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20 August 2019

The Identity of Gog & Magog


Roman Armies attacks Jerusalem
Ezekiel received a vision of an invasion of Israel by a coalition of nations from the surrounding region. This force would be led by “Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” (Ezekiel 38:1-2). This force would be destroyed by God before it could annihilate the nation of Israel.
Commentators tend to identify the ancient nations listed in Ezekiel’s account with what they assume to be modern counterparts. Some of the names are not readily identifiable with known ancient kingdoms; for example, ‘Rosh,’ ‘Meshech,’ and ‘Gog.’ One expedient is to link such names to contemporary nations with what is perceived to be similarities in the spellings. “Rosh,” for example, is often equated with “Rus” or Russia.
In contrast, the book of Revelation applies language from Ezekiel’s prophecy, not to specific nations or regions, but to the “kings of the whole earth” and their armies from the four corners of the globe (Revelation 16:12-16, 19:17-21, 20:7-10). Attempts to identify “Gog and Magog” with specific modern nations ignore this reapplication of Ezekiel’s prophecy.
Several identifications of this invading coalition have been proposed. Most common is the identification of “Rosh” with Russia or “Rus,” the assumed ringleader of the invading coalition. As one author explained:
“The geographic identification of Gog and Magog as Russian states is reinforced by linguistics.  Many people believe that ‘Rosh’ is related to the modern word Russia and that ‘Meshech’ and ‘Tubal, respectively, are variations of the spellings of Moscow and Tobolsk, an area in the Ural section of Russia. The name Russia does not appear in scripture, but this detailed description of the invader of Israel clearly fits that now unstable nation” (emphasis in original).[1]
The Genesis Background
The nations named in Ezekiel Chapter 38 are derived from the “Table of Nations” in Genesis 10:1-32. It lists the descendants of Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth, and the peoples that evolved from them.
The geographical range of these nations is as follows:  to the north as far as the Caucasus Mountains (a range between the Black and Caspian seas in the Caucasus region); to the south into the Arabian Peninsula; to the east as far as the Iranian plateau; and to the west as far as the Aegean Sea, and possibly to Spain (Tarshish).[2]
The descendants of Japheth are placed in regions to the north and west of Palestine (Asia Minor, the Aegean area); the offspring of Ham in Africa, Mesopotamia and Arabia; and the descendants of Shem in northern Mesopotamia, Syria, and Arabia.
The “Table of Nations” intentionally totals seventy nations to “symbolize the ‘whole’ world of nations…the symmetry of the count ‘seventy,’ collected in three branches shows that the table is representative of the totality of all peoples.”[3]
Gog’s invading force is comprised of peoples descended from Japheth and Ham. It includes peoples from the north (Magog, Gomer), east (Persia) and south (Libya, Ethiopia), groups from the ends of the earth, at least from Israel’s perspective.
All the nations listed were known to ancient Israel. “Gog” is presented as a leader of the force, not as a distinct nation, presumably in command of the force. “Gog” was from the “land of Magog and a chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.”
The first-century Jewish historian Josephus identified “Magog” with the Scythians located north of the Black Sea (Antiquities, I.vi.1). “Gog” resembles the name of a king of Lydia named Gyges or Gugu; if so, “Magog” could refer to the kingdom of Lydia in western Asia Minor.
While “Magog” has not been identified with certainty, “Meshech” and “Tubal” are known from ancient Assyrian literature as the tribes of Mushki and Tabal from central and eastern Anatolia near the headwaters of the Tigris River.
The “Uttermost parts of the North”
Historically, Israel was invaded from the north due to the geographic conditions of the Middle East, especially the so-called “Fertile Crescent.” It is a large arc of arable land beginning from Palestine and extending north to the southern boundaries of the Taurus Mountains, then east along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers to Mesopotamia. To Israel’s east was an arid region that blended into the vast Arabian Desert that could not support large armies. To Israel’s immediate west was the Mediterranean Sea.
Traders and invaders alike traveled along the Fertile Crescent with its ready supply of water and food. Regardless of the place of origin, armies and trade goods arrived in Palestine from the north.
The Old Testament’s frequent application of “north” to invaders referred to the direction from which they arrived, not necessarily to their point of origin. Babylon and Persia lay to the east, yet both attacked by marching northwestward along the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, then southward along the Mediterranean coast.
It does not follow from the “uttermost parts of the north” that “Gog” must be Russia because nothing lies further north. The phrase refers to the furthest reaches of the north from ancient Israel’s perspective. Israel knew next to nothing about regions beyond the Caucasus Mountains.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel all describe Babylon as a nation from the “north,” from the “uttermost parts of the north” and the “uttermost parts of the earth” (e.g., Isaiah 14:13, Jeremiah 1:15, 6:22, 25:32, 31:8, 50:41, Ezekiel 26:7), even though Babylon lay to Israel’s east in Mesopotamia.
“Gomer” and “Togarmah” are from Israel’s north (Ezekiel 38:6), and Gog is “from the uttermost parts of the north” (Ezekiel 38:15, 39:1-2). But this coalition also includes nations from Israel’s east (Persia) and south (Cush, Put).
In Ezekiel, the stress is not on the direction of the attack but on how the invading force completely encompasses the land of Israel:
[Ezekiel 38:9] – “And you shall ascend, you shall come like a storm, you shall be like a cloud to cover the land, you and all your hordes, and many peoples with you.”
[Ezekiel 38:15-16] – “And you shall come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding upon horses, a great company and a mighty army; (16) and you shall come up against my people Israel, as a cloud to cover the land: it shall come to pass in the latter days, that I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when I shall be sanctified in you, O Gog, before their eyes.”
Is “Rosh” Russia?
The identification of “Rosh” with “Rus” or Russia is based on similarities in sound and spelling. But the similarities are superficial, at best, and do not reflect Old Testament usage of the Hebrew word.
“Rosh” was a grandson of Benjamin (Genesis 46:21), otherwise, this word is not used as a proper name for a person or place in the Old Testament. It is not one of the nations listed in Genesis chapter 10 and used as such in Ezekiel’s list.
“Rosh” occurs almost 600 times in the Old Testament with the basic meaning, “head.”  From this come several metaphorical ideas, including “chief, top, beginning, sum, first.” It is the term for “chief priest” (1 Chronicles 27:5, 2 Chronicles 19:11). Rosh Hashanah means the “first” or “head” of the month (Exodus 12:1-3). In Ezekiel 38:2, the text more correctly reads “Gog of the land of Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal,” and not “prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.” It refers to rank, not a nation.
“Rosh” is found 38 times in Ezekiel and always with the sense of “head” with the possible exception of Ezekiel 38:2. The book never uses it for a proper name, whether for a person, place or thing.
The New Testament Interprets the Old

        According to the Apostle Paul, all God’s promises find their “yea” and “amen” in Jesus Christ. The rituals and promises of the Old Covenant were partial and shadows of the fulfillment found in Christ (1 Corinthians 10:11, Colossians 2:15-16, Hebrews 1:1-4). Thus, the New Covenant interprets the Old.

The New Testament applies Old Testament promises and prophecies in unexpected ways. For example, Paul universalized the original “land promise” to Abraham to encompass the entire “world” or kosmos (Romans 4:12-13). Peter labeled Christian congregations “an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession.” The task given to Israel had fallen to the Church (1 Peter 2:9, Exodus 19:5-6).
The New Testament applies the promises to Israel of a “new heart of flesh and a new spirit” to the Church (Ezekiel 36:25-27, 37:14, 2 Corinthians 3:1-6). Similarly, though explicitly given to the “house of Israel and the house of Judah”, the promised New Covenant finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ and his Church (Jeremiah 31:31-34, Luke 22:20, 1 Corinthians 11:25, Hebrews 8:1-13).
The book of Revelation is no exception. The Seven Churches of Asia have “a kingdom of priests unto God” (1:4-6, 5:9-10, Exodus 19:5). The prophecy that the “house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” would look upon the one whom they pierced, is universalized into “all the tribes of the earth” that mourn at Christ’s arrival, a modification Jesus himself made earlier (Revelation 1:7, Zechariah 10:10, Matthew 24:30).
In summary, how the New Testament applies an Old Testament passage is the decisive factor in its interpretation.
The Kings of the Whole Earth (Revelation 16:12-16)
(Revelation 16:12-14) – “And the sixth poured out his bowl upon the great river, the river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might by made ready for the kings that come from the sun-rising. And I saw coming out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits, as it were frogs: for they are spirits of demons, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole habitable earth, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.”
Images from two Old Testament passages are used in Revelation for the picture of the “war of the great day of God, the Almighty,” or Armageddon. A prophecy about the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus of the Great and Ezekiel’s prophecy about “Gog and Magog.”  The two are combined to form one new image. This battle culminates with the destruction of end-time “Babylon” (16:17-21).
Yahweh promised the restoration of the Jewish nation held captive to Babylon. To facilitate this, He would command the deep and the rivers to “be dry…who says of Cyrus, He is my shepherd and shall perform all my pleasure” (Isaiah 44:24-28). God “raised up one from the north who would come from the sun-rising” (Isaiah 41:45).  On Judah’s behalf, God would “disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon” and cause “a drought upon her waters that they should be dried up” (Jeremiah 50:38, 51:36).
This was fulfilled in October 539 B.C. when a Persian army rerouted the Euphrates River to enable it to penetrate Babylon’s walls and enter the city along the riverbed (cp. Daniel 5:1). This is the historical background behind the “battle” in Revelation 16:12; the image of the “kings from the sun-rising” marching across a dried Euphrates riverbed uses language from the prophecy of Cyrus’ attack on Babylon.
(Isaiah 41:2) – “Who has raised up one from the sunrise, whom he calls in righteousness to his foot? He gives nations before him and makes him rule over kings; he gives them as the dust to his sword, as the driven stubble to his bow.”
(Isaiah 41:2) – “I have raised up one from the north, and he is come; from the rising of the sun one that calls upon my name: and he shall come upon rulers as upon mortar, and as the potter treads clay.”
Thus, the book of Revelation uses the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus as a model for its vision of the downfall of End-Time Babylon (Revelation 16:19). Neither the “Euphrates River” nor “Babylon” is a literal geographic reference in Revelation.
In Revelation 16:13-16, demonic spirits cause the “kings of the whole habitable earth” to gather together to the war of the great day of God, the Almighty. This description employs language from Ezekiel 38:3-10 where Yahweh declared to Gog: 
I will turn you back and put hooks into your jaws, and I will gather you and all your armyBe prepared and prepare yourself, you and all your company that are gathered unto you…in the latter years you shall come into the land that is brought back from the sword and is gathered out of many people, against the mountains of Israel...You shall ascend and come like a storm, you shall be like a cloud to cover the land, you and all your bands, and many people with you.”
The kings from the east and the “kings of the whole earth” are one and the same; the latter interprets the former. The “kings from the sun-rising” are the “kings of the whole habitable earth.” Thus, Revelation has universalized the original image.
Though the “kings of the earth” are gathered at God’s instigation to destroy Babylon, though they assume they are attacking God’s people (16:19, 17:16-17). Afterward, they themselves are destroyed along with the Beast and False Prophet (19:17-21). This is parallel to God who caused “Gog of Magog” to invade Israel in order to be destroyed on “the mountains of Israel” (Ezekiel 38:3-10, 39:1-3).
Demon spirits “gather the kings of the earth unto the war” (sunagagein autous eis ton polemon). The term “war” is singular and has a definite article or “the,” indicating an event that is specific and known.  It is “THE war” of the great day of God, the Almighty.
The “kings of the earth and their armies” are allied with the Beast and the False prophet in order “to gather together to wage war against” the heavenly figure on a white horse (Revelation 19:19).
(Revelation 19:7-21) – “And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto 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 together to make the war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone. And the remnant were slain with the sword of him that sat upon the horse, which sword proceeded out of his mouth: and all the fowls were filled with their flesh.”
The verbal allusions to Ezekiel 38-39 in the above passage are brief but clear. Note the following verses from Ezekiel with the allusions highlighted:
(Ezekiel 38:7-8) – “Be prepared, yea, prepare yourself, you and all your companies that are gathered together unto you, and be a guard unto them. After many days you shall be visited: in the latter years you shall come into the land that is brought back from the sword, that is gathered together out of many peoples upon the mountains of Israel.”
(Ezekiel 39:17-20) – “And, you son of man, thus says the Lord Yahweh; Speak unto every feathered fowl, and to every beast of the field, assemble yourselves and come; 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 rulers of the earth, of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bullocks, all of them fatlings of Bashan. And ye shall eat fat till ye be full, and drink blood till ye be drunken, of my sacrifice which I have sacrificed for you. Thus, ye shall be filled at my table with horses and chariots, with mighty men, and with all men of war, says the Lord Yahweh.”
(Ezekiel 39:21) – “And I will call for a sword against him unto all my mountains, says the Lord Yahweh: every man’s sword shall be against his brother.”
As in Revelation 16:12-16, the attacking force is identified as “the kings of the earth” accompanied by their armies.  The battle described in Revelation 19:17-21 is a fuller explanation of “the war” unleashed by the sixth bowl of wrath, the “great day of God the Almighty” (16:12-16). As before, the text refers to “the war,” singular. Moreover, in both 16:14 and 19:19 an identical clause is used in the command “to gather” the kings of the earth to the war:
[16:14] - “Gather them unto the war” (Greek: sunagagein autous eis ton polemon). 
[19:19] - “Gathered to make the war” (Greek: sunégmena poiésai ton polemon). 
The birds and beasts are bidden to eat the flesh of “the mighty” and to drink the blood of the “rulers of the earth.” The list from Ezekiel is expanded in Revelation 19:17-21 to include kings, captains, mighty men and all men, both free and slave, both small and great.
Finally, the remnant of the “kings of the earth and their armies” are slain by sword after the Beast and False Prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire. Such was also the case in Ezekiel 39:21 (“every man’s sword shall be against his brother”).
“Gog & Magog” (20:7-10)
(Revelation 20:7-10) – “And when the thousand years are finished, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison and shall come forth to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to the war: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they came up over the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where are also the beast and the false prophet; and they shall be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
In this last passage, “Gog and Magog” are explicitly named. Once again, the attacking force is gathered to “the war,” singular. This is a further elaboration of the same final battle seen in Revelation 19:17-21. This passage uses language from several verses of Ezekiel 38:2-22, as follows:
(Ezekiel 38:2) – “Son of man, set thy face toward Gog of the land of Magog.”
(Ezekiel 38:9) – “And you shall come up, you shall come like a storm, you shall be like a cloud to cover the land.”
(Ezekiel 38:16) – “You shall come up against my people Israel, as a cloud to cover the land.”
(Ezekiel 39:22) – “And I will rain upon him and upon his hordes and upon the many peoples that are with him an overflowing shower, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone.”
 “Gog and Magog” are set in apposition to “the nations in the four corners of the earth” in the sentence from Revelation 20:8-10; that is, they are identified as the nations of the four corners of the earth that ascend over the “breadth of the earth to encompass the camp of the saints.” All humanity is united in its determination to annihilate God’s people. As before, Revelation universalizes Ezekiel’s prophecy:
This final “war” is the same one portrayed in Revelation 16:12-16 and 19:17-21 but seen from a different and more complete perspective. 
In the sixth bowl, the attacking force was comprised of the “kings of the whole habitable earth.” In Revelation 19:17-21, it consisted of the “kings of the earth and their armies.” In this present passage, Satan “gathers the nations from the four corners of the earth” to attack the saints.
God destroys the attacking force with fire and brimstone. Satan is cast into the Lake of Fire where the Beast and the False Prophet were previously cast. In Revelation 19:21 the earthly forces were destroyed by “sword”; now the nations that attack the saints are destroyed by “fire and brimstone” in accord with Ezekiel 39:22. This is not a contradiction; the language is metaphorical.
That the same battle is in view in both Revelation 16:12-16 and 20:7-9 is demonstrated by exact same Greek clause used for “gathering” the nations in both:
(16:14) - “To gather them unto the war” (Greek: sunagagein autous eis ton polemon). 
(20:8) - “To gather them unto the war” (Greek: sunégmena poiésai ton polemon). 
“Gog and Magog” is not a specific country from the north of Israel, but a gathering of all the nations from the earth to destroy the saints.
Concluding Remarks
The evidence used to identify Russia as “Gog of Magog” is unconvincing.  More important, attempts to identify “Gog,” “Magog,” or “Rosh” with contemporary nation-states are wrongheaded; they ignore how the book of Revelation reapplies and universalizes Ezekiel’s original vision. 
The book of Revelation is an all-encompassing vision that divides mankind into two opposing groups:  those who follow the Lamb and those who render homage to the Beast. The existing world order, humanity, is united in its rebellion against God and servitude to the Dragon.
In Revelation, “Gog and Magog” become the “kings of the whole habitable earth and their armies” allied with the Beast to confront the Lamb and destroy his saints. 

ENDNOTES:

[1] John Hagee, From Daniel to Doomsday (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1999), p. 122. See also Tim LaHaye, Ed Hinson, Popular Encyclopedia of Bible Prophecy (Eugene:  Harvest House, 2004), pp. 119-120.
[2] Kenneth Matthews, Genesis 1 – 11:26 (Broadman & Holman Pub., 1996), p. 432.

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