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Bible Commentaries

Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible

Revelation 9

Analysis Of The Chapter

The three remaining trumpets Rev. 9–11 are usually called the woe-trumpets, in reference to the proclamation of woes, Revelation 8:13 (Prof. Stuart). The three extend, as I suppose, to the end of time, or, as it is supposed by the writer himself Revelation 11:15, to the period when “the kingdoms of this world shall have become the kingdoms of Christ,” embracing a succinct view of the most material events that were to occur, particularly in a secular point of view. See the Analysis prefixed to the book. In Revelation 11:19, as I understand it, a new view is commenced, referring to the church internally; the rise of Antichrist, and the effect of the rise of that formidable power on the internal history of the church, to the time of its overthrow, and the triumphant establishment of the kingdom of God. This, of course, synchronizes in its beginning and its close with the portion already passed over, but with a different view. See the Analysis prefixed to Revelation 11:19 ff.

This chapter Revelation 9:0 contains properly three parts. First, a description of the first of those trumpets, or the fifth in the order of the whole, Revelation 9:1-12. This woe is represented under the figure of calamities brought upon the earth by an immense army of locusts. A star is seen to fall from heaven representing some mighty chieftain, and to him is given the key of the bottomless pit. He opens the pit, and then comes forth an innumerable swarm of locusts that darken the heavens, and they go forth upon the earth. They have a command given them to do a certain work. They are not to hurt the earth, or any green thing, but they are sent against those people which have not the seal of God on their foreheads. Their main business, however, was not to kill them, but to torment them for a limited time - for five months. A description of the appearance of the locusts then follows. Though they are called locusts, because in their general appearance, and in the ravages they commit, they resemble them, yet, in the main, they are imaginary beings, and combine in themselves qualities which are never found united in reality.

They had a strong resemblance to horses prepared for battle; they wore on their heads crowns of gold; they had the faces of men but the hair of women and the teeth of lions. They had breastplates of iron, and tails like scorpions, with stings in their tails. They had a mighty king at their head, with a name significant of the destruction which he would bring upon the world. These mysterious beings had their origin in the bottomless pit, and they are summoned forth to spread desolation upon the earth. Second, a description of the second of these trumpets, the sixth in order, Revelation 9:13-19. When this is sounded, a voice is heard from the four horns of the altar which is before God. The angel is commanded to loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates. These angels are loosed - angels which had been prepared for a definite period - a day, and a month, and a year, to slay the third part of people.

The number of the army that would appear - composed of cavalry - is stated to amount to two hundred thousand, and the uniqueness qualities of these horsemen are then stated. They are remarkable for having breastplates of fire, and jacinth, and brimstone; the heads of the horses resemble lions; and they breathe forth fire and brimstone. A third part of people fall before them, by the fire, and the smoke, and the brimstone. Their power is in their mouth and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents. Third, a statement of the effect of the judgments brought upon the world under these trumpets, Revelation 9:20-21. The effect, so far as the reasonable result could have been anticipated, is lost. The nations are not turned from idolatry. Wickedness still abounds, and there is no disposition to repent of the abominations which had been so long practiced on the earth.

Verse 1

And the fifth angel sounded - See the notes on Revelation 8:6-7.

And I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth - This denotes, as was shown in the notes on Revelation 8:10, a leader, a military chieftain, a warrior. In the fulfillment of this, as in the former case, we look for the appearance of some mighty prince and warrior, to whom is given power, as it were, to open the bottomless pit, and to summon forth its legions. That some such agent is denoted by the star is further apparent from the fact that it is immediately added, that “to him (the star) was given the key of the bottomless pit.” It could not be meant that a key would be given to a literal star, and we naturally suppose, therefore, that some intelligent being of exalted rank, and of baleful influence, is here referred to Angels, good and bad, are often called stars; but the reference here, as in Revelation 8:10, seems to me not to be to angels, but to some mighty leader of armies, who was to collect his hosts, and to go through the world in the work of destruction.

And to him was given the key of the bottomless pit - Of the under-world, considered particularly of the abode of the wicked. This is represented often as a dark prison-house, enclosed with walls, and accessible by gates or doors. These gates or doors are fastened, so that none of the inmates can come out, and the key is in the hand of the keeper or guardian. In Revelation 1:18 it is said that the keys of that world are in the hand of the Saviour (compare the notes on that passage); here it is said that for a time, and for a temporary purpose, they are committed to another. The word “pit” - φρέαρ phrear - denotes properly a well, or a pit for water dug in the earth; and then any pit, cave, abyss. The reference here is doubtless to the nether world, considered as the abode of the wicked dead, the prison-house of the guilty. The word “bottomless,” ἀβύσσος abussos - whence our word “abyss” means properly “without any bottom” (from Α a, the alpha privative (not), and βύθος buthos, depth, bottom). It would be applied properly to the ocean, or to any deep and dark dell, or to any obscure place whose depth was unknown. Here it refers to Hades - the region of the dead the abode of wicked spirits - as a deep, dark place, whose bottom was unknown. Having the key to this, is to have the power to confine those who are there, or to permit them to go at large. The meaning here is, that this master-spirit would have power to evoke the dead from these dark regions; and it would be fulfilled if some mighty genius, that could be compared with a fallen star, or a lurid meteor, should summon forth followers which would appear like the dwellers in the nether world called forth to spread desolation over the earth.

Verse 2

And he opened the bottomless pit - It is represented before as wholly confined, so that not even the smoke or vapor could escape.

And there arose a smoke out of the pit - Compare Revelation 14:11. The meaning here is that the pit, as a place of punishment, or as the abode of the wicked, was filled with burning sulphur, and consequently that it emitted smoke and vapor as soon as opened. The common image of the place of punishment, in the Scriptures, is that of a “lake that burns with fire and brimstone.” Compare Revelation 14:10; Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10; Revelation 21:8. See also Psalms 11:6; Isaiah 30:33; Ezekiel 38:22. It is not improbable that this image was taken from the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Genesis 19:24. Such burning sulphur would produce, of course, a dense smoke or vapor; and the idea here is, that the pit had been closed, and that as soon as the door was opened a dense column escaped that darkened the heavens. The purpose of this is, probably, to indicate the origin of the plague that was about to come upon the world. It would be of such a character that it would appear as if it had been emitted from hell; as if the inmates of that dark world had broke loose upon the earth. Compare notes on Revelation 6:8.

As the smoke of a great furnace - So in Genesis 19:28, whence probably this image is taken: “And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the land of the plain, and beheld and lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace.”

And the sun and the air were darkened, ... - As will be the case when a smoke ascends from a furnace. The meaning here is, that an effect would be produced as if a dense and dark vapor should ascend from the under-world. We are not, of course, to understand this literally.

Verse 3

And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth - That is, they escaped from the pit with the smoke. At first they were mingled with the smoke, so that they were not distinctly seen, but when the smoke cleared away they appeared in great numbers. The idea seems to be, that the bottomless pit was filled with vapor and with those creatures, and that as soon as the gate was opened the whole contents expanded and burst forth upon the earth. The sun was immediately darkened, and the air was full, but the smoke soon cleared away, so that the locusts became distinctly visible. The appearance of these locusts is described in another part of the chapter, Revelation 9:7 ff. The locust is a voracious insect belonging to the grasshopper or grylli genus, and is a great scourge in Oriental countries. A full description of the locust may be seen in Robinson’s Calmet, and in Kitto’s Encyclo. vol. ii. pp. 258ff. There are ten Hebrew words to denote the locust, and there are numerous references to the destructive habits of the insect in the Scriptures. In fact, from their numbers and their destructive habits, there was scarcely any other plague that was so much dreaded in the East. Considered as a symbol, or emblem, the following remarks may be made in explanation:

(1) The symbol is Oriental, and would most naturally refer to something that was to occur in the East. As locusts have appeared chiefly in the East, and as they are in a great measure an Oriental plague, the mention of this symbol would most naturally turn the thoughts to that portion of the earth. The symbols of the first four trumpets had no special locality, and would suggest no particular part of the world; but on the mention of this, the mind would be naturally turned to the East, and we should expect to find that the scene of this woe would be located in the regions where the ravages of locusts most abounded. Compare, on this point, Elliott, Horae Apoc. i. 394-406. He has made it probable that the prophets, when they used symbolical language to denote any events, commonly, at least, employed those which had a local or geographical reference; thus, in the symbols derived from the vegetable kingdom, when Judah is to be symbolized, the olive, the vine, and the fig-tree are selected; when Egypt is referred to, the reed is chosen; when Babylon, the willow. And so, in the animal kingdom, the lion is the symbol of Judah; the wild ass, of the Arabs; the crocodile, of Egypt, etc. Whether this theory could be wholly carried out or not, no one can doubt that the symbol of locusts would most naturally suggest the Oriental world, and that the natural interpretation of the passage would lead us to expect its fulfillment there.

(2) Locusts were remarkable for their numbers - so great often as to appear like clouds, and to darken the sky. In this respect they would naturally be symbolical of numerous armies or hosts of men. This natural symbol of numerous armies is often employed by the prophets. Thus, in Jeremiah 46:23;

“Cut down her forests (i. e. her people, or cities), saith Jehovah,

That it may not be found on searching;

Although they surpass the locusts in multitude,

And they are without number.”

So in Nahum 3:15;

“There shall the fire devour thee;

The sword shall cut thee off; it shall devour thee as the locust,

Increase thyself as the numerous locusts.”

So also in Nahum 3:17;

“Thy crowned princes are as the numerous locusts,

And thy captains as the grasshoppers;

Which encamp in the fences in the cold day,

But when the sun ariseth they depart,

And their place is not known where they were.”

See also Deuteronomy 28:38, Deuteronomy 28:42; Psalms 78:46; Amos 7:1. Compare Judges 6:3-6; Judges 7:12; and Joel 1:2.

(3) Locusts are an emblem of desolation or destruction. No symbol of desolation could be more appropriate or striking than this, for one of the most remarkable properties of locusts is, that they devour every green thing and leave a land perfectly waste. They do this even when what they destroy is not necessary for their own sustenance. “Locusts seem to devour not so much from a ravenous appetite as from a rage for destroying. Destruction, therefore, and not food, is the chief impulse of their devastations, and in this consists their utility; they are, in fact, omnivorous. The most poisonous plants are indifferent to them; they will prey even upon the crowfoot, whose causticity burns even the hides of beasts. They simply consume everything, without predilection - vegetable matter, linens, woolens, silk, leather, etc.; and Pliny does not exaggerate when he says, fores quoque tectorum - ‘even the doors of houses’ - for they have been known to consume the very varnish of furniture. They reduce everything indiscriminately to shreds, which become manure” (Kitto’s Encyclopedia ii. 263). Locusts become, therefore, a most striking symbol of an all-devouring army, and as such are often referred to in Scripture. So also in Josephus, de Bello Jude book v. ch. vii.: “As after locusts we see the woods stripped of their leaves, so, in the rear of Simon’s army, nothing but devastation remained.” The natural application of this symbol, then, is to a numerous and destructive army, or to a great multitude of people committing ravages, and sweeping off everything in their march.

And unto them was given power - This was something that was imparted to them beyond their ordinary nature. The locust in itself is not strong, and is not a symbol of strength. Though destructive in the extreme, yet neither as individuals, nor as combined, are they distinguished for strength. Hence, it is mentioned as a remarkable circumstance that they had such power conferred on them.

As the scorpions of the earth have power - The phrase “the earth” seems to have been introduced here because these creatures are said to have come up from “the bottomless pit,” and it was natural to compare them with some well-known objects found on the earth. The scorpion is an animal with eight feet, eight eyes, and a long, jointed tail, ending in a pointed weapon or sting. It is the largest and the most malignant of all the insect tribes. It somewhat resembles the lobster in its general appearance, but is much more hideous. See the notes on Luke 10:19. Those found in Europe seldom exceed four inches in length, but in tropical climates, where they abound, they are often found twelve inches long. There are few animals more formidable, and none more irascible, than the scorpion. Goldsmith states that Maupertuis put about a hundred of them together in the same glass, and that as soon as they came into contact they began to exert all their rage in mutual destruction, so that in a few days there remained but fourteen, which had killed and devoured all the rest.

The sting of the scorpion, Dr. Shaw states, is not always fatal; the malignity of their venom being in proportion to their size and complexion. The torment of a scorpion, when he strikes a man, is thus described by Dioscorides, lib. 7:cap. 7, as cited by Mr. Taylor: “When the scorpion has stung, the place becomes inflamed and hardened; it reddens by tension, and is painful by intervals, being now chilly, now burning. The pain soon rises high, and rages, sometimes more, sometimes less. A sweating succeeds, attended by a shivering and trembling; the extremities of the body become cold, the groin swells, the hair stands on end, the members become pale, and the skin feels throughout the sensation of a perpetual pricking, as if by needles” (Fragments to Calmet’s Dic. vol. iv. p. 376, 377). “The tail of the scorpion is long, and formed after the manner of a string of beads, the last larger than the others, and longer; at the end of which are, sometimes, two stings which are hollow, and filled with a cold poison, which it ejects into the part which it stings” (Calmet’s Dic.). The sting of the scorpion, therefore, becomes the emblem of what causes acute and dangerous suffering. On this comparison with scorpions see the remark of Niebuhr, quoted in the notes on Revelation 9:7.

Verse 4

And it was commanded them - The writer does not say by whom this command was given, but it is clearly by someone who had the direction of them. As they were evoked from the “bottomless pit” by one who had the key to that dark abode, and as they are represented in Revelation 9:11 as under the command of one who is there called Abaddon, or Apollyon - the Destroyer - it would seem most probable that the command referred to is one that is given by him; that is, that this expresses one of the principles on which he would act in his devastations. At all events, this denotes what would be one of the characteristics of these destroyers. Their purpose would be to vex and trouble people; not to spread desolation over vineyards, olive-yards, and fields of grain.

That they should not hurt the grass of the earth, ... - See the notes on Revelation 8:7. The meaning here is plain. There would be some sense in which these invaders would be characterized in a manner that was not common among invaders, to wit, that they would show particular care not to carry their devastations into the vegetable world. Their warfare would be with people, and not with orchards and green fields.

But only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads - See the notes on Revelation 7:2-3. They commenced war against that part of the human race only. The language here properly denotes those who were not the friends of God. It may here refer, however, either to those who in reality were not such, or to those who were regarded by him who gave this command as not being such. In the former case, the commission would have respect to real infidels in the sight of God - that is, to those who rejected the true religion; in the latter it would express the sentiment of the leader of this host, as referring to those who in his apprehension were infidels or enemies of God. The true interpretation must depend on the sense in which we understand the phrase “it was commanded”; whether as referring to God, or to the leader of the host himself. The language, therefore, is ambiguous, and the meaning must be determined by the other parts of the passage. Either method of understanding the passage would be in accordance with its fair interpretation.

Verse 5

And to them it was given - There is here the same indefiniteness as in the former verse, the impersonal verb being here also used. The writer does not say by whom this power was given, whether by God, or by the leader of the host. It may be admitted, however, that the most natural interpretation is to suppose that it was given them by God, and that this was the execution of his purpose in this case. Still it is remarkable that this is not directly affirmed, and that the language is so general as to admit of the other application. The fact that they did not kill them, but tormented them - if such a fact should be found to exist - would be in every sense a fulfillment of what is here said.

That they should not kill them - This is in accordance with the nature of the symbol. The locusts do not themselves destroy any living creature; and the sting of the scorpion, though exceedingly painful, is not usually fatal. The proper fulfillment of this would be found in what would not be generally fatal, but which would diffuse misery and wretchedness. (Compare Revelation 9:6.) Perhaps all that would be necessarily meant by this would be, not that individual people would not be killed, but that they would be sent to inflict plagues and torments rather than to take life, and that the characteristic effects of their appearing would be distress and suffering rather than death. There may be included in the fair interpretation of the words, “general distress” and “sorrow”; acts of oppression, cruelty, and violence; such a condition of public suffering that people would regard death as a relief if they could find it.

But that they should be tormented - That is, that they should be subjected to ills and troubles which might be properly compared with the sting of a scorpion.

Five months - So far as the words here are concerned this might be taken literally, denoting five months or one hundred and fifty days; or as a prophetic reckoning, where a day stands for a year. Compare the notes on Daniel 9:24 ff. The latter is undoubtedly the correct interpretation here, for it is the character of the book thus to reckon time. See the notes on Revelation 9:15. If this be the true method of reckoning here, then it will be necessary to find some events which will embrace about the period of one hundred and fifty years, during which this distress and sorrow would continue. The proper laws of interpretation demand that one or the other of these periods should be found - either that of five months literally, or that of 150 years. It may be true, as Prof. Stuart suggests (in loco), that “the usual time of locusts is from May to September inclusive - five months.” It may be true, also, that this symbol was chosen partly because that was the fact, and they would, from that fact, be well adapted to symbolize a period that could be spoken of as “five months”; but still the meaning must be more than simply it was “a short period,” as he supposes. The phrase a few months might designate such a period; but if that had been the writer’s intention, he would not have selected the definite number five.

And their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, ... - See the notes on Revelation 9:3. That is, it would be painful, severe, dangerous.

Verse 6

And in those days shall men seek death ... - See the notes on Revelation 9:5. It is very easy to conceive of such a state of things as is here described, and, indeed, this has not been very uncommon in the world. It is a state where the distress is so great that people would consider death a relief, and where they anxiously look to the time when they may be released from their sufferings by death. In the case before us it is not intimated that they would lay violent hands on themselves, or that they would take any positive measures to end their sufferings; and this, perhaps, may be a circumstance of some importance to show that the persons referred to were servants of God. When it is said that “they would seek death,” it can only be meant that they would look out for it - or desire it - as the end of their sorrows. This is descriptive, as we shall see, of a particular period of the world; but the language is beautifully applicable to what occurs in all ages and in all lands.

There is always a great number of sufferers who are looking forward to death as a relief. In cells and dungeons; on beds of pain and languishing; in scenes of poverty and want; in blighted hopes and disappointed affections, how many are there who would be glad to die, and who have no hope of an end of suffering but in the grave! A few, by the pistol, by the halter, by poison, or by drowning, seek thus to end their woes. A large part look forward to death as a release, when, if the reality were known, death would furnish no such relief, for there are deeper and longer woes beyond the grave than there are this side of it. Compare the notes on Job 3:20-22. But to a portion death will be a relief. It will be an end of sufferings. They will find peace in the grave, and are assured they shall suffer no more. Such bear their trials with patience, for the end of all sorrow to them is near, and death will come to release their spirits from the suffering clay, and to bear them in triumph to a world where a pang shall never be felt, and a tear never shed.

Verse 7

And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared for battle - The resemblance between the locust and the horse, dissimilar as they are in most respects, has been often remarked. Dr. Robinson (Bib. Research. i. 59) says: “We found today upon the shrubs an insect, either a species of black locust, or much resembling them, which our Bedouin called Farras el Jundy, ‘soldiers’ horses.’ They said these insects were common on Mount Sinai, of a green color, and were found on dead trees, but did them no injury.” The editor of the Pictorial Bible makes the following remarks: - “The first time we saw locusts browsing with their wings closed, the idea of comparing them to horses arose spontaneously to our minds - as we had not previously met with such a comparison, and did not at that time advert to the present text Joel 2:4. The resemblance in the head first struck our attention; and this notion having once arisen, other analogies were found or imagined in its general appearance and action in feeding. We have since found the observation very common. The Italians, indeed, from this resemblance, called the locust cavaletta, or little horse. Sir W. Ouseley reports: ‘Zakaria Cazvine divides the locusts into two classes, like horsemen and footmen - mounted and pedestrian.’ Niebuhr says that he heard from a Bedouin, near Bussorah, a particular comparison of the locust to other animals; but as this passage of Scripture did not occur to him at the time he thought it a mere fancy of the Arab’s, until he heard it repeated at Baghdad. He compared the head of the locust to that of the horse; the feet to those of the camel; the belly with that of a serpent; the tail with that of a scorpion; and the feelers (if Niebuhr remembered rightly) to the hair of a virgin” (Pict. Bib. on Joel 2:4). The resemblance to horses would naturally suggest the idea of cavalry, as being referred to by the symbol.

And on their heads were as it were crowns like gold - The writer does not say either that these were literally crowns, or that they were actually made of gold. They were “as it were” (ὡς hōs) “crowns,” and they were like (ὅμοιοι homoioi) “gold.” That is, as seen by him, they had a resemblance to crowns or diadems, and they also resembled gold in their color and brilliancy. The word “crown” - στέφανος stephanos - means properly a circlet, chaplet, encircling the head:

(a)As an emblem of royal dignity, and as worn by kings;

(b)As conferred on victors in the public games - a chaplet, a wreath;

(c)As an ornament, honor, or glory, Philippians 4:1.

No particular shape is designated by the word στέφανος stephanos and perhaps the word “crown” does not quite express the meaning. The word “diadem” would come nearer to it. The true notion in the word is that of something that is passed around the head, and that encircles it, and as such it would well describe the appearance of a turban as seen at a distance. On the supposition that the symbolic beings here referred to had turbans on their heads, and on the supposition that something was referred to which was not much worn in the time of John, and, therefore, that had no name, the word στέφανος stephanos, or diadem, would be likely to be used in describing it. This, too, would accord with the use of the phrase “as it were” - ὡς hōs. The writer saw such head-ornaments as he was accustomed to see. They Were not exactly crowns or diadems, but they had a resemblance to them, and he therefore uses this language: “and on their heads were as it were crowns.” Suppose that these were turbans, and that they were not in common use in the time of John, and that they had, therefore, no name, would not this be the exact language which he would use in describing them? The same remarks may be made respecting the other expression.

Like gold - They were not pure gold, but they had a resemblance to it. Would not a yellow turban correspond with all that is said in this description?

And their faces were as the faces of men - They had a human countenance. This would indicate that, after all, they were human beings that the symbol described, though they had come up from the bottomless pit. Horsemen, in strange apparel, with a strange head-dress, would be all that would be properly denoted by this.

Verse 8

And they had hair as the hair of women - Long hair; not such as men commonly wear, but such as women wear. See the notes on 1 Corinthians 11:14. This struck John as a peculiarity, that, though warriors, they should have the appearance of effeminacy indicated by allowing their hair to grow long. It is clear from this, that John regarded their appearance as unusual and remarkable. Though manifestly designed to represent an army, yet it was not the usual appearance of men who went forth to battle. Among the Greeks of ancient times, indeed, long hair was not uncommon (see the notes above referred to on 1 Corinthians 11:14), but this was by no means the usual custom among the ancients; and the fact that these warriors had long hair like women was a circumstance that would distinguish them particularly from others. On this comparison of the appearance of the locusts with the hair of women see the remarks of Niebuhr, in the notes on Revelation 9:7.

And their teeth were as the teeth of lions - Strong; suited to devour. The teeth of the locust are by no means prominent, though they are strong, for they readily cut down and eat up all vegetable substances that come in their way. But it is evident that John means to say that there was much that was unusual and remarkable in the teeth of these locusts. They would be ravenous and fierce, and would spread terror and desolation like the lions of the desert.

Verse 9

And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron - Hard, horny, impenetrable, as if they were made of iron. The locust has a firm and hard cuticle on the forepart of the breast, which serves for a shield or defense while it moves in the thorny and furzy vegetation. On those which John saw this was especially hard and horny, and would thus be well adapted to be an emblem of the breastplates of iron commonly worn by ancient warriors. The meaning is, that the warriors referred to would be well clad with defensive armor.

And the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle - The noise made by locusts is often spoken of by travelers, and the comparison of that noise with that of chariots rushing to battle, is not only appropriate, but also indicates clearly what was symbolized. It was an army that was symbolized, and everything about them served to represent hosts of men well armed, rushing to conflict. The same thing here referred to is noticed by Joel Joel 2:4-5, Joel 2:7;

“The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses;

And as horsemen so shall they run.

Like the noise of chariots on the tops of mountains, shall they leap;

Like the noise of a flame of fire that devoureth the stubble;

As a strong people set in battle array.

They shall run like mighty men;

They shall climb the wall like men of war;

And they shall march every one his ways,

And shall not break their ranks,” etc.

It is remarkable that Volney, who had no intention of illustrating the truth of Scripture, has given a description of locusts, as if he meant to confirm the truth of what is here said. “Syria,” says he, “as well as Egypt, Persia, and almost all the south of Asia, is subject to another calamity no less dreadful (than earthquakes); I mean those clouds of locusts so often mentioned by travelers. The quantity of these insects is incredible to all who have not themselves witnessed their astounding numbers; the whole earth is covered with them for the space of several leagues. The noise they make in browsing on the trees and herbage may be heard to a great distance, and resembles that of an army foraging in secret” (Travels in Egypt and Syria, vol. i. pp. 283, 284).

Verse 10

And they had tails like unto scorpions - The fancy of an Arab now often discerns a resemblance between the tail of the locust and the scorpion. See the remark of Niebuhr, quoted in the notes on Revelation 9:7.

And there were stings in their tails - Like the stings of scorpions. See the notes on Revelation 9:3. This made the locusts which appeared to John the more remarkable, for though the fancy may imagine a resemblance between the tail of a locust and a scorpion, yet the locusts have properly no sting. The only thing which they have resembling a sting is a hard bony subsubstance like a needle, with which the female punctures the bark and wood of trees in order to deposit her eggs. It has, however, no adaptation, like a sting, for conveying poison into a wound. These, however, appeared to be armed with stings properly so called.

And their power was to hurt men - Not primarily to kill people, but to inflict on them various kinds of tortures. See the notes on Revelation 9:5. The word used here - ἀδικῆσαι adikēsai, rendered “to hurt” - is different from the word in Revelation 9:5 - βασανισθῶσιν basanisthōsin, rendered “should be tormented.” This word properly means “to do wrong, to do unjustly, to injure, to hurt”; and the two words would seem to convey the idea that they would produce distress by doing wrong to others, or by deeding unjustly with them. It does not appear that the wrong would be by inflicting bodily torments, but would be characterized by that injustice toward others which produces distress and anguish.

Five months - See the notes on Revelation 9:5; (also Editor’s Preface).

Verse 11

And they had a king over them - A ruler who marshalled their hosts. Locusts often, and indeed generally, move in bands, though they do not appear to be under the direction of anyone as a particular ruler or guide. In this case it struck John as a remarkable peculiarity that they had a king - a king who, it would seem, had the absolute control, and to whom was to be traced all the destruction which would ensue from their emerging from the bottomless pit.

Which is the angel of the bottomless pit - See the notes on Revelation 9:1. The word “angel” here would seem to refer to the chief of the evil angels, who presided over the dark and gloomy regions from whence the locusts seemed to emerge. This may either mean that this evil angel seemed to command them personally, or that his spirit was infused into the leader of these hosts.

Whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon - The name Abaddon means literally “destruction,” and is the same as Apollyon.

But in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon - From ἀπόλλυμι apollumi - “to destroy.” The word properly denotes “a destroyer,” and the name is given to this king of the hosts, represented by the locusts, because this would be his principal characteristic.

After this minute explanation of the literal meaning of the symbol, it may be useful, before attempting to apply it, and to ascertain the events designed to be represented, to have a distinct impression of the principal image - the locust. It is evident that this is, in many respects, a creature of the imagination, and that we are not to expect the exact representation to be found in any forms of actual existence in the animal creation. The following engraving, prepared by Mr. Elliott (vol. i. p. 410), will give a sufficiently accurate representation of this symbolical figure as it appeared to John.

The question now is, whether any events occurred in history, subsequent to and succeeding those supposed to be referred to in the fourth trumpet, to which this symbol would be applicable. Reasons have already been suggested for supposing that there was a transfer of the seat of the operations to another part of the world. The first four trumpets referred to a continual series of events of the same general character, and having a proper close. These have been explained as referring to the successive shocks which terminated in the downfall of the Western empire. At the close of that series there is a pause in the representation Revelation 8:13, and a solemn proclamation that other scenes were to open distinguished for woe. These were to be symbolized in the sounding of the remaining three trumpets, embracing the whole period until the consummation of all things - or sketching great and momentous events in the future, until the volume sealed with the seven seals Revelation 5:1 should have been wholly unrolled and its contents disclosed. The whole scene now is changed. Rome has fallen. It has passed into the hands of strangers. The power that had spread itself over the world has, in that form, come to an end, and is to exist no more - though, as we shall see (Rev. 11ff), another power, quite as formidable, existing there, is to be described by a new set of symbols. But here Rev. 9 a new power appears. The scenery is all Oriental, and clearly has reference to events that were to spring up in the East. With surprising unanimity, commentators have agreed in regarding this as referring to the empire of the Saracens, or to the rise and progress of the religion and the empire set up by Muhammed. The inquiry now is, whether the circumstances introduced into the symbol find a proper fulfillment in the rise of the Saracenic power, and in the conquests of the Prophet of Mecca:

(1) “The country where the scene is laid.” As already remarked the scene is Oriental - for the mention of locusts naturally suggests the East - that being the part of the world where they abound, and they being in fact especially an Oriental plague. It may now be added, that in a more strict and proper sense Arabia may be intended; that is, if it be admitted that the design was to symbolize events pertaining to Arabia, or the gathering of the hosts of Arabia for conquest, the symbol of locusts would have been employed for the locust, the groundwork of the symbol is especially Arabic. It was the east wind which brought the locusts on Egypt Exodus 10:13, and they must therefore have come from some portion of Arabia - for Arabia is the land that lies over against Egypt in the east. Such, too, is the testimony of Volney; “the most judicious,” as Mr. Gibbon calls him, “of modern travelers.” “The inhabitants of Syria,” says he, “have remarked that locusts come constantly from the desert of Arabia,” ch. 20:sect. 5.

All that is necessary to say further on this point is, that on the supposition that it was the design of the Spirit of inspiration in the passage before us to refer to the followers of Muhammed, the image of the locusts was that which would be naturally selected. There was no other one so appropriate and so striking; no one that would so naturally designate the country of Arabia. As some confirmation of this, or as showing how natural the symbol would be, a remark may be introduced from Mr. Forster. In his Mohammedanism Unveiled, vol. i. p. 217, he says, “In the Bedoween romance of Antar, the locust is introduced as the national emblem of the Ishmaelites. And it is a remarkable coincidence that Muslim tradition speaks of locusts having dropped into the hands of Muhammed, bearing on their wings this inscription - ‘We are the army of the Great God.’” These circumstances will show the propriety of the symbol on the supposition that it refers to Arabia and the Saracens.

(2) The people. The question is, whether there was anything in the symbol, as described by John, which would properly designate the followers of Muhammed, on the supposition that it was designed to have such a reference:

(a) As to numbers. “They (the Midianite Arabs) came as locusts for multitude,” John 6:5. See the notes on Revelation 9:3. Nothing would better represent the numbers of the Saracenic hordes that came out of Arabia, and that spread over the East - over Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Spain, and that threatened to spread over Europe - than such an army of locusts. “One hundred years after his flight (Muhammed) from Mecca,” says Mr. Gibbon, “the arms and the reign of his successors extended from India to the Atlantic Ocean, over the various and distant provinces which may be comprised under the names of Persia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, and Spain,” vol. iii. p. 410. “At the end of the first century of the Hegira the caliphs were the most potent and absolute monarchs on the globe. Under the last of the Ommiades the Arabian empire extended two hundred days’ journey from east to west, from the confines of Tartary and India to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean” (ibid. p. 460). In regard to the immense hosts employed in these conquests, an idea may be formed by a perusal of the whole fifty-first chapter in Gibbon (vol. iii. pp. 408-461). Those hosts issued primarily from Arabia, and in their numbers would be well compared with the swarms of locusts that issued from the same country, so numerous as to darken the sky.

(b) The description of the people.

“Their faces were as the faces of men” This would seem to be in contrast with other people, or to denote something that was unique in the appearance of the persons represented. In other words, the meaning would seem to be, that there was something manly and warlike in their appearance, so far as their faces were concerned. It is remarkable that the appearance of the Goths (represented, as I suppose, under the previous trumpets) is described by Jerome (compare on Isaiah 8:0) as quite the reverse. They are described as having faces shaven and smooth; faces, in contrast with the bearded Romans, like women’s faces. Is it fancy to suppose that the reference here is to the beard and moustache of the Arabic hosts? We know with what care they regarded the beard; and if a representation was made of them, especially in contrast with nations that shaved their faces, and who thus resembled women, it would be natural to speak of those represented in the symbol as “having faces as the faces of men.”

“They had hair as the hair of women” A strange mingling of the appearance of effeminacy with the indication of manliness and courage. See the notes on Revelation 9:8. And yet this strictly accords with the appearance of the Arabs or Saracens. Pliny, the contemporary of John, speaks of the Arabs then as having the hair long and uncut, with the moustache on the upper lip, or the beard: Arabes mitrati sunt, aut intoso crine. Barba abraditur, praeterquam in superiore labro. Aliis et haec intonsa (Nat. Hist. vol. 6, p. 28). So Solinus describes them in the third century (Plurimis crinis intonsus, mitrata capita, pars rasa in cutem barba, 100:53); so Ammianus Marcellinus, in the fourth century (Crinitus quidam a Saracenorum cuneo, vol. xxxi. p. 16); and so Claudian, Theodore of Mopsuesta, and Jerome, in the fifth. Jerome lived about two centuries before the great Saracen invasion; and as he lived at Bethlehem, on the borders of Arabia, he must have been familiar with the appearance of the Arabs. Still later, in that most characteristic of Arab poems, Antar, a poem written in the time of Muhammed’s childhood, we find the moustache, and the beard, and the long flowing hair on the shoulder, and the turban, all specified as characteristic of the Arabians: “He adjusted himself properly, twisted his whiskers, and folded up his hair under his turban, drawing it from off his shoulders,” vol. i. p. 340. “His hair flowed down on his shoulders,” vol. i. p. 169. “Antar cut off Maudi’s hair in revenge and insult,” vol. iii. p. 117. “We will hang him up by his hair,” vol. iv. p. 325. See Elliott, vol. i. pp. 411, 412. Compare Newton on the Prophecies, p. 485.

“And on their heads were as it were crowns of gold” See the notes on Revelation 9:7. That is, diadems, or something that appeared like crowns, or chaplets. This will agree well with the turban worn by the Arabs or Saracens, and which was quite characteristic of them in the early periods when they became known. So in the passage already quoted, Pliny speaks of them as Arabes mitrati; so Solinus, mitrata capita; so in the poem of Antar, “he folded up his hair under his turbans.” It is remarkable also that Ezekiel Ezekiel 23:42 describes the turbans of the Sabean or Keturite Arabs under the very appellation used here by John: “Sabeans from the wilderness, which put beautiful crowns upon their heads.” So in the preface to Antar, it is said, “It was a usual saying among them, that God had bestowed four special things on the Arabs; that their turbans should be unto them instead of diadems, their tents instead of walls and houses, their swords instead of intrenchments, and their poems instead of written laws.” Mr. Forster, in his Mohammedanism Unveiled, quotes as a precept of Muhammed; “Make a point of wearing turbans, because it is the way of angels.” Turbans might then with propriety be represented as crowns, and no doubt these were often so gilded and ornamented that they might be spoken of as “crowns of gold.”

“They had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron” See the notes on Revelation 9:9. As a symbol, this would be properly descriptive of the Arabians or Saracens. In the poem Antar the steel and iron cuirasses of the Arab warriors are frequently noticed: “A warrior immersed in steel armor,” vol. ii. p. 203. “Fifteen thousand men armed with cuirasses, and well accoutred for war,” vol. ii. p. 42. “They were clothed in iron armor, and brilliant cuirasses,” vol. i. p. 23. “Out of the dust appeared horsemen clad in iron,” vol. iii. p. 274. The same thing occurs in the Koran: “God hath given you coats of mail to defend you in your wars,” vol. ii. p. 104. In the history of Muhammed we read expressly of the cuirasses of himself and of his Arab troops. Seven cuirasses are noted in the list of Muhammed’s private armory (Gagnier, vol. iii. p. 328-334). In his second battle with the Koreish, seven hundred of his little army are spoken of by Mr. Gibbon as armed with cuirasses. See Elliott, vol. i. p. 413. These illustrations will show with what propriety the locusts in the symbol were represented as having breastplates like breastplates of iron. On the supposition that this referred to the Arabs and the Saracens this would have been the very symbol which would have been used. Indeed, all the features in the symbol are precisely such as would properly be employed on the supposition that the reference was to them. It is true that beforehand it might not have been practicable to describe exactly what people were referred to, but:

(a)It would be easy to see that some fearful calamity was to be anticipated from the ravages of hosts of fearful invaders; and,

(b)When the events occurred, there would be no difficulty in determining to whom this application should be made.

(3) “the time when this would occur.” As to this there can be no difficulty in the application to the Saracens. On the supposition that the four first trumpets refer to the downfall of the Western empire, then the proper time supposed to be represented by this symbol is subsequent to that; and yet the manner in which the last three trumpets are introduced Revelation 8:13 shows that there would be an interval between the sounding of the last of the four trumpets and the sounding of the fifth. The events referred to, as I have supposed, as represented by the fourth trumpet, occurred in the close of the fifth century (476-490 a.d.). The principal events in the seventh century were connected with the invasions and conquests of the Saracens. The interval of a century is not more than the fair interpretation of the proclamation in Revelation 8:13 would justify.

(4) “the commission given to the symbolical locusts.” This embraces the following things:

  1. They were not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing;

(b)They were especially to go against those who had not the seal of God in their foreheads;

(c)They were not to kill them, but were to torment them.

“They were not to hurt the grass of the earth, ...” see the notes at Revelation 9:4. This agrees remarkably with an express command in the Koran. The often-quoted order of the Caliph Aboubekir, the father-in-law and successor of Muhammed, issued to the Saracen hordes on their invasion of Syria, shows what was understood to be the spirit of their religion: “Remember that you are always in the presence of God, on the verge of death, in the assurance of judgment, and the hope of paradise. Avoid injustice and oppression; consult with your brethren, and study to preserve the love and confidence of your troops. When you fight the battles of the Lord, acquit yourselves like men, without turning your backs; but let not the victory be stained with the blood of women or children. Destroy no palm-trees, nor burn any fields of grain. Cut down no fruit-trees, nor do any mischief to cattle, only such as you kill to eat. When you make any covenant or article, stand to it, and be as good as your word. As you go on, you will find some religious persons who live retired in monasteries, and propose to themselves to serve God in that way; let them alone, and neither kill them (‘and to them it was given that they should not kill them,’ ver 5), nor destroy their monasteries,” etc. (Gibbon, iii. 417, 418).

So Mr. Gibbon notices this precept of the Koran: “In the siege of Tayaf,” says he, “sixty miles from Mecca, Muhammed violated his own laws by the extirpation of the fruit-trees,” ii. 392. The same order existed among the Hebrews, and it is not improbable that Muhammed derived his precept from the command of Moses Deuteronomy 20:19, though what was mercy among the Hebrews was probably mere policy with him. This precept is the more remarkable because it has been the usual custom in war, and particularly among barbarians and semi-barbarians, to destroy grain and fruit, and especially to cut down fruit-trees, in order to do greater injury to an enemy. Thus, we have seen (notes on Revelation 8:7), that in the invasion of the Goths their course was marked by desolations of this kind. Thus, in more modern times, it has been common to carry the desolations of war into gardens, orchards, and vineyards. In the single province of Upper Messenia the troops of Muhammed Ali, in the war with Greece, cut down half a million of olive-trees, and thus stripped the country of its means of wealth. So Scio was a beautiful spot, the seat of delightful villas, and gardens, and orchards; and in one day all this beauty was destroyed. On the supposition, therefore, that this prediction had reference to the Saracens, nothing could be more appropriate. Indeed, in all the history of barbarous and savage warfare it would be difficult to find another distinct command that no injury should be done to gardens and orchards.

(d) Their commission was expressly against “those men who had not the seal of God in their foreheads.” See the notes on Revelation 9:4. That is, they were to go either against those who were not really the friends of God, or those who in their estimation were not. Perhaps, if there were nothing in the connection to demand a different interpretation, the former would be the most natural explanation of the passage; but the language way be understood as referring to the purpose which they considered themselves as called upon to execute: that is, that they were to go against those whom they regarded as being strangers to the true God, to wit, idolaters. Now it is well known that Muhammed considered himself called upon, principally, to make war with idolaters, and that he went forth, professedly, to bring them into subjection to the service of the true God. “The means of persuasion,” says Mr. Gibbon, “had been tried, the season of forbearance was elapsed, and he was now commanded to propagate his religion by the sword, to destroy the monuments of idolatry, and, without regarding the sanctity of days or months, to pursue the unbelieving nations of the earth,” iii. 387. “The fair option of friendship, or submission, or battle, was proposed to the enemies of Muhammed” (ibid.). “The sword,” says Muhammed, “is the key of heaven and hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of God, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting and prayer: whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven; at the day of judgment his wounds shall be resplendent as vermilion, and odoriferous as musk; and the loss of his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and cherubim” (Gibbon, iii. 387) The first conflicts waged by Muhammed were against the idolaters of his own country - those who can, on no supposition, be regarded as “having the seal of God in their foreheads”; his subsequent wars were against infidels of all classes; that is, against those whom he regarded as not having the “seal of God in their foreheads,” or as being the enemies of God.

(e) The other part of the commission was “not to kill, but to torment them.” See the notes at Revelation 9:5. Compare the quotation from the command of Aboubekir, as quoted above: “Let not the victory be stained with the blood of women and children.” “Let them alone, and neither kill them nor destroy their monasteries.” The meaning of this, if understood as applied to their commission against Christendom, would seem to be, that they were not to go forth to “kill,” but to “torment” them; to wit, by the calamities which they would bring upon Christian nations for a definite period. Indeed, as we have seen above, it was an express command of Aboubekir that they should not put those to death who were found leading quiet and peaceable lives in monasteries, though against another class he did give an express command to “cleave their skulls.” See Gibbon, iii. 418. As applicable to the conflicts of the Saracens with Christians, the meaning here would seem to be, that the power conceded to those who are represented by the locusts was not to cut off and to destroy the church, but it was to bring upon it various calamities to continue for a definite period.

Accordingly, some of the severest afflictions which have come upon the church have undoubtedly proceeded from the followers of the Prophet of Mecca. There were times in the early history of that religion when, to all human appearance, it would universally prevail, and wholly supplant the Christian church. But the church still survived, and no power was at any time given to the Saracenic hosts to destroy it altogether. In respect to this, some remarkable facts have occurred in history. The followers of the false prophet contemplated the subjugation of Europe, and the destruction of Christianity, from two quarters - the East and the West - expecting to make a junction of the two armies in the north of Italy, and to march down to Rome. Twice did they attack the vital part of Christendom by besieging Constantinople: first, in the seven years’ siege, which lasted from 668 a.d. to 675 a.d.; and, secondly, in the years 716-718, when Leo the Isaurian was on the imperial throne.

But on both occasions they were obliged to retire defeated and disgraced - Gibbon, iii. 461ff. Again, they renewed their attack on the West. Having conquered Northern Africa, they passed over into Spain, subdued that country and Portugal, and extended their conquests as far as the Loire. At that time they designed to subdue France, and having united with the forces which they expected from the East, they intended to make a descent on Italy, and complete the conquest of Europe. This purpose was defeated by the valor of Charles Martel, and Europe and the Christian world were saved from subjugation (Gibbon, iii. 467, following). “A victorious line of march,” says Mr. Gibbon, “had been prolonged above a thousand miles, from the rock of Gibraltar to the banks of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the Highlands of Scotland. The Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or the Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Muhammed.” The arrest of the Saracen hosts before Europe was subdued, was what there was no reason to anticipate, and it even yet perplexes historians to be able to account for it.

The calm historian,” says Mr. Gibbon, “who strives to follow the rapid course of the Saracens, must study to explain by what means the church and state were saved from this impending, and, as it should seem, inevitable danger.” “These conquests,” says Mr. Hallam, “which astonish the careless and superficial, are less perplexing to a calm inquirer than their cessation - the loss of half the Roman empire than the preservation of the rest” (Middle Ages, ii. 3, 169). These illustrations may serve to explain the meaning of the symbol - that their grand commission was not to annihilate or root out, but to annoy and afflict. Indeed, they did not go forth with a primary design to destroy. The announcement of the Mussulman always was “the Koran, the tribute, or the sword,” and when there was submission, either by embracing his religion or by tribute, life was always spared. “The fair option of friendship, or submission, or battle,” says Mr. Gibbon (iii. 387), “was proposed to the enemies of Muhammed.” Compare also vol. iii. 453, 456. The torment mentioned here, I suppose, refers to the calamities brought upon the Christian world - on Egypt, and Northern Africa, and Spain, and Gaul, and the East - by the hordes which came out of Arabia, and which swept over all those countries like a troublesome and destructive host of locusts. Indeed, would any image better represent the effects of the Saracenic invasions than such a countless host of locusts? Even now, can we find an image that would better represent this?

(5) The leader of this host:

(a) He was like a star that fell from heaven, Revelation 9:1, a bright and illustrious prince, as if heaven-endowed, but fallen. Would anything better characterize the genius, the power, and the splendid but perverted talent of Muhammed? Muhammed was, moreover, by birth, of the princely house of the Koreish, governors of Mecca, and to no one could the term be more appropriate than to one of that family.

(b) He was a king. That is, there was to be one monarch - one ruling spirit to which all these hosts were subject. And never was anything more appropriate than this title as applied to the leader of the Arabic hosts. All those hosts were subject to one mind - to the command of the single leader that originated the scheme.

(c) The name Abaddon, or Apollyon - Destroyer, Revelation 9:11. This name would be appropriate to one who spread his conquests so far over the world; who wasted so many cities and towns; who overthrew so many kingdoms; and who laid the foundation of ultimate conquests by which so many human beings were sent to the grave.

(d) The description of the leader “as the angel of the bottomless pit,” Revelation 9:11. If this be regarded as meaning that “the angel of the bottomless pit” - the spirit of darkness himself - originated the scheme, and animated these hosts, what term would better characterize the leader? And if it be a poetic description of Muhammed as sent out by that presiding spirit of evil, how could a better representative of the spirit of the nether world have been sent out upon the earth than he was - one more talented, more sagacious, more powerful, more warlike, more wicked, more suited to subdue the nations of the earth to the dominion of the Prince of Darkness, and to hold them for ages under his yoke?

(6) The duration of the torment. It is said Revelation 9:5 that this would be five months; that is, prophetically, 150 years. See the notes on Revelation 9:5. The Hegira, or flight of Muhammed, occurred 622 a.d.; the Saracens first issued from the desert into Syria, and began their series of wars on Christendom, 629 a.d. Reckoning from these periods respectively, the five months, or 150 years, would extend to 772 or 779 a.d. It is not necessary to understand this period of 150 years of the actual continued existence of the bodies symbolized by the locusts, but only of the period in which they would inflict their “torment” - “that they should be tormented five months.” That is, this would be the period of the intensity of the woe inflicted by them; there would be at that time some marked intermission of the torrent. The question then is, whether, in the history of the Saracens, there was any period after their career of conquest had been continued for about a hundred and fifty years, which would mark the intermission or cessation of these “torments.”

If so, then this is all that is necessary to determine the applicability of the symbol to the Arabian hordes. Now, in reply to this question, we have only to refer to Mr. Gibbon. The table of contents profixed to chapters forty-one and forty-two of his work would supply all the information desired. I looked at that table, after making the estimate as to what period the “five months,” or hundred and fifty years, would conduct us to, to see whether anything occurred at about that time in the Muhammedan power and influence, which could be regarded as marking the time of the intermission or cessation of the calamities inflicted by the Arabic hordes on the Christian world. After Mr. Gibbon had recorded in detail (vol. iii. 360-460) the character and conquests of the Arabian hordes under Muhammed and his successors, I find the statement of the decline of their power at just about the period to which the hundred and fifty years would lead us, for at that very time an important change came over the followers of the prophet of Mecca turning them from the love of conquest to the pursuits of literature and science.

From that period they ceased to be formidable to the church; their limits were gradually contracted; their power diminished; and the Christian world, in regard to them, was substantially at peace. This change in the character and purposes of the Saracens is thus described by Mr. Gibbon, at the close of the reign of the caliph Abdalrahman, whose reign commenced 755 a.d., and under whom the peaceful sway of the Ommiades of Spain began, which continued for a period of two hundred and fifty years. “The luxury of the caliphs, so useless to their private happiness, relaxed the nerves, and terminated the progress, of the Arabian empire. Temporal and spiritual conquest had been the sole occupation of the first successors of Muhammed; and after supplying themselves with the necessaries of life, the whole revenue was scrupulously devoted to that salutary work. The Abassides were impoverished by the multitude of their needs, and their contempt of economy. Instead of pursuing the great object of ambition, their leisure, their affections, and the powers of their minds were diverted by pomp and pleasure: the rewards of valor were embezzled by women and eunuchs, and the royal camp was encumbered by the luxury of the palace. A similar temper was diffused among the subjects of the caliph. Their stern enthusiasm was softened by time and prosperity: they sought riches in the occupations of industry, fame in the pursuits of literature, and happiness in the tranquility of domestic life.

War was no longer the passion of the Saracens; and the increase of pay, the repetition of donatives, were insufficient to allure the posterity of those voluntary champions who had crowded to the standard of Aboubekir and Omar for the hopes of spoil and of paradise,” iii. 477, 478. Of the Ommiades, or princes who succeeded Abdalrahman, Mr. Gibbon remarks in general - “Their mutual designs or declarations of war evaporated without effect; but instead of opening a door to the conquest of Europe, Spain was dissevered from the trunk of the monarchy, engaged in perpetual hostility with the East, and inclined to peace and friendship with the Christian sovereigns of Constantinople and France,” iii. p. 472. How much does this look like some change occurring by which they would cease to be a source of “torment” to the nations with whom they now dwelt! From this period they gave themselves to the arts of peace; cultivated literature and science; lost entirely their spirit of conquest, and their ambition for universal dominion, until they gradually withdrew, or were driven, from those parts of the Christian world where they had inspired most terror, and which in the days of their power and ambition they had invaded. By turning merely to the “table of contents” of Mr. Gibbon’s history, the following periods, occurring at about the time that would be embraced in the “five months,” or hundred and fifty years, are distinctly marked:

668-675 First siege of Constantinople by the Arabs.
677 Peace and tribute.
716-718 Second siege of Constantinople.
716-718 Failure and retreat of the Saracens.
716-718 Invention and use of the Greek fire.
721 Invasion of France by the Arabs.
732 Defeat of the Saracens by Charles Martel.
732 They retreat before the Franks.
746-750 The elevation of the Abassides.
750 Fall of the Ommiades.
755 Revolt of Spain.
755 Triple division of the caliphate.
750-960 Magnificence of the caliphs.
750-960 Its consequences on private and public happiness.
754 etc. Introduction of learning among the Arabians.
754 etc. Their real progress in the sciences.”

It will be seen from this that the decline of their military and civil power; their defeats in their attempts to subjugate Europe; their turning their attention to the peaceful pursuits of literature and science, synchronize remarkably with the period that would be indicated by the five months, or 150 years. It should be added, also, that in the year 762, Almanzor, the caliph, built Bagdad, and made it the capital of the Saracen empire. Henceforward that became the seat of Arabic learning, luxury, and power, and the wealth and talent of the Saracen empire were gradually drawn to that capital, and they ceased to vex and annoy the Christian world. The building of Bagdad occurred within just ten years of the time indicated by the “five months” - reckoning that from the Hegira, or flight of Muhammed; or reckoning from the time when Muhammed began to preach (609 ad - Gibbon, iii. 383), it wanted only three years of coinciding exactly with the period.

These considerations show with what propriety the fifth trumpet - the symbol of the locusts - is referred to the Arabian hordes under the guidance of Muhammed and his successors. On the supposition that it was the design of John to symbolize these events, the symbo has been chosen which of all others was best adapted to the end. If, now that these events are past, we should endeavor to find some symbol which would appropriately represent them, we could not find one that would be more striking or appropriate than what is here employed by John.

Verse 12

One woe is past - The woe referred to in Revelation 9:1-11. In Revelation 8:13 three woes are mentioned which were to occur successively, and which were to embrace the whole of the period comprised in the seven seals and the seven trumpets. Under the last of the seals we have considered four successive periods, referring to events connected with the downfall of the Western empire; and then we have found one important event worthy of a place in noticing the things which would permanently affect the destiny of the world - the rise, the character, and the conquests of the Saracens. This was referred to by the first woe-trumpet. We enter now on the consideration of the second. This occupies the remainder of the chapter, and in illustrating it the same method will be pursued as heretofore: first, to explain the literal meaning of the words, phrases, and symbols; and then to inquire what events in history, if any, succeeding the former, occurred, which would correspond with the language used.

And, behold, there come two woes more hereafter - Two momentous and important events that will be attended with sorrow to mankind. It cannot be intended that there would be no other evils that would visit mankind; but the eye, in glancing along the future, rested on these as having a special pre-eminence in affecting the destiny of the church and the world.

Verse 13

And the sixth angel sounded - See the notes on Revelation 8:2, Revelation 8:7.

And I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God - In the language used here there is an allusion to the temple, but the scene is evidently laid in heaven. The temple in its arrangements was designed, undoubtedly, to be in important respects a symbol of heaven, and this idea constantly occurs in the Scriptures. Compare the Epistle to the Hebrews passim. The golden altar stood in the holy place, between the table of show-bread and the golden candlestick. See the notes on Hebrews 9:1-2. This altar, made of shittim or acacia wood, was ornamented at the four corners, and overlaid throughout with laminae of gold. Hence, it was called “the golden altar,” in contradistinction from the altar for sacrifice, which was made of stone. Compare the notes on Matthew 21:12, following on its four corners it had projections which are called horns Exodus 30:2-3, which seem to have been intended mainly for ornaments. See Jahn, Arch. 332; Joseph. Ant. iii. 6, 8. When it is said that this was “before God,” the meaning is, that it was directly before or in front of the symbol of the divine presence in the most holy place. This image, in the vision of John, is transformed to heaven. The voice seemed to come from the very presence of the Deity; from the place where offerings are made to God.

Verse 14

Saying to the sixth angel, which had the trumpet - See the notes at Revelation 8:2.

Loose, ... - This power, it would seem, was given to the sixth angel in addition to his office of blowing the trumpet. All this, of course, was in vision, and cannot be literally interpreted. The meaning is, that the effect of his blowing the trumpet would be the same as if angels that had been bound should be suddenly loosed and suffered to go forth over the earth; that is, some event would occur which would be properly symbolized by such an act.

The four angels - Compare the notes at Revelation 8:2. It was customary to represent important events as occurring under the ministry of angels. The general meaning here is, that in the vicinity of the river Euphrates there were mighty powers which had been bound or held in check, which were now to be let loose upon the world. What we are to look for in the fulfillment is evidently this - some power that seemed to be kept back by an invisible influence as if by angels, now suddenly let loose and suffered to accomplish the purpose of desolation mentioned in the subsequent verses. It is not necessary to suppose that angels were actually employed in these restraints, though no one can demonstrate that their agency was not concerned in the transactions here referred to. Compare the notes on Daniel 10:12-13. It has been made a question why the number four is specified, and whether the forces were in any sense made up of four divisions, nations, or people. While nothing certain can be determined in regard to that, and while the number four may be used merely to denote a great and strong force, yet it must be admitted that the most obvious interpretation would be to refer it to some combination of forces, or to some union of powers, that was to accomplish what is here said. If it had been a single nation, it would have been more in accordance with the usual method in prophecy to have represented them as restrained by an angel, or by angels in general, without specifying any number.

Which are bound - That is, they seemed to be bound. There was something which held them, and the forces under them, in check, until they were thus commanded to go forth. In the fulfillment of this it will be necessary to look for something of the nature of a check or restraint on these forces, until they were commissioned to go forth to accomplish the work of destruction.

In the great river Euphrates - The well-known river of that name, commonly called, in the Scriptures, “the great river,” and, by way of eminence, “the river,” Exodus 23:31; Isaiah 8:7. This river was on the east of Palestine; and the language used here naturally denotes that the power referred to under the sixth trumpet would spring up in the East, and that it would have its origin in the vicinity of that river. Those interpreters, therefore, who apply this to the invasion of Judaea by the Romans have great difficulty in explaining this - as the forces employed in the destruction of Jerusalem came from the West, and not from the East. The fair interpretation is, that there were forces in the vicinity of the Euphrates which were, up to this period, bound or restrained, but which were now suffered to spread woe and sorrow over a considerable portion of the world.

Verse 15

And the four angels were loosed - Who had this mighty host under restraint. The loosening of the angels was, in fact, also a letting loose of all these hosts, that they might accomplish the work which they were commissioned to do.

Which were prepared - See Revelation 9:7. The word used here properly refers to what is made ready, suited up, arranged for anything: as persons prepared for a journey, horses for battle, a road for travelers, food for the hungry, a house to live in, etc. See Robinson’s Lexicon, sub. voce Ἑτοιμάζω Hetoimazō. As used here, the word means “that whatever was necessary to prepare these angels” - the leaders of this host - for the work which they were commissioned to perform, was now done, and that they stood in a state of readiness to execute the design. In the fulfillment of this it will be necessary to look for some arrangements existing in the vicinity of the Euphrates, by which these restrained hosts were in a state of readiness to be summoned forth to the execution of this work, or in such a condition that they would go forth spontaneously if the restraints existing were removed.

For an hour, ... - Margin, “at.” The Greek - εἰς eis - means properly “unto, with reference to”; and the sense is, that, with reference to that hour, they had all the requisite preparation. Prof. Stuart explains it as meaning that they were “prepared for the particular year, month, day, and hour, destined by God for the great catastrophe which is to follow.” The meaning, however, rather seems to be that they were prepared, not for the commencement of such a period, but they were prepared for the whole period indicated by the hour, the day, the month, and the year; that is, that the continuance of this “woe” would extend along through the whole period. For:

(a)This is the natural interpretation of the word “for” - εἰς eis;

(b)It makes the whole sentence intelligible - for though it might be proper to say of anything that it was “prepared for an hour,” indicating the commencement of what was to be done, it is not usual to say of anything that it is “prepared for an hour, a month, a day, a year,” when the design is merely to indicate the beginning of it; and,

(c)It is in accordance with the prediction respecting the first “woe” Revelation 9:5, where the time is specified in language similar to this, to wit, “five months.” It seems to me, therefore, that we are to regard the time here mentioned as a prophetic indication of the period during which this woe would continue.

An hour, and a day, and a month, and a year - If this were to be taken literally, it would, of course, be but little more than a year. If it be taken, however, in the common prophetic style, where a day is put for a year (see the notes on Daniel 9:24 ff; also Editor’s Preface, p. xxv. etc.), then the amount of time (360 + 30 + 1 + an hour) would be 391 years, and the portion of a year indicated by an hour - a twelfth part or twenty-fourth part, according as the day was supposed to be divided into twelve or twenty-four hours. That this is the true view seems to be clear, because this accords with the usual style in this book; because it can hardly be supposed that the “preparation” here referred to would have been for so brief a period as the time would be if literally interpreted; and because the mention of so small a portion of time as an “hour,” if literally taken, would be improbable in so great transactions. The fair interpretation, therefore, will require us to find some events that will fill up the period of about 391 years.

For to slay the third part of men - Compare Revelation 8:7, Revelation 8:9,Revelation 8:12. The meaning here is, that the immense host which was restrained on the Euphrates would, when loosed, spread desolation over about a third part of the world. We are not to suppose that this is to be understood in exactly a literal sense; but the meaning is, that the desolation would be so widespread that it would seem to embrace a third of the world. No such event as the cutting off of a few thousands of Jews in the siege of Jerusalem would correspond with the language here employed, and we must look for events more general and more disastrous to mankind at large.

Verse 16

And the number of the army of the horsemen - It is to be observed here that the strength of the army seemed to be cavalry. In the former plagues there is no distinct mention of horsemen; but here what struck the beholder was the immense and unparalleled number of horsemen.

Were two hundred thousand thousand - A thousand thousand is one million, and consequently the number here referred to would be 200 million. This would be a larger army than was ever assembled, and it cannot be supposed that it is to be taken literally. That it would be a very large host - so large that it would not be readily numbered - is clear. The expression in the original, while it naturally conveys the idea of an immense number, would seem also to refer to some uniqueness in the manner of reckoning them. The language is, “two myriads of myriads” - δύο μυριάδες μυριάδων duo muriades muriadōn. The myriad was ten thousand. The idea would seem to be this. John saw an immense host of cavalry. They appeared to be divided into large bodies that were in some degree separate, and that might be reckoned by ten thousands. Of these different squadrons there were many, and to express their great and unusual numbers he said that there seemed to be myriads of them - two myriads of myriads, or twice ten thousand myriads. The army thus would seem to be immense - an army, as we should say, to be reckoned by tens of thousands.

And I heard the number of them - They were so numerous that he did not pretend to be able to estimate the number himself, for it was beyond his power of computation; but he heard it stated in these round numbers, that there were “two myriads of myriads” of them.

Verse 17

And thus I saw the horses in the vision - That is, he saw them as he proceeds to describe them, for the word “thus” - οὕτως houtōs - refers to what follows. Compare Robinson’s Lexicon on the word (b), and see Matthew 1:18; Matthew 2:5; John 21:1; Hebrews 4:4. Prof. Stuart, however, refers to what precedes. The meaning, as it seems to me, is, that he fixed his attention on the appearance of the immense army - the horses and their riders, and proceeded to describe them as they struck him.

And them that sat on them - He fixed the attention on horse and rider. Their appearance was unusual, and deserved a particular description.

Having breastplates of fire - That is, those who sat on them had such breastplates. The word rendered here as “breastplate” denoted properly a coat of mail that covered the body from the neck to the thighs. See the notes on Ephesians 6:14. This would be a prominent object in looking at a horseman. This was said to be composed of “fire, and jacinth, and brimstone”; that is, the part of the body usually incased in the coat of mail had these three colors. The word “fire” here simply denotes red. It was burnished and bright, and seemed to be a blaze of fire. The word “jacinth” - ὑακινθίνους huakinthinous - means “hyacinthine.” The color denoted is that of the hyacinth - a flower of a deep purple or reddish blue. Then it refers to a gem of the same color, nearly related to the zircon of the mineralogists, and the color mentioned here is deep purple or reddish blue. The word rendered “brimstone” - θειώδης theiōdēs - means properly “sulphurous,” that is, made of sulphur, and means here simply yellow. The meaning of the whole then is, that these horsemen appeared to be clad in a special kind of armor - armor that shone like fire, mingled with blue and yellow. It will be necessary to look for the fulfillment of this in cavalry that was so caparisoned.

And the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions - Resembled, in some respects, the heads of lions. He does not say that they were the heads of lions, or that the riders were on monsters, but only that they, in some respects, resembled the heads of lions. It would he easy to give this general appearance by the way in which the head-dress of the horses was arrayed.

And out of their mouths issued - That is, appeared to issue. It is not necessary to understand this as affirming that it actually came from their months, but only that, to one looking on such an approaching army, it would have this appearance. The pagan poets often speak of horses breathing out fire and smoke (Virgil, Geor. vol. ii. p. 140; iii. 85; Ovid, Met. vol. vii. p. 104), meaning that their breath seemed to be mingled smoke and fire. There is an image superadded here not found in any of the classic descriptions, that this was mingled with brimstone. All this seemed to issue from their mouths - that is, it was breathed forth in front of the host, as if the horses emitted it from their mouths.

Fire and smoke and brimstone - The exact idea, whether that was intended or not, would be conveyed by the discharge of musketry or artillery. The fire, the smoke, and the sulphurous smell of such a discharge would correspond precisely with this language; and if it be supposed that the writer meant to describe such a discharge, this would be the very language that would be used. Moreover, in describing a battle nothing would be more proper than to say that this appeared to issue from the horses’ mouths. If, therefore, it should be found that there were any events where firearms were used, in contradistinction from the ancient mode of warfare, this language would be appropriate to describe that; and if it were ascertained that the writer meant to refer to some such fact, then the language used here would be what he would adopt. One thing is certain, that this is not language which would be employed to describe the onset of ancient cavalry in the mode of warfare which prevailed then. No one describing a charge of cavalry among the Persians, the Greeks, or the Romans, when the only armor was the sword and the spear, would think of saying that there seemed to be emitted from the horses’ mouths fire, and smoke, and brimstone.

Verse 18

By these three - Three things - explained immediately as referring to the fire, the smoke, and the brimstone.

Was the third part of men killed - See the notes on Revelation 8:7-12, on each of which verses we have notices of calamities that came upon the third part of the race, of the sea, of rivers, etc. We are not to suppose that this is to be taken literally, but the description is given as it appeared to John. Those immense numbers of horsemen would sweep over the world, and a full third part of the race of people would seem to fall before them.

Verse 19

For their power is in their mouth - That is, as described in the fire, smoke, and brimstone that proceeded out of their mouths. What struck the seer as remarkable on looking on the symbol was, that this immense destruction seemed to proceed out of their mouths. It was not that they trampled down their enemies; nor that they destroyed them with the sword, the bow, or the spear: it was some new and remarkable power in warfare - in which the destruction seemed to proceed from fire, and smoke, and sulphur issuing from the mouths of the horses themselves.

And in their tails - The tails of the horses. This, of course, was something unusual and remarkable in horses, for naturally they have no power there. The power of a fish, or a scorpion, or a wasp, may be said to be in their tails, for their strength or their means of defense or of injury are there; but we never think of speaking in this way of horses. It is not necessary, in the interpretation of this, to suppose that the reference is literally to the tails of the horses, anymore than it is to suppose that the smoke, and fire, and brimstone literally proceeded from their mouths. John describes things as they appeared to him in looking at them from a considerable distance. From their mouths the horses belched forth fire, and smoke, and sulphur, and even their tails seemed to be armed for the work of death.

For their tails were like unto serpents - Not like the tails of serpents, but like serpents themselves.

And had heads - That is, there was something remarkable in the position and appearance of their heads. All serpents, of course, have heads; but John saw something unusual in this - or something so unique in their heads as to attract special attention. It would seem most probable that the heads of these serpents appeared to extend in every direction - as if the hairs of the horses’ tails had been converted into snakes, presenting a most fearful and destructive image. Perhaps it may illustrate this to suppose that there is reference to the Amphisbaena, or two-headed snake. It is said of this reptile that its tail resembles a head, and that with this it throws out its poison (Lucan, vol. ix. p. 179; Pliny’s Hist. Nat. vol. viii. p. 35). It really has but one head, but its tail has the appearance of a head, and it has the power of moving in either direction to a limited degree. If we suppose these snakes fastened to the tail of a horse, the appearance of heads would be very prominent and remarkable. The image is that of the power of destruction. They seemed like ugly and poisonous serpents instead of tails.

And with them they do hurt - Not the main injury, but they have the power of inflicting some injury by them.

Verses 20-21

And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues ... - One third part is represented as swept off, and it might have been expected that a salutary effect would have been produced on the remainder, in reforming them, and restraining them from error and sin. The writer proceeds to state, however, that these judgments did not have the effect which might reasonably have been anticipated. No reformation followed; there was no abandonment of the prevailing forms of iniquity; there was no change in their idolatry and superstition. In regard to the exact meaning of what is here stated Revelation 9:20-21, it will be a more convenient arrangement to consider it after we have ascertained the proper application of the passage relating to the sixth trumpet. What is here stated Revelation 9:20-21 pertains to the state of the world after the desolations which would occur under this woe-trumpet; and the explanation of the words may be reserved, therefore, with propriety, until the inquiry shall have been instituted as to the general design of the whole.

With respect to the fulfillment of this symbol - the sixth trumpet - it will be necessary to inquire whether there has been any event, or class of events occurring at such a time, and in such a manner, as would be properly denoted by such a symbol. The examination of this question will make it necessary to go over the leading points in the symbol, and to endeavor to apply them. In doing this I shall simply state, with such illustrations as may occur, what seems to me to have been the design of the symbol. It would be an endless task to examine all the explanations which have been proposed, and it would be useless to do so.

The reference, then, seems to me to be to the Turkish power, extending from the time of the first appearance of the Turks in the neighborhood of the Euphrates, to the final conquest of Constantinople in 1453. The general reasons for this opinion are such as the following:

  1. If the previous trumpet referred to the Saracens, or to the rise of the Muhammedan power among the Arabs, then the Turkish dominion, being the next in succession, would be what would most naturally be symbolized.
  2. The Turkish power rose on the decline of the Arabic, and was the next important power in affecting the destinies of the world.
  3. This power, like the former, had its seat in the East, and would be properly classified under the events occurring there as affecting the destiny of the world.
  4. The introduction of this power was necessary, in order to complete the survey of the downfall of the Roman empire - the great object kept in view all along in these symbols.

Hunc merito potuit dicere Roma patrem.

It was to Alexander VI, his successor, who at the close of the fifteenth century stood before the world a monster, notorious to all, of impurity and vice; and to the general well-known character of the Roman Catholic clergy. “Most of the ecclesiastics,” says the historian Infessura, “had their mistresses; and all the convents of the capital were houses of ill fame.”

(6) The sixth thing specified Revelation 9:21 is thefts; that is, as explained, the taking of the property of others by dishonest arts, on false pretences, or without any proper equivalent. In the inquiry as to the applicability of this to the times supposed to be here referred to, we may notice the following things, as instances in which money was extorted from the people:

(a) The value fraudulently assigned to relics. Mosheim, in his historical sketch of the twelfth century, observes: “The abbots and monks carried about the country the carcasses and relics of saints, in solemn procession, and permitted the multitude to behold, touch, and embrace the sacred remains, at fixed prices.”

(b) The exaltation of the miracle-working merit of particular saints, and the consecration of new saints, and dedication of new images, when the popularity of the former died away. Thus, Mr. Hallam says: “Every cathedral or monastery had its tutelar saint, and every saint his legend; fabricated in order to enrich the churches under his protection; by exaggerating his virtues and his miracles, and consequently his power of serving those who paid liberally for his patronage.”

(c) The invention and sale of indulgences - well known to have been a vast source of revenue to the church. Wycliffe declared that indulgences were mere forgeries whereby the priesthood “rob people of their money; a subtle merchandise of Antichrist’s clerks, whereby they magnify their own fictitious power, and instead of causing people to dread sin, encourage people to wallow therein as hogs.”

(d) The prescription of pilgrimages as penances was another prolific source of gain to the church that deserves to be classed under the name of thefts. Those who made such pilgrimage were expected and required to make an offering at the shrine of the saint; and as multitudes went on such pilgrimages, especially on the jubilee at Rome, the income from this source was enormous. An instance of what was offered at the shrine of Thomas Becket will illustrate this. Through his reputation Canterbury became the Rome of England. A jubilee was celebrated every fiftieth year to his honor, with plenary indulgence to all such as visited his tomb; of whom one hundred thousand were registered at one time. Two large volumes were filled with accounts of the miracles performed at his tomb. The following list of the value of offerings made in two successive years to his shrine, the Virgin Mary’s, and Christ’s, in the cathedral at Canterbury, will illustrate at the same time the gain from these sources, and the relative respect shown to Becket, Mary, and the Saviour

First Year British shillings d. pounds
Christ’s Altar 3 2 6
Virgin Mary’s 63 5 6
Becket’s 832 12 9
Next Year

Christ’s Altar 0 0 0
Virgin Mary’s 4 1 8
Becket’s 954 6 3

Of the jubilee of 1300 a.d. Muratori relates the result as follows: “Papa innumerabilem pecuniam ab iisdem recepit; quia die et nocte duo elerici stabant a.d. altare Sancti Pauli, tenentes in eorum manibus rastellos, rastellantes pecuniam infinitam. ” “The pope received from them a countless amount of money; for two clerks stood at the altar of Paul night and day, holding in their hands little rakes, collecting an infinite amount of money” (Hallam).

(e) Another source of gain of this kind was the numerous testamentary bequests with which the church was enriched obtained by the arts and influence of the clergy. In Wycliffe’s time there were in England 53,215 faeda milltum, of which the religious had 28,000 - more than one-half. Blackstone says that, but for the intervention of the legislature, and the statute of mortmain, the church would have appropriated in this manner the whole of the land of England, vol. 4, p. 107.

(f) The money left by the dying to pay for masses, and that paid by survivors for masses to release the souls of their friends from purgatory all of which deserve to be classed under the word “thefts” as already explained - was another source of vast wealth to the church; and the practice was systematized on a large scale, and, with the other things mentioned, deserves to be noticed as a characteristic of the times. It is scarcely necessary to add, that the judgments which were brought upon the world by the Turkish invasions made no essential change, and worked no repentance or reformation, and hence that the language here is strictly applicable to these things: “Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.”

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Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Revelation 9". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". 1870.