Gog and Magog Identified

SYNOPSISThe book of Revelation identifies “Gog and Magog” - The nations from the “four corners of the Earth” that attack the “saints”Revelation 20:7-10

Map - Photo by Kelsey Knight on Unsplash
The prophet Ezekiel received a vision of an invading force comprised of regional nations that attacked ancient Israel from a northerly direction. This military force was spearheaded by “Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” - (King James Version). Before completing the destruction of Israel, this force was destroyed by divine intervention “on the mountains of Israel.”

The book of Ezekiel identified several of the nations that participated in this attack. This included several countries known from history, such as Persia, but also several whose identities remain uncertain; especially, “Rosh” - (Translated “chief” in the King James Version).

Commentators often identify the name of ‘rosh’ with ‘Russia’ because of a perceived similarity in the pronunciation of the terms. Regardless, the book of Revelation identifies “Gog and Magog” as the “nations” gathered from the “four corners of the Earth” for a final attempt to destroy the “saints” (Revelation 20:7-10).
  • (Ezekiel 38:1-9) – “And the word of Yahweh came unto me, saying: So of man Set thy face against Gog, of the land of the Magog, Princes of Rash Meshech and Tubal,— And prophesy concerning him, and thou shalt say, Thus saith My Lord Yahweh,— Behold me! against thee O Gog, Prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal; Therefore I will turn thee about, and will put hooks in thy jaws,—and bring thee forth and all thine army…Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them, All of them, with shield and helmet; Gomer and all her hordes, The house of Togarmah the remote men of the North and all his hordes, Many peoples with thee.” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The Genesis Background

The nations listed in chapter 38 of Ezekiel are derived from the so-called “Table of Nations” in the tenth chapter of the book of Genesis, which lists the descendants of Noah’s three sons - Shem, Ham and Japheth - (Genesis 10:1-32).

In the book of Ezekiel, the geographic range of the nations named is to the north as far as the Caucasus Mountains, 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 Spain - (Tarshish) - {Kenneth Matthews, Genesis 1 – 11:26 (Broadman and Holman Pub., 1996), p. 437}.

In Genesis, 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” totals seventy nations, a number that symbolizes the totality of human civilization.

In Ezekiel, the invading force led by “Gog” is comprised of peoples descended from Japheth and Ham. This includes nations from the north (Magog, Gomer), east (Persia) and south (Libya, Ethiopia), as well as groups from the “ends” of the earth - The geographic directions are from the perspective of Israel. To the west, Palestine is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea.

All the nations listed in Ezekiel were known to ancient Israel. “Gog” is presented as the leader of the force, not as a separate nation. “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, Gyges or Gugu. If this is correct, then “Magog” may refer to the kingdom of Lydia in western Asia Minor.

While “Magog” has not been identified with certainty, “Meshech” and “Tubal” are known to historians from ancient Assyrian literature as the tribes of Mushki and Tabal, both from central and eastern Anatolia near the headwaters of the Tigris River.

Uttermost parts of the North

Historically, attacking armies invaded Israel from the north due to the climate and geographic conditions of the Middle East, especially through the so-called “Fertile Crescent,” a large arc of arable land from Palestine extending north to the southern boundaries of the Taurus Mountains, then turning east along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and ending in Mesopotamia near the Persian Gulf. To the east of Palestine was an arid region that blended into the vast Arabian Desert that could not support a large army attempting to cross it.

Traders and invaders alike traveled to and from Palestine along the Fertile Crescent with its ready supply of food and water - Regardless of the place of origin, armies and trade goods arrived in Palestine from the north.

The frequent application of a northerly direction to an invading force by the Old Testament reflects the direction from which it would arrive in Israel, not necessarily to its 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 reference to the “uttermost parts of the north” that “Gog” might be Russia simply because no other nation lies further north. The phrase refers to the furthest reaches of the north - From the perspective of ancient Israel. Israel knew next to nothing about regions beyond the Caucasus Mountains.

The books of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel each describes Babylon as a nation from the “north,” from the “uttermost parts of the north,” and then from the “uttermost parts of the earth,” although, geographically, Babylon lay to the east of Israel in Mesopotamia - (Isaiah 14:13, Jeremiah 1:15, 6:22, 25:32, 31:8, 50:41, Ezekiel 26:7).

Gomer” and “Togarmah” were to the north of Israel, and “Gog” is said in Scripture to be “from the uttermost parts of the north.” However, the military coalition in Ezekiel also included nations from the east (Persia) and south (Cush, Put or Phouth- Ezekiel 38:6, 38:15, 39:1-2).

In Ezekiel, the stress is not on the direction of the attack but on how the invading force completely encompasses the land of Israel. Note the following passages:
  • (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 armyand 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 perceived similarities in pronunciation and spelling. However, the similarities are superficial and do not reflect the Old Testament usage of the Hebrew word, rô'sh - (Strong’s - #H7218).

Rosh” was the name of a grandson of Benjamin, otherwise it is not used as a proper name in the Old Testament. It is not one of the nations listed in Genesis Chapter 10 and is not so used in Ezekiel Chapter 38 - (Genesis 46:21).

Rosh” occurs almost 600 times in the Old Testament, virtually always with the basic meaning “head.”  From this are derived several metaphorical ideas, including “chief, top, beginning, sum, first.” It is the term used in the Old Testament for the “chief priest” and ‘Rosh Hashanah,’ the Hebrew term for the “first” or “head” of the month.

In the passage from chapter 38 of Ezekiel, the text reads, “Gog of the land of Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal,” not “Prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.” It refers to a rank, not a nation - (Exodus 12:1-3, 1 Chronicles 27:5, 2 Chronicles 19:11).

Rosh” occurs 38 times in the book of Ezekiel, always with the sense “head,” with the only possible exception in Ezekiel 38:2. The book never uses the word as a proper name, whether for a person, place or thing. The Hebrew noun rô'sh is spelled differently than the modern Hebrew form for Rus. The two words have only the initial ‘r’ sound in common (for a detailed analysis of the two Hebrew terms, please see my ‘Russia is NOT Rosh, Gog or Magog’).

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, shadows of the fulfillments now found in him. Thus, the New Covenant interprets the Old - (1 Corinthians 10:11, Colossians 2:15-16, Hebrews 1:1-4).

But the New Testament often applies Old Testament passages and language in unexpected ways. For example, Paul universalized the original “land promise” to Abraham so that it now encompasses the entire “world” or kosmos. Peter labeled Christian congregationsan elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” – Terms originally given to ancient Israel - (Romans 4:12-13, 1 Peter 2:9, Exodus 19:5-6).

The book of Revelation is no exception. The Seven Churches of Asia have been constituted “a kingdom of priests unto God.” The prophecy that the “house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem” would look upon the one whom they pierced is universalized and becomes “All the tribes of the earth” (Exodus 19:4-6, Zechariah 10:10, Matthew 24:30, Revelation 1:4-7).

How the New Testament applies an Old Testament passage is the decisive factor in its interpretation.

The “Kings of the Whole Earth”
  • (Revelation 16:12-19) – “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…And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.”
Images from two Old Testament passages provide the imagery for the “war of the great day of God, the Almighty” - The battle of “Armageddon” - A prophecy about the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great from the book of Isaiah, and the prophecy from Ezekiel concerning “Gog and Magog.”  Clauses from both passages are combined to form one new image.

Yahweh promised the restoration of the Jewish nation defeated by 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.” Yahweh would “raise up one from the north who would come from the sun-rising,” “disquiet the inhabitants of Babylon,” and cause “a drought upon her waters that they should be dried up.” The overthrow of Babylon meant the liberation of the Jewish exiles - (Isaiah 41:45, 44:24-28, Jeremiah 50:38, 51:36).

This was fulfilled in October of 539 B.C. when a Persian army rerouted the Euphrates River to expose a dry riverbed and provide an entry point by which the attacking force could penetrate the walls of Babylon. This is the historical event that provides the background for the “battle of Armageddon” unleashed by the “sixth bowl of wrath.”

The image of the “kings from the sun-rising” marching across a dry riverbed borrows language from the prophecy of the overthrow of Babylon by Cyrus, a king “from the sun-rising” - (Daniel 5:1).
  • (Isaiah 41:2, 25) – “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 bowI 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, Revelation uses the conquest of ancient Babylon as a model for its vision of the downfall of end-time “Babylon.” Neither the “Euphrates River” nor “Babylon” is a literal geographic reference in the vision of the sixth or seventh “bowl of wrath.”

When the “sixth bowl of wrath” was emptied, three demonic spirits caused the “kings of the whole habitable earth” to gather to the war of the “great day of God, the Almighty.” The description employs language from Ezekiel’s prophecy when 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 sun-rising” and the “kings of the whole earth” are one and the same - The latter interprets the former. Revelation universalizes the original image. Previously, Jesus was declared the “ruler of the kings of the earth.” Although the “kings of the earth” are largely hostile to the “Lamb,” in the final vision, the group is found in the city of New Jerusalem - (Revelation 21:24).

World Empire Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash
Photo by Christine Roy on Unsplash

At the “battle of Armageddon,” the “kings of the earth” are gathered at the instigation of God, though He uses demonic forces to do so. His purpose is to destroy “Babylon.” The “gathering” of these kings parallels the “gathering” of “Gog of Magog” in Ezekiel, which was destroyed on the “mountains of Israel” - (Ezekiel 38:3-10, 39:1-3).

In the “sixth bowl of wrath,” demons “gathered 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,” which indicates a specific event - It is “THE war.”

Later, the “kings of the earth and their armies,” along with the “Beast and the False Prophet” were “gathered together to wage war” against the heavenly “Rider on a White Horse.” Note the verbal parallels between that vision and the prophecy about “Gog and Magog” in Ezekiel:
  • (Revelation 19:17-21) – “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.”
  • (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 the vision of the “sixth bowl of wrath,” the force attacking the “Rider on a White Horse” includes the “kings of the earth” and their armies.  This battle is a fuller explanation of “the war” unleashed by the contents of the “sixth bowl,” the battle of “Armageddon.” As before, Chapter 19 refers to “the war,” singular. Moreover, in both visions, a virtually identical Greek clause is used for the “gathering” of the “kings of the earth”:
  • (Revelation 16:14) - “Gather them unto the war” - (Greek: sunagagein autous eis ton polemon).
  • (Revelation 19:19) - “Gathered to make the war” - (Greek: sunégmena poiésai ton polemon). 
The “birds” were summoned to eat the flesh of “the mighty” and to drink the blood of the “rulers of the earth.” The list of participants from Ezekiel is expanded to include kings, captains, and all men, both free and slave, small and great. Additionally, the remnant of the “kings of the earth and their armies” was slain by the sword after the “Beast and False Prophet” were cast into the “Lake of Fire.” Likewise, in Ezekiel 39:21, “every man’s sword shall be against his brother.”

Gog and Magog” - (Revelation)
  • (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 for ever and ever.”
In Chapter 20, “Gog and Magog” are named explicitly. Once more, the attacking force is gathered to “the war,” singular. This vision is a further elaboration of the same battle seen in chapters 16 and 19. The passage uses language from several verses of Ezekiel Chapter 38, 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.”
In Chapter 20, “Gog and Magog” is identical to the “nations in the four corners of the earth.” This force ascends over the “breadth of the earth to encompass the camp of the saints.” All humanity is united for the purpose of annihilating the “saints.” This final “war” is the same one portrayed previously in the visions of the “sixth bowl of wrath” and the “Rider on a White Horse” – (Revelation 20:8-10).

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 cast already. Previously, the attacking force was destroyed by the “sword” of the “Rider on the White Horse.” Now, it is consumed by “fire and brimstone” in accord with Ezekiel 39:22 - (“I will rain upon him and upon his hordes…fire and brimstone”). This is not a contradiction - The language is metaphorical.
In short, “Gog and Magog” is not a specific country from the geographic north of Israel, but a gathering of all the “nations of the earth” in a final attempt to destroy the church.  The verbal allusions to Ezekiel’s prophecy are numerous and clear, and Chapter 20 of Revelation identifies explicitly this final attacking force as “Gog and Magog.”
The evidence used to identify modern Russia as “Gog of Magog” is unconvincing.  Even more important, the attempts to identify “Gog,” “Magog,” or “Rosh” with contemporary nation-states ignore how the book of Revelation reapplies and universalizes the original vision from Ezekiel 38-39.

The book of Revelation is an all-encompassing vision that divides humanity into two opposing groups - Those who follow the “Lamb,” and those who render homage to the “Beast.” The existing world order is united in its rebellion against the “Lamb” and servitude to the “Dragon.”

In Revelation, “Gog and Magog” become the “kings of the whole habitable earth and their armies” that are allied with the “Beast” to oppose the “Lamb” by destroying his “saints.”

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