Is Russia in Bible Prophecy?

Category: The End Times 492 1

If you are a Christian with a Facebook site then you have probably noticed all the news stories about Russia getting involved in the Middle East.[1] Russia not only supports the terror regime in Iran but also wishes to see Bashar al-Assad stay in power in Syria. Many Christians seem to be very excited about Russia’s presence in the region. Why? Simply, it is a widely held belief (especially in America) that Russia will lead a group of Middle Eastern nations against Israel in the End Times.[2]

The main passage in favor of this belief is Ezekiel 38-39 where a ruler named Gog comes from a group of nations that are usually interpreted to be modern-day Russia (Magog, Rosh, Meschech, and Tubal). Daniel 11 is also brought into the mix since it talks about “the king of the North” who is thought to be Russia since it is north of Israel. Here is Ezekiel 38:1-6:

“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal; prophesy against him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against you, Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks in your jaws and bring you out with your whole army—your horses, your horsemen fully armed, and a great horde with large and small shields, all of them brandishing their swords. Persia, Cush and Put will be with them, all with shields and helmets, also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops—the many nations with you.’”

Do these verses teach us that Russia will have a major part to play in the end-times? My personal opinion is a resounding no. Ezekiel 38 and Daniel 11 are not speaking about a Russian ruler, but of someone else (the Antichrist). Let us take a look at these passages closely.

Magog

As I noted above, three, and perhaps four, nations mentioned in Ezekiel 38 are interpreted to represent Russia in the last days. The first nation is called “Magog.” The end-time ruler Gog is said to be “Gog of Magog. “Magog” simply means “land of Gog.” When it comes to locating Magog on a map the common identification seems to be somewhere in or near Russia. This comes primarily through the equation that Magog is the same as the Scythians, an ancient people known to have been located in the Black Sea/Ukrainian region. This is one of the reasons why Magog is thought to be Russia.[3]

A good place then to begin our investigation is the name “Gog.” Most scholars agree that “Gog” is likely a reference to a king who ruled Lydia. During the days of Ezekiel, Lydia made up what is today western Turkey. Gog was named Gugu by the ancient Assyrians (who lived in present-day southeastern Turkey, northern Iraq, and eastern Syria), and Gyges by the ancient Greeks. This king lived around the year 660 BC, and was known to the Greeks as tyrannous, or the “tyrant.” It seems that God used the name “Gog” to give people in Ezekiel’s day an example of the horrors of a future leader to come, similar to what we may say about a future dictator being “another Hitler.” It is important to note that he ruled in Turkey.[4]

Now let’s go back to the identification of Magog, which remember means “land of Gog.” The Scythian interpretation comes from the ancient Jewish historian Josephus who lived from c. 37-100 AD. He says that the Greeks called the Magogites “Scythians.”[5] The problem is that Josephus didn’t say where the Scythians were located. It is common knowledge that the Greeks viewed the Scythians as a people north of the Black Sea (Ukraine). However, Herodotus (c. 484-425 BC), the first great ancient Greek historian (who lived closer to the time of Ezekiel than Josephus did), placed the origins of the Scythians in present-day Turkey.[6]

Other ancient historians that placed Magog in Turkey include Pliny the Elder and Hippolytus of Rome, an early Christian theologian in the third century.[7] Pliny talks of an ancient city called “Bambyce, otherwise called Hierapolis; but of the Syrians, Magog.”[8] Hierapolis was a city on the border between present-day Turkey and Syria.

Lastly, many modern scholars place Magog in Turkey or the surrounding region.[9] Why? As Daniel Block believes, in his commentary on Ezekiel, Magog is simply referring to Lydia in modern-day Turkey since the name Gog is borrowed from the ancient king Gyges.[10] Based on the Bible and ancient sources there is simply no reason to place Magog in Russia.

A map showing the typical interpretation of the invasion of Israel by Gog.
A map showing the typical interpretation of the invasion of Israel by Gog.

Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal

Two, and possibly three, other nations mentioned in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are often thought to refer to Russia: Meshech, Tubal, and possibly Rosh. Gog is said to be the prince of these nations. Meshech and Tubal have often been identified with Moscow and Tobolsk, the latter being a city in central Russia. It is believed that Meshech is preserved in the name Muskovi (an old name for Russia), and Tubal with Tobolsk.[11]

However, when someone takes a closer look at these names it becomes clear that they were located, not in Russia, but in modern-day Turkey. Meshech is located in Turkey by Herodotus, and the Assyrians knew them as Muskaya.[12] Josephus places them in Cappadocia, an ancient region of Turkey.[13] Tubal is located in eastern Turkey. The Assyrians knew them as Tabal. What is very interesting is that the Assyrian records also couple Meshech and Tubal together just like Ezekiel does (Tabali and Muski in an inscription of Sargon, a king in ancient Iraq).[14]

What about Rosh? The Hebrew word here is, well, rosh. This word is the center of a huge controversy. The word has the general meaning of a “chief” which why we find Ezekiel 38:2 often translated as “Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief [rosh] prince of Meshech and Tubal.” However, some Bible prophecy teachers want to translate rosh as a name of a country. In fact, some believe that “Russia” came from the word rosh. I note the following in a previous article I wrote on Gog of Magog:

  • “Edwin Yamauchi, a very noteworthy Bible scholar, believes that there is no connection between the word rosh and the word “Russia.” He says that it would be anachronistic to equate rosh and “Russia” since the word “Russia” comes from the word Rus, which was not even brought into the region of Russia until the Middle Ages by the Vikings.[15]
  • Ralph Alexander, in the Expositors Bible Commentary on Ezekiel, says of rosh, “The accentual system and syntactical construction of the Hebrew language strongly indicate an appositional relationship between the words ‘prince’ and ‘chief.’ Both terms are related equally, then, to the geographical words Meshech and Tubal. Grammatically, it would seem best to render the phrase, ‘the prince, the chief, of Meshech and Tubal.’”[16] This indicates that rosh is not a place in this passage.

Block summarizes the debate about whether or not Rosh is a place or a common noun:

“Recent attempts to equate Rosh with Râshu/Rêshu/Arashi in neo-Assyrian annals is more credible, except that the place so named was located far to the east on the border between Babylon and Elam, and would have had nothing to do with Meshech and Tubal. This interpretation is also difficult (though not impossible) from a grammatical point of view. If Rosh is to be read as the first in a series of names, the conjunction should precede ‘Meshech.’ rō’š is therefore best understood as a common noun, appositional to and offering a closer definition of nāśî’. Accordingly, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal, combines Ezekiel’s preferred title for kings with a hierarchical designation, the addition serving to clarify the preceding archaic term. Ezekiel’s point is that Gog is not just one of many Anatolian princely figures, but the leader among princes and over several tribal/national groups.’”[17]

When Block is speaking about Rosh possibly being a nation, he is referring to the work of James Price who argues that Rosh was a nation on the Tigris River on the border of Elam and Ellipi. If Rosh was a nation, and not the word “chief,” this would put Rosh in western Iran. If this is correct, then Rosh was a Middle Eastern nation, and not Russia![18] Quite simply, Meshech and Tubal, and maybe even Rosh, point to the Middle East, most notably the area of and around Turkey.”[19]

Although I tend to hold to the view that rosh should be translated as “chief,” if it does represent the name of a nation then it still wouldn’t have anything to do with the modern country of Russia.

What about the “king of the North?”

Daniel 11:40 speaks about a “king of the North” that is connected to the end-times. In other parts of Daniel this title is given to the ruler of Greek Syria, the Seleucid Empire. However, some think that it changes to Russia. Here is what I said about this in another article:

“Leon Wood comments, “[T]he designation ‘king of the North’ is not an appropriate indication of the Antichrist, because his country, Rome, is not north of Palestine. A Russian ruler fits well, however, since Russia is directly north, with Moscow being almost on a direct north-south line with Jerusalem.”[20] It is interesting to note that Wood, along with many other commentators, came to this conclusion during the Cold War, when the Soviet Union was the big bad guy to the United States. It should also be noted that Wood says on the same page that identification of the king of the North should be the same as the rest of the chapter (Syria), but then changes the king of the North to Russia in the very next paragraph![21] Why, because the Antichrist is a Roman. [This quote comes from my series that explains that the Antichrist may well come from the Middle East. See this article for a good overview of this theory.]

John Whitcomb argues that the king of the North must be Russia because the king of the North travels through other countries on his way to Palestine (verses 40-41).[22] “At the time of the end the king of the South will engage him [the Antichrist] in battle, and the king of the North will storm out against him [the king of the South] with chariots and cavalry and a great fleet of ships. He will invade many countries and sweep through them like a flood. He will also invade the Beautiful Land.”

Since a Syrian king would not go through many countries before reaching Palestine, then the king of the North must be a Russian since a Russian king would go through many countries on his way to Palestine. However, verse 40 may be referring to the three nations mentioned in verses 42-43: Egypt, Libya, and Nubia (modern-day Sudan). The point is that the king of the North will invade and conquer many countries.”

Russia has nothing to do with Magog.
Russia has nothing to do with Magog.

The “uttermost parts of the north”

Quite simply Russia has nothing to do with end-time prophecy. Gog comes from what is today known as Turkey, and the nations that are following him in these two chapters are connected to Turkey, Iran, and North Africa. However, critics of this will bring up a “problem.” Ezekiel 38:14-16 and 39:1-3 specifically say that Gog will come from the “uttermost parts of the north.” Some, of course, think that this confirms Russia as the nation of Gog since Turkey is not in the “uttermost parts of the north.”[23] This criticism is not as strong as it may seem. J. Paul Tanner notes the problem with this:

“Those who often equate the Ezekiel passage with Russia point out that Gog and its allies do not simply come from ‘the north’ but from the ‘remote parts of the north’ (Ezek 38:6, 15; 39:2). In fact, the NASB [translation of the Bible] reads “the remotest part of the north” in Ezek 39:2. In the NT, however, the three phrases are essentially the same: yrkty spwn. Hence there is no reason to translate Ezek 39:2 differently than the previous two references. The noun yrkh has the basic idea of ‘extreme portion,’ ‘extremity.’ But other occurrences of the word when used geographically reveal that the term does not have to mean the farthest point away. The expression myrkty-rs (“from the remote parts of the earth”) occurs four times in Jeremiah. In Jer 6:22 we read:  ‘Behold, a people is coming from the north land, and a great nation will be aroused from the remote parts of the earth.’ There is general agreement that this refers to Babylon in this context. Jeremiah 50:41 reads: ‘Behold a people is coming from the north, and a great nation and many kings will be aroused from the remotest parts of the earth.’ The context is dealing with God’s judgment upon Babylon and the enemies that he will bring upon Babylon. Although the invaders are not clearly specified, there is mention of the ‘kings of the Medes’ [northern Iran] in the general context (51:11; cf. 51:27, 28). In two other verses (25:32; 31:8) God is depicted as stirring up nations from the remote parts of the earth, but the reference is quite vague. Outside of Ezekiel 38-39 yrkh is used in a geographical sense of nations from the Middle East, thereby demonstrating that the expression need not be taken to mean the farthest point possible.”[24]

Similar Names and Migrations

Before I end this article, I want to comment on two methods that some Bible teachers will use to try to equate Gog with Russia: 1) similar sounding names; and 2) migrations. I already noted how similar sounding names have been used to equate Meshech and Tubal with Russia (Moscow and Tobolsk).

Just as interesting is the use of migrations. Leon Wood notes that Magog, Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal were all originally Middle Eastern peoples, but they eventually migrated into Russia. This means that Russia is the place where Gog will come from.[25] However, there are some serious problems with using similar names and migrations to identify nations in prophecy. Walid Shoebat sums it up very nicely:

“Imagine how foolish the use of this methodology could become: One could even go so far to make Biblical Javan [the Hebrew word for Greece] be referring to Japan or Saksin [a medieval city in Russia] be Anglo-Saxon – after all, they sound similar, do they not? Another could argue that Scythia is in Scotland, which is inhabited by ‘Scots’ since ‘Scyths,’ and ‘Scots’ can be mildly manipulated to sound similar. Yet some serious Bible teachers follow this flawed approach and equate Tubal with ‘Tblisi’ in Georgia. But try to follow the logic: Even if it were true, that some particular modern nation adapted a name that related to its ancient ancestors, it does not override its original location. This would be like saying that because there is a Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, the Messiah must be from Pennsylvania. Scythia is in Eurasia and not in Scotland or Siberia. Even Spain or the Iberians are of Anatolian [called ‘Turkey’ today] origin (Celtiberian) and descend from Gomer. So are the Celtic, the Gaels, the Irish, the Welsh, the Britons and the French who trace themselves to Gomer part of the Gog coalition also? And if not, then why are we including Russia simply because she may have descended from Rosh? There is no difference between the two.”

Shoebat continues:

“If phonetics and migration patterns are the yardstick that God has ordained for us to identify these nations, then we are in serious trouble because we will be forced to ultimately include virtually every nation in Europe. Then by adding Cush and [Put] who are the children of Ham, we can also include all of Africa in Gog’s coalition. We can even theorize that China came from Mongolia who is linked to the ancient Magogite/Scythians as well. In fact, if we continue with the lineage and migratory path then we might as well include the whole globe. The U.S. has peoples from every ancient people imaginable, so is the U.S. also part of the Gog coalition? But if the ancestral, migration method is the method that we need to be using, why then would the Bible go through all of the effort of giving us the names of nations? Why not simply say that Gog is chief prince of the entire globe, and then forget about providing us with all of these ancient names? Why simply pick on the Russians? Why not the Scots, the Irish, the Eskimos…? Had God intended a European nation to be included in Gog’s coalition, He would have simply mentioned them. Iberia is mentioned in the Bible. So is Chittim, which was the ancient name for Rome – did God forget to mention it in this prophecy?”[26]

Conclusion

This is why Christians need to be careful when it comes to biblical prophecy. Russia is in the news today because of their involvement in the Middle East so many believers get all excited for something that is not even in Scripture. The Bible says nothing about Russia in the end-times. None of the nations that are usually thought to be Russia in Scripture have anything to do with the modern country that has been America’s enemy for decades now.

What do you think? Am I wrong? If so, please give me a good argument, not something like “you are worse than an unbeliever.”

[1] Much of this article is adapted or quoted from my previous articles on “The Nations of Gog,” and Daniel 11.

[2] David R. Reagan. “The Wars of the End Times” http://www.lamblion.com/articles/articles_tribulation1.php. Nathan E. Jones. “Timing Gog-Magog” http://www.lamblion.com/articles/articles_tribulation2.php. Joel Rosenberg. “What is the War of Gog and Magog.” http://flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/what-is-the-war-of-gog-and-magog-part-one/. Leon Wood. A Commentary on Daniel. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1973). 309-310.

[3] See for example Henry M. Morris. The Genesis Record. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1976. Pg. 247-248.

[4] Joel Richardson. Mideast Beast. (Washington D.C.: WND Books, 2012). 202. Walid Shoebat, with Joel Richardson. God’s War on Terror (Top Executive Media, 2008). 264-265. Daniel I. Block. The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25-48. In “The New International Commentary on the Old Testament.” Ed. R.K. Harrison and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1998). 433. Leslie C. Allen. Ezekiel 20-48. In the “Word Bible Commentary” Volume 29. (Dallas: Word Books, 1990). 204-205.

[5] Flavius Josephus, The New Complete Works of Josephus, The Antiquities of the Jews, book 1, chapter 6, part 1.

[6] Herodotus 4.11.

[7] Hippolytus, The Chronicon, “The Sons of Japheth.”

[8] Pliny, Natural History, chapter 23.

[9] Richardson, 207. Shoebat, 254-258. L. John McGregor. Ezekiel. In the “New Bible Commentary” 21st Century Edition. Ed. D.A. Carson, R.T. France, J.A. Motyer, and G.J. Wenham. (Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 1994). 741. H.C. Leupold. Exposition of Genesis, vol. 1. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942). 360. New Moody Atlas of the Bible. (Chicago:Moody, 2009). 91, 94. The IVP Atlas of Bible History. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2006). 18.  

[10] Block, 434.

[11] Morris, 248.

[12] Leupold, 360. Also see Shoebat, 258 and Block 435.

[13] Josephus, book 1, chapter 6, part 1.

[14] Leupold, 360.

[15] Edwin Yamauchi. Foes from the Northern Frontier (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982). 243; “Meshech, Tubal, and Company: A Review Article,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 19 (1976). Quoted in Richardson, 212.

[16] Ralph Alexander. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Jeremiah-Ezekiel (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010). 864. Quoted in Richardson, 213.

[17] Block, 435.

[18] James Price, “Rosh: An Ancient Land Known to Ezekiel,” Grace Theological Journal 6 (1985) 69-89. http://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/26-ezekiel/text/articles/price-rosh-ezekiel-gtj.pdf.

[19] Richardson, 215-217; Shoebat, 258; Block, 435-436; McGregor, 741; Allen, 204; New Moody Atlas of the Bible, 92-93; The IVP Atlas of Bible History, 18.

[20] Wood, 308-309.

[21] Ibid., 308.

[22] John C. Whitcomb. Daniel. Everyman’s Bible Commentary. (Chicago: Moody Press, 1985). 155-156.

[23] David Reagan. “The Antichrist: Will He Be a Muslim?” http://www.lamblion.com/articles/articles_islam4.php. Rosenberg. “What is the War of Gog and Magog.” http://flashtrafficblog.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/what-is-the-war-of-gog-and-magog-part-one/

[24] J. Paul Tanner, “Daniel’s ‘King of the North.’: Do We Owe Russia an Apology?” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 35, no 3 (September 1992): 325. http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/35/35-3/JETS_35-3_315-328_Tanner.pdf.

[25] Wood, 309.

[26] Shoebat, 259.

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One thought on “Is Russia in Bible Prophecy?

  1. usurisky@gmail.com

    Interesting read, I would like to add that if the term northernmost is used to determine geographic location then why not use it in modern world term Nordic, remember that majority of today’s Scandinavian population lives farther north then the majority of Russian population and if you ask any 12 years old kid to describe who are the people living in the far north in Europe wouldn’t the answer be Nordic?!! But that may not fit the desired profile for some and besides may not have anything to do with what the scriptures are saying anyways just like this article has mentioned. But to those who are still bent on somehow making northernmost argument , and making it Russia rather than say the Swedes, look up the official history of Swedish royalty! It is interesting that you’ll find that Swedish kings and queens all officially traced their lineage all the way back to Magog. Here is a quote from the encyclopedia (The idea that Gog and Magog were connected with the Goths was longstanding; in the mid-16th century, Archbishop of Uppsala Johannes Magnustraced the royal family of Sweden back to Magog son of Japheth, via Suenno, progenitor of the Swedes, and Gog, ancestor of the Goths)

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