From the July/August, 2007 issue of Touchstone

Gog Rising by Patrick Henry Reardon

Gog Rising

When the obscure kingdom of Lydia (in Asia Minor) arose to geopolitical notoriety in the seventh century before Christ, the man responsible for its rise was a ruthless, warring king named Gugu (c. 680 – c. 648).

“Gugu” was, at least, the name by which the Assyrians called him. Indeed, the earliest extant texts mentioning this Lydian king are found in the clay archives of the Assyrian emperor Ashurbanipal (668–633), who was for a while Gugu’s suzerain lord. Now, it is surely significant of Gugu’s political and military importance that a fragment of earthen tablet in distant Mesopotamia contains our first inscription of his name.

In Mesopotamian memory, in fact, the name and fame of Gugu lingered on. Ezekiel, writing his prophecies in that region during the next century (ch. 38–39), remembered the Lydian king as “Gug” or “Gog.”

Because of Lydia’s inclusion in the greater world of the Greeks, it is no wonder that these latter also spoke of Gugu. In extant sources, the first Greek to mention Gugu was his contemporary, the poet Archilochus, who referred especially to the Lydian’s great wealth. Aristotle later quotes a line of Archilochus, “ Ou moi ta Gugeou tou polychrysou melei, oud’ heile po me zelos—I am not bothered by the wealth of Gugu, nor did envy ever seize me” ( Rhetoric 1418.42b).

Gugu’s fame refused to fade. A full two centuries after his death Herodotus (c. 482 – c. 425) recorded memorable tales about him. In a rather involved story, for instance, he described how the wife of Gugu’s predecessor persuaded him to kill her husband and seize the throne ( Histories 1.8–12). Other versions of this narrative differ in the details, but most agree that Gugu murdered his predecessor and married the widow.

Gugu’s violent seizure of the Lydian throne would have led to a civil war, says Herodotus (1.13), except that the Delphic oracle confirmed the usurper in his new position. In gratitude, Gugu devoted many gifts to the Delphic shrine (1.14).

No sooner had Gugu gained the throne than he began to invade and wage war on all his neighbors. That was all he knew how to do. In fact, says Herodotus, “he accomplished nothing else of note ( ouden gar mega) in his reign of thirty-eight years” (1.15). Gugu was neither a hero nor a statesman. He was just a barbarian warrior.

Because Gugu’s great military success was partly purchased by his alliance with the Assyrians, it could not long survive that alliance. When, sometime about 648, Gugu treacherously sent forces to Egypt to help Pharaoh Psamtik I (664–610) in his rebellion against Ashurbanipal, the latter abandoned him to his local enemies in Asia Minor, and that was the end of Gugu.

As we have seen, nonetheless, something of Gugu declined to die. In popular imagination he remained the very type of the selfish, unprincipled barbarian warrior.

Thus, when the prophet Ezekiel, exiled in Mesopotamia a hundred years later, wanted to describe for his own contemporaries the imminent judgment of God in the tumultuous events of history, he could do no better than invoke the name of Gugu, or Gog, to describe the leader of a menacing, heartless barbarian army (38:15). This coming Gog holds sway, he wrote, in the land of Magog, a name that seems to mean “[derived] from Gog” (Hebrew min-Gog). He is “the head ( rosh) of Meshech and Tubal” (38:2 my translation), the two sons of Japheth and the fathers of most of the world’s nations (Gen. 10:2; 1 Chron. 1:5; cf. Ezek. 27:13; 32:26; 39:1). This barbarian Gog represents, therefore, the relentless, hostile world arrayed against God’s people.

Six hundred years after Ezekiel, St. John wrote another prophetic book, which he sent to—among other places—Sardis (Rev. 3:1), the ancient capital of Lydia, the very place where Gugu had seized the throne and married the queen. In this book John prophesied that hateful old Gog, along with Magog, was coming back after a thousand years, to visit devastation on the earth: “Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea” (Rev. 20:7–8).

Whereas the pagan world recalled Gugu mainly as the type of the ruthless warrior, in the Bible he represents the satanic forces of the world as the enemy of God and the abiding threat of persecution to God’s people. In either case Gugu remains a very real problem in world history.

Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is the author of Christ in the Psalms, Christ in His Saints, and The Trial of Job (all from Conciliar Press). He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

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