Many Bible readers believe that the prophet Ezekiel describes an invasion of Israel led by Russia.
The key passage is in Ezekiel 38
“Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him … After many days you will be mustered. In the latter years you will go against the land that is restored from war, the land whose people were gathered from many peoples upon the mountains of Israel, which had been a continual waste. Its people were brought out from the peoples and now dwell securely, all of them. (Ezekiel 38:2,8)
The Hebrew word translated “chief” is Rosh and some versions describe the invader as “Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal” (e.g., Revised Version, 1885). Some 19th Century interpreters took ‘Rosh’ to be Russia; some went as far as to identify Meshech with Moscow and Tubal with Tobolsk.
However, there is little linguistic support for any of this. Rosh is a common Hebrew word which occurs 599 times in the Old Testament, and is translated as “chief”, “head”, “top”, “beginning”, etc., in every case in most English Bibles. Meshech and Tubal were grandsons of Noah (Genesis 10:1-2) and their descendants are thought to have settled around the Black Sea area in what is now Turkey and Georgia. The early Jewish historian Josephus (Jos.Ant.1.6) identifies Magog with Scythia (north of the Black Sea), Meshech with the Mushki people of Anatolia (central Turkey), and Tubal with Iber (modern Spain), although the latter seems unlikely.
Another argument for seeing Russia in this prophecy is that Gog “will come from your place out of the uttermost parts of the north” (38:15). It is often assumed that this points directly to Russia. However, to Ezekiel, the “uttermost parts of the north” was the Black Sea and it is unlikely he knew anything about what lay beyond.
Meaning in Ezekiel’s day
The prophecy has some immediate contemporary application to Ezekiel’s time.
However most readers consider that Ezekiel’s prophecy predicts an end-time invasion of Israel as yet unfulfilled. The invasion is by a confederacy of nations. If Ezekiel’s geography were to be literally applied to geography today then that would indicate that these nations would include Turkey, and possibly also Kazakhstan and other neighbouring countries. In addition, Ezekiel 38:5 identifies Iran (Persia), Sudan (Cush) and Libya (Put) as part of the invading forces.
The invasion is unsuccessful. Ezekiel 38 finishes with the following warning.
18 But on that day, the day that Gog shall come against the land of Israel, declares the Lord God, my wrath will be roused in my anger. 19 For in my jealousy and in my blazing wrath I declare, On that day there shall be a great earthquake in the land of Israel … 21 I will summon a sword against Gog on all my mountains, declares the Lord God. Every man’s sword will be against his brother. 22 With pestilence and bloodshed I will enter into judgment with him, and I will rain upon him and his hordes and the many peoples who are with him torrential rains and hailstones, fire and sulfur. 23 So I will show my greatness and my holiness and make myself known in the eyes of many nations. Then they will know that I am the Lord. (Ezekiel 38:18-23)
Read the whole of Ezekiel 38-39 for the full story and amazing outcome.