Revelation 9

A prefatory remark I may be permitted to make is, that our chapter furnishes an incidental proof that the trumpets are not coincident with the seals. For the sealing, was given in the large parenthesis (Rev. 7) which followed the sixth seal, whereas it is referred to, not after the sixth trumpet, but before it. This could not be if the two series of judgments ran parallel to each other. The natural, and I believe true, inference is, that the seals had finished their course before the trumpets begin, so that when the fifth trumpet sounds the first “woe,” the men of the earth fall under its predicted torment, those who were sealed being referred to as in the scene, but exempted from the scourge. How could there be a commission to hurt nothing but those men who have not the seal of God, if there had been no sealing yet? If the sealing had already taken place, parallelism there is not between the respective seals and trumpets, nor can they even harmonize in point of time. They are consecutive, and not concurrent, and the last seal, as we have seen, is the mere prelude of silence for the new series of divine plagues to commence. How could that be if they were to be accomplished side by side? For if the first six seals confessedly follow in regular order, the seventh must be the last in accomplishment, as well as in revelation; but the seventh, instead of shadowing some additional dealing in providence like its predecessors, is only a brief pause in heaven ushering in another and more severe class of decreed judgments. And of these trumpets we must now enter upon the fifth and sixth (that is, the first two woes), to which Rev. 9 is devoted.

“And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fallen from heaven unto she earth; and to him was given the key of the pit of the abyss. And he opened the pit of the abyss; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And out of the smoke came locusts unto the earth, and to them was given power as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, nor any tree, but the men who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads” (verses 1-4).

The star fallen from heaven to earth is a dignitary in an apostate state; for a real personage is intended, as the next words show — “to him was given the key of the pit of the abyss.” The allusion seems evident to Isaiah 14:12, where the king of Babylon is taunted with “How art thou fallen, O Lucifer [i.e., day-star], son of the morning? . . . . Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.” Here it is not his doom, but the authority he was permitted to exercise over the abyss, which is the expression of the source of Satanic evil and misery. “He opened the pit of the abyss, and there arose a smoke out of it, as the smoke of a great furnace,” the symbol of a delusion which darkens the mind of man. “The sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.” The supreme power and all healthful social influence suffer pre-eminently from its blinding effects. Nor was this the sole result. “Out of the smoke came locusts,” the figure of the aggressive instruments of rapine, and these clothed with a singular power of torment, “as the scorpions of the earth have power.” The command given shows, I think very plainly, the error of such as apply the locusts in a literal way. They were not to hurt the grass of the earth, etc., that is, their natural food, if real locusts were meant. Men were to be the objects of these symbolic depredators-men, save God’s sealed ones. And yet it was the destiny of these marauders not to kill, but to torment men five months (verse 5). It is a limited predatory chastisement, not judgment-day. “And their torment [was] as the torment of a scorpion when it striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death fleeth from them” (verse 6). Nothing on earth can exceed the agony of conscience which will be inflicted on their victims. It is a yet stronger colouring of wretchedness than that in which Jeremiah (Jer. 8:3) depicts the desolated and dispersed Jews in all the places whither they should be driven in the Lord’s sore displeasure.

But there is a further description. “And the likenesses of the locusts [were] like horses prepared for battle; and [there were] on their heads as it were crowns of gold; and their faces [were] as the faces of men. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as [the teeth] of lions. And they had breastplates as it were iron breastplates, and the sound of their wings [was] as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they have tails like scorpions, and stings;54 and their power [was] in their tails to hurt men five months. They have as king over them the angel of the abyss; his name in the Hebrew tongue [is] Abaddon; and in the Greek tongue he hath the name Apollyon” (verses 7-11).

They were not mere plunderers, but had warlike energy, and they claimed for their onward-rushing career the righteous sanction of God, whose image and glory they bore outwardly, whereas in truth they were thoroughly subject to man and Satan too. Ferocity is theirs, and hearts steeled against every emotion of pity in their swift career. But their worst power was the venom of falsehood which followed. It was the energy of false doctrine, represented by the scorpion sting in the tail. And we know from elsewhere, “the prophet that speaketh lies, he is the tail.”

Finally, the king is the angel of the abyss, the same perhaps as the fallen star, who had the key of the pit. If so, it is a dark Satanic destroyer, if not Satan. It is in this world that the devil is so exalted, its prince; he is ruler also of the power of the air and the god of this age. In the abyss he will be bound as a prisoner for a long season; in hell he will be tormented for ever and ever, the most miserable object there, and in no wise ruling as king in either the one or the other. So poets dream; but not so says the scripture.

“And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God, saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels that are bound at the great river Euphrates. And the four angels were loosed, that were prepared for55 the hour and day and month and year, for to slay the third of men. And the number of the army of the horsemen [was] two56 myriads of myriads I heard the number of them. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and those that sat on them, having breastplates fiery and hyacinthine and brimstone-like; and the heads of the horses [were] as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone. By these three plagues was the third of men killed, by the fire, and the smoke, and the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths. For the power of the horses is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt. And the rest of the men who were not killed by these plagues repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold and silver and brass and stone and wood: which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk: neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts” (verses 13-21).

It is the voice of the Lord, no doubt, which is heard from the horns of the golden altar. But what a solemn sound is this — above all, issuing thence? For ordinarily that altar is the special witness of His all-prevailing intercession. Thence the incense rose up before God. It was the horns of the brazen altar merely which received the blood of the sin-offering, when an individual sinned, whether a ruler or one of the common people. But when the whole congregation were guilty, the priest was commanded to put some of the victim’s blood on the horns of the golden altar; for the communion of the people as a whole was interrupted, and needed to be restored. Here how different! The voice from the four horns of the golden altar orders the angel of the sixth trumpet to loose the four angels that were up to that time bound at (or by) the Euphrates. There they had been prepared for (not “an,” but) the hour and day and month and year to slay the third of men. They were prepared, not during that time, much less when it was expired, but with a view to it: when that hour and day and month and year arrived, or rather until the term was over, they were ready to accomplish their prescribed slaughter. They destroyed men by apostacy.

Still, if it be terrible to hear such a signal from the altar of incense, how comforting to think that all in the judgment is so minutely ordered and fore-ordained of the Lord! He it is who first gives the word, and gives it to the holy angel. The angel again looses the four bound at the Euphrates. The evil can only act when and as far as is allowed of the good, and the good, however they may excel in strength, only do His commandments, hearkening unto the voice of His word. The notion that we are to identify the four here with the angels who restrained the winds in Rev. 7 is strange, seeing that contrast is marked, not resemblance. Here they are not restraining but restrained, which is nowhere said of the holy angels. There they stood at the four corners of the earth, as separate as they could be; here all are bound in the same spot.

As to the character of the second woe itself, it is not torment like the first, but destruction of life. Not that there is no element of false prophecy here, as also was there; “for the power57 of the horses,” it is said, “is in their mouth and in their tails: for their tails [are] like serpents, and have heads, and with them they do hurt.” That is, venomous error they propagated and left behind them, and this with more settled plan than in the locust-woe. The locusts in the first woe had scorpion-like tails and stings: the horses in the second had serpent-like tails, which had heads. But they had power in their mouth also. “And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and those that sat on them, having breastplates of fire and jacinth, and like brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths proceeded fire and smoke and brimstone.” It is the judicial power of Satan, as far as God permits that. Besides, it far surpasses in energy and aggressive destructive warfare the preceding woe. This was spiritual — evilly so, of course; the second is more destructive, though in its train follows the injury of the enemies’ delusion and falsehood. It seems also more varied as far as leaders go; for the other had but one, this had four angelic agents at the head.

“And the rest of the men who were not killed by these plagues repented not,” etc. Humbling lesson, and most needful to remember! God has been sending judgment upon judgment, first on men’s circumstances, and then on themselves, and in this last case torment, and finally death itself. But it is in vain. Such is man after all this, that he repents not of his evil, either religiously or morally. Satan’s last effort remains.

The reader will perceive that I am merely anxious to present the leading feature of each woe, as far as I am enabled, so as in some measure to help souls to the understanding of the prophecy. This, he will remember, is a very distinct thing from the application of a Prophecy. The question of the persons, or places, or times alluded to, may be deeply interesting, but it is subordinate to the understanding of the book.

For my own part, I do not doubt that the common application of the locusts to the Saracens and of the Euphratean horsemen to the Turks is well founded. But we have seen repeatedly that the fulfilment of the. Revelation cannot properly be before the heavenly saints are caught up, and the earthly people are once more the objects of God’s dealings on the earth and in their own land, though by no means to the exclusion of divine testimony and its blessed effects among the Gentiles. According to this later and final accomplishment, the second woe would be fulfilled, I suppose, in the early ravages of the north-eastern (or Assyrian) armies, as the first might be antichrist’s delusive agency in the land of Palestine. I conceive that when the prophecy will be realised in all its precision, the scene where these mysterious locusts are to enact their bitter but transitory torment will be the land where at that time the Jews will have largely gathered, but as regards the mass in unbelief. The unsealed naturally points to them and most probably to their land. For it will be noticed that there is no “third” under this trumpet to intimate the direction of the woe, nor any index that I observe, save the exemption of the sealed. The rest of the Jews were still in judicial blindness, and are the implied objects of this judgment. If they are the preparatory movements of these two powers, each is as decidedly opposed to the other as both are to the Lord Jesus: they are to be successively judged and destroyed when He comes in power and glory.

It is interesting to observe that the same chapter of Isaiah (Isa. 14), which I referred to as an illustration of the star fallen from heaven (i.e., the chief personage under the first woe), treats also of the Assyrian enemy, which I judge to be the full meaning of those who figure under the second woe. “The Lord of hosts hath sworn, saying, Surely as I have thought, so shall it come to pass; and as I have purposed, so shall it stand; that I will break the Assyrian in my land, and upon my mountains tread him under foot; then shall his yoke depart from off them, and his burden depart from off their shoulders. This is the purpose that is purposed upon the whole earth: and this is the hand that is stretched out upon all the nations. For the Lord of hosts hath purposed, and who shall disannul it? and his hand is stretched out, and who shall turn it back?” (verses 24-27.) The difference is that Isaiah gives us the end of their career for the deliverance of Israel, while St. John shows, us rather its beginning and course, as a scourge upon apostate Judaism and Christendom. It would be a mistake to limit Isaiah to the bygone history, or to take the past as more than a type of the future’ however important in its day. For in the history the Assyrian fell first, and Babylon’s doom was long after. In the prophecy it is the last representative of Babylon (i.e., the beast of the crisis,) who is destroyed first, and then he who answers to the great Assyrian leader of the nations shall come to his end, and none shall help him. So it is written in Isaiah 10:12, “Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath performed his whole work upon mount Zion and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks,” etc. Our chapter of the Revelation gives us some of the early policy of the Assyrian, if not of antichrist, or of their respective parties.

According to the more vague and protracted historical application, which I conceive to have been comprehended in the divine purpose of these visions, it may be asked how this chapter is to be understood. I have already briefly shown how the earlier trumpets brought us down to the extinction of the Western Roman empire. Pursuing the same thread, the fifth trumpet has a distinct bearing upon the Saracenic infliction, as the sixth refers to the furious onset of the Turks. Hence one is quite willing to allow the general reference of the fallen star to Mohammed, who was the instrument of Satan in opening on the world the delusion of the abyss, with all its darkening effects. Certainly the description suits in many of its characteristic features, not the gradual growth and spread of the doctrinal and moral pravities of Christendom, but that host of marauders who, embracing with ardour the hell-inspired creed of the Arabian false prophet, sprang forth on their ambitious and fanatical career. Not that I can accept without serious drawback much that has been made of the local or national significance of the locusts and the scorpions, the horses and the lions, the faces of men, the hair of women, and the breastplates of iron. For instance, it is plain that the nation, whose rapid devastation of Palestine is portrayed in Joel 2 (the prototype of the Apocalyptic locusts), has nothing to do with the Saracens or Arabia, but is rather the northern array, “the Assyrian,” of which the Jewish prophets so often speak Compare also Nahum 3:17, the reference of which confirms the same thing. An exactly similar argument applies to the use of “scorpions” as in Ezek. 2:6, where it is used figuratively as here, but with not the most distant glance at the robbers of the desert. As to the “horses” the very next vision of the Euphratean warriors refutes the notion of a geographical reference; for the Turks are a totally distinct race and emerged from a different quarter; and yet horses are just as prominent here as in the prophecy of their precursors.58 Also, in the one we have the heads, in the other the teeth, of “lions.” This therefore destroys anything like an exclusively distinct usage, not to speak of the manifold application which other scriptures indicate. The truth is that the Spirit is making up an apt and complete symbolic picture, and in no way ties Himself to the animals, etc., peculiar to the country.

To my mind the intention is moral, not geographical; and this kind of teaching detracts from the real force of Scripture, occupying the mind with that which may be partially true in a natural way, but not I believe the object of the Holy Ghost. Hence does it not seem almost trifling to extract from the faces of men, the hair of women, and crowns like gold, an allusion to beard or moustache, coupled with literal flowing hair, surmounted by a turban? Taken as emblems of character, the dignity of the divine word is vindicated and felt. The locusts naturally point to countless swarms, devouring in specified limits, but more distinguished by the tormenting sting of false doctrine. The unsealed, the men of the earth, were the victims of the scourge, but the object was a conquering propagandism: not the extinction of prosperity, but rather the maintenance of it at the expense of the truth, and this for a limited period. The resemblance to horses prepared for battle is the expression of their aggressive attitude, and the crowns like gold seem to intimate their vaunted confidence in a divinely-righteous mission of victory. Their faces as of men, but with the hair of women, may denote that, with all their claim to act authoritatively in the name of God, they were nevertheless subject to the merest human authority, and not to God after all. The iron breastplates, the lion-teeth, the sounding wings, I regard as the figure of the unflinching courage of fanaticism (their strongest armour), and the ferocious depredations that accompanied their wonderfully rapid warfare. The Hebrew name of their king confirms, in my opinion, the full reference to the special wasting of the Jews, as also a connection with the Eastern Empire may be implied in the Greek.

I have thus rehearsed the spiritual significance of the first woe’s emissaries, stating particularly what might be supposed to prefigure the past accomplishment, according to which the five months, of course, must be taken as months of years. But I protest against the arbitrariness of interpreting one part of the account literally and the other figuratively. Again, if we examine it closely, the utmost allowable is some such partial incipient accomplishment. For it is plain that the prophet of Mecca was more like a rising star than a fallen dignitary; insomuch that Mede, with the earlier writers in general, applies it to Satan, as others to the Pope, etc. Again, the command not to kill is very hard to reconcile with the exterminating policy of the Saracenic incursions; and the term of 150 years has been doubled by some of great weight, because of a repeated mention (but compare Rev. 20), in order to eke out a more plausible solution. Even this improbable inference from the twofold statement of the five months labours under its own difficulties, as others have sufficiently shown.

As regards the second woe, the first difficulty which the protracted view has to encounter is the meaning of the four angels that were bound by the Euphrates. Most of the Protestant school apply them to four Mussulman powers, either successive or contemporaneous. But, says Mr. Elliott,59 “the interpretations are found on examination to be one and all inadmissible. As the commissioning and loosening of the four angels in vision was but a single act, so the agencies symbolized must necessarily have been at one and the same time loosed or commissioned: by which consideration alone all such successions of destroying agencies seemed excluded, as Vitringa and after him Woodhouse have suggested in explanation. And as to contemporary Turkman dynasties, whether we refer to the list given by Mede, and by Newton after him, or that by Faber and by Keith, from Mills and Gibbon, there is no quaternion of them that can be shown either to have combined together in the destruction of the Greek empire, — to have been all locally situated by the Euphrates, — to have had existence at the time asserted to be that of the commissioning of the four angels, — or to have continued in existence up to the time of the completion of the commission given, in the destruction of the Greek empire. In short, the manifest inconsistency with historic fact of every such attempted solution has been hitherto, in the minds of the more thoughtful and learned prophetic students, like as it were a millstone about the neck of the whole Turkish theory of interpretation.” This at least is a candid confession, especially when we consider that it is about a prophecy which has been acquiesced in more generally than any other perhaps in the Apocalypse.

But what is the view suggested that is to leave the general application unencumbered? The resource of superhuman angelic intelligences directing the subordinate human energies, and this without reference to the number of earthly instruments employed. In fact Mr. E. identifies these angels at the Euphrates with the angels parenthetically introduced in the sixth seal (Rev. 7), and reasons from the assumption that the judgments of the preceding trumpets were the probable results of their actings. But this, it is clear, does not hang well together with the scheme which insists that the fallen star of the first woe was not an angelic being but Mohammed. Consistency would demand, one would think, that if the angel of the abyss in the preceding trumpet sets forth a man, these four must represent similar leaders. Certainly these are in contrast with the angels whose office it was rather to restrain the winds than to urge on their devastating blasts. All the accessory circumstances strengthen their distinction. Again, the use made of the fire and smoke and brimstone which issued out of the horses’ mouths, as if they prefigured the Turkish artillery, of the breastplates of fire and jacinth and brimstone, as an allusion to the Ottoman warlike apparel of scarlet, blue, and yellow, and of the serpent-like horsetails having heads, as the emblem of Turkish pashas, seems to me both inconsistent with other parts of the Apocalypse, and (shall I say?) grotesque in itself.

I deny not the application of the horsemen and horses to the past inroads of the Turks, as distinguished from their Saracen predecessors, devoting themselves to their destructive task in the Eastern Roman or Greek empire, with far more of system, and with more permanent results. In their fierce career they breathed out in no slight measure, along with all the old diabolical delusion, an infernal spirit of judgment; and as were their weapons, such was their armour. Fire and brimstone represent the most extreme form of divine judgment; for they are the same symbols used of the lake of fire at the end of all things into which the wicked dead, after their resurrection and judgment, are to be cast. Again, it was this peculiarly Satanic power, not like the scorpion now, but the serpent, to which the Holy Ghost draws attention as the grand source of mischief. The moral false-prophet action is there, and this too invested with authority; for the tails had heads, and with them they do hurt. Throughout the permitted sphere the result was the utter extinction of Christian profession, while the rest, alas! heeded not the warning. But these features, in my judgment, involve elements still more terrible than anything yet seen on earth; so that all confirms me in the conviction that we must look for another and final answer to the imagery, in the last scourge for the corrupt and idolatrous East.60 An awful sketch is given after the judgment has run its course: “And the Test of the men who were not killed by these plagues repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold and silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk; neither repented they of their murders nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornications, nor of their thefts.” Thus even the apostacy of those who fell under the scourge from God fails to awaken the seared consciences of men, all the worse for having seen but slighting the light of the gospel. Nothing then remains but a state of abandonment to all immorality and superstition.

The same friend who directed Mr. E.’s attention to Griesbach’s citation of ἀνέμους and ἄνεμοι from 30 (Cod. Guelph. of the fourteenth century) for ἀγγ in verses 14, 15, recalls this variation to me. It is also supported by 98. (Cod. Bodl. Can. of the sixteenth century.) But I agree with the editors in general that it is barely worth a notice.

54 The common reading is followed by the authorised version, “and there were stings: and their power was to hurt men five mouths.”

55 Mr. Elliott seems singularly unfortunate in his remarks on the Greek text. Thus, in verse 15, he contends for the strangest possible version of εἰς as = after, or at the expiration of, the aggregated period in question; and he twice in i. p. 518,519, speaks of ἀποκτεῖναι, a form and import different from ἵνα ἀποκτείυωσιν, the true phrase beyond all doubt, as he gives it in p. 521. It needs no reasoning to see that the action is not momentary but continuous, and that the preposition therefore has its ordinary sense, as Mr. Birks has properly remarked.

56 Mr. E. is quite wrong (H. A., i. p. 480, note) in supposing that Griesbach prefers altogether to reject the δύο. Michaelis considers it “a very improbable reading” in the ill-considered and unsound last chapter of his Introduction. No such doubt is expressed, but, on the contrary, δύο is the reading preferred, both in Griesbach’s first and second edition, and in the London reprint, 1810, 1818. This odd mistake is repeated in yet stronger terms in note 2 to p. 605, where it is said that Griesbach, on external evidence, prefers the more simple reading μ. μ. “which seems to me preferable on internal also.” The common text, read by many cursives, turns out to be that of the Sinai MS., and its equivalent in sense appears in the Alexandrian and the Porphyrian uncials, and a few good later copies. B and very many others, supported by the Arabic of the Polyglotts and a Slav. MS., but contrary to all other ancient versions, omit δύο. Matthaei follows them in that reading, which is the easier of the two. All other editors of note, like Griesbach, retain the δύο, δὑς, or δίς.

57 In note 5 top. 513 of the Horae Apoc., vol. i., Mr. E. omits, “Mill reads” in his last edition, and contents himself with the remark “ αἱ εξουσιαι αυτων, ‘their authorities are in their tails,’ is the notable reading in some MSS. The word is similarly used in the plural, Luke 12:11; Rom. 13:1, etc.” How strange is the effect of a system! The truth is that the plural here is due to Erasmus’s which R. Stephens followed! And Mill’s text is merely third edition with some errata corrected. It is clear from Mill’s note that the evidence is entirely adverse. There is not a shadow of doubt that the singular is right; and probably αἱ γὰρ οὐραί led to αἱ γὰρ ἐξουσίαι.

58 Compare also what some of these very writers found upon the horses of Rev. 6. Egypt is the first power historically celebrated for its horses. (Ex. 15.) So it was the great market in Solomon’s day (1 Kings 10:28), as Togarmah was for Tyre. (Ezek. 27:14.) See Isaiah 31:1, 3. In Zechariah they symbolize the various imperial powers.

59 Horae Apoc., i. pp. 488, 490.

60 It may be seasonable here to notice briefly Dr. D. M’Causland’s Latter Days of Jerusalem and Rome. He regards (pp. 212, 213) the flood prevailing 150 days upon the earth as the type of the fifth trumpet visitation; but why the destruction of all flesh should typify the torment, not the death, of the future victims, does not appear. The sixth trumpet, he thinks, confirms this, because the time prescribed there (391 days and an hour) carries us down, if reckoned on the scale of a day for a year, from the deluge to the epoch of the judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Now supposing there were no chronological objections, where is the congruity of taking the five months literally in the first woe, and the hour and day and month and year symbolically in the second? Besides, here again the destruction in the type exceeds the proportion of the antitype; and, what is more material, our Lord applies both the deluge and the destruction of Sodom to the days of the Son of man, and the day when He is revealed. These would answer to Rev. 19, not to Revelation 9, which discloses preliminary chastisements. Still less can I accept the singular idea that the four angels or their chivalry set forth Israel and Ephraim flying on the shoulders of the Philistines towards the west, and purging away the filth of Jerusalem. For “the men” he conceives to be the unsealed, who were to be tormented but not killed by the antichristian locusts: the horsemen of Israel finish the work.