A blog post by Jeff Crawford [“Vladimir Putin: The Rise of Gog and the Prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39″] has been gaining momentum over the past few days. He suggests that biblical prophecy from Ezekiel 38-39 might soon be fulfilled as Vladimir Putin is perhaps preparing for a Russian invasion of Israel. While Crawford’s claims are interesting, his evidence is less than compelling. Yet even more worrisome to me is the continuing trend for Christians to treat the Bible as a secret code that must be deciphered in order to understand current geo-political affairs.
Here’s a simplified version of his claims: the “land of Magog” in Ez. 38-39 is a futuristic reference to modern day Russia. The evidence: the text places Magog (a mysterious reference even in Ezekiel) to the north of Israel and … wait for it … Russia is also north of Israel. He also claims that the modern words Moscow (capital of Russia) and Tobolsk (important Russian City) are derived from the ancient Hebrew words Meshech and Tubal. On the basis of these connections, he suggests that Vladimir Putin may in fact be Ezekiel’s Gog, the one from Magog who rules Meshech and Tubal.
These are classic examples of underdetermined claims: assertions that lack the amount or type of evidence which would provide proof or certainty.
An example of an underdetermined claim: Barak Hussein Obama is a muslim because he has an Islamic name. That he has an Islamic name certainly is evidence that he might be a Muslim. But it is not logically necessary – there are people with Muslim names who are not Muslims. It is also not sufficient evidence – Obama’s lifestyle is clearly not that of a practicing Muslim and he has publicly and repeatedly confessed the Christian faith. Applied to Crawford’s claims, while Russia is north of Israel, so are many other ancient and modern lands. The amount and type of evidence given does not (or, should not) lead one to agree with Crawford that “it is chillingly clear that the ancient land of Magog is modern day Russia.”
Regardless, my interest in this post and its popularity lies less in the particular claims made than in the interpretive impulses behind them. There is a bizarre and disturbing tendency for Christians to interpret biblical prophecy as a secret code, pertaining to our current geo-political affairs, which we must decipher. I’ve written on this before (see “Has God Declared War on Syria?”), but would like to offer a more detailed response to this phenomenon.
Here are 2 reasons why biblical prophecy should NOT be used as a code to decipher current geo-political affairs:
1) The Nature of Prophetic/Apocalyptic Literature
While the Bible was written for us (God’s people), it was not written to us. That means we must be careful of abandoning the historical context of the Scriptures in an attempt to force them to speak directly to our current circumstances. Ezekiel is writing to the people of God after an ancient tragedy with very clear purposes (in Ezekiel 38-39): to teach that the exile was a result of sin, not a result of a lack of divine power and also to provide hope that God will not abandon them again but will instead work towards his purposes of pouring out his Spirit (Ezekiel 39:29 – which happened in the first century at Pentecost). Prophetic literature is not a secret code for events that will happen thousands of years later; it is theological witness to God’s salvific plan. Combined with apocalyptic elements (see Ezekiel 38:19-23), it is highly symbolic. Or as Michael Gorman describes it, prophetic/apocalyptic texts are “more of a political cartoon than a documentary.” To use these ancient texts as a sort of secret futurist code is to distort them into serving a purpose they were never meant to serve. (This is why “genre” is so important: you don’t go to a comedy movie to be scared. Likewise, you don’t read prophetic/apocalyptic texts to discern political events thousands of years in the future. That is simply not what they were meant to do.)
2) The Embarrassing History of These Sorts of Interpretations
Christians have been using the Bible to predict Jesus’ second-coming, the end of the world, and various other end-time scenarios for a very long time.
And they have all. been. wrong.
History is full of examples of Christians making prophetic connections like Crawford’s. Some have been more creative than others, some more convincing, but all have eventually been seen as foolish. This should at least make us humble when we try to connect the dots between biblical texts and current events. It’s actually not that hard to “prove” that the Bible predicts this or that nation is this or that character in an end-time scenario – the Bible is more flexible than most realize. Christians have done this for so long and yet we still haven’t learned our lesson.
The Deeper Problem of this Bible Code Prophecy Craze
The deeper problem of many of these claims of fulfilled prophecy lies in a theological-interpretive foundation called dispensationalism. This is the belief that God has two separate people (Israel and Christians) and that the Church (and Jesus’ cross) was Plan B. Thus, dispensationalists don’t move in the direction of the New Testament (that Israel’s story has climaxed in the story of Jesus and the church) and instead hold out for future, specific fulfillments of promises to the people of Israel. Dispensationalism is a remarkably new framework (arising in the 19th century) and a remarkably Western phenomenon. Clear political biases follow it closely: uncritical pro-Israel and pro-America stances, suspicion of peace efforts, seeing war in the Middle East as unavoidable and ultimately good (bringing about Jesus’ return). And interpretations of prophetic literature like the one offered by Crawford seem to be the fruit of dispensationalism’s theological system.
Let’s stop the madness of pretending that ancient prophetic texts are futuristic codes for us to decipher current political events.
Let’s read the biblical texts responsibly.
[Recommended Reading: Reading Revelation Responsibly by Michael Gorman]
9 thoughts on “Is Putin Ezekiel’s “Gog”? (Problems With The Bible Code Prophecy Craze)”
Gorman’s description is actually pretty good. And he’s spot on: apocalyptic literature is using heightened rhetoric and symbolism to discuss current events … of THAT time period, not of ours. That’s the reason why some scholars give Daniel a later dating, and why some say that Zechariah had two authors (due to his later symbolic/apocalyptic leanings [see chs. 9-14]). And ultimately, of course, Revelation follows in the same tradition. So, to interpret these books properly, we have to look at the recent geopolitical events around the time when the book was written, not carrying them forward to today’s events.
But yeah, wonderful piece.
Oh, and another thing … if someone thinks that we have to try to read the Bible ahistorically as if it all applied to us today, they’re not exactly doing the Scripture any favors …
Excellent piece, well done!
Great advice. We need more of this kind of article!
Great points. I find it interesting that so many Christians like to dabble in prophecy, but then get worked up when an actual Jewish idea they disagree with – such as the way the OT is interpreted – puts it into context in a way they disagree with. I’ll definitely check out your links.
Btw – as a side note “Barak” is an Old Testament name – Deborah and Barak the general of Israel in judges. It means “lightning” and is not necessarily Muslim in much of the world. Just a fun fact.
Vladimir Putin (see also “Daniel 2&7”) – The Chief Prince GOG of MAGOG, from Mesech and Tubal?
1) Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin – means something like world ruler, son of world ruler – and Putin means something like “path”.
2) Putin is a very unfamiliar name in Russia, despite this fact, it is hard to find out where Putin is coming from. Putin himself says that both his parents died before he was elected president in 1999, and he refers to his grandfather, Spiridon Putin, according to “reliable” sources came from the city of Tver see:
3) It is hardly possible to find any piece of information about his parents or the first 10-15 years of his life. The most reliable information is from a lady from Georgia, Ivana Putina (82), who says she was Putin’s mother. She became pregnant by a “passing traveller” and raised him until she met another man who would not know of Vladimir, and therefore she adopted him away to St. Petersburg. Many of Ivana Putinas neighbors confirming the story (of a boy totally lonely, walking around and killing animals for fun, etc, ) have also allegedly received death threats for telling their stories. They say that Russian soldiers came to their city (as Russia occupied Georgia in 2008) destroying all material and pictures regarding Putin. There is a record of one Vladimir Putin who attended a local school in the city where Ivana comes from. There have been two journalists, who independently have tried to investigate his background, also by contacting Ivana Putina. Both died in “unnatural” ways, one in a plane crash, and one was liquidated.
Georgian scholars claim that Mesech and Tubal corresponds to the area of Georgia.
“The Caucasian Iberians were ancestors of modern Georgians. Some modern Georgians also claim descent from Tubal, Togarmah and Meshech; a Georgian historian, Ivane Javakhishvili, considered Tabal, Tubal, Jabal and Jubal to be ancient Georgian tribal designations.”
4) The rumor leaking in the Russian media in recent years, is that Vladmir Putin families on a Prince Mikhail of Tver. Mikhail from Tver, was the first Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church – and the first Autocrat (dictator) in Vladimir – Suzdal – part of the vast Russian empire. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikhail_of_Tver
If Putin genera of this prince, he can claim to have the same blood as the first Russian princes….
So is this man Gog???
Are we to read the following passage:
“Son of man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him…”
Could be:…set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the president from Georgia, and prophesy against him…..
The Bible is indeed a “love letter” written TO the people of God today, but it takes the Spirit and wisdom to interpret it. Many people, by striving so hard to interpret scripture in its proper context are essentially losing the personal aspect of the Holy Spirit to speak to us today, allowing us, for example, to interpret the season of the second-coming. Regarding the term “secret code” doesn’t Proverbs tell us, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honor of kings is to search out a matter.” Prov.25:2 (and we are sons and daughters of the king). The early apostles seemed to think the Lord’s coming was at hand and that was healthy for the church, how much more are we very likely to be near it. Putin definitely fits the “king of the north” prophecy from Dan. 11 which was only partially fulfilled by the Greek despot Antiochus Epiphanies but I am not convinced yet about Gog and Magog. (need to study). The shoes does seem to fit though.
Right on! I posted to crawfords page similar comments but focused on encouraging believers to think for themselves and to do research rather than believing whatever someone in authority says. I grew up pre trib and dispensational but Jesus words on the last days — simple and straight forward clearly point to a post trip idea with no second rapture mentioned. And yes, when you compare God’s words to Moses about the Israelites being a nation of priests with Peter’s words about believers the dispensational viewpoint is found to be lacking. Plus they tend to say the gifts aren’t for today which casts even more doubt on that perspective.