Some Christians and Jews have viewed recent events as a partial fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy. Evangelical scholar Dr Calvin Smith looks at the biblical evidence
Several high profile end times teachers have suggested Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is featured in biblical prophecy.
Many of them draw on Ezekiel 38, which begins, "Son of man, set your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him..." (v1-2) The passage goes on to describe how these people will invade the nation of Israel. It is proposed that these northern invaders named Gog and Magog refer to Russia, that the word Rosh also refers to Russia, while Meshech means Moscow.
Today’s mobilisation of Russia against Ukraine is regarded as a precursor to Russia's ultimate attack on Israel. Ezekiel is clear the attack comes from the north, and those supposing biblical prophecy is being fulfilled note that that Moscow is directly north of Jerusalem. Thus, it is claimed the Ukraine war heralds the beginning of the end times.
Does Gog fit Russia?
It does appears likely that Ezekiel is drawing upon an existing threat from the north (chapters 38-9) to describe a great end times invasion. A case in point is the invitation to the birds to a feast upon the flesh of the destroyed invading army (39:17-20), which is echoed in Revelation 19:17-18. But it is quite a stretch to associate Ezekiel’s Gog and Magog with a revitalised modern-day Russian superpower led by Vladimir Putin that will eventually dominate the world.
Leaving aside how the Ukraine war has illustrated woeful Russian military planning, equipment, training and logistics, scripturally such an interpretation is problematic. First, at the word study level "rosh" means chief, or leader, and is unlikely to refer to a country (Russia).
Secondly, Ezekiel describes the land of Israel as having unwalled villages and inhabitants who live securely in the land at the time of the invasion. Yet thousands of rockets have been fired at Israel over the years, while terrorist attacks are frequently foiled (though not all). Since Israel built the separation barrier - sections of which are an actual wall - suicide bombings have been reduced considerably. Nonetheless, Israel’s security today does not match that described by Ezekiel.
bold claims made just weeks ago now appear less sure
Moreover, the Bible describes how Gog and Magog have very many allies from among the peoples of the world. Indeed, Revelation 19:8 states Gog and Magog deceive the nations. Yet at the time of writing nothing could be further from the truth, with Russia having become an international pariah.
Moreover, Revelation places the Gog and Magog event after the millennial period (20:7-8) and so is a different event from the great eschatological battle that precedes the 1000 years. Now, the two events may be related somehow. After all, Revelation is a notoriously difficult book to interpret and cannot be approached overly literally, being full of symbols and imagery (such as a dragon, horns, strange beasts). Yet it is ironic that those making today’s claims tend to follow a literal chronology of Revelation, yet not when it comes to Gog and Magog. It is also worth noting that if ever an era best describes a secure Israel without walled cities, then surely it is as the millennial period winds up.
Interestingly, when Russia seized the Crimea some Jewish commentators picked up on the Vilna Gaon prophecy (Vilna Gaon is a well-known 18th century Jewish teacher who predicted that when the Russians captured Crimea the time of the Messiah is imminent). But Crimea was taken by Russia back in 2014, with still no age of Messiah in sight. If nothing else, this is a demonstration of how identifying current events with religious traditions is not the sole preserve of Christianity.
A poor track record
This brings us to the crux of the matter, namely, the dangers of seeking to identify current events with biblical prophecy. Today’s sensational eschatology identifies Gog and Magog with Russia. But throughout the centuries it has been variously associated with the Goths, Moors, Huns, the Islamic empire, the Tartars, Spain and even the Pope. In each case, these interpretations have proved incorrect and it has been back to the drawing board. One is reminded of the many erroneous predictions of the return of the Lord.
the Bible is not a commentary on current affairs and attempts to utilise it in this manner are often sensational and false
Biblical prophecy has an important role to play in the life of the believer, demonstrating how God is in control of events and human history. It also gives us hope for the future. Meanwhile, studying biblical prophecy enhances our understanding of scripture. Yet the Bible is not a commentary on current affairs and attempts to utilise it in this manner are often sensational and false, turning many believers away from studying biblical prophecy. This is a travesty because these prophecies were included in the Bible for a purpose and like the rest of scripture are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16, ESV).
It is best to avoid being dogmatic in identifying current events with biblical prophecy. We do not know how today’s scenario in the Ukraine will play out. It may become something much greater, global even, though that in itself is not proof it features in biblical prophecy (as two world wars testify). The infamous mystic Rasputin claimed to predict the future and bewitched the last Tsar of Russia and his family. His part-namesake, Putin, has arguably also bewitched some end times enthusiasts. Yet the war in Ukraine is a rapidly moving situation and bold eschatological claims made several weeks ago now appear somewhat less sure. It is wiser to wait, watch and continue to assess events in light of scripture and avoid dogmatic knee-jerk declarations.