This post is adapted from Hank Hanegraaff’s Hank Unplugged Short — Ezekiel, Russia, and Pat Robertson.
The prophecy pundits are at it again! I was flying to Washington, DC, and I heard the statements of some modern-day prophecy pundits with respect to what’s happening in the Ukraine. As I was listening, I once again recognized how important it is for us to understand the matter of semantics. Semantics is the science of meaning. When Ezekiel mentions the word “Rosh” (Ezek. 38:2, NKJV), the imaginations of end-times sensationalists go wild. Rosh sounds enough like Russia to implicate the modern nation of Russia as the villain in sensationalistic end-times scenarios.
Now, I’m not commenting here on geopolitical realities. This is not a commentary on what’s going on in the Ukraine. My comments are meant to communicate just how horrifying it is to misunderstand the sacred words of Scripture.
What I’m talking about is nothing new. Prophecy pundits have been doing this forever. They have made the word “Rosh” to mean Russa in their vernacular, and they have made this an argument that has become a pillar in sensationalistic end-times speculation. I think of Mark Hitchcock, who interprets rosh as a proper noun referring to a very specific place — Russia.1
But let me put it plainly, the word “Russia” is not a derivation of “rosh.” Credible historians and linguists have for years pointed out the reality that the word “Russia” is an 11th century Viking word, and as such should not be semantically linked to the Hebrew word rosh [רֹאשׁ].2 That should be obvious. Semantics makes a great deal of difference. If we misunderstand the semantics of Scripture, we misunderstand the biblical text. Moreover, if we misunderstand the history of the Bible, we can come up with all kinds of sensationalistic scenarios.
I was listening to Pat Robertson3, who was talking about Putin, and saying, “Putin is out of his mind.” That may be true, but so is Pat Robertson.
Robertson said that Putin is being “compelled by God” to go into Ukraine but that his “goal [is] to move against Israel ultimately.” Well, how does Robertson come up with this? He cites Ezekiel, and says that Putin, based on the prophet Ezekiel in the Bible, is going to “link up with Turkey across” a land “bridge,” that this is a setup for Ezekiel 38, that “Ukraine is key because you see the land bridge between Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey. And all that area is going to be mobilized against Israel in the latter days.” He tells us, “Look at your map. You can read your newspapers. You can listen to your news. But know of a fact that God is bringing to pass what he prophesied years ago through his servant Ezekiel.” And once again, he tells us to go to Ezekiel 38. (I suppose you can go to Ezekiel 39 as well). And Robertson says, “It’s all there. And God is getting ready to do something amazing,” which is the fulfillment of prophecy. “It’s coming to pass,” he says.4
What’s the problem? The problem is the failure to understand the historical context of any given book of the Bible. As a result, those like Pat Robertson and prophecy pundits in general have very little hope of grasping the meaning of the biblical text.
Let me put this another way. If you want to properly evaluate biblical text, you must understand the historical context. The Book of Ezekiel is a great example. Remember this, Ezekiel was prophesying during an extremely dark period in the history of Judah. He was born into the priesthood in Jerusalem right about the time that Josiah found the Book of the Law in the temple. This was a time in which spiritual renewal had broken out in the land but, unfortunately, the reformation was short lived. By the time of Josiah’s death, the idolatrous practices of the past had returned with a vengeance, and thus the acts of God’s judgment fell.
By the way, the acts of God’s judgment falling certainly applies to many epochs in history, perhaps even to ours.
At any rate, as the result of the acts of God’s judgment falling, Ezekiel found himself on the dusty plains of Babylon. There he warned fellow exiles that the worst lay right around the corner. We all know from history that in 586 BC, Jerusalem and its golden temple were desecrated and manifestly destroyed.
Here’s the point: Without the historical backdrop, we’d be hard pressed to understand Ezekiel’s words.
Remember this, Ezekiel was prophesying from the dusty environs of a refugee camp in the south of Babylon near the Chebar River. There he looked into the eastern sky and longed for the glory of the Lord to return to the temple that had vanished into the rocks that surrounded it. He yearned for the promise of a temple whose glory would exceed even that of Solomon’s temple. In the Spirit, he was looking forward to events that were going to take place a generation later. A generation later, not the 21st century, but a generation later when Zerubbabel would rebuild the spiritual condition of the returning exiles. When Nehemiah would challenge his fellow countrymen to arise and rebuild the shattered walls of Jerusalem.
The historical principle of biblical interpretation will keep you from supposing — unlike modern prophecy pundits — that Ezekiel longed for a third or fourth temple when the second had not yet arisen from the ashes of the first. The principles of Scripture are inviolate, but it is a great travesty to take a word like rosh, and say, “rosh means Russia.” Again, the word “Russia” is an 11th century Viking word and not semantically linked in the least to the Hebrew word rosh. Semantics is important. We need to understand the principles of biblical interpretation so that our modern-day imaginations don’t go wild, which often leads to stoking not just present-day wars but wars in the future as well.
For further information, please see the following related resources.
- Mark Hitchcock, “Gog and Magog,” in Tim LaHaye, ed., Tim LaHaye Prophecy Study Bible (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2000), 876.
- See Ralph Alexander, Ezekiel, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, vol. 6 Frank E. Gaebelein, gen. ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), 929-30; cf. Carl Friedrich Keil, Biblical Commentary on the Prophecies of Ezekiel, vol. 2, James Martin, trans., in C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, vol. 9 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, repr. 1976), 160.
- Steve Warner, ‘God Is Getting Ready to Do Something Amazing’: CBN Founder Pat Robertson on Russia and Its Place in Prophecy, 2/28/22, CBN News, (https://www1.cbn.com/cbnnews/2022/february/god-is-getting-ready-to-do-something-amazing-founder-pat-robertson-on-russia-and-its-place-in-prophecy).
- See Pat Robertson, “Russia’s Role in the End Times: News on The 700 Club – February 28, 2022,” CBN News, https://youtu.be/alymXhy-2-8.