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Monday, February 22, 2010

The Mystery of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel 38) - Part I

(This teaching was originally an article I wrote for the Feb/March 2002 edition of my old magazine, Present Truth Trumpet. I am re-producing it here, with some updated information, for your edification and education. May it bless you as you read it.)

Over the years there has been an increasing interest in Bible prophecy which has borne a large body of material and literature related to many aspects of it. Some of it is actually very good stuff, while others...well, I won't be insulting! This interest is understandable, especially in lieu of several recent events - the 9/11 attacks, the Y2K scare, the recent infatuation with December 31. 2012, etc. - and as time continues we see a gradual unfolding of what were considered obscure Scripture passages on almost a daily basis. All one has to do, naturally, is open up a newspaper or a magazine - it doesn't take rocket science to understand that the times are a'changin', and we as Christians really notice stuff like this as we have read of certain things in the Holy Writ of Scripture. However, many even within professing Christian circles still scoff at the fact that a growing number of us see things and believe they are things the Bible predicted many centuries ago, not to mention the phenomenal rate of accuracy that these things are lining up with Scriptural prophecies. But then again, God did write the book, and being he is all-knowing, maybe we should not be so surprised!

One of the subjects that has generated much interest, and has been a topic of many prophecy students since the Cold War days, centers around the 38th and 39th chapters of Ezekiel, and specifically in those chapters a couple of terms: Gog and Magog. What are they? Do they exist now? I personally have a theory of my own about this, and that is what I wish to share with you now.

Although I have heard sermons about this subject all my life, something really gave me a new perspective in 1994 when I happened upon Greek lay theologian Apostolos Makrakis' book, Interpretation on the Book of Revelation, due to some curiosity that was generated by the writings of my spiritual mentor, Fr. Eusebius Stephanou, who introduced me to this anointed man's writings. In that book, which is in essence a commentary on Revelation, Makrakis hit on something in Revelation 11:7 that caught my attention. That verse talks about a "beast descending out of the abyss," but the beast in this case was not the Antichrist. Rather, upon further study, I discovered that there was a parallel with that beast and with the events of Ezekiel 38-39. Reading what Makrakis said, he theorized that this "beast" was Islam, in particular the Ottoman Turks, that destroyed Christian Byzantium in 1453. (Makrakis, Interpretation. {Chicago, IL: the Orthodox Christian Educational Society, 1972 reprint of original} pp. 252-253). Now, the paradox of this is that many Bible prophecy teachers in the Pentecostal tradition I grew up in always said that Gog and Magog were Russia, which of course was a popular message in the Cold War era. However, the problem with this arises in that over 20 years after the Cold War ended, some people are still trying to villify Russia in all this. I recently heard, in 2002 at a Prophecy conference here in Tampa, several well-known and highly-respected prophecy experts still referring to Gog and Magog as Russia almost to a man. However, I have come to the conclusion that this is an impossibility for a variety of reasons. First, Russia ceased to be a major world power after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989, and although it has tried to re-assert itself on the world stage over the past 20 years, fact is Russia is in the backwater of European politics. Secondly, until fairly recently, most prophecy literature more or less parroted the same old teachings of older experts, and many of those theories, in lieu of recent developments, are now antiquated. In other words, Hal Lindsey's Late Great Planet Earth is a classic book, and even a good read, but very little teaching went beyond Lindsey's work for many years. Lindsey, in turn, was discipled by Dallas Seminary theologians who, although definitely godly men and strongly biblical for the majority of their material, still never got any fresh insight outside of some material of dispensationalist scholars such as C.I. Scofield and J. N. Darby. Thirdly, and most significantly, there has been an increase in interest with the Islamic world, in particular militant Islamic extremism, and Russia frankly doesn't fit the bill with this either, as it is as much a victim of Islamic extremism as its old rival the US is. Fourth, the spiritual legacy of Russia has often been ignored by the charismatic/fundamentalist/dispensationalist slant of many predominantly Protestant prophecy students, as well as traditionalist Catholic prophecy scholars who base a lot of their information on the Fatima apparitions which, although I believe them to be genuine, have been open to a lot of speculation - much of that school of thinking is attributed to Fr. Nicholas Gruner, a godly priest who unfortunately villifies Russia and ignores its Christian heritage as tragically as his Protestant dispensationalist counterparts do. The untold story of Russia's liberation from godless Communism is best summed up by Greek Orthodox writer Frank Schaeffer, who once made a statement that "a praying babuschka embracing an icon of the Theotokos brought down the hammer and sickle." The oft-neglected spiritual fortitude of many Russian Christian martyrs, occasionally brought to life by Alexander Solzhenitzen and others, says volumes - God was moving in Russia, and that is why communism fell. Church bells pealed out "Kristos Voskrese!!" while Lenin's statue fell - Christ lives in Russia! We will get into more of that later.

There are a couple of other preliminary facts I wish to share before we embark on the "meat" of the teaching. First, it must be remembered that while God indeed does deal with us as individuals, it must also be understood that in order for God to bring about his sovereign plan of the ages (ultimately, the total redemption and restoration of the heavens and earth from Satan's power), he also deals with nations and political entities as well. Almost every major world power that has risen and fell, as well as those to come, has a role in the divine scheme of human events. If not, they probably would not exist. God does, in short, purpose everything to His Glory. Therefore, if a nation does rise to prominence of some sort, God has a reason behind allowing it to do so. Only a brain-dead atheistic infidel, blinded by the finite folly of his own wisdom, would have the cojones to deny that fact (forgive the word, but it fits here).

A second point to be noted concerns individuals who are members of ethnic groups tied to nations. I want to clear something up right now before I proceed with those whose mindsets are corrupted by political-correctness in saying that this in NO WAY implies a sanction for racist ideology, as that is not even an option; God created ALL humanity of ALL nations in His image, and all are loved by him. I and many other students of Bible prophecy have been accused of being "bigoted" because we see the way God's hand moves in this world, and I need to go on record to assure anyone that believing in specific prophetic roles of certain nations in NO WAY implu labeling, stereotyping, or villifying people! The Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a perfect example to cite here at this point, because there are godly Christian Palestinian Arabs who I know have a place in God's kingdom to come, but there are also apostate Jewish people who, although their nation is the Chosen of God, nevertheless as individuals are hell-bound unless they repent and accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. However, that does not nullify the prophetic significance of either the sons of Isaac or of Ishmael.

That being said, we now get to the premise of our study, which is to establish first that Russia is not what Ezekiel 38-39 is talking about, but that the subject nation of that verse does exist and we must look elsewhere. My belief, after a lot of research and study, is that the Scriptural references to Gog/Magog are actually speaking of the Turkic/Mongol tribes of central Asia. This is a theory I intend to show, with both historical Jewish and Christian sources throughout the centuries, that has strong evidence and support. I also challenge those who are still stuck on the Russia interpretation to see the evidence for themselves. This is a challenging and lengthy study to undertake, but I have a burden to present the truth as I perceive it, as well as proclaiming that truth to others. Therefore, we will first look at the Biblical texts, with my subsequent commentary added.

The main passages dealing with the Gog/Magog situation are of course found in Ezekiel 38-39. Both chapters chronicle three prophetic pronouncements given by God to the prophet Ezekiel in regard to some political entity called "Gog." Gog is not a geographical designation, but is rather a person, more specifically a prince, chieftain, or king of a nation called "Magog." In verse 3, this person Gog is titled "the chief of Meshach and Tubal." Here is where the first point factors in. In Hebrew and other Semitic languages, the word for "chief" is "Rosh," which many well-intentioned and godly Bible students have understandably mistaken as a reference to Russia. Gog, then, is a person, and Rosh is his title - neither word has anything to do with a geographic location. The ancient Slav word "Rus," which is translated "oar" due to the Varangian/Viking boats navigating the rivers of what is today Russia, is the real origin of the name Russia, by the way. The name came from the big longboats the Varangians used to navigate the rivers of the Volga basin, which were manned by a contingent of oarsmen, which the Slav natives of the region noted and designated appropriately. Russia has also been said to be the derivative of the first Varangian ruler of the area, Rurik of Novgorod (from whom I am personally descended incidentally - just thought I would add that, for whatever it is worth!) who first encountered and then extended rule over the native Slavs of the Volga forests. His great-grandson, Prince Vladimir, later became the first Christian king of Russia in the year 988. Either way, the origin and etymology of the name Russia has nothing whatsoever to do with Hebrew grammar, as that would have been foreign to both the pagan Slav tribesmen and their Varangian conquistadors at that time. The New American Bible for Catholics that I originally used for this study also includes a note that the satellite lands mentioned in Ezekiel - Meshech, Tubal, Gomer, and Beth-Togarma - were all part of that land of antiquity the Bible calls Magog (from a Semitic Akkadian word meaning "Land of Gog"). Furthermore, these tribes of the land of Magog, as noted in verse 6, are said to have come from the "recesses of the North," and yet these lands themselves are generally believed to be on the southeast shore of the Black Sea, which is not Russia! Take a look at any map of the region, and you will see that the location of these lands is the northern coast of modern Turkey!! Throughout the ages - at least until some Protestant dispensationalists decided they knew better! - it has been a commonly-held belief that these Ezekiel prophecies referred to tribes out of central Asia that settled in Asia Minor, among those over the years being Scythians, Huns, Mongols, and of course, Turks! All of these people, with exception of the Scythians who were Indo-European cousins of the Persians, were from the same ethno-linguistic family, namely the Uralo-Altaic languages. A medieval Armenian visionary by the name of Agat'on has been attributed a prophecy that more or less elaborated that before the emergence of the Antichrist there would be a bondage of the "Archers" (Thomson, "The Crusaders Through Armenian Eyes," p. 78). The devastation attributed to these "Archers," (more about this later) notes another Armenian visionary by the name of Kirakos, would give rise to the Antichrist (ibid.). This theme is also echoed by medieval Jewish millenial/prophetic writings based on the Hebrew calendar year 5000 (roughly 1240 AD). This millenial year was supposed to usher in a redemption that would involve a "deliverer" from the East who would bring peace to Israel ("Maps, Mongols, and the Jewish Millenium," p. 2). This rings with familiarity when we read Revelation 20, which deals with the Millenial Reign of Christ, which some scholars called "the Sabbath Age." This is evidence from non-Christian Jewish writings as well that the millenial reign of Christ does have merit as a literal time in the future, although the Jewish perspective focuses on a Messiah they have yet to receive, while ours focuses on the Risen Messiah's return. Curiously, and in relation to this, the Turks have over the centuries had very cordial relations with the Jews, and one of their tribes called the Khazars even converted en masse to Judaism in the 11th century. Even under Ottoman rule, which could be ruthless to indigenous Christian populations, Jews were often shown favor by the various aghas, pashas, and khans and sultans of the Empire. This is a good evidence for what we see coming in Ezekiel 38:14-15, where it says that these forces of Gog of Magog will come down suddenly upon Israel without provocation. At the present time, Turkey is one of only a couple of Islamic nations in the Middle East that maintains very good relations with Israel, and therefore in the current political climate Turkey would be the most likely nation there to attack Israel. As a matter of fact, the two nations share military intelligence and technology. However, in recent years, Islamic militancy is on the rise, and all it would take is a radical Wahhabist Turkish political leader to take over the government in Ankara, and all hell would break loose (that happened with Persia, who up until the Ayatollah Khomeini's coup in 1979 was also a good friend of Israel, but that suddenly changed and now Iran arms Israel's enemies and its leaders have threatened to wipe Israel from the face of the earth). Verse 16 describes these armies as "a cloud covering the land," a great horde. Interesting enough, the central Asian nomadic tribes which included both the Turks and Mongols were described in a number of contemporary accounts in just that way. One faction that invaded Central Asia and Russia in the 12th century was even designated "the Golden Horde." With all that in mind, I again stress that this has nothing to do with Russia - for one thing, have there ever been "hordes of Russians"?

As we continue into chapter 39, God says he is the driving force behind this prince Gog, but he is ultimately also leading Gog to his own destruction. Once again, we see that these forces of Magog are said to come from "the recesses of the North." That of course begs the obvious question - what is a recess? As I see it, a recess is an open space, gap, or barren region of territory, and though in all fairness it could describe the steppes of southern Russia, it doesn't because the directions are not right. Therefore, we need to look at the region where the Turkic/Mongol tribes originate.

At the beginning of the 11th century, the armies of the Byzantine Empire were defeated by a weird group of people they had never encountered before, and those would be the Seljuk Turks. A little earlier, these and other Turkic tribes swept into the region from their homeland, an area to the extreme northeast of Persia called Transoxiana (meaning "beyond the Oxus River", referring to a waterway that flowed from the Hindu Kush Mountains of western Afghanistan into the Aral Sea). The Oghuz were a major Turkic tribe out of western Mongolia that more or less were the forebears of the future Turks that would settle Asia Minor, Azerbaijan, and other areas near the Black and Caspian Seas, and thus they were the ancestors of the Ottomans and Seljuks. If one were to take a detailed look at the region of Transoxiana today (roughly the area of the Turkic nation of Kazakhstan today) it would indeed fit the definition of a "recess," as it is a big, open, grassy basin. (Timeframe 1000-1100: Light in the East, pp. 44-45). Today, with the possible exceptions of the Jewish Khazars, the Buddhist Kalmyks, and the Christian Gaugauz Turks in Bulgaria and Romania, the vast majority of the Turks converted to Islam around that time, and as we see from history, the scourge of Islam is what turned the feuding rabble of nomadic Turkic tribes in the recesses of central Asia into a formidable force to be reckoned with. It is with interest that Islam comes up at this point, and in part 2 next week we will see the role Islam will play in all this as it begins to unfold.