Summary: A study of the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39 by the invasion of Israel by Antiochus IV and his multinational army.
There is a tendency for contemporary Bible students to think that prophecies found in the Old Testament pertain to events to be fulfilled in our future. In reality, such prophecies were fulfilled by the time of the coming of Christ and the establishment of the Church/Kingdom in the First Century of our Common Era.
One prophecy that is often mistakenly looked to for future fulfillment is that of Gog and Magog found in Ezekiel 38-39. This prophecy speaks of a multi-national army that invades and plunders Israel. However, God brings destruction to this army and, in so doing, brings honor to His Holy Name.
The timing of this invasion is given in Ezekiel 38:8-9. The invasion would occur after the Israelites return from their exile in Babylon and live in relative security. The Israelites did begin their return home from the Babylonian Captivity with the Decree of Persian King Cyrus in 537 BC. Thus, the invasion must date after 537 BC.
Now we must try to identify the nations and peoples that comprise the invasion force. Very few of the nations and tribes mentioned in Chapter 38 are recognized to exist today. However, their identities are revealed by ancient historians.
We can successfully identify the nations and tribes mentioned in our passage as follows:
MAGOG - Syria and southern Scythia, center of the Seleucid Empire (confirmed by Pliny, Josephus, and Grotius).
MESCHECH - Moschi, a Scythian tribe of North-Central Armenia; later called Cappadocians in the New Testament.
TUBAL - Thobelites, Scythians of eastern Armenia and northern Syria, later called Iberians in the New Testament.
PERSIA - A well-known nation that was located in today’s Iran.
ETHIOPIA - The African nation.
LIBYA - The northern African nation.
GOMER - A tribe of central Armenia, later called Galatians in the New Testament.
TOGARMAH - A tribe of southwestern Armenia, later called Phrygians in the New Testament.
SHEBA - Arabic tribe
DEDAN - Arabic tribe
TARSHISH - The northern Mediterranean coastal peoples stretching from Italy to Spain. Later, a seaport in Spain.
Now that we have identified these ancient nations and tribes, we must ask whether or not these nations ever joined together in an invasion of Israel after 537 BC?
The answer is a resounding "yes"!!
All of these nations and peoples were either a part of the Seleucid Empire or joined the Seleucid king, Antiochus IV, when he invaded Israel during the period of 170-165 BC. This is attested to by the Greek historian Appian and by the Jewish historian Josephus. Further confirmation is found in the apocrypha books of Maccabees.
There is a long-standing consensus by scholars (such as Porphyry, Jerome, Adam Clarke, Matthew Henry, Jamieson-Fausset-Brown and Matthew Poole) that identifies GOG as Antiochus (Epiphanes) IV and that Ezekiel 38-39 prophesies his invasion of Israel and the destruction of his coalition army.
The following is an overview of the Scriptural prophecy and its historical fulfillment by the Antiochian invasion:
Chapter 38:9 -
170 B.C. Antiochus and his army invade Judea and take Jerusalem by storm. He killed 80,000 Jews and sold the same number into slavery. He entered the Temple and stole its sacred furniture. He entered the Holy Place sacrificed a sow upon the altar on the altar of burnt offerings and poured its broth throughout the Temple, including the Holy of Holies.
Shortly thereafter, Antiochus sent 22,000 troops - under General Apollonius - to kill all the Jewish men in Jerusalem and enslave the women and children. This was rigorously executed and only those who hid in caves and fled to the mountains survived the attack.
168 B.C. Antiochus’ troops again attacks Jerusalem. Many citizens are killed and 10,000 sold into slavery. The Temple is again plundered and then dedicated to the Grecian god Jupiter Olympius. Again, a sow is sacrificed upon a small altar. Antiochus decides to exterminate Judaism and worship to Jehovah. The Scriptures are burned wherever found. Heathen temples are erected in every Judean city. Faithful Jews are tortured: youths and old men are beaten with rods and torn to pieces, mothers are crucified with the infant boys they have circumcised strangled and hanging about their necks.
Chapter 38:21 -
166 B.C. Judas Maccabeus, with an army of faithful Jews, conducts guerrilla warfare against Antiochian troops and apostate Jews to regain freedom for Israel and restore Judaism.
Chapter 39:3-5 -
Syrian General Apollonius and his army attack Judas and his troops. Apollonius is killed and his army is entirely routed.
Seeking revenge for Apollonius’ death, Seron (deputy-governor and military commander of the Coelesyrian province) and his army march against Judas. Judas kills Seron and 800 of his men, while the other Syrian survivors flee out of the country. Judas and his army has become a formidable threat to Antiochus’ control of Israel and the Jews.