Joel Rosenberg is a very popular writer who tells a compelling story. His books are even endorsed by Rush Limbaugh. In his book Epicenter, which ranks high up on the Amazon best-selling chart, Rosenberg argues that the current animus between Israel and Iran is actually foretold in chapters 38-39 of the famous prophecy of Ezekiel regarding Gog and Magog.
As Rosenberg sees things, one day soon Israel will find itself cornered by a Russian-Iranian-Arab alliance which will threaten Israel's very existence. To prove his point he cites from a number of military, political and journalistic sources. He is probably right about the animus and the Islamic designs upon Israel. But my interest in this post is with Rosenberg's appeal to the prophecy of Gog and Magog in Ezekiel 38-39.
Typically, dispensationalists like Rosenberg appeal to this passage as a yet unfulfilled prediction of a Russian-backed Islamic invasion of the modern nation of Israel, at or about the time the seven-year tribulation begins. Dispensationalists believe that the nations listed in the prophecy refer to people living in Ezekiel's time, who can then be traced to modern nations. Following this method, Gog is the mysterious leader of Magog, a land north of the Caucasus mountains inhabited by the ancient Scythians. This is in modern Russia. Meshech is supposedly Moscow. Tubal is variously taken as Turkey or Tolbosk (a city in Russia). Persia is clearly Iran. Put is Libya. Cush is Ethiopia. Beth-Togarmah is Turkey. Some have even identified Gomer as Germany. But since the fall of the Soviet Union, Gomer is more often identified with Russia. Since the bulk of these people live to the northern parts (Ezekiel 38:15) and since the predicted invasion of Israel will come from the north, Rosenberg's thesis is simply a new variation of an old dispensational theme. At some point near the beginning of the tribulation, Israel will be invaded by a Russian-Iranian-Islamic confederacy, only to prevail militarily through God's amazing grace.
To be fair, the dispensationalists were not the first to tie this prophecy to contemporary events. Ambrose identified these same figures as the Goths who were then threatening the Holy Roman Empire. Luther applied this prophecy to the Turks, who were at the gates of Vienna at the time of the Reformation.
But there are two significant problems with this approach to Ezekiel 38-39. First, as Edwin Yamauchi (a noted evangelical archaeologist and historian) has pointed out in his book, Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Baker, 1983), this identification is based upon a number of unsubstantiated assumptions. For one thing, Gog and Magog cannot be directly tied to the Scythians. Yamauchi believes that their identity is not certain at all. Furthermore, he contends that Meshech and Tubal cannot be tied to Moscow or Tobolsk in any sense. He believes these are references to ancient Assyria which did invade Israel from the north. This means that Ezekiel is speaking of Israel's immediate future (an Assyrian invasion from the north), which also prefigures an end-time event.
How do we know that to be the case? If you follow the basic hermeneutical principle that the New Testament interprets the Old Testament (something dispensationalists are want to admit when it comes to interpreting biblical prophecy), then in Revelation 20:8-9, John speaks of Gog and Magog as symbolic of the nations of the earth, gathering together to make war on the saints (the church).
This leads to the second problem with the dispensational understanding. In Revelation 20:8-9, John is universalizing Ezekiel's prophecy of Israel being invaded from the north to the church being attacked from the four corners of the earth--this "spiritualizing" of the Old Testament as practiced by John under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit is, of course, the very thing dispensationalists claim is illegitimate. The fact of the matter is, this is exactly what John does.
In Revelation 20:8-9, John sees a vision of Gog and Magog leading all of the nations on the earth to wage war against God's people (the church), after Satan has been released from the Abyss. These enemies of Christ and his church are ultimately and finally destroyed at Christ's second advent (see Beale, The Book of Revelation, Eerdmans, 1022-1024). This means that the Assyrian invasion of Israel from the north foretold by Ezekiel, is actually typological of the end-times war upon the entire people of God as witnessed by John in his vision.
If you are interested in such things, I also deal with this topic more fully in my recent book, The Man of Sin. You can check it out, Click here: Riddleblog - Man of Sin - Uncovering the Truth About Antichrist
Rosenberg tells a great story and has gathered much interesting evidence about Islamic and Russian intentions. But he also misuses the prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39 to make his point.