Ezekiel’s Feast of the Dead

Many prophecy teachers will focus on the unimaginable scale of the slaughter that takes place at Armageddon, the reason the “block the travelers” verse is taken to mean “choked with corpses,” rather than the gruesome aftermath of the battle. (Remember that in a previous article we showed you that the Canaanite neighbors of ancient Israel referred to the demonic spirits of the Rephaim as Travelers—as in, “those who cross over from the other side.”) But it’s what comes immediately after the destruction of the army of Gog that confirms that this battle is one and the same as the battle of Armageddon: Ezekiel describes what can only be called a feast of the dead.

Not for the dead—of the dead.

As for you, son of man, thus says the Lord GOD: Speak to the birds of every sort and to all beasts of the field: “Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the mighty, and drink the blood of the princes of the earth—of rams, of lambs, and of he-goats, of bulls, all of them fat beasts of Bashan. And you shall eat fat till you are filled, and drink blood till you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you. And you shall be filled at my table with horses and charioteers, with mighty men and all kinds of warriors,’ declares the Lord GOD.”

Ezekiel 39:17–20, ESV (emphasis added)

Yes, this is gory, but stick with us here. There are important clues in this passage.

First, note the description of the army of Gog: “The mighty” is Hebrew gibborim, a word used in Genesis 6:4 to describe the Nephilim of the distant past. Nimrod, the would-be founder of the world’s first empire who tried to build an artificial cosmic mountain at Babel, is described in Genesis 10:8 as “the first on earth to be a mighty man (gibbôr).” In his exploits, Nimrod resembles the great hero of Uruk, Gilgamesh.[1]

The imagery Ezekiel employed in his prophecy of the cataclysmic war of Gog and Magog are so intriguing that many of us have overlooked clues that the prophet salted throughout the preceding chapters. For example, if we turn back to chapter 32, we find that the prophet helpfully offered some information about just who the gibborim are. This is a long section, but trust us—it’s worth reading.

In the twelfth year, in the twelfth month, on the fifteenth day of the month, the word of the Lordcame to me: “Son of man, wail over the multitude of Egypt, and send them down, her and the daughters of majestic nations, to the world below, to those who have gone down to the pit:

“Whom do you surpass in beauty?
Go down and be laid to rest with the uncircumcised.”

They shall fall amid those who are slain by the sword. Egypt is delivered to the sword; drag her away, and all her multitudes. The mighty chiefs shall speak of them, with their helpers, out of the midst of Sheol: “They have come down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.…

And they do not lie with the mighty, the fallen from among the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war, whose swords were laid under their heads, and whose iniquities are upon their bones; for the terror of the mighty men was in the land of the living.

Ezekiel 32:17–21, 27, ESV (emphasis added)

The phrase translated “mighty chiefs” in verse 21 is ’ēlê gibbôrîm, literally, “rulers of the Gibborim.” The verse echoes Isaiah 14:9–11, where “the shades”—the Rephaim—were “stirred up” to welcome the rebel from Eden when he was cast down.

Verse 27 deserves special attention. The Hebrew behind the words, “the mighty, the fallen,” is gibbôrîm nōphelîm. While it’s tempting to read Nephilim for “the fallen,” that doesn’t quite work. The same Hebrew word appears in verse 22, in the phrase “fallen by the sword.”[2] Swapping Nephilim for nōphelîm there yields “Nephilim by the sword,” and that makes no sense.

But Ezekiel doesn’t need Nephilim in that verse to make his point. Normally, WElike the English Standard Version, but circumcision is not the point of this verse. A more accurate reading is, “And they do not lie with the fallen heroes (gibbôrîm) of ancient times.”[3] The Jewish translators of the Septuagint, who produced a Greek version of the Old Testament from Hebrew texts around 200 B.C., understood the passage the same way and rendered the phrase “the giants that fell of old.”

Dr. Daniel Block, an expert on the Book of Ezekiel, believes that the prophet was telling us that these rulers of the Gibborim held special status in the underworld:

According to Ezekiel 32:21, these heroic personages speak from the midst of Sheol, which may suggest that they are located in the heart of the netherworld, perhaps a more honorable assignment than “the remotest recesses of the pit,” where the uncircumcised and those who have fallen by the sword lie. The description in v. 27 indicates that these individuals have indeed been afforded noble burials. There they lie with their weapons of war, their swords laid under their heads and their shields placed upon their bones. Ancient burial customs in which personal items and symbols of status were buried with the corpses of the deceased provide the source of this image.

Ezekiel’s use of the antediluvian heroic traditions at this point is shocking. How could the prophet possibly perceive these men as noble and hold them up as honorable residents of Sheol, when his own religious tradition presents them as the epitome of wickedness, corruption, and violence (Gen[esis] 6:5, 11–12)?[4]

Dr. Block may be reading into the text a more favorable depiction of these denizens of the netherworld than Ezekiel intended. We believe the prophet meant only that the Gibborim—i.e., the Rephaim/Nephilim/Travelers—were fundamentally different in substance from your run-of-the-mill dead, for the same reason the Nephilim giants in Genesis 6 were called “the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown” (haggibbōrîm ’ăšer mē‘ôlām ’anšê haš- šēm). We remember them because of their deeds, but not because those deeds were righteous.

In the same way, the Gibborim of Ezekiel 32 have status in the underworld because of what they are (spirits of human-angel hybrids), not because they’re righteous. And their prophesied end in the valley that bears their name, the Valley of the Travelers, indicates that Ezekiel knew very well what those entities are like.

Back to Ezekiel 39: Did you notice in verse 18 that the rams, lambs, and he-goats representing the princes of the earth are described as “fat beasts of Bashan?” Remember, Bashan was considered an evil place, the literal entrance to the underworld. It belonged to the god Rapi’u, who, according to some scholars, was believed by the Amorites to be the founder of the Ditanu/Tidanu, the ancient tribe that produced their kings and gave its name to the old gods of the Greeks.

By linking the princes of the earth to Bashan, Ezekiel again made a theological point: The warriors fighting for Gog will be sold out to the god of Bashan, whether his name is Rapi’u, El, Dagan, Kronos, or Baal Hammon.

Remember Psalm 22 and the prophecy of the “strong bulls of Bashan” we discussed earlier? As we noted, those bulls were not cattle; they were the Gibborim of Ezekiel 32, demonic warriors of Satan/Baal. They will fall in the Valley of the Travelers when God intervenes to save His people at a battle fought on the mountains of Israel. Even the reference to horses and charioteers in Ezekiel 39:20 recalls the description of the Rephaim in the Ugaritic texts KTU 1.20-22.

Now, remember the rituals of the Amorites at Ugarit? The ones where the Rephaim are summoned to the sanctuary of El?

To his sanctuary the saviours hurried indeed,
to his sanctuary hurried indeed the divinities.

 [Note: “Saviours” are rapiuma (Rephaim) and “divinities” are ilnym (elohim).]

They harnessed the chariots;
the horses they hitched.

They mounted their chariots,
they came on their mounts.

They journeyed a day
and a second.

After sunrise on the third
the saviours arrived at the threshing-floors,
the divinities at the plantations.…

Just as Anat hurries to the chase,
(and) sets the birds of heaven wheeling in flight,

(so) he slaughtered oxen and sheep,
he felled bulls

and the fattest of rams,
year-old calves,

skipping lambs,

Like silver to vagabonds [Travelers] were the olives,
(like) gold to vagabonds were the dates.

…a table (set) with fruit of the vine,
with fruit of the vine of royal quality.[5] (Emphasis added)

You see the significance. In this Amorite religious text written about six hundred years before Ezekiel was born, the Rephaim travel until dawn of the third day to eat a sacrificial meal on Mount Hermon, the sanctuary of El, a feast of slaughtered bulls, rams, lambs, and goats. But Ezekiel prophesied a day when these warriors of Baal would be the bulls, rams, lambs, and goats—a sacrificial feast for creation served up by Yahweh Himself.

Next time, we’ll link this to the New Testament.

[1] Coxon, P. W. (1999). “Gibborim.” In K. van der Toorn, B. Becking, & P. W. van der Horst (Eds.), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2nd extensively rev. ed.), (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans), p. 345.

[2] Heiser, M. (2009). “Sheol: The OT Bad Place?” http://drmsh.com/sheol-the-ot-bad-place/, retrieved 4/1/18.

[3] The technical explanation of the underlying Hebrew boils down to this: It appears the Masoretic text, on which most English translations are based, substitutes (or miscopied) mē‘ărēlîm (“uncircumcised”) for the original mē‘ôlām(“ancient times”). See Block, D. (1992). “Beyond the Grave: Ezekiel’s Vision of Death and Afterlife,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 2, p. 125.

[4] Ibid.

[5] KTU 1.22 ii 21–27, i 15–16. In Wyatt, N. (2002), op. cit., pp. 320–322.

1 Comment

  1. Is the word “gibborim” ever used for David’s mighty men of valor? Is there any Biblical evidence or extra Biblical evidence they they could have been hybrids?

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