Is Russia really targeting ISIS with airstrikes in Syria? Or is it doing something the U.S. considers more troubling?
Russia Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced on 10/7 that four Russian warships fired 26 sea-based cruise missiles at eleven ISIS targets, destroying them and causing no civilian casualties. Russian troops have landed in Syria and are coordinating with Syria in military strikes against rebel forces. Al Nusra Front, an affiliate of Al Qaeda, is the primary rebel force in Syria.1 In prior months, Turkey assisted the U.S. led coalition by allowing U.S. and coalition forces to use its airfields in striking ISIS targets in Iraq. With Turkey aligning with U.S. led coalition forces, the recent incursions into Turkey by Russian aircraft are seen as a provocation by Russia of the U.S. led coalition forces. The Free Syrian Army is another key rebel group in Syria, composed of defected Syrian troops. These are the two primary Islamist groups that Russia is attacking. The Free Syrian Army is America’s partner against Assad and has been supplied with military equipment by the United States in its attacks against Syrian government forces. Recently, American military equipment was given to al-Nusra by American trained Syrian rebels in exchange for safe passage. Read more.
I don’t know about you, but the presence of Russia in just about every sentence in my opening paragraph drives me to the most relevant Scripture where Russia most frequently is inserted — Ezekiel 38/39. Russia has long been interpreted by many as the “land of Magog” in Ezekiel 38:2 NASB, 6, and “Gog,” the “prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal” (Ezekiel 38:3 NASB) is a political/military leader of that country. I want to throw out some other “identifiers” in Ezekiel 38/39 to see if you agree that Russia is the most likely to fulfill Ezekiel 38. That means Vladimir Putin is Gog in the prophecy.
1 – The fulfillment of the prophecy is in the “last days,” after Israel has returned to its land (sometime after 1948) Ezekiel 38:8 NASB, Ezekiel 38:16 NASB.
2 – “Gog” is the leader of a superpower nation. There are at least three passages in Ezekiel 38/39 that describe the military forces of Gog as fully equipped with the latest equipment of that ancient day (600 B.C): Ezekiel 38:4 NASB, Ezekiel 38:7 NASB, Ezekiel 38:15 NASB. Of course, we cannot interpret the passage literally but metaphorically. A modern-day army is not going to be equipped with horses, swords, and be described as “splendidly attired.” The prophet is using specifics of his day to identify a quality of the specific military in the last days.
Notice also verse Ezekiel 38:7 NASB, “… and be a guard for them.” Russia is doing that right now in Syria as it guards Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government against Islamist rebel forces, e.g., Free Syrian Army and Jabhat al-Nusrah. Ezekiel 38:7 NASB also states, “Be prepared, and prepare yourself, you and all your companies that are assembled about you…” This superpower will not only equip itself militarily, but it will also equip those that join it. Russia has already equipped the Syrian regime with its latest military equipment, and is now coordinating attacks with them (along with Iraq and Iran) against rebel forces and ISIS.
3 – An escalation of Russian involvement in Syria must extend beyond Syria. In order for Ezekiel 38 to be fulfilled through the current conflict, there must be an extraordinary escalation in the Syrian conflict to eventually include Israel. Ezekiel 38 is a prophecy of conflict against Israel, not Syria, but this does not mean it does not begin with Syria. Ezekiel 38:8 NASB, Ezekiel 38:14-19 NASB, Ezekiel 39:2 NASB. A prediction of escalation of Russian involvement was predicted by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in September 2015. That has already occurred and many military experts are predicting it will escalate further. In addition, Israel Prime Minister Netanyahu met with Putin recently to discuss Russia’s involvement in Syria and how that might impact Israel. Netanyahu said he had come with the goal of “prevent[ing] misunderstandings between IDF [Israeli army] units and Russian forces” in Syria, where Assad is fighting rebels in a civil war.” With what has happened in the last few weeks, Russia does not seem to have much concern about the worry of escalation — that is its objective. With Russia success, only the naive would predict Russia will pack up its warplanes and missiles and head back home. If that were Russia’s DNA, it would never have annexed Crimea in March, 2014, notwithstanding world opposition through the United Nations that its activities were illegal.
4 – The superpower appears to have nuclear weapons which are used in a future conflict against Israel. Another identifier is found in Ezekiel 39. This passage describes what appears to be nuclear weaponry that is used in the battle.
- Ezekiel 39:12 states it takes seven months to bury the dead;
- Ezekiel 39:9 states it takes seven years to burn the weaponry;
- Ezekiel 39:3 states that the bodies are not buried where they fall but in a special location;
- Ezekiel 39:11 states that no one can enter the valley because of the pestilence/destruction;
- Ezekiel 39:15 states that anyone who sees a bone is not to bury it (or to destroy it) but to set up a marker so that those “set apart” can bury the bodies.
- Ezekiel 39:12, 16 describe that the land must be cleansed.
The point of Ezekiel 39 is that some type of contamination has occurred, e.g., radiation poisoning, that requires a specific location, a specific method of disposal, by a specific group of people who are apparently trained for the process, all of which will allow the land to be “cleansed.” And, no one is allowed to enter the burial site but it will be blocked off in the Valley of Harmon-Gog.
5 – Gog and his military forces from the land of Magog have no religious motivation for their attack against Israel. At no point in Ezekiel 38 or 39 is there any indication that Gog (or those who join him from the remote north) are joining him because of a religious motivation or an Arab/Jew motivation (Psalm 83). This is an important factor because motivation is needed to identify a crime and the criminal who committed it. Russia is atheistic. Ezekiel 38 is not a holy war but a war for power and dominion. Other prophetic battles are holy wars (Revelation 17/18) but not Ezekiel 38. Only a few verses attempt to identify Gog’s motive and these verses are asked as a question; that is, the observer cannot comprehend the reason why Gog and his forces are attacking Israel. Ezekiel 38:13 NASB.
6 – Gog and the land of Magog are identified as from the “remote north.” The text tells us that Gog is located in the “remote north.” Ezekiel 38:6 NASB, Ezekiel 38:15 NASB. The significance of this geographical detail should not be underestimated. There have been many nations in ancient Bible times who were Israel’s enemies from the north. Among those were Assyria and Babylon. The Assyrians defeated the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. The Babylonians defeated the Southern Kingdom of Israel in 586 B.C.. (Jer. 1:13). Both of these nations are defined in Scripture as from the north (Zeph. 2:13; Jer. 1:13).
It is important to note that the present text includes a refinement of the meaning of “north” when it gives the location of Gog as the “remote north.” The Hebrew text in transliterated form is yerekah, meaning “flank, side, extreme parts, recesses.” Thus, the kingdom of Gog, the land of Magog, i.e., Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, is located geographically not just to the north, but to the remote north.
When one considers a map, the extent of the ancient kingdom of Assyria is modern-day Turkey and Iraq. Similarly, ancient Babylon extended from modern-day Iraq, eastward to northwest Iran, and southwest through Palestine. If this area is defined as “north” in Scripture then “remote north” would have to be the next country to the north of modern-day Turkey, Iran, and Iraq. That country is Russia. In fact, if one were to draw a vertical line from Moscow it would point directly to Jerusalem.
7 – The land of Magog is the modern-day Russian Federation. In my book, Islam the Cloak of Antichrist, I cover at length the identification of the land of Magog, i.e., Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal (Ezekiel 38:2-3 NASB, Ezekiel 39:1 NASB)2 I also interpret the following countries to be:
- Persia – Iran
- Ethiopia – Libya
- Put – Yemen
- Gomer – Turkey
- Beth-togormah – Armenia/Georgia
I refer use to the website of my book for support of my interpretation. (If you would like a free copy of my book for the cost of the postage, let me know by email.)
8 – Gog will devise a plan that is evil to its core to convince the world that he is doing one thing when, in reality, he will be doing another — launching an attack against Israel. It is very important that we do not overlook Ezekiel 38:10-11 NASB. Gog’s evil plan is to destroy Israel. This is the plan in his mind. It is not the plan that he discloses to the world. Otherwise, the Scripture would not describe it as an “evil plan” that he apparently keeps to himself (“thoughts will come into your mind and you will devise an evil plan and say to yourself…”). Let us suppose that Putin has already devised his evil plan. Play it out in your mind. How difficult would it be to turn Russian military equipment to Syria’s neighbor Israel? He already has boots on the ground in Syria as well as anti-aircraft missile defense systems. The Islamist rebels do not have planes to be taken out of the sky by Russian anti-aircraft systems so why are they there? I predict for IDF planes (or their American allies). Of course, I am assuming that this would only take place after Putin has either rescued Assad from the rebel forces or he has destroyed Assad. Regardless, the “apple” of Putin’s eye is not Syria’s enemies, but rather, Israel. It seems to me that other prophetic passages imply that Damascus will be completely destroyed which gives us a hint, that Syria might not be Russia’s ally after all. Yes, I am aware of Iran. And certainly, Iran is Syria’s ally. But we must remember that Ezekiel 38 is not the only battle prophecy included in the last days. How else do we reckon that Damascus is destroyed in fulfillment of Isaiah 17?
9 – Arab nations do not join the Ezekiel 38 conflict. Check the map inserted above. The nations in blue are essentially Israel’s Arab neighbors. Based on Ezekiel 38:5-6 NASB, they are not listed in the Gogian alliance against Israel. Any attack against Israel would be expected to include its Arab neighbors many of whom have declared their objective to wipe Israel off the face of the map; yet, none of those nations listed in Ezekiel 38:5-6 are Arabs. Why? The answer to this question has been eluding interpreters forever. But think about the answer in light of what is actually happening today in the Middle East. Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, U.A.E., and Jordan have not been involved in Syria’s civil war. They have stood to the side, perhaps funded some of the rebel forces, but only verbally stood against President Assad. They have not joined the rebels against Assad. They oppose Russian involvement but not to the extent of becoming involved in the conflict. This is the prophecy of Ezekiel 38. The GCC Arab nations do not get involved in the conflict. Here is a recent Reuter’s article to that same effect explaining why they are not joining to stop Russia’s involvement:
My point? This is precisely what is prophesied in Ezekiel 38. The Arab neighbors do not join Russia; and in turn, when Putin’s evil plan turns to Israel, his real “pearl,” the Arab neighbors will not join at that time either. Perhaps it will be like watching a bully fight his victim; it only gets dangerous if you try to break up the fight!
Conclusion. Russia fits nearly every characteristic of Ezekiel 38 when we look at where we are today and simply play out the future in a way contrary to the way that Putin currently describes his future plans and his motivation for entering the Syrian conflict. Putin says that Assad is a better alternative for Syria than any leader of the rebel forces. He stands with him (and Iran, his long-time ally) and has sent his army to prove it. If Russia/Syria is successful, do not think that it will end there. I do not expect to see Russia simply returning to Russia. Remember Crimea. Russia is still there. Syria is only the beginning.
Jesus come quickly.
- Last month (August), the Telegraph reported that al-Nusra was “abandoning the Northern province of Aleppo” where it had been battling ISIS because it did not want to cooperate with the U.S. led coalition against ISIS. [↩]
- Of course, I am interpreting this passage using the most literal translation, NASB, and not the NIV. [↩]