38:2 Gog. The identity of Gog is uncertain. He is often identified with Gyges, the king of Lydia, a land in Anatolia (modern Turkey). In Akkadian texts from the seventh century Gyges is known as an Assyrian vassal; later legend credited him with the invention of coinage. The name “Gog” is phonetically similar to the Akkadian word for “Gyges,” but an identification of the two is by no means certain.
Magog. This land ruled by Gog is also otherwise unknown from extant geographical lists or citations in ancient literature; it may mean no more than “land of Gog.”
Meshech and Tubal. Though the identification of Gog and Magog remain uncertain, the identification of Meshech and Tubal is not in doubt (27:13 note). From the ancient historians Herodotus and Josephus, as well as Assyrian documents from the twelfth to the eighth centuries b.c., they are known to be tribes from central and eastern Anatolia (modern Turkey). Considerable misunderstanding has resulted from misguided speculation regarding these geographical terms. Some have identified these locations with other sites known from contemporary geography and have made them part of conjectures about later political events. Meshech and Tubal are said to be Moscow and Tobolsk, two Russian cities far distant from the region Ezekiel mentions. The Hebrew word translated “prince” (v. 2) is ro’sh, and some have said that this means “Russia.” Even if this word is a geographical name and not to be translated “prince,” it is not “Russia.” The name “Russia” was brought into the region north of Kiev by the Vikings in the Middle Ages, and was not in use in Ezekiel’s time.
In describing the threats to Israel’s existence, the Bible commonly refers to foes coming from the north (Is. 41:25; Jer. 1:13–15; 4:6; 6:22; 10:22; 13:20; 15:12; 25:9, 26; 46:10, 20, 24; 50:3, 9, 41, 49; Ezek. 26:7; 38:6, 15; 39:2; Dan. 11; Zech. 2:6; 6:6–8; cf. Is. 5:26–29; 13:1–13; Heb. 1:5–11; Nah. 2:2–10; 3:1–3). References to these northern foes before the Babylonian exile in the sixth century b.c. usually point to Assyria, Babylon, and Persia, Israel’s traditional enemies. During and after the Babylonian exile, the foes from the north take on a more symbolic and apocalyptic coloring. In his description of conflict at the end of time, Ezekiel mentions tribes on the fringes of kingdoms to the north as an embodiment of the foes from the north that already figured in Israel’s eschatology (their understanding of the last days). Rather than add to speculation about future history, modern readers should understand that Ezekiel himself uses these nations as symbolic references to all powers arrayed against God’s people. Ezekiel contains many oracles against foreign nations (Ezek. 29–32), but there is none specifically against Babylon, where he and the exiles were held in captivity. Some have suggested that Magog, Meshech, and Tubal are veiled references to Babylon, the immediate enemy. Gog and Magog recur in John’s apocalyptic description of future conflict between good and evil (Rev. 20:8).