LBCF, No. 6: The Literal Donkey’s Penis

LBCF, No. 6: The Literal Donkey’s Penis December 22, 2023

(Originally posted October 24, 2003.)

Left Behind, pp. 10-15

I like Ezekiel. Even by the standards of ancient 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 wants to get end zone tickets to a Monday Night game some day and wave a sign that reads, “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.

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? …


* You may be wondering how “Bible prophecy scholars” decided that Gog and Magog are Secret Bible Code for Russia. This is something that Tim LaHaye treats as obvious and self-evident, using the names interchangeably like this was something that everybody does.

So LaHaye will cite, for example, Ezekiel 38:1-2 — “The word of the Lord came to me: Mortal, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him” — and then he’ll just say, “So the Bible tells us that God told Ezekiel to prophesy against Russia.” As though referring to Russia as “Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” was just as familiar to everyone as referring to Florida as “the Sunshine State.”

If you push for a defense of this Gog=Russia business, “Bible prophecy scholars” will point to Ezekiel 38:15, “Come from your place out of the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses.” They’ll point to a modern-day map of the world, note that “the remotest parts of the north” has to be either Russia or Canada, and that it can’t mean Canada because you can’t ride a horse from Canada to Israel.

But that’s not the main reason for this claim of Gog=Russia. The main reason these “Bible prophecy scholars” chose to literally interpret the words “Gog” and “Magog” as meaning “Russia” was the Cold War. For the last half of the 20th century, End Times/Rapture Christianity was wholly shaped by the Cold War. This was especially true for LaHaye, a lifelong John Birch Society member who fancied himself a fierce Cold Warrior. But it was true even for those Rapture Christians who didn’t think of themselves as having any political agenda. Between 1950 and 1990-ish, white American Christians read a lot of things in their Bibles that they assumed must be references to Russia.

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