Russia is not "Rosh"

Revelation identifies Gog and Magog, the nations from the four corners of the Earth led by Satan to destroy the saints – Revelation 20:7-10

Russia - Photo by Jaunt and Joy on Unsplash
The prophet Ezekiel described a coalition of nations that would invade Israel, a force led by “Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal” (ASV). In some interpretations, the figure of “Rosh” is identified with the modern state of Russia, and therefore, the prophet must have predicted a Russian-led attack against the state Israel in the “last days” - [
Photo by Jaunt and Joy on Unsplash].

The interpretation is based on the perceived similarity of sound and spelling between the Hebrew term ‘rosh’ and ‘Rus,’ the ancient name of the principality based in the city of Kyiv. Moreover, since Ezekiel warned of an invading from the “far north,” and since Russia is located to the “far north” of the Middle East, the two entities must be identical, or so goes the argument.

There are three problems with this view. First, the linguistic evidence demonstrates that any similarity in spelling or pronunciation is superficial. ‘Rosh’ is the common Hebrew noun for “head,” and it is so used over three dozen times in Ezekiel.

Second, invasions of ancient Palestine came from a northerly direction as armies typically marched through the Fertile Crescent to reach the coastal region, regardless of their point of origin. Mesopotamia, for example, lies to the east of Israel yet invaders from Babylon or Assyria followed the Euphrates and Tigris rivers to a point north of Palestine, then turned south to invade along the coast. And by no means is Russia the only nation to the north of Israel.

Third, and most decisive, the Book of Revelation applies the prophecy from Ezekiel to the final global effort by all nations to annihilate the “saints” in the last days, and it identifies this force by name, “Gog and Magog.” And rather than being led by the “prince of Rosh” or anyone named “Gog,” it is led by Satan - (Revelation 20:7-10).

The King James Version renders the opening clause from Ezekiel’s vision as, “Set your face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal,” and the Hebrew noun ‘rosh’ is translated as “chief.” Other English versions often simply transliterate ‘rosh’ from Hebrew into Latin characters. The K.J.V. has translated the noun into English and combined it with the Hebrew word for “prince” or “ruler” (nasi).

Rosh” occurs over six hundred times in the Hebrew Bible, most often meaning “head.”  Derivative senses include “chief,” “top,” “sum,” “first,” and “principal,” which are all derived from the literal sense of “head” - (rô'sh – Strong’s - #H7218).

Rosh” is not a proper name in the Hebrew Bible, with the one possible exception found in Genesis 46:21 - (“Rosh,” a son of Benjamin). Nowhere does the Old Testament mention a nation, people, territory, or city named “rosh.”

It is the same Hebrew noun used for the commencement of the new year - rosh ha-shanah, the “head of the year,” and likewise, for the start of the new month (rosh chodesh). Other similar examples include “chief” of tribes, “chief priest,” and the “chief prince.” In one verse, Ezekiel also refers to the “head of the year” - (Deuteronomy 1:155:23, 2 Kings 25:18, 1 Chronicles 7:40, Ezekiel 40:1).

Rosh” occurs thirty-eight times in the book of Ezekiel, and always with the sense “head.” For example, the “heads” of the living creatures. On one occasion, the prophet was commanded to shave his “head.” In chapter 17, “rosh” refers to the “top” of a branch. In chapter 27, we find the “rosh” or “chief of all spices.” And so on - (Ezekiel 1:22, 5:1, 17:4, 17:22, 27:22).

In the Hebrew clause in chapter 38, “rosh” or “chief” follows the Hebrew noun for “prince” or nasi, which is the normal word order for a Hebrew clause where one substantive modifies another (the so-called ‘construct state’). In this case, “chief” modifies “prince.” The most natural sense of the Hebrew clause is “chief prince” - (Ezekiel 38:2).

Elsewhere, consistently, “Meshech and Tubal” are paired, and often they are listed alongside “Javan” or Greece. This pairing is based on geography, both nations were in Asia Minor to the northwest of Israel - (Genesis 10:2, 1 Chronicles 1:5, Ezekiel 27:13, 32:36).

The nations listed in chapter 38 were all known to ancient Israel. Besides “Tubal and Meshech,” the list includes Persia, Ethiopia, Libya, Gomer, and Togarmah, all regional peoples with which Israel had contact - (Ezekiel 27:2629:1030:4-5).

In chapter 27, the trading partners of Tyre are listed from west to east, beginning from Spain (Tarshish), followed by Greece (Javan), Asia Minor (Tubal, Meschech, Togmarah), and the Aegean Islands, then other nations listed from south to north. Finally, Arabia and parts of Mesopotamia are named. Nowhere is any entity called “Rosh” included among the nations surrounding Israel - (Ezekiel 27:12-24).

Gomer” is probably identical with the “Gammadim” named in chapter 27, a Hebrew rendering of the “Gimirra” peoples known to Assyria and to the Greeks as the “Cimmerians,” a nomadic people from eastern Asia Minor, and to the north of Israel. Elsewhere, “Gomer” is included with “Magog” in lists of descendants of Japheth - (Genesis 10:21 Chronicles 1:5, Ezekiel 27:11).

All the nations listed in Ezekiel are known from other biblical passages and ancient documents, and all were known to Ancient Israel. And no kingdom known by the name ‘Russia’ or ‘Rus’ existed in the sixth century B.C.

As for any similarities in spelling, they are apparent in English translations but are not real.  “Rosh” (ראשׁ) is written with the three Hebrew consonants Resh (ר), Aleph (א), and Shin (ש). And in earlier times, it was written only with Resh and Shin (רשׁ). The letter Aleph was added later to mark the long vowel sound or ‘ô’. The single-letter Shin (ש) provides the ‘sh’ sound in ‘rosh.’

The kingdom of Rus did not exist prior to the ninth or eighth century A.D., over fifteen hundred years after the time of Ezekiel, and the name ‘Rus’ does not appear anywhere in the Hebrew Bible.

Since the ninth century A.D., ‘Rus’ has been transliterated into Hebrew as רוס, using the consonants Resh (ר), Vav (ו) and Samech (ס), and NOT Resh (ר), Aleph (א) and Shin (ש). The letter Vav marks the long vowel ‘ū.’ Samech is a different Hebrew letter than Shin and, in English, more akin to the ‘s’ than ‘sh’ sound.

In fact, the only sound in common between “rosh” and ‘rus’ is the initial ‘r’ sound, and likewise, the only common letter is the initial Resh (ר). The alleged linguistic connection between the two words is quite tenuous.

And the nations listed in Ezekiel were not just from the north; they came also from the east and south of Israel. “Gog” led this alliance to invade Israel from the direction of its home territory to the north.

Due to geography and climate, invading armies typically entered Palestine from the north after following routes through the Fertile Crescent, where sufficient water and food were available to sustain an army.  The Old Testament speaks of several hostile nations that attacked from the north, including Aram (Syria), Assyria, and Babylon. Such references are too common to determine a nation’s identity by the compass direction of its attack - (Isaiah 8:4-7Jeremiah 1:13-1525:9-10).

But the decisive factor in identifying “Gog and Magog” is how Revelation interprets and applies the prophecy from Ezekiel, and it does so in three passages:

  • PREPARE THE WAY for the kings of the east.”  Unclean spirits “GATHERED THE KINGS OF THE WHOLE HABITABLE EARTH to the great day of God the Almighty…And he GATHERED them unto a place called in the Hebrew tongue MOUNTAIN of Megiddo.” - (Revelation 16:12-16).
  • An angel cries to “THE BIRDS OF THE AIR TO COME AND GATHER YOURSELVES TO THE SUPPER of the great God, that ye may EAT THE FLESH OF KINGS, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great. And I saw the beast, and THE KINGS OF THE EARTH AND THEIR ARMIES GATHERED TO THE WAR against him that sat on the horse.” - (Revelation 19:17-21).
  • Satan deceives the “nations from the four corners of the earth, GOG AND MAGOG, TO GATHER THEM TO THE WAR: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And THEY ASCENDED OVER THE BREADTH OF THE EARTH and encompassed the camp of the saints and the beloved city.” - (Revelation 20:8-9).

And Revelation transforms the regional nations from Ezekiel into the “kings of the whole earth and their armies,” nations from every “corner” of the earth that are “gathered to the war.” The same event is in view in all three passages, and the third passage is the most explicit. It names the invading army, “Gog and Magog,” then identifies it as the “nations from the four corners of the earth.” Rather than invade from the north, it “ascends” over the entire earth to attack the “camp of the saints,” and it is led by Satan after his release from the “Abyss.” And it is a global, not a regional effort.

The decisive factor is how Revelation interprets “Gog and Magog,” not perceived similarities in pronunciation or spelling. And it applies Ezekiel’s prophecy to the final effort by Satan to destroy the church, NOT Israel.

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Second Trumpet

Redemption of the Nations