Mordechai Silverstein
Mordechai Silverstein

Overcoming Chaos (Ezekiel 38:18-39:16)

The Tanach (Bible) contains an undercurrent of mythic stories about the creation of the world. In these tales, God does battle against serpents, either subduing them or taming them. These stories, remnants of pre-biblical tales, were adapted by the biblical authors to describe God’s battle against the forces of evil in creating the world, as well as His constant battle to keep these forces in abeyance. (See for instance Isaiah 27:1) This drama is a constant theme in the Tanakh that also subsumes its discussion of the end of times. Jon Levenson, in a pioneering study, has noted that, in many ways, the Bible’s discussion of the end of days (eschatology) mirrors the same themes found in its views of creation. Whereas the forces of evil that God battled in creating the world were pictured as giant sea monsters, when discussing these same demonic forces in historical times, they are portrayed as quasi-historical entities like Amalek or in the case of our haftarah, Gog.

The Torah identifies Amalek as the paradigmatic demonic force out to destroy the orderly nature of God’s world. This same imagery is projected onto the nation of Gog which, according to the special haftarah for Shabbat Hol Hamoed Sukkot, will rise up in the end of days during the festival of Sukkot (See Zechariah 14:19), to attack Israel, only to be conquered by God in a cataclysmic triumph: “On that day, when Gog sets foot on the soil of Israel, declared the Lord God, My raging anger shall flare up. For I have decried in My indignation and blazing wrath: On that day, a terrible earthquake shall befall the land of Israel. The fish of the sea and the birds of the sky, the beasts of the field, all creeping things that crawl on the ground and even every human being on earth shall quake before Me. Mountains shall be overthrown, cliffs shall topple, and every wall shall crumble to the ground.” (38:18-20) (See Levinson, Creation and the Persistence of Evil, chapter 3)

In other words, evil was never totally routed from the world. God is constantly at battle with those forces which would uproot His world, and His name will not be established in the world until this battle is over. In this sense the creative processes in the world have never been completed. The hope in our haftarah is that God will ultimately complete the creative process in the end of days and will bring about ultimate recognition of His mastery over His world: “Thus will I manifest My greatness (v’hitgadalti) and My holiness (v’hitkadashti) in the sight of many nations; and they shall know that I am the Lord.” (38:23)

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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