Every once in a while things that happen in the news make me really upset because I can’t understand the evil of some people and what they do. The sexual assault and murder of young girls by Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka was one of those things. How could anyone do that to another person. Robert Picton has been charged with killing 26 women in BC. Again we wonder how anyone could do such terrible things. In the larger political picture, we could speak of Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Idi Amin and others who have committed and perpetrated horrible atrocities. How can that be? Where does this evil come from? Are these evils being justly dealt with?
Last week Frank talked about the battle we are in and that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers of evil which have Satan behind them. We learned that Satan is a roaring lion seeking someone to destroy.
Satan is behind all evil, but there are some who submit to Satan and whose hearts become filled with evil. Some think that people are basically good and that their environment or upbringing leads them to evil. The Bible tells us that we are all basically evil. Most people do not submit to the worst of that evil and try to live good lives, but some submit fully to evil and engage in terrible acts which destroy not only those who do them, but others around them. That is the source of the evil which I have mentioned above.
Israel had recently experienced some cruel evil. The message of Ezekiel has been that they were in exile because of their sin and because God was punishing them, but the nations which suppressed them were cruel, evil nations. The Assyrians, who had destroyed the northern ten tribes, were notorious for their wickedness. The Babylonians, although quite civilized in many respects, also had some evil ways. The fiery furnace set up to burn Daniel’s friends because they would not bow down to the king and the lion’s den which was to be used against Daniel because he worshipped God are just two examples of their cruelty. Israel had experienced their violence and was now subject to them. They must have wondered how that could be just. In fact in Habakkuk 1:13 the writer asks God, “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?”
We also, as Christians, experience some of this evil and cruelty. We are aware of it in our world and it makes us fearful and angry. Why do we have to protect all our property so that no one will steal it? Why would we be afraid to walk in certain parts of the city at night? Why do we experience injustice at the hands of others? Why are Christians sometimes marginalized or mocked? I heard a story of a Christian leader who was involved in a situation with unbelievers who were mocking Christian values. When I heard the story, it aroused passions in me. I feel for the brother who was experiencing this. Why are our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world killed because they believe in Jesus? How can a loving and holy God allow such evil?
Ezekiel gives an answer to these questions in Ezekiel 38,39. As we shall see, he speaks in apocalyptic language, that is language that is highly symbolic and speaks of a time that is yet to come. He gives God’s ultimate answer to these questions, an answer that comforts Israel in exile and also encourages us as we ask the same questions. A similar message appears in the book of Revelation and we will also refer to it as we discover God’s answer to what will happen to evil.
The first word of encouragement I would like to point to is the reminder in these verses that God is sovereign. As Israel experienced the evil they were under and as we see evil in our world, we sometimes wonder where God is. Does He see? Does He care? These two chapters assure us that God does know and care and that nothing is happening without His knowledge and permission. The sovereignty of God is seen in a number of ways in these passages. The phrase “Sovereign Lord” appears in 15 verses. In many of them God is speaking to the prophet and telling him to speak. For example, in 38:10 we read, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says:” Such a verse and the sheer number of times the phrase is repeated is a reminder to believe that God not only knows, but also is in charge of what is happening.
A second way in which the sovereignty of God is seen is in the fact that the phrase, “I Will” appears in 16 verses. This phrase is a promise and it is made by one who has the power and authority to carry it out. Once again, God’s decision to act assures us that he not only knows, but also acts.
Whenever we wonder if God is even aware of the evil that is going on in this world, such passages are an encouragement and a comfort because they remind us that He does. They give us peace.
But the question that nags us is, “when?” The answer to that question is also given here. Although God is always at work and does many things to bring justice to the earth even now, there is an ultimate answer to this question as well. There is a day coming when God will finally and completely deal with evil. This is the day which is spoken of in this passage.
In nine verses in these chapters there is reference made to a future day. In verse 8, it says, “after many days…” and “In future years…” In verse 10 it refers to what will happen “on that day.” A similar phrase is also found in verses 14, 16, 18; 39:8, 11, 13, 22.
The idea of the “day of the Lord” is encountered frequently in the Bible. For example in Joel 3:14 it says, “For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.” Even in the New Testament we have this idea of the coming day. II Peter 3:10 says, “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.” Sometimes it refers to a day that is near but often it refers to a future day. Always it refers to a day on which God will act. The day referred to in these chapters is still coming. Up until now we have not seen anything like what is described here.
Revelation 18 & 19 contains a similar passage, with a similar promise, which I believe refers to the same event. The day spoken of is the day on which God will judge and destroy all the evil people and nations in the world. In Revelation 18 it speaks of the sudden destruction of Babylon, which I believe refers to the destruction of all the evil nations and people who are against God’s people. In Revelation 19:19 it says, “I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies gathered together to make war against the rider on the horse and his army.” The outcome is similar in that the evil beings are immediately and completely destroyed by God.
The specific prophecy in these chapters is addressed against “Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” Seven other nations are mentioned which are at the rim of the Middle Eastern world. Who is this? Scholars have tried to find an identification and have suggested some, but there is none that make sense in history as it has been up to this time. I believe that in some ways Gog has always existed. One writer says, “Gog stands for that arrogant imperialism which, like Pharaoh at the sea, opposes God’s alternative leadership as represented by Israel, a community with a new heart and spirit in a renewed land.” Another writer identifies Gog as a “symbol of world power structures.” Gog is mentioned again in Revelation 20:8 as the one who will oppose God’s people in battle. I have to admit that I do not know who Gog is, but have a suspicion that Gog is, like the writers have said, all the evil leaders and rulers backed by Satan who have opposed God’s people and multiplied evil in the earth. Gog is Satan and Stalin and Hitler and Saddam Hussein. Whether in the future there will be a more specific person who will be identified as Gog I do not know, but I do know that there will continue to be people who are under Satan’s influence who act with evil intent against all people and specifically God’s people. This is not, in my opinion, the important part of the message. The important part of the message is that God is going to destroy all evil.
In the prophetic message, Ezekiel is told of the arrogance and evil intent of Gog. God moves Gog to gather against his chosen people, who at this time are living at peace and do not have walled cities. Although it is God who brings this enemy against His people, Gog is fully evil. It says in 38:10 “you will devise an evil scheme.” Other nations, who do not initiate the attack, nevertheless are in favour of it and desire to get something out of it. They cheer Gog on and also desire to gain plunder from the attack. So on this day in history, I understand that all of the evil people in the world are arranged against God’s people in a final battle for supremacy.
Although it is difficult to pin down all of the details, the important message is very clear. God says in verses 18 and following, “my hot anger will be aroused, declares the Sovereign Lord. In my zeal and fiery wrath I declare that…I will execute judgement upon him…” The enemies of God will be arranged against God’s people, but there will not be a battle. God will come and destroy them all.
The same message of destruction of the evil nations and of Satan himself is found in Revelation 18,19. We read in Revelation 18:7,8, “Give her as much torture and grief as the glory and luxury she gave herself. In her heart she boasts, ‘I sit as queen; I am not a widow, and I will never mourn.’ Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her: death, mourning and famine. She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.”
In Ezekiel 38:17-23 the completeness of God’s judgement is demonstrated. We read in 38:22, “I will execute judgement upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulphur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.”
In Ezekiel 39 the completeness of the destruction of all the evil people continues to be described. So complete is the removal of the evil forces that for seven months the people living in the land will bury bodies. For seven months there will be enough fuel from the weaponry of the attacking enemy that they will not have to look for an alternate fuel source. They will spend seven months burying bodies so that the land is cleansed and all evil is removed completely. There is a further description of a feast which will allow scavenger animals to eat the flesh of the dead bodies. A similar pictures also occurs in Revelation 19:17, 18 “And I saw an angel standing in the sun, who cried in a loud voice to all the birds flying in midair, ‘Come, gather together for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings, generals, and the mighty men, of horses and their riders, and the flesh of all people, free and slave, small and great.’”
How literally we are intended to take all of these details I am not sure. It is apocalyptic language. What we are to take literally and what I believe is the message of encouragement is that God is the one who gains the victory. In both Ezekiel and Revelation we are promised that God will destroy all evil once and for all.
What is the final outcome of this great destruction of evil?
The people of Israel were God’s people. When God forced them into exile because of their sin the impression of the surrounding nations was that God is weak and allows evil and can’t defend his own people. The name of God was slandered and put down because God’s people were in exile. Of course we know that it was because of sin that Israel was in exile, but that was not the impression of the surrounding people.
A similar thing still happens. When people are persecuted, when God’s people are marginalized the implied message is that God is not very strong. He is not able to defend, not able to help his people. God’s holy name is slandered and put down because His kingdom does not look like an everlasting kingdom.
The purpose of this prophecy and the purpose of the promise that God will act to destroy the evil nations and people of the world is primarily to demonstrate the holiness of God’s name. Please take note of this emphasis throughout this passage. In 38:16, God says, “I will show myself holy through you before their eyes.” In 38:23 God says, “I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” In 39:7 God says once again, “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel. I will no longer let my holy name be profaned, and the nations will know that I the Lord am the Holy One in Israel.” In Ezekiel 39:25,27, 28 this message comes out again when it says, “I will be zealous for my holy name…I will show myself holy through them in the sight of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord their God…”
Why was it important that God’s name be shown to be holy? If God had allowed Israel to continue in their wickedness, he would not be a holy God, so he had to punish them by sending them into exile. If God would allow an evil nation to punish a nation not as evil as it, then God would not be shown to be holy. The only way God is shown to be holy is if he deals with evil completely. This he does, or rather will do. Many people still question the holiness and justice of God because evil still exists. Evil people still seem to be getting away with their evil ways. But, we live in hope that when that day comes, God’s holiness will be fully demonstrated and all evil will be taken out of the way.
When God’s name is glorified, there is another thing that happens for the people of God. Throughout this passage we rejoice that with the vindication of God’s name also comes the blessing of God’s people. In 39:25 God promises, “I will now bring Jacob back from captivity and will have compassion on all the people of Israel.” In 39:28,29 the promise is further described when it says, “I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind. I will no longer hide my face from them for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign Lord.” In Ezekiel 40-48, the conclusion of the book, we have a further description of the blessings of what will happen to God’s people which we will look at in two weeks as we conclude the series on Ezekiel.
When God’s name is glorified, the people of God who live for God also experience blessing. The primary purpose of this act of God is to glorify the holy name of God. The other outcome is the blessing of the people of God.
The message in Revelation 18-22 is the same. First of all we have the gathering for the great battle against God by all the evil forces of the world. Then we have God’s final and ultimate defeat of those forces and the complete destruction of evil and the final judgement of Satan and all who are with him. Following the defeat of evil, there is the final and complete blessing of the people of God, where we read of the removal of all tears, the presence of God with his people and the gathering of all of God’s people into the eternal kingdom.
I’m not one to read the last chapter of a book first. I like the suspense of discovering the ending. However, I am glad that I know the outcome of the story of human history. God is going to win! How do we respond to this message?
If you are not on God’s side, you are on the side of evil. God is going to win in the end. By faith in Jesus Christ, you can be on God’s side and rejoice at the end God has in mind for this world and experience the blessings which will come to God’s people.
If you are discouraged because evil seems to be winning, let this be a word of encouragement to you. God is going to be victorious!
If you are tempted to give up and succumb to evil, be encouraged. In Revelation 18:4,5, God says, “Come out of her(Babylon), my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.” Keep on walking in faithfulness and holiness.
May we be encouraged to faithfully follow the God who is the sovereign Lord of all and will win.