“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)
If only one word were selected that comprises the greatest controversy in the passage of Ezekiel 38-39, it would be the word transliterated rô’sh. While the discussion becomes a bit technical, the implications are so significant that we should take the time (and muster our concentration) to dig into the original language, sentence construction, and use of adjectives and nouns.
Why? Because by doing so, we can determine who Ezekiel’s Gog is and therefore it tells us who leads the great campaign of Islamic nations in the Battle of Gog and Magog, one of the great ‘last days’ battle depicted in the Bible. The Islamic Antichrist Theory (IAT) argues the leader is Turkey. I argue the leader is Russia, which is the conventional point of view.
This post is the second in a series refuting the Islamic Antichrist Theory. The first being “THE BIBLE IS NOT A JEWISH BOOK – OR IS IT?” posted about one week ago. Click here to read that article first.
This article is drawn from my new best selling book, THE NEXT GREAT WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST: RUSSIA PREPARES TO FULFILL THE PROPHECY OF GOG AND MAGOG. Click here to see its book reviews on Amazon.
JUST WHAT DO WE MEAN BY NâSî’ Rô’SH?
The New American Standard Bible (NASB) uses rô’sh as a name, but notes that rô’sh could be translated “chief Prince of Meschech.” The King James instead uses “chief” as in “O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” in all three verses where rô’sh pops up, Ezekiel 38:2, 38:3 and 39:1. And we must admit the term rô’sh is used many times as an adjective in the Old Testament where it means chief, leader, or head. The compilers of the King James Version, however, added a marginal note pertaining to this phrase implying that “the chief prince of” could be rendered “prince of the chief”. And according to researcher and author Douglas Berner, by so doing it ultimately acknowledges the potential legitimacy of the rendering “prince of Rô’sh.”
The issue is whether in this special instance in the text where it is combined with another Hebrew word transliterated, nâsî’, it should be seen as a proper noun or name, lest we have two adjectives placed together that are needlessly redundant or uncharacteristic of Hebrew. In other words, is the Hebrew “nâsî’ rô’sh” properly translated “prince of Rô’sh” or “chief prince of Meschech” as in “high priest of Meschech” (which is the Old Testament similarity that opponents to rô’sh – as a noun – readily cite, seeing it as a parallel convention to the designate the “head honcho” of the Temple priesthood, aka the ‘Chief Priest’). [Note that head honcho would be a similar construction where a noun ‘head’ is used as an adjective modifying ‘honcho’!]
The Septuagint Bible (abbreviated LXX, aka the Greek version of the Old Testament which was the most used translation of the Old Testament used in the New Testament when its writers cited Old Testament scriptures), was written about two hundred years before Christ. LXX inserted the name Rô’sh instead of a synonym such as “chief” (which is how Jerome translated rô’sh in his Latin version of the Bible, the Vulgate). Thus, the Septuagint would be translated, the “ruler of Rosh”. The early German versions employed the same approach as the LXX. Rô’sh was considered a noun of a place or a people. In 1885, the Revised Version in England used “Prince of Rosh” – again, meaning that rô’sh referred to a place or a people (or both). Thus, while controversial, there is a long-standing tradition of using Rô’sh as a proper name long before the Scofield Bible was published in 1909.
This chronology matters because Joel Richardson, among several others, alleges that the reason evangelicals misunderstand rô’sh to be Russia is due to the fact that the Scofield Bible said it was so and the undereducated masses in America took Scofield’s word for it. Remember, Richardson wants to identify Gog with Islam and not with Russia. Hence, ruling out Russia by “dissing” the translation of Rô’sh (i.e., Ros for Russia) comprises an important aspect of his argument. And yet, to be fair to Richardson, there are other champions for his cause that are worth noting. A quick comment on these two other points of view which support his position:
- Opponents to using rô’sh as a proper noun find support in the New International Version (NIV), which also made a big issue of the choice of words, and even asserts it likely means “commander-in-chief” in the way we Americans use the phrase.[i] NIV scholars go even further to make sure that no one can think Ezekiel meant any nation or people existent in modern day. “The NIV text note gives the possible translation ‘prince of Rosh’ and if this is correct, Rosh is probably the name of an unknown people or place. Identification with Russia is unlikely, and in any case cannot be proven.” [ii] The NIV ‘rushes’ to clarify (is quick to point out) its readers shouldn’t rush to judgment on rô’sh, assuming it is Russia.
- Michael Heiser rises to the challenge to reinforce the unlikelihood that the prophecy of Ezekiel could be looking forward to a contemporary nation. Following in the line of Richardson (although preceding him chronologically), Heiser states, “it has been fashionable among premillennialists to argue that ‘Rosh’ is a reference to the country of Russia…” He continues most sardonically, “In my view, the entire premise underlying this speculated reconstruction, that rô’sh is the name of a place, is without exegetical foundation, and connecting this grammatically misguided assertion with Russia seems based on some type of Cold War hermeneutic.”[iii] Of course, given our discussion in the first half of this book, a reference to Cold War Russia might not be an anachronism at which we should scoff.
In his comprehensive study, Berner follows Heiser down the rabbit hole on linguistic permutations and vowel markings of ancient Hebrew. The study of the word rô’sh – as used in the Old Testament – indeed is a rich one to say the least, but it is much too much detail for our purposes here. On this aspect of the discussion, a summation of Berner’s position must suffice. In effect, Berner states that Heiser’s polemic does not cinch the argument. He points out that others like Jon Mark Ruthven assert rô’sh is the name of a place and states unequivocally “It is clear that the LXX [Septuagint] knew of a nation called Ρως” (ROS)” [iv]
TREATING Rô’SH PROPERLY
Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice, who are proponents for Ezekiel’s usage of rô’sh as the name of a location and not a title, provide perhaps the best summary to satisfy our study. I will further abbreviate Berner’s fine recap here. [v]
- Eminent Hebrew scholars C.F. Keil and Wilhelm Gesenius both hold that the better translation of rô’sh in Ezekiel 38-39 is a proper name referring to a specific location, region, or country.
- The Septuagint (LXX), translated only three centuries from Ezekiel’s writings, translates rô’sh as the proper name Ros. Jerome’s Vulgate (the Catholic Bible) mistranslates rô’sh and many modern versions follow his lead down a mismarked path, making it an adjective instead of a proper noun.
- There are many Bible dictionaries and encyclopedias in their articles on rô’sh take the position that Ezekiel uses it as a proper name. Examples include New Bible Dictionary, Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, and International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.
- Rô’sh is mentioned three times in Ezekiel 38-39. According to Hitchcock and Ice, it is uncharacteristic of Hebrew to continue to repeat the full title of a leader multiple times in adjacent passages. In other words, repeating “Chief Prince of Meschech” in each of the three places would be abbreviated to Prince of Meschech and the word, rô’sh or chief, would have been dropped – unless Ezekiel was wanting to emphasize the name of the guilty party, which seems highly likely, if we understand prophecy as the serious business it is – predicting the future to prove the providence of God (and distinguishing precisely who is responsible for actions in opposition to Jehovah).
- Finally, Hitchcock and Ice cite G. A. Cooke, a Hebrew scholar who translated Ezekiel 38:2, “the chief of Rosh, Meschech and Tubal.” Cooke indicates that this is “the most natural way of rendering the Hebrew.” For Hitchcock, Ice, and Berner, the matter is just that simple.
However, I especially appreciate Berner’s testimony to why the translation of rô’sh as Ros, aka Russia, rings so true to Ezekiel’s intent. Berner writes a glowing passage with a particular kind of passion that I share:
I believe God intended this prophecy to be specific enough that its fulfillment will be very clear to Israel and the world when God’s preordained tie for Gog and Magog comes. However, considering the extreme length of time between Ezekiel’s pronouncement of this prophecy and its ultimate fulfillment, it does serve a purpose for the identity of the leader, Gog, and the nation which he represents, to be somewhat enigmatic. God’s prophecies are directed at an ultimate audience and a time of ultimate fulfillment, but they have to speak to and be meaningful to all of the generations of people throughout the ages between Ezekiel and a specific point in the End Times. When we consider the vast changes in the empires of the Gentiles throughout history, it is not surprising that the is prophecy was written with a series [of] internal cryptic enigmas which allow for this vast amount of change but still point to the identity of the ultimate enemies that will be involved in this invasion.[vi]
When Berner wrote his book in 2006, Russia looked like it might grow to be a partner to the United States. But Berner didn’t trust that the transformation was real. He stated most presciently:
Russia, the land of Magog, has attempted a political and economic reversal of direction by adopting some measures of democracy and capitalism. How much of this change is for real and how much is a charade to lull the U.S. and the West into complacency and provide economic assistance remains to be seen. However, it may be that God has plans for Russia to do another about face, and revert back to its former leadership system under a strong totalitarian Gog. [Emphasis added]
Indeed, as outlined in Part One (of THE NEXT GREAT WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST), the about face is complete. Perhaps it is best to close this chapter with a passage from the late and great Grant Jeffrey who made the following equally prophetic statement:
It is important for us to realize that the Bible’s prophecy in Ezekiel about the coming War of Gog and Magog is not influenced by the temporary maneuvering now going on in Moscow. The prophet Ezekiel does not declare that ‘Communist’ Russia will come down against the mountains of Israel; rather he says that “Magog,” which is Russia, will lead an alliance of nations against the Jewish state. Even if Russia should genuinely repudiate communism it would not change the fact that God has declared that Russia’s appointment with destiny will not be postponed.
Jeffrey’s prosaic insight provides an apt segue to the final chapter (in the new book, THE NEXT GREAT WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST) in which we will delve into a more precise consideration of the timing of that appointment with destiny awaiting Gog, Israel, the U.K. and the United States of America.
[i] Methinks the NIV has taken a bit too much liberty here, i.e., eisegesis par excellence.
[ii] See Berner’s discussion from which this citation is listed on page 28.
[iii] Berner, op. cit., pp 28-29. Citation from Heiser is from his book, Islam and Armageddon, p. 103-104. Comment: Heiser is truly an expert in ancient Semitic languages. Of course (speaking sarcastically) academics can never be wrong in drawing conclusions, especially when it allows them to impress others with their area of special expertise. Heifer comes across a bit sarcastic or patronizing, since the tone of his argument casts aspersions on a view he deems not-so-scholastic. Of course, that is a characteristic of a good polemicist.
[iv] Ibid., p. 30, citing Jon Mark Ruthven, The Prophecy That Is Shaping History, Xulon Press, 2003, p. 24.
[v] Ibid., p. 31, citing from Mark Hitchcock and Thomas Ice, The Truth Behind Left Behind, Multnomah Publishers, 2004, p. 50.
[vi] Ibid., p. 33.