A False Sense of Security
by Douglas Berner
“And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, to take a spoil, and to take a prey; to turn thine hand upon the desolate places that are now inhabited, and upon the people that are gathered out of the nations, which have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the midst of the land.” Ezekiel 38:11-12 KJV
For a number of years Israel has been dwelling under a false sense of security. Israel entered into the Oslo Accords under the false sense that trading land to the Palestinians, allowing the formation of the Palestinian Authority, and arming a Palestinian security force would bring peace to Israel. “Land for peace” did not bring peace. Israel further compromised and entered into the “Road Map” for Middle East peace by giving up more land and concessions to the Palestinians. It did not bring peace. Israel pulled its forces out of southern Lebanon, allowing Hezbollah to have free reign over that territory to the north of Israel. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and acceded control of Jewish settlements, greenhouses, and synagogues to the Palestinians. Israel’s leaders claimed it would foster peace. It did not bring peace to Israel. Instead, Israel’s actions fostered chaos, increased terrorism, and placed Israeli citizens at greater risk.
Israel has placed a very strong reliance upon its military and security forces. Israeli’s have a right to be proud of their military. The Israeli Defense Forces are technologically advanced, extremely motivated, and generally highly innovative in their approach to dealing with tactical problems. The size and reach of Israel’s military greatly exceeds the capability that could reasonably be expected of such a small nation.
However, the Israeli people have placed a false level of confidence in the ability of their military forces and their political leaders to protect them. They have also placed a false sense of security in their relationships to larger nations to act as a support mechanism and buffer between Israel and the Arab-Muslim nations of North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia. Israel relies too heavily upon the political support of the United States, the European Union, the United Nations, and Russia. Israel is gambling that these nations and groups of nations will not turn against her or abandon her to her more openly declared foes.
The events of the summer of 2006 brought the impact of Israel’s false sense of security out in the open for the whole world to see. Israel experienced the tragedy of having one of its soldiers captured and taken hostage by the Palestinians from the area of Gaza and then two more captured by a Hezbollah raid from Lebanon. Israel engaged its military both towards the Palestinians in Gaza and into Lebanon to subdue Hezbollah.
It became apparent that Israel’s political blindness to the true extent of the security threat to her borders and the politically correct compromises with the sponsors of terrorism over the past several years had left Israel unprepared for what it faced both in Gaza and in Lebanon. Accurate intelligence was lacking regarding the strength of Hezbollah’s fortifications, armament, and tactical operations. Israel’s northern settlements and cities endured the onslaught of several thousand missiles launched against them. The promised protection of a missile defense by the deployment of Patriot missile batteries and Israel’s own antimissile system turned out to be an illusion. There was no substantive missile defense.
The military conflict turned into a political disaster. Hezbollah was not crushed, nor were the captured soldiers recovered. Israel allowed an internationally negotiated settlement to intervene, leaving Israel in an arguably worse security situation than it was prior to the conflict. Israel has shown its enemies how flagrant its false sense of security really is. The legendary mystique regarding the strength of its military forces, which emerged with its decisive victory in the Six Day War in 1967, has been shattered. In the eyes of the Islamic world Israel is a much more vulnerable target than previously imagined.
Following the events surrounding Israel’s recent incursion into Lebanon many Israeli’s are waking up to question this false sense of security. What is surprising is that many of Israel’s political and military leaders are still in denial concerning the extent of Israel’s security weaknesses. They are blinded by their false sense of security. Some of them have even proposed negotiating the status of the Golan Heights or outright returning the Golan Heights to Syria. Relinquishing control over the Golan Heights would not bring Israel any closer to peace than pulling out of Gaza did. Instead, it would create a far worse security nightmare than any of the previous compromises that Israel has made. The Golan Heights strategically contains much of Israel’s source of fresh water as well as constituting the high ground which overlooks much of the territory of northern Israel. The Golan Heights comprises excellent positions from which artillery, mortars, rockets, and missiles can be fired upon vulnerable Israeli targets.
What is the relevance of this false sense of security? Why is it significant that much of Israel’s political leadership seems to be in extreme denial regarding the true threats that are posed by Russia, Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and other Islamic groups which advocate and utilize acts of violence and terror?
That brings us back to Ezekiel’s prophecy of Gog and Magog. The prophet Ezekiel records a prophecy in chapters 38 and 39 that God directs against Gog, of the land of Magog. God revealed to Ezekiel a future invasion of Israel which will involve a large alliance of nations under the leadership of Gog from the region of the far north. This invasion has become known as the war or battle of Gog and Magog. It will pit Russia and its allies: Iran, Turkey, Central Asia, Libya, Ethiopia, Sudan, as well as other nations, against the land of Israel.
The significant factor here is how Ezekiel describes and how Gog and his allies view Israel – as a vulnerable target.
The King James Version renders part of this prophecy as, “After many days thou shall be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come up into the land that is brought back from the sword, and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel, which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. …. And thou shalt say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell safely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates, …. Therefore, son of man, prophesy and say unto Gog, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In that day when my people of Israel dwelleth safely, shalt thou not know it?” (Ezekiel 38:8, 11, 14).
This description of Israel as being at rest, dwelling safely, in unwalled villages, without bars and gates, has led many interpreters of Ezekiel 38 to conclude that the people of Israel will be living in a unique state of peace and security before Gog’s invasion. Most authors who take this view argue that the seven year covenant of peace described by the prophet Daniel (Daniel 9:27) must be in effect to create this condition of security. They see Israel living under the covenant protection of a world leader who guarantees Israel’s safety. As a result they conclude that Ezekiel’s prophecy of Gog and Magog will be fulfilled during the first half of the seven year Tribulation or near its midpoint.
Is this view warranted? Will the people of Israel be living in a unique period of peace and security at the time Gog and Magog erupts upon them? Does Ezekiel’s description of Israel indicate that Israel will have entered into the protection of a strong covenant of peace? I don’t think so. I believe there is a better interpretation and explanation of Ezekiel’s description which is more consistent with the current conditions in Israel and the characteristics exhibited by Israel’s leaders today.
In Ezekiel’s time villages were surrounded by rock walls for protection from enemies. However, modern Israel is a nation consisting of unwalled settlements and cities. This is true in spite of the security checkpoints that control access to most settlements. It is also true in spite of the large security fence that Israel is constructing between certain Jewish and Palestinian controlled areas. Walls, bars, and gates still exist, but they do not play the same first line of defense role that they did in ancient times. To a large extent modern weapons have made the ancient protection provided by walls, bars, and gates obsolete. They do not provide protection from rockets, missiles, or mortars.
While Ezekiel does state that Israel will be “at rest,” he does not actually state that Israel will be completely at peace or without enemies. The very fact that Gog leads a very large alliance of armies against Israel is evidence that Israel will have many enemies and will not be completely at peace. I believe the reference to being “at rest” simply indicates that Israel will not be engaged in a state of war at the time Gog decides to invade.
I am going to focus on the characteristic that Israel will “dwell safely.” Ezekiel stresses this point three times in verses 38:8, 38:11, and 38:14. The key word that shapes this interpretation is the Hebrew word “betach” בטח which the KJV translates as “safely” in all three verses. Some sources render this word as “betah.” Many students of prophecy and authors who write opinions regarding Ezekiel’s prophecy of Gog and Magog take the King James translation of “betach” as safely or other similar translations at face value without really examining the deeper implications of the Hebrew word “betach.”
Betach or betah
Strong’s Concordance shows that the KJV has translated this word “betach” in various ways throughout the scriptures of the Old Testament. It is variously taken to mean: safely, safe, safety, secure, securely, boldly, confidence, assurance, and hope. In the majority of instances the word is taken to mean safely or safety. The context of how “betach” is used in scripture indicates that the word can imply safety in either a physical sense or in a mental sense as relating to a state of mind.
However, there is another side to the word “betach.” It is also understood to sometimes mean: without care, careless, or carelessly. In this context “betach” describes a group of people, or a place such as a city, in a mental state of assumed security where they are unsuspecting and confident in their safety and security while that is in reality a false perception. Thus “betach” can mean having a false sense of security.
We will take a look at several examples concerning how the word “betach” is utilized in scripture. Several passages will emphasize the importance of the mental state of mind associated with “betach” and how dangerous dwelling under a false sense of security can be. Although many scholars equate “betach” with safety, we will see that “betach” can actually mean just the opposite.
1 Kings 4:25
“And Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba, all the days of Solomon.” The KJV renders “betach” as safely in 1 Kings 4:25 and clearly that is exactly what it means. The context of the surrounding passage indicates that Solomon had established peace on all of his borders.
“And it came to pass on the third day, when they were sore, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah’s brethren, took each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males.” In this KJV translation of Genesis 34:25, “betach” is rendered as boldly. This is the first use of the word “betach” in the Bible. It is interesting to examine how this use of “betach” is rendered by other translations. Instead of boldly, The Living Torah states “without arousing suspicion.”[i] The Jerusalem Bible uses the word “unresisted.”[ii] The NASB utilizes “unawares,” while the NIV employs the word “unsuspecting.”
Where the KJV translation of “betach” as boldly seems to point to the frame of mind of Simeon and Levi, the other translations point to the unsuspecting frame of mind of the men of the city of Sechem. The occupants of Sechem suffered from a false sense of security. The city was unsuspecting which resulted in all of the males being killed. While the Hebrew word “betach” relates to the concept of safety or security, we can see in this example that the people of Sechem were, in reality, anything but safe or secure.
“And Gideon went up by the way of them that dwelt in tents on the east of Nobah and Jogbehah, and smote the host: for the host was secure.” In Judges 8:11, the KJV translates “betach” as secure. In this case, The Jerusalem Bible also interprets “betach” as secure but does so by stating “for the camp thought itself secure.”[iii] Yaakov Elman translates this passage in The Living Nach, to the effect that the camp was “off guard.”[iv] The NASB renders this as “when the camp was unsuspecting.” The NIV also utilizes the word unsuspecting for “betach” in this verse.
“Unsuspecting” is the best understanding of “betach” in this example. The very wording of Judges 8:11 implies that the security of these people was an illusion because Gideon was able to successfully attack the camp. These people had a false sense of security. They certainly were not secure or safe in any real sense.
“Then the five men departed, and came to Laish, and saw the people that were therein, how they dwelt careless, after the manner of the Zidonians, quiet and secure; and there was no magistrate in the land, that might put them to shame in any thing; and they were far from the Zidonians, and had no business with any man.” In Judges 18:7 the KJV translates “betach” as careless in the first part of the verse. The word translated as secure later in this verse is the Hebrew word “bâtach” which is related to “betach.” Instead of careless, both the NASB and The Living Nach render “betach” as “in security” while both the NIV and The Jerusalem Bible understand it as “in safety.”
The five men were spies from the tribe of Danites, who were spying out the land. Ultimately, in Judges 18:27, the Danites attacked and destroyed the city of Laish. Thus, the occupants of Laish were not dwelling in any real condition of safety or security, but were living under a false sense of security.
“Arise, get you up unto the wealthy nation, that dwelleth without care, saith the LORD, which have neither gates nor bars, which dwell alone.” The KJV translates “betach” in Jeremiah 49:31 as care in the sense of being without care or carefree. The Jerusalem Bible renders this as “dwells in security.” The NASB has this as “which lives securely” while the NIV translates it as “lives in confidence.”
Can the concept of living in safety or security or dwelling securely relate to one’s mental sense of confidence? Can having a false sense of security lead people to live seemingly without care, carefree, or carelessly?
“In that day shall messengers go forth from me in ships to make the careless Ethiopians afraid, and great pain shall come upon them, as in the day of Egypt: for, lo, it cometh.” In Ezekiel 30:9 the KJV translates “betach” as careless. The NASB renders this as “to frighten secure Ethiopia” while the NIV translates it as “to frighten Cush out of her complacency.” The Jerusalem Bible renders this passage as “to terrify the confident men of Kush.”
We see that the concept of “betach” as secure in this example of its use is really about the mental state of mind of the Ethiopians. The prophet Ezekiel is describing a pending judgment from God which reveals that the Ethiopians were not really safe or secure. The Ethiopians were under a false sense of security.
“Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children.” The KJV translates “betach” in Isaiah 47:8 as carelessly. The NASB and The Jerusalem Bible both translate this use of “betach” as securely, while the NIV renders it as security in the sense of “lounging in your security.”
The context of Isaiah 47:9-11 makes it clear that these people are neither secure nor safe. Both the loss of children and widowhood will suddenly fall upon them. These people are not only dwelling under a false sense of confidence or security, they are living in denial of the true circumstances they face. Thus in this example of “betach” they are dwelling carelessly.
“This is the rejoicing city that dwelt carelessly, that said in her heart, I am, and there is none beside me: how is she become a desolation, a place for beasts to lie down in! every one that passeth by her shall hiss, and wag his hand.” Zephaniah 2:15 provides another instance where the KJV translates “betach” as carelessly. The NASB and The Jerusalem Bible both render this as securely, while the NIV translates it as in safety.
This is another example of the Hebrew word “betach” being used to demonstrate that a false sense of confidence or security can lead to disaster.
“And I will send fire on Magog, and among them that dwell carelessly in the isles: and they shall know that I am the LORD.” This is the fourth instance that the word “betach” shows up in the prophecy of Gog and Magog. Instead of safely, the KJV translates this occurrence of “betach” in Ezekiel 39:6 as carelessly. The Jerusalem Bible renders this use of “betach” as securely, while both the NASB and the NIV translations have it as in safety.
Since God is promising to send a judgment of fire upon these peoples who dwell in the isles or coastlands, they are obviously not living in true safety or security. They just think that they are safe. They are living carelessly, unsuspecting, dwelling under a false sense of confidence or security. They are also living in denial of God’s promise to send a judgment of fire upon them. This is another form of carelessness – discounting God’s prophetic scriptures.
These are only a few examples of the use of the Hebrew word “betach” in scripture. Some uses of “betach” focus on God’s protection of Israel as the defining characteristic which brings safety to Israel. This is how the word is used in Deuteronomy 12:10; Psalm 4:8; and Psalm 78:53. In Leviticus “betach” is used in the context of Israel dwelling in the land safely or in safety but only if they keep God’s statutes and commandments (Leviticus 25:18-19, 26:5). Many other verses which incorporate the word “betach” look forward to the time when God will give Israel rest from all of her enemies so that Israel will dwell in safety. These uses of “betach” point to the future safety of Israel following the Day of the Lord judgments (Deuteronomy 33:28; Jeremiah 23:6, 32:37, 33:16; Ezekiel 28:26, 34:25, 34:27, 34:28, and 39:26; Hosea 2:18; and Zechariah 14:11).
However, it should be clear from the lessons of the cited examples that the surface interpretation of “betach” as: safe, safely, safety, secure, or securely may not present the actual condition of the people who are being written about. The state of mind of the people must be considered in the context of their larger surroundings. Are they dwelling safely or are they harboring a false sense of security? Are they dwelling carelessly when they should know better?
The context of Ezekiel 38 has Israel looked upon as a vulnerable prey by a number of enemy nations. This is not the characteristic of a nation which is under the strong protection of a covenant of peace, but the characteristic of a nation which has left itself vulnerable by placing its trust in the wrong places. This is the characteristic of a nation which harbors a false sense of security. Israel will be dwelling carelessly in regards to its own real security interests.
Does this sound familiar? Israel’s present misplaced false sense of security is quickly catching up to her place in God’s prophetic scripture. The prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39 reveals that a massive invasion by an alliance of nations will suddenly strike Israel to take advantage of her apparent weakness.
If we realize that Ezekiel’s use of “betach” in the three verses of Ezekiel 38 is more reflective of Israel’s dwelling carelessly under a false sense of security, as opposed to an actual condition of safety, then we can understand the prophecy of Gog and Magog as an event unrelated to Daniel’s seven year covenant of peace. Nowhere in Ezekiel 38 or 39 does the prophet Ezekiel mention or make any reference to a strong world leader who protects Israel, to a covenant of peace, or to the period of time known as Daniel’s 70th Week. The invasion of Gog and Magog can come suddenly upon an Israel dwelling carelessly under a false sense of security at any time. In fact, Ezekiel’s invasion scenario can create the perfect environment for the rise of the Antichrist and the implementation of Daniel’s strong covenant. This allows for a pretribulational fulfillment of Gog and Magog.
[i] Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Living Torah, (New York: Maznaim Publishing Corporation, 1981), p. 165.
[ii] Harold Fisch, ed., The Jerusalem Bible, (Jerusalem: Koren Publishers Ltd., 1992), p. 40.
[iii] Harold Fisch, ed., The Jerusalem Bible, p. 303.
[iv] Yaakov Elman, The Living Nach, (Jerusalem: Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 1994), p.126.