EXPLORING THE WORD
Who are Gog, Magog, Tarshish, and the other nations of Ezekiel 38?
By Dillon Burroughs
The growing unrest in the Middle East has caused many to wonder if the Bible speaks of a future time when the nations of this area will turn to catastrophic war. Ezekiel 38 does indeed speak of such a future time when many lands from this area will come together in a war against the nation Israel. Who are these nations?
Gog, Magog, Meshech, and Tubal
First, let's look at the specific verses that mention the nations that will align against Israel.
"Son of man, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him and say, 'Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am against you, O Gog, chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. And I will turn you about and put hooks into your jaws, and I will bring you out, and all your army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed in full armor, a great host, all of them with buckler and shield, wielding swords. Persia, Cush, and Put are with them, all of them with shield and helmet; Gomer and all his hordes; Beth-togarmah from the uttermost parts of the north with all his hordes—many peoples are with you.'" Ezekiel 38:2-6 (ESV)
Who are these nations today?
Gog (Rosh in some translations): The land north of the Black Sea. This is a reference to modern Russia or at least parts of it in this area north of the Black Sea.
Magog: Magog was the ancient land of the Schythians. This land is now what we call Central Asia (the "Stans") and possibly includes parts or all of Afghanistan.
Meshek (also Meshech) : Located within modern Turkey.
Tubal: Located within modern Turkey.
Persia: The ancient land of Persia is located in modern Iran. In fact, Iran was called Persia until 1935, less than 100 years ago.
Ethiopia (also Cush) : Not modern Ethiopia, but known as the area now called Sudan (now North Sudan and perhaps parts of South Sudan).
Put: Modern Libya, possibly extending west beyond Libya to other North African nations.
Gomer: Located within modern Turkey.
Beth Togarmah: Located within modern Turkey.
Interestingly, some of the nations we would expect to stand in conflict with Israel are not listed. These include Egypt, Syria, and Iraq. This does not mean these and other nations may not be involved, but that this prophecy focuses on other nations that appear to be Israel's main opponents.
The Merchants of Tarshish
Ezekiel 38 mentions several nations that will one day form an alliance to attack Israel. Verse 13 then mentions two groups that will oppose this alliance. Sheba and Dedan have been readily identified with the nations of the Arabian Peninsula (Saudi Arabia and its connected nations). But who are the merchants of Tarshish?
Many suggestions have been made regarding the identity of these merchants. The main problem is that Tarshish has been used in a variety of ways in the Old Testament. It occurs 24 times, originally as a land of people descended from a man named Tarshish in Genesis 10:4 (also 1 Chronicles 1:7). Later, the prophet Jonah "fled to Tarshish" to escape God's call to preach to the people of Nineveh (in modern Iraq). All that is clear from this passage is that it was west of Israel, required travel by ship, and was considered far away.
Many times the phrase "ships of Tarshish" was used to indicate any ship that travelled a long distance. The Jewish historian Josephus identified Tarshish as Cilicia, while many identify it with the Tarshish in southern Spain — a spot that would have been understood by Jonah as the farthest point opposite Nineveh.
The "merchants of Tarshish and all her villages" could also refer to more than one location. Many scholars now suggest that if Tarshish meant the city of Tartessos in Spain, its merchants and villages could be a metaphor for the West, to include Western Europe and the Americas. If this is the case, the implications for Bible prophecy significantly change.
How would this interpretation of "the merchants of Tarshish and all her villages" impact the view of Western Europe and the Americas in Bible prophecy? First, it would indicate that these areas condemn the future alignment of nations against Israel. This could easily fit our current world, as Western nations generally oppose military action by Middle Eastern nations against Israel, though often do so without any significant involvement to stop such actions.
Second, this interpretation would provide a specific identification for the Americas in future Bible prophecy. While the confederation of global powers mentioned in both Daniel and Revelation will likely include parts of Europe, the Americas do not seem to be directly mentioned. Yet if included as "the merchants of Tarshish and all her villages," the Americas can be found as those who still have an international voice in the last days, though lacking either the will or ability to intervene when wars arises against Israel.
The Bible's prophecies of Gog, Magog, and Tarshish have puzzled scholars for generations. As we look at today's headlines, we need not speculate unreasonable connections between these prophecies and modern events. However, Scripture is clear that in the end, many surrounding nations will gather against Israel. The fact that the foreshadowing of such a time already exists only encourages us to live for God today.
Image Credit: Biblioteca Nacional de Espana; "Proximo oriente y mar caspio"; Creative Commons
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