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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament

Revelation 9

Verse 1

Revelation 9:1 . Stars (as σώματα ἐπουράνια ) drop from heaven in the form of beasts (Enoch lxxxvi. 1 f.) and men ( ibid. lxxxviii.) throughout Jewish apocalyptic ( cf. ibid , xviii. 16, xxi. 1, 6, xl. 21, 24); even earlier (Judges 5:20 , Job 38:7 ) they had been personified. On falling stars, associated as evil portents with death or divine displeasure, see Frazer’s Golden Bough (2nd ed.), Revelation 2:18 f. From what follows, it is possible that this angelic being who had fallen is conceived as an evil agent (reff.), permitted ( ἐδόθη ) to exercise malicious power on earth in furtherance of divine judgment. “The pit of the abyss” is the abode of the devil and daemons (reff. cf. Aen. vii. 583 f., viii. 243 f.), a subterranean chasm or waste underworld, located sometimes in the middle of the earth (Slav. En. xxviii. 3), and represented here ( cf.Revelation 20:1; Revelation 20:1 ) as covered by a lid or great stone. To judge from Revelation 13:1 , this abyss seems to contain, as in O.T., the flow of waters formerly upon the earth, and now confined (according to Jewish folk-lore) by God’s decree and the magical potency of His name ( cf. on Revelation 20:4 and Revelation 2:17 also Prayer of Manasseh , “O Lord Almighty … Who hast shut up the deep, τὴνβυσσον and sealed it by thy terrible and glorious name”.) A fearsome cavity (“ditis spiraculum”) emitting poisonous exhalations once existed near Hierapolis (Pliny, H. N. ii. 95). Such chasms (throughout Italy, Greece and Asia) seemed, to the superstitious, local inlets into Hades and outlets for infernal air in the shape of mephitic vapours. In Phrygia itself springs of hot vapour and smoke are a feature of the Lycos valley ( C. B. P. i. 2, 3), and the volcanic cone in the harbour of Thera was believed to be such an aperture of hell. Fire belching from this subterranean furnace was a sure portent of the final catastrophe (4 Ezra 5:8 ); cf. Renan, 330 f., 396, R. S. 127, and Jeremias, 116 f.

Verses 1-12

Revelation 9:1-12 : The fifth trumpet .

Verse 2

Revelation 9:2 . For the following description of this destructive horde of weird locusts, see Joel 2:0 . with Driver’s notes and excursus ( C. B. ) to which add the famous description of a locust-plague in Newman’s Callista (ch. 15). Naturally the sketch is far more idealised than that given by Joel; it often recalls the monstrous associates created by Tiamat out of the primeval abyss (Jastrow, pp. 419 f.); i.e. , strong warriors, “great serpents, merciless in attack, sharp of tooth. With poison instead of blood she filled their bodies. Furious vipers she clothed with terror, made them high of stature.”

Verses 3-4

Revelation 9:3-4 . The dense smoke resolves itself into a swarm of infernal demons in the form of locusts but rendered more formidable by their additional power of stinging like scorpions. Instead of preying on their natural food (Exodus 10:15 ), already plagued (Revelation 8:7 ) they are let loose upon men unmarked by the Divine seal (though the expected blast of winds is dropped), the idea being similar to that reproduced in Ps. Sol. 13:1 3, 4, 5, 15:1, 9 (see above, on Revelation 8:3 ). The nations under command of Holofernes (Judges 2:20 ) are also likened by the Jewish romancer to a swarm of innumerable locusts; and from the mouth of the beast in Hermas issue ἀκρίσες πύριναι to persecute the virgin church. Josephus, too, compares the army of Simeon to locusts ( B. J. iv. 9 7). Why are trees (Revelation 7:1 ) exempted? For the reason suggested in Ps. Sol. 11:6, 7?

Verse 5

Revelation 9:5 . παίσῃ here, like ἐπάταξεν James 4:7 , represents LXX, tr. of נכה in sense of reptile’s bite; the scorpion with its long-fanged tail stings the prey which it has already gripped with its claws ( cf. Sen. Hercul. 1218). Scorpions were a natural symbol for vicious and dangerous opponents ( cf. Ezekiel 2:6 , Luke 10:9 ), whose attacks were always painful and might be mortal. “The sting is not perilous.… The wounded part throbs with numbness and aching till the third day, there is not much swelling” (Doughty, Ar. Des. i. 328). But the effects were not always so mild (Arist. H. N. ix. 29).

Verse 6

Revelation 9:6 . The withholding of death, instead of being an alleviation, is really a refinement of torture; so infernal is the pain, that the sufferers crave, but crave in vain, for death (Sibyll. iii. 208: καὶ καλέσουσι καλόν τὸ θανεῖν καὶ φεύξετʼ ἀπʼ αὐτῶν ). It is singular that suicide is never contemplated, although it was widely prevalent at this period in certain circles of the Empire (see Merivale’s Romans under the Empire , ch. 64; Lecky’s Europ. Morals , i. 212 f.). For its un-Jewish character see Jos. Bell . iii. 8.5.

Verse 7

Revelation 9:7 . Arabian poets compare locusts in head to the horse, in breast to the lion, in feet to the camel, in body to the snake, in antennæ to a girl’s long, waving hair. The resemblance of the head in locusts and in horses has been often noticed ( Cavalleta, Italian ), and their hard scales resemble plates of equine armour. The rest of the description is partly fanciful (“crowns gleaming like gold,” human faces; yet cf. Pl. H. N. vi. 28, Arabes mitrati degunt, aut intonsa crine), partly (Revelation 9:8-9 ) true to nature (woman’s hair [ i.e. , abundant and flowing, a well-known trait of the Parthians and Persians], and lion-like teeth, scaly plates on the thorax, and rustling or whirring noises), partly (Revelation 9:10 ) recapitulatory (= Revelation 9:5 ; note ὁμοίας σκορπίοις , an abbreviated comparison like Homer’s κόμαι Χαρίτεσσιν ὁμοῖαι ), partly (Revelation 9:11 ) imaginative ( cf. Proverbs 30:27 ). The leader of these demons is the angel of the inferno from which they issue. His name is Abaddon ( cf. Exp. Times , xx. 234 f.), a Heb. equivalent for שׁאול personified like death and Hades. The final syllable of the name is taken to represent as in Greek, a personal ending. Hence the LXX rendering ἀπώλεια probably suggested the synonym Ἀπολλύων , containing a (sarcastic?) gibe at Apollo with whom the locust was associated (“uelut proprium nomen Caesaribus,” Suet. Oct. 29); cf. Schol. on Aesch. Agam. 1085 and Plato’s Cratylus , 404, 405. Both Caligula and Nero aped the deity of Apollo, among their other follies of this kind, as Antiochus Epiphanes had already done.

Verse 12

Revelation 9:12 . A parenthetical remark of the author. ἔρχεται with plur. subj. following is not an irregularity due to Greek neut. as equiv. to Heb. fern. (Viteau, ii. 98 100), but an instance of the so-called “Pindaric” anacoluthon ( cf. Moult, i. 58).

Verse 13

Revelation 9:13 . The golden altar of incense stands before God, as in the original tabernacle and temple; the specially solemn invocation of the angel shows that the Parthian-like invasion constitutes the climax of this series of disasters. φωνήν as Revelation 1:10 , Revelation 10:4 , etc., the “bath qol” (Gfrörer, i. 253 f., Dalman, viii. 1).

Verses 13-21

Revelation 9:13-21 . The sixth trumpet blast .

Verse 14

Revelation 9:14 . The sixth angel takes part in the action. The Euphrates had been the ideal Eastern boundary of Israel’s territory: it now formed the frontier between Rome and her dreaded neighbour, the Parthian Empire (Philo, leg. ad C [913] § ii.; Verg. Georg . i. 509; Tac. Hist. iv. 51).

[913] . Codex Ephraemi (sæc. v.), the Paris palimpsest, edited by Tischendorf in 1843.

Verse 15

Revelation 9:15 . This quartette of angels (= complete ruin, Zechariah 1:18 f.) has been kept in readiness, or reserved for this occasion, though they are not to be connected (as by Spitta) with the four moments of time hour, day, month , and year . Like the use of δεῖ , μέλλει , and ἐδόθη , this touch of predestined action brings out the strong providential belief running through the Apocalypse. On the rôle of destructive angels in Jewish eschatology cf. Charles on Slav. En. x. 3 and for the astrological basis (En. lxxvi. 10 f.) of this tradition see Fries in Jahrb f. d. klass. Alterth . (1902) 705 f. Probably the author means that the angels set in motion the hordes of cavalry (two hundred million) described in the semi-mythical, semi-historical pageant of the next passage. But he does not directly connect the two, and it is evident that here as at Revelation 7:1 f., we have “dream-like inconsequences” (Simcox), or else two fragments of apocalyptic tradition, originally heterogeneous, which are pieced together (at Revelation 9:16 ). The four angels here do not correspond in function or locality to the four unfettered angels of Revelation 7:1 ; they rather represent some variation of that archaic tradition in which four angels (perhaps angel-princes of the pagan hordes) were represented as bound (like winds?) at the Euphrates a geographical touch due to the history of contemporary warfare, in which the Parthians played a rôle similar to that of the Huns, the Vikings, or the Moors in later ages. Since the first century B.C. a Parthian invasion of some kind had formed part of the apocalyptic apparatus so that there is no particular need to allegorise the Euphrates into the Tiber or to find the four angels in Psalms 78:49 (LXX). The bloody and disastrous Parthian campaign of 58 62 ( cf. on Revelation 6:2 ) may account for the heightened colour of the scene, whether the fragment was composed at that period, or (as is most probable) written with it in retrospect. But the entire vision is one powerful imaginative development of a tradition preserved in a Syriac Apocalypse of Ezra (published by Baethgen) which may be based on old Jewish materials: “and a voice was heard, Let those four kings be loosed, who are bound at the great river Euphrates, who are to destroy a third part of men. And they were loosed, and there was a mighty uproar.” Could this be reckoned as proof of an independent tradition it would help to illumine the application of the idea in John’s Apocalypse, especially if one could accept with Köhler the attractive conjecture of Iselin that ἀγγέλους represents a confusion (or variety of reading, cf. 2 Samuel 11:1 , 1 Chronicles 20:1 ) between מלאכים (= ἄγγ .) and מלכים in a Hebrew original of Revelation 9:15 ( Zeits. aus der Schweis , 1887, 64). The conjecture (Spitta, de Faye, J. Weiss) ἀγέλαι (= hosts, as in Malachi 3:18; Malachi 3:18 , etc.) is less likely, and in ἐπὶ cannot be taken with λῦσον (Bruston). Cavalry formed a standing feature of the final terror for the Jewish imagination ever since the Parthians loomed on the political horizon (Ass. Mos. iii. 1). The whole passage was one of those denounced by the Alogi as fantastic and ridiculous ( cf. Epiph, Haer. li. 34). Gaius also criticised it as inconsistent with Matthew 24:7 .

Verse 16

Revelation 9:16 . The second woe is an irruption of fiendish cavalry.

Verse 17

Revelation 9:17 . Here only the writer refers to his “vision”. ἔχοντας (horse and rider regarded as one figure: in the Persian heavy cavalry horses as well as men were clad in bright plate) κ . τ . λ ., “they wore coats of mail, the colour of fire and jacinth and brimstone,” i.e. , gleaming red, dark blue, and yellow, unless ὑακ . (a favourite Oriental military colour) is meant to denote the colour of dull smoke. Plutarch, in his life of Sulla, describes the Medes and Scythians with their πυροειδῆ καὶ φοβερὰν ὄψιν ( cf. Sir 48:9 ). πῦρ , κ . τ . λ ., like Job’s leviathan, Ovid’s bulls (Metam. vii. 104), or Diomede’s horses (Lucret. ver 29, cf. Aen. vii. 281). They are also as destructive as Joel’s locusts. The description is a blend of observation and fantastic popular beliefs. Brimstone was a. traditional trait of divine wrath among people who “associated the ozonic smell which often bo perceptibly accompanies lightning discharges with the presence of sulphur”( E. Bi. 611). The symbolism is coloured by actual Parthian invasions ( cf. Revelation 6:1 f.) and by passage s like Sap. 11:18 where God punishes men by sending “unknown, newly-created wild beasts full of rage, breathing out a fiery blast or snorting out noisome smoke or flashing dread sparkles from their eyes.” Mr. Bent recalls the curious superstition of the modern Therans, who during the eruptions of last century saw “in the pillars of smoke issuing from their volcano, giants and horsemen and terrible beasts”.

Verse 19

Revelation 9:19 . Heads attached to their serpentine tails are an allusion not only to the well-known tactics of the Parthians ( cf. Parad. Regained , iii. 323 f.) but to a trait of ancient Greek mythology; on the altar of Zeus at Pergamos ( cf. note on Revelation 2:12 ) the giants who war against the gods are equipped with snakes (instead of limbs) that brandish open jaws. The amphisbaena of ancient mythology was often described as possessing a headed tail (“tanquam parum esset uno ore fundi uenena,” Pliny: H. N. viii. 35).

Verses 20-21

Revelation 9:20-21 . The impenitence of the surviving two-thirds of men, who persist in worshipping daemons and idols (Weinel, 3, 4). Hellenic superstition (Plut. de defectu orac. 14) attributed to malignant daemons these very plagues of pestilence, war, and famine. Plutarch is always protesting against the excessive deference paid to such powers, and on the other hand against the rationalists and Christians who abjured them entirely.

δαιμ ., either the gods of paganism (LXX) or the evil spirits of contemporary superstition. In Enoch 19:1, the spirits of the fallen angels “assuming many forms defile men and shall lead them astray to offer sacrifices to demons as to gods”; cf. Enoch 46:7 (of the kings and rulers) “their power rests on their riches, and their faith is in the gods which they have made with their hands”. (See Clem. Strom , vi. ver 39, 4) ἀργυρᾶ , contracted form, as in 2 Timothy 2:20 (Helbing, pp. 34 f.). φαρμ ., here in special sense of magic spells inciting to illicit lust (Artemid. ver 73), a prevalent Asiatic vice ( cf. Greg. Naz. Orat. iv. 31). But in the imprecatory (c. 100 B.C.) inscription of Rheneia (Dittenberger, Syll. Inscript. Graec . pp. 676 f.), punishment is invoked from tov τὸν κύριον τῶν πνευμάτων ( cf. Revelation 22:6 ) upon τοὺς δόλωι φονεύσανταςφαρμακεύσαντας the hapless girl. The three vices of the decalogue occur here (as in Matt.) in the Hebrew order, not in that of the LXX (Romans 13:9 ; Mark 10:19 ; Luke 18:20 ). cf. on Revelation 21:8 , and, for the connexion of polytheism and vice, Harnack’s Mission and Exp. of Christianity , i. (1908), pp. 290 f. Repentance here (as in Revelation 16:9 ; Revelation 16:11 ) is primarily a change of religion, but the prophet has evidently little hope of the pagan world. There is no polemic against the Egyptian worship of animals, and, in spite of the Jewish outlook upon the dolores Messiae , the Apocalypse ignores family disturbances and false messiahs as harbingers of the end. Once more ( cf. Revelation 7:1 f.) between the sixth (Revelation 9:13-21 ) and the seventh (Revelation 11:15-19 ) members of the series, a passage (this time of some length) is intercalated (Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:13 ), in which the personality of the seer now re-emerges (on earth, instead of in heaven). The object of Revelation 10:1-11 is to mark at once a change of literary method and a transition from one topic to another. The passage, which certainly comes from the prophet’s own pen (so Sabatier, Schon, and others), looks backward and forward. Now that the preliminaries are over, all is ready for the introduction of the two protagonists (Revelation 9:11-13 .) whose conflict forms the closing act of the world’s history (Revelation 15:1 to Revelation 20:10 ). One of these is Jesus, the divine messiah, who has hitherto (Revelation 9:5-9 .) been depicted as the medium of revelation. Since his rôle is now to be more active, the prophet expressly alters the literary setting of his visions. The subsequent oracles are not represented as the contents of the book of Doom (which is now open, with the breaking of its last seal). Dropping that figure (contrast Revelation 5:2 and Revelation 10:1 ) the writer describes himself absorbing another roll of prophecy received from an angel. Evidently he intends to mark a new departure, and to introduce what follows as a fresh start. This new procedure is accompanied by an explicit assurance intended to whet the reader’s interest that the Apocalypse has now reached the verge of the final catastrophe; the prophet apparently makes this eagerness to reach the goal the reason for omitting a seven-thunders vision (or source) which otherwise he might have been expected to include either at this point or subsequently. It is quite in keeping with the wider outlook and rather more historical atmosphere of 11 f., that a freer and less numerical method pervades these oracles. In short, Revelation 10:1-11 is a digression only in form. It serves to introduce not simply the Jewish fragment (Revelation 11:1-13 ) whose strange contents probably required some express ratification but the rest of the oracles (13 f.), which are thus awkwardly but definitely connected with the foregoing design (through the closing trumpet-vision: Revelation 10:7 = Revelation 11:15 f.).

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Bibliographical Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 9". The Expositor's Greek Testament. 1897-1910.