Russia and Iran in Bible Prophecy

What's In A Name?

Part 1


Gog, Magog, Rosh, Meshech, Tubal






John Hoole    - February 13 & 20, 2011





For the past two weeks we have been looking at Ezekiel 38 & 39, which tells of a coming invasion of the Holy Land.  Let's read the first 6 verses again.


Ezekiel 38:1-6 NAS


1       And the word of the LORD came to me saying,

2       "Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him

3       and say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I am against you, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.

4       "I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them splendidly attired, a great company with buckler and shield, all of them wielding swords;

5       Persia, Cush and Put with them, all of them with shield and helmet;

6       Gomer with all its troops; Beth-togarmah from the remote parts of the north with all its troops — many peoples with you.


In the first six verses, we find 10 names that may not be especially familiar to you.  You might say that this list of names is God’s 10-most-wanted list.  God says in Ezekiel 38:3 and 39:2, “I am against you.”


What’s in a name?


Have you ever wondered why the Biblical prophets always seem to refer to various people by such strange names?  It’s actually our fault.  We keep changing the names of things.


There are a number of cities that have changed their name during their history.  The city of Byzantium was later named Constantinople, and is today called Istanbul.  Down in Florida, we once had a place called Cape Canaveral, which was changed to Cape Kennedy……then back to Cape Canaveral.


But we do not change the names of our ancestors.  So, if you are the prophet Isaiah and were called upon to speak of the Persians over a century before they emerged as an empire, how would you refer to them?  You would speak of them as the descendants of Elam, the forebears of the Persians.


Despite some controversies, the participants in the battle prophesied by Ezekiel are well identified.  Just who are the people represented here by these ancient tribal names?  Since many of the nations named in this prophecy are no longer identified as such, we need to explore which modern-day countries are counted among these nations.


All of us are not only descendants of Adam and Eve, but also from Noah and his wife.  Noah and his three sons and their wives repopulated the entire Earth after the flood.  The genealogical records of Noah and his sons are listed in Genesis 10, and the 70 original tribal groups which are described there are often called by Biblical scholars, the Table of Nations.  Specifically, to understand the prophecies of Ezekiel 38 & 39, we need some background on Magog and her allies.


At least eight of the 10 names on God’s “10-most-wanted” list are found in Genesis 10 -- possibly 9 of the ten are found there.


Descendants of Noah through 4 generationsGenesis 10:1-2 NKJV


1       Now this is the genealogy of the sons of Noah: Shem, Ham, and Japheth. And sons were born to them after the flood.

2       The sons of Japheth were Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras.


These verses, and the ones that follow, describe the repopulating of the earth following the flood.  Although we are given the seven sons of Japheth in verse 2, they are also a table of the tribes and nations they fathered.  This was true of all the sons of Noah.  Let me show you a chart with 3 or 4 generations following Noah.  Here are the descendants of Ham.  You will notice that two of his sons are mentioned in Ezekiel 38.  I am showing the names of those on “God’s 10-most-wanted-list” in Green.


Let me continue for two more generations.  The two sons of Raamah are also mentioned in Ezekiel 38.  They are not among the 10 names we already have seen.  They are mentioned later in the 38th chapter.


Shem had 5 sons – I show you only three of them.  Persia is one of the 10 names in Ezekiel 38.  Their ancestor was Elam – a name found 30 times in the Bible.  I show Arphaxad to show the lineage of Abraham.  Abraham was 8 generations after Arphaxad – 10 generations from Noah.


Now let’s look at the descendants of Japheth.  You will notice that 5 of “God’s 10 most wanted list” are found here.


         •  Tubal, Meshech, Gomer, Magog and Togarmah.


You now see – in green – 8 our of the ten names we read in Ezekiel 38.


It was customary in ancient times for the descendants of a man to adopt his name for their tribe.  Like the 12 tribes of Israel, for instance.  Genesis 10:5 reinforces this thought.


Genesis 10:5 NKJV


5       From these the coastland peoples of the Gentiles were separated into their lands, everyone according to his language, according to their families, into their nations.


         From these – Gomer, Magog, Tubal, Meshech and others, “from these” families and nations sprung.


Historians and Bible students have been able to trace the movements of most of these tribes.  And now we can know where their descendants can be found today.  Let’s see if we can identify these names on God’s “10-most-wanted” list.




Let’s read once more that first two verses of the prophecy by Ezekiel.


Ezekiel 38:1-2 NKJV


1       Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,

2       "Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him,


                   The first name that appears on God’s “10-most-wanted” list is the strange name of GOG.


There are four things we can say about Gog.


1.      Gog is a person, not a place.


Ezekiel says that Gog is “of the land of Magog.”  It also says that he is the “prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.”  This clearly identifies Gog as a ruler or prince of nations.


Again, Gog is definitely a person.


         •  Personal pronouns are used of him. (vss. 2-4, 6, 11, 13-17, 39:1-7)


         •  He has a mind and thinks thoughts and makes decisions. (38:8-9, 11, 15-16)


         •  He goes from place to place like other people do.  (38:8-9, 11, 15, 16)


2.      Gog is the leader of this invasion into Israel.


In Ezekiel 38 & 39, the name Gog appears eleven times, more than any other name that is mentioned in these two chapters.


         Ezekiel 38:16:        "I shall be sanctified through you before their eyes, O Gog."


         Ezekiel 38:18:        "It will come about on that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel."


         Ezekiel 39:1:          ""Prophesy against Gog...Behold, I am against you, O Gog."


         Ezekiel 39:11:        "I shall give Gog a burial ground there in Israel."


                   This leads me to believe that Gog is the leader or key figure in this invading force.


3.      Third, although Gog could be the person's name, it is probably a title.


Gog is a term like President or General or Kaiser or Czar.  It is probably the title of a leader in the end-times, who personifies the evil forces who gather against Israel to destroy her.


4.      Fourth, we know that Gog is from the land of Magog.


Verse 2 said he is from the land of Magog and rules over Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.  To discern the precise land from which Gog arises, we must identify the land of Magog.




Gog is the leader of the invasion of the land of Israel, and He is said to be from the land of Magog.  The proper now Magog is used four times in the Hebrew text of the Old Testament.  We find it twice in the two chapters we are considering today.  The other two times are in the genealogies of Genesis 10, and 1 Chronicles 1:5.


As we read earlier in Genesis 10, the fact that Magog is listed among the table of nations provides a basis for tracing the movement of these early descendants of Noah.  If we are able to find where these people and places were in the sixth century B.C., then we will be able to trace who would be their modern antecedents today.  As we read in Genesis 10, Magog was the second son of Japheth.  There are a number of historians from ancient times that help us identify Magog.

Map of Magog

Flavius Josephus, the 1st-century Jewish historian writes:


“Magog founded the Magogians, thus named after him, but who are by the Greeks called Scythians.” (Antiquities 1.6.1)


Ancient history tells us a great deal about the northern nomads called the Scythians.  We know that the Scythians were a cruel, warlike people who mastered the art of horsemanship.  They were among the earliest mounted archers in antiquity.  The Greek philosopher, Plato, who lived about 150 years after Ezekiel, says the Scythians could shoot as easily with the left as with the right hand.


One of the earliest references to Magog was by Hesiod, the father of Greek didactic poetry.  He also identified Magog with the Scythians, who lived in the southern parts of what we today call Russia.  Hesiod lived in the 7th century BC, and was a contemporary of Ezekiel.


In the fifth century BC, the historian Herodotus lived.  He is known as the “Father of History.”  He wrote extensively about the Scythians, and how they terrorized the southern steppes of Russia from the 10th to 5th century B.C.


The people of Magog (Scythians) were somewhat nomadic, and populated the region north of the Black and Caspian seas eastward, through central Asia to the borders of China.


Here is a very interesting fact.  In an eighth century writing, the Great Wall of China was called: Sud Yagog et Magog – meaning the Rampart of Gog and Magog.  In Arabic, the Great Wall of China is called “the wall of al Magog.”  The great wall was built, in part, to keep out the invading armies from Magog.


This area has long been known as the southern steppes of Russia or central Asia.  Today the land of Magog is inhabited mostly by 5 of the former Soviet republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and possible even northern parts of modern Afghanistan.  All of these nations have one thing in common today – Islam.  And within their borders they have a combined population of 61 million.


When the Soviet Union came crashing down in December 1991, the people of Central Asia immediately and exuberantly embraced Islam, the religion they had been forced to renounce or secretly practice for 74 years.  Each of these Muslim republics are being courted by their Islamic neighbors, especially Iran and Turkey.  It is not difficult for me to imagine a scenario where these Muslim nations could be drawn into an end-time invasion of Israel.


Records among the Persians, some 60 years after the book of Ezekiel was written, also identify the Scythians as living north of the Black and Caspian seas and eastward towards


The Greek word for Scythian is Skuthes.  And this word occurs in the New Testament.  In Colossians 3:11, the apostle Paul stresses the fact that all believers in Jesus Christ, regardless of their backgrounds, are one in Christ.  In the previous verse, he speaks of a "renewal" in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew.


Colossians 3:10-11 NIV


10     and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

11     Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.


                   This shows that even in the first century the Scythians were considered to be savage people.


So, we have a family of people that, during the time of Ezekiel, lived in what is the southern parts of the old Soviet Union, from Ukraine to China.  It is not too difficult to imagine that these republics drawn into the invasion of Israel.


When the old Soviet Union broke up in 1991, there were many prophecy scholars who were concerned with their position that Russia would be involved in this invasion.  This is where I want to state again that we should never interpret the Bible by the latest news.  It must be the reverse - interpret the news by the Bible.


I believe the fall of the Soviet Union has made the fulfillment of Ezekiel 38 & 39 more possible than before.  The descendants of Magog are in better position to fulfill Ezekiel's prophecy than at any previous time.  Keep your eyes on the land of Magog.




The next name that appears on God's "Top Ten Most Wanted List in Ezekiel 38 is ROSH.  There are scholars who disagree on who is represented by this name.  Many would say it is indicating the nation of Russia.  Others, like Gary Dumar, who is a Preterist, counters this view by saying, “You can’t establish a fact just because two words are similar.”  Still others argue that the name Russia did not exist until the Middle Ages.


I agree that we should not equate an English word with a Hebrew word just because the two words sound somewhat alike.  But I do believe we can identify the Hebrew word ROSH with the nation of Russia, and that it is not based upon similarity of sound.


Before examining the historical evidence, let’s look at how this word appears in the various Bible translations.


We have already read from the New King James Version (NKJV).


Ezekiel 38:2 NKJV


2       "Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him,


Here is how this verse looks in the New International Version (NIV).


Ezekiel 38:2 NIV


2       "Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal; prophesy against him


Do you notice the difference?  The NIV translates the Hebrew word “rosh” as “chief.”  But the NKJV leaves it as a proper name, rather than as an adjective.


Other translations that leave ROSH as a name include:  NAS, ASV, Ampl., Darby, New Jerusalem Bible, and Young’s Literal Translation.  Those translating it as an adjective are: NIV, KJV, RSV and New Living Translation.


By way of example, take my name.  My father’s given name was John, the same as mine.  Because of that, I was called Jack by everyone, including my family, during my younger years.  The word “jack” can be represented two ways.  It can be used as a proper noun, representing a person's name, or it can be used as a common noun to refer to something used to lift a car – called a jack.


Almost all proper and personal names in the Bible had meanings other than identifying a person.  For instance:


         •  Peter means “a rock.”


         •  Abraham means “father of many nations.”


         •  Bethlehem means “house of bread.”


The word Rosh in Hebrew simply means – head, top, summit, or chief.  It is a fairly common word and is used by all Semitic languages.  And it may surprise you to know that it occurs approximately 750 times in the Old Testament.


So, does Ezekiel’s “Rosh” have any relation to the nation we know today as Russia.


         Wilhelm Gesenius, who died in 1842, was considered by modern Hebrews scholars as one of the greatest Hebrew authorities in recent centuries.  He unquestionably believed that ROSH in Ezekiel was a proper noun identifying Russia.  I quote him:


“Rosh in Ezekiel is a proper name of a northern nation, mentioned with Meshech and Tubal; undoubtedly the Russians, who are mentioned by the Byzantine writers of the tenth century, under the name The Ros, dwelling to the north of the Taurus (Mtns)…and as dwelling on the Volga (river).”


Johann Keil, of the Keil and Delitzsch Commentary of the Old Testament, agrees with Gesenius that Rosh should be translated as a proper noun.


I also believe there is considerable historical evidence that a place known as ROSH was very familiar in the ancient world.  While the word had a variety of spellings and forms, it is clear that the same people are in view.  In Egyptian inscriptions, Rosh (or RASH) is identified as a place that existed as early as 2600 BC.  Another Egyptian inscription dated to 1500 BC refers to a land called Reshu that was located to the north of Egypt.


Another source for treating “ROSH” as a name rather than an adjective is found in a document that follows Ezekiel by three hundred years.  It is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint version and translated in the third century B.C.  This document left ROSH as a place name.  This is important because this Old Testament translation from Hebrew into Greek was not that far removed from when Ezekiel wrote his book of prophecy.


Many Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias also support this view.  Among them are:  New Bible Dictionary, Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.


We have tried to establish that translating the Hebrew word ROSH as a proper noun in the context of Ezekiel 38 & 39 is not only allowable, but preferable.  A few of the historical writings mentioned thus far also go ahead and link the people of Rosh with modern-day Russia.  Let's look at some additional evidence.


Assyrian inscriptions speak of a people called Ras or Rashu, who were identified by the Persians as Sarmatians.  This link will help us locate the people of Rosh.


Another Assyrian inscription, written about 700 B.C. refers to an attack upon the Rashu of the land of Rashu.  The land of Rashu is identified as being on the northern borders of Elam (ancient Persia, Iran), in the area north of the Black and Caspian seas.


The Babylonian Chronicles, written in 613-612 B.C., refers to the land of Rasapu.  During a northern campaign by Babylonian king Nabopolassar, he went into the area of Nisibin.  Spoil and prisoners, it says, were taken from the land of Rasapu, and taken to the king in Nineveh.


Ivan Spector, in his book, Introduction of Russian History and Culture, writes that the name Rus was another name for the great Kievan Empire.  Kiev is a large city in Russia.  Spector also writes that "eventually, the name Ros or Rus became the name of the entire area of modern Russia.  Spector also quotes another historian goes so far as to say, "The first reference to the Russ, the ancestors of the Russian rulers, is found in Ezekiel 38:2.


Another reason is geographical.  Ezekiel says several times that the invading force comes into Israel from the north.  We see that in Ezekiel 38: 6 & 15 and in 39:2.  Let’s look at one of these passages.


Ezekiel 38:15 NKJV


15     Then you will come from your place out of the far north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great company and a mighty army.


                   The NAS version translates it as “from your place out of the remotest parts of the north.”


Keep in mind that all directions in the Bible are always in relation to the nation of Israel.  So, identifying a country north of Israel could indicate, in today's world, Syria, Turkey or Russia.


Every commentary I have read – every Bible scholar I have read or listened to, has not failed to point out that the Hebrew word translated “north” in the KJV means more than just a northerly direction.  It means the “remotest north.”  Get yourself a map, go straight from Jerusalem, north, and you will what I mean.  Moscow is almost directly north of Jerusalem.


Some take the idea of being the "remote north" beyond what is really allowed.  The argument is that Russia is the most remote north place from Israel.  We will look at this statement in the Hebrew when we get to the name "Beth-Togarmah," because it is used again in its context.


If you had been able to talk to Israel’s former prime minister, Menachem Begin, before he died in 1992, and ask him his interpretation of Ezekiel 38, he would have told you it speaks of a Russian invasion of his country.


Yes, I believe there is evidence that:


         1.      The word “ROSH” should be treated as a proper name.


         2.      The place this word identifies is the nation of Russia.




The next two names – Meshech and Tubal – seem to be shown as associated with Rosh and Magog.  In Ezekiel 38 & 39, these two are always linked.  Meshech was the 6th sons of Japheth, the son of Noah.  Tubal was the 5th son of Japheth and brother of Meshech.


Some scholars identify these two names as the people who populated the north and east of present day Turkey.  Others say they represent two districts or cities in Russia.


In the 5th century B.C., Herodotus identifies Meshech as being the Muschovites.


Josephus writes:  “…the people of his day called Moschevi and Thobelites were founded by Meshech and Tubal.”


Gesenius, the Hebrew scholar wrote:  “Meshech was founder of the Moschi, a barbarous people, who dwelt in the Moschian Mountains.”  He also wrote that the Greek word “Moschi” is derived from the Hebrew name Meshech.


Some Christian writers have taken these words and tried to link it with the city of Moscow.  This was popularized by the Scofield Bible (1909).  Hal Lindsey, in his early writings also took this position.  By using the same process, some would say that Tubal is the origin of the Russian city, Tobolsk.  But the only evidence to support this conclusion is the similarity in their sounds.  One problem arises when investigating other passages in the Bible where Meshech and Tubal are mentioned.


Ezekiel 27:13 tells us that both Meshech and Tubal were traders of many different product including slaves.  In the passage, we are told that they traded with Tarshish and Tyre.  We know Tyre is located on the Mediterranean Sea, in the modern country of Lebanon.


We are told that the prophet Jonah tried to run away from the command of God to go to Nineveh.  He caught a boat at Joppa and was heading to Tarshish.  Tarshish is somewhere along the Mediterranean Sea - some scholars point to Spain.  So, wherever Meshech and Tubal are located, it is near trading routes along the Mediterranean Sea.  That would make it highly unlikely that Meshech represents the city of Moscow.


Josephus also identifies them with Cappadocia, which is in central Turkey.  An Assyrian inscription from the ninth century before Christ locates these brothers in Phrygia, which is in Turkey, west of Cappadocia.  Herodotus says they were locate southeast of the Black Sea.


The Brown-Drivers-Briggs Hebrew Lexicon of the Old Testament, states that in Persian times, which was approximately 30 to 50 years after Ezekiel, wrote, "Meshech was located near the southeast part of the Black Sea.  I believe the most reasonable place to locate Meshech and Tubal is in modern Turkey.


We will continue with the other 5 names in our next lesson.