemies, He shows Himself trustworthy and thus holy. Though God’s people may at times seem helpless, He preserves them for life eternal in a new heaven and earth, thereby vindicating His holiness.