Much of the world’s attention is presently focused on the unprovoked Russian invasion of Ukraine. And at this moment, it is unclear how this new war in Europe will turn out. Wars are messy things, and the reporting of them is often murky at best. But many believers, knowledgeable of Ezekiel’s prophecies (Ezek. 38 and 39) wonder if the attempt by Russia to take over Ukraine has any biblical significance, particularly in relationship with the Gog/Magog battle of the end times. There are some basic truths and some present realities that should be considered.
- Russia is the leader of the invasion of Israel discussed in Ezekiel 38. Back in the 19th century, the lexicographer Gesenius identified “Rosh” as Russia. Since then, there has been a focused study on identifying the players in the Ezekiel 38-39 battle. There is now good, solid evidence that the names involved (going all the way back to the table of nations in Genesis 10) ended up north of the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea; the territory of modern-day Russia and some other countries. Ezekiel is quite clear that the leading invaders come from the extreme north (north of Israel), and there is only one nation that is in the furthermost north country, and that is the nation of Russia. Russia will be joined by Iran (called Persia by Ezekiel) and a number of other Islamic countries in this coming invasion of Israel.
The leader of Russia is called “Gog” and is seen as a man who is quite arrogant and sees himself as a great conqueror who cannot be defeated. He believes he can take Israel because of the huge, well-equipped army that he puts together. He is, of course, dead wrong. But being wrong, delusional and extremely self-focused has never deterred Gog-like tyrants in the past and will not in the future.
- The territory of Ukraine is part of the territory of the invading forces. It is unclear as to the outcome of the present invasion of Ukraine, but looking at a map reveals that Ukraine is, in fact, part of the territory that will house the invaders of Israel in the last days. Apparently, Ukraine will be absorbed by Russia at some time prior to the Ezekiel battle.
- The timing of the Ezekiel battle is in the last days. Ezekiel specifically refers to the “latter years” (38:8) and the “last days” (38:16), as well as several references to “that day” (38:14, 18; 39:8, 11). When Old Testament writers use these terms, they are referring to the days of Messiah’s coming, when God will bring about the fulfilling of His covenant commitments to His people Israel. While the timing of this battle has long been a subject of discussion among Bible students, it does seem that it will take place just before the Tribulation.
- Russia and Israel today. At this moment in time, the world’s attention is on the Ukraine-Russia conflict. However, Russia is presently saying and doing things which likely indicate some changes on the horizon. There seems to be a growing strain in the Russia-Israel relationship. These could be a pretext for future Russian aggression. Consider the following: (1) this past week in the United Nations, the Russian deputy ambassador said that “Russia does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.” As most readers know, the Golan Heights are strategic to Israel’s ability to defend itself and Israel will never let go of that piece of real estate. This is no small matter. (2) Israel has, without Russian interference, bombed many places in Syria where Hezbollah was stockpiling rockets and ammunition. But now, the Russian rhetoric has changed and they are saying that these pre-emptive strikes are “crude violations of Syrian sovereignty.” And Russian jets are engaged with Syrian jets in “exercises” often near the Golan Heights. (3) The rhetoric also is changing to the point that the Israeli incursions into Syria are “problematic”. (4) Less known is Vladimir Putin’s delusion that he is the savior of the Christian world (here read the Russian Orthodox Church). And with the Russian Orthodox church’s presence in Jerusalem, one can only imagine what tales of abuse or offenses might be conjured up. Gog is going to devise an “evil plan” according to the prophet (38:10) when it comes to invading Israel.
- The reason for the coming invasion of Israel. Ezekiel is quite clear that this invasion is motivated by several factors. One is the wealth that Israel has accumulated since becoming a nation. This is not the place to discuss the trillions of dollars in the Dead Sea minerals or the vast natural gas deposits of Israel’s coast. But Ezekiel 38:12-13 states that Israel’s wealth is definitely attractive. Israel’s strategic location (38:12) is also attractive to Russia. Since ancient times the land area of Israel has been that important bridge between Asia and Europe. And dictators, including Gog, see that land as a marvelous chunk of real estate. Israel occupies, as Ezekiel declares, the “center of the earth.” And we must not forget that Israel is hated by the nations of the earth. Antisemitism has been with us for millennia and one cannot imagine that it will not be a contributing factor in this end times attempt to annihilate Israel.
- The One who engineers the invasion is God Himself. It is important to note that it is God Himself who orchestrates when this invasion will take place. It almost seems that Gog really doesn’t want to do this, at least at this moment in time. So, God drags Gog down to the land of Israel (38:4, 8; 39:2). Whatever Gog’s timing and plans might be, he will be divinely forced to change his plans and head for his demise on the mountains of Israel.
- The results of this coming invasion. God always has purposes in what He does, even though we often don’t fully understand them. But God, through Ezekiel, has made clear His basic reasons for what He will do in this case. He will, using a variety of means, totally destroy Gog and his immense army. First and most important, the total destruction of Gog and his allies will trigger the nation of Israel coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (39:22). This destruction of a huge invading force will bring about a spiritual response in Israel similar to what took place when the army of Egypt was destroyed at the Red Sea in the days of Moses. The Scriptures are clear that the tribulation period exists primarily for the salvation of people, beginning with the nation of Israel. (The timing of this battle is not absolutely clear but probably occurs after the Rapture of the church and before the start of the tribulation period). God wants to save man and multiplied millions will come to faith in Jesus Christ during that time period. A second purpose is that the nations of the world will see God and respect Him in a way they haven’t for millennia (39:6-7, 21, 27). Today, so much of the world views the Lord Jehovah (if they think of Him at all) as being on vacation and out of touch with what is going on, or really powerless to do much about all this. That secular attitude towards the Creator God, which marginalizes the Lord God, will be dramatically changed. And while many will not turn to Him in faith, they will no longer dismiss Him as irrelevant as they do today.
Some concluding thoughts.
Jesus was clear that predicting the exact time of end time events is something we are not capable of doing. So, we just can’t do that. Setting dates has always proved disastrous. However, Jesus also was clear that we are to be observant about what is doing on in the world. And He warned that we must not “fall asleep” spiritually and be unprepared for the arrival of end time events. God, on oath said He was going to do these things. Sometime might be our time. Therefore, being passive about all this is a really poor choice.
So, as we observe events in our world and as we look at Scripture, we are to live intentionally for Him, keeping one eye on the heavens. If all of these current events do flow into last day events, we will not be unprepared.