Background of the Prophecy of Gog and Magog

The haftarah for the first day of Sukkot is the last chapter of the book of Zechariah. Zechariah was of the last biblical prophets, who prophesied as the Jews were building the Second Temple and reorganizing the Jewish presence in the land of Israel.

As one of the last prophets, much of Zechariah’s recorded prophecies speak of the distant future—the time of Moshiach and the dramatic events that will surround it. Rashi, at the beginning of the book, tells us that “the prophecy of Zechariah is extremely enigmatic, because it contains visions that resemble a dream in need of an interpretation. We cannot ascertain the truth of its interpretation until the teacher of righteousness1 comes.”

Broadly, however, the descriptions in the final chapters of this book concern the “war of Gog and Magog”—the watershed battles precipitating the glorious time of the Redemption. In Zechariah’s vision, the assault of Gog and Magog will befall the Jews shortly after the messianic age has already begun, after the “ingathering of the exiles.”

The war of Gog and Magog has a connection to this time of year, due to a tradition quoted in the Code of Jewish Law2 that its final phase will take place in the month of Tishrei, the month in which the festival of Sukkot is celebrated. Moreover, our haftarah explicitly states that the holiday of Sukkot will be celebrated in the future by all the nations in Jerusalem (see below).


The onslaught of the armies of Magog, led by their king Gog, will bring much destruction and brutality to Jerusalem and its Jewish inhabitants. But on that fateful designated day, G‑d will intervene on behalf of His people just as He did so many years before in Egypt.

The enemy will initially converge on Jerusalem and take half of its inhabitants captive. To save them, G‑d will cause the Mount of Olives (which stands outside the city) to split apart, allowing the captive Jews to escape.

In this time of the future, a day3 will come when confusion will reign: “It will not be day nor night”—the Jews will not know whether the dramatic events of that time herald their salvation or signal looming destruction. But clarity will finally prevail, and the light of redemption will emerge.

The area around Jerusalem, currently mountainous, will be flattened, so that Jerusalem can be seen from afar in all its beauty and splendor. A spring of water will emanate from the Temple Mount area, its ever-flowing waters reaching the Dead Sea in one direction, and the Mediterranean Sea in the other.

On this day the nations of the world will finally and completely recognize the one true G‑d. Jewish suffering and exile will come to a complete end, and Jerusalem will dwell in security forever.

G‑d will punish those nations who attacked the Jews with a terrible plague. Even their animals will be stricken with illness. Confusion and craze will grip them, and they will destroy each other on their own. The Jews in the city will strike down the remaining troops, and collect huge amounts of spoils.

The plague and the final downfall of the enemy will take place on the Sukkot holiday. In commemoration of this, the nations of the world who repented from their ways will come to Jerusalem each year on Sukkot to worship G‑d and to celebrate. Any family or nation that does so will be blessed with life-giving rain for their crops, while those who fail to come will be denied it.

In a sign of honor and thanksgiving to G‑d, the pilgrims to the Temple will consecrate the golden ornaments on their horses. As a result of the many gifts, even the pots used for cooking in the Temple will be made of gold.

Life in Jerusalem and Judea will revolve entirely around the Temple service. The multitude of pilgrims will bring such an influx of sacrifices that all the pots used for cooking in the entire area will be kept in the halachic status of Kodesh, designated for holy sacrificial use.

In days bygone, the jobs of chopping wood and drawing water for the Temple were carried out by the Giv’onim (Gibeonites), a non-Jewish tribe that had a low social status in ancient Israel. In this future era, however, the Temple service will be invested with such sanctity and awe that the greatest of aristocrats will happily volunteer to assist in whichever task they can in the house of G‑d.

Are we really headed for more trouble?

Various Jewish sources discuss the question of the actual occurrence of this war.

In general, Maimonides establishes that there is an inherent unclarity regarding the particulars of the “war of Gog and Magog” and the related events described by the prophets: “All these and similar matters cannot be definitely known by man until they occur.”4

In addition, there is also an established rule that a bad prophecy does not necessarily have to be fulfilled.5 In fact, this is specifically pronounced with regard to the war of Gog and Magog. R. Shmuel Bornsztain (1856–1926), the Chassidic rebbe of Sochatchov, Poland, is known for his works that carry his name, Shem MiShmuel. In an entry for one particular Shabbat in 1916 he writes the following:

We have it by tradition from our holy teachers that as of this time we have been exempted from the wars of Gog and Magog, and that after the “ingathering of the exiles” the Jewish people will dwell peacefully on their land forever.

For just as in Egypt, the harshness of the enslavement added up to the amount [foretold by G‑d] of 400 years [allowing the Exodus to take place after just 210 years], so it is with this exile, although the other way around: the length of time of this exile has added up to the “harshness of enslavement”—i.e., the length of the exile has made up for the many evils and troubles which were destined to befall the Jewish people.

For this reason, because the length of time in exile has made up for it, the “birthpangs” [of Moshiach’s coming] will not be so difficult and unbearable—or, more correctly, our “cleansing” will be entirely completed while we are still in exile, and when the exiles are ingathered we will not need any further cleansing.

One should not wonder how it could be that something written explicitly in Scripture will change, for with regard to Egypt it was clearly stated in the verse that it would be for 400 years, and yet the harshness of the enslavement made up for it, and 190 years were taken off. It is the same concept regarding the wars of Gog and Magog.6

It is certainly worth mentioning that this was written just 22 years before the Holocaust. In hindsight, our most recent history has seen Jewish suffering match—maybe even outdo—any of the biblical descriptions of Gog and Magog.

The time of our full and complete redemption has arrived.