Opinion

Is Russia Mentioned in Bible Prophecy?

I recently received a new book by prophecy writer Mark Hitchcock about Russia and Bible prophecy. It’s titled Russia Rising: Tracking the Bear in Bible Prophecy. The thing of it is, Russia is not mentioned in the Bible. The same is true of the United States. So many prophecy writers work overtime to make all biblical prophecy about our generation when so much of it is about past generations. It’s one of the reasons there have been so many failed predictions.

Take the 200 million horsemen in Revelation 9:16. For a time, prophecy prognosticators claimed that China will one day invade Israel. In addition to 200 million men, such an army would need 200 million horses and enough food and water to sustain the soldiers and the horses.

Is this what Revelation is describing? Not at all, considering Revelation is a book of symbols and visions that include a giant woman and a dragon (Rev. 12:14).

John’s multiple myriads [translated as 200 million] functions like the even larger image “sand of the seashore,” which is commonly used in antiquity of military forces arrayed in battle (Jos 11:41; Jdg 7:122; 1Sa 13:53; 2Sa 17:114; cp. 1Macc 11:1; 4 Ezra 13:5). In fact, this sand image is also used of various local populations (1Ki 4:20; Isa 10:22; 48:19; Jer 15:8; 33:22; Hos 1:10), the patriarchs’ offspring (Ge 22:17; 32:12), and so forth. This numeric “sand on the seashore” image is obviously hyperbolic, for scientists estimate that there are seven quintillion five quadrillion grains of sand on the world’s shores—and we at least know that there are much more than 250 million grains of sand. In fact, the 1 Samuel 13:5 reference to Philistia’s army which is “like the sand on the seashore” specifically mentions only 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen accompanying. In 2 Samuel 17:11 the writer is referring to early Israel’s own army, which could hardly approach this enormous number.5

An army as numerous as “the sand that is on the seashore” is more numerous than an army of 200 million. Both are meant to describe the ferocity of the force being used to defeat an enemy.

For decades, portraying Russia as the end-time bad guy has been popular. Glenn Beck brought up the Ezekiel 38–39 “Gog and Magog” prophecy a few years ago. Beck has formulated his views on the Ezekiel prophecy based on Joel Rosenberg’s books Epicenter (2006) and his novel The Ezekiel Option (2005) and interviews he’s had with him. In The Ezekiel Option, Rosenberg writes:

The journey that follows is fiction.
The prophecy upon which it is based is true.
The cryptic vision of a Hebrew scribe — writing twenty-five centuries ago — foretold one of the most horrific periods in the future of mankind.
Yet even today it remains one of man’s great unsolved mysteries.
Its central premise was once discussed in a speech before the U.S. Congress, and was believed to be both true and increasingly close at hand by one of America’s greatest presidents.

The president was Ronald Reagan. Like Beck, President Reagan was using very bad prophetic “intelligence.” There was nothing intelligent about it.

On August 31, 2006, I debated Rosenberg on Mickelson in the Morning, a radio show hosted by Jan Mickelson. Rosenberg won’t debate me again because he knows his position will not stand up to biblical scrutiny. All his books are fiction – even Epicenter — but are being sold as biblical truth.

The claim is made that the Ezekiel prophecy is about Russia and Iran and other current Middle East players. There is no mention of either Russia or Iran in Ezekiel 38 and 39. Finding Russia is based in part on the use of the Hebrew word rosh (ראש‎). Rosh does not refer to Russia. Rosh means “head,” as in Rosh Hashanah, the head or start of the Jewish New year. The first word in Genesis 1:1 includes the word rosh (בְּרֵאשִׁ֖ית): “In the beginning. . .” At the “head” of time.

Benjamin Netanyahu is the “head” (ראש) the Israeli government as the podium specifies:

The reading of Ezekiel 38:2 should be “the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” (38:2; 39:1) and not the “prince of Rosh,” that is, Russia. Charles Ryrie, the author of the Ryrie Study Bible, acknowledges that rosh is not a proper name: “The prince of Rosh is better translated as ‘the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.’”

The modern-Hebrew spelling of “Russia” (reading from right to left in the chart below) looks nothing like the Hebrew word rosh. The only Hebrew letter they share is resh (ר).

Daniel I. Block translates Ezekiel 38:3, “[Son of Man], set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal.”6 Here is Block’s explanation:

“[Rosh] is therefore best understood as a common noun, appositional to and offering a closer definition of [the Hebrew word] nasi [translated as ‘prince’]. Accordingly, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal, combines Ezekiel’s preferred title for kings with a hierarchical designation, the addition serving to clarify the preceding archaic term.”7

Then there’s the problem with the weapons. They are ancient weapons: bows and arrows, spears, clubs, shields (Ezek. 39:9) and chariots (39:20). The claim is often made that God was revealing modern-day weaponry in terms that Ezekiel and the people of his day could understand. Bows and arrows are said to be missiles and rocket launchers. The use of horses are said to be a  reference to “horsepower.” Chariots are tanks. All of this from interpreters who claim to interpret the Bible literally.

Hal Lindsey, author of The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), is well known for his claim that the locusts of Revelation 9:1–12 could be Vietnam-era “cobra helicopters.” He writes:

I have a Christian friend who was a Green Beret in Viet Nam. When he first read this chapter he said, “I know what those are. I’ve seen hundreds of them in Viet Nam. They’re Cobra helicopters! That may be conjecture, but it does give you something to think about! A Cobra helicopter does fit the sound of ‘many chariots.” My friend believes that the means of torment will be a kind of nerve gas sprayed from its tail.8

The way the so-called literalists like Lindsey, Rosenberg, and Hitchcock interpret the prophecy, everybody is confused, the people in Ezekiel’s day and our day.

Notice what these invading northern hordes are after: silver, gold, cattle, and goods (Ezek. 38:12–13). What did the returning exiles from Babylon bring back to Israel? “silver and gold, with goods and cattle” (Ezra 1:4). Haman and his consorts would be rewarded for their elimination of the Jews with vast amounts of wealth. Little has changed in 2600 years. It remains, “follow the money” (Esther 3:9, 13).

Notice that the prophecy describes a time when there were “unwalled villages” (Ezek. 38:11). Today, Israel is a nation of walls. In the book of Esther, we see that there were Jews who were living in relative peace in “unwalled towns” (Esther 9:19, KJV) when Haman conspired against them. The Hebrew word perazah is used in Esther 9:19 and Ezekiel 38:11. It’s unfortunate that the translators of the New American Standard Version translate perazah as “rural towns” in Esther 9:19 instead of “unwalled villages” as they do in Ezekiel 38:11.

There’s much more that could be said about this topic. It’s obvious that Ezekiel is describing a future battle that was in Israel’s near future about 2500 years ago. The most likely fulfillment is found in the events surrounding the book of Esther where Haman (Hamon-Gog: Ezek. 39:11, 15) is the chief of the princes (Esther 3:1). Haman is “the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews” (3:10), the same “Hamon-gog” of Ezekiel 39:11. Originally, there were no vowels in Hebrew. Both names would have read hmn. The first readers would have made the association. “One late manuscript to Esther 3:1 and 9:24 refers to Haman as a ‘Gogite.’”9 Haman wanted to “destroy all the Jews, the people of Mordecai, who were throughout the whole kingdom of Ahasuerus” (Esther 3:6) but failed in the attempt.

For a thorough study of this topic, see my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance. Mark Hitchcock is aware of my work on this subject. He mentions my book End Times Fiction (2000) that was later republished as Left Behind: Separating Fact from Fiction (2009) in a single endnote in his book Russia Rising (221, note 4) where he asks, “why does the book of Esther make no mention of the fulfillment of this prophecy? The omission is telling.” It’s no more telling than the fact that nowhere in the book of Esther are God and miracles mentioned. We know from Ezekiel 38 and 39 that even though God is not mentioned in Esther, He was working behind the scenes to deliver His people from destruction.

Another objection by Hitchcock raised against the interpretation offered above and spelled out in my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance is that Jewish tradition does not mention that the events of Esther 9 are a fulfillment of Ezekiel 38-39. Keep in mind that there has been a great deal of debate as to whether the book of Esther should be in the canon of Scripture.

Regrettably, the value and even the canonicity of Esther is regularly called into question.  According to Karen Jobes, not one commentary was written on Esther during the first seven centuries of the Christian church.  Some biblical interpreters, like Martin Luther, wish out loud that the book had not come to us at all.  John Calvin himself did not write a commentary on Esther nor apparently did he ever preach from it.  I wonder how often the book is preached from pulpits today.10

It’s possible that the reason the book of Esther was a neglected biblical book was because there didn’t seem to be a historical connection with any other biblical book or prophetic event. Ezekiel 38 and 39 is the connection that has been hiding in plain sight.

What Hitchcock does not tell his readers is that I answered his earlier objections and much more in my book The Gog and Magog End-Time Alliance.

  1. “They came out, they and all their armies with them, as many people as the sand that is on the seashore, with very many horses and chariots.” []
  2. “Now the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the sons of the east were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as numerous as the sand on the seashore.” []
  3. “Now the Philistines assembled to fight with Israel, 30,000 chariots and 6,000 horsemen, and people like the sand which is on the seashore in abundance; and they came up and camped in Michmash, east of Beth-aven.” []
  4. “‘But I counsel that all Israel be surely gathered to you, from Dan even to Beersheba, as the sand that is by the sea in abundance, and that you personally go into battle.’” []
  5. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., The Divorce of Israel: A Redemptive-Historical Interpretation of Revelation, 2 vols. (Dallas, GA: Tolle Lege Press, 2018), 1:758. Soon to be published. []
  6. Daniel I. Block, The Book of Ezekiel: Chapters 25–48 (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1998), 432. []
  7. Block, Ezekiel, 2:435. []
  8. Hal Lindsey, There’s a New World Coming: A Prophetic Odyssey (Santa Ana, CA: Vision House Publishers, 1973), 138–139. []
  9. Sverre Bøe, Gog and Magog: Ezekiel 38–39 as Pre-Text for Revelation 19, 17–21 and 20, 7–10 (Wissunt Zum Neun Testament Ser. II, 135) (Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 384. []
  10. Peter Lee, “The Book of Esther: A Silence so Loud, it is Deafening” (February 1, 2016). []
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