Ezekiel 38 & 39 (Part 15)

Dr. Thomas Ice

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"'to capture spoil and to seizeplunder, to turn your hand against the waste places which are now inhabited,and against the people who are gathered from the nations, who have acquiredcattle and goods, who live at the center of the world.' Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants ofTarshish, with all its villages, will say to you, 'Have you come to capturespoil? Have you assembled yourcompany to seize plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattleand goods, to capture great spoil?'"'


TwiceIsrael and Jerusalem are said in Ezekiel to dwell at the center of theearth. "Thus says the Lord God, 'This is Jerusalem; I have set herat the center of the nations, with lands around her'" (Ezek. 5:5). Rabbi Fisch says, "Following Ezekiel,Dante places Jerusalem at the centre of the world, with the Ganges as theextreme east and the pillars of Hercules as the extreme west."[1] Israel and its chief city Jerusalem wascreated by God and placed in the center of the earth so that she could be alight to the nations as the Lord desired to use her to spread His messageacross the globe. Rabbi Fischnotes, "Jerusalem intended to be the radiating centre of the knowledge of Godfor all peoples."[2] It is within such a context thatEzekiel 38:12 notes that the nation of Israel is "at the center of the world."

Israel: Center of the World

TheHebrew word translated "world" in the New American Standard translation that Iuse is really the Hebrew term for "earth." Ha'aretz is used over 2,500 times in theHebrew Old Testament[3]and is used in five basic ways: 1) ground, earth; 2) a specific piece ofground; 3) a territory or country; 4) the whole of the land, the earth; 5)depths of the earth or the underworld.[4] In this context it clearly is areference to the entire earth. Itis important to note that "earth" instead of "world" is used in the original,since world could denote the people and not the land. The emphasis here is upon being in the center of the earth'sland—the geographical naval. The Hebrew word for "center" is literally "the naval,"[5]"as the naval is in the centre of the body."[6]

Whyis Israel's location mentioned at this point in the passage? I agree with Rabbi Fisch's opinion:"This is mentioned to stress the viciousness of Gog's plan. He dwelt in the far north, a greatdistance from the Land of Israel; so the people of the latter could have handno aggressive designs upon him."[7] C. F. Keil echoes Rabbi Fisch's viewand describes it as one of their two motives for invasion in the following:

This figurative expressionis to be explained from ch. v. 5; "Jerusalem in the midst of the nations." The navel is not a figure denoting thehigh land, but signifies the land situated in the middle of the earth, andtherefore the land most glorious and most richly blessed; so that they whodwell there occupy the most exalted position among the nations. A covetous desire for the possessionsof the people of god, and envy at his exalted position in the centre of theworld, are therefore the motives by which Gog is impelled to enter upon hispredatory expedition against the people living in the depth of peace.[8]

Belief in Israel's special status andglobal location explains the famous rabbinical statement derived from these twopassages in Ezekiel:

As the navel is set in the centre ofthe human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world . . . situatedin the centre of the world, and Jerusalem in the centre of the land of Israel,and the sanctuary in the centre of Jerusalem, and the holy place in the centreof the sanctuary, and the ark in the centre of the holy place, and thefoundation stone before the holy place, because from it the world was founded.[9]

Manycommentators on this passage only stress the economic gain as the single motivefor Gog's invasion from the human perspective. However, this final phrase in verse 12 makes it clear thatthey also invade out of envy of Israel's special status with God and herresulting geographic location.

Sheba and Dedan

Whoare Sheba and Dedan? "Sheba andDedan are not difficult to identify. They are located in the modern country of Saudi Arabia."[10] "Sheba and Dedan are countiesin northern Arabia," notes Arnold Fruchtenbaum.[11] As indicated in the context, they wereknown for their commercial trading, thus, their interest in the Gog invasion ofnearby Israel in order to take spoil. Randall Price locates Sheba as modern Yemen in the southern part of theArabian peninsula and Dedan as Saudi Arabia.[12] Regardless of their precise location onthe Arabian peninsula, there appears to be no doubt that it is a reference toSaudi Arabia and perhaps some of the other Arab nations currently occupyingthat peninsula.


Sheba and Dedanare said to be in alignment with "the merchants of Tarshish, with all itsvillages." What does the phrase "the merchants of Tarshish" mean? Like those in Sheba and Dedan, they aresaid to be merchants or traders. But where is Tarshish located?

Tarshish appearsto be a wealthy trading community on the extremity of the Mediterraneanworld. "Tarshish is ancientTartessus in the present-day nation of Spain."[13] This view is supported by standard Hebrew language reference books.[14] For example, Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner in their HebrewLexicon say, "these point to Spain with its richmineral resources. [Tarshish]could be a town the territory of which is in the region of the mouth of theGuadalquivir. With some variationthis is probably the most widely accepted view today"[15] "We read often in the OT of'ships of Tarshish' which were large, oceangoing vessels (Ezk 27:25) thatcarried all sorts of precious cargo, especially metals such as silver and gold(I Kgs 10:22; 22:48; II Chr 9:21; Isa 60:9; Jer 10:9; Ezk 38:13) as well asiron, tin, and lead (Ezk 27:12)."[16]

HarvardProfessor, Barry Fell, has done extensive study on these matters and theirrelation to activities in pre-Columbus America. Dr. Barry Fell says:

From the Bible we learn that the shipsof Tarshish were the largest seagoing vessels known to the Semitic world, andthe name was eventually applied to any large ocean-going vessel. . . . theships of Tarshish became proverbial as an expression of sea power. . . .

it is not unlikely that the merchants of Tarshish may havebeen associated with the trans-Atlantic migration of the Celts who came toAmerica. Indeed James Whittall,with whom I have discussed the decipherment of Tartessian inscriptions here inAmerica, thinks that the American Celts were deliberately brought here byPhoenicians, who wanted mining communities to exploit American naturalresources, and with whom they could then trade. If this hypothesis is correct, then Tartessian vessels wouldsurely have played a major role in the Celtic migration to New England.[17]

There does appearto be a significant basis to support the notion that the merchants of Tarshishare connected with the seafaring Phoenicians of 3,000 years ago. These merchants naturally establishedtrading posts scattered along their various routes. Dr. Stuart McBirnie may well be right when he concludes:

Only in the past half-dozenyears has much light been thrown on the historic location of ancientTarshish. Books and articles inlearned archaeological journals written before that time now seem to haverather limited value. In someinstances, they are more confusing than helpful, despite the prestige of theirauthors. The reasons for certaintyof identification are found in recent archaeological discoveries which confirmthat ancient authorities were right all along in their identification ofTarshish as a Western European colonizing power based in Spain.[18]

Thus,the merchants of Tarshish appear to refer to the Phoenician maritime andtrading community located in Spain during the general time of King Solomon,3,000 years ago. The merchants ofTarshish, during the last 500 years, developed into the modern mercantilenations of Western Europe like Spain, Holland, and Britain. Hitchcock concludes: "Tarshish, ormodern Spain, could be used by Ezekiel to represent all of the western nationswhich Saudi Arabia will join with in denouncing this invasion. . . . It is highly probable that Ezekiel usedthe far western colony of Tarshish to represent the end-time empire of theAntichrist."[19] Maranatha!

(ToBe Continued . . .)


[1] S. Fisch, Ezekiel: Hebrew Text & Englishtranslation with an Introduction and Commentary (London: The Soncino Press, 1950), p. 25.

[2] Fisch, Ezekiel, p. 25.

[3] From a search conducted by the computer program Accordance, version 7.4.2.

[4] Ludwig Koehler and Walter Baumgartner, TheHebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, electronic version (Leiden, The Netherlands:Koninklijke Brill, 2000).

[5] Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew Lexicon, electronic version.

[6] Fisch, Ezekiel, p. 25.

[7] Fisch, Ezekiel, p. 25.

[8] C. F. Keil, Ezekiel, Daniel, Commentary on theOld Testament, trans. JamesMartin (Reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), p. 166.

[9] Midrash Tanchuma, Qedoshim.

[10] Mark Hitchcock, After The Empire: Bible Prophecy in Light of the Fall ofthe Soviet Union (Wheaton, IL:Tyndale House Publishers 1994), p. 100.

[11] Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Footsteps of the Messiah:A Study of the Sequence of Prophetic Events (Tustin, CA: Ariel Press, [1982] 2003), p. 111.

[12] Randall Price, "Ezekiel" in Tim LaHaye & EdHindson, editors, The Popular Bible Prophecy Commentary (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2007), p.191.

[13] Hitchcock, After the Empire, pp. 100–101.

[14]See Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs,eds., The New Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew—Lexicon of the Old Testament, (New York: Oxford University Press, rev. ed,1977) p. 1076-77;Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius' Hebrew & Chaldee Lexicon (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), p. 875.

[15] Koehler and Baumgartner, Hebrew Lexicon, electronic version.

[16]R. Laird Harris, Gleason J. Archer, Jr., Bruce K.Waltke, eds., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 2 Vols., (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), II:981.

[17]Barry Fell, America B. C., (New York: Pocket Books, 1976, [1989]), pp. 93-94.

[18]W. S. McBirnie, Antichrist (Dallas: Acclaimed Books, 1978), p. 62.

[19] Hitchcock, After the Empire, p. 101.