Harry Whittaker
The Time Of The End

18) Gog Of The Land Of Magog

Ezekiel 38, 39

For over a century this unique prophecy in Ezekiel 38, 39 have been the sheet-anchor of all the political expectations built round the prophecies of the time of the end. The main ideas educed from it seem to be unshakable. At the same time the fact has to be faced that the enthusiasm of expositors has often run away with them. Now and then the handling of this prophecy has been quite unworthy of the stark grandeur of its theme. And it has to be admitted that even the most balanced and cautious attempts at elucidation of its details look in need of overhaul in the light of the altogether unexpected turn of events since 1948.

The biggest of the many mistakes that have been made is in the interpretation of the details of this Scripture by the help of ancient maps, political geography, and newspaper articles, rather than by Scripture itself. This kind of emphasis should always be accepted with considerable caution.

The identification of Gog with Russia appears to be fairly secure. That this is an allusion to Gugu, a Scythian king mentioned in a Babylonian inscription, seems reasonable; and the Scythians most likely inhabited all the area round the Black Sea. But a safer means of identification is the expression in 38: 15: “thou shalt come forth from thy place out of the uttermost parts of the north” (RV). From the standpoint of one in Palestine this expression most obviously refers to Turkey or Russia, yet even this conclusion loses some of its inevitability when one encounters the same expression in Isaiah 14: 13 (RV) regarding the king of Babylon!


The suggestion, once very popular, that Magog is Germany, is a pure guess, completely devoid of all Biblical support. The obvious meaning in Ezekiel would seem to be that Magog is the land the great leader, Gog, comes from.

Meschech and Tubal quite demonstrably are not Moscow and Tobolsk. In Ezekiel 27: 13 they are listed among the many nations and peoples trading with Tyre. But that city of commerce traded only with the peoples of its own hinterland, like Damascus, Sheba, and Dedan, which had caravan routes reaching to the sea, and with those regions overseas which could be reached by their intrepid sailors — Javan, Carthage, Tarshish, and the isles of Elishah. But Moscow and Tobolsk fall into neither category. It is difficult to envisage in what way those remote places could maintain a trade with Tyre in slaves and vessels of brass.[20] This identification rests solely on similarity of sound — a precarious foundation! By such a method it would be as reasonable to equate Gomer with Wales (Cymri). How much confident dogmatism has gone into the equation of Rosh with Russia for exactly the same reason and no other’ Yet rosh is one of the commonest of Hebrew words. In all its hundreds of occurrences it is correctly translated “head” or “chief.” Then how can anyone be sure that in this single place it should be treated as a proper name?

The Ethiopia mentioned in the Gogian confederacy is not necessarily modern Abyssinia. The Hebrew name is “Cush,” which is the ordinary word for “black.” As a geographical name it has more than one application. It may refer to an eastern Cush, the land of the black mountains (Genesis 10: 6-8); or to Midian, the land of black tents (Habakkuk 3: 7); or to the Sudan, the land of black people. From the context in Ezekiel 38 it is difficult to say with confidence which of the three is intended.

Attempts have often been made to include France in the list of invaders, as Gomer or Togarmah, but this seems to be the result of wishful thinking or guesswork more than the fruits of Bible evidence.

It would be, no doubt, both interesting and highly desirable to identify with certainty all the members of this military alliance, but the present state of knowledge counsels caution in this matter. The main point is clear and incontrovertible — a mighty invasion of the land of Israel from the north is indicated here.


Both the identification and the character of “Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish” have about them the same elements of uncertainty. The equation of all three with Britain, for many years asserted with supreme confidence, now (1969) begins to look slightly sick in the light of modern politics and the events of the past twenty years. “Perfidious Albion,” which has systematically and cravenly broken all its promises to the Jews in a spineless attempt to keep friends with oil-rich Arabs, has, as its reward, achieved only promotion from a first-rate to a third-rate power in record time. The “toothless bulldog” is feared by none and respected by few. Its economic, political and social decay has become the best possible modern exemplification of one of the greatest truths in history: “Him that curseth thee, I will curse.”[21]

Yet it has to be conceded that these facts in themselves do not rule out as hopeless the old familiar interpretation. Over the centuries God has brought about many strange and sudden transformations in the political scene, and the same thing could happen again, even though at the time of writing there is not on the horizon a cloud even as big as a man’s hand.

The real criterion is still the evidence from Scripture — and a re-examination of this does not go far to allay misgivings.

It seems pretty certain that there was both an eastern (2 Chronicles 9: 21 and 20: 37) and a western (Jonah 1: 3; Ezekiel 27: 12) Tarshish. If the former is India, as seems most likely, there is little help towards identification with Britain, for the ties of both India and Pakistan with the old imperial power are now about as tenuous as they could be. Also, both are militarily innocuous, and the latter is strongly, almost violently, antagonistic to Israel. Nor does the fact that Phoenicians traded with England prove that country to be the western Tarshish, for the Phoenicians certainly traded also with Spain, a country far more rich than Britain in “silver, iron, tin, and lead.”

In any case the phrase “merchants of Tarshish” is not bound to mean “merchants who live in Tarshish.” It may simply mean “merchants who trade with Tarshish,” and thus may indicate the much more local commercial power of Tyre. From this point of view it might be simpler to say that the merchants of Tarshish represent U.S.A. rather than Britain, though in that case all the usual supporting evidences educed from the familiar passages about both eastern and western Tarshish becomes not only valueless but a real hindrance. The passages listed above positively refuse to fit in with such a view.

“All the young lions” of Tarshish is another detail long overdue for re-examination. Even when the British Empire was at the height of its grandeur the application of these words to dominions and colonies, whilst apparently obvious enough, had precious little Biblical foundation to rest on. Why, one wonders, was the evidence of Ezekiel 19:2-6 on this point so consistently overlooked through several generations? There the young lions are the princes of the house of Judah (compare the way in which the greatest scion of that house is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah,” and see also Genesis 49:9). Is it likely that Ezekiel would use the identical symbol with two widely differing meanings? More probably, surely, the expression describes either certain outstanding national leaders associated with Sheba and Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish or, possibly, the great Jewish merchant princes who carry such influence in the world of commerce.

At one time and another much has been made of the phrase: “Art thou come to take a spoil and to take a prey?” If indeed the word “come” requires that the speaker be actually present in the invaded land or in close proximity to it, then modern developments and present prospects both make reference to a defensive challenge by Britain decidedly difficult.


Again, Sheba and Dedan have been glibly replaced by modern Muscat and Aden. Even if this assumption were warranted (which it certainly is not), one would be left wondering why these somewhat obscure corners of British influence (if they can be so described today!) should be picked out as the foremost way of identifying the protector of Israel in the Last Days.

In any case, the Bible evidence concerning Sheba and Dedan altogether disallows the conclusion, which has been so often uncritically reached.

Ezekiel 25: 13 and Jeremiah 49: 8 and 25: 23 pointedly associate Dedan with Edom and Teman, which were certainly located to the immediate south and south-east of Israel, and not in the remote corners of the Arabian peninsula.

Concerning Sheba, there is at least one clear-cut line of evidence, which makes identification with the southern corner of Arabia highly unlikely. Lamentations 4: 21 identifies the land of Uz, where Job lived, with Edom. Mention of Eliphaz the Temanite supports this. The Sabeans who raided Job’s oxen and asses were actually, according to the original Hebrew text, men of Sheba[22] (see Job 1: 15 RVm). If Sheba is in the extreme south of Arabia, then these raiders had travelled across nearly a thousand miles of desert to capture beasts with which they had almost no hope of getting home —another thousand miles! Such considerations require that Sheba be placed along with Dedan in the northern part of the Arabian Desert. And now where is the ground for identification with either Britain or America? The modernising of “Sheba, Dedan and the merchants of Tarshish” with Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syria is at least as likely as the more familiar alternatives, especially in the light of the Septuagint reading “Arabs” for Sheba.

In recent years a completely different interpretation of the passage under examination has been canvassed. Instead of the words: “Art thou come to take a spoil ...?” being read as a challenge and a rebuff to the northern invader, they can be taken to mean: “You are going to invade Israel and profit from its prosperity? then we will join you in this and share in the plunder.” Such an interpretation is not impossible, and would certainly accord well with the historic character of the Arab races in their dealings with Israel.

So far the net outcome of the present investigation is to leave the main idea of the traditional interpretation of Ezekiel 38 where it was, but to throw some doubt on the soundness of many of the details associated with that exposition.


There remains another important aspect of the prophecy, which has hardly had the serious consideration that it deserves, even though it is suggested more than once in the writings of Dr. Thomas. The assumption is often made, indeed it is usually taken as almost axiomatic, that this Gog-Magog invasion will take place before the coming of the Lord and will actually be the most clear-cut sign available to the saints that his return will happen almost immediately. Is there any single argument which points clearly to this conclusion? Certainly there are several difficulties in the way of such a view and these are considerations, which cease to be difficulties if the prophecy is read, as having application to the time after Jesus has become King of the Jews in Jerusalem. These arguments, which have been discussed at greater length elsewhere,[23] are listed here briefly for convenience:

  1. Israel dwelling securely. Can this ever be true of Israel whilst ringed round by hostile Arab states?
  2. “Dwelling without walls, and having neither bars nor gates.” The words have never shewn any sign of being true since 1948, nor — by ordinary judgement — can they be until Arab enemies become friends or subjects.
  3. “To take a spoil and to take a prey.” In itself the small state of Israel is a prize not worth grabbing by any greater power. It is true that the geographic situation of Israel would make it a prize worth having, but the prophecy does not hint at geographical advantage. Instead: “cattle and goods,” i.e. material wealth. But once their Messiah rules over Israel, their material prosperity will be evident to all the world. And if meantime the world has been ravaged by nuclear war, famine and pestilence (Matthew 24: 7), the contrast with the rest of the world will be all the greater.
  4. The language used to describe the destruction of Gog and his army (39: 17) is quoted in Revelation 19: 17, 18 concerning the judgement meted out by him whose name is King of kings and Lord of lords. For those who believe in letting Scripture interpret Scripture, this and point 4 will be decisive.
  5. The phrase “dwelling securely” is applied in Ezekiel 34: 28, 24, 25 and in Zechariah 14: 11 to the time when the kingdom is established.
  6. With the alternative concept—an invasion of the Land before the Lord’s coming, the sequence of ideas in Ezekiel 37, 38 has to be completely disregarded:
  7. Valley of dry bones—Israel’s final time of trouble.
  8. The nation united in the Land.
  9. Their Messiah ruling over them; God’s sanctuary in the midst of them.
  10. The invasion from the north when Israel are in peace and prosperity.
Admittedly, chronological sequence cannot be insisted on in prophecies of the Last Days; e.g. Zechariah 12-14: “in that day,” Isaiah’s “Little Apocalypse,” chapters 24-26; the book of Revelation itself. But in Ezekiel 37, 38 the detailed parallel with Ezekiel 34 requires strict sequence.

  1. “I will set up one Shepherd over them.”
  2. “My servant David a prince among them.”
  3. “And I will make with them a covenant of peace.”
  4. “I the Lord will be their God ...”
  5. “and they, the house of Israel, my people.”
  6. “I will bring them out from the people, and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land.”
  7. “And they shall dwell safely in the wilderness (i.e. the open country; compare without walls, having neither bars nor gates).”
The first six of these seven quotations from Ezekiel 34 are found almost word for word in Ezekiel 37: 22-27. But the last is repeated in 38: 8, 11. The conclusion seems to be inescapable that since in chapter 34: 23-31 the prophet is picturing the blessedness of Israel when Messiah’s kingdom is fully established, the same is true in chapter 37, 38 — including the expression “dwell safely.” And since another common meaning of the Hebrew phrase is: “dwell in trust (in God),” this is probably how it should read here, emphasizing the conversion of Israel.

One difficulty in the way of this conclusion (that the Gog-Magog invasion happens after the return of Christ) is more apparent than real: “After that they have borne their shame, and all their trespasses whereby they have trespassed against me, when they dwelt safely in their land, and none made them afraid.”

This seems to indicate that Israel must suffer for their sins at the hands of Gog. Yet it need not. “They shall bear their shame” (RV) may mean repentance and acknowledgement of unworthiness rather than the suffering of punishment. In other words, this passage is equivalent to the familiar words of Zechariah 12: 10, which tells of a repentance of Israel not only before Messiah’s coming but even more poignantly afterwards.

It should be noted that there is no hint in Ezekiel 38, 39 that Israel suffers in any way from the northern invasion. “As a cloud to cover the land ... to take a spoil and to take a prey” describes intention. There is no lasting achievement. No sooner is the land over-run than it is delivered by divine power.

The language of 39: 3 seems to require this conclusion: “I will smite thy bow out of thy left hand, and will cause thine arrows to fall out of thy right hand.” This is a picture of an invader still in action with his weapons of offence when he is annihilated. Thus any interpretation, which requires Gog’s occupation of the Land to last for several years, or even months, must be disallowed.

[20] A similar argument based on Ezekiel 32:26 goes further to eliminate this interpretation.
[21] And in the Hebrew text, the second word here is much stronger than the first.
[22] The word for Sabeans is written quite differently.
[23] “The Last Days” chapter 1.

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