Gog and Magog

Hebrew ciphers help solve a problem and knock some cherished speculations

A. Josef Greig, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.


In the thirty-eighth chapter of Ezekiel a message of judgment is issued against the mysterious Gog from the land of Magog. Earlier in Ezekiel there are a number of oracles depicting the downfall of Israel's traditional enemies: Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, and Egypt. The destruction of these enemies is necessitated by the fact that the restored Israel depicted by Ezekiel could scarcely exist as a peaceful and secure community if it were constantly threatened by these foes. One is puzzled, however, by the fact that Babylon is not mentioned in the list of Israel's enemies.

With Israel's traditional enemies destroyed, what about those geographically remote peoples and tribes that inhabit the outer limits of the world? Ezekiel realizes that these two constitute a threat to the new Israel, and envisions them mobilizing their forces to attack her. 1 The leader of this heathen horde is Gog from the land of Magog, the chief prince of Mesheck and Tubal. With him are Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer, and Togarmah. Together they attack the peaceful land where people dwell in cities without walls, but God intervenes and destroys this heathen horde.

But who is this Gog, and where is the land of Magog? Gog has been identified with many historical figures in the past; none of these have proved entirely satisfactory. 2 The land of Magog has been identified by some people with Russia, because of the fact that Gog comes from the north (the geographical location of Russia), and on the basis that some versions understand Gog to be the "prince of Rosh," allowing some interpreters to make a phonetic connection between Rosh and Russia. 3 The next step in the development of this erroneous method of folk etymology is to link Meshech with Moscow, by again phonetically comparing an Assyrian equivalent of Meshech, "Mushku," with Mos cow. Yet another bit of faulty evidence is added to this argument by citing the Greek historian, Herodotus, who calls Meshech, Moschoi. Some have gone so far as to identify Tubal with Tobolsk.

The solution to the identification of the land of Magog in Ezekiel's prophecy may lie in the understanding of the Hebrew's use of ciphers. The application of our knowledge of ciphers has helped our understanding of certain words in the Bible and in the Dead Sea scrolls. One form of cipher employed in the Old Testament is known as Atbash. This word is made up of the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet combined with the second letter and the next to the last letter of the Hebrew alpha bet. The Atbash cipher is used in Jeremiah four times, the best known of these being the cipher Sheshach, which stands for Babylon. The consonants for Babylon in Hebrew are BBL, the second and twelfth letters of the Hebrew alphabet. If one counts the letters of the Hebrew alphabet from the opposite end, the second letter in the counting be comes Sh which is then substituted for B. Two Bs equal Sh Sh. The twelfth letter of the alphabet counting from the last letter towards the first is K, which is then substituted for the letter L. Thus, we have Sh Sh K, which with the appropriate vowels supplied spells Sheshach.

Among the Dead Sea scrolls is the Damascus Document which in three passages makes mention of an authoritative work called the Book of Hagu. The word Hagu is meaningless the way it stands; but by employing the cipher known as At bash to it Hagu becomes Tsaraph, meaning "to refine or test." Thus the meaningless title, the Book of Hagu, becomes the Book of Proof or Test Book. 4

Magog, like Sheshach, is a cipher or code name for Babylon. 5 How ever, the way it has been derived is different from the way Babylon is derived from Sheshach in Jeremiah. Employing the concept of cipher, instead of counting from the end of the alphabet toward the beginning, one uses the next letter following B and L for characters in the code name. The letter following B in the Hebrew alphabet is G, the letter fol lowing L in the Hebrew alphabet is M; putting these letters together we have GGM. The order of the letters is then reversed to make MGG. Supplying the proper vowels MGG spells Magog. If Magog is a cipher for Babylon then Babylon is not missing from the list of Israel's enemies, but appears under the code name Magog.

We may also suggest that the name Gog is derived from Magog by using the last two letters of the cipher and prefixing them to MGG to form the palindrome GGMGG. Gog (GG) would possibly represent the one from, or the head (king) of the land of Magog merely because it lends itself to such an ordering of letters with MGG. Thus the solution to our Gog Magog problem may lie in the direction of better under standing of the ancient Hebrew's use of ciphers or codes.6

What does all this mean to the evangelist who has preached about Russia in Bible prophecy? Quite frankly there is no basis for preaching about Russia as the specific subject of the prophecies in Ezekiel 38, 39. The suggestions made by Alger Johns (The Ministry, September, 1962, p. 31) might be read again with great profit, especially those dealing with the necessity of preaching only with supportable facts and sticking to sound exegesis.

The heathen hordes mentioned in Ezekiel, however, may be used to depict, symbolically, the powers of evil that have always been and always will be in conflict with the kingdom of God until the final triumph of God. Atheistic Communism could well find a place among this depiction of the enemies of God, but it is the referent of a symbol much more encompassing than Communism itself. Gog and Magog are used symbolically in Revelation 20 for the nations of the wicked assembled by Satan after the one thousand years to attack the New Jerusalem. There the wicked host is destroyed by God who sends fire out of heaven to consume them. Al though the victory of good over evil has not always been absolutely secured up to our own time in history, one day it will be. Until that day we must be vigilant in our watch for any power that sets itself up against God as His enemy, and resolutely meet it with God's word in Holy Scripture.


1 S. Winward, A Guide to the Prophets (Richmond, 1968), p. 165.

2 SDA Bible Dictionary, p. 408.

3 The Septuagint transliterates the word rosh (head) as a proper name (Rosh).

4 H. J. Schonfield, Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls
(New York, 1957), p. 2f.

5 J. N. Schofield, Law, Prophets, and Writings
(London, 1969), p. 209.

6 See "Gematria," Encyclopaedia Judaica, VII, cols. 369, 370.

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A. Josef Greig, Ph.D., is assistant professor of religion at Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

February 1978

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