Whom is Ezekiel talking about in 27:13 and 38:2? by Jack Kettler
Ezekiel speaks of Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. Whom is Ezekiel talking about in this passage? Is Ezekiel talking about his time or something in the future? Is Rosh Russia? Is Meshech Moscow? Is Tubal the Russian province Tobolsk? As in previous studies, we will look at definitions, scriptures, commentary evidence for the purpose to glorify God in how we live.
“Javan, Tubal, and Meshech traded with you; they exchanged human beings and vessels of bronze for your merchandise.” (Ezekiel 27:13 ESV)
“Son of man set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him.” (Ezekiel 38:2 ASV)
A first glance, there is nothing in texts above that give any hint of events sometime way in the future. Whom is Ezekiel speaking about in these texts? We should not read into Scripture more than is there.
From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, we find a historical interpretation on the Ezekiel 38:2 text:
“(2) Gog, the land of Magog.—“Magog” is mentioned in Genesis 10:2 (1Chronicles 1:5) in connection with Gomer (the Cimmerians) and Madai (the Medes), as the name of a people descended from Japhet. Early Jewish tradition, adopted by Josephus and St. Jerome, identifies them with the Scythians; and this view has seemed probable to nearly all modern expositors. But the name of Scythians must be understood rather in a geographical than in a strictly ethnological sense, of the tribes living north of the Caucasus. Driven from their original home by the Massagetæ, they had poured down upon Asia Minor and Syria shortly before the time of Ezekiel, and had advanced even as far as Egypt. They took Sardis (B.C. 629), spread themselves in Media (B.C. 624), were bribed off from Egypt by Psammeticus, and were finally driven back (B.C. 596), leaving their name as a terror to the whole eastern world for their fierce skill in war, their cruelty, and rapacity. It was probably the memory of their recent disastrous inroads that led Ezekiel to the selection of their name as the representative of the powers hostile to the Church of God.
The name Gog occurs only in connection with Magog, except in 1Chronicles 5:4, as the name of an otherwise unknown Reubenite. It is also the reading of the Samaritan and Septuagint in Numbers 24:7 for Agag. It has generally been supposed that Ezekiel here formed the name from Magog by dropping the first syllable, which was thought to mean simply place or land; but an Assyrian inscription has been discovered, in which Ga-a-gi is mentioned as a chief of the Saka (Scythians), and Mr. Geo. Smith (“Hist. of Assurbanipal”) identifies this name with Gog. The text should be read, Gog, of the land of Magog.
The chief prince of Meshech and Tubal.—Rather, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal. Our version has followed St. Jerome in translating Rosh “chief,” because formerly no people of that name was definitely known; but they are frequently mentioned by Arabic writers as a Scythian tribe dwelling in the Taurus, although the attempt to derive from them the name of Russian cannot be considered as sufficiently supported. In Revelation 20:8, Gog and Magog are both symbolic names of nations. For Meshech and Tubal see Note on Ezekiel 27:13.” (1)
From Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers and his note on Ezekiel 27:13:
“(13) Javan, Tubal, and Meshech.—Javan is strictly Ionia, more generally Greece. Tubal and Meshech are the classic Tibareni and Moschi, between the Black and Caspian Seas. They were famous for dealing in slaves and in brass, or rather copper, of which their mountains still contain abundant supplies.” (2)
Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary on Meshech and Tubal from Ezekiel 27:13:
“13. Javan—the Ionians or Greeks: for the Ionians of Asia Minor were the first Greeks with whom the Asiatics came in contact.
Tubal … Meshech—the Tibareni and Moschi, in the mountain region between the Black and Caspian Seas.
Persons of men—that is, as slaves. So the Turkish harems are supplied with female slaves from Circassia and Georgia.
Vessels—all kinds of articles. Superior weapons are still manufactured in the Caucasus region.” (3)
Helpful entries from Strong’s Lexicon:
Noun – proper – masculine singular
Strong’s Hebrew 1463: Gog = ‘mountain’ 1) a Reubenite, son of Shemaiah 2) the prophetic prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, and Magog
Article | Noun – proper – feminine singular
Strong’s Hebrew 4031: Magog = ‘land of Gog’ n pr m 1) the 2nd son of Japheth, grandson of Noah, and progenitor of several tribes northward from Israel n pr loc 2) the mountainous region between Cappadocia and Media and habitation of the descendants of Magog, son of Japheth and grandson of Noah
Noun – proper – feminine singular
Hebrew 3120: Javan = ‘Ionia’ or ‘Greece’ n pr m 1) a son of Japheth and grandson of Noah n pr loc 2) Greece, Ionia, Ionians 2a) location of descendants of Javan
Noun – proper – masculine singular
Strong’s Hebrew 4902: Mesech or Meshech = ‘drawing out’ 1) son of Japheth, grandson of Noah, and progenitor of peoples to the north of Israel 1a) descendants of Mesech often mentioned in connection with Tubal, Magog, and other northern nations including the Moschi, a people on the borders of Colchis and Armenia
Conjunctive waw | Noun – proper – feminine singular
Strong’s Hebrew 8422: Tubal = ‘thou shall be brought’ n pr m 1) son of Japheth and grandson of Noah n pr terr 2) a region in east Asia Minor 2a) perhaps nearly equal to Cappadocia
Original Word: רֹאשׁ
Part of Speech: Noun Masculine
Phonetic Spelling: (roshe)
Commentator Gary DeMar sheds some light on the Hebrew word Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal:
“In Ezekiel 38:2 and 39:1, the Hebrew word rosh is translated as if it were the name of a nation. That nation is thought to be modern Russia because rosh sounds like Russia. In addition, Meshech (38:2) is said to sound like Moscow, and Tubal (38:2) is similar to the name of one of the prominent Asiatic provinces of Russia, the province of Tobolsk.” (4)
DeMar cites the noted historian Edwin M. Yamauchi on the word rosh:
“Edwin M. Yamauchi, noted Christian historian and archeologist, writes that rosh “can have nothing to do with modern ‘Russia,’” — “all informed references and studies acknowledge that the association with Moscow and Tobolsk is untenable.”
“Rosh can have nothing to do with modern ‘Russia. This would be a gross anachronism, for the modern name is based upon the name Rus, which was brought into the region of Kiev, north of the Black Sea, by the Vikings only in the Middle Ages.” (5)
DeMar seals the case against rosh being understood to be Russia by citing a leading dispensationalist Charles Ryrie:
“Dispensational writer Charles Ryrie does not believe that the rosh-Russian theory holds up. He says: ‘The prince of Rosh (better, ‘the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal’), the area of modern Turkey.’” (6)
Magog and Meshech from the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia:
“ma’-gog (maghogh; Magog): Named among the sons of Japheth (Gen 10:2; 1 Chapter 1:5). Ezekiel uses the word as equivalent to “land of Gog” (Ezekiel 38:2; 39:6). Josephus identifies the Magogites with the Scythians (Ant., I, vi, 1). From a resemblance between the names Gog and Gyges (Gugu), king of Lydia, some have suggested that Magog is Lydia; others, however, urge that Magog is probably only a variant of Gog (Sayce in HDB). In the Apocalypse of John, Gog and Magog represent all the heathen opponents of Messiah (Rev 20:8), and in this sense, these names frequently recur in Jewish apocalyptic literature.” John A. Lees (7)
“me’-shek, me’-sek (meshekh, “long,” “tall”; Mosoch): Son of Japheth (Gen 10:2; 1Chronicles 1:5; 1:17 is a scribal error for “Mash”; compare Gen 10:22, 23). His descendants and their dwelling-place (probably somewhere in the neighborhood of Armenia (Herodotus iii.94)) seem to be regarded in Scripture as synonyms for the barbaric and remote (Ps 120:5; compare Isa 66:19, where Meshech should be read instead of “that draw the bow”). It is thought that the “Tibareni and Moschi” of the classical writers refer to the same people. Doubtless, they appear in the annals of Assyria as enemies of that country under the names Tabali and Mushki–the latter the descendants of Meshech and the former those of Tubal to whom the term “Tibareni” may refer in the clause above. This juxtaposition of names is in harmony with practically every appearance of the word in Scripture. It is seldom named without some one of the others–Tubal, Javan, Gog and Magog. It is this, which forms a good justification for making the suggested change in Isa 66:19, where Meshech would be in the usual company of Tubal and Javan. Ezekiel mentions them several times, first, as engaged in contributing to the trade of Tyre (Tiras of Gen 10:2?), in “vessels of brass” and–very significantly–slaves; again there is the association of Javan and Tubal with them (Ezekiel 27:13); second, they are included in his weird picture of the under-world: “them that go down into the pit” (Ezekiel 32:18,26). They are mentioned again with Gog and Magog twice as those against whom the prophet is to “set his face” (Ezekiel 38:2, 3; 39:1).” Henry Wallace (8)
Easton’s Bible Dictionary – Tubal:
“The fifth son of Japheth Genesis 10:2).
A nation probably descended from the son of Japheth. It is mentioned by (Isaiah 66:19), along with Javan, and by (Ezekiel 27:13), along with Meshech, among the traders with Tyre, also among the confederates of Gog (Ezekiel 38:2 Ezekiel 38:3; 39:1), and with Meshech among the nations which were to be destroyed (32:26). This nation was probably the Tiberini of the Greek historian Herodotus, a people of the Asiatic highland west of the Upper Euphrates, the southern range of the Caucasus, on the east of the Black Sea.” (9)
Meshech and Tubal are cities in Turkey, not Russia. Many academics such as the following short list of scholars support this:
Ralph Alexander Old Testament scholar, (B.A., Rice University; Th.M., Th.D., Dallas Theological Seminary) is a professor of Hebrew Scriptures and chair of the Division of Bible Studies at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Portland, Oregon. He has completed graduate work at Hebrew University and specializes in Hebrew and archaeology.
Daniel I. Block Old Testament scholar, Semitics: Classical Hebrew, School of Archaeology and Oriental Studies, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, England. Dissertation: The Foundations of National Identity: A Study in Ancient Northwest Semitic Perceptions M.A. 1973, Old Testament, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois
Edwin Yamauchi, scholar and historian areas of expertise include Ancient History, Old Testament, New Testament, Early Church History, Gnosticism, and Biblical Archaeology. He has been awarded eight fellowships, contributed chapters to several books, articles in reference works, and has published 80 essays in 37 scholarly journals.
Dr. Michael Heiser holds a Ph.D. in Hebrew, and Semitic languages. He is the co-editor of Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology and Semitic Inscriptions: Analyzed Texts and English Translations, and can do translation work in roughly a dozen ancient languages, including Biblical Hebrew, Greek, Aramaic, Egyptian hieroglyphs, and Ugaritic cuneiform. In addition, he was named the 2007 Pacific Northwest Regional Scholar by the Society of Biblical Literature.
An abbreviated list of dictionaries and encyclopedias:
The New Bible Dictionary places both Meshech and Tubal in Turkey. See p. 763.
The Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible places Meshech and Tubal in Northern Assyria, which today is northern Iraq and southeastern Turkey today. See pp. 1443-1444.
An interpretive fallacy:
It is a fallacy to equate Rosh with Russia, Meshech with Moscow, and Tubal with the Russian province Tobolsk. What type of fallacy is this? This fallacy is called an anachronism. “Rosh can have nothing to do with modern ‘Russia. This would be a gross anachronism, for the modern name is based upon the name Rus, which was brought into the region of Kiev, north of the Black Sea, by the Vikings only in the Middle Ages.” See footnote (5) above.
An anachronism is the representation of an event, person, or thing in a historical context in which it could not have occurred or existed.
It is incredible that Bible teachers can get away with such logical fallacies like reading the country of Russia into an ancient Hebrew text. Another way to describe this fallacy has been called “newspaper exegesis.” Said another way, it is reading current events from a newspaper back into an ancient text, which is a gross historical anachronism.
The Bible is not a series of hidden cryptic messages that only later in history will become clear. Are helicopters mentioned in the Bible? For example, “And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months” (Revelation 9:10). Some futurist Bible interpreters say John is talking about helicopter gunships instead of locust-like scorpions. Did God show John some future TV screen vision of helicopters? Since John did not know what he was seeing, he tried the best to describe helicopters as scorpions. Approaching the Bible this way is not biblical exegesis; it is FANTASTIC nonsense.
What is biblical exegesis?
The first job of an exegete is to determine what Ezekiel was trying to convey to his readers. Ezekiel was writing under the inspiration of God things to the nation of Israel, for their understanding, not twenty-first-century American futuristic speculators. Being bound by futuristic eschatological assumptions can color one’s research.
The careful reader of God’s Word should use the grammatical and historical contexts when interpreting the Scriptures. The exegete should not come to the text with preconceived ideas that may color textual interpretation. The grammatical-historical method is a safeguard against this. The grammatical-historical method is a hermeneutical method that seeks to ascertain the authors’ original understanding of a text of Scripture.
The grammatical-historical method of interpretation focuses attention not only on literary forms but also upon grammatical constructions and historical contexts out of which the Scriptures were written. The grammatical-historical method is solidly in the literal school of interpretation and is the hermeneutical methodology embraced by virtually all Reformed Protestant exegetes and scholars. The goal of biblical exegesis (to bring out) is to explore the meaning of the text, which then leads to discovering its significance or relevance.
To answer the question:
Whom is Ezekiel talking about in 27:13 and 38:2?
Ezekiel was talking about real physical places known in his day, not nations that did not exist. The theories about Russia, fail on both grammatical and historical grounds as well as being logically fallacious.
1. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Ezekiel, Vol.5, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 309.
2. Charles John Ellicott, Bible Commentary for English Readers, Ezekiel, Vol.5, (London, England, Cassell and Company), p. 281.
3. Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, Commentary on the Whole Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan, 1977) p. 708.
4. Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness, (Powder Springs, Georgia, American Vision), p. 363.
5. Edwin M. Yamauchi, Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1982), 20, 24-25.
6. Charles C. Ryrie, ed., The Ryrie Study Bible, (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1978), p. 1285.
7. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor, “Entry for ‘Magog,’” International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 1965.
8. Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. “Definition for ‘MESHECH; MESECH’”, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, (Grand Rapids, Michigan, Eerdmans, reprinted 1986), p. 2038.
9. M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Third Edition, published by Thomas Nelson, 1897. Public Domain, copy freely.
“To God, only wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.” (Romans 16:27) and “heirs according to the promise.” (Galatians 3:28, 29)
Mr. Kettler has previously published articles in the Chalcedon Report and Contra Mundum. He and his wife Marea attend the Westminster, CO, RPCNA Church. Mr. Kettler is the author of the book defending the Reformed Faith against attacks, titled: The Religion That Started in a Hat. Available at: THERELIGIONTHATSTARTEDINAHAT.COM
For More Study
Debunking the Russia/War of Gog and Magog Myth by Jeffrey Goodman, Ph.D.