I’ve been listening to an interview that Brannon Howse had with pastor and author Andy Woods about his book The Middle East Meltdown. He, like so many prophecy writers today, believes Ezekiel 38 and 39 are about modern-day Russia and nations surrounding Israel in a war that will lead to the deaths of billions of people. For Howse and Woods, war is prophetically inevitable. Peace is impossible.
This means that when Pres. Trump calls for the end of the US’s involvement in foreign wars, prophecy writers see it as evidence that the apocalypse is near.
For decades, portraying Russia as the end-time bad guy has been popular. For example, Glenn Beck brought up the Ezekiel 38–39 “Gog and Magog” prophecy a few years ago. Beck has formulated his views on the Ezekiel prophecy based on Joel Rosenberg’s book Epicenter (2006) and novel The Ezekiel Option (2005) and interviews he’s had with him. In The Ezekiel Option, Rosenberg writes:
The journey that follows is fiction.
The prophecy upon which it is based is true.
The cryptic vision of a Hebrew scribe—writing twenty-five centuries ago—foretold one of the most horrific periods in the future of mankind.
Yet even today it remains one of man’s great unsolved mysteries.
Its central premise was once discussed in a speech before the U.S. Congress, and was believed to be both true and increasingly close at hand by one of America’s greatest presidents.
That president was Ronald Reagan. Like Beck, President Reagan was relying on very bad prophetic “intelligence.” There was nothing intelligent about it.
Rosh is not Russia
Like Rosenberg, Andy Woods argues that the Ezekiel prophecy is about Russia and Iran and other current Middle East players. But there is no mention of either Russia or Iran in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Finding Russia there is based in part on the use of the Hebrew word rosh (ראש). Rosh does not refer to Russia. Rosh means “head.” The first word in Genesis 1:1, for example, includes the word rosh (בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית): “In the beginning. . . .” At the “head” of time.
The following is a list of Hebrew words where the word rosh is used.
Benjamin Netanyahu is the “head” (ראש) or Prime Minister of the Israeli government as the podium shows:
The reading of Ezekiel 38:2 should be read as “the chief (rosh) prince of Meshech and Tubal” (38:2; 39:1) and not the “prince of Rosh,” that is, the ruler of modern-day Russia. Charles Ryrie, author of the Ryrie Study Bible, acknowledges that rosh is not a proper name: “The prince of Rosh is better translated as ‘the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.’” Ryrie, like Woods, was a dispensationalist, but he knew his Hebrew better than Woods.
Woods appeals to the Hebrew lexicographer Wilhelm Gesenius (1786-1842), but does not interact with other Hebrew scholars who disagreed with him in his day. I interact with Gesenius’ arguments in my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance.
The modern-Hebrew spelling of “Russia” (reading from right to left) looks nothing like the Hebrew word rosh. The only common Hebrew letter is resh (r).
Daniel I. Block translates Ezekiel 38:3, “[Son of Man], set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal.” ((Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25–48 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 432.)) Here is Block’s explanation:
[Rosh] is therefore best understood as a common noun, appositional to and offering a closer definition of [the Hebrew word] nasi [translated as “prince”]. Accordingly, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal, combines Ezekiel’s preferred title for kings with a hierarchical designation, the addition serving to clarify the preceding archaic term. ((Block, Ezekiel, 2:435.))
Primitive battle in modern times?
Then there’s the problem with the weapons used in this supposed end-time war with Israel. They are ancient weapons: bows and arrows, spears, clubs, shields (Ezek. 39:9) and chariots (39:20). The claim is often made that God was revealing modern-day weaponry in terms that Ezekiel and the people of his day could understand. Bows and arrows are said to be missiles and rocket launchers. Horses are “horsepower.” Chariots are tanks. All of this from interpreters who claim to interpret the Bible literally.
Howse and Wood insist on interpreting prophecy literally, and much of it should be interpreted literally, but in numerous cases in Ezekiel 38 and 39 where that principle should clearly apply, they do not interpret the prophecy literally.
Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), is well known for his claim that the locusts of Revelation 9:1–12 could be Vietnam-era “cobra helicopters.” He writes:
I have a Christian friend who was a Green Beret in Viet Nam. When he first read this chapter he said, ‘I know what those are. I’ve seen hundreds of them in Viet Nam. They’re Cobra helicopters! That may be conjecture, but it does give you something to think about! A Cobra helicopter does fit the sound of “many chariots.” My friend believes that the means of torment will be a kind of nerve gas sprayed from its tail. ((Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming: A Prophetic Odyssey (Santa Ana, CA: Vision House Publishers, 1973), 138–139.))
The way the so-called literalists like Lindsey, Rosenberg, and Woods interpret the prophecy confuses everyone—the people in Ezekiel’s day and our day.
The missing spoils of war
Andy Woods quotes Ezekiel 38:13:
Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish with all its villages will say to you, “Have you come to capture spoil? Have you assembled your company to seize plunder, to carry away silver and gold, to take away cattle and goods, to capture great spoil?”
He claims this passage refers to modern-day Israel, and yet he never mentions these specific commodities in his interview with Howse. But the Bible does. The following is a description of the spoils the Israelites brought back from their period of captivity among the Babylonians and Medes and Persians:
Every survivor, at whatever place he may live**, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle**, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:4).
Tear down those walls!
Notice that the Ezekiel prophecy describes a time when the people were living in “unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11). Today, Israel is a nation of walls. In the book of Esther, we see that there were Jews who were living in relative peace in “unwalled towns” (Esther 9:19, KJV) when Haman conspired against them. The same Hebrew word perazah is used in Esther 9:19 and Ezekiel 38:11. It’s unfortunate that the translators of the New American Standard Version translate perazah as “rural towns” in Esther 9:19 instead of “unwalled villages” as they do in Ezekiel 38:11. It’s the same word!
It’s obvious that Ezekiel is describing a future battle that was in Israel’s near future about 2500 years ago. The most likely fulfillment are the events surrounding the book of Esther.
“One late manuscript to Esther 3:1 and 9:24 refers to Haman as a ‘Gogite.’” ((Sverre Bøe, Gog and Magog: Ezekiel 38–39 as Pre-Text for Revelation 19, 17–21 and 20, 7–10 (Wissunt Zum Neun Testament Ser. II, 135) (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 384.)) Haman wanted to “destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:6), but failed in the attempt.
The end-time in Ezekiel 38–39 is not a reference to our day, but the time God judged Israel’s enemies. Haman (Esther 7) and his sons (9:10) were executed and the Jews rebuilt the temple and were reestablished as God’s covenant people. The New Testament does not say anything about a rebuilt temple or a future holocaust of the Jews, something Andy Woods and other dispensationalists believe and teach (Zech. 13:7-9). For a thorough study of this topic, see my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance.