Ezekiel 38:1-39:16 describes an invasion of Israel from the north and the subsequent destruction of the invading forces once they reach the area of the mountains of Israel. It will first be necessary to look at the details of this invasion and then deal with the controversial question as to when this invasion will take place. The passage will be approached with the questions of who, where, why, what, how, and when?
The Alliance—Ezekiel 38:1-6
Concerning who, in Ezekiel 38:1-6 the prophet named the peoples involved in this invasion: And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, Thus says the Lord Jehovah: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal: and I will turn you about, and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them handling swords; Persia, Cush, and Put with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer, and all his hordes; the house of Togarmah in the uttermost parts of the north, and all his hordes; even many peoples with you.
In verses 1-4, attention is centered on Gog, leader of the land of Magog. He is the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. Who Gog will be can only be determined at the time of the invasion, for “Gog” is not a proper name but a title for the ruler of Magog, just as the terms pharaoh,” “kaiser,” and “czar” were titles for rulers and not proper names. Whoever is ruling this alliance at the time of the invasion will be Ezekiel’s Gog. The identification of Magog, Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal is to be determined from the fact that these tribes of the ancient world occupied the areas of modern-day Russia. Magog, Meshech, and Tubal were between the Black and Caspian Seas, which today is southern Russia. It also includes part of Iran and Turkey. According to some, the tribes of Meshech and Tubal later gave names to cities that today bear the names of Moscow, the capital, and Tobolsk, a major city in the Urals in Siberia. Rosh was in what is now northern Russia. The name Rosh is the basis for the modern name Russia. These names, then, cover the modern territories of northern and southern Russia in Europe and Siberia to the east in Asia. The modern nation of Russia encompasses all these areas of Ezekiel. As if to avoid any further possible doubt, verse six adds that these come from the uttermost parts of the north. This is repeated in 38:15 and 39:2. From Israel the uttermost parts of the north is Russia, with Moscow being almost a straight line due north from Jerusalem. Hence, Russia is the leader of the northern confederacy, with Gog as the leader of Russia. This has also been the rabbinic view. The Artscroll Commentary on Ezekiel states:
The Gaonim had a tradition that these controls were indeed located in Russia... One tradition passed down from the Vilna Gaon states: When the Russian navy passes through the Bospores (that is, on the way to Dardanelles), it will be time to put on Sabbath clothes (in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah).
In the Gog and Magog war, Messiah the son of Joseph will be killed which will then bring the coming of the Messiah the son of David. But Russia is not alone in the invasion of Israel. She is part of a confederacy and the leader of it. Other nations involved are listed in verses 5-6. Involved in the confederacy is Persia, or present-day Iran. Once, Iran was generally pro-western and pro-Israel; after the Khomeini Islamic revolution, Iran became anti-western and anti-Israel and more within the Russian sphere of influence. At the time of this revision, Israel considers Iran as its most dangerous enemy. Another nation involved is called Cush. There were two places that had that name. One was in Mesopotamia (Gen. 2:13). But all other usages of this word refer to Ethiopia. While looking at current events, it is tempting to identify it with the Mesopotamian countries of Syria and Iraq, consistency with the usage of the word “Cush” elsewhere in the Scriptures demands its identification with Ethiopia. Current events must never be the means of interpreting the Scriptures, but the Scriptures must interpret current events. Put is mentioned next, which is not Libya (for which the name Lub would be used), but Somaliland or Somalia. Somalia borders Ethiopia. This is followed by Gomer, located in present-day Germany.
This too was the rabbinic view. The Midrash calls Gomer Germania and that is also the way the Talmud refers to Gomer. The last name is Togarmah, which is present-day Armenia. Verse six adds the phrase, even many peoples with you. This phrase may simply define the numbers of the nations already mentioned, or it may include other nations not mentioned. In all probability, it is the former that is meant. In answer as to who is involved in this confederacy, it is Russia and the allied states of Iran, Ethiopia, Somalia, Germany, and Armenia. One interesting observation is that not a single Arab nation participates in this invasion. While some of the nations listed here are Moslem, they are not Arab. Another observation is that these nations are geographically located both north and south of Israel, but it is Russia that is the controlling nation and allied with Moslem, but non-Arab, states. The invasion itself is from the north. A common error made in previous interpretations of this passage has been the assumption that this was a communist invasion. The fall of communism in Eastern Europe has caused many to abandon the “Russian” interpretation of this passage. But there is no need to do so. It should be noted that the text never describes the type of government when this invasion occurs. It does not indicate whether it is a monarchy, socialistic, communistic, democratic, or dictatorial government. The focus is on the geography, not the type of government. While the names of these geographical areas have changed over the centuries (e.g., Persia to Iran), and may change again, the geography itself remains intact. Regardless of what names they may carry at the time of this invasion, it is these very geographical areas that are involved. Although the leading nation may have once been
The Object of the Invasion—Ezekiel 38:7-9
The next section of this passage, Ezekiel 38:7-9, answers the question as to where the invasion takes place:
Be you prepared, yea, prepare yourself, you, and all your companies that are assembled unto you, and be you 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 out of many peoples, upon the mountains of Israel, which have been a continual waste; but it is brought forth out of the peoples, and they shall dwell securely, all of them. 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.
This passage continues to address Gog as the leader of this confederacy (v. 7). In verse eight, the specific place where the invasion takes place is stated to be the Land of Israel, more specifically in the mountains of Israel. Then verse nine describes the massiveness of the invasion, picturing it as a storm cloud that covers the entire Land. This is another passage that shows the necessity of the establishment of the Jewish State and also a regathering in unbelief. Israel has to be a state before this invasion can occur. Regardless of one’s viewpoint as to when this invasion occurs, each viewpoint does require the preexistence of the Jewish State. Furthermore, Israel in this passage is regathered in unbelief, for only after the invasion do many in Israel turn to the Lord. So yet another passage demands a restored Jewish State in unbelief. Verse eight describes this Jewish State as being first, a land brought back from the sword; second, a land that is gathered out of many peoples; third, a land with mountains that have been a continual waste; and fourth, a land that is brought forth out of the peoples. Ezekiel is not describing an Israel that ever existed in ancient times, but all these statements are true of present-day Israel. This began occurring toward the end of the nineteenth century, culminating with statehood in 1948. Since then, the waste places have been rebuilt and resettled on a more massive scale.
The next section, in Ezekiel 38:10-13, answers the question as to why this invasion takes place on the part of Russia:
Thus says the Lord Jehovah: It shall come to pass in that day, that things shall come into your mind, and you shall devise an evil device: and you shall say, I will go up to the land of unwalled villages; I will go to them that are at rest, that dwell securely, all of them dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates; to take the spoil and to take the prey; to turn your hand against the waste places that are now inhabited, and against the people that are gathered out of the nations, that have gotten cattle and goods, that dwell in the middle of the earth. Sheba, and Dedan, and the merchants of Tarshish, with all the young lions thereof, shall say unto you, Are you come to take the spoil? have you assembled your company to take the prey? to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to take great spoil?
The key reason for the Russian invasion is the matter of spoil (vv. 10-12). Exactly what Israel has that Russia would want is not spelled out in the text. The text simply mentions cattle and goods and silver and gold, but these are general Old Testament references for spoils of war. Much speculation has been involved in what it is that Israel has that Russia would want. One of the more popular reasons given is that of the Dead Sea, which contains 45 billion tons of sodium, chlorine, sulfur, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and bromide. But Russia could also obtain the Dead Sea by invading Jordan. Another reason centers on the oil crisis, with the abundance of oil in the Middle East. The purpose of the invasion might be to gain a solid foothold in the Middle East. A Russian takeover of Israel would give Russia such a foothold without overly upsetting the Arabs, since they would be in favor of the destruction of Israel even if it means a Russian army in the area. However, while it may be true that the Arabs would like to see Israel destroyed, it is not true they would look favorably on a Russian occupation force in the Middle East. There have been other suggestions; however, the text itself is silent as to the content of the spoils. But for the spoils Russia invades. Whatever the publicly stated reasons for this invasion may be, the actual reason will be Russia’s own self interest. It is stated in verse ten that the invasion is premeditated by the Russians, for they devise an evil device and resolve to invade for the purpose of spoils (vv. 11-12).