Is Russia Magog?

Is the Biblical nation of Magog modern-day Russia? Is the war with Gog of Magog as described in Ezekiel 38 a future war between Israel and Russia? As we watch Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, are we seeing the beginning of the battle of Armageddon? Those are the kinds of questions that I want to take a look at here today.   

Ever since the 70s when I read Hal Lindsey’s Late Great Planet Earth, I had been hearing that the battle described in Ezekiel 38 & 39 is a future battle between the nation of Israel and modern-day Russia, who, in the final days, will encircle Israel and attack it. This is known to many as the battle of Armageddon, as described by name in Revelation 16.      

 In Ezek. 38, God instructs Ezekiel to utter a prophecy against Gog of the land of Magog, in which we are told that God will bring Gog to Israel with all of his armies for a great battle against a people who have no protection.

As this prophecy goes into the following chapter, Ezekiel tells us that as Israel is threatened by Magog, that God Himself will send fire from heaven against this enemy, destroying them and their armies. Israel, we are told, will go out to burn the “bows and arrows, the javelins and spears” and that that fire will last for seven years.  In verse 12 of chapter 39, we read that it will take seven months for Israel to bury all of the dead soldiers.       

Now, it’s clear that what Ezekiel described in chapters 38 & 39 is something that was future for Ezekiel. In other words, he wasn’t telling us about some battle in his past. And, Bible teachers who belong to the Dispensational camp will be quick to tell us that the battle described in these two chapters is one that has not yet happened. They will rightly say that we have no record of any battle against Israel in which God sent fire from heaven to consume the enemy and that it took seven years to burn all of the weapons, and seven months to bury all of the dead. Therefore, many insist that when we take this passage literally, that it must describe a battle that hasn’t yet happened.     

Then, there are the names of the enemy. Who is Gog the prince of Rosh and of Meshech from the north?  Well, popular Biblical teaching today tells us – and I’m going to quote here from a website that I just stumbled on, but that which reflects the popular notion – that Meshech is the Hebrew term from whence came the name Moscow. And that “Rosh is the ancient Hebrew name for the Russ – or blonds – who settled in the plains of Eastern Europe in the ninth century.”

Therefore, when you couple that information with the fact that Russia is north of Israel, many people are quick to believe that Gog of Magog must be a Russian leader of a Russian people who come from the north to attack Israel.  They believe that as Russia encircles Israel to attack that God Himself will respond by sending fire down from heaven to kill the enemy.      

The problem is that there’s a lot of trouble with what I just shared with you. First, there is no etymological connection between the names Moscow and Meshech. They may look a little similar in English, but there’s no connection. The first written reference to Moscow is from the 12th century, and appears to be named after the Moskva River, which flows through the city. There’s simply no evidence to suggest that Meshech means Moscow. David tells us in Psalm 120 that when he was driven out of Israel by his enemies, that he sojourned into Meshech. It’s kind of hard to imagine that David traveled over 1600 miles just to escape his enemies. That would have been an incredible journey in his day, and one that we would expect to have heard more about.   

What about the name Rosh? Is that an old Hebrew term for Russia? Well, again, it might be tempting to look at the English spellings of these two words and draw that conclusion. However, this notion is quite easy to dispel. The Hebrew word Rosh simply means head or chief. The words appears well over 600 times in the Old Testament, and is not once found as a proper name. Many modern translations have caught this and have rendered Ezekiel 38 simply as “Gog of the land of Magog, the CHIEF PRINCE of Meshech and Tubal. Instead of leaving the word in its Hebrew form, modern translators are translating it, as they should. Rosh does not mean Russia, it just mean chief.  

Another problem for the Dispensationalist in this passage is the description of the weapons that we find being burned by Israel in the wake of the enemy’s defeat. These weapons are described as shields and bucklers, bows and arrows and javelins and spears. We read that these soldiers come riding on horses and handling swords. Obviously, these are not weapons of modern warfare. They’re ancient. No modern army uses them.

Now, I know what the response is going to be. Someone will say, “but Ezekiel didn’t know what missiles, tanks, helicopters and machine guns were, so he described them in his own terms. We don’t take those literally.”

But, do you see the problem here? The same person will also say that we know that Ezekiel is describing a future battle because there’s no record of an enemy of Israel being literally defeated by fire from heaven and where it literally took seven years to burn the weapons of that battle, or a literal seven months to bury the dead. In other words, they insist that this passage should be understood literally – except the weapons – they understand that to be understood figuratively because that’s the only way they can make their theory work.  

The problem here, I believe, is a lack of understanding of the type of literature that Ezekiel is using. We call this language Apocalyptic. It is a very distinct literary feature that uses vivid and elaborate symbolism and sometimes wild hyperbole to describe disaster. In addition to being found in Ezekiel, this type of language is found in Daniel and in Zechariah of the Old Testament and of course the book of the Revelation in the New. To insist that this type of language must be understood literally is to make what I believe to be a very serious mistake. Let me point out that it WAS intended to be taken seriously –  just not literally. 

We should see clues that this is what’s happening when very early in the passage we read that God will lead Magog to war by placing hooks in the mouths of Israel’s enemies and leading them into battle. Now, I don’t of anyone who takes that section of the passage literally. No one believes that God will literally place fishing hooks into people’s mouths and drag them toward Israel. Instead, everyone sees this as something that is figuratively understood.    

This should be our first clue of what type of language Ezekiel’s using here. If that’s understood figuratively, if some Christians understand the types of weapons being used here as figuratively, then isn’t it possible that Ezekiel is using this same type of language in other sections of the passage? For example, many see the number seven as a number of completion in the Bible. Therefore, to burn the weapons for seven years and to bury the dead for seven months could be another way of saying that the enemy was completely vanquished. If that’s the case, then the fire that fell from heaven could also be seen as figurative and not a literal fire from heaven. Maybe it simply means that the deliverance will come from God and not any other means. In fact, doesn’t Ezekiel tell us that this war will occur while Israel has unwalled or unprotected villages and are living in a land without walls having no bars or gates around them? They have no way of naturally defending themselves. If they are going to win this battle, it will only come from God.    

Now, you may be asking then what battle is Ezekiel describing. Well, I’ll admit that it’s not easy to line this battle up with any known battle that has already occurred. Some have suggested that Gog of Magog may have been Haman, who is described in the book of Esther, and who came against Israel after the Babylonian exile. Others have suggested that it may refer to Antiochus Epiphanes, who came against Israel in or around 168 BC. A third possibility, and I’ll be honest, this is where I personally lean, is that Ezekiel isn’t describing a physical battle at all, but rather a spiritual one.

You see, chapters 34, 36, & 37 of Ezekiel contain prophecies about Israel’s restoration and contain some language that is obviously looking forward to the church age. Therefore, Israel, here, may not be the nation of Israel, but those whom Jesus and Paul describe in the New Testament as the true sons of Abraham – those who live by faith – in other words the church. The Gentile army of Magog, may represent any persecutor of the church. The description of having no walls or gates is a pretty good description of the church, which appears to the world as having no natural means of protection. And, the final battle as described in Revelation 20 with Gog of Magog may actually be the final judgement of God falling on the enemies of God, and not a physical, literal battle. We know that the book of Revelation is a highly symbolic book of which we should take great caution in interpreting its descriptions literally.    

I know that what I’ve suggested to you here is not the popular notion. And, I know that there’s a lot more we could talk about, especially in terms of Ezekiel’s description as being of a spiritual battle. But I wanted to suggest to you that the idea that Gog of Magog is necessarily a reference to a leader of the country of Russia has no Biblical foundation. Rosh does not mean Russia, and Meshech does not mean Moscow. Does this mean that Russia will not invade Israel?  I have no idea what these two countries may do to one another. Nations go to war against each other all of the time without being predicted in the Bible. However, it’s clear to me that if they do, it’s not because the Bible predicted it would happen.    

Is Russia’s invasion of Ukraine the beginning of the end for us? Again, I have no clue. Since the Bible doesn’t say anything about this war it’s impossible for me to comment on what God’s timetable might be.  One war that I do suspect may be predicted by Ezekiel and echoed by John in the book of the Revelation is a war of persecution against the Church. Those of us who follow Jesus – who have beaten our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks – who learn of war no more – have good reason to believe that we are the focus of Satan’s wrath. We have good reason to believe that we will be hated and persecuted. But, let’s be reminded by Paul’s words that “though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh.” (2 Cor. 10:3). Our hope and faith is in God above, who is able to preserve our souls.

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 35 years.



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