The prophecy of Ezekiel 38 and 39, often referred to as the battle of Gog and Magog, is hands-down one of the most influential end-time prophecies in all of Scripture. But it is also arguably one of the most wisely misinterpreted prophecies. This idea that Ezekiel prophesied a Russian-led invasion of Israel is widely taught by numerous well-known and highly respected Bible teachers. The idea finds its basis in the fact that Gog, the leader of the invasion, is from the land of Magog, which, it is claimed, is a reference to Russia. In a previous article, I showed several maps – several created by popular prophecy teachers and several from modern and scholarly referenced Bible atlases. What was quite apparent from that article is that the majority of Bible atlases are not in agreement with the popular belief concerning the location of Magog. While many teach that Magog is a reference to Russia, the Bible atlases all placed Magog in modern-day Turkey. So if modern scholarship does not validate the popular notion that Magog is in Russia, where, then, did this idea come from?
The view rests on two pillars. The first pillar is a quote from the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, who said, “Magog founded the Magogians, thus named after him, who by the Greeks are called Scythians.” The second pillar of support for the Russian-Magog view is a misunderstanding of the historical record and faulty reasoning.
The primary fatal flaw in this line of reasoning is in the timing of when the Scythians lived in Russia. Here’s why this matters: The method that virtually all modern conservative scholars use to interpret any biblical passage is what is called “the historical-grammatical method.” This method first seeks to understand the original context of any passage. In the case of Ezekiel’s prophecy, the historical-grammatical method seeks to identify how Ezekiel himself would have understood the term Magog – not Josephus, who lived roughly 700 years later. This is absolutely essential.The widely popular but faulty line of reasoning is as follows: 1) Magog and the Scythians are one and the same; 2) the Scythians lived in Russia; 3) Gog, the leader of Ezekiel’s invasion comes from Magog; 4) thus Ezekiel’s prophesied invasion is led by a leader from Russia.
The Scythians were a nomadic, migratory people whose primary homeland was radically different in Ezekiel’s time than it was in Josephus’ day. During Ezekiel’s day, the primary peoples known as Scythians lived in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey. In Josephus’ day, the Scythians lived in the regions north of the Black Sea, primarily in the area that would come to be Ukraine, but also in the Russian steppes. Recognizing the historical movement of the Scythians is essential if one is to properly interpret Ezekiel’s passage according to its original context.
For the average student of Bible prophecy, the confusion lies in the fact that many interpreters do not properly use the historical-grammatical method of interpretation and instead make efforts to track down the various bloodlines of ancient biblical names. Thus many interpreters trace the migration of the Scythians to the region of Russia by the first century. The question, however, is: Why stop at the first century? Why do these interpreters not continue until modern times when the descendants of Magog have spread out throughout much of the world? If the method of interpreting the passage is according to bloodlines, then consistency would dictate that the interpreters who teach that Ezekiel was speaking of Russia must also include much of the Western world. If we identify the bloodline ancestors of the various Japhetic peoples listed in Ezekiel’s prophecy (Magog, Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, and Togarmah), we must minimally include the following nations and regions: the United States, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, England, Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, all of Central and South America, all of Europe and several others.
Of course, no prophecy teacher ever makes such a claim. Yet the method of interpretation (tracing bloodlines) is precisely how most popular prophecy teachers attempt to justify the connection of Russia with Ezekiel’s prophecy.
The only way to properly understand Ezekiel’s prophecy is to identify how Ezekiel would have understood the term Magog. This would have been informed by the location of Magog in the late seventh to the early sixth century B.C. (as well as the location of Magog according to the Table of Nations in Genesis 10 and 11 as would have been understood by any Old Testament-literate Jew of the day). By asking ourselves where Ezekiel would have known Magog to be, and not Josephus, we arrive at Turkey, not Russia.
The idea that Ezekiel viewed Magog as relating to modern-day Russia is either rooted in a lack of understanding the historical and geographical facts and poor reasoning or an improper method of interpretation. Nevertheless, this belief has developed into a deeply rooted tradition in some quarters of the Christian Church, and unfortunately, it is doubtful that it will go away any time soon. Careful students of the Scriptures, however, must make it their goal to always seek truth, even when it is in conflict with their own traditions. It is imperative that students of the Bible take the time to study Ezekiel’s prophecy. In my newest book, “Mideast Beast: The Scriptural Case for an Islamic Antichrist,” not only do we examine many essential, but often-ignored historical, geographical and exegetical elements of the passage, but even more importantly, its application and relevance for the Church and the world today.