Papers on Prophecy

"The King of the North" and Russia

The following question has been sent to us, "What is it that leads expositors and prophetic lecturers to identify 'the King of the North' especially with a Russian ruler? In what passage of Scripture is the matter mentioned"? In answer to this and other similar questions we give the following notes.

The career of the future King of the North and his campaign against Jerusalem is given in Daniel 11:40-45; and that of Russia's great onslaught on the Holy Land in Ezekiel 38:39. These two must not be confused. The first will take place before the appearance of the Lord to deliver Israel and the east after that appearing. Daniel 11 is the only Scripture that speaks definitely of the King of the North, though the many prophecies which tell of the trouble that will come upon Israel from the Assyrian of the future and, probably, "the overflowing scourge" of Isaiah 28:18, have this personage in view.

It cannot be correct to say that a Russian ruler will be the King of the North, if he is to come from the same territory as the king bearing the same designation spoken of in the earlier part of Daniel 11. This king, who proved to be Antiochus Epiphanes, and who fulfilled the prophecies concerning him to the letter, reigned over Syria, the northern part of Alexander's Grecian empire, and became the great persecutor of the Jews, and one of the most blasphemous figures in history. The events from verse 35 to end of chapter await fulfilment, and the King of the North (v. 40) who is to appear must rule over the territory of his predecessor — the northern parts of Asia Minor at present held by Turkey.

As the Turk does not now possess the power that this war-like personage will have, and as what power he has seems likely to be broken, it has been thought that he, or whoever occupies this territory, will come under the rule of, or be allied to, Russia, and so will have Russia's support in his terrible onslaught upon Jerusalem, but we cannot discover anything in the passage to support this thought; it gives the impression that he will act independently of any other political power. Though at the later date to which we have referred Asia Minor, as well as the whole of Persia, will certainly be under Russian control as we shall see, but this refers to a time when the King of the North shall have perished.

It should be borne in mind that there exist great powers in the spiritual world — fallen beings that influence the nations and are entirely opposed to God's intentions as to the disposal of the kingdoms of this world. The greatest of these is Satan, but he is not the only one. Daniel 10 speaks of one who is styled "the prince of the kingdom of Persia," who fought against God's messenger to Daniel, and prevented him from fulfilling his mission, for twenty-one days, until Michael, who is spoken of as "the great prince which stands for" the Jews, came to his aid. Another in the same chapter is called "the prince of Grecia." These references to these heads of spiritual principalities are illuminating, especially as they come into view in connection with the prophecies relating to the sorrows and final successes of Israel, and they help us to understand the fierce attacks that will be made upon Jerusalem.

During this church period God is not putting the world right, but is gathering a people out of it, from amongst both Jew and Gentile, to form the heavenly bride of Christ. But the moment is fast approaching when the church will be completed, and God will begin to prepare the way for the kingdoms of this world to become the kingdoms of the Lord and His Christ. The first step towards this will be the gathering of the Jews into the promised land. The work of God in this direction will stir up the rage of these evil principalities, and especially those that influenced Israel's ancient enemies and constantly sought to destroy them because they were God's people. They will see in it the portend of their final overthrow, and they will energize afresh those nations over which they have gained an ascendency to attempt to prevent God's purposes by attacking His people the Jews. We know that Satan will give his power to the great head of the revived Roman Empire — the first beast of Revelation 13 — and it is probable that these lesser princes in the evil spiritual world will give their power to the various personages that shall appear before God's kingdom comes. This will easily account for nations otherwise weak suddenly displaying extraordinary energy and power. The supermen will be a reality during that period of violence and awful desolations, which will approximate in many respects to the condition of things in the days of Noah when the flood came and took them all away.

The King of the North seems to be specially energized for his work, for when the Jews are put back into their own land, as the sure word of prophecy shows they will be, even though at that time Antichrist will be their king, he comes upon them like a whirlwind, but God's time is not then ripe for their deliverance and his destruction, thence he will find that the King of the South — Egypt — the ancient enemy of the King of the North, has also started a campaign to secure Jerusalem — the prize for which all the world will fight, for himself. With surprising energy he will first attack his rival and subdue him and return and plant his headquarters between the sea and the glorious holy mountain. (This is the regular meaning of the Hebrew, De Wette so translates it. Synopsis, Vol. ii., p. 454.)

He will pitch there because of the tidings out of the east and out of the north that shall trouble him — probably these tidings will refer to the coming of the kings of the East (see Rev. 9:13 to end; 16:12-16); and perhaps also the army of the Beast, head of the Roman Empire. He will be full of fury because of these new rivals to the possession of Jerusalem, but there he meets with utter defeat, in the terse language of the prophecy, "he shall come to his end, and none shall help him." The fact that he comes to his end then and there proves, we believe, that he cannot stand for the Russian power. The fate of his army is probably given in Joel 2:20.

Russia comes in later, and is the last enemy that attempts to disturb Israel, then at rest in the land. This great attack is described in Ezekiel 38:39. and has been confounded by some with the attack made by the King of the North. The word itself will help us. "And the word of the Lord came to me, saying, Son of Man, set thy face against Gog, the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy against him, and say, Thus says the Lord God. Behold, I am against thee, O Gog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal: and I will turn thee back, and put hooks into thy jaws, and I will bring thee forth, and all thine army, horses and horsemen, all of them clothed with all sorts of armour, even a great company with bucklers and shields, all of them handling swords: Persia, Ethiopia, and Libya with them; all of them with shield and helmet: Gomer, and all his bands; the house of Togarma of the north quarters, and all his bands, and many people with thee" (Ezek. 38:1-6).

Of this passage J. N. Darby says: "'The chief prince of Meshech and Tubal' is, properly translated, 'Prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal.'" (This translation of the correctness of which I have no doubt, is that of the elder Lowth, some hundred and fifty years ago, before these prophetic views were mooted.) And again, "Gesenius gives it as the unquestionable meaning, and adds that without doubt it means the Russian. In the Middle Ages in the East they had the name of Ross." And again, "If you consult Genesis 10 the generations of the sons of Japheth are named — Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Mesec and Tiras. Of these we get Gomer, Magog, Tubal, Meshech under the same names in Ezekiel 38 as followers of Gog; you will also find Persia, which was united to Media (Madar) … these mentioned above are the nations that comprise Russia, Asia Minor, Tartary and Persia … They are described as under the dominion of Gog, Prince Rosh (Russia), and Tubal (Tobolsk), Meshech (Moscow)."

The thirty-eighth and thirty-ninth chapters of Ezekiel should be read, to understand the vastness of this army that shall come "out of the north parts" and of its terrible destruction by mutual slaughter and pestilence, overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone. Israel will not need to fight, God will do this, for He will magnify and sanctify Himself in the eyes of all nations upon them, and for seven months after their destruction will Israel be burying the dead.