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THE GROUP OF THE SEVEN VIALS (Ch. 15 and 16)
The fourth group delineates the conflict waged by the three enemies of the kingdom of God against it; the sixth, how they are one after another vanquished. The fifth forms a sort of prelude to the latter. The kingdom of God has no absolute past; all the old deeds of God become new again in it, whenever the circumstances recur, which called them forth. Thus, here, the Egyptian plagues revive again, by means of which in ancient times the beast, whose fury had once more begun to exhibit itself in the days of John, was visited in its first form of manifestation, and was at last crushed.
The Seer beholds seven angels, who have the last seven plagues, ch. Revelation 15:1. In the presence of these angels and their work the just made perfect sing, with anticipative confidence, the praise of God, Revelation 15:2-4. Then the seven angels proceed forth from the temple of God, and seven vials are given to them filled with the wrath of God, Revelation 15:5-8. How the seven vials, one after another, are poured out, and what effects proceed from them, is represented in ch. 16, at the close of which we find the power of the world lying shattered to pieces on the ground.
Revelation 16:1. And I heard a great voice out of the temple, which said to the seven angels, go away and pour out the seven [Note: The seven is wanting in Luther.] vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. The loud voice out of the temple can only, according to ch. Revelation 15:8, be the voice of God, in whom the judgment going to be executed for the welfare of the church has its origin. In like manner in Ezekiel 9:1 a similar call proceeds from God, “with a loud voice,” to the ministers of divine judgment; comp. there Ezekiel 9:8, “When thou pourest forth thy wrath on Jerusalem;” Ezekiel 7:8. The same voice which here delivers the commission to pour out the vials, says, after they have been poured out, in Revelation 16:17, “It is done.” There the voice is more exactly characterised as the voice of God. It proceeds out of the temple from the throne. Here the same definiteness in the description was not necessary, on account of the relation the verse holds to ch. Revelation 15:8. The words: out of the temple, are wanting in several copies. But even if they were not genuine they would require to be supplied. To the earth belongs also the sea, in the sense in which it occurs at Revelation 16:3.
Revelation 16:2. And the first went away and poured out his vial on the earth. And there came an evil and grievous sore on the men, who have the mark of the beast, and worship his image. Bengel: “In the trumpets the word angel is repeated (‘And the seven angels prepared themselves to sound; and the first angel sounded,ʼ? and so on). Here, on the other hand, the style is briefer: the first, the second, &c., and the seventh poured out his vial. The vials make short work.” In the text followed by Luther, this peculiarity in the group of the seven vials vanishes at Revelation 16:3, and the word angel is shoved in.
In Revelation 16:1 the earth is used locally. That the word must be used in another sense here is manifest alone from the circumstance that the sea is distinguished from the earth, and so also are the rivers. There must be an earth upon the earth, which was set off as a special region for the first vial. It indicates the earthly minded, the men who shut themselves up in alienation from heaven. So also in ch. Revelation 13:12 “the earth and those who dwell on it” mean not at all, those, who locally and corporeally have their abode on earth (for those also sojourn on it who dwell in heaven, ch. Revelation 13:6), but the earthly minded upon earth. The commentary on the “earth” is formed by “the men, who have the mark of the beast.” The worshippers of the beast have themselves become beast-like. In ch. Revelation 13:11 it is said, “And I saw another beast ascend from the earth. The designation there of a beast corresponds to the origin out of the earth. [Note: It is from overlooking the distinction between the earth here and the earth in Revelation 16:1, that the reading εἰ?ς for ἐ?πί? has arisen, as also the exchanging of εἰ?ς with ἐ?πί? in what follows, which goes hand in band with the other. In the former the εἰ?ς τὴ?ν γῆ?ν is quite suitable, since the earth is only the locality, not the proper object of the pouring out. Here, on the other hand, ἐ?πί? is the more suitable.] The evil and grievous sore refers to the sixth Egyptian plague, that of the sore or boil in Exodus 9:8-12 (see my Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 117). In Deuteronomy 28:27 the same disease appears under the name of the “sore (botch) of Egypt,” as one common in Egypt. In Deuteronomy 28:35 it is described as an evil one, hard to be healed, “with a sore (botch) that cannot be healed.” It was a chronic disease, a bad eruption. In Deuteronomy 27 it is mentioned in connection with other diseases that were loathsome, painful, lingering, difficult of cure, but not absolutely fatal. The chief seat of the disease appears from Deuteronomy 28:27 to have been in the knees, and the legs. It is certainly not without meaning, that men and cattle were alike smitten by this distemper. The vile and disgraceful character of it appeared also in this, that those, who were affected by it, after that they had presumptuously entered into a conflict with the Almighty, could not stand before Moses. That we are not to abide by the letter here, is clear alone from the reference to the Egyptian plagues. Bengel’s remark, “as we understand the Egyptian plagues in a literal way, so should we also understand the plagues under the vials, which are so like to the other,” is precisely the opposite of the right view. There is nothing new under the sun; but in regard to the form of judgments the divine righteousness is extremely inventive; and there rarely happens in this respect a simple repetition. The Egyptian plagues, besides, stood in a very close connection with the natural state and circumstances of Egypt. If, therefore, a similarity does exist in respect to those plagues, the conclusion obviously is, that we must distinguish between the matter itself and its historico-symbolical veil. Nor ought we to suppose, that the sore here represents the whole genus of diseases, with reference to that historical type, in which they became manifest after this kind. That it is rather an image of a distressed condition, is clear from Revelation 16:11, where sores are again mentioned in connection with pains, and where they appear as a consequence of the darkness suspended over the kingdom of the beast. The repetition there is an intentional one: it is intended to serve as a finger-post for the right exposition. Disease has also had no independent position assigned it in the seals and trumpets. The correct view has been made particularly easy for us. For, it is such an evil and grievous sore, such a vile, painful, inveterate eruptive distemper, that our people are affected with at the present time. The remark of Bengel, “Because in the vials, and even in the vial of the first angel the image and mark of the beast is pre-supposed, this is also an indication, that they belong to a later period,” gives a wrong explanation of a right fact. The right explanation is, that the introductory groups have to do in general with the judgments of God on the wickedness of the world, while here the representation advances to the judgments on the ungodly power of the world, first in the general, then (in ch. 17, sq)., in regard to its particular phases.
Revelation 16:3. And the second poured out his vial in the sea, and it became blood as of one dead, and every living soul died, that is in the sea. The sea in the language of the Apocalypse, the sea of the peoples, the restless wicked world (comp. on ch. Revelation 13:1). On no account can we think of the sea in the literal sense. For that is no sphere for God’s punitive and avenging agency. If any doubt might still exist, it would be removed by a comparison of the corresponding symbolical representation in ch. Revelation 8:8-9, “and the second angel sounded, and like a great mountain burning with fire, was cast into the sea; and the third part of the sea became blood. And the third part of the living creatures in the sea died.” What was said on this passage, serves also in substance for an explanation of the one before us. That the sea is the subject in the expression, “and it was,” is plain from the words in the passage referred to, “and the third part of the sea became blood.” Here, as also in ch. Revelation 8:8-9, there is a reference to the first Egyptian plague; Exodus 7:20, “And all the water that was in the Nile was changed into blood, and the fish that were in the Nile [Note: According to the fundamental passage “which (were) in the Nile,” the well-supported reading τὰ? ἐ?ν τῆ?ͅ? θαλά?σσῃ? is to be preferred, not: all living creatures died in the sea; but: all living creatures in the sea died.] died.” This plague itself possessed a symbolical character; it indicated, that the blood of the Egyptians should in just recompense be shed, if they did not repent. Peculiar here is the expression, “as of one dead.” This refers to the import of the symbol. If the blood has the appearance as of that of the dead, we are not to think merely of the blood-colour of the water, as anciently in Egypt. In point of fact it is the blood of the dead. Only, here, we have not the fact itself, but merely its symbol. The as has respect to this, comp. on ch. Revelation 9:7; Revelation 9:9. The dead did not need to be more definitely described than as the slain, because it is only in this kind of death that the blood flows out. That we are not to think here of some general mortality, but of the shedding of blood in war, is evident alone from the symbol of the sea, out of which the beast arose. In ch. Revelation 20:13 also the dead that are in the sea, are those who perished by a violent death in political conflicts.
The scourge of destroying war is placed before our eyes by a double image—the changing of the sea into blood, and the dying of the living creatures in the sea. But the two, perhaps, are not simply co- ordinate. In the Egyptian plague the changing of the sea into blood stands in a causal connection with the dying of the fish. Accordingly. the changing of the sea into blood may be referred to those, who perish in actual battle, while the dying of all the living creatures in the sea may be understood of the infinitely greater number of those, who die in consequence of the war, by distress, hunger, sorrow, and disconsolateness, as we may learn from what happened in the thirty years’ war. In reference to the all, see my work on Egypt, p. 107.
Revelation 16:4. And the third poured out his vial on the rivers, and on the fountains of waters, and they became blood. The water of the rivers is an image of prosperity, and good fortune; the fountains of water indicate the source of a prosperous condition. We find the same symbol also in ch. Revelation 8:10-11, where at the sounding of the third trumpet a great star falls from heaven, burning like a torch, on the rivers and fountains of water, and changes them into wormwood, so that many persons died of the waters, because they had become bitter. In unison with that passage, where the waters became wormwood, (“and the third part of the waters became wormwood,”) we must also translate here: and they became blood. The correspondence between the second and third vial and the second and third trumpet is intentional. It furnishes a sort of finger-post for the internal connection between the two groups. But it is not less intentional, that the correspondence is only in part. That the rivers and fountains, which latter are also expressly named in Exodus 7:19, become blood, shews, that in the place of a prosperous and flourishing stale there has come the shedding of blood. Similar is Psalms 42:3, “My tears have been my meat day and night,” instead of eating I weep; Psalms 80, “Thou feedest them with bread of tears,” instead of bread with tears; Psalms 88:18, “My acquaintances, the place of darkness,” q.d. the dark region of the dead has come into the place of all my acquaintances; Job 17:14, “The grave I name, my father art thou, mother and sister, the worm.” In the first Egyptian plague there was a twofold symbolical element. It first points to the shedding of guilty blood as a punishment for the shedding of innocent blood. This element was brought prominently out in the preceding plague. The second element is contained in the words of Moses, Exodus 7:21, “And the river stank, and the Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river.” As in the first aspect of that plague every thing was indicated, which in those that followed touched the life of the Egyptians, even to the slaying of the first-born, and the destruction of the Egyptians in the Red Sea, so in the second it contained a prophecy of all that should damage the prosperity of Egypt, of which the water of the Nile was the better fitted to serve as an emblem, since upon it the temporal well-being of Egypt wholly depended. Both the elements are found in Psalms 78:44, “he turned their streams into blood, and their waters they drank not. “How the threatening contained in the second symbolical element was fulfilled, is shewn in Psalms 78:45-48, and that of the first, Psalms 78:49-51.
Revelation 16:5. And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, who is and who was, the godly, because thou hast judged thus. Revelation 16:6. For blood of saints and prophets have they shed, and blood hast thou given them to drink; they are worthy! Revelation 16:7. And I heard the altar say, Yea, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments. The Epiphonem in these three verses attaches itself primarily, indeed, to the third vial; but the second is closely connected with this, and the first is only a prelude to the two that follow. The seals are divided by the four and three. On the other hand, this very Epiphonem serves, in the case of the vials, to separate the three from the four. In accordance with this the three first vials are united to each other by the brevity that is employed in the description of them: each occupies but one verse. The four last begin with the sun, and conclude with the air, while the three first keep below—to the earth, the sea, the rivers and the fountains. Those who are here also for the division into the four and three, found upon the remark at the fourth vial: “and they blasphemed the name of God.” But this remark occurs again at the fifth, Revelation 16:11, and at the seventh, Revelation 16:21. It is not fitted, therefore, to serve as a boundary line, but rather connects the four last plagues together, and divides them off from the three first. The angel of the waters is wanting in the text followed by Luther. The angel alone is mentioned. We may discern the reason of the omission in the visible embarrassment of the expositors, and their vacillating hither and thither. It is God, who sends rain from heaven and fruitful seasons, and fills our hearts with food and gladness ( Acts 14:7). But the words: “Ah! Lord my God, this comes from thee, Thou, thou alone dost all,” only exclude all independent agency; in this matter also, in the distribution and withdrawal of all, that pertains to the necessities of life, God avails himself of the services of his “ministering spirits,” ( Hebrews 1:14,) in whose hand more immediately are the operations of nature ( Hebrews 1:7). The angel of the waters here represents the whole host of angels, whom God employs in this service, and so far is a purely ideal form, which only belongs to the vision (precisely as the speaking altar in Revelation 16:7), and in the reality becomes manifest in a multitude of individuals. The angel of the waters here stands in a near relation to the angel, who moves the water in John 5:4. For, if the water there also is to be taken in a figurative sense, as a designation of the sources by which life is sustained, this figurative use still rests on the circumstance, that the water in the proper sense holds a primary place among these sources of vital sustenance. We have here a delicate and intimate bond, uniting the Apocalypse with the Gospel. The omission here of the words: of the waters, sprang from the same Rationalism, that sought there also to set entirely aside the angel (see vol. i. p. 115). The assaults on the genuineness of the Apocalypse are a more general attempt to satisfy the same craving, as that which has sought relief to itself in the particular, by silently pushing aside the angel of the waters here, and the speaking altar in Revelation 16:7, as also the speaking altar in ch. Revelation 8:13. In the address to God: “who is and who was, the godly,” (the text, which Luther followed, improperly prefixes, Lord, and instead of “the godly,” has “ and holy,” or “godly,”) those attributes of God are particularly specified, which were manifested by his judgments, and from which these judgments flowed. In regard to the expressions, “who is and who was,” comp. on ch. Revelation 11:17. In that passage the addition, “and who comes,” could not be made, because the Lord had there already fully come. Here we have still not reached the last end; four vials are yet to follow. But still, “who comes,” would not be properly suitable here, and there was no reason for resuming it now again, after it had already been laid aside at ch. Revelation 11:17. Here respect is not had, as in ch. Revelation 1:4; Revelation 1:8, Revelation 4:8, to what the Lord is going to do in the future; but what he has done, is brought into view. Here it was only in a fitting way indicated, that the old God proved by deed, that he still lived.
As there the emphasis lies on the “who comes,” so here it lies on the “who is;” q.d. Thou, who by thy deeds hast shewn that as thou hast been, so thou also art. The godly, as an epithet is applied to God, in reference to his regard for the moral order of the world, which admits of nothing alien to him, nothing opposed to him or rising above him, but only what is conformable to his own essential nature (comp. on ch. Revelation 15:4).
The judicial rule, according to which God appears as righteous in the judgments, which he here threatens, was laid down in Genesis 9:6, “Whoso sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed,” where, according to the connection with Revelation 16:5, it is primarily declared, not what should be done by man, but what God would accomplish by means of his righteous judgments; comp. on ch. Revelation 13:10. But since the rule holds with God, blood for blood, so should it also hold with those, to whom he has committed judicial authority (comp. Exodus 21:23).
Upon the distinction between saints and prophets, corresponding to that of righteous persons and prophets in Matthew 10:41, comp. at ch. Revelation 11:18. Among the prophets the first place is held by the apostles, whose blood was shed upon the altar
Peter and Paul; comp. on ch. Revelation 1:1; and also in Matthew 10:41 the term prophets comprehend the apostles, comp. Matthew 10:40, That Rome takes the lead in the guilt and the punishment, appears from ch. Revelation 18:24.
In the declaration, “Blood hast thou given them to drink,” we must supply, instead of the water, which they formerly enjoyed; as is evident from the circumstance, that the angel speaks of water. The drinking of blood, (Bossuet, “People fill themselves with the blood of which they are greedy, chiefly in civil wars, in which each seems to drink the blood of his fellow-citizens”), is brought into notice here, not as a crime (as it is in ch. Revelation 17:6, where the woman is drunk with the blood of saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus), but as a punishment; as it is also in the fundamental passage, Isaiah 49:26, “And I will feed them that oppress thee with their own flesh, and they shall be drunken with their own blood.” In place of the pleasant drink of water they are made to take the horrid draught of their own blood; their prosperous condition disappears, and in its stead a bitter but righteous doom impels them to rage against one another. The mere, “they are worthy,” is more emphatic than, “ for they are worthy,” of the text which Luther has followed.
Instead of: and I heard the altar say, Luther has—following an ill-supported reading, and one that has had no better origin than exegetical incompetence—“And I heard another angel out of the altar say.” [Note: We recognize the origin of this rending in the explanation of Ewald: altare, vocem progresaam a coelicola arae adstanti.] In ch. Revelation 6:9-10 the souls of those, who were slain for the word of God and the testimony which they held, are represented as lying under the altar of the heavenly sanctuary, in consequence of their having been offered on the altar. From thence they cry with a loud voice and say, “O Lord, holy and true, how long dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth.” In ch. Revelation 14:18, the angel comes out of the altar, to execute vengeance for the blood of the saints, which had been shed on the altar. Here the altar itself rejoices in anticipation of the revenge, that was to be taken for the blood that was shed on it. Even Bengel’s interpretation, “as in the fifth seal the souls under the altar cried with a loud voice, so without doubt it is they, who here make themselves to be heard, having found after the shedding of their blood a resting-place under the altar; and hence it is, as if the altar itself spoke,” is still too realistic. The altar itself might as well be said to speak here, as the blood in Genesis 4:10.
The yea does not contain “a perfectly cordial response toward God in all that he wills, and does and says;” but it expresses agreement with the preceding speech of the angel of the waters. It is necessary, so that the two voices of the angel of the waters and of the altar may not fall out with each other; comp. Revelation 14:13. Without omnipotence (comp. ch. Revelation 4:8, Revelation 11:7, Revelation 15:3, Revelation 19:6), the judgments of God would not be true and righteous. The truth here also refers not merely to fidelity in regard to the promise (comp. on ch. Revelation 6:10, Revelation 15:3); it stands opposed to all mere show, every thing of a partial and superficial kind, such as constantly attaches itself to human judgments.
Revelation 16:8. And the fourth poured out his vial on the sun, and it was given to him to scorch men with fire. The sun is introduced here, not in respect to his light-giving quality (so that ch. Revelation 8:12 is not to be compared), but in respect to his scorching power; so that ch. Revelation 7:16 is parallel, “the sun shall not light upon them, nor any heat,” and the fundamental passage of Isaiah 49:10, quoted in the remarks there. As in ch. Revelation 8:12, the splendour of the sun represents a happy condition, its darkening distress, so here the sun in its scorching heat is the image of the sufferings of this life. That the angel pours out his vial on the sun, denotes the extraordinary growth, which through the righteous judgment of God, as a punishment for the growth of sin, was imparted to the sufferings of life for the enemies of Christ, the servants of the beast. It is not of the natural scorching of the sun’s rays that we are here to think, and of the injurious effects flowing from it; as Bossuet, for example, conceives, “signifying excessive heats, drought, and at length famine. One sees in St Denis of Alexandria the Nile dried up, as it were, by scorching heat.” It is not this, however, as appears not only from the symbolical keeping of the whole,—in the preceding portion, the earth, the sea, the water in a figurative sense—but also from the addition, with fire. Fire in the Apocalypse is the usual symbol of the divine wrath and judgment (ch. Revelation 14:18). Only when we consider the sun in a figurative sense, is the fire, which is poured out of the vial (comp. ch. Revelation 15:7) homogeneous to the fire of the sun.
That we must not render, “it was given to it,” the sun, but “it was given to him,” the angel, is still more decidedly clear from ch. Revelation 7:2 (comp. also ch. Revelation 4:8), than from Bengel’s remark, “it was more properly given to an angel than to the sun.” But we must explain thus: it was given him so, through the medium of the sun, when inflamed to an unusual heat by the pouring out of the vial.
The heat, as a figurative designation of sufferings and assaults, is found also in Jeremiah 17:8; 1 Peter 4:12. Men are not of themselves to be regarded as fleshly men, as Vitringa supposes; but the limitation is to be understood here, as in ch. Revelation 9:20, from the consideration that in the whole context the subject of discourse is the judgments that were to befal an ungodly world. It is remarked in the Berleb. Bible, “But since they will also be self-tormentors, and one shall vehemently inflame another, one child of the world others around him; so they shall be in the highest degree a hell to themselves, each shall do to his neighbour the part of a tormentor and executioner.” In regard to the fate of the members of the church in this vial, which, like all the rest, comprises in one image what is realised by successive stages in different epochs of the worldly power, the solution is given in ch. 7. The preservation of the children of Israel during the plagues which fell on the Egyptians, among whom they dwelt, and with whose fate their own seemed inseparably bound up, has the import of a matter-of-fact prophecy for all times; only, we must thoroughly discard all Mahommedan views of prosperity in life. Here the word holds that is written in Jeremiah 17:7-8, “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is. He is like a tree planted by the water, and rooted on the brook. And he fears not when heat comes, and his leaf remains green, and he is not concerned when a year of drought comes, and ceases not to bear fruits.”
Revelation 16:9. And the men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, who has power over these plagues, and repented not to give him glory. The words: and the men were scorched with great heat, stands related to what follows, as the cause to its effect. It is the loose Hebraistic mode of placing the two in juxtaposition; for: And because the men were thus, etc., they blasphemed. The blaspheming is mentioned in connection with all the four plagues, with the exception only of the sixth. This exception is explained, not so much from the description there being in other respects much more extended than in the others, as on the ground that in it the catastrophe was nearly prepared, and hence the occasion for blaspheming was not fully given. They could not deny the being of the Great God; it presses itself upon them with power; it even lies upon them as a frightful load; and if the mouth should deny, the heart would revenge the falsehood. But because they would not recognise the sin as sin, they rage against him as a revolting tyrant; they blaspheme him, because they cannot murder him. “The heart of Pharaoh was hardened,”—this is the perpetual refrain in the history of the Egyptian plagues, which for all times refutes the rationalistic error, that an inherently beneficial power resides in suffering, and which loudly witnesses against every theory that propounds another aim for divine, and by consequence also for human punishments, than that of retributive righteousness. Bossuet points to the fact, that in the times of Roman dominion the heathen threw upon the Christians all the blame of the misfortunes that befel the empire. If we abide by the letter, this certainly cannot be included here. The heathen ascribed their misfortunes to the neglected worship of their gods. But faith in these had so little root in their minds, that we are justified in regarding the allegation merely as a pretext or a self delusion, and in considering the real ground of their exasperation to be, that the hand of the God of the Christians lay heavy upon them, and that they were bruised by him, whom they would not worship. Bengel remarks, “Blasphemy is a dreadful sin. But in spite of the wicked themselves it still contributes to the glory of God. Blasphemers themselves admit their impotence, since they only resist with their impious mouth; and confess the power of God, which, without any thanks to them, tends to glorify the name of God. They revolt against God, and are in pain, but he is honoured upon them. The saints, when they are overcome by their sufferings, may wish in the depth of their dejection that they themselves were not, as Job anciently cursed his being. But the wicked go much farther, and blaspheme the holy name of God.” In regard to the persons blaspheming, the limitation is to be derived from ch. Revelation 15:4. We there learn that the suffering does not prove to all a curse, that many find it a blessing, and, like the penitent thief, are filled with contrition, when they receive what their deeds have deserved. But, if we look more narrowly into the case of such, we shall find “that something existed beforehand, which is only quickened into life. What, however, was dead and corrupt, that remains under pains and sufferings as it was, or, if any change takes place, it is for the worse.”
They blaspheme the name of God (comp. on ch. Revelation 13:6), not the Deity, but the God who has manifested himself by his deeds, the God of Jesus Christ, the God of the church which inflames the worshippers of the beast to more wrath, that she constantly confesses this same God to be the author of the calamities under which they groan. They blaspheme the name of God, who has power over these plagues. (The best MSS. have τὴ?ν ἐ?ξουσί?αν , which Luther omits). That they blaspheme him because he has the power is shown by Revelation 16:11, “ because of their pains and their sores;” and Revelation 16:21, “men blasphemed the Lord because of the plague of hail.” These plagues is to be explained on the ground, that in this plague the others were substantially contained.
On the words, “and they repented not,” comp. ch. Revelation 9:20. The repentance is placed in this, that men give glory to God. Glory is given to God by him, who recognizes, that the suffering is a deserved punishment of a sin, and, therefore, that it serves to glorify God, who is sanctified by the judgment. Berleb. Bible: “To give glory to God—to recognize his righteousness, and to fall down under his rod with humble supplication.” Bengel: “In repentance, the most essential thing is to give glory to God. Man must at once shut his mouth, or even lay his hand on it: but God receives the glory. Now, where man does not yield, but stands out in a spirit of proud and hardened defiance, there God also does not yield, and in such a conflict man must come far short, he must be consumed. “For a moment Pharaoh gave God glory, in Exodus 9:27, when he said to Moses and Aaron,” The Lord is righteous, and I and my people are wicked.”But it did not last long. “When Pharaoh saw that the thunder and the rain ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.”
Revelation 16:10. And the fifth poured out his vial on the throne of the beast, and his kingdom was darkened. And they bit their tongues for pain. Revelation 16:11. And they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains, and because of their sores, and repented not of their deeds. The former plagues fall upon the circumference of the kingdom of the beast, but this strikes its centre and the circumference at the same time, in a peculiarly touching manner. The preceding plagues affect the throne, inasmuch as they distress the subjects; this descends from the throne to the subjects. When God seeks to destroy a people, he cannot smite in a more effectual manner than by smiting the rulers. The throne of the beast is situated at different places in different times; this is as certain as that the beast has seven heads (comp. on ch. Revelation 13:1). At the period of the Chaldean dominion, it was at Babylon; comp. Isaiah 47:1, Psalms 94:20, where the church, in immediate prospect of the Chaldean ascendancy and oppression, says to the Lord, “Is the throne of iniquity bound to thee, which frameth mischief as a law?” At the time of the Seer it was at Rome. At the end of time, after the thousand years, it will be set up again in some sort of way under Gog and Magog. But wherever it may stand, it will be struck by the fifth vial. For, like all the others, this has a comprehensive character; it accompanies the ungodly power of the world through the whole of its history. In such facts as these—that Valerian was vanquished and imprisoned by the Persians, and that he had to serve as a foot-board for their king when mounting on his horse
Bossuet sought to find, not the fulfilment, but only a fulfilment. The whole character of the group of the vials is misapprehended, if an exclusive application is made of it to the relations of Rome in one respect or another. They have all to do, not specially and exclusively with the whore, Rome, but with the beast, the ungodly world-power in its collective character. To suppose an exclusive reference to Rome, is to carry them over into the sphere of the following group.
That the throne of the beast is not the capital city, but the governing power, appears from ch. Revelation 13:2, and also from ch. Revelation 2:13. Comp. Jeremiah 13:13, “the kings that sit upon David’s throne.” Rome was not the throne of the beast at the Seer’s time, but the throne stood there, and the Roman emperor occupied it.
In consequence of the pouring out of the vial on the throne of the beast, his kingdom is darkened. Bengel: “It properly means: it was put into a dark state. It is, therefore, an abiding, and not a passing and transient darkness, coming over the former long-continued splendour.” It is asked, whether the kingdom stands here in a passive sense, of the subject-territory, or in an active, of the governing power, the ruling body. In the latter sense it occurs, for example, in John 18:36; in this book at ch. Revelation 1:6; Revelation 1:9, Revelation 17:12; Revelation 17:18, “the great city, that reigns over the kings of the earth.” The passage last referred to in particular supports the active sense of the expression here. Adopting this, the larger point after beast must be removed, so as to allow the cause and effect to stand in close connection with each other; q.d. and his throne was darkened.
On the darkening comp. Psalms 105:28, where in reference to Egypt it is said, “He sent darkness, and darkened.” The doom of darkness is there to be taken in the figurative sense of the doom of displeasure and calamity; from the first to the last plague Egypt was covered in this sense with darkness. There is only an allusion to the last plague but one in Egypt. This was the more fitted to serve as a foundation for such a figurative representation, as even in the Mosaic narrative it manifestly bears a symbolical character, from which alone is to be explained the one-sided prominence given to the darkness: the darkness which covered the Egyptians, the image of the divine wrath. Comp. Wisdom, Wis_17:21 , “Over them was spread a heavy night, an image of that darkness which should come upon them.” That the darkness here also, which had already occurred in ch. Revelation 8:12 as an emblem of distress, is used in a figurative sense, is clear from the circumstance, that in what follows pains and sores are spoken of as identical with it.
The subject in, “they bit,” are the possessors of the throne, and those whose fortune was bound up with theirs. When one bites his tongue for pain (it is something quite different to bite down, to stifle a laugh or a passion), this can only be an attempt to produce a reaction against the insufferable pain that presses on one, by means of another voluntarily inflicted—to deaden the passive pain by means of an active one; according to the couplet, “What one chooses to suffer, ‘tis easy to bear; if suffer we must, pain and anguish are there.”
In Revelation 16:11, “because of their pains,” etc., q.d. because of their darkness, that is, their pains and their sores. They blaspheme the God of heaven, who by his almighty hand brings upon them this suffering, and whom they can indeed blaspheme, though they cannot come at him (comp. Psalms 2:4). There is a verbal reference to ch. Revelation 11:13, where it is said of the members of the church, “and they gave glory to the God of heaven.” The church is improved by suffering, the world is only the more exasperated by it.
Revelation 16:12. And the sixth poured out his vial on the great river Euphrates, and its water was dried up, that the way might be prepared of the kings from the rising of the sun. From the rising of the sun (that is, the regions whence these risings proceed,) [Note: Wherever the plural ἀ?νατολαί? is used, it refers to the daily recurring act of going forth—comp. Matthew 24:27; Luke 13:29; Revelation 21:13. The ἑ?λί?ον is always to be supplied, when the ἀ?νατολαί? are mentioned. The reading ἀ?νατολῆ?ς has merely arisen from the word being token in the sense of eastern regions, in which case ἑ?λί?ον appeared unsuitable Ch. 7:2 is also to be compared.] from the east, the lands beyond the Euphrates, conquering hordes were wont to come from the earliest times down upon lower Asia, and especially upon Cannan—comp. on ch. Revelation 9:14. (It cannot be accidental, that Euphrates is here mentioned under the sixth vial, as there under the sixth trumpet). From that quarter come here, in vision, the hosts of the enemies of the church, which is represented under the image of Jerusalem (comp. on ch. Revelation 14:20). That the designation of the place, from which the enemies come, is only to be understood typically is evident from comparing ch. Revelation 9:14, from the circumstance that the object of the assault is only typical Jerusalem, and finally from Revelation 16:14, where, in the room of the kings from the rising of the sun, come the kings of the whole earth putting the actual in immediate juxtaposition with the typical description.
The typical preparations of a way through water (the Red Sea and the Jordan) were done for the behoof of the people of God. So also the typical preparation of a way through the Euphrates itself in Isaiah 11:15-16, and the figurative leading through the sea and the Nile in Zechariah 10:11, “And the Lord goes through the sea, the distress, and smites in the sea the waves, and all the floods of the Nile are put to shame.” The preparation of the way must serve the same design here, though it seems to have primarily a quite different character (the Lord appears here to do for the enemies of his people what elsewhere he did only for his people), is clear alone from this, that the drying up of the Euphrates is a result of the pouring out of a vial. All the vials were poured out in behalf of the church, for the destruction of her enemies, and to prepare for her final victory. More prominently still does this object discover itself in Revelation 16:16, which so far is immediately connected with the verse before us, as it continues the description of God’s share in the matter. Revelation 16:13-15 take into account the hellish- human machinery, the subordinate importance of which is manifest from the single fact, that it is hemmed in on both sides by the divine agency. Bengel: “The text is here wonderfully interwoven together, and is like an artificial web, in which what is covered for a time afterwards comes forth to light again. Revelation 16:12; Revelation 16:16 are connected together, and the three verses between are also of a fine texture.” In Revelation 16:16 we see, that the way through the Euphrates is opened to the kings, only that they may get to the place of their overthrow. The Euphrates is mentioned here merely in respect to the hindrance it presented to the march of the ungodly power of the world into the holy land, against the holy city, against the church. This hindrance—to the terror of all persons of little faith, to the triumph of the world and the strengthening yet more of its enmity to God and Christ—is removed by God himself; what would arrest it is by him taken out of the way—as when, for example, in the time of the Seer, Peter and Paul, the pillars of the church, were beheaded, John himself banished to Patmos, and the church, thereby left exposed to the seductions of heathenism. But when faith is well nigh disposed on account of such things to give way, and the world is preparing to deal out the last blow against the church, then comes the place of Armageddon.
Precisely as God here dries up the Euphrates for the enemies of his church, did God, according to Isaiah 43:17, lead forth Pharaoh with his host to pursue after Israel. Scripture brings clearly out the truth, that every step which the ungodly world takes for the destruction of the church, stands under the divine direction—not merely under the divine permission, which a Rationalistic theology would so fain substitute for it,—that God does not simply overthrow the enemies of his church, but also arms them, and that the success of their plans belongs not less to him than their discomfiture; so that we have everywhere to do only with God. (See my Comm. on Psalms 104:25). Here, too, it is not prophesied what was to be done once, but what was to be continually repeated anew, so long as the conflict of the beast with the church should last, which substantially revives again in Gog and Magog. We have also in this vial, as in all the rest, a collective representation before us of that which in history realizes itself by degrees, and in a succession of acts and scenes. He who has properly received into his heart the contents of this book, can look on with painful delight while he sees one bulwark of the church after another laid prostrate, so that it might seem to be going into remediless destruction.— From the false supposition, that the expedition of the kings is directed toward Babylon, an allusion has sometimes been sought here to the warlike manoeuvre of Cyrus, who, according to Herodotus and Zenophon, accomplished the conquest of Babylon by diverting the waters of the Euphrates. [Note: Forbesius shewed a just acquaintance with the peculiar style of the Apocalypse, when he remarks against this idea: Spiritum Dei nihil ex Herodoto vel Xenophonte accersere, sed omnes ejus allusiones esse ad Scripturam sacram.] That the expedition is directed, not against Babylon, that is, Rome, but against Cannan, that is, the church, is rendered manifest by Revelation 16:16; [Note: Bengel: “Armageddon lies in the land of Israel, and from the rising of the sun the way to it is right over the Euphrates.”] manifest, too, by Revelation 16:14, according to which the kings assemble together to a decisive battle against God, and of course also against his tabernacle and those who dwell in heaven, the church and believers, (ch. Revelation 13:6). The Euphrates appears here also not as a hindrance to the conquest, but to the way, as the Jordan was and the Red Sea. But it could not have stood in the way of the kings on their march from the rising of the sun, if their course was directed toward Babylon. It would have been quite perplexing, if the prophet had not preserved the relations, as to territorial position, of ancient Babylon, and had removed the Euphrates from the western to the eastern side of the territory. Further, if the expedition was directed against Rome, then, kings from the east would have been mentioned as the instruments of punishment. But against this, it was already remarked by Bengel, “One might suppose, that those eastern kings were to be the instruments of this plague, but in all the seven plagues men are never represented as the instruments of working. It is these kings themselves, that in the plagues are overthrown blindfolded.” Finally, an exclusive reference to Rome is against the analogy of all the other vials; they all bear an oecumenical character, sweep over the whole earth, the whole of the God-opposing wickedness, and not merely some particular phase of it. The special reference to Rome in Revelation 16:19 does not comprise the whole contents of the seal, but the universal reference goes along with it. Quite unseasonable is the comparison of ch. Revelation 17:12, instead of ch. Revelation 14:20, Revelation 19:11, ss., Revelation 20:7, ss., where the battle, as here, is directed against God and Christ and his church.
Revelation 16:13. And I saw out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet, three unclean spirits as frogs. [Note: Instead of ὡ?ς βάτραχοι , the text followed by Luther has, ὁ?́?μοια βατρά?χοις . The ὡ?ς is to be preferred even on internal grounds. The lighter ὡ?ς suits better, as the resemblance is not of a general nature, but refers merely to the impurity.] Revelation 16:14. (For these are spirits of demons, which do wonders) which go forth over the kings of the whole earth, [Note: Luther has: to the kings upon earth, and upon the whole compass of the world, follow ing the incorrect reading, τῆ?ς γῆ?ς καὶ? τῆ?ς οἰ?κουμέ?νης .] to gather them together to the war of that great day of God the Almighty. The words, for they are, etc., can only be regarded as a simple parenthesis. The expression, which go forth, must be immediately joined to, the frogs. For the statement , I saw out of the mouth, requires to be supplemented by, “to go forth,” ἐ?κπορεύεσθαι ; and this is substantially done by the expression: which go forth. [Note: Bengel has correctly perceived, that the εἶ δον ἐ?κ τοῦ? στόματος needs to be supplemented : sine infinitivo abrupta esset oratio, non enim. dicitur bestia ex mari, ex terra, ex abysso, sed ascendens ex mari. But he erroneously prefers the less supported reading ἐ?κπορεύεσθαι , which is also to be rejected on internal grounds.]
Revelation 16:13-14 are of a regressive character. While they delineate the activity of the enemies of God in the matter, they go back to the first beginnings. In Revelation 16:12, the kings with their people have come on their way against the holy city, as far as the Euphrates. Here it is reported, how the summons to the expedition by them goes forth. If the regressive character of Revelation 16:13-14 is not perceived, it will be necessary to resort to such forced interpretations as that of Bengel, “The kings from the rising of the sun were before more inclined to such an expedition, but with the kings from the three other quarters of the globe there might be more reluctance, and so the three unclean spirits ply their wicked and powerful ministrations.” But, in addition to the incredible nature of this difference, the view is decidedly opposed by Revelation 16:14, in which the subject is not the kings from the three other regions of the globe, but the kings of the whole earth; and also by ch. Revelation 20:8, where Satan is represented as deceiving the nations in the four quarters of the earth.
The dragon, or Satan in his property as the prince of this world, who contends with Christ for the dominion of the world—the beast, and the false prophet, who is for the first time mentioned here under this name, earlier as the second beast from the earth, these have already been represented in ch. 12 and 13 as the bitter enemies of Christ and his church. The undertaking to which they stir up, can therefore only be directed against Christ and his church. All three struggle for their existence.
Out of the mouth of these three enemies of the kingdom of God proceed three unclean spirits. Out of the mouth, not because the speech, but because the breath belongs to this—comp. Isaiah 11:4. The proper dispenser of this impure, seductive spirit, stimulating men against the church and its head, is the dragon. The beast and the false prophet have it only at second hand, but it finds in them its chief organs. It goes out, however, from the dragon to the kings of the earth, not merely through the medium of the beast and the false prophet, but also directly; Satan is not confined to his organs. Therefore there are three spirits. The dependence of the spirits of the beast and of the false prophet or the dragon, is clear from Revelation 16:14, where also these spirits are represented as spirits of demons, which are ranged under Satan as their head. Ch. Revelation 20:7 also—where in the last phase of the conflict delineated here, Satan goes forth, to deceive the nations in the four ends of the earth, and assemble them to the battle, to him alone the whole work of seduction is ascribed—shews that the unclean spirits do not proceed from the whole three as on one footing of independence.
Real influences proceed from Satan as well as from Christ. Men are placed mid-way between the good spirit, that is of Christ, and the bad one, that proceeds from Satan. In ch. Revelation 9:2, the smoke denotes the hellish spirit, which comes up to the earth. In Zechariah 13:2, it is said, “I root out the names of the idols out of the land, and mention shall no more be made of them, and also the prophets and the unclean spirit will I remove out of the land.” According to this passage the false prophets as well as the true, the worshippers of idols as well as those of God, stand under the dominion of a power lying beyond them, to which they have surrendered themselves by a free act of their own will. The same thing is clear also from the narrative in 1 Kings 22, where the spirit of prophecy, personified in accordance with the character of the vision and appearing in a corporeal form, offers to deceive Ahab by putting false prophecies into the mouth of the prophets of the calves. From this it is manifest, that the false prophets as well as the true stand under the influence of a power, that exists out of their own nature. By the parable of the tares among the wheat ( Matthew 13:38-39), Satan is in possession of the minds of his followers in like manner as Christ of his; he appears as the originator of their wickedness. Bengel remarks, “These are three enemies, that in a horrible way oppose themselves to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. To God the Father is opposed the dragon, the great prince in the kingdom of darkness. To Christ Jesus is opposed the beast, and as the Father has committed all things into the hands of his Son, so has the dragon given his power to the beast. To the Holy Ghost is opposed the false prophet, and as the Holy Ghost glorifies Christ, so the false prophet drives forward the worship of the beast.” But this parallelism is not correct. Christ rather stands opposed to the dragon (comp. ch. Revelation 12:10); Christian rulers form the contrast to the beast; and the contrast to the false prophet is found in Christian instruction and the office of witnessing (comp. ch. Revelation 11:3, ss). By likening the spirits to frogs, some respect is had, according to the just remark of Bossuet, to one of the plagues of Egypt. The point of comparison is the uncleanness, the loathsomeness, which is expressly noticed; on which account frogs in the Old Testament belong to the unclean animals, the symbols of sin in the province of beasts. The contrast between the clean and the unclean spirit cannot be more distinctly exhibited to one’s view than by the image of the dove and of the frog. The croaking of the frogs can only be brought into consideration as the symptom of their unclean state, their loathsome nature. The parenthetical remark, for there are (that is, exist—the being in the sense of existing, as very commonly in John; the for, too, in that case quite suitable, since in order to go forth, they must first exist) spirits of demons (on the demons, evil spirits, see at ch. Revelation 9:20), which do signs, makes preparation for Revelation 16:15, and is like an impressive call, “Watch and pray.” Nothing is better fitted, as to solve the enigma of the world’s history, so also to stir us up to watchfulness and zeal, than the conviction that we have to contend not with flesh and blood, but against evil spirits ( Ephesians 6:12). This must powerfully awaken the feeling, that if left to our own resources we are undone, and impel us to seek in the height help against the depth. In regard to the signs, see on ch. Revelation 13:14. Bengel, “They do signs, the more readily to mislead the kings. To the kings, whom the people will follow.”
After the words, “To gather them together to the war,” a dash is, as it were, to be introduced. The war is denoted here in respect to its final result. The design was a quite different one, to bring to an end the kingdom of God and his Christ and his church. [Note: So already Berengaudus, an expositor of the ninth century: non quod contra deum pugnare audeant in die judicii, a quo tam terribiliter judicabuntur: sed congregabunt eos in proelium ad persequendam ecclesiam, ut in die magno Dei omnipotentis perpetua poena damnentur.] The day of God has a comprehensive character. All manifestations of God’s judgment on the impious wickedness of men, are in it concentrated into one image. Bengel remarks incorrectly, “The conflict of that great day of God Almighty is afterwards described in ch. 19 where the beast and the kings of the earth and their hosts of war are actually gathered together to the battle.”It is not the entire conflict of that great day, which is there described, but only a single scene of it. Another important scene, the overthrow of Rome, precedes it, and it is likewise to be followed by an important scene, the catastrophe of Gog and Magog. But it is well remarked by Bengel, “Now the rulers of this world have many a day, during which matters go according to their own wills in transactions of state, and negotiations respecting peace and war, but God the Almighty has his eye upon one day, which is his, and in which he will bring to a point his controversy with all his enemies together.”
Revelation 16:15. Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments, that he may not walk naked, and they may not see his shame. That Christ is the speaker, is manifest from a comparison of ch. Revelation 3:3, and from a reference also to the fundamental passages in the Gospels. Yet the words stand immediately connected with what precedes. The “great day of God the Almighty” is also as certainly the day of Christ, as it is certain that the Father has committed all judgment to the Son. The allusion to the judgment, which threatens destruction to the enemies of the church, calls forth an admonition from the Lord to his own people. Whoever belongs outwardly alone to the church, but is internally united to the world, shall also be condemned with the world. Believers, too, are in the world, and the world has a troublesome ally in their hearts. When the world, therefore, rises up to fight against the Lord and against his anointed, it will be extremely difficult for them to watch, and keep their garments. In this respect a symbolical meaning may be found in the young man mentioned in Mark 14:51-52, “And there followed him a certain young man, having a linen cloth cast about his naked body; and the young men laid hold on him; and he left the linen cloth and fled from them naked.” Not merely does fear urge them, but also inclination. Nothing can here preserve them but a fixed eye directed to the coming of the Lord. We have already remarked, that the great day of the Lord is the collective result of all his judgments on the ungodly world. In the historical realization it manifests itself in an entire series of calamities. At each of them, and hence also in those, which are now proceeding before our eyes, the word, “Behold I come quickly,” &c., a sort of miniature representation of the seven epistles, acquires new meaning; the letters, which in ordinary quiet times are dark, become then transparent.
Clothing, when it is used figuratively, is elsewhere usually a symbol of the state and condition; sinners bear filthy clothing, the justified pure, the righteous have white; comp. on ch. Revelation 7:11. In this sense is the clothing mentioned here. The address is to Christians, so that the garments denote the Christian state. The world could not have been addressed so. The important thing for it is not to keep its garments, but to change them. The word in ch. Revelation 3:11, “Hold that which thou hast,” corresponds. Bengel, “Watch—garments. Two parts, which belong together and go together. When going to sleep one lays aside his garments, but when awake one keeps them. Now, if something suddenly happens, such as the arrival of the Lord, one who is asleep does not readily get himself clothed, but he who is in a wakeful attitude, is safe also in respect to his clothing.” In the words, “that he may not walk naked, and that they may not see his shame,” (his indecorous or scandalously naked state), it is more precisely indicated wherein the blessedness consists; [Note: So also the mode of coming at the blessedness is more definitely described in ch. 14:13, 22:14. The right pointing of this verse is the following: μακάριος ὁ? γρηγορῶ?ν καὶ? τηρῶ?ν τὰ? ἱ?μάτια αὐ τοῦ? , ἵ?να μὴ? γυμνὸ?ς περιπατῇ? καὶ? βλέπωσι τὴ?ν ἀ?σχημοσύνην αὐ τοῦ? .] in this, namely, that men’s destitution of what constitutes a Christian state may not be exhibited before all the world, to their great disgrace and painful humiliation, (“where there is but a little modesty, nakedness is very annoying, or even quite insupportable.”) How much hangs on the blessedness and the threatening here pronounced, the year 1848 has afforded many an occasion for enabling us vividly to realize. We must beforehand keep our garments, if we would not be overtaken by that coming of the Lord, which pervades all history (comp. on ch. Revelation 1:1; Revelation 1:7), and appear in a shameful state of nakedness. The nakedness here is not the guilt, but the punishment; by means of the judgment the nakedness, which existed already, becomes a matter of public shame. It is not the being naked, but the walking naked, that is mentioned; and the clause, “and that they may not see his shame,” serves as an explanation of the walking naked. The detected are the naked; the seeing of the shame appears often in the Old Testament as a threatening and punishment. Thus in Isaiah 3:17, Isaiah 47:3, “thy nakedness shall be discovered, and thy shame seen;” Hosea 2:10, “And now will I discover her lewdness in the sight of her lovers;” Nahum 3:5, “Behold I am against thee, saith the Lord of hosts; and I will discover thy skirts upon thy face, and I will shew the nations thy nakedness, and the kingdoms thy shame.”
Revelation 16:16. And he gathered them together into the place, which is called in the Hebrew Armageddon. The subject is God the Almighty. At the close of Revelation 16:14, every thing was already connected with the divine agency: “of that great day of God the Almighty.” It was, too, God the Almighty that was substantially the subject in Revelation 16:15. For Christ, who there announced his coming, comes in his name. For this reason also God must be the subject, because otherwise the overthrow of the enemies would not be placed in a determinate point of view; the close would therefore be an unsatisfactory one. We are led to think of God as the subject also by the fundamental passage, Joel 4:2, “And I gather all peoples and bring them into the valley of Jehoshaphat,” (Vitringa, “the place of conflict, which Joel calls the valley of the judgment of God, the Spirit calls here Armageddon,”) comp. Ezekiel 38:4, Ezekiel 39:3, where also the Lord leads the enemies of his church into his land, in order to judge them there; Ezekiel 38:16, “bring him upon my land, that the heathen may know me, when I am sanctified in thee, Gog.” Another subject would have required to be more definitely marked. The three unclean spirits are at too great a distance, and the verb joined to them, in Revelation 16:14, is in the plural; they are. The agency cannot be ascribed, with Bengel, to the angel of the sixth vial; for the angels have nothing more assigned them, than the pouring out of the vials. Armageddon means the mountain of Megiddo. In the valley of Megiddo, Pharaoh, the type of the ungodly power of the world, had once killed the pious Josiah, who in Zechariah 12:10-11, appears as a type of Christ, “And I pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of gracious supplication, and they look on me whom they have pierced, and they lament for him like the lamentation for an only son, and mourn for him like the mourning for the first-born. At that time there shall be a great lamentation in Jerusalem, (over Jesus, who, like Josiah, was slain by the hand of the heathen, on account of the sins of his people,) like the lamentation of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddo.” The fact of its being God who gathers them together, does not exclude the mind of the heathen themselves, but pre-supposes it, in unison with Revelation 16:12, where they desired to pass the Euphrates, and by means of the vial the Euphrates was dried up for them. What they once accomplished there against Josiah, they would now again accomplish against Jesus; He, the risen one, must there receive from them the stroke of death, and his church must go down with him to the grave, as formerly the theocracy was borne to the grave with Josiah. But that they shall not succeed in this, that the ancient deed of heathenish wickedness shall not be renewed in Armageddon, but be avenged (comp. 1 Kings 21:19, 1 Kings 21:23; 2 Kings 9:33, ss)., is evident alone from the circumstance, that it is God, who gathers them together into this place, to which they themselves also hasten; and still more determinately from Revelation 16:14, by which the great day of God the Almighty breaks in at Armageddon. It makes no material difference, that here, not the valley, but the mountain of Megiddo, is mentioned, as mountain and valley are inseparably connected together, (comp. Deuteronomy 8:7, Deuteronomy 11:11). The change was not, however, adopted merely for the sake of a better sound. Armageddon has more of strength in it, and the moun1ain is as natural an emblem of victory, as the valley was of defeat, (comp. Psalms 23:4).
The objection that has been raised against the reference to the death of Josiah on account of the result here being a happy one for the church, has been obviated by the remarks already made. It arises from not perceiving the human design that lies in the back-ground, for which the place carried an inviting aspect, as it had been the theatre of an earlier overthrow of the church and of its former head, who by name and position typified the present head. From failing to perceive this, it has often been thought, that Medgiddo comes into notice here as the place, at which Deborah and Barak gained the victory over the Canaanites. So, in particular, Bengel. But Megiddo is not mentioned there in the historical narrative; it is only in a passing way introduced in the song of Deborah ( Judges 5:19). Nor is the subject there the valley of Megiddo, but Taanach by the waters of Megiddo. Mention is made of the valley of Megiddo only in the passages which refer to the death of Josiah. Nothing properly corresponds to the valley, but the mountain, and a close relation of this sort is necessary to exclude all guesswork. Further, only some event could be referred to as having happened at Megiddo, which had rivetted itself most deeply to the remembrance of the people of God; so that every one would immediately think of that, as soon as he heard the name of Megiddo. Now, there can be no doubt, that the death of Josiah, as the later and more important event, would overshadow all earlier reminiscences. Zechariah 10:10-11, in particular, shews this quite plainly. This passage, besides, is expressly cited by John in his Gospel, John 19:37, and in this book, ch. Revelation 1:7, an allusion is made to it. Finally, the reference to the victory of Pharaoh suits admirably to the Egyptian character of the whole group.
Others (Vitringa, Bengel) have conceived, on the same ground, that Megiddo is mentioned here, not with reference to any historical fact, lint in respect to its etymology. But such a consideration does not obviously present itself here, as it does in the case of the name, the valley of Jehoshaphat, in Joel; and the prophet would, in that event, have left us (what he never does) to uncertain conjecture. If it turned on the signification of the name, this would, as in ch. Revelation 9:11, have been rendered also into Greek. Its being said, “which is called in the Hebrew,” shews, that not simply a proper name is brought forward, that the word has an element in it, which must be explained out of the Hebrew. That no Greek explanation is appended, shews, in connection with the fact of Megiddo presenting no obvious derivation, that this Hebrew element can only stand in the syllable, Ar (the Heb. הר ), which required no explanation. [Note: The Ἑ?βραϊστὶ? in the New Testament is found only in the writings of John, in the Gospel, ch. 5:2, 19:13, 17, 20, and in the Apoc. Besides here, ch. 9:11.]
The sixth vial must of necessity break off here—must stand at what immediately prepares for the final catastrophe. Otherwise, there would be no room for the seventh. With the actual irruption of the great day of God the Almighty. with the overthrow of the kings of the earth, which suddenly takes place, all—the drying up of the Euphrates, and also the fatal parole Armageddon, which announced the overthrow of Christ—all is out, nothing more remains as an object for the avenging severity of God. As regards the substance, it is reported in the seventh vial on this overthrow. Still, the clothing there is of a different description.
It is incorrectly remarked by Bengel, “Here the delineation of the conflict is broken off, which afterwards is carried out by the true and faithful one, who sits upon the white horse.” The seven vials form of themselves a separate whole, and there can be no continuation of what is broken off here. Add to this, that the battle in ch. Revelation 19:11, ss., is only a partial one, only a particular phase of the conflict described here, in which all the conflicts of the worldly power against Christ and his church are comprised into one whole.
Revelation 16:17. And the seventh poured out his vial upon the air; and there went out a loud voice out of the temple from the throne, which said: It is done. Bengel: “The air is, in a manner, the work-shop of lightning, etc., as also of hail, and even earthquakes arise from the air, mingling itself with hot vapours within the earth.”
In Revelation 16:1 merely, “a loud voice out of the temple,” because there it is clear from what goes before, that the voice can be no other than the voice of God. Here this is rendered still more evident by the added expression, “from the throne.”
From the reference to Revelation 16:1 the expression, “it is done,” receives its more definite meaning. The commission was to pour out the seven vials of God’s wrath on the earth. This commission was now, after the pouring out of the seventh vial, fulfilled; for the inevitable result that was to follow, could easily be anticipated, (comp. on ch. Revelation 11:17). The word, “it is done,” at the same time carries along with it the end of the ungodly world and its power. For, according to ch. Revelation 15:1 the wrath of God is filled up with these seven plagues; but the completion of God’s wrath pre-supposes the complete annihilation of its object. It would be a blasphemy to assert, that the wrath of God could come to an end, so long as enmity to him and his church is still upon the field. Ezekiel 9:11 is similar, “And behold the man, who had on the linen clothing and the inkhorn by his side, answered and said, I have done, as thou commandest me.”
We must not explain, It has been. For, then we should want a definite subject. We cannot think of Rome. For nothing in the whole group is as yet said of it; and that the operation of the vials does not limit itself to Rome, is evident from what follows, in which Babylon the great appears only as a particular point, which was struck by the judicial severity of God under this seal. The γέγονε occurs also in ch. Revelation 21:6 in the signification of: it is done. It has been, has something disagreeably sharp in it, and is more poetical than prophetical.
Revelation 16:18. And there were lightnings and voices and thunders, and there was a great earthquake, such as has not been since men were upon the earth, such an earthquake so great. We may compare ch. Revelation 11:19, “And there were lightnings and voices and thunderings, and an earthquake and great hail” (here also Revelation 16:21). The seventh vial agrees exactly in its main features with the seventh trumpet. Here again we have arrived precisely at the same point at which we found ourselves there, to the discomfiture of those who could turn the whole book into a continuous representation. At the same time, however, there is a difference between the vials and the trumpets. The particular in the vials comes more distinctly out on the ground of the general. Peculiar here are the contents of Revelation 16:19-20, the reference to the God- opposing powers of the world, while the trumpets, like the seals, have to do simply with godless men.
Luther follows the reading: voices and thunders and lightnings, which has arisen from an unseasonable comparison of ch. Revelation 8:5. That the lightnings should go first is clear from what was remarked at ch. Revelation 11:19. By the earthquake is denoted the shaking of the ungodly powers of the world. On the expression: such as has not been, comp. Exodus 9:18, “a very grievous hail such as has not been in the land of Egypt since the foundation thereof, even until now;” and the properly fundamental passage, Daniel 12:1, “And there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time,” on which also Matthew 24:21 rests. The expression in this last passage, “since the beginning of the world,” serves to explain that in Daniel, “since there was a nation.” [Note: To the גוי in the fundamental passage (Michaelis falsely ex quo populous tuns factus est peculiaris gens, inde ab exitu ex AEgypto), the οἰ? ἀ?νθρωτοι corresponds better than ἀ?́?νθρωτος , which Tischendorf prefers.]
Revelation 16:19. And out of the great city there were made three parts, and the cities of the heathen fell. And Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give to her the cup of the wine of the wrath of his anger. Revelation 16:20. And all islands fled away, and no mountains were found. The division of the verses is here unhappy. Revelation 16:19 should properly have ended with fell.
Then each verse would have begun with the particular, whose fall was of especial importance in respect to the present of the Seer, and from that would have risen to the general. Babylon the great corresponds to the great city, and the islands and mountains correspond to the cities of the heathen. These parts, after the number of the powers that bore rule in it—the dragon, the beast, and the false prophet; to each, as it were, a part. That with the threefold division we are to suppose a complete prostration concurring, is plain from the cause that produces it, the earthquake; and also from the parallel falling which is spoken of the great city itself, in ch. Revelation 14:8, Revelation 18:2. Two cities have in the Revelation the name of great
Jerusalem in ch. Revelation 11:8, and Babylon, that is Rome, in all the other passages, and very commonly, ch. Revelation 14:8, Revelation 17:18, Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:18-19, Revelation 18:21. It is quite incomprehensible how some expositors should understand the great city here of Jerusalem. By so doing they show that the whole import of the group of the seven vials has remained hidden from them. The object of judgment throughout that group is the heathen worldly power as opposed to God. In the preceding and following portions Babylon is so commonly called the great, that this may be regarded as a sort of proper name. On the other hand, Jerusalem is not spoken of in so broad and general a way. But what is more is, that the designation of the great city is used neither of Jerusalem nor of Babylon without some other term or description—without something in the context to indicate with certainty what precisely is meant. Hence the following expression, “and Babylon the great,” must be a resumption, as otherwise the common epithet of the great would be attended only with perplexity. The pain of uncertain conjecture in the Revelation belongs only to those who voluntarily surrender themselves to it. Farther, the complete destruction that is announced here does not suit Jerusalem. In the Apocalypse Jerusalem always denotes the church (vol. i., p. 425). But this can never become wholly degenerate and fall away; and as little can it be the subject of consuming judgments—comp. ch. Revelation 11:13. The cities of the heathen—whence the great city can only be a heathen one, to the confutation of those who would understand it of Christian Rome. (On ἐ?́?θνη , not the nations, but the heathen, see vol. i., p. 306). The heathen are to be regarded, according to ch. Revelation 11:18, as full of wrath, burning with rage against the church of Christ. For the persecution of this they here receive their reward. From the connection with the great city, the cities of the heathen are here to be conceived as possessors of the power of the heathen world.
In the designation of Babylon as the great there is a reference, at the same time, to her guilt, since she had only become great through her disregard of what is just and right. That Babylon denotes heathen Rome has already been proved at ch. Revelation 14:8. The expression, “Babylon was remembered,” alludes to Psalms 9:12, “For the avenger of blood remembereth them, he forgetteth not the cry of the miserable.” On the words, to give her the cup, etc., see on ch. Revelation 14:10.
In the expression, of the wrath of his anger, which occurs also in ch. Revelation 19:15, the anger is the genus, and the wrath, θυμό?ς , the species—the excitement—the intense feeling that appears in the energy and vigour of the mode of action. This is a necessary accompaniment of fulness of love; and, indeed, a want of perception in regard to the energy of divine love always goes hand in hand with a want of perception in regard to the energy of the divine righteousness in punishing. The islands, like the mountains, denote kingdoms; comp. on ch. Revelation 6:14. The difference is merely this, that in the designation of kingdoms by islands respect is had only to their separate existence, while they are called mountains, in so far as they exercise dominion over others. The addition “of the heathen” in Revelation 16:19 is to be understood also here. Along with the islands and the mountains the sea also has vanished. The last event, which is comprised in the comprehensive representation, is the destruction of Gog and Magog in ch. Revelation 20:7-10.
Revelation 16:21. And a great hail as an hundred-weight fell from heaven on the men; and the men blasphemed God upon the plague of hail, for its plague is very great. On the hail comp. on ch. Revelation 11:19. Instead of: as an hundred- weight, properly, as large as a talent. [Note: Comp. Josephus de Bel. Jud. Revelation 16:6, ταλαντιαῖ?οι μὲ?ν ἠ?͂?σαν βαλλό?μενοι πέ?τροι , which were thrown by machines for the purpose.] The talent weighed between fifty and sixty pounds. They still blaspheme, therefore, dying. For this hail leaves no one in life who is struck by it. It brings destruction to all that had been still left to the enemies of God by the other plagues. The deadly character of the hail is clear also from this, that here no mention is made, as in the parallel passages, of their repenting of their works along with their blaspheming. They no longer have time to repent. But even when dying they can still blaspheme. Bengel: “The blaspheming of God had twice already been mentioned under these plagues, and along with that it was said they did not repent; but here, when the blaspheming of God is delineated the third time, no notice is taken of the other point, whether they repented or not; from which we may infer that the men were killed by this hail as the Amorites in Joshua 10:11. Men cannot receive the punishment due to this blasphemy in time. But the more on that account must we suppose a respect had to the judgment of God in eternity. We have here the end of God’s judgment on the earth, though still not the end of all things.” Under the seventh trumpet “the time for the dead to be judged” had also come; comp. ch. Revelation 11:18. But this is not said in respect to the seventh vial, however nearly it otherwise touches on the seventh trumpet. For the seven vials or plagues, after the example of those of Egypt, do not alight on individuals as such, but on the powers of the world; they all, therefore, belong to the earth (comp. ch. Revelation 16:1). Hence, in this group the wicked feeling that prompted the still unpunished blasphemy cannot be met. We are thus pointed forwards to the following group, at the close of which, in ch. Revelation 20:12, ss., the dead who have not died in the Lord shall be judged according to their works. Bengel remarks, “In the midst of all, the saints, who are found among the ungodly mass, are preserved in safety. God distinguished in the plagues of Egypt between the Egyptians and the children of Israel, and a similar thing takes place in the seven vials.” But we must not understand the distinction too outwardly. When two suffer the same thing, it is still not the same.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 16". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20