Is Russia Rosh, Gog or Magog?

OVERVIEW - The book of Revelation identifies “Gog and Magog” - The nations from the four corners of the EarthRevelation 20:7-10

World Map Photo by Jack Stapleton on Unsplash
The prophet Ezekiel prophesied against a coalition of nations intent on invading ancient Israel, a force led by “
Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal” (American Standard Version). In some interpretations, the figure labeled “Rosh” is identified with the modern state of Russia. Therefore, it is argued, the book of Ezekiel predicted a Russian-led attack against the nation of Israel in the “last days” - (Ezekiel 38:1-9). - [Photo by Jack Stapleton on Unsplash].

This interpretation is based on the perceived similarity of sound and spelling between the Hebrew term ‘rosh’ and ‘Rus,’ the ancient name of the principality based in the city of Kiev. Moreover, since Ezekiel warned of an invading from from the “far north,” and since Russia is located to the “far north” of the Middle East, therefore the two entities are identical.

There are three problems with this interpretation. First, the linguistic evidence demonstrates that any similarity in spelling or pronunciation is superficial, at best. ‘Rosh’ is the common Hebrew noun for “head” and is so used over three dozen times in the book of Ezekiel.

Second, due to its geographical situation, invasions of ancient Palestine came from a northerly direction as armies marched through the Fertile Crescent to reach the region, regardless of their point of origin. For example, Mesopotamia lies to the east of Israel, yet invaders from that land followed the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to a point north of Palestine, then turned south to invade along the Mediterranean coast. Of course, Russia is, by no means, the only nation located to the north of Israel.

Third and most decisive, the book of Revelation applies the prophecy from Ezekiel to a global effort by all nations to annihilate the “saints” in the last days, and it identifies this force by name - “Gog and Magog” - (Revelation 20:7-10).

The King James Version renders the clause - “Set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” In the clause, the Hebrew noun ‘rosh’ is translated as “chief.” Other English versions often simply transliteraterosh’ from Hebrew into Latin characters. The K.J.V. has translated the noun into English and combined it with the Hebrew word for “prince” or “ruler” (nasi). The problem is how ‘rosh’ is represented in English translations – transliterated or translated.

Rosh” occurs over six hundred times in the Hebrew Bible and, most often meaning “head.”  Derivative usages include “chief,” “top,” “sum,” “first,” and “principal.” All these meanings are derived from the literal sense “head” - (rô'shStrong’s - #H7218).

Rosh” is not a proper name in the Hebrew Bible, with the one possible exception in Genesis 46:21 - (“Rosh,” a son of Benjamin). Nowhere does the Old Testament mention a nation, people, territory, or city named “rosh” except for the other possible exception in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39, assuming that “rosh” is used as a proper name in Ezekiel’s prophecy.

Rosh” is the same Hebrew noun used to designate the commencement of a new year or rosh ha-shanah, the “head of the year,” and likewise, the start of a new month (rosh chodesh). Other examples of this usage include “chief” of tribes, “chief priest,” and the “chief prince.” In one verse, the book of Ezekiel also refers to the “head of the year” - rosh ha-shanah - (Deuteronomy 1:155:23, 2 Kings 25:18, 1 Chronicles 7:40, Ezekiel 40:1).

Rosh” occurs thirty-eight times in the book of Ezekiel, always with the sense “head,” with the possible exception in chapters 38 and 39. For example, the “heads” of the living creatures. On one occasion, the prophet was commanded to shave his “head.” In chapter 17, “rosh” refers to the “top” of a branch. In chapter 27, we find the “rosh” or “chief of all spices.” And so on - (Ezekiel 1:22, 5:1, 17:4, 17:22, 27:22).

In the Hebrew clause, “rosh” or “chief” follows the Hebrew noun for “prince” (nasi). This is the normal word order for a Hebrew clause where one substantive modifies another (the so-called ‘construct state’). In this case, “chief” modifies “prince.” The more natural sense of the Hebrew clause is “chief prince” - (Ezekiel 38:2).

Elsewhere, “Meshech and Tubal” are paired consistently, and with no mention of “rosh,” though often they are listed alongside “Javan” or Greece. The pairing is based on geography - Both nations were in Asia Minor to the northwest of Israel - (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Ezekiel 27:13, 32:36).

The nations listed in Ezekiel chapter 38 were known to ancient Israel. Besides “Tubal and Meshech,” the list includes PersiaEthiopiaLibya, Gomer, and Togarmah, all regional peoples with which ancient Israel had contact - (Ezekiel 27:2629:1030:4-5).

In chapter 27, the trading partners of Tyre are listed from west to east, beginning from Spain (Tarshish), followed by Greece (Javan), Asia Minor (Tubal, Meschech, Togmarah), and the Aegean Islands, then other nations are listed from south to north. Finally, Arabia and parts of Mesopotamia are named. Nowhere is any entity called “Rosh” included among the nations surrounding Israel - (Ezekiel 27:12-24).

Gomer” is probably identical with the “Gammadim” named in chapter 27, a Hebrew rendering of the “Gimirra” peoples known to Assyria, and to the Greeks as “Cimmerians,” a nomadic people from eastern Asia Minor, and located to the north of Israel. Elsewhere, “Gomer” is included with “Magog” in lists of descendants of Japheth - (Genesis 10:21 Chronicles 1:5, Ezekiel 27:11).
All the nations listed by Ezekiel are known from other biblical passages and ancient documents. All were known to ancient Israel, with the possible exception “Rosh.” For that matter, no kingdom known by the name ‘Russia’ or ‘Rus’ existed in the sixth century B.C., and no such nation was known to the prophet Ezekiel or Israel.
Similarities in spelling are offered as primary evidence for “rosh” as a reference to Russia. However, the similarities are apparent, not real.  “Rosh” (ראשׁ) is written with three Hebrew consonants, Resh (ר), Aleph (א), and Shin (ש). In earlier times, only with Resh and Shin are used (רשׁ). The letter Aleph marks the long vowel sound ‘ô’. The single-letter Shin (ש) provides the ‘sh’ final sound in ‘rosh.’

The kingdom of Rus did not exist prior to the ninth or eighth-century A.D., over fifteen hundred years after the time of Ezekiel. The name ‘Rus’ does not appear anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.

Since the ninth century A.D., ‘Rus’ has been transliterated into Hebrew as רוס, using the consonants Resh (ר), Vav (ו) and Samech (ס), not Resh (ר), Aleph (א) and Shin (ש). The letter Vav marks the long vowel sound ‘ū.’ Samech is a different Hebrew letter than Shin, one more akin to ‘s’ than the ‘sh’ sound represented by the letter shin.

Thus, the only sound in common between “rosh” and ‘rus’ is the initial ‘r’ sound. Likewise, in spelling, the only letter in common between “rosh” and ‘rus’ is the initial Resh (ר). The alleged linguistic connection between the two words is tenuous.

The nations listed in Ezekiel were not just from the north. The list included nations located to the east and south of Israel. “Gog” led this alliance to invade Israel from the direction of its home territory to the north of Palestine.

Due to the geography and climate of the region, invading armies typically entered Palestine from a northerly direction, after following routes through the Fertile Crescent that could sustain an army with food and water.  The Old Testament speaks of several hostile nations that attacked Israel from the north, including Aram (Syria), Assyria, and Babylon. Such references are too common to determine a nation’s identity by the compass direction of its attack - (Isaiah 8:4-7Jeremiah 1:13-1525:9-10).

The decisive factor in identifying “Gog and Magog” is how the book of Revelation interprets and applies the prophecy in three passages:
  • PREPARE THE WAY for the kings of the east.”  Unclean spirits “GATHERED THE KINGS OF THE WHOLE HABITABLE EARTH to the great day of God the Almighty…And he GATHERED them unto a place called in the Hebrew tongue MOUNTAIN of Megiddo.” - (Revelation 16:12-16).
  • An angel cries to “THE BIRDS OF THE AIR TO COME AND GATHER YOURSELVES TO THE SUPPER of the great God, that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and THE KINGS OF THE EARTH AND THEIR ARMIES GATHERED TO THE WAR against him that sat on the horse.” - (Revelation 19:17-21).
  • Satan deceives the “nations from the four corners of the earth, GOG AND MAGOG, TO GATHER THEM TO THE WAR: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And THEY ASCENDED OVER THE BREADTH OF THE EARTH and encompassed the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” - (Revelation 20:8-9).

Note the parallel clauses in Ezekiel:

  • Be PREPARED, you and all your companies that are assembled unto you…in the latter years you shall come into the land that is brought back from the sword that is GATHERED OUT OF MANY PEOPLES UPON THE MOUNTAINS of Israel”- (Ezekiel 38:1-9).
  • (Ezekiel 39:17-19) - “Speak to EVERY FEATHERED BIRD and to every beast of the field, GATHER YOURSELVES ON EVERY SIDE TO MY SACRIFICE that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel THAT YE MAY EAT FLESH, and drink blood. Ye shall EAT THE FLESH OF THE MIGHTY and drink the blood of the princes of the earth.”

In Revelation, all three passages transform the regional nations from Ezekiel into the “kings of the whole earth and their armies” - Nations from every “corner” of the earth are “gathered to the war.” The same event is in view in all three passages. The third passage is the most explicit. The invading force is named, “Gog and Magog,” and identified as the “nations from the four corners of the earth.” Rather than invade from the north, this force “ascends” over the entire earth to attack the “saints.”


The decisive factor is how Revelation interprets and applies “Gog and Magog,” not perceived similarities in pronunciation or spelling. It applies Ezekiel’s prophecy to the final effort by Satan to destroy the church.


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