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Sunday 5 March 2023

Gog and Magog

Of all the great sins of the Church, one of the most common is the confident assertion of nonsense by Christians. One of those confident assertions of nonsense is the idea that Russia is Gog and Magog. Or more specifically that Gog will be a ruler of Magog, from the land of the Rus. This assertion comes from the passage Ezekiel 38:1-6, 14-16:

“1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him 3 and say, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech[b] and Tubal. 4 And I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great host, all of them with buckler and shield, wielding swords. 5 Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; 6 Gomer and all his hordes; Beth-togarmah from the uttermost parts of the north with all his hordes—many peoples are with you…

…14 “Therefore, son of man, prophesy, and say to Gog, Thus says the Lord God: On that day when my people Israel are dwelling securely, will you not know it? 15 You will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great host, a mighty army. 16 You will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the land. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.”

An alternative translation for verse 2 is: “Or Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech.” So some people draw a connection from ’Rosh’ to ‘Rus’ to ‘Russia’. However, Rosh simply means chief or captain. It has nothing to do with the Viking Rus from which Russia get’s its name. People also note that Gog will come out of the “uttermost parts of the North” and use this to help draw this conclusion. This, at least, is an interesting idea. But it is far from conclusive. Sweden is far to the North, so is Norway, or Finland and many other nations.

Indeed, the land of Magog is associated with the descendants of Japheth, who are generally believed to be the European peoples, Genesis 10:2, “The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.” 1 Chronicles 1:5, “The sons of Japheth: Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.” But it is almost impossible to identify the modern descendants of these ancient peoples in any specificity, all we have in general ideas. The European peoples have since this time spread out across large parts of the world, the Indo-Aryan peoples even further. In fact so have many other peoples. All you can conclusively say is that Gog will be a descendant of Japheth, but this is hardly an identifying marker for us today. We very likely won’t know until after the fact.

It is also important to understand that the last time that God told the Israelites that he was bringing them an enemy from the North, it was Babylon:

“22 Therefore, O Oholibah, thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I will stir up against you your lovers from whom you turned in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side: 23 the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, desirable young men, governors and commanders all of them, officers and men of renown, all of them riding on horses. 24 And they shall come against you from the north with chariots and wagons and a host of peoples. They shall set themselves against you on every side with buckler, shield, and helmet; and I will commit the judgment to them, and they shall judge you according to their judgments” (Ez. 23:22-24).

In fact, if you look up the word North in the Bible you will see again and again, God says he brings Babylon from the north. Babylon was East of Israel, but you had to travel from the north to bypass the desert to get to Babylon and back. It was also far away. You could argue that the “uttermost parts of the north” refers to a nation as far away as Russia, but I think you would have to ignore a lot of scriptures to do so. This is especially true in the book of Jeremiah:

Jeremiah 25:8-9 - “8 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: Because you have not obeyed my words, 9 behold, I will send for all the tribes of the north, declares the Lord, and for Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants, and against all these surrounding nations. I will devote them to destruction, and make them a horror, a hissing, and an everlasting desolation.”

Jeremiah 46:20 - “A beautiful heifer is Egypt, but a biting fly from the north has come upon her.”

Jeremiah 46:24 – “The daughter of Egypt shall be put to shame; she shall be delivered into the hand of a people from the north.”

Jeremiah 47:2 - “Thus says the Lord: Behold, waters are rising out of the north, and shall become an overflowing torrent; they shall overflow the land and all that fills it, the city and those who dwell in it. Men shall cry out, and every inhabitant of the land shall wail.”

Jeremiah 50:3 – “For out of the north a nation has come up against her, which shall make her land a desolation, and none shall dwell in it; both man and beast shall flee away.”

Jeremiah 50:9 – “For behold, I am stirring up and bringing against Babylon a gathering of great nations, from the north country. And they shall array themselves against her. From there she shall be taken. Their arrows are like a skilled warrior who does not return empty-handed.”

Jeremiah 50:41 - “Behold, a people comes from the north; a mighty nation and many kings are stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.”

Am I saying Gog of Magog is from Babylon? No. But if I were to assert it I could use a lot of passages to do so, many more than anyone could use for Russia. I just happen to think Ezekiel is far too unclear. So, let’s stop theologically claiming the nation of Russia is almost certainly Gog and Magog. There is no way you can know this. No way I have seen. Certainly not from Scripture. This idea appears more to be driven by the influence of Cold War era action movies and the idea of Russia as the big bad guy on the world stage - which is all the rage again right now - than sound principles of interpretation. 

All we can say for certain is that Gog and Magog have a part to play in God’s future plan. What it is exactly, and who they are exactly is not for us to know, yet. If it was God would have told us more of the details. However, we really only have a few passages like this one:

Revelation 20:7-10 – “7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. 9 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, 10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

So, when someone says that God and Magog are Russia then we can say that they are almost certainly wrong. We can’t say for 100% certain, because we don’t know. But there really is no good argument for Gog and Magog being Russia, other than a general geographical marker. You need much more than that.   


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