Tradition teaches that the Messianic era won’t come easily. We have all heard of the harsh “Gog Umagog” wars that will rage just prior to the arrival of Mashiah and the final redemption.  This installment of our series will explore this fascinating aspect of Mashiah and attempt to explain more fully what kind of wars will be waged, by whom, and how exactly these frightening events will unfold.

Defining “Gog Umagog”

Contrary to the common misconception that the terms “Gog” and “Magog” refer to two warring states, most commentaries assume that Magog is the name of a country which is led by a ruler named Gog.[1] Others explain that Gog is the name of a country, and Magog is one of its provinces.[2] Thus, “Gog Umagog” refers to a single nation, and not to two countries at war with each other.

The Book of Beresheet (10:2) makes reference to a grandson of Noah named Magog, and it is widely assumed that the nation of Gog Umagog will descend from that individual.[3] The commentators disagree, however, as to whether this nation will be Muslim or Christian.[4] The Malbim[5] comments that the identity of Gog Umagog may remain unknown until the war actually occurs.

Three Wars of Gog Umagog

The wars of Gog Umagog will take place in three stages over the course of our present exile.[6] The Abarbenel[7] writes that the three wars will be fought between the Muslims and Christians, adding that the first two of these wars have already taken place. The first Abarbanel claims, was the Muslim conquest of the Middle East from the Christian Roman Empire in the seventh century C.E., and the second was the thirteenth-century onslaught of the Crusaders against the Arabs who controlled Eress Yisrael. The third war, he writes, will erupt just prior to the arrival of Mashiah and will usher the final redemption.

According to others, the three wars have yet to be fought, and they will all take place in the period just before the redemption.[8]

In the midst of World War I (1913-1917), the Hafess Haim z”l (1838-1933) was asked if that war was the battle of Gog Umagog, heralding Mashiah’s arrival. The Hafess Haim responded in affirmative.

“This war,” he foresaw, “is only the first stage. It will be continued in some twenty-five years with another world war that will make this first war look like child’s play in comparison. That war, too, will end, but eventually a third world war will take place, which will be a time of terrible suffering for the Jewish nation, much worse than ever before, and from there we will be redeemed.”[9]

When Will the Final War Take Place?

It is clear from the prophet Yehezkel that the war of Gog Umagog will occur after the Jews return to and resettle Eress Yisrael.[10] While many commentaries understood that the war will be waged only after Mashiah’s arrival, during the Messianic Era[11], most later commentaries dismiss such a notion. It is inconceivable, they contend, that the gentile nations will wage war against the Jews after witnessing the miraculous events accompanying Mashiah’s arrival, which will irrefutably demonstrate Hashem’s supremacy and the Jews’ stature as His Chosen Nation. This war must therefore take place before Mashiah’s arrival, but after the Jews return and resettle Eress Yisrael. This position has been affirmed by our relatively recent resettlement of our homeland.[12] Further evidence may be drawn from the Amida prayer, which arranges the blessing “Teka Beshofar,” which discusses the Jews’ return from exile, before the blessings of “Hashivah Shoftenu,” which asks that our judges be restored to their posts and “Laminim Velamalshinim,” which speak of punishments befalling the wicked. These two blessings allude to the punishment Hashem will bring upon the nation of Gog Umagog, which will occur after the Jews’ return to their land. These blessings are then followed by the blessings of “Boneh Yerushalayim” and “Et Semah” which discuss the arrival of Mashiah.[13]

However, while it is assumed that this war will transpire before the onset of the Messianic era, the Malbim writes that the exact date of this third war was never recorded and will not be revealed before Mashiah’s arrival.[14]

The Outbreak of the Final War

How will this war begin, and which nations will it involve?

The Talmud[15] cites Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi as predicting that Rome, the world power in his time, will eventually be conquered by Persia. Rav, a third-century Talmudic scholar, predicted that to the contrary, the Persians will ultimately fall into the hands of the Romans. Our sages explain[16] that in truth, both views are correct. The Talmud speaks here not specifically of the Roman Empire, but rather of Christendom generally. The Christian world is called “Rome” because the Roman Empire formally adopted Christianity in the fourth century, making it the world’s dominant religion. Furthermore, the Christian leadership resided and still resides in the Vatican, in the ancient city of Rome. According to both Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and Rav, Rome will wage war against the Muslim countries, led by Persia, and they will both destroy each other just prior to Mashiah’s arrival.

Thus, the battle of Gog Umagog will entail a fierce, bloody confrontation between the Christian and Muslim worlds.

According to most views, this confrontation will begin when all the leading nations of the world, Christians and Muslims alike, will unite to fight the Jews who had resettled Eress Yisrael. The nation of Gog Umagog will instigate the world’s other nations to join this campaign, which will at first meet with success. The axis of nations will conquer Jerusalem, but will then be torn asunder by internal conflict. The Christian and Muslim nations will fight for their individual beliefs and interests, resulting in a deadly battle over Eress Yisrael.[17]

The Abarbanel[18] foresees a different sequence of events, claiming that the world’s leading Christian countries will join forces in an attempt to seize Eress Yisrael from the Jews. Their efforts will initially succeed, and these nations will take control of the land for a period of nine months, during which time they will oppress the Jews and cause havoc to the Arabs living in Eress Yisrael and in the neighboring Muslim countries. Thereupon, the nation Gog Umagog will unite with other Muslim countries to defend themselves from the Christians, avenge the blood of their Muslim brothers, and wrestle control of Eress Yisrael away from their oppressors.

This final war, as the Midrash tells, will take place in three stages. The first two stages will take place in Eress Yisrael – one on the ground and one at sea[19] – while the third and harshest confrontation will occur in the city of Rome, where the Muslims will attempt to destroy the Christian stronghold there. Our sages explain[20] that after the first two deadly battles, which will result in numerous casualties on both sides, the Muslims will triumph over the Christians and then attempt to achieve world domination by destroying the Christians’ ancient city of Rome. But then Mashiah ben David will emerge on the scene, defeating the enemies of the Jewish people and leading the entire nation to Eress Yisrael, thereby ushering in the period of our final redemption[21].

A Time of Bitter Suffering

The prophets[22] describe the unparalleled suffering the Jewish nation will endure during the time of God Umagog, which will surpass even the worst periods of persecution in our nation’s history. Both Christians and Muslims alike will oppress the Jews, resulting in tens of thousands of Jewish deaths.[23] No country will offer the Jews refuge[24], and they will find themselves helplessly persecuted for a period of nine months.[25] At that point, a wise, courageous leader from the tribe Efraim – Mashiah ben Yosef – will assemble an army of righteous Jews to wage war against the invading gentile nations.[26] Mashiah ben Yosef will fall in battle, resulting in a renewal of the oppression against the Jews. The Midrash describes how during this period the Jews will flee the cities to the deserts in an attempt to save themselves, subsisting on whatever plants and vegetation they find. Many will perish simply from malnutrition and starvation. Forty-five days later, Hashem, in response to the people’s heartfelt prayers and cries, will sound a powerful shofar blast that will be heard throughout the world. Mashiah Ben David will then be sent forth to destroy the attacking gentile nations and redeem the Jewish nation from exile.[27]

The Wicked Armelous

Many sources depict a frightening figure named Armelous who will step onto the scene during this war and cause devastating harm to the Jews, including the murder of Mashiah Ben Yosef during battle.[28] Different sources describe Armelous as either a Christian or Muslim.[29] Many commentaries identify Armelous as the ruler Gog, while others claim that Armelous will be Gog’s twin brother.[30]

Armelous, as the Midrash describes, will be born with a full, adult frame, and then grow to a size of nearly four feet wide and twenty feet tall. He will feature blazing red eyes, and, possessing the soul of Satan himself, will never fear any human being. According to the Midrash, he will make his appearance following the major successes of Mashiah ben Yosef in his battles against the Christians and claim to be a God. Armelous will kill all who oppose him and, according to some sources, will seize control over the entire world. Although Armelous will succeed in killing Mashiah ben Yosef, he will eventually meet his fate at the hands of Mashiah ben David, who will kill him with the mere utterance of words.[31]

Today’s Current Events

Today’s world finds itself in the midst of an intensifying conflict between the Western world and radical Muslim leaders, as manifest most clearly in the emergence of international Islamist terror networks, such as that which perpetrated the deadly 9/11 attacks. A closer examination of these developments, along with expert analysts’ assessments of these events, leads us to the frightening realization that the world is likely headed toward another world war between radical Muslims and the Western world.

This progression, in all likelihood, is leading toward the war of Gog Umagog predicted by the prophets, and serves as yet another indication of how close we are to the coming of Mashiah and the final redemption.

Next Issue: Gog Umagog in Detail

[1] See Rashi and other commentaries to Yehezkel 38:2.

[2] Abarbanel to Yehezkel 38:1.

[3] See commentaries to Yehezkel 38:2.

[4] See Abarbanel to Zecharia 14:1 and Malbim to Yehezkel 38:3.

[5] Commentary to Yehezkel 38:2.

[6] Yalkut Shimoni, Zecharia, chapter 12.

[7]Commentary to Zecharia 14:1.

[8] See Malbim to Yehezkel, chapters 38 and 39.

[9]Sefer Lev Eliyahu, Parashat Yitro, p. 172.

[10] See Yehezkel 38:7-8.

[11] See Rambam, Hilchot Melachim chapter 12; Radak to Yehezkel 38:7 and Zecharia 12:2.

[12] See Abarbanel’s introduction to Yehezkel 38, Malbim to Yehezkel 38:1, and Maharsha to Masechet Succah 52a.

[13] See Yefeh To’ar to Midrash Rabba, Parashat Sav 9:6.

[14] Malbim, Yehezkel 39:9.

[15]Masechet Yuma 10a.

[16]Malbim to Yehezkel 32:25.

[17]See Zohar Hakadosh, Parashat Vayera, p. 118a, and Malbim to Yehezkel, chapter 38.

[18] Introduction to Yehezkel chapter 38.

[19] Pirke Derabbi Eliezer, chapter 30.

[20] Abarbanel to Yehezkel 32:32.

[21] Ibid.

[22]See Daniel 12:1 (and commentaries).

[23] See Masechet Sanhedrin 98b and 111a, Messudat David to Daniel 12:1, and Sefer Ess Hada’at Tov to Tehilim 124.

[24] Maharsha to Sanhedrin 98b.

[25] Ibid.

[26] See Zeharia 12:5-10 (and commentaries).

[27] See Osserot Aharit Hayamim, pp.156-176.

[28] See Yonatan Ben Uziel, Parashat Vzot Haberachah 34:2, Shivhei Ha’ari, p. 119.

[29] See Osserot Aharit Hayamim, pp.156-176.

[30] Ibid. page 45; Sefer Zichron Mashiah, pp.12-13.

[31] Ibid. pp. 156-176.