The Gog-Magog War: The Russian-Islamic Invasion of Israel
See also Armageddon
The prophet Ezekiel clearly describes an end-time invasion of Israel “from the north”. He refers to “Gog of the land of Magog” and so some refer to this as the gog-magog war. Many see an essentially Islamic invasion (Iran, Turkey, Libya, Ethiopia (today’s Sudan) …) all probably led by Russia. The current world situation aligns very well with this prophetic interpretation. The outcome is the total defeat and humiliation of militant Islam in the sight of many nations. Russia is also defeated. Moreover, from that day, Israel starts to know her God as He pours out His Spirit upon her:
So the House of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God from that day forward … (Ezek 39.22)
A little more … It seems very plausible that chapters 38 and 39 in the prophet Ezekiel refer to an invasion of Israel prior to the last battle of this age (the so-called ‘Battle of Armageddon’) and that this war involves mainly those Arab-Islamic nations surrounding Israel. Psalm 83 speaks of an alliance of invading nations, a mainly Arab-Islamic alliance. This view is supported by the fact that some nations denounce the invasion (Ezek 38.13) and by the fact that the God of Israel is ‘hallowed’ (revered and honoured) in the sight of many other nations through the defeat of the invader (Ezek 38.16, Ezek 39.27). In other words, not all nations seem to be involved. Moreover, key present-day Arab-Islamic nations such as Turkey, Iran, Libya and Ethiopia are identified in Ezek 38.1-6. This is the war of gog-magog.
The puzzle of Israel’s role in the world is being assembled, and some of the pieces involve war.
Israel’s neighbours are posed to attack.
Psalm 83: An End-time Alliance against Israel
Many Bible scholars see this psalm (written 10th century BC) as prophetic and applicable to end-times. They identify in the psalm specific Arab nations which make war against Israel at the end of this age, although scholars disagree on the particular nations involved, link, link. What we do know is that the psalm speaks of a confederacy against Israel with the aim of eliminating Israel:
They have said, ‘Come, and let us wipe them out as a nation, that the name of Israel be remembered no more … they form a confederacy against You’ (Ps 83.4,5)
Does this sound familiar?
Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it [Hamas Charter, 1988]
Israel has no roots in the Middle East and would be ‘eliminated’ [President of Iran, 2012]
Psalm 83 goes on to mention certain people groups in this alliance:
- Ishmaelites (v6) or Arabs, descendants from Ishmael
- Edom and Moab (v6) refer to Jordan
- Philistia (v7) relates to Hamas in Gaza
- Gebal (v7) (a maritime town near Tyre) and Tyre relate to Hezbollah in Lebanon
- Ammon (v7) relates to Palestinians east of the West Bank (NW Jordan)
- Assyria (v8) relates to northern Iraq and parts of NE Syria and SE Turkey (areas troubled by ISIS or ISIL), link
What is the current situation? Well, these are all Islamic countries with Hamas (Gaza) and Hezbollah (Lebanon) vehemently opposed to Israel. Currently Israel’s chief enemies are Shia Muslim (as in Hezbollah), so Israel is currently tightly aligned with anti-Shia Saudi Arabia, link. When it comes to Israel and Jordan, these nations are currently tethered by a peace treaty but the current ‘cold peace’ could easily turn into a ‘deep freeze’, link. Moreover, Jordan (and all Israel) is an integral part of the Levant, an area marked by ISIS for an Islamic caliphate (see map).
Historical Connection: We must not forget what has already happened. Historically, the Edomites (v6) and the Amalekites (v7) were arch enemies of OT Israel. Whilst it is claimed that Edom disappeared into Rome when the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD, link, that is not true for the Amalekites. The Torah teaches that Amalekites exist in every generation, link, and so today many Israeli’s regard their adversaries as ‘Amalek’ either in reality or in symbolism. As in history, today’s Amalekites actively conspire to kill off God’s chosen people – the Jews – and we can see this in Iran and in ISIS.
So given the close correspondence of Philistia (Gaza) with Hamas, Tyre (Lebanon) with Hezbollah, and the Levant (Ammon, Amalek, Philistia, Tyre, Moab and (northern) Assyria) with ISIS, then Psalm 83 does indeed appear to foresee an end-time Arab-Islamic invasion of Israel. We will now see that prophecies in Ezekiel confirm this conclusion.
Key Nations in the Gog-Magog War
Ezekiel’s prophecy identifies the key players:
Now the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. I will turn you around, put hooks into your jaws, and lead you out, with all your army, horses, and horsemen, all splendidly clothed, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords. Persia, Ethiopia (Heb: Cush), and Libya (Heb: Put) are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all its troops; the house of Togarmah from the far north and all its troops—many people are with you. (Ezek 38.1-6)
The nation of Iran was called Persia, its biblical name, until 1935. Persia was one of the former great empires of the world, ruling 539-331 BC. The book of Esther tells how a Jewish girl became the queen of Persia and how God used her to save her people (the Jews) from a plot to destroy them. This spirit of hatred against the Jews exists today and Iran’s leaders insist that “Israel must be ‘wiped off the map'” – as foretold in Psalm 83 verse 4.
The Ethiopia of the Bible was located to the south of Egypt, extending through the junction of the White and Blue Nile, including, and beyond, what is today’s Sudan. Ethiopia was inhabited by Ham’s son Cush. In fact, the Hebrew word ‘cush’ and its Greek equivalent ‘Ethiopia’ are used interchangeably throughout the Bible.
Some Bible translations use the word Put, which is simply the Hebrew place name for the area currently occupied by present-day Libya. Politically, Libya is unstable, with the ever-present threat of Islamic State group ISIL or ISIS, link. This is not surprising given that Libya is about 97% Muslim, link. Also, as of 2018, Libya did not recognize or maintain diplomatic relations with the State of Israel, link. So it is very conceivable that Libya could join an Islamic invasion of Israel.
Gomer and the house of Togarmah are also mentioned (Ezek 38.6). Gomer was an Aryan group who conquered Armenia (essentially north-eastern Turkey) from their Ukrainian homeland, and Togarmah was the south-eastern part of Turkey near the Syrian border, link.
Clearly, on this analysis, it seems that Turkey is directly involved in the war against Israel. And of course Turkey is indeed north of Israel, as required by the prophecy in Ezekiel 38.6.
Turkish Politics: Currently Turkey finds herself isolated and surrounded by not very friendly states such as Iran, Iraq and Syria. So an anti-Israel alliance with these countries seems rather distant, especially since Turkey-Israel relations could even improve, link, link. But given the rapid political transitions in recent years in Libya, Iraq and Egypt, Turkey could yet fall to hard-line Islamic fundamentalists and join Iran, link. Under President Ergodan, Turkey now has a powerful President who is sympathetic to Egypt’s suppressed Muslim Brotherhood, link.
Russia – the Land of Magog
The invasion is sometimes referred to as the Gog-Magog war since it is led by “Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal … from out of the far north” (Ezek 38.2,15). Here, ‘Gog’ could be the leader of the coalition against Israel, or a specific anti-God people living in the land of Magog. A number of Bible atlas’s (see Map 1) place Magog in northern Turkey, link. The Oxford Bible Atlas identifies Meshech and Tubal as regions in Asia Minor or Turkey, as indicated in Map 1, link.
That said, an alternative and more favoured location of Magog is a region north and east of the Black Sea and in the area surrounding the Caspian Sea. Magog was a son of Japheth and a grandson of Noah (Gen 10.2). The descendants of Japheth subsequently settled across Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) and those in the eastern parts became known as Scythians. The significant point here is that historians link the Scythian peoples to Magog. Hesiod identified Magog with the Scythians and the southern Russia area in the 7th century BC, and Herodotus wrote about the descendants of Magog by their Greek name, the Scythians in the 5th century BC. Both Jerome and Josephus claimed that Magog is a general designation for the many Scythian tribes of the north, whilst Philo (1st century) identifies Magog with the southern Russia area, link.
So where were these Scythians? They were barbarians (non-Greek and non-Roman), a people dwelling north and east of the Black Sea and in the area surrounding the Caspian Sea. This was an area on the outer edge of the then known civilized world, link, link. Today’s maps identify this area to include the Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the Russian Federation, link. The Russian Federation (and Moscow) is indeed to the ‘far north’ of Israel (Ezek 38.6,15). And many authorities add that Meshech and Tubal are the names of the Scythian tribes, whose names have been standardized as modern place names. So they take Meshech as Russia’s capital, Moscow.
Rosh – Russia? Some claim that Russia is implied by the term ‘Rosh’ (Ezek 38.2,3 NKJV, NASB). This term is missing in the King James Version (KJV) of the Bible, but modern translations imply Rosh is a geographic location or place name. In early Greek writings Rosh was a name used for all the nations of the north, link. The German Bible critic Gesenius regarded Rosh as indicating the Russians, who are mentioned in Byzantine writers of the 10th century under the name of Rhos, link. And today any standard Hebrew text (such as a newspaper) refers to Russia by using the proper noun, ‘Rosh’. So some Bible scholars associate Rosh with Russia, link, link.
Russian Politics: Russia’s strengthening economic and military ties with Iran (a key nation in Ezekiel 38) supports the view that Russia could be the leader of the Gog-Magog invasion, link. Russia and Iran both support Bashar al Assad’s regime in Syria and oppose Sunni jihadist movements such as ISIS. Russian military support for Iran comes via arms deals between the two countries, as in the supply of S-300 air defense systems, Sukhoi Su-30SM multi-role fighter jets and advanced Russian T-90 tanks, link. On the other hand, Moscow does not want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.
What of Syria?
Syria is mentioned some 300 times in the Bible and Damascus (now probably the world’s oldest, continuously inhabited city) is mentioned about 60 times. In those days Syria covered a substantially larger area than modern Syria, reaching down into Lebanon and Israel, link. But apart from the coastal regions of ancient Syria (e.g. Gebal and Tyre), Syria is not specifically mentioned in Psalm 83, or in Ezekiel 38. Why? Consider a possible reason. Historically, Damascus has suffered attack (2 Ki 16.9) but it has never been totally destroyed. But prophecy states that one day soon it will be totally destroyed:
Damascus will cease from being a city … it will be a ruinous heap. (Isa 17.1)
Today’s news suggests that this is close to fulfillment.
Nations NOT directly Involved in the Gog-Magog War
As mentioned, the so-called Gog-Magog war does not involve all nations of the world. It is different to the last war of this age – Armageddon. When the Russian alliance invades Israel some nations question the motive:
Sheba, Dedan, the merchants of Tarshish, and all their young lions will say to you, ‘Have you come to take plunder? Have you gathered your army to take booty, to carry away silver and gold, to take away livestock and goods, to take great plunder?’ (Ezek 38.13)
Sheba (Sheva) and Dedan were descendants of Cush (Gen 10.7), and the same two tribal names are directly linked to a much later time as offspring of Abraham, through Keturah (Gen 25.3). Studies trace these names to today’s Saudi Arabia, link, link. On the other hand, Psalm 83 verse 6 does imply Arabic aggression.
What about Tarshish? This was a city in southern Spain. The ‘merchants of Tarshish’ used it on route to Europe and other ports of the world. So Tarshish is usually identified as the western powers, link, and today we note that these have a strong economic/military alliance with Saudi Arabia. It seems America, Europe and Saudi Arabia will voice strong objections to the Gog-Magog invasion, but are not directly involved.
The Invaders: a Russian-Islamic Alliance
So let’s identify the key players in the alliance against Israel. If we follow some historians rather than a Bible atlas, then Russia could be the leader (Gog). The rest of the coalition are nearly all strongly Islamic. Ezekiel 38.1-6 describes Turkey (98% Muslim), Iran or Persia (99% Muslim), Libya Heb:Put (97% Muslim) and Ethiopia Heb:Cush (50% Muslim). Psalm 83 adds more Islamic groups based in Gaza, Lebanon, and possibly northern Iraq (Assyria). All this is pretty specific on location and seems to involve principally Arab-Islamic nations in the Middle East. Current Islamic threats support this interpretation of prophecy.
Politics: Not all Islamic nations appear to be involved, principally Egypt, and probably also Syria (possibly for reasons already discussed), Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Today’s politics support this view. Israel has been working hard in recent years at diversifying its alliances, and has courted the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Surprisingly, in contrast to prophecy, Israel also has a working relationship with Russia, link! Prophecy indicates that this will change.
Weapons: A straight reading of prophecy suggests that the invaders use primitive weapons that can be burnt for fuel (Ezek 39.9,10 suggests they are combustible). Surprisingly, such a scenario is not impossible in today’s world! An EMP (electromagnetic pulse) weapon exploded over areas north of Israel could disable all modern electronics-based weapons, link, forcing the use of primitive weapons. On the other hand, Malachi 4.1-3 and Zechariah 14.12 appear to describe how the invaders in the final conflicts will perish, and may be references to nuclear war and the use of neutron bombs respectively. The unused fuel in military vehicles could be the combustible element in Ezekiel 39.9-10.
Islam is Humiliated
The 1988 Hamas Charter vowed that Islam would eliminate Israel. Nothing has changed, and today Islamic leaders proudly boast of their coming destruction of the Jewish nation, Israel. For example:
The Quran teaches that the Palestinians must liberate Israel in its entirety. Allah says (in the Quran): ‘And drive them out from wherever they have driven you out’. Removing the Jews from the land they occupied in 1948 is an immutable principle, because it appears in the Book of Allah. We have liberated Gaza, part of Palestine, but I am not prepared to accept just Gaza … Our position is: Palestine in its entirety, and not a grain of soil less. (The Quran says:) ‘Kill them wherever you may find them’ – Allah did not define the 1967 borders or the 1948 borders. We will fight them wherever we can – on the ground, underground, and if we have airplanes, we will fight them from the skies.
[ Mahmoud Al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, and member of the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip, March 2017 ]
Here, Al-Zahar is choosing his words from at least 109 verses in the Quran that call Muslims to war with nonbelievers for the sake of Islamic rule, link.
But Bible prophecy says they will fail! The invaders do not appear to reach Jerusalem. Rather, they fall on the mountains of Israel and in the open field (Ezek 39.4,5). Whilst the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) must play a part in the war, prophecy implies that they receive supernatural help. The God of Israel says to the invaders: “I will strike your bow from your left hand and dash down your arrows from your right hand” (Ezek 39.3). They are also defeated by extreme weather:
With pestilence and with blood I will enter into judgment with him; and I will rain on him and on his troops, and on the many peoples who are with him, a torrential rain, with hailstones, fire and brimstone. I will magnify Myself, sanctify Myself, and make Myself known in the sight of many nations; and they will know that I am the Lord.
Defeat comes through fire and brimstone similar to that which destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Ezek 38.22,23), and possibly via extreme snowfall (Job 38.22,23). There will also be a great earthquake in Israel (Ezek 38.19).
Here we see the total defeat and humiliation of militant Islam in the sight of many nations. . Moreover, from that day, Israel starts to know her God as He pours out His Spirit on her:
So the House of Israel shall know that I am the LORD their God from that day forward … for I shall have poured out My Spirit on her (Ezek 39.22,29)
Russia is Humiliated and Burned
At this time God’s anger is kindled against the invading armies of Gog (Ezek 38.18) and He fights for His people Israel:
‘You will fall on the open field’ declares the Lord God. ‘And I will send fire upon Magog and those who inhabit the coastlands in safety; and they will know that I am the Lord. My holy name I will make known in the midst of My people Israel’ (Ezek 39.5-7)
In the same end-time context the prophet Joel says:
I will remove the northern army (probably Russian led) far from you, And I will drive it into a parched and desolate land, And its vanguard into the eastern sea, And its rear guard into the western sea (Joel 2.20).
It seems that Russia is visited by fire and her forces are driven towards Siberia! Why? A glance at a map shows that Moscow and the associated western and southern military districts are directly north of the Black Sea. It is widely known that there are some 100 mud volcanoes under the Black Sea and these are continuously releasing methane gas, link, link. Sometimes this gas reaches the surface resulting in fire flashes and explosions. Any volcanic action or earthquake (as in Ezek 38.19) could release much more gas which could be carried north to Russia and then ignited. So ‘fire on Magog’ is a distinct possibility.
Timing of the Gog-Magog War
As mentioned, scripture indicates that this invasion is a separate invasion to ‘the battle of Armageddon’. The timing is not clear in scripture but it is generally taken to occur before Armageddon. The timing appears to be around (just before or just after) the start of the last seven years of this age (Daniel’s 70th Week). At the start of this ‘week’ the end-time world dictator makes a covenant with Israel:
That ruler will have a firm agreement with many people for seven years … (Dan 9.27 GNT)
This may be a ‘peace’ covenant, but in reality it is a ‘covenant with hell’ (Isa 28.11)
A Pre-Covenant Invasion: In this scenario, the invasion takes place before the revealing of the secular world dictator (the ‘beast’ of Rev 13.1) and the false ecclesiastical head (the antichrist, Rev 13.11). This revealing must occur around the start of the 70th week to allow for a seven year covenant. Placing the invasion before the 70th week allows Israel seven years to use Gog’s weapons as fuel (Ezek 39.9,10) before they start to suffer in the great tribulation under the beast (Jacob’s trouble Jer 30.7). So the invasion probably occurs around the time of the rapture of the true church, either a few years before or a few years after the rapture.
At first, such timing appears to conflict with the vision of Israel living in safety before the invasion commences. The invader says:
I will go up against the land of unwalled villages. I will go against those who are at rest, that live securely, all of them living without walls and having no bars or gates’ (Ezek 38.11)
Clearly, this is not true of present-day Israel. But ‘living securely’ may refer to the fact that most Jews will by then have returned to Israel where they find safety from hostility e.g. antisemitism in Gentile nations (Ezek 38.8, 39.26). These verses imply that dispersed Israel will never feel safe whilst she dwells amongst Gentile nations and will only feel safe when she is in her own land. Note God’s warning to rebellious Israel:
And among those nations you shall find no rest … there the LORD will give you a trembling heart … your shall fear day and night (Deut 28.65,66)
As for ‘living without walls’, this may be a reference to the sheer multitude of people who have made aliyah to Israel, rather than to the absence of Israel’s military defenses. Scripture says:
Jerusalem will be inhabited without walls because of the multitude of men and cattle within it (Zech 2.4)
Certainly Ezekiel 38.12 (the next verse) agrees with this view: the waste places (desert scrub) are now blooming due to Israel’s advanced agriculture.
So the timing of the Gog-Magog war against Israel could well be before the emergence of the final world dictator but after the dispersed people of Israel have been gathered back into their own land and so are safe from hostility within the Gentile nations i.e. at or near the end of the aliyah (Ezek 39.27,28). This implies that the true church may well see this invasion before she is taken up in the rapture. Today, the aliyah continues, with millions of Jews still residing in Gentile nations. As of 2015, the world Jewish population was 14.2 million, of which 6.2 million (44%) resided in Israel, link.
The real war against Israel is spiritual
Source of map image showing ancient Magog, Meshech, Put, Cush, Persia: SignPosts of the Times