Did President George W. Bush Use the Bible in Deciding that the U.S. Attack Iraq?

Today’s front page of USA Today newspaper has quite a contrast in two headshot photos. One is of former President George W. Bush laughing at the opening celebration of his presidential library at SMU campus in Dallas, attended by three other former presidents and President Barak Obama. The other photo is of 26-year old Ronny “Tony” Roma, a U.S. Marine veteran badly disfigured in the face from an IED roadside explosion he sustainned in the Iraq War. A big question Americans are still asking is whether or not that war was necessary, especially since no WMD were found.

The two Boston Marathon bombers–brothers Tamerlan, now deceased, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now hospitalized–reportedly committed their evil deed against over 200 injured innocents, three of which are now dead, primarily due to their opposition to the U.S. involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Tamerlan was the eldest and most radicalized Islamic jihadist of the two brothers. Albrecht Ammon, a neighbor of Tamerlan, has been quoted as saying that Tamerlan said the U.S. “uses the Bible as an excuse for invading other countries.” It seems that was true of President George W. Bush in his deciding that the U.S. attack Iraq.

Early in 2003, President George W. Bush made a remark on the telephone to France’s President Jacques Chirac about “Gog and Magog” in the Bible. That probably is why Tamerlan Tsarvaev made his remark. This phone call occurred only weeks before the U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq. Bush was trying to convince Chirac to have France join the coalition, but Chirac adamantly refused. Bush then added that “in the Middle East” he saw “Gog and Magog at work.” (First reported by Jocelyn Rochat in his article in France’s magazine Allez Savoir! published on September 10, 2007.) Chirac was shocked and wondered how anyone could be of such a mindset. Lately, several journalists have written that this episode was very under-reported.

Another under-reported incident is that while George W. Bush was governor of Texas, long-time Houston Chronicle sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz claimed that in his twenty private interviews with Bush, some of them taped, the governor said that if he ever became president of our nation he would invade Iraq and overthrow its President Saddam Hussein. He also wrote autobiographical books about public figures and pro athletes. (I think I’ve met Herskowitz, and he may have written about me.)

Mickey Herskowitz, a Jew, is a very trustworthy journalist and a long-time friend of the Bush family. In 1999, he signed a contract with George W. to ghostwrite his autobiography which reputable William Morrow Company did publish later in 1999 under the title A Charge to Keep. When Mickey finished the manuscript, Bush’s advisors decided it did not present Bush positively enough and replaced Herskowitz with Bush’s communications director Karen Hughes as the finishing author. Herskowitz afterwards wrote of George W., “He thought of himself as a superior, more modern politician than his father and Jim Baker [the elder Bush’s close friend and Secretary of State]. He told me, ‘[My father] could have done anything [during the Gulf War]. He could have invaded Switzerland. If I had that political capital, I would have taken Iraq.'” (Taken from “Profile: Mickey Herskowitz” and quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mickey_Herskowitz, accessed April 28, 2013. Herskowitz’s revelations about George W. Bush’s political views about war get worse as reported by Russ Baker at http://www.russbaker.com/archives/Guerrilla%20News%20Network%20-%20Bush.htm, also accessed April 28, 2013.)

George W. Bush has admitted to being an alcoholic who had not accomplished much by the time he had reached forty years of age. He admitted feeling like an underachiever in the shadow of his successful, famous father–George H.W. Bush. It was widely known that George W. strongly disagreed with his father’s decision as U.S. president to refuse to continue the First Gulf War beyond Kuwait to overthrow the Hussein Iraqi regime. George H.W. had remained firm in his conviction that the UN Security Council had not authorized such a thing and that it shouldn’t be done. George W. may have had an anti-UN mindset, as many Christian Zionists in Texas did. (George H.W. had served as U.S. Ambassador to the UN in 1971-1972.) George W.’s chief advisors during his two-term presidency were Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. Yet, during his entire two-term presidency he refused to ever ask any advice from his father, who had been the president and those men had not. (I wrote a letter to his father, and he wrote me back stating this fact.) I think one-term President George H.W. and his closest advisor and friend, Secretary of State James Baker, had more wisdom than either Cheney or Rumsfield.

What Bush meant, precisely, by his comment to Chirac of “Gog and Magog at work” is anyone’s guess. But generally, I think it’s pretty obvious what he meant, especially if you lived in Texas for nearly forty years as I did, had a connection to Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS) as I did, and knew what so many Christians in Texas believed about Bible prophecy, which teaching largely came from DTS.

The words “Gog” and “Magog” are used together in the Bible only in two verses: in Ezekiel 38.2 in the Old Testament and Revelation 20.8 in the New Testament. Ezekiel 38.2 reads in most English Bibles (which translate from the Hebrew Masoretic Text), “Gog of the land of Magog,” not “Gog and Magog.” Now, President Bush could have meant “Gog and Magog” in Revelation 20.8, but that is said to occur a thousand years after the return of Christ at his yet second coming (v. 7). (And both ancient pagans and Jews produced apocalyptic literature about “Gog and Magog.”) It seems pretty certain President Bush was referring to the apocalyptic text Ezekiel 38-39. Why?

After that phone call, Chirac had his people inquire about the meaning of “Gog and Magog.” To do so, they contacted Thomas Romer, a professor of Old Testament at the University of Lausanne, not a professor of the New Testament. Thus, it appears that President George W. Bush’s decision to go to war against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was bolstered by what Bush believed about Ezekiel 38-39. Even for me, as a student who specializes in understanding Bible prophecy, this is a rather frightening scenario. I think George W. Bush’s understanding of Ezekiel 38-39, which I also believed for several years, contributed to him thinking he had been chosen by God in winning the close election for president against Al Gore in order to make an impact for God in the Middle East. Spreading democracy is one thing; but attacking a nation due to one’s understanding of Bible prophecy is quite another.

It was later reported that during much of George W. Bush’s presidency he often met for prayer and Bible study with others in the White House. They included Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice, who was National Security Advisor, then Secretary of State, and whose father was a Christian preacher. I think they likely discussed Eze 38-39. If so, no doubt Bush related it to the present. Since he told Chirac he saw “Gog and Magog at work,” he may have said more about it in these studies.

What does Ezekiel 38-39 say? That depends partly on what Bible translation is used. In the NRSV, KJV, and most English versions, it mentions “Gog of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal” in Ezekiel 38.2. It says Gog will be allied with Persia [Iran], Ethiopia, Put [Lybia], Gomer, and Beth-togarmah (v. 5) in invading the nation of Israel with many armies to wipe it off the map (v. 8), but then God will intervene to stop the massacre. Obviously, this text has not been fulfilled and thus, for Bible believers, must happen in the future. Most Bible scholars believe it has not happened and that it will occur during the endtimes. Indeed, Ezekiel twice says it will happen “in the latter years/days” (Eze 38.8, 16).

However, the NASB has “Gog of the land of Magog, the prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal.” The difference regards how to treat the word rosh in the Hebrew text, which means “head,” “chief,” or “first.” (Think of the Jews’ religious holiday Rosh Hashanna, which they celebrate as the first day of the year on their calendar.) The NASB renders rosh in Ezekeil 38.2 as a proper name instead of “chief.” That’s probably because some or most of the members of its translation committee believed it refers to Russia due to the similarity of sound. Those who think this, mostly Dispensationalists, also think Meshech and Tubal refer to Moscow and Tobolsk. Of course, neither of these two names or those cities existed until more than a thousand years after Ezekiel lived.

Nearly all biblical scholars other than Dispensationalist scholars strongly object to interpreting rosh in Ezekiel 38.2 as Russia, and I subscribe to their objection. The Prophet Ezekiel mentions Meshech and Tubal together previously in his book, saying, “Javan, Meshech, and Tubal traded with you” (Eze 27.13). Indeed, many ancient, pagan manuscripts mention Meschech and Tubal as cities in what is now central Turkey, where “the land of Magog” was located as well. The Russia interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39 identifies Gog as a national entity, whereas the text more suitably identifies Gog as a human being. In this case, Gog probably represents his title, thus similar to Caesar, Pharaoh, or Abimilech which are also mentioned in the Bible.

So, what did President Bush believe about Ezekiel 38-39? Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Seminary in nearby Fort Worth are the two largest seminaries in Texas. DTS is the leading school in the world which espouses Dispensational Theology and is Christian Zionist. (I’m a former Dispensationalist. Christian Zionists give Israel carte blanche support.) Most Dispensationalist theologians have believed that “Gog” in Ezekiel 38-39 refers to Russia. George W. Bush lived in Midland and Houston, Texas, prior to his becoming the governor of Texas and then president of the U.S. He had a Christian, evangelical conversion experience while living in Midland, and he often talks about it enthusiastically. He then attended a mens’ Bible study in Midland at the golf club where he played golf. I suspect that he learned the Russia interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39 there or it was reinforced for him there. That’s what many zealous evangelicals in Texas believed then.

This Russia interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39 came into vogue among some Protestants, but mostly in the independent Bible church movement (with which I have always been associated), during the 19th century. And it intensified during the 20th century while the Soviet Union and the U.S. were locked in their Cold War. Largely becaue the Soviet Union was communistic and its Communist Party forced atheistic belief upon its citizens, many Americans were strongly anti-communist, as I was. This Russia interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39 bolstered our opposition to communism. U.S. President Ronald Reagan had made a speech as governor of California in which he identified Gog in Ezekiel 38-39 as the Soviet Union or Russia.

The Russia interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39 is also incorrect especially because of two verses therein. Ezekiel writes, “Thus says the Lord GOD: Are you [Gog] he of whom I spoke in former days by my servants the prophets of Israel, who in those days prophesied for years that I would bring you against them” (Eze 38.17 NRSV). The man who the Hebrew prophets prophesied about more than any other, besides Israel’s Davidic Messiah, is who Christians call “the Antichrist” (cf. 1 John 2.18). (I’m not going to spend time proving this point by citing the previous texts to which God could have referred here, which I’ve done in my published books.) Thus, Ezekiel here implicitly identifies “Gog of the land of Magog” as the final Antichrist whom Jesus will destroy at his return (e.g., Isaiah 11.4/2 Thessalonians 2.8). Just because Ezekiel does not relate how God will destroy Gog and his hostile forces that will invade Israel does not prove that he does not do so through Jesus; for, other prophets relate that he will.

The other text which renders the Russian interpretation of Ezekiel 38-39 fallacious is Ezekiel 39-8. The prophet relates that “the Lord GOD” also says of Gog’s invasion and God’s subsequent destruction of him and his hordes, “This is the day of which I have spoken” (Eze 39.8). What day? The Hebrew prophets often foretell about what they call “the day” or “that day,” which is the time at the end of the age when God will rise up and take vengeance against his enemies on earth. And the New Testament makes it clear that he will do so through Israel’s Messiah Jesus at his second coming.

During the 5th century, church father Jerome translated the Latin Vulgate, and it became the primary Bible version of the Church for the next 1,000 years. Jerome also headed a school of interpreters of Bible prophecy, and he is regarded as the best patristic on this subject. I have forgotten my source, but Jerome has written somewhere that this interpretation is the correct understanding of Ezekiel 38.17 and 39.8.

In conclusion, sometimes Christian politicians have misinterpreted Bible prophecy and applied it to politics with disastrous results, such as the Holy Crusades. Is interpreting Gog in Ezekiel 38-39 as Russia now among those type of interpretations?

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