Gog and Magog

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

Earth - Photo by Arpit Rastogi on Unsplash
The prophet Ezekiel received a vision of an invading army composed of regional nations that would attack Israel from the north, spearheaded by “
Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” - (KJV). But before destroying Israel, “Gog” and his forces would be destroyed by Yahweh “on the mountains of Israel” - [Photo by Arpit Rastogi on Unsplash].

Ezekiel identified several nations that would be involved in the attack, including several known from history, but also several whose identities remain uncertain; especially “Rosh” - (Translated “chief” in the King James Version).

Several popular interpretations identify ‘rosh’ with modern Russia because of the perceived similarity in pronunciation. Regardless, Revelation identifies “Gog and Magog” as the “nations” from the “four corners of the Earth” - (Revelation 20:7-10).
  • (Ezekiel 38:1-9) – “And the word of Yahweh came to me, saying: Son of man Set your face against Gog, of the land of the Magog, Prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy concerning him, and say, Thus saith My Lord Yahweh, Behold me! against you, O Gog, Prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal; Therefore, I will turn you about and put hooks in your jaws, and bring you forth and all your 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 you.”
The nations listed in Ezekiel are derived from the “Table of Nations” found in the tenth chapter of Genesis, the descendants of Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth - (Genesis 10:1-32).

In Ezekiel, the geographic range of the nations listed is to the north of Israel 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).

Genesis places the Japheth’s descendants in the regions to the north and west of Palestine (Asia Minor, Aegean), the offspring of Ham in Africa, Mesopotamia, and Arabia, and the descendants of Shem in northern Mesopotamia, Syria, and Arabia. The “Table of Nations” totaled seventy nations to symbolize the totality of human civilization.

In Ezekiel, the invading force is composed of peoples descended from Japheth and Ham, which includes nations from the north (MagogGomer), 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 were known to Ancient Israel. “Gog” is the leader of the force, not a separate nation, and from the “land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” The first-century Jewish historian, Josephus, identified “Magog” with the Scythians north of the Black Sea - (Antiquities, I.vi.1). The name “Gog” resembles the name of the most famous king of Lydia, Gyges or Gugu. If this is correct, “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, the tribes of Mushki and Tabal 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 conditions of the Middle East, and especially along the so-called “Fertile Crescent,” an arc of arable land extending from Palestine north to the southern boundaries of the Taurus Mountains, then east along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and finally ending in Mesopotamia. On the east, Palestine was bordered by an arid region that blended into the vast Arabian Desert and could not support any attempt to cross it by a large force.

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

The frequent connection of the northerly direction assigned to invading forces in the Old Testament reflects the direction from which invaders arrived in Israel, not necessarily their point of origin. Babylon and Persia lay to the east of Israel, yet both attacked by marching northwestward along the Euphrates River, then southward along the Mediterranean coast.

It does not follow from the reference to the “uttermost parts of the north” that “Gog” is Russia simply since it is located to the north of Palestine. The phrase refers to the furthest reaches of the north from the perspective of Ancient Israel, which knew nothing about regions beyond the Caucasus Mountains.

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

Gomer” and “Togarmah” were to the north of Israel, and “Gog” was said 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 - Ezekiel 38:6, 38:1539:1-2).

In Ezekiel, the stress is not on the direction of the attack, but on how the invading force completely encompassed the land of Israel - (Ezekiel 38:9, 38:15-16).

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). Other than for the grandson of Benjamin, rô'sh is not used as a proper name, and it was not one of the nations listed in Genesis - (Genesis 46:21).

Rô'sh” occurs almost 600 times in the Hebrew Bible, and virtually always with the basic meaning of “head.”  From this are derived metaphorical ideas such as “chief, top, beginning, sum, first.” It is the same term used in the Old Testament for the “chief priest.”

In the passage from 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 to a nation - (Exodus 12:1-3, 1 Chronicles 27:52 Chronicles 19:11).
Rô'sh” occurs 38 times in Ezekiel, and always with the sense “head.” The book never uses it as a proper name, whether for a person, place, or thing, and the Hebrew noun is spelled differently than the modern Hebrew word for Rus. The two words have only the initial ‘r’ sound in common.

NEW TESTAMENT INTERPRETS THE OLDThe New Testament often applies Old Testament passages in unexpected ways, and Revelation is no exception. The seven churches of Asia were constituted as “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 to become “all the tribes of the earth.” How the New Testament applies an Old Testament passage is the decisive factor for its interpretation - (Exodus 19:4-6, Zechariah 10:10, Matthew 24:30, Revelation 1:4-7).

“KINGS OF THE WHOLE EARTH”. Images from two Old Testament passages help illustrate for the battle of “Armageddon” from the “sixth bowl of wrath.” This includes the prophecy about the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus the Great from Isaiah and the prophecy from Ezekiel concerning “Gog and Magog.”  Clauses from both passages are combined to form one new image.
  • (Revelation 16:12-19) – “And the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river Euphrates; and THE WATER THEREOF WAS DRIED UP, that the way might be 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 EARTHTO GATHER THEM TOGETHER to the war of the great day of God, the Almighty.”
Yahweh promised to restore the Jewish nation after its defeat by Babylon. To facilitate this, He would command the deep and rivers to “be dry…who says of Cyrus, He is my shepherd and shall perform all my pleasure.” God would “raise up one from the north who would come from the east,” “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, 44:24-28Jeremiah 50:3851:36).

That promise was fulfilled in October of 539 B.C. when the Persian army rerouted the Euphrates River, exposing the riverbed to provide an entry point into the city of Babylon. This was the historical event that provided the background for the “battle of Armageddon.” The image of the “kings from the east” marching across the dry riverbed borrowed language from that prophecy.
  • (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 comes 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 the model for its vision of the downfall of end-time “Babylon.” In it, neither the “Euphrates River” nor “Babylon” is a literal geographic reference. When the “sixth bowl” was emptied, three demonic spirits caused the “kings of the whole habitable earth” to assemble for the war of the “great day of God, the Almighty.” The description employs language from Ezekiel’s prophecy:
  • 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.”
Thus, in Revelation, the “kings from the sun-rising” and the “kings of the whole earth” are one and the same, and the latter interprets the former. It is the “kings of the whole earth” that are gathered to destroy end-time “Babylon.” This “gathering” parallels the “gathering” of “Gog of Magog” in Ezekiel, a force that was destroyed on the “mountains of Israel” - (Ezekiel 38:3-1039:1-3).

In the “sixth bowl of wrath,” demons “gather the kings of the earth to the war.” The term “war” is singular and has a definite article or “the,” indicating a specific and known event. It is “THE war.” Later, the “kings of the earth and their armies were “gathered to wage war” against the heavenly “Rider on a White Horse.” Note the verbal parallels with the prophecy from 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 ARMIESGATHERED TOGETHER to make the war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army…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 38:7-20, 39:17-21).
As in the “sixth bowl of wrath,” the force attacking the “Rider on a White Horse” includes the “kings of the earth” and their armies. As before, the “war” is singular. And 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 in Revelation to include kings, captains, and all men, both free and slave, small and great. Additionally, the “kings of the earth and their armies” were slain by the sword; likewise, in Ezekiel 39:21, “every man’s sword shall be against his brother.”

GOG AND MAGOG - (Revelation). In chapter 20 of Revelation, “Gog and Magog” are named explicitly, and the attacking force is gathered to “the war,” singular. The passage uses language from Ezekiel chapter 38:
  • (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 MAGOGTO 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.”
  • (Ezekiel 38:2, 9, 16, 22) – “Son of man, set thy face toward Gog of the land of Magog… And you shall come up, you shall come like a storm, you shall be like a cloud to cover the land… You shall come up against my people Israel, as a cloud to cover the land… 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.”
Thus, the army of “Gog and Magog” is identical to the “nations from the four corners of the earth.” This force ascends over the “breadth of the earth to encompass the camp of the saints.” All nations will unite to annihilate the “saints.” The final “war” by Satan is the same war portrayed in the visions of the “sixth bowl of wrath” and the “Rider on a White Horse” – (Revelation 20:8-10).

God destroyed the attacking force with “fire and brimstone,” and Satan was cast into the “Lake of Fire” to join the “Beast and the False Prophet.” 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.

The term “Gog and Magog” does not refer to a specific country from the north of Israel, but to the gathering of all “nations” in one last effort to destroy the church.  The verbal allusions to Ezekiel’s prophecy are numerous and clear, and chapter 20 of Revelation identifies this attacking force by name - “Gog and Magog.”

Revelation presents 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 unites in its rebellion against the “Lamb.” “Gog and Magog” is identical to the “kings of the whole habitable earth and their armies,” the group allied with the “Beast” in opposition to the “Lamb.” Before the end of the age, they will wage a final “war” of annihilation against the saints of the “Lamb.”

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