Ezekiel 38 & 39: The Need For A Consistent Hermeneutic
By Joel Richardson – “The purpose of this paper is to discuss a common exegetical error made in the interpretation and identification of the peoples and places mentioned within various Biblical prophecies. While this error is common in the interpretation of many Biblical prophecies, it is most pronounced in the popular exegesis of Ezekiel 38 & 39. The problem, as we will discuss below, is the use an improper or inconsistent method of interpretation. Let us begin by identifying the two methods of interpretation most commonly employed by conservative evangelical, futurist exegetes.
The Historical-Grammatical Method
The first method of interpretation is the historical-grammatical approach. This approach simply seeks to understand the original context of any given passage according to how the earthly author of that passage and his immediate audience—the original hearers of the prophecy—would have understood it. This is done by carefully considering the historical context, as well as the grammar and structure of the passage in its original language. This method of interpretation is thoroughly context-driven. This method is the recognized hermeneutic used today by most trained, conservative, evangelical exegetes. In the case of Biblical prophecy, what this means is that if, for instance, Ezekiel mentions Gomer, the effort is made to identify how Ezekiel and his audience would have understood this term in their day (the early 6th Century BC). Once this is determined, the futurist exegete determines which region, modern nation, or nations correlate to the Gomer of that time. If Gomer is determined to have been understood as relating to Asia Minor of Ezekiel’s day, then it is understood that the modern nation of Turkey, which now occupies Asia Minor is the ultimate last-days fulfillment of Ezekiel’s reference to Gomer.
In the case of identifying the last days relevance of various peoples and names within ancient Biblical prophecies, this method could be called ‘the geographic-correlation-method.’ Gleason L. Archer, scholar of Old Testament and semitic languages, and one of the fathers of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary on Daniel, champions the historic-geographic-correlation method:
Likewise, the ancient names of countries or states occupying the region where the final conflict will be carried on are used in the prediction, though most of those political units will no longer bear these names in the last days. Thus Edom, Moab, Ammon, Assyria, and Babylon which are mentioned in eschatological passages, have long since ceased to exist as political entities, their places having been taken by later peoples occupying their territories.
Dr. Thomas Ice of the Pre-Tribulation Research Center also champions the geographic-correlation method as the proper method to interpret Ezekiel 38 & 39:
It appears that Ezekiel is using the names of peoples, primarily from the table of nations, and where they lived at the time of the giving of this prophecy in the sixth century B.C. Therefore, if we are able to find out where these people and places were in the sixth century B.C. then we will be able to figure out who would be their modern antecedents today.
The Bloodline-Lineage-Migration Method
The other method widely employed by many popular prophecy teachers is what I call the ‘bloodline-lineage-migration method.’ This method begins with an ancient Biblical name or people, and seeks to follow this people down through history to their modern day, physical, bloodline descendants. This involves working through all of the available historical data to trace the various migrations, intermarriages, intermingling, and dispersal etc., to modern times. This method of interpretation is the method used to support Anglo-Israelism and other such heterodox beliefs. This method of interpretation is also widely used by many teachers, otherwise accepted as orthodox, who have sought specifically to trace the names Rosh or Magog from the prophecy of Ezekiel 38 & 39 to the people of modern day Russia. In fact, among many popular Dispensationalists—that portion of the Church that is most given to the study of Bible prophecy—this method has been the most widely practiced and accepted form of interpreting portions of Ezekiel’s oracle. As we will seek to show, the use of this method of interpretation when attempting to interpret the meaning of the various names used within Ezekiel’s oracle should be rejected as an improper method of interpretation by careful and responsible exegetes. As we will also seek to show, among those who employ this method, there has been significant inconsistency, with most teachers tending to switch methods midstream, often using the bloodline-lineage-migration method with some names, but using the historical-grammatical method with other names. Beyond this, and equally common, is the practice of tracing the lineage of a particular people, but only in a limited manner, to a particular period in time, resulting in a selective and partial identification.
Ezekiel 38 & 39
As stated above, the passage most frequently interpreted using a combination of both methodologies is Ezekiel 38 & 39. Listed within this oracle are the following names described as joining together for a last days invasion of the land of Israel:
A Partial List of the Modern Day Descendants of the Japhetic Peoples of Ezekiel’s Oracle
Now consider the following list of descendants from some of the participants in Ezekiel’s invasion, specifically those of Japhetic origin.
Magog (sons were Elichanaf, Lubal, Baath, Jobhath and Fathochta). Ancient related names also: Gog, Cog, Gogh, Gogue, Gogarene, Jagog, Yajuj, Majuj, Juz, Majuz, Agag, Magug, Magogae, Magogue, Ma-Gogue, Mugogh, Mat-Gugi, Gugu, Gyges, Bedwig, Moghef, Magogian, Massagetae, Getae, Dacae, Sacae, Saka, Scyth, Skythe, Scythi, Scythii, Scythini, Scythia, Scythae, Sythia, Scythes, Skuthai, Skythai, Cathaia, Scythia, Skythia, Scynthia, Scynthius, Sythian, Skudra Sclaveni, Samartian, Sogdian, Slovon, Skodiai, Scotti, Skolot, Skoloti, Scoloti, Skolo-t, Skoth-ai, Skoth, Skyth, Skuthes, Skuth-a, Slavs, Ishkuzai, Askuza, Askuasa, Alani, Alans, Alanic, Ulan, Uhlan (Scythians, Scots); also Rasapu, Rashu, Rukhs, Rukhs-As, Rhos, Ros, Rosh, Rox, Roxolani, Rhoxolani, Ruskolan, Rosichi, Rhossi, Rusichi, Rus, Ruska, Rossiya, Rusian; also Mas-ar, Mas-gar, Masgar, Mazar, Madj, Madjar, Makr-on, Makar, Makaroi, Merkar, Magor, Magar, Magyar; Huns, Hungar, Hunugur, Hurri, Gurri, Onogur, Ugor, Ungar, Uhor, Venger.
Modern peoples and nations likely descended from Magog:
Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Chechnya, Dagestan, Hungaria, Yugoslavia, Finland, Estonia, Siberia, Poland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Serbia, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Armenia, Georgia, Scotland, and others.
Rosh/Tiras (sons were Benib, Gera, Lupirion and Gilak). Ancient names also: Tiracian, Thracian, Thirasian, Thiras, Thuras, Tyritae, Thrasus, Thrace, Trausi, Tereus, Trecae, Troas, Tros, Troia, Troiae, Troyes, Troi, Troy, Troya, Trajan, Trojan, Taunrus, Tyras, Tyrsen, Tyrrhena, Illyrian, Ilion, Ilium, Rasenna, also Rasapu, Rashu, Rukhs, Rukhs-As, Rhos, Ros, Rosh, Rox, Roxolani, Rhoxolani, Ruskolan, Rosichi, Rhossi, Rusichi, Rus, Ruska, Rossiya, Rusian, Ras, Rash, Ros, Rosh, Rish, Rus, Tursha, Tusci, Tuscany, Etruria, Etruschi, Etruscan, Eturscan, Euskadi, Euskara (Basque), Erul, Herul, Heruli, Erilar, Vanir, Danir, Daner, Aesar, Aesir, Asir, Svear, Svea, Svie, Svioner, Svenonian, Urmane, Norge.
Note: Many scholars argue that Rosh should simply be translated as ‘chief or head’ (eg. Delitzsch, Hengstenberg, Ryrie, Unger, Millard, Zimmerli, Feinberg, Wood, Alexander, Block) [Edit ICA: In my view “Rosh” is best understood as “chief or head”] as opposed to a proper noun/place name: Rosh (eg. Gesenius, Keil, Price, Hitchcock, Rhodes, Ice). For further reading on this issue, see my book Mideast Beast: The Scriptural Case for an Islamic Antichrist (WND, 2012). Some (eg. Billington, Ice) also suggest that Rosh is a derivative of Tiras from the Biblical Table of Nations in Genesis 10,11. Ice states, ‘It is very likely that the name Rosh is actually derived from the name Tiras in Genesis 10:2 in the Table of Nations.’ For the purpose of this paper, we will allow for the view that Rosh could be a proper name and could be a derivative of Tiras.
Modern names and nations likely descended from Ros/Tiras:
Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Chechnya Dagestan, Norway, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, Iceland, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Italy, Greece, Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, and others.
Meshech (sons were Dedon, Zaron and Shebashnialso) Ancient names also: Me’shech, Mes’ek, Meshekh, Meshwesh, Meskhi, Meschera, Mushch, Muschki, Mushki, Mishi, Muski, Mushku, Musku, Muskeva, Muska, Muskaa, Muskai, Maskali, Machar, Maskouci, Mazakha, Mazaca, Mtskhetos, Modar-es, Moskhi, Moshkhi, Mosah, Mosher, Moshch, Moschis, Mosoch, Moschi, Moschian, Moshakian, Mo’skhoi, Moschoi, Mosochenu, Mosochean, Mossynes, Mosynoeci, Moskva, Moscovy, Moscow.
Modern peoples nations likely descended from Meshech:
Russians, Latvians, Lithuanians, Romanians, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, and others.
Tubal (sons were Ariphi, Kesed and Taari) Ancient names also: Tabal, Tabali, Tubalu, Thobal, Thobel, Tbilisi, Tibarenoi, Tibareni, Tibar, Tibor, Sabir, Sapir, Sabarda, Subar, Subartu, Tobol, Tobolsk.
Modern peoples and nations likely descended from Tubal:
Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Spain, Portugal, Mexico, South America, Russia, others.
Gomer (sons were Ashkenaz, Riphath and Togarmah). Ancient names also: Gamir, Gommer, Gomeri, Gomeria, Gomery, Goth, Guth, Gutar, Götar, Gadelas, Galic, Gallic, Galicia, Galica, Galatia, Gael, Galatae, Galatoi, Gaul, Galls, Goar, Celt, Celtae, Celticae, Kelt, Keltoi, Gimmer, Gimmerai, Gimirra, Gimirrai, Gimirraya, Kimmer, Kimmeroi, Kimirraa, Kumri, Umbri, Cimmer, Cimmeria, Cimbri, Cimbris, Crimea, Chomari, Cymric, Cymry, Cymru, Cymbry, Cumber.
Modern peoples and nations likely descended from Gomer:
Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Austria, Switzerland, and others.
The point in listing the ancestors of the Japhetic peoples listed among the Gog-Magog invaders, is to show that if we consistently use the bloodline-lineage-migration method, then we must conclude that dozens upon dozens of modern nations will be involved in Ezekiel’s invasion. However, if we follow the historical-grammatical method of interpretation, based on the best historical records, just before and during Ezekiel’s day, most of the Japhetic peoples listed in Ezekiel’s oracle would have primarily resided in Asia Minor or modern day Turkey. Let’s continue to consider the following chart that shows how following the two different methods of interpretation will dramatically affect one’s end result:
In summary, depending on which method one uses, the Japhetic peoples listed in Ezekiel’s oracle would be understood as including the following nations:
Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Belarus, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Iraq, Denmark, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Portugal, Spain, Mexico, much of Central and South America, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Belgium, Poland, Czech Republic, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Albania, Serbia, England, Ireland, Wales, Scotland, France, United States, Canada, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and likely several other nations as well.
Turkey, possibly several other nations.
While the above lists are certainly not comprehensive, they do fairly represent how a consistent use of one or the other interpretive method will dramatically affect one’s end result. Yet when we assess the many efforts among prophecy teachers who use the bloodline-lineage method to identify the nations that will comprise the Ezekiel 38 & 39, Gog of Magog invasion, only a small fraction of the nations in the larger list are ever included. Why is this? Why for instance, is Russia always included, but Moldova, Ireland, Canada, and Mexico always omitted? If we are to be honest, we must admit that this is due to a confused and inconsistent method of interpretation. Even among some of the most well-trained and careful scholars, it is clear that they are not consistent, switching back and forth from the historical-grammatical method to the bloodline-lineage-migration method. Beyond this, as previously stated, even when they do use the bloodline-lineage-migration method, they limit their analysis, naming only some of the descendants, but omitting most of the others.
Below are a series of charts detailing how a handful of well-known, well-respected prophecy teachers identify (1) the names found in the Ezekiel 38 & 39 prophecy, (2) the method of interpretation they used for each name, and (3) the correlating modern nations that they arrive at.
The analysis that follows should not be seen as a personal criticism of any the teachers cited. These men have each shown themselves to be outstanding exegetes and careful students of Biblical prophecy. These individuals are cited only because of their prominence whose teachings widely impact the Body of Christ.
Hal Lindsey & Joel C. Rosenberg
In the first chart, because both authors Hal Lindsey and Joel C. Rosenberg use essentially the same methodology and arrive at the same conclusions, I have included them both here together.
As can be seen above, both Lindsey and Rosenberg employ a partial and selective use of the bloodline-lineage-migration method to identify Magog, Rosh, Meshech and Tubal, but with regard to Gomer and Togarmah, they use a combination of the two methods. Concerning Persia, Cush and Lud, Lindsey and Rosenberg use the historical-geographic-correlation method. In the case of Persia for instance, rather than attempting to trace the movements and descendants of the ancient Indo-Iranian and Indo-European peoples that inhabited ancient Persia during Ezekiel’s day, they only link ‘Persia’ to the modern day region of Iran as it would have been understood in Ezekiel’s day. Both Lindsey and Rosenberg use an inconsistent methodology, employing one method for some names and an entirely different method for others.
Mark Hitchcock & Ron Rhodes
In this next chart, I have included Mark Hitchcock and Ron Rhodes together, as they, like Lindsey and Rosenberg, generally follow the same methodology and arrive at essentially the same conclusions.
Here we see that Hitchcock and Rhodes, both trained and very careful teachers, lean much closer to a consistent use of the historical-geographic-correlation method, (seven of the nine names are interpreted in this manner) but they still shift to the use of the bloodline-lineage-migration method of interpretation, (with both Rosh and Magog) and again only in a limited and selective manner.
With regard to Rosh, both Hitchcock and Rhodes seem to generally rely on the testimony of Wilhelm Gesenius who himself employs the bloodline-lineage-migration method, citing Arab and Byzantine sources from the 9th century AD, roughly 1500 years after Ezekiel’s day!
Dr. Thomas Ice
Now we come to Dr. Thomas Ice, whose approach, of those discussed thus far, comes the closest to a consistent hermeneutic. As we saw earlier, Ice specifically identifies the historical-geographic-correlation method as the proper method and for the most part sticks to this method.
On most of the names in question, Ice does follow though and use the historical-geographic-correlation method, but with regard to Magog and Rosh, like Hitchcock and Rhodes before him, Ice is a bit inconsistent, deviating slightly into the blood-lineage-migration method. Concerning Rosh for instance, Ice states,
The ancient Rosh people, who have been traced back to Tiras, a son of Japheth (Gen.10:2), who migrated to the Caucasus Mountains in Southern Russia, are one of the genetic sources of the modern Russians of today.(emphasis mine)
After affirming the need to interpret the text strictly according to the historical-geographic-correlation method, Ice nevertheless swerves into tracing the ‘genetic sources,’ ‘descendants,’ and the peoples ‘related’ to the Rosh-peoples. In support of his conclusions, Ice never cites any date-specific historical sources that would link Magog or Rosh exclusively to, or even primarily to Russia during Ezekiel’s day.
A Consistent Historical Method
Finally we arrive at the interpretive method advocated for in this paper. This is the consistent historical-geographic-correlation method, where all of the names mentioned by Ezekiel are interpreted according to the locations that history testifies they inhabited during the late 7th and early 6th centuries B.C.
When a consistent historical method is used, when all available historical data is consulted, we arrive at a Turkish-led invasion. While it is also certainly possible that Russia could be included in this invasion, this would only be raw speculation, as there is nothing in the actual text that would clearly point to this. Below is a map representing how Ezekiel would have understood the names of his own prophecy according to the consistent historical method of interpretation:
In considering the layout of the nations on this map in relation to Israel, several commentators and scholars have suggested that the LORD, through Ezekiel, essentially specified one modern nation from all four corners of the compass as representative of a massive coalition that most likely includes several nations beyond those specifically listed. The inclusion of other nations not specifically mentioned is also seen when the LORD declares to Gog that beyond the nations listed, he would also be accompanied by ‘many nations with you.’ (38:6)
In conclusion, the purpose of this paper is to highlight the need for a consistent methodology among prophecy teachers and exegetes of a literalist and futurist persuasion. If someone wishes to argue that we should in fact use the bloodline-lineage-migration method, not only would I argue that this methodology is improper, but I would also demand that it be used consistently, thus involving a majority of the nations of the earth—a position I have yet to see a single interpreter argue for. But if we are to follow the historical-grammatical method, as is the commonly accepted method of interpretation among conservative evangelical exegetes, then let us also be consistent. I believe it is time for an open reassessment of the popular understanding of Ezekiel’s prophecy which has such an overwhelming Russian-emphasis.” Source – Joels Trumpet.