Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 7: ‘The literal donkey’s penis’

Left Behind Classic Fridays, No. 7: ‘The literal donkey’s penis’ November 7, 2014

Within the first 10 pages of Left Behind, Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins provide a bit of background on the world in which their story takes place. It’s our world, they insist — the very world that you and I live in.

It has to be our world, because the authors say this is a “true story that hasn’t happened yet.” But it will happen, it must, because it has been prophesied. They’re not claiming that Buck Williams and Rayford Steele are real people, of course. The characters in this story are meant to be fictional, but the events that unfold around those characters are meant to be prophecy — an accurate history of the future.

The first two prophesied events will occur, the authors tell us, before the Rapture. That doesn’t seem to allow for much time, as the Rapture is supposedly imminent. So, given that the Rapture might take place at any moment, we should assume that both of these events might also take place at any moment (or, I guess, in the moment just slightly before any moment).

The first such event, the authors tell us on page 9, is that Israel will “make peace with her neighbors,” a new era of harmony and tranquility for the nation. The second event, the authors tell us on page 10, involves a multinational coalition launching an all-out nuclear attack on Israel.

It’s quite helpful that this one-two combination appears so early in the book. That helps to identify those readers who will likely be fans of the Left Behind series. Israel will soon be at peace with the world, meaning that, simultaneously, Israel will be the target of a multinational nuclear assault. Because prophecy.

“Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast,” said the Red Queen in Through the Looking Glass. LaHaye and Jenkins are asking their readers to believe two impossible things before the Rapture. But still, they insist, this is a true story set in our world.


Left Behind, pp. 10-15

I like Ezekiel. Even by the standards of Old Testament prophets, the guy was pretty over-the-top.

Lots of prophets accused the faithless nation of “promiscuity” and “whoredom,” but Ezekiel took it a step further: “Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. … No one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you” (16:33-34).

Plus he had all that street theater and performance art — the flaming poop, cutting his hair with a sword — cool stuff. He also provides what is probably the dirtiest verse in the Bible, “There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.”

That’s Ezekiel 23:20 in the NIV. (My buddy Dwight always wanted to get end zone tickets to a Monday Night Football game some day and wave a sign in the end zone that read, “Ezek. 23:20.”)

The book of Ezekiel seems to recount his preaching from before and during the Babylonian exile. He foretells, then describes, then laments the fall of Jerusalem. Then, in some pretty wild prose, he envisions the rebuilding of that city. Towards the end of the book (chapters 38 & 39), he describes the invasion of Jerusalem by “Gog and Magog.”

For a determined “prophecy” nut, this cipher of a passage is an invitation for serious abuse — and that’s what we get in Left Behind.

For LaHaye and Jenkins, the meaning of these chapters is self-evident, crystalline. Clearly, it means that one day — 2,600 years or so after Ezekiel is dead and gone — an evil Communist empire will attack the modern state of Israel with an all-out nuclear assault.

What else could it mean?

Hence we get the logistically, psychologically, geopolitically and strategically incoherent and impossible account in Left Behind of just such an attack.

In the Royal Arcade in Melbourne, Gog and Magog are depicted as Celtic giants, because why not? (Creative Commons photo by John O'Neill.)
In the Royal Arcade in Melbourne, Gog and Magog are depicted as Celtic giants, because why not? (Creative Commons photo by John O’Neill.)

Ezekiel describes the destruction of the armies of Gog and Magog with his characteristic hyperbole and flair for detail (like the rebated prostitutes and donkey penises). That flair for detail presents a particular obstacle for literal-minded folks like L&J, who feel compelled to make their story match every one of Ezekiel’s flourishes.

Ezekiel 38:4 says Gog will attack with his “whole army,” so L&J insist that Russia must attack with its entire arsenal — thousands and thousands of nuclear warheads.

This attempt to follow Ezekiel as strictly as possible also explains L&J’s bizarrely informing us that Russia — apparently thinking enough nuclear weapons to blow up the planet several times over might still not be sufficient to destroy a nation the size of New Jersey — has reinforced its military might through “a secret alliance with Middle Eastern nations, primarily Ethiopia and Libya.”

Ethiopia? And since when was North Africa a part of the “Middle East”? And what happened to all that stuff we were just reading about Israel being at “peace with all her neighbors”? (Apparently L&J are defining “peace” in a way that doesn’t preclude the occasional attempt at nuclear annihilation.)

And, again, Ethiopia?

This is how the entire book works. They seek out every opaque piece of apocalyptic imagery in the Bible, assemble these into a seemingly arbitrary sequence (Revelation, then Ezekiel, then Revelation again, then maybe Daniel …), and then cloddishly transcribe this imagery into an unimaginatively literal series of events.

So if, in L&J’s view, Ezekiel says that Russia and Ethiopia have to attack Israel then, by gum, that is how their story will go. Realism, plausibility, readability and coherence be damned.

As for those chapters in Ezekiel, I’ll let Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown handle this, from their 1871 Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:

The objections to a literal interpretation of the prophecy are–(1) The ideal nature of the name Gog, which is the root of Magog, the only kindred name found in Scripture or history. (2) The nations congregated are selected from places most distant from Israel, and from one another, and therefore most unlikely to act in concert (Persians and Libyans, &c.). (3) The whole spoil of Israel could not have given a handful to a tithe of their number, or maintained the myriads of invaders a single day (Ezekiel 38:12,13). (4) The wood of their invaders’ weapons was to serve for fuel to Israel for seven years! And all Israel were to take seven months in burying the dead! Supposing a million of Israelites to bury each two corpses a day, the aggregate buried in the hundred eighty working days of the seven months would be three hundred sixty millions of corpses! Then the pestilential vapors from such masses of victims before they were all buried! What Israelite could live in such an atmosphere? …

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