Ezekiel 38 – Prophecy Against Gog & Lost Cities of the Near and Middle-East: Palmyra (8 of 8)

Nero fled Rome when he learned that he had been tried in absentia and condemned to death as a public enemy.
He committed suicide (hint, hint) on June 9, 68 AD, making him the first Roman Emperor to commit suicide.
Nero’s rule is usually associated with tyranny and extravagance. Most Roman sources, such as:
• Suetonius and Cassius Dio, offer overwhelmingly negative assessments of his personality and reign.
• Tacitus claims that the Roman people thought him compulsive and corrupt.
• Suetonius tells that many Romans believed that the Great Fire of Rome was instigated by Nero to clear the way for his planned palatial complex, the Domus Aurea.
According to Tacitus he was said to have seized Christians as scapegoats for the fire and burned them alive, seemingly motivated not by public justice but by personal cruelty.
A few sources paint Nero in a more favorable light. There is evidence of his popularity among the Roman commoners (stupid Obama/Hillary voters), especially in the eastern provinces of the Empire, where a popular legend arose that Nero had not died and would return.

The Roman government may have been brutish but they had some type of decency towards the poor.  I say that because of the public baths.  You won’t find anything like that in the United States.  I know a couple people that bathe in the self-carwash at times, but it isn’t free.  And some do it in the river. 

Almost from the very beginning of Adam and Eve people have fought for control, and it hasn’t stopped.  Yet, I’m wondering about the big battle so I would like to look at…

Ezekiel 38
Prophecy Against Gog

1 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,

This statement, repeated often for receiving God’s word, stands as an introduction to chapters 38-39, which are a unit.  The future restoration of Israel under reign of the house of David (chapter 37) will bring about a massive coalition of world powers to destroy God’s kingdom.

But he vast host that comes against Jerusalem will end up as dead bodies strewn over the fields of the promised land.  Israel will become the cemetery of the enemy hordes.

2 Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him,

“Gog” – apparently a leader or king whose name appears only here and in Rev 20:8.  Several identifications have been attempted, notably Gyges, king of Lydia (c. 660 B.C.).  Possibly the name is purposely vague, standing for a mysterious, as yet undisclosed enemy of God’s people.

“The land of Magog” – in Gen 10:2; 1 Chr 1:5 Magog is one of the sons of Japheth, thus the name of a people.  In Eze 39:6 it appears to refer to a people.  But since the Hebrew prefix ma – can mean “place of,” Magog may here simply mean “Land of Gog.”

Israel had long experienced the hostility of the Hamites and other Semitic peoples; the future coalition here envisioned will include – and in fact be led by – peoples descended from Japheth (cf. Gen 10).

“Chief prince of” – could refer to a military commander-in-chief.  There is a little grammatical evidence of translating this as “prince of Rosh.”  Of the 599 times this word appears, this would be the only case in which it is translated as a place name.

“Meshech and Tubal” – these sons of Japheth are probably located in eastern Asia Minor.  They are peoples and territories to the north of Israel.  As in the days of the Assyrians and Babylonians, the major attack will come from the north.

“Battle of Gog and Magog” is found in Ezekiel 38-39. The passage speaks of a coalition of nations that attack Israel, who are all led by the nation of “Magog.”

Many prophecy teachers claim that Magog is Russia which will be destroyed alongside with Islamic nations. This must occur in order to usher in the Battle of Armegeddon and the coming of Christ. But these two arguments are unfounded and totally depend on pure conjecture.

3 And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal:

4 And I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armor, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: 

“Put hooks into the jaws” – as with Pharaoh in 29:4, Gog is likened to a beast led around by God.

5 Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet:

“Ethiopia” – Hebrew Cush, the upper (southern) Nile region.  The invading forces from the north are joined by armies from the south.

“Libya” – in North Africa.

6 Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters, and all his bands: and many people with thee.

“Gomer” – another of Gog’s northern allies mentioned in Gen 10:3; 1 Chr 1:6 as one of the sons of Japheth.  According to non-Biblical sources, these peoples originated north of the Black Sea.

“House of Togarmah” – or “Beth-togarmah.”  Togarmah is one of the children of Gomer.

7 Be thou prepared, and prepare for thyself, thou, and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them.

The early Zoroastrians had a dualistic system of belief in which two opposing and equal forces – good and evil – battled for control of the world.

Ahura Mazda (originally called Spenta Mainyu) represented light, truth, and goodness.
His great Ancient Persians associated the god Ahura Mazda with royalty, as well as with light and fire.

8 After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them.

9 Thou shalt ascend and come like a storm, thou shalt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou, and all thy bands, and many people with thee.

10 Thus saith the Lord GOD; It shall also come to pass, that at the same time shall things come into thy mind, and thou shalt think an evil thought:

11 And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates,

“Land of unwalled villages” – speaks of a blissfully peaceful, ideal future time when walls no longer will be needed.  See Zech 2:4-5, which assumes, as does this passage that the Lord alone is sufficient protection.

12 To take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land.

Ancient Persians were the first to use chemical weapons when they gassed Roman soldiers with toxic fumes 2,000 years ago, researchers have discovered.

Archeologists have found the oldest evidence of chemical warfare after studying the bodies of 20 Roman soldiers found underground in Syria 70 years ago.

“Midst of the land” – the Hebrew for “midst” also means “navel,” a graphic image for the belief that Israel was the vital link between God and the world.

13 Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto thee, Art thou come to take a spoil? hast thou gathered thy company to take a prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take a great spoil?

“Sheba” – southwest corner of the Arabian peninsula (modern Yemen), known for trading.

14 Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say unto Gog, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In that day when my people of Israel dwelleth safely, shalt thou not know it?

15 And thou shalt come from thy place out of the north parts, thou, and many people with thee, all of them riding upon horses, a great company, and a mighty army:

16 And thou shalt come up against my people of Israel, as a cloud to cover the land; it shall be in the latter days, and I will bring thee against my land, that the heathen may know me, when I shall be sanctified in thee, O Gog, before their eyes.

17 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Art thou he of whom I have spoken in old time by my servants the prophets of Israel, which prophesied in those days many years that I would bring thee against them?

Libya has been demonised and its leader feared for long, though this is a country full of interesting things to see, from fabulous Roman ruins and ancient cities preserved intact, to vast stretches of the haunting Sahara desert and superb prehistoric rock art.

The Libya that caresses the north coast of Africa is delightfully Mediterranean, with glistening citrus plantations and balmy skies.

The Sahara Desert forms more than 95% of Libya. The desert is about the size of the USA and is not all sand. There are large areas of gravel, clay and rock, and several mountain ranges.

“Art thou he of whom I have spoken…?” – probably a general reference to early prophecies of divine judgment on the nations arrayed against God and His people.

18 And it shall come to pass at the same time when Gog shall come against the land of Israel, saith the Lord GOD that my fury shall come up in my face.

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 earth, 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 throughout all my mountains, saith the Lord GOD: every man’s sword shall be against his brother.

“I will call for a sword” – God’s sword of judgment.

“Every man’s sword shall be against his brother” – the coalition of Israel’s enemies will turn on itself, as did the armies that attacked Judah in the time of Jehoshphat (2 Chr 20:22-23).

22 And I will plead against him with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire, and brimstone.

The list of divine weapons suggests that God will intervene directly without the benefit of an earthly army.

23 Thus will I magnify myself, and sanctify myself; and I will be known in the eyes of many nations, and they shall know that I am the LORD.

Lost Cities of the Near and Middle-East: 
Palmyra
Location: Central Syria
Date of Construction: c. 330 B.C.
Abandoned: c. 6th Century C.
Built By: Palmyrenes
Key Features: Tariff of Palmyra; Temple of Bel; Propylea; Theatre; Columns; Diocletian Baths;Hybrid Cultural Influences

Tadmur is the modern settlement of the ancient city of Palmyra, which developed adjacently to the north of the ancient ruins. The modern city is built along a grid pattern.

Quwatli Street is the main road and runs east-west, starting from the Saahat al-Ra’is Square on the western edge of the town The city currently serves as a base for tourists visiting the ruins. It has a museum in the southwestern part of the city. Syria holds an annual cultural festival in Tadmur celebrating the city’s ancient heritage. The Palmyra Airport is also located in Tadmur.

Tadmur also serves as a center for Syria’s phosphate mining and natural gas industries. The first phosphate mine run by the government was established near Tadmur and started production in 1971. Work to connect Tadmur’s phosphate mines to the port of Tartus began in 1978. In 1986 Soviet surveyors discovered large iron ore deposits in the vicinity of Tadmur.

The ruins of ancient Palmyra are among the world’s most impressive remnants of lost cities. Graceful columns of rose-hued stone soar into the desert sky along colonnaded streets, recalling the city’s former elegance and beauty.

Yet appearances might be regarded as deceptive, for the animating impulses of Palmyra were trade and money rather than art or culture, and for a brief period it was the trading center of the Mediterranean-Oriental world.

Palmyra is the Greek name for the city of Tadmor, probably derived from the Semitic word for “palm tree.” Known as the Bride of the Desert, Palmyra was an oasis city in the center of Syria, 133½   miles northeast of Damascus.

It lay on the border between the semi-arid Badiya, or Syrian steppe, and the wide expanse of desert that separates it from the upper reaches of the Euphrates. The city’s form and culture were a classic marriage of East and West, with Hellenistic and Roman influences melded to Arabic, Egyptian, Mesopotamian and Persian ones.

Famous as the home of the legendary Queen Zenobia, it is now also renowned as one of the most beautiful ruins in the world. What you can see today is effectively a snapshot of a Roman city frozen at the height of the empire’s glory, a city undone by hubris and the vengeance of Rome.

Merchant City

Biblical tradition attributes the founding of Tadmor to Solomon (c. 1000 B.C.), but it is extremely unlikely that Hebrew kings ever ruled this region, while Assyrian inscriptions on tablets found at the ancient city of Mari on the Euphrates dating back to c. 1800 B.C., show that a settlement had existed there since the Bronze Age.

Hot springs provided a constant supply of water (as well as a faint smell of sulphur characteristic of the city), attracting caravans crossing the arid wastes between the Euphrates – which gave access to the trade of Persia, the Gulf of Arabia, India and China and the Silk Road – and Damascus and points west. But at this point it may have been little more than a tent city.

According to some sources, Alexander the Great and his successors, the Seleucids, founded a more permanent city and gave it a Hellenistic constitution, but even in 41 B.C., when Mark Anthony led a cavalry raid across the desert to plunder its riches, Palmyra’s inhabitants were sufficiently mobile to have vacated the city along with all their moveable goods (having received advanced warning of his attack).

It was officially absorbed into the Roman province of Syria in 17 A.D., and Roman influence was to make the city one of the richest in the Near East.

The heyday of Palmyra came in the 2nd century A.D. when Roman road building caused a major shift in the trade routes, and an increasing quantity of merchandise that had previously flowed through Petra now travelled via Palmyra.

Gracious colonnades of ancient Palmyra, with the Arab fort of Qalaat ibn Ma’an in the background. The set of four quadruple pillars in the center is the remains of the Tetrapylon, which marked the intersection of two colonnaded streets.

The city’s prosperity was cemented when the Roman emperor Hadrian visited in 129 A.D., granting Palmyra “free city” status, with attendant financial and regulatory benefits, after which it became known as Hadriana Palmyra.

Later the city was made capital of the Roman province of Syria Phoenice. At its peak, there were some 30,000 inhabitants.

In 217 A.D. the city received a further boost from the part-Syrian emperor Caracalla, who awarded it official “colony” status, which exempted it from imperial taxes. Palmyra was now at the height of its prosperity.

Grand civic buildings in the Roman style were complemented by great temples, rich merchant’s mansions and elaborate tombs. Pillars and inscriptions have preserved important information about this era, illustrating how trade was the lifeblood of the city.

The famous Tariff of Palmyra is an inscription from around 137 A.D., setting out financial and tax laws, detailing the commodities that passed through Palmyra and the levels of taxes and duties levied on them.

Zenobia herself was beautiful and intelligent. She had a dark complexion, pearly white teeth, bright eyes that sparkled, and a beautiful face.

She possessed a strong and melodious voice, with many other charms. She was very well educated. She spoke Greek, Aramaic, Egyptian, and Latin. She was versed in Homer, Plato, and other Greek writers. She enjoyed hunting, and was not above drinking with the men.

As well as taxes on goods from ivory and silk to precious gems and spices, the tariff also records levies on other commodities and commercial activities from water to prostitution. The city’s financial authority – known as the “treasurers” – were as or more important than its civic governance and were actively involved in helping to set up and even fund trade ventures.

Large camel trains, for instance, which might be beyond the means of an individual merchant or even a group of merchants, would be underwritten by the city itself. The city’s mercantile reach extended as far as the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean, where ships owned by Palmyrenes plied the waters off Italy and controlled the silk trade from the Far East.

Although Palmyra was now an official Roman colony it remained very much on the borders of the empire, a useful buffer between Rome and its eastern rivals, the Parthians. When the Romans were succeeded as masters of Persia and Mesopotamia by the Sassanids in the 3rd century A.D., however, trouble began to brew.

In 227 A.D. the Sassanids closed their end of the caravan routes, dealing a heavy blow to Palmyran trade. Over the next few decades Rome and the Sassanids clashed repeatedly, culminating in 259 A.D. with the capture of the Roman emperor Valerian and the loss of significant territory.

At this time the ruler of Palmyra was a local prince, Septimus Odaenathus, whom the Romans had appointed governor of Syria Phoenice; it was to him that Rome turned to avenge their losses. Vigorous campaigning saw him regain much of the lost territory and in 260 A.D. he was recognized by Rome as Corrector Totius Orientis – Governor of the entire East.

But Odaenathus had greater ambitions. He proclaimed himself king and later emperor, but in 267 A.D. he was assassinated in mysterious circumstances and his wife, Queen Zenobia, took over the regency on behalf of their infant son.

Zenobia proved to be one of the most remarkable women in history. Of mixed Greek-Arab descent she was renowned for her beauty and intelligence. Well educated and fluent in several languages, she attracted philosophers, artists and poets to her court, but was also renowned as a superb horsewoman and a capable general.

Under her rule, Palmyra briefly flowered into an empire as she took advantage of Roman weakness to conquer the Levant, Egypt and much of Asia Minor. But her career as empress was short-lived.

Emperor Aurelian marshaled his legions, reconquered the lost territories and besieged Zenobia at Palmyra in 272 A.D. Eventually she was captured and taken as a prisoner to be paraded through the streets of Rome in golden chains, along with her son.

The Temple of Bel, Palmrya’s main temple, which displays a mixture of architectural influences, including Greeks, Roman and Semitic, reflecting the diverse ethnic and cultural mix of the city.

Accounts of her end are varied – in some versions she committed suicide or was beheaded, while in others Diocletian gave her a villa in Tivoli and she married a senator and became a popular fixture of Roman society.

The Romans never forgave Palmyra, especially after the city again rebelled in 273 A.D., and it was looted and razed. Later the emperor Diocletian made it a garrison town, but it never recovered its glory.

Under the Byzantines it was an important religious center but the trade routes had once again shifted and it was not until the time of Saladin, in the 12th century, that the city enjoyed a brief rebirth before shrinking again to an obscure village that was rediscovered by British travelers in 1751.

Reports and engravings of the beautiful ruins sparked a Palmyrene craze in Europe and the United States, and design features from ancient Palmyra were all the rage. For instance, a design of an eagle from the ceiling of the Temple of Bel was incorporated into the Seal of the United States.

The Temple of Bel, Palmyra’s main temple, which displays a mixture of architectural influences, including Greek, Roman and Semitic, reflecting the diverse ethnic and cultural mix of the city.

East Meets West

Palmyra was a strikingly mixed city, reflecting the various influences that created it. It had a Greek constitution, Seleucid dating, Macedonian calendar, Semitic alphabet and Aramaic as its everyday language, although Greek and Latin were also in use and inscriptions were often in two or three languages.

Leading citizens took local (Semitic) and Roman names, e.g. Male Agrippa, the wealthy merchant who paid for the lavish celebrations that marked the visit of Hadrian in 129 A.D. or Wahballat Athenodoros, the son of Odaenathus and Zenobia.

This mixed heritage was reflected in the physical fabric of the city. Colonnaded streets, baths, a theatre and an agora speak clearly to the Greco-Roman influence, as do the Classical Greek floor plans of the merchants’ mansions excavated by archaeologists, complete with beautiful mosaics.

The city’s main temple, dedicated to the Babylonian god Bel, featured Greek columns around the cella (the inner chamber) and imitative Graeco-Roman pediments, but the overall layout of the temenos, or sacred district, was based on Semitic models (like the Temple of Solomon).

Bel of Palmyra, Syria, depicted on the far left alongside Ba’alshamin, Yarhibol and Aglibol on a relief from Palmyra.

Also Semitic was the custom of accessing the temple’s roof from the cella, and using it as the stage of processions and sacrifices.

Visitors today can still see many remains. The theatre has been partially restored and is probably the highlight, with a grand backdrop to the main stage, designed to resemble the facade of a palace.

Originally it was three stories high. Many columns still stand along the main colonnaded street, with richly decorated monumental archways and the remains of the Temple of Neb (the Babylonian god of writing and wisdom).

The street leads towards the Diocletian Baths (built between 293 and 303 A.D., when the city was mainly a garrison town), notable for four pink sandstone columns probably brought all the way from Egypt. It may originally have been intended as a palace, but was requisitioned for its new role when the military moved in.

…the land of Magog.  No one really knows what Gog and Magog are or where it is, we can only speculate.