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Christians Should Not Identify Gog With Russia

Gog is a mysterious figure in scripture. There is no consensus about the identity of Gog. Even ancient sources found him as much a conundrum as we do today. Thus, the leading guesses are Gâgi [mentioned in the annals of Ashurbanipal, a powerful ruler of a belligerent mountain people to the north of Assyria], and Gyges [or Gûgu in the Rassam–Cylinder, king of Lydia]. However, both have been rejected by most scholars, mainly because of the details we find in Ezekiel. Furthermore, the word “Magog” is the name of a people [Genesis 10:2; 1 Chronicles 1:5], identified as the 2nd son of Japheth [the Greek tribes], alongside other Indo–European ethnic groups like Gomer, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras. In fact, the word “Magog” is often interpreted as a contraction of an original Akkadian māt Gūgu [or the “land of Gog”], and as referring to the territory of Lydia in western Anatolia. Possibly we have an eponym here.

In other words, scholars notice that the consonants for “Magog” [m–g–g] are derived from the consonants for “Babel” [b–b–l]. This is called ath–bash, a monoalphabetic substitution cipher used to encrypt the alphabet. The name ath–bash derives from the 1st letter aleph [א] being aligned with the 22nd letter tav [ת], to yield ath, then the 2nd letter beth [ב] is aligned with the 21st letter shin [שׁ], to yield bash, as seen in this table:

This method is rarely used in the bible [Jeremiah 25:26; 51:1, 41]:

  1. Where “Sheshak” [š–š–k] = “Babel” [b–b–l].

  2. Where “Leb–kamai” [l–b–q–m–y] = “Chaldeans” [k–š–d–y–m], and is associated with “Babel” [b–b–l].

Thus, for “Babel” = “Magog” [b–b–l = m–g–g], Ezekiel shifted the letters b–b–l to the corresponding letters g–g–m, where the 3rd letter gimel [ג] follows after the 2nd letter beth [ב], and the 12th letter lamed [ל] follows after the 13th letter mem [מ]. Thus, reversing the letters g–g–m = m–g–g. This technique of cryptography would provide a prophetic invective against Babylon, and Ezekiel is announcing doom over the Babylonians and other enemies of Judah, who destroyed Jerusalem and plundered the remaining population. Furthermore, the lack of a secure historical reference point for Gog has led to the fatuous attempt of some to have modern Russia in view, mostly because of assonantal similarity. The association is hopelessly anachronistic because all evidence indicates that Russia is of northern Viking derivation, and was first used in the middle ages of the Ukraine [south of Russia]. Since Gog is identified in Ezekiel 38 as “the chief noble of Meshech, and Tubal” [v. 2], who comes from “the remotest parts of the north” [v. 15], it is ignorantly argued that “Meshech” and “Tubal” sound similar to “Moscow” and “Tobolsk.” Thus, since the Hebrew words nāśîʾ rōʾš [or “chief noble”] are rendered in the LXX as archonta Rōs [or “commander of Ros”], the LXX translator understood the Hebrew word rōʾš to be the name of the place Gog ruled. It is then argued that both the Hebrew and Greek [rōʾš and Rōs] sound like “Russia.” But, identifying Gog as Russia is exegetically indefensible. Just because these words sound similar in three different languages does not mean those words have the same meaning. For example, the Hebrew word yam looks and sounds the same as the English word yam. But, the former means “sea” while the latter is an edible plant.

In summary, Genesis 10:2 locates “Meshech” and “Tubal” in Anatolia [modern Turkey], not Russia [compare Ezekiel 27:12–15]. Thus, what is Gog’s identification? The clue is in Gog’s description as an invader from the north [tsaphon; connected with Baal and the “seven thunders”]. This is an important detail. In other words, when Assyria and Babylon destroyed the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, they both invaded from the north. As a result, Israelites feared northern invaders. They also feared the north because it was considered the domain of Baal. Thus, the “king” of the north emerges as the “insignificant horn” in Daniel 8. Scholars agree on the identity of this “king” since his exploits in Daniel 11 closely mirrors Antiochus IV Epiphanes [2nd century b.c. Hellenistic king of the Seleucid Empire], who considered himself an exalted deity.

Thus, Antiochus forced Jewish priests to sacrifice unclean animals on the temple altar [Daniel 11:36–37], and tried to convert Jerusalem into a Greek city. In order to achieve his goal, he did not allow the people of Jerusalem to worship their God, but ordered them to worship Zeus. This led to the Maccabean Revolt, instigated by a conservative group of Jewish priests [their victory is celebrated today as Hanukkah]. Thus, because of the “king” of the north, many scholars believe Gog might be another way of symbolically describing a future antichrist that will prefigure Antiochus. This fits well with the Baal association, since baal–zebul [or “Prince Baal”] served as a title for Satan [Matthew 10:25]. Thus, scholars believe that Gog comes from the ancient Sumerian word gûg [or “darkness”]. In other words, Ezekiel was not thinking about a historical person when he prophesied about Gog. Instead, he envisioned a satanic figure from the dark supernatural north.