Russia And The End Times
The recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia has generated a lot of excitement among end times enthusiasts. Could this be the start of the stirring of God and Magog? Could Israel be next on Russia’s agenda?
A lot of the speculation has its roots in the end times hysteria of the 1970’s when the then Soviet Union was incorrectly labelled by the likes of Hal Lindsey (“Late Great Planet Earth”) as the “rush” and the Gog and Magog of Ezekiel 38-39. These chapters describe an attempt to destroy the Jewish people, an attempt that the Lord thwarts and turns back on Gog and Magog.
Some people have argued that there is no historical record of such an event given in Scripture or even in subsequent history. They argue that it must therefore refer to the end times.
So let us take a closer look at where we might find help with understanding these matters.
“Rush” is Not Russia
In Ezekiel 38:2, the Lord says to Ezekiel “Son of man, set your face against Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.”
The Hebrew word rush translated in the NIV as “chief” literally means chief or head. Everywhere it appears in the Old Testament it is translated with that meaning.
However, some prophetic writers have taught that it means, in this passage only, “Russia” on the basis of the sounds of the word. They say the passage should be translated as something like “… the prince of Russia, of Meshech and Tubal.”
It is odd that in dozens of uses in Scripture this word means “chief” but at this place, we are meant to see it as a reference to Russia.
In modern Hebrew, the nation of Russia is written not as “rush” but as “russiya”.
To equate “rush” with Russia is the same sort of ignorance which might lead a person to expect the land of Turkey to be the home of the bird of the same name.
Proponents of the Russia theory claim that they are vindicated by Ezekiel 39:2 where Gog is dragged from “the far north”. Look at a map, they say. Where else could it be but Russia?
But if we read the text, it describes Gog as “chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” in both 38:2 and 39:2, not of Russia. These regions were actually to the north of Israel! We might not think of them as “the far north” with our global perspective, but to the Israelites they would have been considered that way.
Who Is Gog?
Ezekiel prophesied from about 593 BC to about 571 BC. Just before this period, in 597 BC, Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem and taken many of the leaders and skilled workers into captivity in Babylon. In 539, Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon.
About 50 years later the Book of Esther tells of a plot by Haman to kill all of the Jews throughout the Persian Empire. At that time King Xerxes ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Ethiopia (Esther 1:1).
In Esther 3:1, we read, “After these events, King Xerxes honoured Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him honour higher than that of all the other nobles.”
As the story of Esther unfolds, Haman tricks Xerxes into issuing a decree that cannot be cancelled. This decree says that on a particular date, every Jew was to be killed and their goods plundered. Esther and her uncle Mordecai persuade Xerxes to issue another edict granting the Jews the right to defend themselves and to kill anyone who attacked them. Haman is hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordecai, and Mordecai is promoted to the position previously held by Haman.
Haman is described as an Agagite, that is a descendant of Amalek, one of the most persistent and troublesome of Israel's enemies. Interestingly, there are ancient manuscripts of the book of Esther where the word “Agagite” is written as “Gogite” because the words are nearly identical when written in Hebrew.
In Ezekiel 39:11 and 15, the place where the army of Gog will be buried is the valley of Hamon-Gog and the nearby city will be called Hamonah. Both these place names come from the same root word as Haman.
When we see that Haman is a “chief prince” who gathers an armed force from across the Persian Empire (virtually the whole of the known world) in order to destroy the people of Israel, the identity of Haman in Esther with Gog in Ezekiel becomes apparent.
People who try to identify prophetic events with current geopolitical upheavals always make the mistake of allowing the newspapers to determine their understanding of the Bible. It should be the other way around: we interpret world events, politics and our own lifestyles through the instructions of the Bible.
At various times the identity of Gog and Magog have been seen as the Goths, the Huns, the Islamic Empire, the Turks, Native Americans and most lately the former USSR and present day Russia. There is a tendency to identify the geopolitical “bad boys”of the current age as Gog.
When Ezekiel was prophesying, he was not talking about the last days of planet Earth. No, he was referring to events that would threaten God’s people in the next generation.
We should be no more impressed by this prophetic fulfilment that occurred within decades of Ezekiel’s death than we would be by some fulfilment two thousand years later. The fact is that God is the Lord of history, and that should give us great hope as we face the uncertain days in front of us.
In order to understand difficult passages such as Ezekiel 38-39, we need to have a solid biblical understanding, allowing the Bible to interpret the Bible.
If you want to read a far more detailed account of this interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39, I recommend Gary Demar’s book “Why The End Of the World Is Not In Your Future” available from americanvision.org