IS THE BEAR BACK?
By Dr.Vic Reasoner
Date Posted Jan. 17, 2009
Like all who love freedom, I pray that world leaders will know how to respond to Russian aggression in their recent invasion of Georgia. However, I am aware that some are now claiming that this is somehow connected with the prophecy of Ezekiel 38-39. Because some pastors do not do their homework and tend to jump on the bandwagon of prophetic speculation, I would like to issue this general word of caution.
1. It is poor exegesis to assert Ezekiel 38-39 has anything to do with Russia.
The Hebrew word rosh means "head" or "prince" and is thus translated more than six hundred times in the Old Testament. There is no basis to the claim that it is a reference to Russia in Ezekiel 38-39. The word "Russia" does not come from the Hebrew word rosh, but from a Scandinavian word, Rus, introduced into Ukraine in the Middle Ages — perhaps 1600 years after Ezekiel wrote. Marvin Pate and Daniel Hays stated that they know of no scholar in the Evangelical Theological Society who holds to the view that Ezekiel is referring to Russia [Iraq - Babylon of the End Times ?, p. 140]. A classic work in this field is by Edwin Yamauchi, Foes from the Northern Frontier (1982). The fact that Ralph H. Alexander surveys five different interpretations concerning this section of scripture should be a red flag of caution against dogmatism ["A Fresh Look at Ezekiel 38 and 39," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 17:2 (Summer 1974): 157-169].
Furthermore, "Meshech" is not "Moscow." The only similarity between this old Hebrew word and this modern spelling of an old Russian word is that they both begin with the letter "m." The Hebrew word for "hooks" in Ezekiel 38:4 is not a reference to Chechnya nor is Tubal a reference to Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. Based on this kind of pseudo-scholarship, we could just as easily argue that "Noel," an expression of joy used in Christmas carols is really a declaration that there is no God, since "el" in Hebrew is a reference to God.
2. It is poor theology to claim that current Russia aggression is the fulfillment of biblical prophecy.
If we connect Ezekiel 38-39 with the only other reference to Gog and Magog in Revelation 20:7-10, as is commonly done, this battle occurs at the end of the millennium. If you are premillennial, that would be at least a thousand years from now.
If you are amillennial or postmillennial, this battle may be interpreted either literally or symbolically, as a final battle of ideas and doctrine. But some would question how the Ezekiel passage is connected with the Revelation passage. And none would accept the premise that either passage is a reference to Russia.
Remember all amills are postmill with regard to the timing of the Lord's return and all postmills are amill with regard to the spiritual nature of the millennium. Both would reject a Jewish or chiliastic concept of a literal earthly Kingdom. A more specifically postmillennial understanding of Revelation 20:7-10 would say that there cannot be a general apostasy from the faith until there has been a general turning to Christ. Since we have not yet seen the Kingdom of God filling the whole earth, we cannot be at Revelation 20:7-10.
The reaction of some readers may be that theology tends to complicate things, but the real task of systematic theology is to interpret the Bible consistently. All of these hard questions need to be wrestled with before we make a sensational declaration which may or may not reflect biblical teaching. My primary concern is that if we tell our people that prophecy is being fulfilled right before our eyes and then it does not work out as we had speculated, somehow the infallibility of Scripture is tarnished. When the old Soviet communistic empire began to fall in 1989, some opportunists began to rewrite their books. For example Hal Lindsey, who had declared that the Ezekiel passage described Russia in The Late, Great Planet Earth (1970), had switched by 1994 to the view that the Ezekiel passage described the rise of Islamic power. In Planet Earth - 2000 A. D.: Will Mankind Survive? Lindsey declared that world domination "was never in the script for Russia." Will we now see a new spate of prophecy books which revert back to the previous Russian interpretation?
The ultimate authority for systematic theology is the Holy Scriptures. And all other doctrines of the Church are derived from the Scriptures. Therefore, we need to do a more credible job in our interpretation of the Scriptures. It is popular to link current events with the Bible in an attempt to demonstrate its relevance. But when we declare that the Bible teaches certain events or trends are going to happen and they don't, the average person is tempted to become an agnostic and write off the Church as irrelevant.
Everything the Bible declares is true. But the authority of the Bible has suffered as much from the hands of its friends as from its enemies. Let me close by giving a broader interpretation of what I am certain is taking place. This overview will be a consensus statement upon which premillennialists, amillennialists, and postmillennialists can agree.
Prior to the first advent of Christ, Daniel saw four world empires: a lion with wings (Babylon), a bear (the Medes and Persians), a leopard (Greece), and a nondescript beast (Rome). But in the days of that fourth kingdom, Rome, Daniel saw that the God of heaven would establish a kingdom that shall never be destroyed (Dan 2:44). That kingdom invaded this world with the coming of Christ. We may agree to disagree on the details or the chronology of events, but the most important thing which is happening in the world today is not American or Russia or Muslim dominance. The era of humanistic empires has past. The Kingdom of God has come, although it entered this world as small as a mustard seed. It is predestined to grow until it fills the whole earth. This kingdom agenda supercedes all nationalistic agendas. Believers are part of a kingdom which cannot be shaken (Heb 12:28).
Yes, we are concerned over the human suffering which results from Islamic extremism, from communistic aggression, and from Western materialism. But our message is not about Russian bears or even American eagles, although I love my country. We have a message of hope that is not linked to any agenda of man. Nor can it be thwarted by any conspiracy of man. Don't get sidetracked by speculation about political animals. Our message is not that the bear is back. Our message is that the King is coming! He comes often in judgement and revival. And ultimately he will come a second time to raise the dead and judge the world.