Gog And Magog – Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 20 (Part 1)

The concept that Gog and Magog have anything to do with modern day Russia, is a cold war hermeneutic that became popular in the 70's.

Welcome to Gog and Magog – Ezekiel 38-39, Revelation 20 (Part 1)

Is Russia Really the “latter-day” Villain?

Due to the continuing and heart wrenching events of the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, there seems to be no lack of “Gog and Magog” posts circulating on social media. Many push the narrative that there is a Gog and Magog connection to Russia, and that the seven-year tribulation is about to begin. I’ve also had a handful of friends that have asked my personal thoughts on the subject. It’s not easy to respond in a clear way without including a deep study along with an explanation of why it makes no sense to jump to that scriptural eschatological interpretation of current events.

I guess we could say this study is my answer to the narrative that is going around. There are many perspectives to look at. I think the biggest thing is to stay open-minded and to try not to force our view onto someone else. This part of our study will be geared more towards a translation and grammar study of “Gog” and “Prince of Rosh” as well as looking at the geographical region of Japheth’s descendants; Tubal, Meshech, Magog, and Togarmah. Part 2 will have the focus more on the interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39 and the different ways John repurposes it in Revelation 20.

In order to add educational and historical perspective of when Russia first became an eschatological contemporary placename of interest, I’d like to start this study with a few excerpts of an article written in 1992, by Dr J Paul Tanner. His article is titled “Daniel’s King of the North: Do we owe Russia an Apology?" He writes:

Interest in biblical eschatology took a Quantum Leap in America after World War II, especially with the cultural upheaval of the 1960s and early 1970s. As “the end” appeared more imminent than ever, a plethora of books on Prophecy appeared. Volumes such as Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth popularized eschatology for the evangelical church, feeding an insatiable market spawned by the emerging “Jesus Revolution.” Every political development was carefully scrutinized for its possible prophetic implications, not the least of which were the cold-war hostilities between the United States and Russia.
While Bible students scratched their heads in search of biblical details regarding America’s end-time role, a consensus prevailed that Russia was the major eschatological villain. A couple of factors contributed to this, the foremost of which was probably the anti-communistic attitude that had engulfed America following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. The nuclear arms race, that rapidly escalated after World War II only heightened the intensity of mistrust for Russia. A second Factor was the pro-Israel stance of many evangelicals... Russia had a long history of persecution of Jews, and the efforts of Russia to form alliances, and arm Israel’s hostile neighbors only seemed to confirm suspicions that it would not be too long, before the Red Army would descend upon the mountains of Israel.
If the second coming of Christ was indeed near, and if Israel was to be attacked by a mighty army in the tribulation period, Russia appeared to be the most likely candidate for such hostilities. In retrospect, however, the attention given to Russia seems disproportionate in the actual biblical support of her role.

From his view, Dr. Tanner points out the inconsistency of hermeneutics that the “Russia interpretation” rests on. You can read his complete article here.

Gog and Magog -Focus Text -Ezekiel 38 and 39

As we read the first two parts of each chapter, our focus will be identifying the terms for Israel’s northern enemies. Let's start with Ezekiel 38:1-6.

Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north.

Ezekiel 39:1-6

“And you, son of man, prophesy against Gog, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: “Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal; and I will turn you around and lead you on, bringing you up from the far north, and bring you against the mountains of Israel. Then I will knock the bow out of your left hand, and cause the arrows to fall out of your right hand. You shall fall upon the mountains of Israel, you and all your troops and the peoples who are with you; I will give you to birds of prey of every sort and to the beasts of the field to be devoured. You shall fall on the open field; for I have spoken,” says the Lord God. “And I will send fire on Magog and on those who live in security in the coastlands. Then they shall know that I am the Lord.

Identifying Gog

Before one can begin to start interpreting the meaning of a biblical person, place, or thing, one must first be able to identify the subject. But is that always possible? When it comes to the identification of Gog, history shows it to be one of the most vexing in Old Testament studies.

Almost all biblical scholars would essentially agree that Gog either already was, or will be, an eschatological enemy. It’s some kind of future foe relative to Ezekiel’s time, either following the time of Ezekiel’s writing, or this is something still to come. Where scholars disagree though, is how the figure can be associated with a historic enemy or an antichrist figure, or whether Gog should even be associated with the antichrist at all. So far, scholars have unsuccessfully pursued several options for identifying a biblical textual place name for Gog.

The writings of Ezekiel were likely composed around the sixth century BC. We are less than a hundred years from getting a second temple (the first one was destroyed). In the second temple period there is lots of speculation and opinion about what Ezekiel could be describing here, and the Jews writing in that time period seem to be all over the place when it comes to interpreting and translating who Gog is.

Ancient Jewish Translations on Gog.

In the original Greek translation of the Septuagint, "Og" (Giant of Bashan) is sometimes translated as Gog. If you actually look in the situation of Jews in antiquity trying to figure this out, it gives us a broader perspective of how they approached the meaning of Gog. Let's look at a few scriptural examples by setting them side by side. We'll start with Numbers 24:7.

In Numbers 24:7, the Masoretic text (New King James Version) reads:

He shall pour water from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters. “His king shall be higher than Agag, and his kingdom shall be exalted. “God brings him out of Egypt; He has strength like a wild ox; He shall consume the nations, his enemies; He shall break their bones and pierce them with his arrows.

Now here is the Septuagint (Brentons translation). It reads:

There shall come a man out of his seed, and he shall rule over many nations; and the kingdom of Gog shall be exalted, and his kingdom shall be increased. God led him out of Egypt; he has as it were the glory of a unicorn; he shall consume the nations of his enemies, and he shall drain their marrow, and with his darts he shall shoot through the enemy.

In the Masoretic text, the point is that Israel’s king will defeat the king of his enemies (in this case, a reference to Agag of the Amalekites in 1 Samuel 15). But the Septuagint, which was created long after the days of Samuel and Agag, does something quite surprising with this passage when it replaces "Agag" with "Gog” instead. The effect is to transform the prophecy of Balaam into a remote, end-times prophecy pitting Gog against the Davidic Messiah, as opposed to an Israelite king having victory over Agag in the early days of Israel’s monarchy.

The Septuagint translation is only textually explainable if the Hebrew text being used by the translator read mgwg instead of the Masoretic Text’s mʾgg. However, it is more likely that the Septuagint translator may have been confused by mʾgg and used “Gog” as a translation solution. The reason that confusion seems to be the best answer to the odd situation in Numbers 24:7 is that the Septuagint translator seemingly blunders elsewhere with respect to Gog. This happens in Amos 7:1Let's again, compare the traditional English translation of the Masoretic text with Brenton's English translation of the Septuagint for Amos 7:1.


Thus, the Lord God showed me: Behold, He formed locust swarms at the beginning of the late crop; indeed, it was the late crop after the king’s mowings.


Thus has the Lord God shewed me; and behold, a swarm of locusts coming from the east; and behold, one caterpillar, king Gog.

The difference here is significant. It would have almost had to have been a different Hebrew text than that of the Masoretic textIn Amos’ vision of the plague of locusts, the Septuagint translator read gwg (Gog) for gzy (mowings), focusing on Gog as the leader of a threatening army represented as a swarm of locusts.”

The waters get muddied a bit more when we discover that the Septuagint translator seems to randomly transform "Og of Bashan" in Deuteronomy 3:1, 13 and 4:47 to “Gog” in his Greek translation (The Old Testament in Greek According to the Old Testament) Even more confusing is the fact that at least one Septuagint manuscript does the reverse—swapping Og for Gog in Ezekiel 38:2.

One certainty arises out of this messiness. We see here that somehow a handful of Jewish translators of the Septuagint were comfortable with mixing all this stuff up and associate Gog with Og (giant of Bashan), Mount Hermon, and the great eschatological enemy. The question is, why did they feel it was ok or made sense?

The real answer seems to be that the Septuagint translators weren’t bothered by how they were fiddling with the text because “Gog” for them was an enemy of the Mythic North. They were taking north not just as a reference to geography, but they associated the northern location in earthly geography with the dominion of Baal and the dark powers cosmically. So, we leave literal geography, and we go to cosmic geography, -thus focusing on something that’s more supernatural. If we think that way, then we are in the territory of Baal, Mount Hermon, the Watchers, and the Giants. All things that were very real to the second temple Jew and thus good reasons why they were thinking on these terms. They may have fiddled with the name “Og” and “Gog” in different passages -or just not known what to do with them, but they were doing it because other things that were actually in the text sort of validated it for them.

For more insight on Gog and the early translational issues, Michael Heiser addresses this deeper in his books The Unseen Realm and Reversing Hermon. A lot of the above was taken from his book Reversing Hermon chapter 11 under the section "Gog: Interpretive Pitfalls and Errors".

Tyrant From the North

In terms of physical geography, the region of Bashan constituted the northern limits of the Promised Land. Biblical people of course knew there were enemy cities and people beyond Hermon. It is of no small consequence that when enemies from these northern regions invaded the land of Israel, they came from the north. Israel got invaded from the north all the time. The physical north, therefore, was associated with the "terror of tyrants" bent on Israel’s destruction.

The “tyrant from the north” factor is one of the reasons why Antiochus IV has become the prototype for the final end-times Antichrist. Antiochus IV, whose violent career tracks closely with events of Daniel 8–11, was ruler of Seleucid Syria, just north of Bashan. It was he who invaded Jerusalem in the Second Temple Period, forced Jewish priests to sacrifice unclean animals on the temple altar, and saw himself as an exalted deity. It is therefore understandable that a figure like Gog, the invader from “the uttermost parts of the north” that Ezekiel 38:6, 15; 39:2 talks about, is viewed by scholars as having been a foreshadowing of Antiochus.

But these observations merely scratch the surface. There’s much more to see. The word “north” in Hebrew is tsaphon (or zaphon in some transliterations). It refers to one of the common directional points. But because of what Israelites believed lurked in the north, the word came to signify something more supernatural or other worldly. The most obvious example is Bashan. The area of Bashan was connected with the realm of the dead and with giant clan populations like the Rephaim, whose ancestry was considered to derive from enemy divine beings. Bashan was also associated with Mount Hermon, the place where, in Jewish theology, the rebellious sons of God of Genesis 6 descended to commit their act of treason. But there was something farther north of Bashan that every Israelite associated with other gods hostile to Yahweh. Places like Sidon, Tyre, and Ugarit lay beyond Israel’s northern border. The worship of Baal was central in these places. Specifically, Baal’s home was a mountain, now known as Jebel al-Aqra’, situated to the north of Ugarit. In ancient times it was simply known in Hebrew as "Tsaphon" (meaning north). It was a divine mountain, the place where Baal held council as he ruled the gods of the Canaanite pantheon. Baal’s palace was thought to be on “the heights of Tsapanu” (or zaphon in some translations). In Ugaritic texts, Baal is “lord of Zaphon” (baʿal tsapanu). He is also called a “prince” (zbl in Ugaritic). Another of Baal’s titles is “prince, lord of the underworld” (zbl baʿal ʾarts). It is no surprise that zbl baʿal becomes Baal Zebul (Beelzebul and Beelzebub), titles associated with Satan in later Jewish literature and the New Testament.

Ancient Israel would therefore not only have feared the north because of the threat of invading tyranny, but for supernatural-theological reasons as well. The fact that the “far north” from which Gog hailed was so clearly associated with dark supernatural powers have led many scholars to consider Gog as more of a supernatural terror rather than looking for a specific country or location past or present. This trajectory seems to be the conceptual grid through which Gog of Magog should be understood. Furthermore, a supernatural figure of darkness actually comports well with Revelation 20:7–10, which mentions Gog and Magog along with Satan and human armies arrayed against Jerusalem, the holy city.

The Geographic locations of Tubal, Meshech, Magog, and Togarma

The dominant interpretive strategy tries to take the geographic places named in Ezekiel 38-39, and then look through historical sources where these placenames occur and try to find a tyrant candidate to hopefully identify who Ezekiel is talking about here when he starts talking about Gog.

Tubal, Meshech, Magog, and Togarma are all listed in Genesis 10 among the sons of Japheth. So, in light of that, Genesis 10 kind of makes it clear as to what geographical region Ezekiel may have in mind when he starts writing about the “hordes from the north” and gives the names Tubal, Meshech, Magog, and Togarma. These are all situated and knowable places in ancient material -and it’s all consistent.

Below, with the help of Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, we will take a look at each one individually, examining both scripture and ancient historical writing material for added information on their geographical location. It may seem like we are repeating ourselves sometimes, but this is only because they are all located in close proximity to each other, and therefore rather closely connected.


According to the table of nations in Genesis 10, and the parallel genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1, Tubal was one of the seven sons of Japheth. Descendants of Tubal's siblings (Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Meshech, and Tiras) are located to the North of Israel, in Greece, Asia Minor, and North Syria. It is logical, therefore, to expect to find Tubal in the same Northern area.

Tubal is mentioned six further times in the prophets. Isaiah 66:19, speaks of the distant location to which Yahweh will send messengers of his grace. They include Javan (meaning Greece), Tubal, and Lud, who draw the bow. Lud is the only name in the context with a descriptive epithet, but rather than leaving it as such, the Septuagint revocalizes it and replaces "who draw the bow" with Meshech (spelled Mosoch in the Septuagint), which was one of the brothers of the forefather of Tubal in the genealogies. This fits well with the other prophetic references to Tubal, in which Meshech is always found. One such reference in Ezekiel 27:13, consists of an oracle against Tyre in which trade relations include their provision of slaves and instruments of bronze.

In Ezekiel 32:26, another oracle, against pharaoh, relegates Egypt and her allies (these allies include the uncircumcised Tubal and Meshech), to the grave because of their terrorist activities.

Herodotus mentions two nations, the Moschoi and the Tibarenoi. Josephus writes of Thebel and the Meschenians. Older, Akkadian texts mention Tabal and muški. These places are believed to be referring to Tubal and Meshech, just different spelling and languages. These are located in east Asia Minor. Tubal occupies the territory south of the Halys River, to the west of Togarmah.

As we can see, all these place names are knowable and discoverable in ancient material. The region is, Greek Isles, moving to the East, Asia Minor, Anatolia, North Syria, and to the further north you hit the ceiling of the Black Sea. It’s a known region, and these are known place names.


According to the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 and the parallel genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1Meshech is one of the seven sons of Japheth. The Chronicle genealogy also lists another person with the same name as a son of Shem in verse 15. In the Table of Nations, there is no second listing for Meshech, but there is a Mash, son of Aram, in the parallel position to 1 Chronicles 1:17. This could be a scribal error in which the last Hebrew letter of Meshech was dropped (see Septuagint). Mash could also be an entirely different entity. Whatever the case regarding the name in Genesis, the Chronicles genealogy indicates two ethnically distinct groups, one of Semitic and one of non-Semitic descent.

Most references to Meshech in the Old Testament are to the non-Semitic peoples. Five times in Ezekiel they are associated with Tubal. As mentioned in our section on Tubal, Ezekiel 27:13, informs us that Meshech and Tubal, along with Javan (Greece), traded slaves and bronze with Tyre, the capital of Phoenicia. They must therefore have had some skill in metallurgy, since according to 1 Kings 7:13-14, Tyre itself served as a source for metalworking skills.

Akkadian sources from as early as Tiglath-pileser 1 around 1100 BC, mention Meshech, or the muškaya from the land of mušku. These people paid tribute to Assurnasirpal II (around 882 BC) from their capital in East Asia Minor. This tribute included goods of bronze (see Ezekiel 27:13 noted earlier). At the end of the 8th century BC, the king of Meshech was Mita, the famous Midas whose touch, according to legend, would turn everything to gold. In a letter to Sargon II dated around 709 BC, Midas, ruler of the “land of Muski” seeks a peaceful relationship with the Assyrians.

Both Herodotus and Josephus, place Meshech in East Asia Minor. The latter locates these people in the area later known as Cappadocia. Herodotus equates them with the Phrygians somewhat farther west in Asia Minor. These people migrated from East Europe into Asia during the 12th century BC. Some of the people of Meshech seem to have moved even farther east, around the Black Sea. There people referred to as Moschi and Tibarani were still found into the Persian period. All of these references apparently relate to the non-Semitic Meshech. None clearly allude to a Meshech of Semitic decent.


In the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 and the parallel genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1, Magog is one of the six grandsons of Noah through his son Japheth. Others of this line are associated with Asia Minor (Javan, Tubal, Meshech), so a location for Magog also in this area is logical. It can also be supported by the reference in our current study passage, Ezekiel 38:1–6, where Gog, a king from Magog, is allied with Beth-togarmah, among others, which is described as coming “from the far north".

Not all of the listed allies are to the north of Israel, however, so the evidence is not compelling. Ezekiel 39:6 foretells judgment on Gog, which will include fire falling on Magog as well as upon “the island dwellers.” The latter two passages portray these peoples as warriors from a distant land who will descend upon Israel in a cataclysmic battle. This eschatological motif is picked up in the New Testament, where Revelation 20:8 pictures distant Gog and Magog allied with Satan in a final attempt to overthrow the people of God at the end of the age.

Scholars suggest several different locational options for Magog. The more popular identification is that Gog is a Hebrew calque on the name of the Lydian king Gyges (around 680 - around 648 BC Akk gugu), and Magog is a derivation from Akk mā(t) gugu -meaning "land of Gyges.” If this identification is correct, the etymological background of the term had been lost by the time of Ezekiel. He uses the Hebrew word for “land” alongside Magog, a redundancy if the word’s etymological background were still well known. Another possible derivation involves the use of the Hebrew prefix "ma" indicating “place of”. In that case Magog would be “Gog’s place."

Josephus understood Magog to refer to the Scythians, while the targum Neofiti interpreted the name as grmnyh (Germania). This is possibly Germanica of Commagene in East Asia Minor. Jerome understood Magog to be the Goths. The lack of any more specific geographical information makes any identification of Magog extremely uncertain.


According to the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 and the parallel genealogy in 1 Chronicles 1, Togarmah is one of three sons of Gomer, who himself is a son of Japheth. His descendants, or at least those called by the same name, are mentioned twice in the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 27, an oracle against Tyre, Beth-togarmah or “the house of Togarmah” is described as exchanging war horses and mules with Tyre for her merchandise. The geographical location of other trading nations (Greece, Meshech, Tarshish, Tubal) from the same biblical context would place Togarmah to Israel’s north. The same north direction is found in Ezekiel 38:6.

Neo-Assyrian texts refer to this location as Til-garimmu, which is on the east border of Tubal. Sennacherib campaigned against the city in 695 BC. Hittite texts refer to a city and district of Tegarama in the area of the upper Euphrates which was captured by Suppiluliumas along with other parts of the kingdom of Mitanni, in the mid-14th century BC. The Assyrian and Hittite sources apparently refer to the same site, which has been identified with the modern Gurun.

By now we can see even in ancient sources, that what they reference geographically, is in the same region that the lands of Japheth’s sons would have been -East Asia Minor, Asia Minor (used to be known as Anatolia), Greek Isles, Northern Syria and so on… It’s all completely consistent with the table of nations in Genesis 10. These terms are not mysterious, and unless we lean towards an eisegesis style of scriptural interpretation, it seems unfair to the text to associate Gog or Magog with modern day Russia as we know it. It’s not even in that region.

Prince of Rosh

What about the term “Prince of Rosh”? Couldn’t Rosh mean Russia? Yes. I too have heard it many times. Rosh sounds similar to Russia so it must be Russia. I'd like to take just a small section of our study to caution that theological stance. I'll do so with the help of Hebrew scholar, Michael Heiser. He addressed this issue with a breif Hebrew grammar lesson on the passage and phrase "Prince of Rosh".

Let’s look at the actual phrase "Prince of Rosh" in both, Ezekiel 38 and 39. The Hebrew phrase is nesi roshNesi is the word for “prince” and rosh is another noun that can mean “head” or “chief” or something like that, -some high status. There are two options grammatically that can be defended according to the rules of Hebrew grammar for this phrase.

Option 1

Option one is "Gog the prince, the chief" which would be two ways of talking about the same person. Gog, the prince, the chief of Meshech and Tubal. This would be the most straight forward option. It has a nice linguistic parallel in 1 Chronicles 7:14. It reads:

All these were the children of Asher, heads of their fathers’ houses, choice men, mighty men of valor, chief leaders. And they were recorded by genealogies among the army fit for battle.

Here we can see that the idea of chiefs and princes are ranked terms that have some relationship to each other. That might be the best way to understand the Ezekiel passage.
Who is Gog? He is the chief, the prince. He’s the prince and the chief of Meshech and Tubal.

Option 2

With option 2 you could translate it this way Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. They’re both nouns but you would take one as functioning adjectivally. In this case the word rosh is chief prince. Rosh functions adjectivally in other places. There are places that refer to the high priest as "kohen ha ha rosh". So rosh, even though it’s a noun can function adjectivally very easily and very well and does so in the Hebrew Bible.


Option 1. “Gog, the prince, the chief of Meshech and Tubal.”
Option 2. “Gog, the chief Prince of Meshech and Tubal.”
Either one of those works according to the rules of the Hebrew grammar. But rosh is not a place name. If we want to do serious exegesis or hermeneutical scripture interpretation: modern Russia as we know it, has nothing to do with this passage.

Summary - Five Points

One. The geographical references in Ezekiel 38 are clear. This is not modern Russia. The place names are all found in Anatolia -Ancient Asia Minor and the Greek Isles. It’s the Greek Isles and modern Turkey if you want a modern geographical reference for familiarity.

Two. Rosh is not a place name. This passage is not about Russia. There was no such place anywhere in antiquity.

Three. Since not all the place names are from the north, the invasion of Gog is best understood as a cosmic invasion. That is, it would have been associated with dark powers or invaders who were a threat because supernatural forces of evil were empowering them.

Four. As we will look at next time (and hinted at here), this is the way the passage was understood by John in the book of Revelation and other second temple writers. Human forces from the “bad place” -the geographic north which was under the dominion of supernatural powers because it was the cosmic north. These were the enemies. The place from which they came was under the dominion of Baal, who was also the lord of the dead and the Satan figure.

Five. It is misguided to look for a specific modern political entity for Gog. The idea is a Satan empowered threat who seeks the inheritance of Yahweh (Jerusalem in Zion) for his own.

Part 1 of this study was mostly to lay out the problems that come with trying to connect Gog and Magog to modern day Russia. Stay tuned for part 2, where we will actually look closer at Gog and Magog in Ezekiel and make the connections on how John re-purposes it in Revelation 20.

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