Notes on Ezekiel 38:1-9

Ezekiel 38:1‑9  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 9
Next follow two chapters which contain a prediction of God's judgment to fall in the last days, when Israel is restored, on a great north-eastern chief with his vast array of satellites and allies on the mountains of the Holy Land.
But it may be well to clear away some mistakes which have long, and for most readers, overhung the translation of verse 2 to the detriment of the sense. Happily the oldest version (the Septuagint) gives the true meaning; and the Greek versions of Theodotion and Symmachus did not abandon but confirm it. It is impossible on any just principles to deny that the Septuagint and those who hold with it rightly give ἄρχοντα 'Pώς κ. τ. λ. for נָשִאדאׄשׄ. I am aware that the Chaldee Targum of Jonathan and the Greek version of the Jew Aquila take it, like one English Bible, as “the chief prince,” the Vulgate as prince of the head or chief (like our margin), the Syriac as “ruler and chief,” the Arabic as “prince of the princes,” etc.
But none of these affords a tolerable or even intelligible meaning, save the latter two which desert the text. It is true that ראׄשׄ, when the context requires it to be a common appellative, means “head” or “chief;” but it is this sense which in the present instance brings in confusion. There can be no doubt therefore that it must be taken as a proper name, and here not of a man as in Genesis 26:22And the Lord appeared unto him, and said, Go not down into Egypt; dwell in the land which I shall tell thee of: (Genesis 26:2), if the common reading stand, but of a race. This at once furnishes a suitable sense, which is strengthened by the term which precedes it, as well as by those that follow. For, as נָשִׄיא regularly means the head of a tribe, or a prince in general, so Meshech and Thubal fix ראׄשׄ as meaning a Gentilic name (Rosh). They were in fact three great tribes, by the ancients called Scythians, the first of them apparently deriving its name from their proximity in those days to the river Rha, or Volga (though some think the Araxes), and supplying that of the modern Russ, as the others are reproduced in Moscow or Muscovy, and in Tobolsk.1
There is of course no difficulty in supposing migrations northward from the original seats, supposing that they may have been the races in the north of Asia Minor during the days of Ezekiel, and familiar to us as the Moschi, Tibareni, and perhaps other tribes named in later authors of Greece.
The great questions are what, where, and when they are viewed when the vision applies, not when it was written. And of this the place it occupies in the prophetic series, the precise language of the vision and the character of the judgment pronounced, ought to leave no doubt for any believer. It can apply only in the last days when the chosen nation are peacefully restored to their land, and it speaks of such a judgment on their enemies, countless though they may be, as has never been witnessed since Ezekiel prophesied, nor anything approaching to it. The Grotian effort to apply it to Antiochus is of course a pitiable failure. Equally unsatisfying is the very vague “ideal” of Fairbairn and the modern German school. Nor are the Futurists more right who confound with the beast and the false prophet this great leader of the north-eastern nations, not without followers from the south.
Let us now look into the opening of this remarkable prediction. Who can deny that the rapid and immense development of the Russian empire bears its unmistakable witness to the judgment that is coming, as here declared so long before?.
“And the word of Jehovah came unto me, saying, Set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, Thus saith the Lord Jehovah, Behold I am against thee, O Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal; and I will turn thee back, and put My hook into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed elegantly, a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords; Persia, Cush, and Phut with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all his bands; the house of Togarmah of the north quarters; many people with thee. Be thou prepared, and prepare thyself, thou and all thy company that are assembled unto thee, and be thou a guard unto them. After many days shalt thou be mustered; in the latter days thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword, that is gathered out of many peoples against the mountains of Israel which have been always waste: but it is brought forth out of the nations, and they shall dwell safely all of them. Thou wilt ascend and come like a storm; thou wilt be like a cloud to cover the land, thou and all thy bands, and many people with thee” (vss. 1-9).
Here the case stands clearly defined in all but the name, which seems to be probably symbolic. It is the last enemy of Israel who confronts us. He dwells in the land of Magog, that son of Japhet who overspread in due time the vast steppes of what was anciently called Scythia. He is autocrat of all the Russias, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. Thus we have himself, his land, and his people. But the Lord Jehovah is against him who, instead of seeing when good cometh to a long-troubled people, would fain aggrandize himself, and thus finds himself in array against not merely the Israel of God but the God of Israel. Cursed must he be who thus trusts in man and makes flesh his arm; and so does Gog prove. For Jehovah declares that He will turn him back, put hooks in his jaws, and cause him to go forth, him and all his host.
Then will it appear as a final lesson that no king is saved by the multitude of his host, that a mighty man is not delivered by much strength, and that a horse is a vain thing for safety. Israel at length are poor in spirit; and Jehovah brings the counsel of the heathen to naught, whilst His counsel stands forever. There they come clothed to perfection, a great company, with shield and buckler, all of them grasping swords; Persia too is there, obliged to follow the train of the mighty northern leader, Cush and Phut with them; Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarmah from the sides of the north, and all his bands: many people indeed with Gog! With grave irony he is told to be prepared and prepare himself, and he and all his vast confederacy, and be their guard—if he can!
Long, long ago had been the prophetic warning. No great nation in the old world had been so slow to take up the leadership of the populous East. But, delayed as it might be, the epoch is seen vividly by the seer of the Chebar. “After many days thou wilt be mastered; in the last of the years thou wilt come into the land” (v. 8) of Israel, where they are then dwelling safely. As a storm Gog comes, as a cloud he covers the land. But no weapon formed against Israel shall prosper. Such is their heritage, when their righteousness is of Jehovah. They may as yet be few, their adversaries countless; but what is this to Jehovah but an opportunity for showing Himself the enemy of His people's enemies? This Gog finds out, as we shall see, too late not only for himself and his enormous following, but for those he had left quietly at home. It is the day of just retribution and of divine government on earth, when the manslayer, so long estranged yet preserved, returns to the land of his possession. And shall not God avenge His own elect when he whose trust is in his numbers numberless casts his greedy look on the land where Jehovah's eyes rest continually?
1. Those who wish to go farther into the evidence may see It more fully in the Appendix to a vol. of mine containing “Lectures on the Second Coming and Kingdom of our Lord Jesus.” They will find there the more important extracts and interesting discussion in J. Von Hammer's Origines Russes, drawn from Oriental MSS. (St. Petersburg, 1825)—a work which few can see for themselves. The author tries to make out that the Tiraz of Genesis 10 was the progenitor of the Ros or Ras of the Bible and the Koran, that is, of the Russians. Meshech and Tubal are undoubtedly given there. Prefixes and suffixes were often thus added, and hence the same name appears in more than one form. It was very common in the East, and we find it also in the Bible. Gomer appears to be the head of the Cimmerian or Celtic race, as Togarmah of the Armenians. Cush and Phut are those translated Ethiopia and Libya. It only needs to be added here that part of Cush settled on the Euphrates, part on the Nile, being thus Asiatic as well as African. Compare Isaiah 18 for Cush.