In the October 16, 1816 edition of The Gentleman’s Magazine the identity of the major prophetic players in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are said to be France, led by the “Chief Prince” (Ezek. 38:2; 39:1) Napoleon Bonaparte against Russia, which “is called the Land of unwalled villages” (38:11).[1] In the view of the author, Russia is the Christian good guy and France the antichristian bad guy! France was considered to be an enemy of the church after its many antichristian policies and actions during its revolutionary years. Napoleon did nothing to change these opinions. Russia was considered to be nominally Christian. The war between the two nations was in the news, and like today, the headlines were driving the interpretation of the Bible. And, of course, Russia is “north” of France.

In similar fashion, prophecy writers like Tim LaHaye, Grant Jeffrey, and Joel Rosenberg try to establish that the “remote parts of the north” (Ezek. 38:6, 15; 39:2) must refer to Russia because Russia is north of Israel, and Russia is a military power with a history of conquest and anti-semitism.[2] At the time this theory was concocted, Russia, in the form of the Soviet Union, was officially atheistic. This point is made by a number of older books on the subject.[3] While it is true that Russia is north of Israel, it is also true that a number of ancient nations were north of Israel and that the Bible often uses north as a designation for a geographical area that includes the north as well as the northeast. For example, Babylon was mostly east of Israel, but Jeremiah 4:6 warns that the disaster that came upon Judah came “from the north” (Jer. 1:13–15; 3:18; 6:1, 22; 10:22; Zech. 2:6–7). The same is also the case when Israel was overrun by the Assyrians (Zeph. 2:13) and Persians (Isa. 41:25; Jer. 50:3). Is the Bible mistaken? Not at all. “From the perspective of the Holy Land, the invaders came down from the north, even if their place of origin was actually to the east. Ezekiel is giving the direction of the invasion, not the place of the invader’s origin.”[4] Archeologist Barry Beitzel states that “the Bible’s use of the expression ‘north’ denotes the direction from which a foe would normally approach and not the location of its homeland.”[5] The same holds true for any invading army that was north and west of Israel. They, too, would have to bring a land army into Israel from the north since the Mediterranean Sea is directly west of Israel. Tanner concludes: “‘North’ refers not so much to the precise geographical direction from Israel, but rather to the direction of advance and attack upon Israel (armies came against Israel from the north). This is how Jeremiah viewed Babylonia, though Babylonia was technically to the east. Consequently there is no firm basis on which to interpret Gog as Russia.”[6]

History will prove today’s prophecy writers wrong like so many before them have been proven wrong. The question is, will Christians notice and finally reject these latest fanciful theories? I’m here to tell you that people are noticing. Scriptural terminology must not be interpreted in terms of modern-day geo-political categories or geography. To anyone reading Ezekiel’s prophecy around 600 B.C., the “remote parts of the north” was Asia Minor. The regions beyond this area were inaccessible to common travelers. “One more fact is worthy of observation here. In verse 6 [of Ezekiel 38] this same geographical description (‘farthest north’) is also given of [Beth-] Togarmah, yet virtually all agree that this is eastern Asia Minor! If Asia Minor was far north enough for [Beth-]Togarmah, why not for Gog? The problem is obvious.”[7]

Endnotes:

[1] T.R., “Commentary on Ezekiel’s Prophecy of Gog and Magog,” The Gentleman’s Magazine (October 1816), 307. [2] “The text clarifies that Gog comes from ‘the remote parts of the north’ (38:6, 15), and in 39:2 the NASB specifies ‘the remotest parts of the north.’ An examination of the Hebrew text, however, will reveal that these three phrases are essentially the same (there is no need for the differentiation of the adjectives ‘remote’ and ‘remotest’). The NIV consistently translates the phrase in all three verses as the ‘far north.’” (Tanner, “ Rethinking Ezekiel’s Invasion of Gog.” 33). [3] Arno Clemens Gaebelein, The Conflict of the Ages: The Mystery of Lawlessness: Its Origin, Historic Development and Coming Defeat (New York: Publication Office “Our Hope,” 1933). [4] Timothy J. Daily, The Gathering Storm (Tarrytown, NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1992), 166. [5] The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985), 5. [6] J. Paul Tanner, “ Rethinking Ezekiel’s Invasion of Gog,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 39:1 (March 1996), 35. [7] Fred G. Zaspel , “The Nations of Ezekiel 38–39: Who Will Participate in the Battle?” (1985)