Prophetic Formulas (Part 2): Deconstructing Gog U’Magog

Last time, we outlined the underlying formula which informs and directs the content of Yeshaya’s visions. This time, we will examine another instance of prophetic formula, manifest in the Gog u’Magog prophecies of Sefer Yechezkial, first spoken over 100 years after Yeshaya’s career.

As always, we begin with historical context.

The navi Yechezkial lived and operated during the destruction of the first temple. His prophetic career began in Bavel, after being exiled there with the King, Yehoyachin, and the rest of the aristocracy comprising the initial wave of exiles. Nine years later, the instated puppet king Tzidkiyahu rebels against his Babylonian masters, provoking the siege which would in two years lead to the destruction of the city and complete exile of its remaining inhabitants. The national religious sentiment at this point was understandably uncertain concerning the state and future of our covenantal relationship with God. The nation believed that their abrogation of the covenant had motivated God to abandon them. As the navi of exile, it fell to Yechezkial to revive and sustain the hope of the nation. He ensured his audience that despite the destruction of his temple, God had neither lost some cosmic battle nor had discarded the nation to the whims of exile. He employed powerful images of revitalization and regrowth, such as the famous dry bones passage (skim the bolded lines for the “Sparknotes” version):

Ezekiel 37:1-12:

א הָיְתָה עָלַי, יַד-יְהוָה, וַיּוֹצִאֵנִי בְרוּחַ יְהוָה, וַיְנִיחֵנִי בְּתוֹךְ הַבִּקְעָה; וְהִיא, מְלֵאָה עֲצָמוֹת. ב וְהֶעֱבִירַנִי עֲלֵיהֶם, סָבִיב סָבִיב; וְהִנֵּה רַבּוֹת מְאֹד עַל-פְּנֵי הַבִּקְעָה, וְהִנֵּה יְבֵשׁוֹת מְאֹד. ג וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי--בֶּן-אָדָם, הֲתִחְיֶינָה הָעֲצָמוֹת הָאֵלֶּה; וָאֹמַר, אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה אַתָּה יָדָעְתָּ. ד וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי, הִנָּבֵא עַל-הָעֲצָמוֹת הָאֵלֶּה; וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם--הָעֲצָמוֹת הַיְבֵשׁוֹת, שִׁמְעוּ דְּבַר-יְהוָה. ה כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, לָעֲצָמוֹת הָאֵלֶּה: הִנֵּה אֲנִי מֵבִיא בָכֶם, רוּחַ--וִחְיִיתֶם. ו וְנָתַתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם גִּידִים וְהַעֲלֵתִי עֲלֵיכֶם בָּשָׂר, וְקָרַמְתִּי עֲלֵיכֶם עוֹר, וְנָתַתִּי בָכֶם רוּחַ, וִחְיִיתֶם; וִידַעְתֶּם, כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה. ז וְנִבֵּאתִי, כַּאֲשֶׁר צֻוֵּיתִי; וַיְהִי-קוֹל כְּהִנָּבְאִי, וְהִנֵּה-רַעַשׁ, וַתִּקְרְבוּ עֲצָמוֹת, עֶצֶם אֶל-עַצְמוֹ. ח וְרָאִיתִי וְהִנֵּה-עֲלֵיהֶם גִּדִים, וּבָשָׂר עָלָה, וַיִּקְרַם עֲלֵיהֶם עוֹר, מִלְמָעְלָה; וְרוּחַ, אֵין בָּהֶם. ט וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלַי, הִנָּבֵא אֶל-הָרוּחַ; הִנָּבֵא בֶן-אָדָם וְאָמַרְתָּ אֶל-הָרוּחַ {ס} כֹּה-אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, מֵאַרְבַּע רוּחוֹת בֹּאִי הָרוּחַ, וּפְחִי בַּהֲרוּגִים הָאֵלֶּה, וְיִחְיוּ. י וְהִנַּבֵּאתִי, כַּאֲשֶׁר צִוָּנִי; וַתָּבוֹא בָהֶם הָרוּחַ וַיִּחְיוּ, וַיַּעַמְדוּ עַל-רַגְלֵיהֶם--חַיִל, גָּדוֹל מְאֹד-מְאֹד. יא וַיֹּאמֶר, אֵלַי, בֶּן-אָדָם, הָעֲצָמוֹת הָאֵלֶּה כָּל-בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל הֵמָּה; הִנֵּה אֹמְרִים, יָבְשׁוּ עַצְמוֹתֵינוּ וְאָבְדָה תִקְוָתֵנוּ--נִגְזַרְנוּ לָנוּ. יב לָכֵן הִנָּבֵא וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵיהֶם, כֹּה-אָמַר אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה, הִנֵּה אֲנִי פֹתֵחַ אֶת-קִבְרוֹתֵיכֶם וְהַעֲלֵיתִי אֶתְכֶם מִקִּבְרוֹתֵיכֶם, עַמִּי; וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם, אֶל-אַדְמַת יִשְׂרָאֵל.

1 The hand of the LORD was upon me, and the LORD carried me out in a spirit, and set me down in the midst of the valley, and it was full of bones; 2 and He caused me to pass by them round about, and, behold, there were very many in the open valley; and, lo, they were very dry. 3 And He said unto me: 'Son of man, can these bones live?' And I answered: 'O Lord GOD, Thou knowest.' 4 Then He said unto me: 'Prophesy over these bones, and say unto them: O ye dry bones, hear the word of the LORD: 5 Thus saith the Lord GOD unto these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter into you, and ye shall live. 6 And I will lay sinews upon you, and will bring up flesh upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and ye shall live; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.' 7 So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold a commotion, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. 8 And I beheld, and, lo, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up, and skin covered them above; but there was no breath in them. 9 Then said He unto me: 'Prophesy unto the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath: {S} Thus saith the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.' 10 So I prophesied as He commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived, and stood up upon their feet, an exceeding great host. 11 Then He said unto me: 'Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off. 12 Therefore prophesy, and say unto them: Thus saith the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel…

The nation had lost hope for renewal, and saw themselves as a heap of abandoned dry bones. It was the assignment of Yechezkial to reinvigorate the dry bones with hope, to propagate the message that the exile was a temporary measure brought about by God; that the nation would eventually return, stronger, to its land, and that the Divine covenant had not been irrevocably shattered.

The Gog u’Magog visions, some of the most famous passages of all prophetic material, embodies this basic message. Though the visions bear a reputation to be mystifying and inscrutable, a simple examination, accounting for their original historical context, renders them fairly straightforward. We will see that the Gog u’Magog idea has less to do with war than with a certain type of peace. The visions, located in chapters 38-39, are set to occur soon after the return of the nation from Babylonian exile. Once the retrieved nation is dwelling peacefully, a foreign despot named Gog, ruler of the land of Magog, will assemble an immense coalition of international forces to wage war upon God’s nation. Gog’s forces will be cataclysmically destroyed in a stupendous battle through obvious Divine action, the renown of which will propagate and sanctify God’s name throughout the entire world. Let us examine the entire extended sequence of events, step by step, in the text:


Prior to the setting of the Gog u’Magog visions, the sinning nation endures the harsh punishment of Babylonian subjugation and exile. As we know from the sequence of portentous curses in Leviticus 26, exile is, in addition to its punitive value, intended to serve as a religiously rehabilitative measure:

Leviticus 26:29-40:

לט וְהַנִּשְׁאָרִים בָּכֶם, יִמַּקּוּ בַּעֲו‍ֹנָם, בְּאַרְצֹת, אֹיְבֵיכֶם; וְאַף בַּעֲו‍ֹנֹת אֲבֹתָם, אִתָּם יִמָּקּוּ. מ וְהִתְוַדּוּ אֶת-עֲו‍ֹנָם וְאֶת-עֲו‍ֹן אֲבֹתָם, בְּמַעֲלָם אֲשֶׁר מָעֲלוּ-בִי, וְאַף, אֲשֶׁר-הָלְכוּ עִמִּי בְּקֶרִי. מא אַף-אֲנִי, אֵלֵךְ עִמָּם בְּקֶרִי, וְהֵבֵאתִי אֹתָם, בְּאֶרֶץ אֹיְבֵיהֶם; אוֹ-אָז יִכָּנַע, לְבָבָם הֶעָרֵל, וְאָז, יִרְצוּ אֶת-עֲו‍ֹנָם. מב וְזָכַרְתִּי, אֶת-בְּרִיתִי יַעֲקוֹב…

39 Those of you who survive [The prior stages of punishment and exile] shall be heartsick over their iniquity in the land of your enemies; more, they shall be heartsick over the iniquities of their fathers, 40 and they shall confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their fathers, in that hey trespassed against Me, yea, were hostile to Me. 41 When I, in turn, have been hostile to them and have removed them into the land of their enemies, then at last shall their obdurate heart humble itself, and they shall atone for their iniquity. 42 Then I will remember My covenant with Jacob…


Back in chapters 38-39 in Yechezkial, looking forward from the bleak midst of exile, the nation is foreseen as rehabilitated, and returned rejuvenated to its land for peaceful dwelling. This sets the scene for Gog’s invasion.

ח מִיָּמִים רַבִּים, תִּפָּקֵד--בְּאַחֲרִית הַשָּׁנִים תָּבוֹא אֶל-אֶרֶץ מְשׁוֹבֶבֶת מֵחֶרֶב מְקֻבֶּצֶת מֵעַמִּים רַבִּים, עַל הָרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אֲשֶׁר-הָיוּ לְחָרְבָּה תָּמִיד; וְהִיא מֵעַמִּים הוּצָאָה, וְיָשְׁבוּ לָבֶטַח כֻּלָּם.

8 After many days thou [Gog] shalt be mustered for service, in the coming years thou shalt come against the land that is brought back from the sword, that is gathered out of many peoples, against the mountains of Israel, which have been a continual waste; but it is brought forth out of the peoples, and they dwell safely all of them.

יא וְאָמַרְתָּ, אֶעֱלֶה עַל-אֶרֶץ פְּרָזוֹת--אָבוֹא הַשֹּׁקְטִים, יֹשְׁבֵי לָבֶטַח; כֻּלָּם, יֹשְׁבִים בְּאֵין חוֹמָה, וּבְרִיחַ וּדְלָתַיִם, אֵין לָהֶם.

11 and thou [Gog] shalt say: I will go up against the land of unwalled villages; I will come upon them that are at quiet, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates;


The Navi explains that this vast invasion will be instigated and directed by God:

ד וְשׁוֹבַבְתִּיךָ, וְנָתַתִּי חַחִים בִּלְחָיֶיךָ; וְהוֹצֵאתִי אוֹתְךָ וְאֶת-כָּל-חֵילֶךָ סוּסִים וּפָרָשִׁים, לְבֻשֵׁי מִכְלוֹל כֻּלָּם--קָהָל רָב צִנָּה וּמָגֵן, תֹּפְשֵׂי חֲרָבוֹת כֻּלָּם.

4 and I [God] will turn thee [Gog] about, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed most gorgeously, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them handling swords:

ב וְשֹׁבַבְתִּיךָ, וְשִׁשֵּׁאתִיךָ, וְהַעֲלִיתִיךָ, מִיַּרְכְּתֵי צָפוֹן; וַהֲבִאוֹתִךָ, עַל-הָרֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל.

2 and I will turn thee about and lead thee on, and will cause thee to come up from the uttermost parts of the north; and I will bring thee upon the mountains of Israel;


The invading armies, led on by God, will be catastrophically destroyed with apocalyptically spectacular and undeniably Divine action, redeeming the nation from certain doom.

יט וּבְקִנְאָתִי בְאֵשׁ-עֶבְרָתִי, דִּבַּרְתִּי: אִם-לֹא בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא, יִהְיֶה רַעַשׁ גָּדוֹל, עַל, אַדְמַת יִשְׂרָאֵל. כ וְרָעֲשׁוּ מִפָּנַי דְּגֵי הַיָּם וְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וְחַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, וְכָל-הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאֲדָמָה, וְכֹל הָאָדָם, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; וְנֶהֶרְסוּ הֶהָרִים, וְנָפְלוּ הַמַּדְרֵגוֹת, וְכָל-חוֹמָה, לָאָרֶץ תִּפּוֹל. כא וְקָרָאתִי עָלָיו לְכָל-הָרַי חֶרֶב, נְאֻם אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה: חֶרֶב אִישׁ, בְּאָחִיו תִּהְיֶה. כב וְנִשְׁפַּטְתִּי אִתּוֹ, בְּדֶבֶר וּבְדָם; וְגֶשֶׁם שׁוֹטֵף וְאַבְנֵי אֶלְגָּבִישׁ אֵשׁ וְגָפְרִית, אַמְטִיר עָלָיו וְעַל-אֲגַפָּיו, וְעַל-עַמִּים רַבִּים, אֲשֶׁר אִתּוֹ.

19 For in My jealousy and in the fire of My wrath have I spoken: Surely in that day there shall be a great shaking in the land of Israel; 20 so that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field and all creeping things that creep upon the ground, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at My presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground. 21 And I will call for a sword against him [Gog] throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord GOD; every man's sword shall be against his brother. 22 And I will judge against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will cause to rain upon him, and upon his cohorts, and upon the many peoples that are with him, a torrential shower, and great hailstones, fire, and sulfur.


This grand spectacle will publicize and sanctify the name of God throughout the world.

כג וְהִתְגַּדִּלְתִּי, וְהִתְקַדִּשְׁתִּי, וְנוֹדַעְתִּי, לְעֵינֵי גּוֹיִם רַבִּים; וְיָדְעוּ, כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה.

23 Thus will I [God] greaten Myself, and sanctify Myself, and I will make Myself known in the eyes of many nations; and they shall know that I am the LORD.

ו וְשִׁלַּחְתִּי-אֵשׁ בְּמָגוֹג, וּבְיֹשְׁבֵי הָאִיִּים לָבֶטַח; וְיָדְעוּ, כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה. ז וְאֶת-שֵׁם קָדְשִׁי אוֹדִיעַ, בְּתוֹךְ עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְלֹא-אַחֵל אֶת-שֵׁם-קָדְשִׁי, עוֹד; וְיָדְעוּ הַגּוֹיִם כִּי-אֲנִי יְהוָה, קָדוֹשׁ בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל.

6 And I will send a fire on Magog, and on them that dwell safely in the isles; and they shall know that I am the LORD. 7 And My holy name will I make known in the midst of My people Israel; neither will I suffer My holy name to be profaned anymore; and the nations shall know that I am the LORD, the Holy One in Israel.

Certain key components of this sequence are particularly emphasized by the navi, namely, that the invasion will be designed and executed by God, and the end result of God’s name being universally known and sanctified. The entire text is suffused with the theme of universality. Gog gathers all the great international powers that be for what is envisioned as a total World War. Throughout the text common refrains such as “כָל-הַגּוֹיִם” and “עַמִּים רַבִּים”, lists of various different nations, and creation imagery, all collaboratively emphasize the sheer universal scope of the entire vision:

רֹאשׁ מֶשֶׁךְ וְתֻבָל

the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal

פָּרַס כּוּשׁ וּפוּט

Persia, Cush, and Put

גֹּמֶר, וְכָל-אֲגַפֶּיהָ--בֵּית תּוֹגַרְמָה, יַרְכְּתֵי צָפוֹן וְאֶת-כָּל-אֲגַפָּיו; עַמִּים רַבִּים, אִתָּךְ

Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah in the uttermost parts of the north, and all his cohorts; even many peoples with thee.

שְׁבָא וּדְדָן וְסֹחֲרֵי תַרְשִׁישׁ וְכָל-כְּפִירֶיהָ

Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the magnates thereof

כ וְרָעֲשׁוּ מִפָּנַי דְּגֵי הַיָּם וְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וְחַיַּת הַשָּׂדֶה, וְכָל-הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל-הָאֲדָמָה, וְכֹל הָאָדָם, אֲשֶׁר עַל-פְּנֵי הָאֲדָמָה; וְנֶהֶרְסוּ הֶהָרִים, וְנָפְלוּ הַמַּדְרֵגוֹת, וְכָל-חוֹמָה, לָאָרֶץ תִּפּוֹל.

20 so that the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the heaven, and the beasts of the field and all creeping things that creep upon the ground, and all the men that are upon the face of the earth, shall shake at My presence, and the mountains shall be thrown down, and the steep places shall fall, and every wall shall fall to the ground.

טז וְעָלִיתָ עַל-עַמִּי יִשְׂרָאֵל, כֶּעָנָן לְכַסּוֹת הָאָרֶץ

and thou shalt come up against My people Israel, as a cloud to cover the land

כא וְנָתַתִּי אֶת-כְּבוֹדִי, בַּגּוֹיִם; וְרָאוּ כָל-הַגּוֹיִם, אֶת-מִשְׁפָּטִי אֲשֶׁר עָשִׂיתִי, וְאֶת-יָדִי, אֲשֶׁר-שַׂמְתִּי בָהֶם.

21 And I will set My glory among the nations, and all the nations shall see My judgment that I have executed, and My hand that I have laid upon them.

Author’s Note:

Next time is the really fun part, where we will align the visions of Yeshaya and Yechezkial to demonstrate that, despite the apparent disparities between their visions, both neviim are harnessing the same basic underlying prophetic formula, modified for their respective historical circumstances. Through the comparison, we will extrapolate a more comprehensive understanding of both neviim and their ideas for the future.

The Awkward Requirement Of Reclining At The Seder

Knowing the Unknowable (Part 3): Heaven Upon Earth