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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Revelation 9

Introduction

Fifth Trumpet

Ch. 9

We have in ch. Revelation 9:1-12 the fifth trumpet, the first woe. A new frightful image of war, as the awful scourge with which God chastises the apostate world: A star fallen from heaven with locusts. First there is the appearance of the locusts; then the injury they occasion, Revelation 9:3-6. After this we have a description of them, Revelation 9:7-10, which again at the close connects itself with what is the chief point in them, the injury they occasion. And the close of the whole leads back to the first beginning, the leader of the locusts, Revelation 9:11. There is only added farther in Revelation 9:12 a short sentence placing a boundary-line between this trumpet and the next. The absence of all individual traits shews that here also we have not the prediction of a particular historical event, but a lively and vivid image of the tribulations of war generally.

Verse 1

Fifth Trumpet

Revelation 9:1. And the fifth angel sounded. And I saw a star fallen from heaven upon the earth, and to him was given the key of the pit of the abyss. The star here, as throughout the Apocalypse, denotes a ruler—see on ch. Revelation 8:10. If by this star an angel were at once denoted (Ewald), the pains, that might be connected with the exposition of a book written with so much regularity, would be in vain. But the ruler is here no single historical person; as appears from the want of all individual traits and the whole general and introductory character of the groups of the seven seals and the seven trumpets, in which there is to be found no special reference to those phases of the world-power, by which the church was then oppressed. The ruler is an ideal person, who appears in history in a whole series of real individuals. The last great embodiment of this star was Napoleon. But he shall not remain the last. How adverse the historising mode of exposition is to the profitable understanding of the passage is clear from the words with which Bengel introduces his thoughts upon this section. “The text before us may indeed be regarded as having little edification for us, because a woe is described in it which is already long since past; and if the prophecy plainly treated of such things, we should not expect to derive great profit from the consideration of it.” In regard to the falling of the star from heaven, what has been already remarked at ch. Revelation 8:10 is quite applicable: it is a non-essential distinction that there the Seer beholds the star as he falls, here after he has fallen. It is a falling like that of the stone which was cut out without hands, and which struck the image on its feet, and ground them to pieces, Daniel 2:34. What the Lord says of his kingdom, that it is not of this world, is true in a certain sense of all, even of those of barbaric plunderers. All come down from heaven upon earth; as, indeed, heaven and hell generally have a signification of which the superficial race of the present time little dream. It is a different sort of falling from that of Satan from heaven, Luke 10:18 (comp. here ch. 12), a passage that is here unseasonably compared by Vitringa, and so separates, what ought to have been indissolubly joined, the passage before us and that of ch. Revelation 8:10. That the key was given to the star shows that the appearance of a star was intermingled with that of the human form. The abyss, properly the bottomless deep, is a strong poetical designation of hell, identical with Hades, by which in the New Testament, and especially in the Apocalypse, only hell is meant; comp. on ch. Revelation 6:8. [Note: To the abyss corresponds in the Old Testament ביר , grave, is a poetical designation of Scheol, comp. Psalms 28:1; Psalms 30:3; Psalms 88:4; Isaiah 14:15.] The abyss appears in the New Testament as the receptacle of demons, Luke 8:31, and of Satan, Revelation 20:2 (for there Satan is only confined in his proper place of abode), the source and centre of demoniacal influence upon the earth, ch. Revelation 11:7, Revelation 17:8, and here Revelation 9:1-11. How frightful when the powers of darkness, which dwell in that horrid abyss, issue forth upon this upper world! But the well-pit of the abyss is the communication through which the lower world is connected with the earth and opens out toward the earth. Such a communication is poetically referred to in Psalms 55:23, “And thou, O Lord, wilt throw them into the well-pit of the grave.” There the wicked are sunk down through the medium of the well-pit into hell, as in ancient times such a well- pit of hell disclosed itself to swallow up Korah (to which that passage in the Psalm refers); here, through the medium of the well-pit opened by the star from heaven, who, according to Revelation 9:11, is also the angel of the abyss, the evil spirit ascends from hell to the earth. [Note: This passage at any rate must not be separated from Psalms 55:23. If we should there, less properly, understand, by the well-pit of the grave Scheol itself, deep as a well-pit, we must also understand the same by it here. The opening, the orifice, cannot, however, be marked by φρέ?αρ , which corresponds to באר in Heb.] If through men’s guilt the connection between heaven and earth is dissolved—if the earth shuts itself out from heaven by proclaiming its ungodliness, in righteous judgment hell shall be opened by heaven, and in the place of human wickedness and for its punishment there shall come that of demons. This is brought in by particular Satanic individuals, angels or messengers from hell. These are set by God in the fitting positions where they have the opportunity of spreading through a wide circle the hellish spirit. As heaven, so also hell is opened by particular personages, who are, as it were, an incarnation of the hellish spirit. Bossuet: “Hell does not open of itself; it is always some false teacher that sets it open.” Here, however, it is a different incarnation of the hellish principle that comes primarily into consideration. [Note: The aberrations of the older polemical exegesis meet us here in a very palpable manner. Bellarmin referred the star to Luther,—the locusts to the Lutherans. Soherzer understood by the star the Papacy, by the locusts the Jesuits. Another Lutheran expositor, Affelmann, thought he could recognise the Papacy in the star, and in the locusts the Calvinists.]

Verses 1-21

THE SEVEN TRUMPETS (Ch. Revelation 8:2 to Revelation 11:19 )

Introductory Remarks

The distribution of this group is as follows.

Revelation 8:2, “And I saw the seven angels, who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets,” supplies, as it were, the place of a superscription. It presents immediately before our eyes, those from whom all action proceeds in the great drama that follows. Next comes in the vision of the incense-offering angel, a kind of prelude Revelation 8:3-5. Then begins the work of the seven angels. The plagues of the four first, Revelation 8:6-12, alight upon the earth, the sea, the rivers, the heavens, and thus compose together one whole, inasmuch as they embrace the entire territory of creation. The three last trumpets are likewise bound up together. After the four first have been brought to a close, they are announced in ch. Revelation 8:13 by an eagle, which proclaims a threefold woe on the inhabitants of the earth. The fifth trumpet and the first woe is contained in ch. Revelation 9:1-12; the sixth trumpet and the second woe in Revelation 8:13-13, on which follows an episode in Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:13, so that the concluding formula is only given in ch. Revelation 11:14. Then comes at the close of the whole the seventh trumpet and the third woe, in ch. Revelation 11:15-19.

The three last trumpets, by being designated as the three last woes, are represented relatively to the four first, as greatly the more important and frightful; and in accordance with this is the much more lengthened description that is given of them. The fifth trumpet, or the first woe, takes up almost twice as much space as is devoted to the whole of the first four together. Only in the third woe, the seventh trumpet, do we find a less extended description than might have been expected; the reason of which shall afterwards be considered.

Again, on the first six trumpets in relation to the seventh—leaving out of view the point of some of them belonging to the woes—there is impressed the character of the half and incomplete. In the first four trumpets the third part of the sphere on which the injury alight is uniformly mentioned. The locusts under the fifth trumpet torment, according to ch. Revelation 9:5; Revelation 9:10, five months, the five being the signature of the half and incomplete, in contrast to the last trumpet and the last woe, when the mystery of God is finished, which he has revealed to his servants, the prophets, ch. Revelation 10:7. In the sixth trumpet the third part of men is again killed.

The following remarks may serve for defining the circle within which the seven trumpets move. The historical starting-point of the whole book comes first into consideration. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which John imparts, was occasioned by a severe oppression of the Christian church through the heathen world-power. Accordingly, we expect such a revelation as will bring destruction to this hostile power, but salvation to the church. Then, the introductory vision of the angel with frankincense, in ch. Revelation 8:3-5, is to be taken into account. The fundamental thought here is, that God will hear the fervent prayers of his struggling and afflicted church, and cause his judgments to go forth against the world. Hence, only such things can be suitable here as are salutary to the church, destructive to the world; and the expositions, which discover in the group persecutions of Christians, heresies (that of Arius, for example, whom many understand most strangely under the falling star in ch. Revelation 8:10), mendicant friars, etc., are at the outset excluded. Finally, the whole in the seven trumpets runs out into the fact, that the kingdom of the world has become the Lord’s and his anointed, ch. Revelation 11:15. But the six first trumpets are already even outwardly marked as preparatory to the seventh. They could, therefore, only indicate approaches of the dominion of the Lord and his anointed, precursory manifestations of power on their part in respect to it—as Bengel justly remarks, though unfortunately, without afterwards abiding by the right view: “Beforehand, however, there falls on the kingdom of the world one stroke and calamity after another.” Vitringa, also, had a correct apprehension of the general import, and only departed from this in his interpretation of the particular parts; for he says, “The plagues were designed to punish and extirpate the enemies of God’s people, so that that large and glorious kingdom might be prepared for Christ and his saints.”

There can be no doubt that this group bears an independent character, that it stands by itself separate and complete. This is manifest especially from a comparison of ch. Revelation 8:5 with ch. Revelation 11:19. In the former passage we have the prophecy, in the latter the complete fulfilment. Further, at the close of the vision we stand at the last end (see Introd. to ch. 12), so that the scene cannot be prolonged farther in this line. At the beginning, again, of the vision, we stand at the first commencement, and it cannot possibly be imagined that we have here a description of the things that were to follow immediately on what is announced in ch. Revelation 8:1. (See, in regard to the notion of every thing to the end of ch. 11 still belonging to the territory of the seven seals, the Introd. to ch. 12.) In ch. Revelation 8:1, at the opening of the seventh seal, we see the world-power lying shattered and prostrate on the ground. Here, on the other hand, we have another series of catastrophes, which bear the signature of the half and incomplete, and only when we reach the seventh trumpet do we find ourselves again at the same point at which we were when the seventh seal was disclosed. In the sixth seal even, where every thing appeared already in dreadful convulsion and immediately approaching its end, it was impossible that such catastrophes should follow, as are indicated here in the first four trumpets. The result is, that the world-catastrophes represented here could only run parallel to those described in the earlier group. But the independence maintained by us is that only of but one group, not that of a separate writing, which has been only accidentally and externally united into one whole with another. There exists, first, a near connection between this group and the preceding one. If we had here an independent writing before us, the beginning: And I saw the seven angels, would be unsuitable. The introductory vision of the angel with incense would then also have formally stood at the head, without being connected by any sort of bridge with what goes before. But now, since the seven angels with the trumpets are formally linked together with the seven angels, they must also be materially associated with them. In an independent writing also the theatre would have required to be more particularly described. Here, it is presupposed as a thing known from the preceding context (ch. Revelation 4:1): John still finds himself in heaven. But this group likewise points forward to what is to follow; as appears in a double respect. First, the final catastrophe, to which all the others are preparatory, the object of all the fervent longings of the people of God, is delineated here with greater brevity than the other preliminary ones. The description of it is properly confined to ch. Revelation 11:19. This can only be explained on the ground, that the more extended representation of the final catastrophe was reserved for a later opportunity. The supposition is the more probable, as the brevity is an enigmatical one, pointing to a commentary afterwards to be given. Further, the Revelation was seen in the midst of the Roman persecution. According to the analogy of the earlier prophets, that, for example, of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 13, we expect on the general ground of the representation of judgments to be inflicted on the world, a special disclosure of the fate of this ungodly world-power in particular. But this is as little found here as in the group of the seven seals. All the judgments befal the inhabitants of the earth, under whom the Romans are certainly comprehended, but never solely intended. Vitringa, who remarks, “The seven trumpet-blasts indicate the evils which are decreed against the Roman kingdom on account of its hostility to the church of Christ, and which shall end with the entire subjection of this kingdom,” resorts to an arbitrary limitation of the sphere of the divine judgments. But this group, like the preceding one, for the most part retains a kind of general character, which was admirably in place in the introduction to the closing prophetical book of Scripture, though it could not possibly continue to stand at that. We should have laid down the book with an unsatisfactory feeling, if it had merely been distinguished by the vividness with which it represented the avenging righteousness and redeeming love of God, and had not presented the leading features of the later development of things in the history of the church and the world, more especially in that direction, which accords with the historical starting-point of the Revelation. We could not otherwise have been able to get rid of the thought, that the introduction in ch. Revelation 1:1-3 makes too high pretensions. None of the great prophets of the Old Testament, though they still had the mission first of all of instilling general truths into the minds of the people, while John found this already done to his hand, remained thus at mere general enunciations, such as, that sin is the destruction of a people, that God punishes all the enemies of his church, etc. With all of them, indeed, the special rests on the general as its foundation; only it does not stand there. There is, besides, in Revelation a twofold special reference to the contents of the later groups. The voices of the seven thunders in ch. Revelation 10:4, which John (in the meantime) was not to write, but to seal up, point to a later group, in which it is going to be reported concerning the time of the mystery of God, as he has announced it to his servants the prophets. And the beast which ascends from the abyss, which suddenly meets us in ch. Revelation 11:7, is a riddle that finds no solution within this group, though it is impossible but that a solution should be given. These indications pointing forwards to the following groups correspond to the not less intended allusion to the group of the seven seals in ch. Revelation 9:4.

We may endeavour to determine more exactly the relation of this group to the preceding one. The commonest and most frightful scourge through which the vengeance of heaven discharges itself on the apostate earth is war. The other plagues, such as hunger and pestilence, commonly appear only in its train. In the preceding group also war has broken out. But it appears there only as on a like footing with the other plagues. This second introductory group, however, is entirely devoted to it. To the last trumpet, that of the final victory, all here is only an expansion of the words of our Lord, “Nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” Matthew 24:7.

We have now only further to endeavour to explain the symbol of the trumpets. In Scripture trumpets are always employed on account of their piercing, loud sound. What may be more exactly meant, must in each case be determined by the connection. The sound of the trumpet has no intrinsic worth in itself.

That the loud stirring noise of the trumpet is the essential characteristic is evident from the circumstance that the sound of the trumpet is itself described as a cry, תרועה , or sample in Leviticus 25:9, and that the loud cry goes along with it as a fitting accompaniment; comp. Joshua 6:5, where the people were to raise a great shout at the blowing of the trumpets, Zephaniah 1:16. Then it appears from such passages as Isaiah 58:1, “Raise thy voice like a trumpet,” Hosea 8:1, “Put the trumpet to thy mouth and say, He comes upon the house of the Lord like an eagle,” where the loud tone is plainly indicated by that of the trumpet. Finally, it appears from the use of trumpets in the sacred music. In my Commentary on the Psalms, it was remarked in reference to this: “Other instruments (besides harps and psalteries) are mentioned only in festival and national songs of praise; as trumpets at the thanksgiving for Jehoshaphat’s victory, Psalms 47:5, at the paschal feast in Psalms 81:3, at the consecration of the walls of the city in Nehemiah’s time, in Psalms 150. In the historical books trumpets are mentioned at the bringing in of the ark of the covenant, 1 Chronicles 15:24, “And the priests trumpeted with trumpets before the ark of the Lord” (comp. 2 Samuel 6:15, “And David and all Israel brought up the ark with a shout and the sound of trumpets”)—at the consecration of the temple, 2 Chronicles 5:12-13—at the solemn restoration of the worship under Hezekiah, 2 Chronicles 29:26-27; finally, in Ezra 3:10, Nehemiah 12:35. They are always mentioned in connection with other very noisy instruments. In 2 Chronicles 30:21 it is said of the passover under Hezekiah, that “they praised the Lord with instruments of strength, which were to Jehovah,” Michaelis: musical instruments being employed of such a kind as gave forth a strong sound; Jarchi: with trumpets, having respect to 2 Chronicles 29:26-27. (Psalms, vol. III. p. xvi., Eng. Trans.) Accordingly, the loud stirring voice was the characteristic. This use of the trumpets in sacred music entirely accords with Numbers 10:10, “And on your feast-days, and on your high festivals, and on your new moons, ye shall blow with trumpets.” Hence, festivals and trumpets were inseparably connected together. As the festival-day was related to other days, so the sound of the trumpet to other sounds.

Bähr in his Symbolik (Th. II., p. 594), has laboured in vain to give to the sound of the trumpet a definite meaning, especially to bring it into connection with the Sabbath-idea. But it is against this, that in the Sabbatical year there was no sounding of trumpets, nor at the Sabbath of weeks. Then, it must be altogether denied that on the first day of the seventh month pre-eminently the trumpets were blown, so as that it should be known by this, and in this alone should be found the peculiarity of the festival. The day is called in Leviticus 23:24, Numbers 29:1, not the day, but a day of blowing of trumpets, not less than the great festivals, at which this was to be understood, as a matter of course, to be done. The sound of the trumpet was not more peculiar to it than the cessation from work, the calling of a sacred convocation, the presentation of sacrifices. Still less indeed, for it was common to this feast not merely with the great feasts, but even with all the new moons, according to Numbers 10:10. We must not separate the blowing of the trumpets on the first day of the seventh month, as to its meaning, from that on the other new moons, and generally on the public festivals. As the sacrifices on this day possessed no partial character, but represented all spheres of the religious life, so we must not give to the sound of the trumpets a partial meaning. It points to the more excited character of the religious feeling, which is peculiar to festive occasions generally, of the “Lord, have mercy on us,” not less than of the “Lord, we give thee thanks,” and in particular to those feasts which marked the commencement of a new period of time. Besides, the sound of the trumpet being put for the mark or signal in Leviticus 23:24, shows that the blowing of the trumpets on that day had only a subjective character, that it merely served to bring the Lord to the remembrance of the congregation, comp. Numbers 10:9, “And ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets, and it shall be remembered to you before the Lord your God, Numbers 10:10, and it shall serve to you for a remembrance before your God.” Bähr’s supposition, of its being indicated by the sound of the trumpet, that Israel was brought into remembrance before Jehovah, is against this passage. According to it the blowing with trumpets is a call of the congregation, and not an announcement on the part of God. Else, the blowing with trumpets must have been committed to the priests, and not to the people. Nor in Numbers 29:1, could it have appeared among the obligations of the church at large, along with the calling of sacred convocations, and the cessation from all work. Finally, the hypothesis of Bähr finds no support in the circumstance, that by the prescription of the law the trumpets must be sounded throughout the land in the year of jubilee on the day of atonement. By this it was merely intimated, through the strong, far-resounding sound of the trumpet, that an important time for the land had come in. The 50th year was thereby consecrated, Leviticus 25:10, set apart from the number of the rest. The more definite purpose is intimated in the proclamation of liberty throughout the whole land for all its inhabitants, mentioned in that passage. Only in this connection did the loud sound become at the same time a joyful one.

We must distinguish, whether the trumpets must denote what God has to say to the church or the world, or what the church has to Say to God. This distinction was already made in the Mosaic law. Of the use of the trumpets for what the Lord has to say to the church, it is treated in the classic passage on the trumpets, Numbers 10:2-8; where, however, only two occasions are mentioned, the assembling of the congregation and decamping. And of their use in what the church had to say to God, in times of distress or on festival days, it is treated in Numbers 10:9-10. In the former case, the sound of the trumpet might with perfect indifference be employed to announce a joyful subject, a great salvation; as, for example, the falling of the walls of Jericho; or to give notice of great tribulation, as in Joel 2:1, where the day of judgment is announced by trumpets, “Blow with trumpets on Zion, and sound upon my holy mount, let all inhabitants of the earth tremble, for the day of the Lord comes, and is near.” But it can only be in respect to important transactions, such as were of general significance, of deep pervasive power, that they are used; either great catastrophes are announced by trumpets, or important tidings, which the Lord has to communicate to his people. As the Lord will never summon his people for trifling matters to his throne, the sound of the trumpet might certainly be taken for the common note of a summoning before the Lord.

In the latter case the blowing of the trumpets might serve equally well to denote an animated “Lord, in distress to thee we call,” and an animated and solemn, Te Deum laudamus. The characteristic is merely the rising of the state of feeling above the common measure.

The question: Why should the blowing of trumpets have been a matter properly belonging to the priests by the law of Moses? is simply to be answered thus: because the trumpets “had of all instruments the loudest, strongest, most powerful tone,” and on this account were used, where the Lord had to say something of importance to his church, or where the church came before him in a particularly lively and excited state of feeling. The trumpets stand related to the other instruments, as the Lord’s servants to the ordinary members of the church, as the feast-day to the other days.

Let us turn now more especially to the section before us. The more immediate import of the trumpet-sound is determined by the starting-point of the hook. The occasion of this was the oppression of the church by the heathen world-power. Accordingly by the trumpets only great catastrophes can be denoted, through which destruction should be brought to the world, and salvation be first prepared for the church, and then actually brought in. The trumpets here are exciting for all— joyfully exciting for the church, frightfully exciting for the world.

Such generally is the signification of the trumpets here. With a certain degree of truth, however, three special references may still be supposed.

By combining the seven number with the trumpets we are not unnaturally reminded of the conquest of Jericho. For seven days must Israel, according to Joshua 6, march round the city at the Lord’s command in solemn procession, with the ark of the covenant and seven priests blowing with trumpets—each day once—but on the seventh day, seven times. And at the last round the walls fell down. In the book of Joshua Jericho has a kind of symbolical meaning. What was done at the fortress, which guarded the entrance into the territory of the Canaanites, presented an image of what should be done in general respecting the Canaanitish power. Faith saw in the last trumpet-blast at the walls of Jericho, along with these, the whole state of the Canaanites, apparently so strong and invincible, falling to the ground. If Jericho, then, in the book of Joshua forms an image of the Canaanitish power, it is admirably fitted to stand as a type of the world-power generally, the overthrow of which ensues on the blowing of the seventh trumpet, in which all the preceding ones culminate.

The Old Testament presents a second case of the combination of trumpets with the seven, and one that stands in an easy and natural connection with the subject before us. After seven times seven years it was ordained in the Mosaic law, that the year of jubilee should be proclaimed by trumpets—the year, when the Lord announced himself as proprietor—the year, when every one returned to his possession ( Leviticus 25:13)—the year of freedom and of restoration for all the distressed, who looked for it with anxious longing. This year appears even in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 61:1-2, as a type of the redemption from the slavery of the world, the year of the Lord’s grace and the day of the vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn. Such consolation breaks in here at the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Finally, the trumpet stands in a close relation to the excited character of war, and is peculiarly the warlike instrument—comp. Zephaniah 1:16; Jeremiah 4:19, Jeremiah 42:14; Ezekiel 7:14. Hence also, among the catastrophes to be inflicted by the Lord, which were denoted in general by the blowing of the trumpets, it was especially suited for announcing the tribulations of war that were impending from the Lord. Bengel: “In the prophecy is described God’s war against the enemies of his kingdom, on account of which the trumpets are here peculiarly appropriate.”

Verse 2

Revelation 9:2. And he opened the well-pit of the abyss. And there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great oven; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. The smoke denotes the hellish spirit which penetrates to the earth—comp. Revelation 16:13—especially the Cainite spirit of brotherly hatred. For the smoke is the product of fire, as Bengel has remarked, “Where there is smoke, there also is fire, with flames or without them. And of what sort the fire is, of the same sort is the smoke, good or bad, salutary or hurtful.” But the fire denotes rage and hatred, the thirst of destruction.

The smoke is described as very thick. As Bengel says, “Dense masses issue forth one after another, which spread themselves far and wide, and again intermingle with each other, so that the darkness always becomes greater.” The smoke like that of an oven is from Genesis 19:28, Exodus 19:18, “The mountain was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire; and the smoke thereof went up like the smoke of an oven.” This is a quite different smoke from the smoke of the frankincense, which is the prayers of saints, and which rises from earth to heaven; comp. ch. Revelation 8:4. But where this smoke fails, or where it ascends against any one, there constantly bursts forth that hellish smoke.

The darkening of the sun and the firmament here also denotes the sad and distressing times, which come upon the earth in consequence of the power given to the hellish Cainite spirit. Comp. ch. Revelation 8:12.

Verse 3

Revelation 9:3. And out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. The locusts do not come from hell, but they proceed out of the smoke. The hellish wrath spirit sends desolating hordes over the earth. The body, as it were, or the material for the locusts, was previously in existence. But from hell comes the quickening spirit, by which they are first made locusts, with an insatiable thirst for destruction. These locusts do not merely come after the smoke, as Vitringa supposes, but in the strictest sense out of the smoke; the smoke is what makes them locusts. Often are invading hosts compared to locusts, which overspread the land. The point of comparison is first the multitude, from which locusts in Hebrew derive their name; then the sudden inroad and the desolation. In Judges 6:5, comp. Revelation 7:12, it is said of the hosts of the Midianites, Amalekites, and the children of the east, “And they came like the locusts for multitude, and came to lay waste the land.” In Jeremiah 46:23 we read of the hostile armies that fall upon Egypt.” They are more than the locusts, and they have no number.” In Jeremiah 51:27, “Cause the horses to come upon them (Babylon), like the horrible lickers,” a poetical description of the locusts on account of their desolations; comp. Psalms 105:34-35, “He spake, there came locusts and lickers without number; and they ate all the grass in the land, and ate the fruit of their field.” In Jdt_2:20 , it is said, “And Holofernes went forth with the whole host . . which covered the ground like locusts.” In these passages there is found an explicitly stated comparison. From them there is but a step to another, in which a hostile irruption should be simply represented under the symbol of the plague of locusts. These representations have a special starting-point in the locust-devastation in Egypt, Exodus 10. The Egyptian plagues were justly considered as prophecies in action, and men delighted to represent the analogous future under the image of the past, in which it had its pledge. Amos in Amos 7:1-3 beheld the approaching divine judgment, which was to consist of a hostile invasion, under the image of a swarm of locusts, as he does in Amos 7:4 under the image of a fire, and in Amos 7:7 under that of a plumb line. Substantially the whole three convey one meaning. This is announced in Amos 7:9 by the words, “and the high places of Isaac shall be desolate, and the sanctuaries of Israel shall be laid waste; and I will rise against the house of Jeroboam with the sword.” But this symbolical representation is to be found at the greatest length in Joel 1:1 to Joel 2:18, where see the Christology. Now, that in the passage before us literal locusts cannot be understood, is clear as day. These would form a very strange exception in a quite symbolical connection, along with stars and smoke. [Note: Vitringa: “he describes them by such attributes as do not belong to actual locusts; as, that they were produced by smoke, issuing not out of some sort of pool but out of an abyss; that they had tails with stings, like scorpions; that they hurt men; that they had golden crowns on their heads; that they had a human face and a woman’s hair; and at last had a leader set over them, the angel of the abyss.”] But if the description must be understood symbolically, the only admissible reference is to a hostile devastation. For, 1. throughout Scripture, wherever locusts are spoken of in a figurative manner, a hostile devastation is denoted by them. The locusts never stand as a designation of” indeterminate frightful punishments and plagues.” Under the related image also of swarms of flies and bees hordes of enemies are denoted in Scripture, comp. Isaiah 7:18; Deuteronomy 1:44; Psalms 118:12. 2. We stand here in the midst of a warlike connection. The four preceding trumpets announce hostile devastations, as do also those that follow. A ruler and conqueror is indicated by the star fallen from heaven, who opens hell and sends forth the smoke, out of which the locusts proceed, identical with the angel of the abyss in Revelation 9:11, who is called the king of the locusts. 3. The succeeding trumpets present such important and intentional agreements with this, that the subject in each must be the same; that if in these we admit the reference to be to hostile devastations, we cannot deny it to be so here also. To the horses prepared for war here in Revelation 9:7 correspond in Revelation 9:16 the myriads of horsemen, to the lions teeth in Revelation 9:8, the heads of lions in Revelation 9:17; coats of mail are mentioned alike in Revelation 9:9 and Revelation 9:17; and the tails like scorpions in Revelation 9:10 have their correspondence in the tails like those of serpents in Revelation 9:19. 4. The natural locusts are destructive to plants and trees—comp. Exodus 10:15. In this respect a preparation was made for the figurative representation here by the employment, in ch. Revelation 8:7, of the green grass and the trees in a figurative sense, as a designation of the people and persons of distinction. Farther, the point of comparison between the locusts and the invading hordes of enemies is only that which has now been described. Neither here, nor in the fundamental passages of the Old Testament, is there the least trace of any resemblance in form between the horses and the locusts being taken into account. Several expositors, like Ewald, by their arbitrary suppositions, impute in this respect, to the prophet, a sort of playful trifling, unworthy of a man of God. The image of the locusts is not sufficiently comprehensive and marked for the prophet. In particular, the idea of malice was not strongly enough represented by the symbol. He, therefore, adds to it that of scorpions, which both in the Old and the New Testament are ill reported of. [Note: The venomous tail of scorpions is according to Pliny, L. vi. c. 28, semper in ictu, nulloque momento meditari cesant no qando desit occasioni.] When it is said that power was given to them, as the scorpions of the earth have power, the mode of representation is based on the truth, that even in nature everything destructive has its mission from God, and only in consequence and by virtue of this is its pernicious energy developed—comp Genesis 3:17, where the earth is cursed for man’s sin, and Isa. Isaiah 11, according to which in the “regeneration” of the earth, when righteousness dwells on it, everything violent and destructive shall vanish from it. The scorpions of the earth form the contrast to these scorpion-like locusts sent forth from hell. If we had, not a holy seer, but a natural philosopher before us, we might have supposed that land scorpions are here spoken of, as contradistinguished from the (rather obscure) water scorpions, the existence of which was probably unknown to John. Scripture everywhere knows only of land scorpions. It was quite pardonable in the great author of the work on the beasts of Scripture (Bochart), to suffer himself to be here carried away by his leanings to natural history; but expositors should have exercised more foresight.

Verse 4

Revelation 9:4. And it was said to them, that they should not hurt the grass on the earth, nor any green thing, nor any tree, save only the men who had not the seal of God on their foreheads. The trees correspond in ch. Revelation 7:1; Revelation 7:3, to the kings, nobles, etc., in ch. Revelation 6:15. Trees and grass denote in ch. Revelation 8:7, the high and the low, princes and subjects. It does not mean the men, but the men; for men are also denoted by the grass and the trees. By these are not meant, as Vitringa supposes, believers, but men generally. The reference to believers is first given by the limitation that follows. The human family falls into the two great divisions of the sealed, and those who have not the seal of God on their foreheads. That all excepting the sealed appear here as the object of the divine judgment, shews plainly that the sealed out of the tribes of Israel, in ch. 7, comprehend all believers. How it is to be understood that believers are here exempted from the plagues which alight upon the whole world, we have already considered at ch. 7. St Paul says, “All things work together for good to those that love God;” and Paul Gerhardt sings in respect to the thirty years’ war, that “as faithful mothers in severe storms upon earth anxiously guard and keep their little ones, so also does God, when tribulation and distress arise, press his children to his bosom.” By the common interpretation, the grass, etc., here, must be understood of things in nature, which are preyed upon by locusts. But such a limitation in respect to the natural locust, is rather cold, as the whole representation plainly enough shews, that these are not to be brought into view. Further, since trees and grass occur so shortly before in the figurative sense, it was the more necessary to indicate by the choice of some particle expressing the opposite, that the figurative sense was here to be excluded. Instead of: save only, besides (comp. Exodus 9:26, “only in the land of Goshen, where the children of Israel dwelt, there was no hail”), there should then rather have been a but, which Luther certainly has.

Verse 5

Revelation 9:5. And it was given to them, that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months; and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when it strikes a man. The not killing is not to be understood as if none were to be killed; but those who are not killed alone draw attention, because their number is much the greater and their lot the harder, Revelation 9:6. The signification of the five months may here be certainly determined from the circumstance, that in the four first trumpets, and likewise in the sixth, the third part of men are mentioned as the object of the plagues, but here not so. Hence the fifth here must have the same design of stamping this trumpet as incomplete in its character as compared with the seventh. For this purpose the fifth number was well adapted. For it is throughout the signature of the half, the incomplete, as the broken ten. Fire months are named, because only the fire in relation to the twelve months of the year, produces the idea of a proportionately long continuance and frightfulness, which was the thing more immediately to be rendered palpable. It was necessary to denote a very long period, and still not the longest. Against the reference of the five months to the 150 days of the flood, Genesis 7:24, Mark has already objected that the waters were much longer upon the earth. The “five months of the existence of the natural locust” have no place in natural history, and all searching into the natural history of locusts must here be regarded as out of place. Finally, in respect to Hofmann’s supposition of a reference to the five sins in 20:21, we reply, that there five sins are not named, but first a tenfold sin against the first table, and then four against the second. They themselves resembled scorpions in their malicious disposition to torment men (comp. Ezekiel 2:6, “Thou dwellest among scorpions”), and, therefore, by a righteous judgment of heaven, their torment becomes like the torment inflicted by a scorpion.

Verse 6

Revelation 9:6. And in those days shall men seek death and not find it; they shall desire to die, and death will flee from them. With what earnestness the word is spoken appears from its repetition a second time. Ch. Revelation 6:16, in the vision of the seals is parallel, and the original passage is Jeremiah 8:3, “And death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of them that remain of this evil family, which remain in all the places whither I have driven them, saith the Lord.”

Verse 7

Revelation 9:7. And the locusts are like horses, which are prepared for war, and upon their heads as crowns , like gold, [Note: Instead of the reading ὁ?́?μοιοι χρυσῳ?͂?, which we hate followed with Luther, others have χρυσοῖ?. But this reading has probably arisen from a feeling of unsuitableness in the repetition of the simple likeness, overlooking how common also in Ezekiel are such accumulated indications of difference between the vision and the reality.] and their faces like the face of men. The first clause is literally: And the likenesses of the locusts are like. This is put for: as regards their likeness or resemblance, they are like. The prefixing” the likeness” shows, that the Seer now passes on to this point; he leaves other things concerning them, in order to describe their likeness. Four verses are devoted to this. First we have their likeness in regard to their appearance as a whole, then only particular features. The horses are to be understood as occupied by their riders, so that they correspond to the horsemen in Revelation 9:16. Only when the riders sit upon them, are they prepared for war; and in the fundamental passage also, Joel 2:4, “The appearance of them is as the appearance of horses, and as horsemen so shall they run,” the horse from the parallelism is not to be thought of without, but with his rider. The cavalry force is among barbarous people the most important, and always is that which, in appearance, is the most frightful, hence the fittest for representing the whole war-like force. In the Old Testament representations also of impending divine judgments by means of hostile armies—the cavalry plays a prominent part; comp., for example, Habakkuk 1:8, “Their horses are swifter than the leopards, and more fierce than the evening wolves; and their horsemen shall spread themselves, their horsemen come from far; they fly as the eagle that hastes to eat.” We have here an express statement from the Seer as to what we should understand by the locusts. That only the likeness is spoken of is to be explained from the desire of throwing over the whole the veil of the locust-symbol. This veil is a transparent one. Behind the slender covering the real nature of the thing meant appears, yet so that there always remains an infusion of the symbol and the reality into each other. They appear like locusts, and yet also like a frightful mass of horses and horsemen.

The crown in Revelation is always the mark of royal dignity, dominion—comp. Revelation 2:10, Revelation 3:11, Revelation 4:4, Revelation 6:2, Revelation 12:1, Revelation 14:14. From their having crowns upon their head, they are marked out as the sovereign people. The crowns refer to the relation in which the party represented stood to strangers, much as in the Old and the New Testament Israel is designated as a royal people on account of its dominion—comp. on ch. Revelation 1:6. To the crowns correspond the designation of their leader as the star, that has fallen from heaven to the earth. In his dominion their’s also is involved, as in the kingly dignity of Christ that also of believers. For he is the head, they are the members. In respect to the inhabitants of the plundered countries they have the feeling of kings, while those feel as subjects.

Their faces resemble those of men, since, dreadful to behold, the fierce countenance of a man looks through the visage of the locust. In reality they were human countenances.

Verse 8

Revelation 9:8. And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as those of lions. Among the Greeks and Romans it was the usual practice to cut the hair. (It was certainly otherwise in half-barbarous times, comp. Hom. II. ii. 11.) Plutarch says in the Quaest. Rom.: “Custom requires men to cut the hair, but with the women to let it grow.” [Note: See Perizonius on AElian, Var. Hist. ix. 4.] How deeply-rooted this custom was, appears from 1 Corinthians 11:14-15. Among the civilised Egyptians the wearing of long hair was reckoned a characteristic mark of barbarism—see my work on Egypt and the books of Moses, p. 28. That among the Israelites the polling of the hair belonged to social life, is evident from the cultivation of the hair in the Nazarites being appointed as a mark of their separation from the world; and on the same ground the Egyptians allowed the beard to grow in times of mourning. The barbarous Parthians wore long hair. [Note: Suestonius Vespas. c. 23: Cum inter prodigia caetera Mausoleum Caesarum derepente patuisset, et stella in coelo crinita apparuisset: alterum ad Junium Calvinam e gente Augusti pertinere dicebat: alterum ad Parthorum regem, qui capillatus esset. Aurelius Victor also: Istud, iuquit, ad regem Persarum pertinet, cui capillus efffusior.] Hair like women’s in length, but kept without order, would present a frightful spectacle. Any one that lets every thing on his body grow as it will, virtually makes himself known as one who gives free scope to his lusts and passions, thinks only of suffering no hindrance to his natural desires. Among us also, again, long hair has become a symbol of savage wildness!

The teeth resembling those of lions, is from Joel 1:6. The comparison suits well the spiritual locusts, raging enemies, but not the natural ones. For the lion cannot possibly be put as a symbol of mere voracity.

Verse 9

Revelation 9:9. And they had coats of mail like iron coats of mail, and the rustling of their wing a as the rustling of chariots of many horses, running to battle. The iron coats of mail indicate how difficult it would be to get at these horsemen. [Note: Amm. Marcellinus says of the Persians in b. xix. c. 1: Ferreus equitatus campos opplevit; again in B. xxv. c. 1: Erant autem omues catervae ferrutae. And before: Ubi vero primum dies iuclaruit, radiantes loricae: limbis circumdatae ferreis, et corrusci thoraces longe prospecti adesse regis copias significabant.] The horses here also, as in Revelation 9:7, are to be thought of as occupied by their riders, partly sitting on their saddles, partly on light chariots of war. The chariots appear as an appurtenance of the cavalry. They were so reckoned in the books of Moses. The combatants on the very small and light Egyptian war-chariots are there described as horsemen, precisely as we are wont to speak of the riding-post, notwithstanding that letter-carriers often use gigs. Comp. Isaiah 21:7, Isaiah 21:9, where riders on chariots are mentioned among the Medo-Persian armies. We must not translate: of many horse-chariots, but only: of the chariots of many horses. The numerousness of the chariots is only to be concluded from the numerousness of the horses. In Joel 2:5 also the noise of the locusts is compared to the noise of chariots. [Note: Ewaid would delete the ἱ?́?ππων , De Wette the ἀ?ρμά?των . But such arbitrariness can no longer pass among us. Both the horses and the chariots occur in the original passage, Joel 2:4-5. The chariots cannot be dispensed with, because their rattling agrees better with the whirring noise of the locusts than the prancing of horses: nor can the horses, because the multitude of the horsemen and not of the chariots is the proper counterpart to the locusts; comp. on Revelation 9:7.]

Verse 10

Revelation 9:10. And they have tails like scorpions, and there are stings in their tails; and their power is to hurt men for five months. This verse reverts to Revelation 9:3-6, from the description of the locusts to what they were to accomplish. Bengel: “The tails of the locusts are not only like the tails of scorpions, but like the scorpions themselves, as the tails of the horses in Revelation 9:19 with their heads are not only like the tails of serpents, but like the serpents themselves.”

Verse 11

Revelation 9:11. They have over them as king the angel of the abyss; whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he has the name Apollyon. Bengel: “Elsewhere locusts have no king, Proverbs 30:27, but these have one.” The star in Revelation 9:1, according to the uniform usage of the Revelation, corresponds to the king. If another king were here meant, then two kings would be ascribed to the locusts. And in that case the respective territories of each would require to be bounded. But we can the less doubt respecting the identity of the king and the star, as the retrogressive movement begins even in Revelation 9:10. As there in connection with the tails of the locusts the subject of Revelation 9:3-6 is resumed, so this verse looks back to Revelation 9:1-2. We become lost, too, in inexplicable difficulty, whenever we deny the identity of the king and the angel. We cannot think of Satan himself. For Satan has his angels (ch. Revelation 12:7, Matthew 25:11), but he is not himself called an angel. And no trace whatever exists of any other infernal king, who could be simply designated as the angel of the abyss.

The article, which is wanting in Luther, denotes either this angel of the abyss, an ideal person, who becomes manifest in a multitude of real personages, as already known from what had gone before, or as the angel par excellence—comp. ch. Revelation 3:17.

According to the uniform usage of the Apocalypse it is not the messengers, but the angel of the abyss, that is here spoken of, as in Matthew 25:41, and here Revelation 12:7, 2 Corinthians 12:7, we read of the angels of the devil, who, according to 2 Peter 2:4, Jude Jude 1:6, reside in the darkness of hell. The name of .the higher messengers of hell is transferred to the lower, in order to create a salutary dread of them, as we speak of a corporeal Satan—comp. Matthew 16:23. The transference of the name of the heavenly messengers to the earthly in ch. Revelation 1:20, is quite analogous. The king has on one side, according to Revelation 9:1, a divine mission. But the hellish one, alone rendered prominent here, was also indicated in Revelation 9:1-2. For, if he opens the well-pit of hell, and lets out the smoke, he certainly does, apart from the divine mission, a devilish work, what betokens a Satanic disposition, and a hellish employ. Abaddon properly means destruction, and occurs in the Old Testament in connection with death and the grave. Here it appears as a name of him, who has become a kind of personal, embodied destruction, synonymous with Apollyon, the destroyer. Expositors have with reason remarked that the names of Abaddon and Apollyon, the destroyer (certainly the resemblance is striking between this name and Napoleon, who was one of the many incarnations of Apollyon), stand related to the name Jesus. Bengel: “The name of Antichrist stands directly opposed to the name of Christ; and not less directly opposed to the name of Jesus or Saviour is that of Abaddon the destroyer.” On those, who despise Jeans, the Saviour, inevitably comes the destroyer. The world has to make its choice between Jesus and Apollyon. If they refuse the one, they must fall into the hands of the other. Bengel says, “Great is the glory of the Son of God, who restrains so many and such diverse enemies, numerous and powerful agents in the kingdom of darkness, lets them loose, and again sets a limit to them. Blessed is the state of those, who stand under the power of Christ. How needful is it for us to betake for refuge to Christ, and seek our safety under his wings! They who do so, have no need to be afraid either of Abaddon, or of Satan himself and his angels. The evil inflicted under the first woe takes effect on the men, who have not the seal of God; but they, on the other hand, are always in safe keeping, who, as his servants, have the seal and mark of God upon them. However sharp the conflict may be, the Lord will assuredly protect his chosen ones, on whom he has set his mark, and who are sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb.”

Verse 12

Sixth Trumpet

Revelation 9:12. One woe is past; behold! there come two woes more after it. In ch. Revelation 9:13-21, we have the sixth trumpet, the second woe. Four angels, till now bound in the Euphrates, are set loose, that they may execute the work of God’s vengeance. They overspread the earth with an incredible number of horsemen. The third part of men are destroyed. But the world continues still in its impenitence. Since, therefore, they will not turn back to him, who smites them, and seek the Lord of Hosts, they must expect that the word shall again be verified, “For all this his anger is not turned away, but his hand is stretched out still.” The world calls aloud for the seventh trumpet, the last woe. For, it is not to be imagined, that God’s righteousness shall prove less energetic than men’s sinfulness.

Verses 13-14

Revelation 9:13. And the sixth angel sounded. And I heard a voice from the four [Note: The reason of the omission of τεσσά?ραων even in some important authorities (it is omitted in Lachmann and Tischendorf), was given by Bengel: “It might easily be omitted before κερά?των , since both words have the same number of syllables and nearly the same letters.” It may be added, that in the Mosaic law the horns of the altar of incense might justly be taken as four in number, though that is not expressly said as in the case of the altar of burnt-offering. This circumstance at least shown, that the τεσσά?ραων would not he lightly shoved in.] horns of the golden altar, before God, Revelation 9:14 , which spake to the sixth angel, that had the trumpet, Loose the four angels, bound by the great river Euphrates. There is not sufficient proof for the view of Bähr (Symbolik des Mos. Cultus I. p. 472), that the horns of the altar have a separate symbolical meaning, and that the altar by means of its four corners is rendered “a manifestation of divine power and blessing.” For, that the horn occurs in a series of passages as an image of power and strength, with reference to those animals, whose strength lies in their horns, is not enough for the point in question. There is nothing to be found in Scripture indicating that this symbolical import was specially ascribed to the horns of the altar. Luke 1:69 does not refer to the horns of the altar, but to Psalms 18:2. But Exodus 30:10 (comp. Jeremiah 17:1) is against Bähr’s view, as there it is enjoined that the altar be purified once every year. This shews, that we must not refer the horns of the altar in a one-sided manner to that which God imparted, but that rather what was presented on the altar, was what primarily culminated in the horns. Many impurities were mingled with the devotions, (comp. Job 16:17, Isaiah 1:15,) which stood in need of atonement and forgiveness. We may rather suppose, that the horns of the altar come into consideration as that, in which itself runs out—in which all its signification culminates, as the horn of an animal is its strength and ornament; the head, in a manner, of the altar. With this view accords Exodus 27:2, Exodus 38:2, according to which the horns were to be of one piece with the altar, to indicate that they had not a separate meaning of their own, but that the altar only culminated in them. Hence also, it may naturally be explained, how the sacrificial blood should have been sprinkled on the horns, how the slayer of blood should have laid hold of the horns, and in them of the whole altar, and here likewise, how the voice should have proceeded out of the four horns.

The voice is that of the altar itself, and nothing but a vicious realism here, as in the case of the eagle in ch. Revelation 8:13, could have thought of an actual existence. The voice does not come merely out of the region, it comes out of the four horns of the altar itself. In what respect the altar comes into notice here, may be understood from ch. Revelation 8:3. It is the place of “the prayers of saints.” It is these which desire the loosing of the four angels bound at the Euphrates, and obtain it. As the angels generally prepared themselves to sound in consequence of the much incense which was presented on the golden altar that is before God, so here, in consequence of the voice out of the altar, the angel looses the four angels bound by the great river Euphrates.

The voice proceeds, not from one horn merely, but from all the horns together, because they together formed the head of the altar. At the same time the four number of the horns appear to be not without some respect to the four angels in Revelation 9:14, and the four number of sins in Revelation 9:21. The sins, the desire of the church, the punishment, all bear the impress of comprehensiveness and intensity. The four number of the sins constitutes the foundation, the four number of the horns and the angels stand related to these as the effect to its cause. But comprehensive as the judgment is, it still bears, like the preceding trumpets, a provisional character in relation to the seventh. Angels, without any additional predicate, are always good angels. Of such alone can we think here, from the very nature of the case. For, in Scripture it is uniformly the good angels that are employed in punishing the wicked. The reference to them also is confirmed by the analogy of the four angels with the four winds in ch. Revelation 7:1.

That the angels were bound, points to the long-suffering of God, which, up to this time, restrained the punishment, and still gave space for repentance. The signification of the binding was correctly given by Bossuet: “What binds the angels, are the sovereign commands of God.” We perceive the truth of this from Revelation 9:15. Their work must have its commencement at a particular moment.

The four number of the angels bears respect to the four ends of the earth. It denotes the universality, the œcumenical character of the divine judgment. This number alone shows, that we are not to think of the angels of particular nations, and the same appears by a comparison of ch. Revelation 7:1.

The Euphrates here, and in ch. Revelation 16:12, is mentioned as the river, from the regions on the further side of which, during the times of the Old Testament, and through the course of centuries, the scourge of God came forth upon the nearer districts of Asia. It was so, according to Genesis 14, even in the most ancient times, and afterwards during the ascendancy of the Assyrians, the Chaldeans, and the Persians. In Isaiah 7:20, the king of Assyria is described as a razor, hired by God in the district beyond the Euphrates. The word spoken by Jeremiah in Jeremiah 46:10, must come anew into fulfilment. “And this day shall be to Jehovah the Lord of Hosts, a day of revenge, that he may avenge him of his adversaries, and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood. For the Lord God of Hosts hath a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.” The epithet great, the great river Euphrates, itself points to the Old Testament—comp. Genesis 15:18; Deuteronomy 1:7; Joshua 1:4. The local designation is hence a merely apparent one. Not less than the four bound angels does the Euphrates belong to the vision, which ever loves to find the substratum of its representations in events of a similar nature in the past—comp. for example, Isaiah 11:15-16; Zechariah 10:11. All historizing interpreters, such, for example, as conceive the Euphrates to be mentioned from being the limits of the Roman empire, or from the dangers with which the Parthians threatened the Romans, apart from the misapprehension implied regarding the trumpets generally, is excluded by the enormous numbers in Revelation 9:16. The subject of discourse in Revelation 9:15-16 is not the Romans, but men at large.

The angels are to be regarded as the leaders of the great hosts, who assemble under their banners in the regions beyond the Euphrates, the seat, as it were, of God’s hosts of war; as in Isaiah 13:5, Jehovah himself marches forth at the head of his instruments of vengeance to lay waste the whole earth In the angels the truth is embodied, that those warlike hosts do nothing, but what they are commissioned to execute. The heavenly agency so strongly engages the attention of the Seer, that at first he does not even think of the earthly instruments In the preceding vision the same thought is rendered manifest by the falling of the star from heaven, which leads on the locusts.

We may understand from the beginning in Revelation 9:13 who they are, against whom the four angels are loosed; they are the persons against whom the prayers of the church, they had persecuted, have gone up. We may also learn it from the conclusion in Revelation 9:20-21, according to which it is the world sunk in idolatry and the love of sin, which on this account could not but assume a hostile attitude towards the church and believers: for “he who doeth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved,” John 3:20.

Verse 15

Revelation 9:15. And the four angels were loosed, who were prepared for the hour, and day, and month, and year, that they might kill the third part of men. The preparation proceeds only from God. The thought of such a preparation on the part of God may well encourage the church to bear what she has to suffer from the world. Whenever the set time comes, there will be a changing of places!

The article applies alike to all the four words. The definite period is meant, in which the loosing of the angels was to take effect (Luther has improperly: an hour). They were already ready in preparation for that, and when it arrived, after the wickedness of the world had become full, the loosing took place, and they were to begin their work.

An ascent is made from the lower to the higher. When I know, that something has happened about nine o’clock, I know less than if the year had been mentioned to me. In Numbers 1:1, Zechariah 1:7, Haggai 1:15, also the rise is made from the day to the month, and from this again to the year. Bossuet: “The time being so precisely marked by the prophet, lets us see how exactly God determines the periods.”

Verse 16

Revelation 9:16. And the number of the army of the horsemen was twice ten thousand times ten thousand [Note: Some MSS. have merely μυριά?δες μυριά?δων , as in ch. Revelation 9:11. Vitringa says justly: “The Holy Spirit elsewhere also uses this expression to denote the greatest possible number, Psalms 68:17.”] ; I heard the number of them. The subject of discourse is the enormous multitude of cavalry. As cavalry produce a very imposing impression, the whole of the plundering hordes is here, as in the preceding trumpet, represented under this image, although in reality foot soldiers must be understood to be also included.

The four hundred millions exclude all idea of a particular war, and shew that we have here to do only with a personified species. The fundamental passage is Psalms 68:17, “The chariots of God are two myriads, thousands of repetition;” q.d. thousands multiplied by thousands, a thousand times a thousand. There it is the invisible war-chariots of Jehovah that are spoken of, which we may imagine to be drawn by hosts of angels. But the difference is not an essential one. For, these earthly hosts are as completely dependant on every nod of God, as those heavenly ones. They, too, are led by angels. In both places alike the hosts of God are employed in his service against the world.

He heard their number, because it was so great a one, that no one could number it—comp. ch. Revelation 7:9.

Verse 17

Revelation 9:17. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having coats of mail of fire and hyacinth and brimstone; and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions, and out of their mouths went forth fire, and smoke, and sulphur. Thus, viz., as follows: The horses are here, as also in Revelation 9:7, to be thought of as provided with riders. The description begins with the horsemen and then passes over to their horses. And them that sat on them, for: namely, them that sat on them. The vision is framed so as to impress on us, what might have been understood of itself, though it is still even to our day not understood by many expositors, that we must distinguish between the substance and the form, under which it appears in the vision. In this everything was seen—the internal had to imprint itself on the external, the spiritual receive a body. The wild exasperation, the thirst for murder, the desire of rapine and desolation, are pictorially exhibited in the colours of the coats of mail on the horsemen, and especially in the fire, and smoke, and sulphur which came out of the mouth of their horses: the external representation of their beastly appetite was transferred to the beast part of the host. Even apart from the warning-note, from the kind of invisible N.B. given in the expression, “in the vision,” it is scarcely possible to understand, how one should so far misapprehend the nature of the representation, as to conclude from it, that warlike hosts are not meant here. The affirmation, that nothing like actual war is seen here, may be met, as soon as we can distinguish between the reality and the clothing, by the counter affirmation, that every thing does so. And were it not for the multifariousness of the forms employed in the representation, the six trumpets might be all compressed into one.

The signification of the colours of the coats of mail is entirely to be determined by what proceeds out of the mouth of the horses: to the coats of mail of fire corresponds the fire, which must therefore be imaged by them, to the hyacinth-coloured (what is meant is the deep blue hyacinth), the smoke, to the brimstone-like, the sulphur. Bengel: “There is no mixture of a white, clear, peaceful colour.”

The lion-heads, fearful and appalling.

The fire is the fire of wrath, the smoke is the inseparable accompaniment of the fire—comp. Psalms 18:8, where also, as here, the fire-wrath goes out of the mouth—the (burning) brimstone points to the unpleasant character of this tire: the fire of hell is a fire of brimstone, ch. Revelation 14:10, Revelation 19:20, Revelation 21:8. If fire and smoke alone had been mentioned, an honourable wrath might have been indicated, as is plain from Psalms 18. So that the ingredient of the sulphur here is quite necessary to a complete characteristic.

Verse 18

Revelation 9:18. By these three plagues was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouth. The these refers to the things that had first been named. Without a figure: by their wild spirit of ferocity and murder. The limitation of Bengel is arbitrary, in understanding by the men, “such as lived in those lands, whither the warlike host went.” The third part of men upon the whole earth are specified. We have here no gradation in relation to the fifth trumpet. For, the not being killed, is there to be limited to the majority, who here also remain in life; and in Revelation 9:6 there, it is represented, not as the better, but as the worse lot. Here also, remarks Züllig, “by the perishing are to be understood those who have not the seal of God spoken of in Revelation 9:4.” And Bengel says: “In the present day there is a great corruption among unbelievers and nominal Christians, in all parts of Christendom, among high and low, and in all conditions of men; but if we could see what in former times has been taken away, we should find that the great God has continually saved out of the corrupt mass a good portion to remain for a seed Those portions that have been extirpated have for the most part been a bad commodity. In plants one always leaves the best, the largest, and most perfect for seed, so that a good kind may be preserved. What would it come to, if God should leave men to act as they pleased, since with so much to restrain them, they are still so averse to improve? It is, therefore, necessary for the holy angels to blow with their trumpets, that men may learn to fear the Lord, and not be ever contending against him? Lord, when I reflect how thou hast executed judgment in the world, my desire is increased to give thee glory in a truly reverential and submissive spirit.”

Verse 19

Revelation 9:19. For, the power of the horses is in their mouths and in their tails, for their tails are like serpents, and they have heads, and with these they do hurt. The clause, stating the power to be in their mouth, serves only as a connecting link with what is still to be said of their tails. The injurious and dreadfully destructive tendency had not been sufficiently represented by what proceeds out of the month of the horses. It still farther embodies itself in the symbol of the serpent-tails. Serpents are mentioned here, as in ch. Revelation 12:9, where the devil is called the old serpent, on account of their cunning, malicious wickedness, as opposed in some sense to the lions in Revelation 9:17; and agreeing also in this, that the serpents are behind, where one suspects no danger. Bengel’s remark is rather little: “Whether they make a furious onset, or turn the back, and feign a retreat, they still do hurt.” There is no reason for supposing here, with some, a reference to a peculiar sort of serpent, “one that has a short tail, like a head, which the creature uses both for creeping and for discharging venom, as if it had two heads.” It is not said of the tails of the serpents, that they had heads, but of the tails of the horses. These resemble serpents, which have grown to the tails, and have the head free for biting.

Verse 20

Revelation 9:20. And the rest of the men, who were not killed by these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands that they should worship demons, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and wood, and stone, which can neither sec, nor hear, nor walk. Dreadful hardness of the human heart! Rather let all be destroyed than be converted! We may compare in the Old Testament the history of Pharaoh, whose servants said to him in vain, “Dost thou not see, that Egypt is destroyed;” and Isaiah 9:12, “And the people return not to him that smites them, and the Lord of Hosts they seek not.” A similar spirit of impenitence under divine judgments is given in ch. Revelation 16:9; Revelation 16:11; Revelation 16:21. The opposite, however, in the degenerate church, ch. Revelation 11:13. [Note: The μετανοεῖ?ν uniformly corresponds in the Apocalypse to שוב . That be found ten times in this book, und not once in the other writings of John, is a particular proof of the Old Testament character of the Apocalypse.] Mark says: “It is to be understood of itself, that when it is said of the rest, they did not repent, the statement is to be confined to the apostates, and is not to be extended to those, whom the Lord has reserved for himself in secret.” The proper limitation, however, is rather this, that along side the world, which here is the subject of discourse, the church exists, and is also, indeed, much tainted by the worldly spirit, but by the judgments of the Lord it is awakened to repentance; see ch. 11. We have here a tenfold description of idols, divided by the seven and the three. and the first again by two and five.

That by the works of their hands, it is not actions that are denoted, as some conceive, referring to ch. Revelation 2:22, Revelation 16:11 (where, however, actions are net spoken of), but works generally, is clear from Deuteronomy 4:28, “And ye shall there serve idols, the works of men’s hands, wood and stone, which see not, and hear not, and eat not, and smell not,” Psalms 115:4-7, “Their gods are silver and gold, the work of men’s hands,” Psalms 135:15-17. Further, in the service of idolatry, which those expositors understand to be meant by the works of the hands, the hands are not peculiarly employed. The worship is performed by the whole body. Finally, the repetition of the statement, “they repented not,” in Revelation 9:21, is more easily explained, if by the works of the hands the idols are understood. The certainly somewhat hard expression: Repent of the works, is softened by what follows immediately after. According to this it is as much as, repent of their worshipping the works of their hands, demons and idols.

By the demons we can only understand evil spirits, according to the usage of the New Testament. There is no proof of lifeless images being ever meant by the demons. The second passage also, where demons are mentioned in the Apocalypse, ch. Revelation 16:14, indicates real existences, as there the spirits of demons are spoken of. The worship of idolatry may be viewed in two aspects. In the one it is a rude image-worship. The several heathen gods have no existence beside the material one in their statutes, the work of men’s hands. But in the other aspect, the idolatrous service has a demoniacal background. The allurement to give honour to those Elilim, those nonentities, proceeds from the powers of darkness, and since they constitute the spiritual background in the matter, the worship may be regarded as in a measure performed to them. Only a passing notice, however, is taken here of this aspect, and in what follows, the Seer immediately reverts again to the other. All profound investigations into the nature of idol-worship leads to this result. The fearful power, which it wields over the minds of men, is inexplicable without this spiritual background, which is first disclosed to our view in the New Testament, going, as it usually does, more to the bottom of things, while the Old Testament rests more in the material appearance. The apostles, who lived in the midst of heathen objects and relations, were thereby rendered, humanly considered, more competent for this, than those who know of heathenism only from books. The demoniacal character, the infernal origin of the evil, in all the more inveterate aberrations of the human mind, impresses itself on all who have it immediately before their eyes, and are capable of profound inquiries into the subject. However, the demoniacal nature of the Revolution and the rage for freedom has opened many eyes in our days, that were hitherto shut, to perceive the existence of a kingdom of darkness. It is quite similar in respect to the worship of idolatry. Airy phantoms, nonentities, were what came into immediate contact with men’s consciences, but behind these a real power lay concealed, and one of terrible energy.

The demoniacal background continues through all ages, even to the end of the world. But in regard to “the works of men’s hands,” &c., changes take place in the course of time, yet not such as materially to affect the nature of things. The world is continually fabricating to itself new schemes, which it idolizes and worships. The Seer here makes account only of that form which was prevalent in his time, without meaning, however, to ascribe more to this than the rest.

It is not without reason that the works of the hands are set first. For, the subject is not about a direct and conscious worshipping of demons.

On the words, “that neither see,” &c., comp. Daniel 5:23,”But the God, in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified.”

Verse 21

Revelation 9:21. And they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. On the transgressions of the first table there follow now those of the second. The former were completed in the number ten, and these latter are comprised in four. The four, on account of the four quarters of heaven, is next to the ten, the signature of the comprehensive, the complete. The two first sins are against the fifth command, according to Luther’s reckoning, the sixth by the original text, or the first of the second table; the two last are against the sixth and Seventh, or the seventh and eighth respectively. Sorcery (mentioned also ch. Revelation 18:23, and Galatians 5:20) appears here among the transgressions of the second table, in connection with open murders, and is therefore viewed not in its religious aspect, but as one of the means by which a neighbour might be secretly injured, and injured in respect to his life. Fornication is the spirit of licentiousness, whence proceeds the transgression of the precept : Thou shalt not commit adultery.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 9". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/revelation-9.html.