Will There Be a Russian Invasion of Israel?
By Thomas Williamson
Over the centuries, there has been a traditional belief, based on Ezekiel chapters 38 and 39, that Russia would invade Israel in the end-times.
It is believed that this invasion will take place at approximately the same time as the Rapture and Great Tribulation.
Meanwhile, Russia has declined as a military power in recent years, losing large portions of its territory and suffering serious defeats in such places as Afghanistan and Chechnya. There are now real questions as to whether Russia has the military capability to mount a massive ground invasion of Israel, or whether she will have such capacity any time in the foreseeable future.
Does the tradition of a Russian invasion rest on sure Scriptural ground? Is it possible that we have been mistaken in believing that the Bible teaches that such an invasion will take place?
One "proof" that the invaders described by Ezekiel are Russians is that the invasion comes from the north, Ezekiel 38:6. However, this proves nothing - there are many nations located to the north of Israel.
When Jeremiah predicted that Israel would be invaded by Babylon, which is actually located east of Israel, he described this invasion as coming from the north, Jeremiah 1:13-15, 4:6, 6:1, etc. No one has suggested that these were actually Russians and not Babylonians who would attack Israel in Jeremiah’s time.
The second "proof" is the reference to Meshech and Tubal in Ezekiel 37:2. It is supposed that this actually means the Russian cities of Moscow and Tobolsk. But Moscow, founded in 1147 AD, and Tobolsk, founded in 1587 AD, were not even in existence at the time of Ezekiel’s prophecy.
The word Meshech means sowing, possession, or precious price, and has no etymological relation to Moscow which is a Finnish word. (Meshech actually sounds more like Mexico than Moscow, which of course proves nothing). Meshech was a son of Japheth, and it is believed that the tribe of Meshech lived in what is modern-day Turkey.
As for the tribe of Tubal, or Tibareni, this is believed to be a tribe that lived to the north of Syria, thousands of miles away from the modern Siberian city of Tobolsk. Tobolsk, with a population of about 62,000, is hardly one of the great cities of the world, or even of western Siberia. In 1917, Russian president Alexander Kerensky described Tobolsk as "a backwater." Why would Ezekiel pick such a small, obscure town if he wanted to identify Russia?
In Ezekiel 27:13 we are told that Tyre traded with Meshech and Tubal. This shows that Meshech and Tubal were nations that existed back then, in the 6th Century BC. Therefore they cannot possibly refer to Moscow and Tobolsk which were not founded until many centuries later.
The third "proof" for a Russian invasion is the reference to the so-called "Prince of Rosh" in Ezekiel 38:2. Don’t bother looking for the Prince of Rosh in the King James Version - he is not there. The KJV, along with most modern translations, correctly translates this phrase as "chief prince."
The Hebrew word rosh appears 456 times in the Old Testament, always as an adjective, never as a proper name describing any nation or geographical region.
According to Strong’s Concordance, rosh means "the head . . . whether literally or figuratively (in many applications, of place, time, rank, etc.): -band, beginning, captain, chapiter, chief (-est place, man, things), company, end . . . excellent, first, forefront . . . principal, ruler, sum, top." There is no mention of rosh meaning Russia or Russian. The word Russia is believed to be a Finnish word meaning "rower," referring to the early Viking explorers who rowed down the Russian rivers. There is no etymological connection between Russia and the Hebrew adjective rosh.
The only other place where Ezekiel uses the word rosh is in 27:22, where it refers to chief spices, not Russian spices. The first place where rosh appears in the Bible is Genesis 21:22, where it refers to Phichol as chief captain, not Russian captain. Phichol was a Canaanite, not a Russian.
In 2 Samuel 8:18 rosh refers to David’s sons, who were chief rulers, not Russian rulers. In 2 Chronicles 26:20 rosh refers to Azariah who was chief priest, not Russian priest. In Daniel 10:13 rosh refers to the archangel Michael, who was one of the chief princes, not a Russian prince or a Russian archangel. In Habakkuk 3:19 rosh refers to a chief singer in Habakkuk’s choir, not to a Russian singer.
(Nowadays, one of the chief holidays in the Jewish religious calendar is "Rosh Hoshana," which means Head of the Year, not Russian year).
Those who hold to the King James Version as God’s preserved word for today must ask themselves: will they reject the KJV and embrace the mistaken "Prince of Rosh" translation, or will they accept the correct translation in the KJV which says that Gog was the "Chief Prince" of Meshech and Tubal?
As we have seen, there is really no Biblical authority for the tradition of a Russian invasion of Israel. Such an invasion may possibly take place some day, but it would not be a fulfillment of Bible prophecy nor a necessary prelude to Christ’s Second Coming.
Many modern observers have noted, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, that Russia has declined greatly as a military power, which raises the question of whether Russia, which can no longer control its own reduced territory, has the power or the willingness to mount an invasion of a country as distant as Israel.
An article in the October 13, 2003 issue of the New Yorker states that "The Russian Army, the inheritor of the structures, arms, and tactics, of the Soviet armed forces, is now a shambles: a psychological wreck, a material ruin."
Jeffrey Taylor, in the article "Russia is Finished" in the May 2001 Atlantic Monthly, says, "One of the most spectacular elements of the Soviet Union’s collapse has been Russia’s fall from military superpower No. 2 to a country whose army can be neutralized by bands of irregulars fighting with little more than the weapons on their backs."
This theme of the disintegration of Russian military power is also presented in the 1997 book "One Point Safe" by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn.
Some have insisted that Russia still has powerful military capabilities which are being cleverly concealed from us, and that recent Russian setbacks in Chechnya have been allowed to take place in order to fool us into believing that Russia is powerless.
Perhaps the jury is still out, as to just how much military muscle can be mustered by the Russians. Meantime, we should be cautious about building speculative prophetical dogmas based on the future activities of a country such as Russia, which simply may not have the power or capacity to bring about the events that are so confidently predicted in prophecy conferences.
Another consideration is, what possible motive would Russia have for invading Israel? A full one-sixth of the population of modern Israel consists of recent immigrants from Russia. These Israelis still speak Russian, identify as Russians, often visit their Russian homeland and are held in affection by the Russian government and people. Why would Russia conduct an attack that would endanger and kill as many as one million of their own people living in Israel?
If Ezekiel 38-39 does not refer to a Russian invasion of Israel, then what does it refer to?
The first thing we must recognize is that if we follow the literal method of interpretation, as demanded by all the prophecy teachers, then it is quite evident that Ezekiel was talking about an invasion in ancient times. He describes the invaders as riding on horses, all of them (even the commanders), 38:15. No modern-day armies travel exclusively by horse, not in Russia or anywhere else.
Ezekiel describes this army as fighting with bucklers, shields and swords (38:4), with shields and helmets (38:5), with shields, bucklers, bows and arrows, handstaves and spears (39:9). No modern armies use such weapons today, not even the Russians. To spiritualize these references into modern weapons is forbidden by the literal principle of Bible interpretation. We are forced to the conclusion that Ezekiel was describing warfare in ancient times, using weapons which would be totally outmoded and obsolete today, especially against a nuclear power like Israel.
As for the reference in 39:9-10 to the Israelites using the weapons of the invaders for firewood for 7 years, this would certainly fit ancient times a lot better than it would the contemporary, nuclear-powered nation of Israel.
Over the years we have been taught that Ezekiel 38-39 refers to a future invasion of Israel which will take place in conjunction with the Rapture. However, Ezekiel 38-39 makes absolutely no mention of the Rapture or Second Coming of Christ. The setting and context of this invasion point to an event which took place in ancient times.
The best explanation of Ezekiel’s prophecy is that it was a reference to the invasion of Israel by the Syrian king Antiochus Ephiphanes in 168 BC. This interpretation is explained in such commentaries as Matthew Henry, Clarke’s Bible, and Jamieson Fausset and Brown.
God felt that it was important for His chosen people to know in advance that the invasion of Antiochus, which threatened to wipe out the entire Jewish religion and way of life, would come in the latter days, 4 centuries after the time of Ezekiel, and that the Jews would be victorious over the invaders. This Syrian/Greek invasion was also prophesied in Daniel 8 and 11:21-35 and in Zechariah 9:11-17.
The theory of a future Russian invasion of Israel is just a theory, and nothing more. It is not a rigorous teaching of the Word of God. Therefore, we should not make a dogma or test of faith out of this speculative notion of a Russian invasion, nor add to the Word of God by preaching about something that is not prophesied in the Bible and will quite possibly never happen.
Why "Meshech and Tubal" Do Not Mean Moscow and Tobolsk
John Gill - "Meshech and Tubal were the brethren of Magog, and sons of Japheth, Genesis 10:2, whose posterity inhabited those countries called after their name; who, according to Josephus, are the Cappadocians and Iberians; and among the former is a place called Mazaca, which has some affinity with Meshech; and there was a country called Gogarene, a part of Iberia. According to Bochart, these are the Moschi and the Tybarenes, people that dwell near the Euxine Sea, and under the dominion of the Turk; wherefore the Grand Turk may be called the chief prince of them."
Gary Demar, in "Last Days Madness:" "Edwin M. Yamauchi, noted Christian historian and archeologist, writes that rosh ‘can have nothing to do with modern Russia,’ and ‘all informed references and studies acknowledge that the association with Moscow and Tobolsk is untenable.’"
C. Marvin Pate and Calvin B. Haines, professors at Moody Bible Institute, in "Doomsday Delusions:" "However, the identifications of Meshech and Tubal are not in doubt. Few scholars today equate them with Moscow and Tobolsk. Rather, combined ancient testimony attests to the fact that Meshech and Tubal were located in central and eastern Anatolia (Asia Minor), respectively. The foregoing arguments render the ‘Russian’ hypothesis untenable."
Chuck Missler: "‘Meshech’ and ‘Tubal’ were principal cities in ancient Anatolia, which constitutes the eastern three-fourths of modern Turkey."
Arthur Bloomfield, in "A Survey of Bible Prophecy:" "Meschech and Tubal are names of men, grandsons of Noah . . . Connecting these names with present-day Russian cities is not based on any ethnological nor etymological considerations but only on the accidental similarity of sounds."
Timothy Dailey, in "The Gathering Storm:" "It must first be noted that any connection of Tubal with the Russian city of Tobolsk is completely specious. . . . The Assyrian cuneiform texts clearly locate Muskku and Tabal in central and eastern Anatolia."
Richard Abanes, in "End Times Visions:" "Greek historian Herodotus identified Meshech and Tubal as the Moschoi and Tiberenoi tribes who lived in central and eastern Anatolia between the 11th and 6th Centuries before Christ."
Fred Zaspel: "Meshech (MSK) is often mistaken for the modern Russian
city of Moscow. . . Again, this identification, as even Ryrie admits, is
unfounded also. . . Mushki (MSK) of central and western Asia Minor . . . fits
very well. These people were well known to Ezekiel."