Another way to phrase that: Will Russia play a major role in the final days of human history, trying to influence the outcome of what God plans to do? The evidence is debatable, but a convincing case can be made that they will. There is much more that we can say here than we could say for China in the Bible. Let’s take a look at the evidence.
Magog is found only in Genesis 10, 1 Chronicles 1, and Revelation 20. Magog may have appeared on the Hebrew radar screen as mat-Gagayya, a nation mentioned in the Amarna Letters around 1400 BC. Josephus says they are the Scythians of ancient Russia. Ambrose (200’s AD) claims that Gog and Magog are the Goths. Gog has been linked by some to Gugu, leader of Lydia (western Turkey) in the time of Ezekiel, but that may be merely appearance; certainly this Gog did none of what Ezekiel predicted. Curiously, in Numbers 24:7, the Septuagint reads “Gog” for “Agag”, and adds “a man shall come from his seed and rule over many nations.”
What about Rosh? Ezekiel 38:2 reads either “head/chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” OR “prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.” An article by James Price argues that rosh cannot be an adjective because it would interrupt a possessive chain. It can be counter-argued that rosh cannot be part of a list of 3 countries because there is no Hebrew word “and” in front of Meshech, but Ezekiel violates this grammatical rule twice in this section. The Septuagint reads the word in question as Ros, a name that is subsequently applied to the whole region north of the Black Sea. It is objected that modern Russia first appears in the 800’s AD, but it is obvious that the place name seems to have long pre-dated the existence of the people. Jon Marc Ruthven (The Prophecy That Is Shaping History), the most scholarly defender of Russia in end-times prophecy, documents all of the above evidence, plus he identifies a number of ancient territories NE and NW of Assyria with the name Ras.
What about Meshech and Tubal? Contrary to Hal Lindsey and his sources, these are not Moscow and Tobolsk! Both are states in eastern Turkey (Mushki and Tabal) known to the Assyrians in the 700’s BC. In fact, Mushki was ruled at this time by the fabled king Midas (Mita). Scratch these 2 names from the list of references to Russia, but not from its list of potential allies.
Gomer and all his hordes were known to the Assyrians as Gimirayya, their name for the Cimmerians or Scythians, whom Homer says live near the entrance to Hades in “one long melancholy night.” One of the sons of Gomer in Gen 10/1 Chr 1 is Ashkenaz (Assyrian Iškuza), another name for the Scythians, although Jews have long used “Ashkenazi” as a term for German/E European Jews (similarly, Josephus locates the sons of Ashkenaz in the area of the Danube).
So Gog and Magog, Rosh, and Gomer could all be part of the “Russian Federation” envisioned by Ezekiel in chapters 38-39 that invades Israel in the latter days. Their allies include Persia (= modern Iran), Cush (= Nubia, in modern Sudan), Put (= Egyptian name for Libya), and nations from the area of modern Turkey, including Meshech, Tubal, and Togarmah (named after the ancient Hittite city Tegarama).
Russia, Iran, Turkey, Sudan, and Libya – an eerily modern-looking scenario! Opposing this end-times coalition, Ezekiel names Sheba and Dedan (both located on the Arabian peninsula; Sheba = Yemen), Tarshish (located in Spain or Tunisia), and the “Coastlands” ('iyyim), encompassing the Greek islands, western Europe, and possibly even the Americas (although it is doubtful that the Americas were known to the Hebrews).
Do we have a road map for exactly who will do what at the end of the world? Even if we hold that all of these players have been positively identified (which we cannot do), we still have no clue as to when it will happen. We cannot equate the end-times players to today’s Russia or today’s Iran. See how much the political map of Central Asia has changed in the past 30 years! Enmities and alliances morph back and forth. Still, I am convinced that Ezekiel’s prophecy will come true, not as non-literal symbols of a heavenly war, but as events that can be located on whatever earthly map exists at the time when it happens.
It appears that Russia will play a major role in trying to influence the outcome of this final conflict. But how exactly the world will end militarily or politically is not our concern as believers. Jesus has charged us to target Russia as one of multitudes of nations from whom we are to make disciples. As we seek to influence the outcome of the lives of souls who do not yet know Christ and who stand to be lost eternally without him, Jesus assures us that the gates of Hades will not prevail in our efforts.
NEXT WEEK: “FUN IN THE SEPTUAGINT”
Rev. Tom Hobson, Ph.D., is Assistant Pastor at Bonhomme Presbyterian Church (ECO), Chesterfield, MO, and author of What’s on God’s Sin List for Today?