Probably the most debated aspect of the Gog-Magog war concerns which countries will be involved. The desire to find out the modern equivalents of the nations mentioned by Ezekiel is particularly important for those who believe this war will occur in the near future. They argue that determining the location of these nations helps them look for the geopolitical maneuverings that indicate the war is near. As detailed in the preceding chapter, the evidence strongly supports the idea that this war will not occur until the end of the thousand-year reign of Christ on earth. This means that identifying the exact locations of the nations mentioned by Ezekiel has only limited value for the believer, since this war will be at least a thousand-plus years in the future. Attempting to force the circumstances of the war onto the modern, premillennial world can only lead to confusion and error. That being said, I do think Scripture gives us the tools we need to discover the location of many of the nations involved in this war. And I believe there is value in such a study, if for no other reason than to show the errors of the theories that try to force Ezekiel’s prophecy into our modern context. I will try to remain as neutral as I can in this study, something that is uniquely possible for those who hold to the view that the Gog-Magog war won’t occur until after the Millennium. If you remember from the last chapter, Christians from every era of the church have attempted to identify these countries in light of their current political circumstances; they identified the countries involved as the primary “boogey men” of their day. Because I don’t need to try to fit these countries into a modern context, it is easier to follow the evidence wherever it leads. Even if you disagree with me about the timing of the war, this study on the players involved will be useful for that reason alone.
At least eleven nations are mentioned in Ezekiel 38 and 39, including Magog, Meshech, Tubal, Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, Togarmah, Sheba, Dedan, and Tarshish. For many of these nations, there are virtually no disagreements about their location, but others have been the focus of longstanding debates. For example, few would argue that Persia refers to modern Iran, but there are many different opinions about the location of Magog, Meshech, Tubal, and others.
Before I start identifying the countries involved, I would like to make a point that is often overlooked by commentators, one I believe reinforces the idea that the war Ezekiel describes occurs after the Messiah has been ruling over Israel during the Millennium. Four of the countries mentioned by Ezekiel are also said to exist during the Millennium: Cush (Psalms 68:31; Isaiah 11:11; Zephaniah 3:10), Tubal (Isaiah 66:19), Sheba (Psalms 72:10; Isaiah 60:6), and Tarshish (Psalms 72:10; Isaiah 2:16, 60:9, 66:19). I could add more to this list, but will limit the references I cited to passages that unquestionably speak of the Millennium. I mention this to invoke a little humility among those attempting to identify these nations, as we simply cannot guess the exact way Christ will divide the nations during His rule. It may be that during His earthly reign, these nations will actually be called by the ancient names Ezekiel uses or have different borders. All we know for sure is that the Bible tells us that many of the nations in Ezekiel 38 and 39 are also present during the Millennium. Since we know very little about the specific division of the nations and their borders after the thousand-year rule of Christ, we must be willing to admit that precise knowledge of these nations during that time will be difficult to come by. That being said, these nations have also existed in the past, and it is possible to discover a great deal about their locations. It is reasonable to assume that the locations and borders of these countries in the past will have a great deal of correlation with their millennial counterparts.
Gog, the primary instigator of the war, is described as being from the land of Magog and prince over Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal: “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him” (Ezekiel 38:2).
Since all of the areas mentioned in this passage are a part of Gog’s kingdom (Magog, Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal), determining the location of even one of these areas with a measure of certainty will help to narrow the scope of our search. I like to start any research on the location of a biblical nation within the pages of Scripture itself, because while the views of ancient writers and historians are useful, we should not rely upon them dogmatically, as they often have different opinions. While Gog, Magog, and Rosh are mentioned in other places in Scripture, those passages don’t offer additional clues to their locations. Magog is only mentioned in the genealogies of Japath (Genesis 10:2; 1 Chronicles 1:5), the prophecy in Ezekiel 38–39, and in Revelation 20:8. Other than the fact that Ezekiel 38:15 says Gog will come from the “far north,” we are left with no specific details that might help determine which nation or nations from the far north are being referred to. The identification of Rosh in other Scriptures is difficult as well, for reasons we will come to later. Of these four nations associated with Gog, only Meshech and Tubal are found in another place in Scripture that might give us a clue as to their whereabouts.
In Ezekiel 27, we find a prophecy against the city of Tyre, in modern-day Lebanon. Tyre has been a commercial shipping port for thousands of years, going back to the ancient Phoenician merchants. Ezekiel 27 describes many of the nations, including Meshech and Tubal, that traded with Tyre, as well as the specific goods they traded: “Javan, Tubal, and Meshech were your traders. They bartered human lives and vessels of bronze for your merchandise” (Ezekiel 27:13).
We can gather two important clues about Meshech and Tubal from this passage:
Normally, we could gather very little about the location of a biblical nation based on the goods that it traded, but the mention of bronze narrows the field considerably. Bronze wasn’t something that just anyone could make during this time; the process was very specialized and limited to a handful of nations. The field narrows even further when we consider that this nation also must be from the north and must have been able to trade with Tyre in Ezekiel’s day.
This brings us to the end of the biblical clues that can help us determine the location of Meshech and Tubal. Even though it seems like only a little information, I think you will agree it is more than enough to confirm or deny the extrabiblical and historical data that we will now look at.
The Jewish Encyclopedia identifies the Meshech and Tubal with Moschia (which the Assyrians called “Mushki” or “Muski”) and Tubal (which the Assyrians called “Tabal”).
The Meshech…are probably the Moschi (Assyrian: Mushku and Musku), the inhabitants of the Moschian mountains, between the Black and the Caspian seas, which contained rich copper mines. “Tubal” (Assyrian, Tabal), which is always mentioned in connection with Meshech, is the name of the Tibareni, who lived to the south-east of the Black sea.1
There are many reasons to take this view seriously. I mentioned before that the production of bronze was important. Well, Mushku and Tabal were one of the few places in the world where bronze was produced at this time; in fact, they were famous for it—they were even one of the inventors of Iron Age metallurgy. The legend of King Midas, who was said to be able to turn everything he touched into gold, is actually based on Mita, a historic king of Moschia. Assyrian records refer to the Assyrians receiving huge amounts of bronze vessels as tribute from Moschia and Tabal—the very goods that Ezekiel said these nations traded with. In addition, it is known that trade between these countries and Tyre was well established at the time of Ezekiel’s writing.
It is interesting that these two places, Moschia and Tabal, are so often mentioned together in ancient writings, because Meshech and Tubal are also almost always mentioned together in the Bible, too (Ezekiel 27:13, 32:26, 38:2, 3, 39:1; Genesis 10:2). One scholar believes that even Rosh is mentioned along with Meshech and Tubal in one Assyrian text.
There is even one cuneiform document from the reign of the Assyrian King Sargon II (ruled 722–705 B.C.) which actually names all three peoples [Rosh, Meshech, Tubal] mentioned by Ezekiel 38–39. Sargon II writes in this badly broken inscription:
I deported (the people) of the lands of Kashu, Tabalu, and Hilakku. I drove out Mite (Midas), king of the land of Muski…the lands of Rashi and Ellipi which are on the Elamite frontier.2 (emphasis added)
This view is also consistent with what we know from ancient writers like Josephus, who identified the people from Meshech and Tubal as the Mosocheni (from Moschia) and Thobelites (from Tabal). The identification of Meshech and Tubal as Moschia and Tabal has a massive amount of support in the modern scholarly community as well.3 It’s probably safe to call it the majority view among scholars.
A few people have claimed that Meshech and Tubal refer to the modern Russian cities of Moscow and Tobolsk. There is no historical support for this claim whatsoever. It is based solely on the similar sounds of both words. Even people like Thomas Ice who support the idea that Russia is in view with the northern coalition of Gog reject the idea that Meshech and Tubal indicate Moscow and Tobolsk.4
The modern location of Meshech and Tubal is on the southeast side of the Black Sea, south of the Caucuses Mountains, primarily in modern-day Georgia as well as parts of Armenia and eastern Turkey. There is some debate as to whether Tubal should also be associated with the Tibareni on the Black Sea coast, which would push the location a bit more into central Turkey, but that connection is not as certain.
The location of Gog and Magog are much more difficult to determine, either with Scripture or historical accounts. Gog, of course, is a proper name designating the leader of this future coalition. Some people attempt to find a reference to a king named Gog in ancient texts, namely Gugu of Lydia (western Turkey), but the general consensus seems to be that this connection is inconclusive.
The location of Magog is also less clear than Tubal or Meshech. There is not very much to go on in Scripture or history, though we can reasonably assume that Magog would be close to Meshech and Tubal based on the biblical account that seems to link the three nations, and the fact that the migrations of Japheth’s sons would likely be close together. Jewish sources have traditionally put Magog very close to Meshech and Tubal (see map).
Josephus said: “Magog founded those that from him were named Magogites, but who are by the Greeks called Scythians.”5 The Scythians were a band of ethnically diverse nomadic tribes that spanned great distances in the Eurasian Steppe. There are several problems with understanding the term “Scythians” used by Josephus the same way we do today. The term was applied very generally by the Greeks as any nomadic tribe north of the Black Sea. Other scholars have pointed out that the terms “Scythians” and “Cimmerians” were used interchangeably.6 The Cimmerians started out dwelling north of the Caucuses Mountains, but by Ezekiel’s day had migrated south due to wars with Sargon II, settling in the general area of Meshech and Tubal, specifically around modern-day Armenia, Georgia, and parts of Turkey. The Encyclopedia Biblica places Magog in the same area using a totally different method to come to its conclusion.7 I believe that the evidence is conclusive that Magog should be placed in roughly the same area as Meshech and Tubal, in modern-day Georgia, Armenia, and eastern Turkey.
There is considerable debate among scholars to this day as to whether the Hebrew word “Rosh” in Ezekiel 38:3 is a proper noun designating another nation or an adjective related to “prince” (i.e., “chief prince”). A review of different Bible translations will demonstrate the differences in opinion among scholars:
The basic idea is that if “Rosh” is a proper noun, then Gog is also the prince of a place named Rosh. If it’s not a proper noun, then it should be translated as the word “chief,” meaning that Gog is the chief prince of only Meshech and Tubal, and there is no place called Rosh. This argument seems to be primarily motivated by those trying to either prove a connection to Rosh and modern-day Russia and those who are trying to deny such a connection. In my opinion, both sides are letting their determination to prove their points affect their ability to honestly deal with the issue.
The early Greek texts of the Old Testament such as the Septuagint and the Theodosian translate “Rosh” as a proper noun. But Jerome, when writing his Latin translation of the Bible known as the Vulgate, decided to translate “Rosh” as “chief.” He did this not because of any grammatical clue, but rather, in his own words, because “we could not find the name of this race [i.e., the Rosh people] mentioned either in Genesis or any other place in the Scriptures, or in Josephus.”8
Though Jerome couldn’t find any references to the Rosh people, there do indeed seem to be such references in ancient history. Clyde E. Billington, in his three-part paper, “The Rosh People in History and Prophecy,” does a good job of tracking down the references to the Rosh people. I disagree with part 3 of Billington’s paper, in which he claims that the references to “Rosh” in Ezekiel should be understood as modern-day Russia, but I do agree with him that the Rosh were an ancient people in Ezekiel’s day.
The Rosh people, according to Billington, migrated often during their history, but he believes that they primarily occupied a particular area south of the Caucasus Mountains in modern Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and northeastern Turkey.9 In other words, he agrees that the Rosh were located in the same areas as Meshech, Tubal, and Magog. It is especially notable that this was the primary location of the Rosh people when, as mentioned earlier, the Rosh were mentioned in the same Assyrian inscription with Meshech and Tubal, which links them all to the same basic geographic region.
Billington and others who attempt to equate the Rosh mentioned by Ezekiel to modern Russia do so by arguing that the Rosh people, long after the time of Ezekiel, migrated north of the Caucuses to modern-day Ukraine. They also argue that the Varangian Rus, Vikings of Scandinavian origin who conquered Russia from the north in the ninth century AD and are why we call the land Russia today, got the second part of their name (Rus) from intermarriage with the Rosh people in the south in an attempt to integrate with their conquered population. While this argument is feasible, from what I can tell, I also believe that this has little bearing on the identification of the Rosh in Ezekiel 38 and 39 for the following reasons:
The bottom line is that all the nations mentioned in Ezekiel 38:3—Magog, Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, as well as the other nations we are about to look at that are involved in the northern coalition of the Gog Magog war—can all be shown to have been located in modern-day Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey, a relatively small area to the far north of Israel, that traded with Tyre with the same goods mentioned in Ezekiel 27. There is every reason to believe that this will be the area the northern coalition will come from in the future war as well. Anyone who says differently is trying to force his or her presuppositions on the text, in my opinion.
Ezekiel 38: 5 continues listing nations that will play a role in the Gog-Magog war when it says “Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shield and helmet.” There is far less dispute about the location of these nations among scholars and commentators. As mentioned earlier, there is virtually no disagreement that Persia is equated with modern Iran. In fact it was only in 1959 that Iran changed its name from Persia to Iran, and there is no reason to see Ezekiel referring to any other nation.
Cush, often translated “Ethiopia,” is considered by most scholars to be the area directly south of Egypt, including parts of modern Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Somalia, especially along the Nile River and the lands near the Red Sea.
Put or Phut is often translated as “Libya,” and refers to most of northwestern Africa west of Egypt, including modern Libya, Algeria, Tunisia, and Morocco.
Though there was a theory in the early 1900s that Gomer referred to Germany, the idea has been rejected in more modern times because of etymological factors.10 Today, virtually all Bible scholars11 believe that Gomer refers to the Cimmerians,12 who were referred to as “Gimirru” in Akkadian, and were dwelling in the same area as many of the northern nations mentioned earlier: Georgia, Armenia, and Turkey.
Togarmah is identified with the Anatolian kingdom called Tegarama by the Hittites and Til-Garimmu by the Assyrians. It was very near to Tubal and Meshach in modern-day Georgia and Armenia and parts of Turkey.
Too many commentators these days are not giving people all the information they need when discussing the locations of these countries. For example, those who are trying to make all of these countries Muslim tend to make general statements that the northern nations are simply in Turkey (a mostly secular nation, but admittedly one with Islamic leanings), as opposed to being clear that the northern nations mentioned by Ezekiel are often primarily in Georgia and Armenia—an idea that those holding to the Islamic view don’t like, since both of those countries are decidedly Christian today. Conversely, those wanting to push the Russian view often try to make general statements about these nations being near modern-day Russia without going into exact details of their locations, which tend to diminish that connection. Or, as we saw earlier, they will admit that the nations were not in Russia in Ezekiel’s day, but say that a few of them did migrate to Russia 1,700 years later.
If you look at all of the areas that will be involved in the Gog-Magog war (see map) an interesting question comes up: Why aren’t the nations closest to Israel involved? It seems there is a kind of buffer zone of nations that separate Israel from its enemies.
Why, for example, isn’t Egypt involved? Historically, it has been a major enemy of Israel, not to mention of Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria, which constitute the biblical Assyria. The answer lies in Isaiah 19:23–25, which says that during the Millennium, Egypt and Assyria will be in a special relationship with the Lord and Israel.
In that day there will be a highway from Egypt to Assyria, and the Assyrian will come into Egypt and the Egyptian into Assyria, and the Egyptians will serve with the Assyrians. In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lord of hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance.” (Isaiah 19:23–25)
So it would seem that those closest to Israel, namely Egypt and Assyria, will be allied with Israel in a special way during the Millennium, and when the time comes for Satan to be released at the end of the thousand-year period, they remain true to the Lord. I believe this is the best way to explain the conspicuous absence of these historical enemies of Israel in the Gog-Magog war.
In this chapter, I have discussed the fact that many of the nations involved in the Gog-Magog war are also explicitly said to be in the Millennium. I have gone over the biblical and historical evidence for the locations of the primary players in the war and shown that most of the disputed nations were south of the Caucuses Mountains in the areas occupied by Georgia, Armenia, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and Libya. Finally, I have tried to explain the conspicuous absence of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Syria from the Gog-Magog war by citing the prophet Isaiah, who said that those nations will be in a special relationship with the Lord during the Millennium and therefore will be unlikely to rebel against Him when Satan is released.