Synopsis: The book of Revelation identifies “Gog and Magog” – The nations from the four corners of the Earth – Revelation 20:7-10.
The prophet Ezekiel was commanded to prophesy against a coalition of nations intent on invading ancient Israel, a force led by, “Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal” (American Standard Version). In some popular interpretations, the figure named “Rosh” is identified with Russia, therefore, the book of Ezekiel predicted a Russian-led attack against the modern nation of Israel, or so it is assumed (Ezekiel 38:1-9).
Two main arguments are used to support the proposition.
- The perceived similarity of sound and spelling between rosh” and ‘Rus,’ the ancient name of a Medieval principality based in the city of Kiev.
- Ezekiel referred to a nation from the “far north,” and Russia lies to the north of Israel.
There are three main problems with this interpretation. First, the linguistic evidence demonstrates that any similarity in spelling or pronunciation is superficial, at best. ‘Rosh’ is the common Hebrew noun for “head” and is so used over three dozen times in the book of Ezekiel.
Second, due to geographic and climatic conditions, invasions of ancient Palestine, historically, came from a northerly directions as armies marched through the Fertile Crescent to reach the area, regardless of their point of origin. For example, Mesopotamia lies to the east of Israel, yet invaders from it followed the Euphrates or Tigris River to a point north of Palestine, then turned south to invade the region along the Mediterranean coast. Of course, Russia is not the only nation located to the north of Israel.
Third and most decisive, the book of Revelation applies the prophecy from Ezekiel to a global effort by all nations to annihilate the “saints” worldwide in the last days, and it identifies this force by name – “Gog and Magog” (Revelation 20:7-10).
In contrast to the American Standard Version, the King James Version renders the clause – “Set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” In it, the Hebrew noun ‘rosh’ is translated “chief.” The A.S.V has simply transliterated ‘rosh’ from Hebrew into Latin characters and capitalized the first letter, that is, “Rosh.” The K.J.V. has translated the noun into English and combined it with the Hebrew word for “prince” or “ruler” (nasi – Strong’s #H5387). Thus, the “chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” The difference in how ‘rosh’ is represented in English translations is the crux of the matter.
“Rosh” occurs over six hundred times in the Hebrew Bible and, most often, means “head.” Derivative usages include “chief,” “top,” “sum,” “first,” and “principal.” All the derivative meanings come from the literal sense of “head” (rô’sh – Strong’s #H7218).
“Rosh” is not a proper name in the Old Testament, with the possible exception of Genesis 46:21 (“Rosh,” a son of Benjamin). Nowhere does the Hebrew Old Testament mention a nation, people, territory, or city named “rosh,” with the possible exception of the “rosh” mentioned in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39.
“Rosh” is the same noun used to designate the commencement of a new year or rosh ha-shanah, the “head of the year,” and, likewise, the start of a new month (rosh chodesh). Other examples include “chief” of tribes, “chief priest,” and the “chief prince.” In at least one verse, the book of Ezekiel also refers to the “head of the year,” that is, to rosh ha-shanah (Deuteronomy 1:15, 5:23, 2 Kings 25:18, 1 Chronicles 7:40, Ezekiel 40:1).
“Rosh” occurs thirty-eight times in the book of Ezekiel, always with the sense “head,” again, with the possible exceptions in Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39. For example, the “heads” of the living creatures. On one occasion, the prophet Ezekiel was commanded to shave his “head.” In Chapter 17, “rosh” refers to the “top” of a branch. In Chapter 27, we find the “rosh” or “chief of all spices.” And so on (Ezekiel 1:22, 5:1, 17:4, 17:22, 27:22).
In the Hebrew clause from Chapter 38, “rosh” or “chief” follows the Hebrew noun for “prince” (nasi). This is the normal word order in a Hebrew clause where one substantive modifies another (the so-called ‘construct state’). In this case, “chief” modifies “prince.” Although the clause may not disallow the translation “prince of Rosh,” the more natural sense of the Hebrew clause is “chief prince” (Ezekiel 38:2).
Elsewhere in Ezekiel and the Hebrew Bible, “Meshech and Tubal” are paired consistently and with no mention of “rosh,” although often they are listed alongside “Javan” (Greece). The pairing is based on geography – Both nations were in Asia Minor to the northwest of Israel (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Ezekiel 27:13, 32:36).
The nations listed in Ezekiel Chapter 38 were known to ancient Israel. Besides “Tubal and Meshech,” the list includes Persia, Ethiopia, Libya, Gomer, and Togarmah, all regional peoples with which Israel had contact. For example, each is included in Ezekiel’s pronouncement against Tyre and Egypt (Ezekiel 27:26, 29:10, 30:4-5).
In Chapter 27 of Ezekiel, the trading partners of Tyre are listed from west to east, beginning from Spain (Tarshish), then Greece (Javan), Asia Minor (Tubal, Meschech, Togmarah), and the Aegean Islands, then nations are listed from south to north. Finally, Arabia and parts of Mesopotamia are named. Nowhere is any entity called “Rosh” included among the nations surrounding Israel (Ezekiel 27:12-24).
“Gomer” is not mentioned before Chapter 38 of Ezekiel but, very probably, it is identical with the “Gammadim” in Chapter 27, a Hebrew rendering of the “Gimirra” peoples that were known to Assyria, as well as the “Cimmerians” from ancient Greek literature, a nomadic people from eastern Asia Minor, also to the north of Israel. Elsewhere, “Gomer” is included with “Magog” in lists of descendants of Japheth (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Ezekiel 27:11).
All the nations listed are known from other biblical passages and ancient documents, and all were known to ancient Israel, with the possible exception “Rosh.” For that matter, no kingdom known by the name Russia or ‘Rus’ existed in the sixth century B.C., whether in the immediate or more distant regions north of Israel. Therefore, no such nation was known to the prophet Ezekiel or Israel.
Similarities in spelling and pronunciation are offered as primary evidence for “rosh” being a reference to Russia. However, the similarities are more apparent than real. “Rosh” (ראשׁ) is written with three Hebrew consonants, Resh (ר), Aleph (א), and Shin (ש). In earlier times, only with Resh and Shin are used (רשׁ). The Aleph was added later to mark the long vowel sound or ‘ô’ (the consonant Aleph is not pronounced when so used). The single-letter Shin (ש) provides the ‘sh’ final sound in ‘rosh.’
The kingdom of Rus did not exist prior to the ninth or the late eighth-century A.D., over fifteen hundred years after the time of Ezekiel. The name ‘Rus’ does not appear anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.
Since the ninth century A.D., ‘Rus’ has been transliterated into Hebrew as רוס, using the consonants Resh (ר), Vav (ו) and Samech (ס), not Resh (ר), Aleph (א) and Shin (ש). The letter Vav in this word marks a long vowel sound or ‘ū.’ The consonant vav is not pronounced. Samech is a different letter than Shin, one more akin to ‘s’ than the ‘sh’ of the letter shin.
Thus, the only sound in common between “rosh” and ‘rus’ is the initial ‘r’ sound. Likewise, in spelling, the only letter in common between “rosh” and ‘rus’ is the initial Resh (ר). The alleged linguistic connection between the two words is quite tenuous.
Moreover, the nations listed in Ezekiel are not just from the north. The list includes nations located east and south of Israel. “Gog” leads this alliance to invade Israel from the direction of its home territory to the north of Palestine.
Due to the geography and climate of the region, invading armies typically entered Palestine from a northerly direction, after following routes through the Fertile Crescent that could sustain an army with food and water. The Old Testament speaks of several hostile nations that attacked Israel out of the north, including Aram (Syria), Assyria, and Babylon. Such references are too common to determine a nation’s identity by the compass direction of its attack (Isaiah 8:4-7, Jeremiah 1:13-15, 25:9-10).
The Book of Revelation
The decisive factor in identifying “Gog and Magog” is how the book of Revelation interprets and applies the prophecy, which it alludes to in three passages. The first reference is brief. The sixth bowl of wrath was to–:
“PREPARE THE WAY for the kings of the east.” Unclean spirits “GATHERED THE KINGS OF THE WHOLE HABITABLE EARTH to the great day of God the Almighty…And he GATHERED them unto a place called in the Hebrew tongue MOUNTAIN of Megiddo.” – (Revelation 16:12-16).
The vision of the sixth bowl of wrath applies language from the 38th chapter of Ezekiel–:
“Be PREPARED, you and all your companies that are assembled unto you…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”(Ezekiel 38:1-9).
The linguistic borrowing from Ezekiel becomes more apparent in the second instance:
An angel cries to “THE BIRDS OF THE AIR TO COME AND GATHER YOURSELVES TO THE SUPPER of the great God, that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and THE KINGS OF THE EARTH AND THEIR ARMIES GATHERED TO THE WAR against him that sat on the horse.” – (Revelation 19:17-21).
Note the parallel descriptions from the above in Ezekiel:
(Ezekiel 39:17-19) – “Speak to EVERY FEATHERED BIRD and to every beast of the field, GATHER YOURSELVES ON EVERY SIDE TO MY SACRIFICE that I do sacrifice for you, even a great sacrifice upon the mountains of Israel THAT YE MAY EAT FLESH, and drink blood. Ye shall EAT THE FLESH OF THE MIGHTY and drink the blood of the princes of the earth.”
The use of Ezekiel’s prophecy becomes explicit in the third instance:
Satan deceives the “nations from the four corners of the earth, GOG AND MAGOG, TO GATHER THEM TO THE WAR: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And THEY ASCENDED OVER THE BREADTH OF THE EARTH and encompassed the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” – (Revelation 20:8-9).
Common to all three passages is the transformation of the regional nations from Ezekiel into the “kings of the whole earth and their armies,” the nations from every “corner” of the earth that are “gathered to the war,” singular. The same event is in view in all three passages.
Rather than descend from the north, this force “ascends” over the entire earth to attack the “saints” of God worldwide, not the nation of Israel in the Middle East. “Saint” in the book of Revelation refers to men and women from every nation that follow the Lamb (Revelation 5:8, 8:3, 11:18, 13:7).
The decisive factor is how the book of Revelation interprets the invading force, “Gog and Magog,” not perceived similarities in pronunciation or spelling between the terms “rosh” and ‘rus,’ and, certainly not contemporary geopolitical perceptions and realities.
Russia may participate in this final assault, however, only in the same manner as the other countries that make up “all the nations” of the earth at the time of the attack. Presumably, this will also include the nations of Canada, Germany, South Africa, and the United States of America, among many others. In Revelation, “all” means ALL. That is, all the governments of the world unite under the “Beast” in a final attempt to annihilate God’s people across the globe.
What the book of Revelation does is apply the prophecy from Ezekiel to the final effort by Satan to destroy the followers of the Lamb at the end of history. The “war,” singular, refers to the worldwide persecution of men and women who follow the Lamb, not to conventional battles between armies and nation-states.