Chapters 38-39 are really one unit. It is one prophecy or oracle in two parts. The chapter division marks the division between the two oracles.
This is a complex passage with several literary difficulties. There are some obscure references. But we see a clear message: God is sovereign and will protect his people Israel.
The message begins with God’s instruction to Ezekiel. God told Ezekiel to turn his face toward a person called Gog, of the land of Magog. The NIV and KJV say “against” where the other translations say “toward” (ESV, NASB, RSV). God then told Ezekiel to prophesy against God. So, this oracle, or message is directed at this person or figure.
The Lord described Gog as being of the land Magog. He is also described as the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Gog is not identified anywhere else in the Old Testament outside of this oracle. Genesis 10, sometimes called the Table of Nations, tells us that Noah’s son Japeth had sons named Magog, Tubal and Meshech, among others. No children are named for these three sons, although they are for the other two sons, Gomer and Javan. (Genesis 10:2-4)
We cannot say for sure who Gog is. Dispensationists often claim he is the leader of Russia. This comes from a Hebrew word translated “Rosh”. The NIV, ESV, KJV and RSV translate that word as “chief prince”. It is a title. So, Gog is the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, along with his own place, Magog.
C. I. Scofield, the man who primarily sold Dispensationalism to America, used the King James text, but added a footnote that said “the reference is to the powers in the north of Europe, headed by Russia. He did not mention the word “rosh”. Instead, he referred to current events, stating that Russia persecuted the Jews there, so it made a connection for him. The NASB says “the prince of Rosh” with a foot note saying “chief prince of” is an alternate translation. Hal Lindsey picked up on this and wrote about it in “Late Great Planet Earth”, claiming that Russia would lead an invasion against Israel sometime in the future. He equated the Hebrew “rosh” with Russia.
But, most translations treat “rosh” not as a place name, but a title. That is why they say “the chief prince of”. There are also some Hebrew grammatical problems with the concept of “rosh” as a place name.
The other problem with the use of “ros” or “rosh” as a place name is that there is no place called Rosh. The Bible does not name any such place, so it is unlikely the Jews would have understood this as a place name. Russia did not exist at the time Ezekiel wrote. The term “rus” was only applied to the region of Kiev during the Middle Ages. So, this reference to Russia is an anachronism, an attempt to put a modern thing back in an older time where it did not exist. And, on top of that, Rosh and Rus are not the same words.
But, where were Magog, Mesheck and Tubal, the places where Gog was chief prince? Ezekiel 27:13 says they traded slaves and bronze to Tyre for its goods. Tyre was directly north of Israel. Ezekiel 27 groups Tubal and Meshech with nations along the coast of the Mediterranean. What we can ascertain from this is that Gog is a leader, not just of a nation, but as a leader of a confederation of nations along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.
Meshech and Tubal appear in Assyrian records. At one point, Meshech is said to be ruled by the king of Phrygia, King Mitas. And we know from Psalm 120:5-7 that Mescheck is a people who hates peace, is known to Israel and is close enough for the Psalmist to say he lived among them. But they are not people who had interacted with Israel in the same way as Assyria and Babylon.
So, it is possible that Gog is symbolic of a powerful enemy rising up against God and his people. In addition to his nation, and the two others he rules, Meshech and Tubal, he is joined by Beth Togarmah (6) and Gomer. Back in Genesis 10, we see that Gomer is the firstborn of Japeth and Togarmah is Gomer’s son. “Beth” means “house of”, so it is the House of Torgarmah. These are all people groups that lived north of Israel, mostly around the area of modern Turkey, not Russia.
In addition to these northern nations, Gog is allied with Persia (Iran), Cush (Ethiopia) and Put (Libya). (5) II think it it possible that Persia is a mistranslation for “Paras”, for this seems to be a list of nations to the south of Israel. The list appears in lists of the allies of Egypt. So, it would fit the context of southern nations better than Persia would.
Interestingly, then, there are 7 total nations. One group is from the north and one from the south, symbolizing a world joined together against Israel. This is likely a symbol of all the nations from the uttermost parts of the world known to the Jews gathered against God’s people. That symbolism only works if “ros” or “rosh” is interpreted as a title, such as chief prince, rather than as a place name.