The Hebrew term ‘rosh’ in Ezekiel is not a proper name. Instead, it is the common noun with the meaning “head.”
Certain interpretations claim the Hebrew word ‘rosh’ in Ezekiel chapter 38 refers to the nation of Rus, the name of the medieval kingdom of Kievan Rus. From this, it is argued that, in the prophecy, Rus refers to modern Russia. Against this view is the fact that in the Hebrew Bible ‘rosh’ consistently means “head,” including in Ezekiel.
This popular interpretation is based on the perceived similarities in sound and spelling between the Hebrew term ‘rosh’ and ‘Rus,’ the latter the old name for the principality based in the city of Kiev.
The Hebrew noun “rosh” occurs over six hundred times in the Hebrew Bible and most often means “head.” Derivative meanings include “chief,” “top,” “sum,” “first,” “foremost,” and “principal.” Each derived meaning is based on the literal sense of “head” – (rô’sh – Strong’s – #H7218).
In the Hebrew Bible, “rosh” is not a proper name, with the one possible exception found in Genesis 46:21 (“Rosh,” a son of Benjamin). Nowhere does the Old Testament mention any nation, people, territory, or city named “rosh.”
It is the same noun used for the commencement of the Hebrew new year, rosh ha-shanah, the “head of the year,” and likewise, for the start of the new month (rosh chodesh). Other examples include the “chief” of a tribe, the “chief priest,” and the “chief prince.” In one verse, Ezekiel also refers to the “head” or ‘rosh’ of the new year – (Deuteronomy 1:15, 5:23, 2 Kings 25:18, 1 Chronicles 7:40, Ezekiel 40:1).
In Ezekiel, “rosh” occurs thirty-eight times, and always with the sense “head.” For example, the “heads” of the living creatures. On one occasion, the prophet 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).
The King James Version renders the opening clause from Ezekiel’s vision as, “set your face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.” Here, the A.V. has translated ‘rosh’ as “chief,” and correctly so.
In this Hebrew clause, “rosh” or “chief” follows the Hebrew noun for “prince” or nasi, and this is the normal word order for a Hebrew clause where one substantive modifies another (the so-called ‘construct state’). In this case, “chief” modifies “prince.” The most natural sense of the clause is “chief prince” – (Ezekiel 38:2).
As for any similarity in spelling or pronunciation, this may be apparent in English translations but is not real. “Rosh” (ראשׁ) is written with the three Hebrew consonants Resh (ר), Aleph (א), and Shin (ש). And in earlier times, it was written only with Resh and Shin (רשׁ). The letter Aleph was added later to mark the long vowel sound or ‘ô’. The single-letter Shin (ש) provides the ‘sh’ sound in ‘rosh.’
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 marks the long vowel ‘ū.’ Samech is a different Hebrew letter than Shin and, in English, more akin to the ‘s’ than the ‘sh’ sound. The only sound and letter in common between “rosh” and ‘rus’ are the initial ‘r’ sound and the first letter Resh (ר).
As for “Gog and Magog,” what is decisive in determining its identity is how the book of Revelation interprets Ezekiel’s prophecy – (Revelation 19:10-21, 20:7-10).
Revelation applies the term “Gog and Magog” to the final global effort by all nations to annihilate the “saints.” Rather than being led by the “prince of Rosh,” this force is gathered by Satan “from the four corners of the earth.” And rather than invade Palestine from the north, it “ascends” over the entire earth. It includes the “kings of the earth” and their armies.
Thus, Ezekiel’s vision is used to portray the Devil’s last-ditch effort to destroy the people of God, and when it fails, it will be followed by the final judgment before the “Great White Throne.”