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Bible Commentaries

Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible

Revelation 9


Revelation 9:1 At the sounding of the fifth angel a star falleth from heaven, to whom is given the key of the bottomless pit,

Revelation 9:2-11 he opens the pit, and there come forth locusts like scorpions, who have power to hurt men for a time.

Revelation 9:12 The first woe past.

Revelation 9:13-21 At the sounding of the sixth angel four angels which were bound are loosed, and bring great plagues on the earth for a limited time.

Verse 1

And the fifth angel sounded; the fifth of the seven angels mentioned Revelation 8:2, to whom were given seven trumpets. It denoteth the beginning of a new period of calamities and miseries to the earth, or to the church.

And I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: what this star falling from heaven means, is not easy to resolve. Those who think it the devil, once a star, but fallen, forget that John is not here told a story of what was in the beginning of the world, but what should be, and that five hundred years after Christ’s coming. And the same reason holds against those who think those seditious persons are meant, who did so much mischief in and about Jerusalem during the siege; this had been to have revealed to John those things which he knew were done many years before. Amongst those who think some particular eminent minister of the church, who apostatized, is meant, those seem to me to judge better, who think that Boniface the Third is meant, who, in the year 606, obtained the privilege of the pope’s supremacy, than those who understand it of Arius or Pelagius, who both of them fell two hundred years before this. It seems very harsh to interpret it of Christ, or any good angel’s descending from heaven, because the word πεπτωκοτα is rightly by us translated falling, and not to be interpreted so softly as descending. In all probability, therefore, the first apostacy of the bishop of Rome was here prophesied. But how

to him was given the key of the bottomless pit, ( by which hell is meant here, as often in Scripture), is hard to say; unless we understand it of his instrumentality, to send many thousands to hell by that corrupt doctrine and worship, which by him then began to obtain. But his key was borrowed, (if God had not permitted him he could not have done it), and it turned but one way; he had only a power to open it, not (as Christ) both to open and shut it.

Verse 2

And he opened the bottomless pit; he was a means of hell’s breaking loose, by loosing Satan.

And there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace: I had rather interpret this generally of the great influence upon the world, that the devil, being loosed, had, in filling the world with ignorance, error, and wickedness, (for which this and the following age are infamous in all histories), and then particularly of the errors this time abounded with.

And the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit; this influence of the devil darkened the sun of the gospel, and the whole church of that age, with ignorance, error, and abominable superstition in the worship of God, attended with the lewdness and debauchery of men in their lives, which usually go together.

Verse 3

And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth; from the influence which the devil thus let loose had upon the world, came forth a generation of men, that in their practices resembled locusts. Who are to be understood by these locusts, is not easy to resolve. The locusts were an insect with which God sometimes plagued the Egyptians; they are much in the Eastcrn countries. It was an east wind which brought them upon Egypt, Exodus 10:12,Exodus 10:13. God often hath punished people with them, they are therefore threatened, or mentioned as a judgment in case of disobedience, Deuteronomy 28:38,Deuteronomy 28:42; 1 Kings 8:37; Joel 1:4; Joel 2:25. Two things are to be remarked of them:

1. They were wont to go in infinite numbers: Proverbs 30:27; They go forth by bands: Nahum 3:15, Make thyself many as the locusts: without number, Psalms 105:34.

2. The mischief they do is expressed there, Psalms 105:35, to eat up the herbs of the land, and to devour the fruit of the ground: so they did in Egypt.

We have a little specimen of them in our caterpillars in times of drought, usually caused from the wind hanging long in the east. The psalmist, Psalms 105:34, joineth the locusts and the caterpillars together. By the following description of these locusts, and the mischief which they did, Revelation 9:4,Revelation 9:7-10, it appeareth plainly that these were no natural, but metaphorical locusts, men that, for their numbers and the mischief they did in the world, did resemble locusts; but who these were is the question. I find but two opinions that have any probability: the one is of a late learned writer, who judgeth them the popish clergy, to whom, indeed, many things agree.

1. They come out of the smoke, that is, the great influence which the devil hath upon the world.

2. They are numerous.

3. Their king is Abaddon; they destroy every green herb, nipping religion, in all places, in the bud.

But I cannot see how two or three things can agree to them:

1. That they do no hurt to the Lord’s sealed ones, whenas their particular malice is against the purest and strictest profession.

2. That they do not kill, but only torment men, Revelation 9:5.

3. And (which is the greatest) I cannot see how the period of time agreeth to them.

For this prophecy seemeth to respect the sixth and seventh age; and though all these things agree to the Romish clergy in later ages, especially since the Jesuits grew numerous, which is not much above one hundred and twenty years since, yet these three did not so agree to the Romish clergy in the sixth and seventh age. Their Benedictine orders began but in the year 530, and their orders of Dominicans, much more mischievous, not till upwards of the year 1200; the Jesuits, after the year 1500. I therefore rather agree with the learned and judicious Mr. Mede, with whom I also find John Napier and others agreeing, that by these locusts are meant the Turks and Saracens.

1. Their time agreeth; for they first appeared formidably to the world about the year 620.

2. They were always very numerous.

3. They came the locusts’ road, from Arabia, and the eastern parts.

The Arabians (which the Saracens are) are called the children of the east, and said to be like grasshoppers for multitude. Two things are objected:

1. That these locusts are commanded not to hurt the Lord’s sealed ones.

2. That their commission is but for five months.

As to the latter, we shall speak to it when we come to that clause. As to the former, why may it not denote the liberty that in their conquests they generally give to all religions, so as they put none to death upon that account? How far other things will agree to them, I leave to be further considered in the next verses.

And unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power; that is, such a power as scorpions have. We shall have a more particular account of this, Revelation 9:10.

Verse 4

And it was commanded them; that is, these locusts; God so ordered it by his providence.

That they should not hurt, &c.: this makes it appear, that these locusts were no insects so called, but typical; for natural locusts live upon green things; they were only to hurt profane men, and hypocrites. It is a sure rule, that when things are attributed: to living creatures which do not agree to their natures, the terms are to be understood typically, not literally. Locusts use not to kill men; we may therefore be assured, that the locusts here intended, were men, not insects.

Verse 5

Supposing the Saracens and Turks here meant by the locusts, here arise two difficulties:

1. How it can be said of them, that they had no power to kill, but only torment men.

2. How their time is set for five months, whereas they have already tormented the world more than a thousand years; and how long they shall yet continue to do so, God only knows: they are both great difficulties.

Alsted tells us: That Mahomet began in the year 622, and the Saracens entered Spain 714, where they were called Moors, and kept possession of that kingdom eight hundred years, and that in the year 719, they besieged Constantinople with a navy of three thousand ships and three hundred thousand land soldiers; that before this time they had made themselves masters of Arabia, Palestina, Syria, Persia, Egypt, Africa, and Spain; and in the year 726, carried into France an army consisting of three hundred and seventy-five thousand, where they were beaten by Charles Martell, father to King Pepin. Mr, Mede telleth us, that the Saracens grievously vexed the countries subject to the Roman emperor, but could not take either Rome or Constantinople. The latter was taken by the Turks, in the year 1457, commanded by Sultan Mahomet. This is but a hard interpretation of those words,

that they should not kill them; which, it may be, hath made some other interpreters choose to interpret these locusts to signify the Roman clergy, who indeed did not kill men for religion, of many years. But both the one and the other tormented the world enough, and that like a scorpion, which pierceth a man with a venomous sting, and puts him to great pain. For the five months, we shall again meet with them, Revelation 9:10.

Verse 6

The calamities of those days shall be so great, that men shall be weary of their lives.

Verse 7

This whole description of these locusts speaks them no insects, but to be mischievous men; they were very terrible to look upon, like horses harnessed ready to fight; so Joel 2:4.

And upon their heads were as it were crowns like gold; this signified they should be great and rich conquerors.

And their faces were as the faces of men; yet these were men.

Verse 8

And they had hair as the hair of women; dishevelled, or hanging loose; the Arabians were wont to go so; or this may signify, that they were beautiful as well as terrible to look upon.

And their teeth were as the teeth of lions; sharp and strong: see Joel 1:6.

Verse 9

And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; armed with the best armour of defence.

And the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle; like locusts, they moved very swiftly. This agreeth to the Saracens, who made such haste in their conquests, that (saith Mr. Mede) in little more than eighty years they had subdued Palestina, Syria, both the Armenias, almost all the Lesser Asia, Persia, India, Egypt, Numidia, all Barbary, Portugal, Spain; and within a few more, Sicily, Candia, Cyprus, and were come to the very gates of Rome; so as they had many crowns on their heads, and moved as with wings.

Verse 10

And they had tails like unto scorpions; a kind of venomous serpents that have their

stings in their tails, with which they presently kill both men and beasts.

And their power was to hurt men five months; what these five months mean is very hard to say; certainly it is a certain number for an uncertain, and mentioned rather than any other time, because it is (as they say) the usual time of the life of locusts; though some observe, that five months have in them (counting as the Hebrews, thirty days to the month) one hundred and fifty days, and a day standing for a year, as in prophetical writings, it denoteth the just time the Saracens raged in Italy, from the year 830 to the year 980; as to which I refer my reader to search histories.

Verse 11

Solomon saith, Proverbs 30:27, The locusts have no king, yet go they forth by bands; according to which these locusts cannot be understood of insects so called; or, if they have a king, yet it is certain the devil is not their king, who is here called the angel of the bottomless pit.

Abaddon; from אבד he hath destroyed.

Apollyon; that is, a destroyer; intimating that the whole business of this barbarous enemy should be to ruin and destroy nations.

Verse 12

One period of time is over, in which God hath plagued the world with a very great judgment; but there are two more to come, which will be equally, if not more, calamitous.

Verse 13

That is, from God, I heard him give a command, which

voice is said to have proceeded from the golden altar, ( in allusion to Exodus 30:3), because there God received the prayers of his people; and this voice proceeding from that place, might signify the following judgment to come, in answer to the prayer’s of his servants’ souls from thence crying to him for vengeance. See Revelation 6:9,Revelation 6:10.

Verse 14

By these four angels, or instruments of God to execute his vengeance, I find the most valuable interpreters understanding the Turks, considered as distinct from the Saracens, and succeeding of them, whose empire began in Ottoman, Anno 1296, or thereabouts. Mr. Mede saith these four angels denote so many sultanies or kingdoms, into which the Turks were dispersed, having passed the river Euphrates, which river is famous for four things:

1. It was the boundary of David and Solomon’s kingdom, Deuteronomy 11:24; Joshua 1:4.

2. It was that river by which Babylon stood, Jeremiah 13:4-6.

3. It was the boundary of the Roman empire, beyond which it could never extend itself.

4. And it also was the seat of the Turks, who having some years before come over the Euphrates, first divided themselves into a tetrarchy; of which one in Asia, another at Aleppo, another at Damascus, a fourth at Antioch.

Mr. Mede gives us a table or diagram of it, Clav. Apoc. 40. p. 102. Here they were bounded for a while, but about the year 1300 they were loosed, and began further to invade Europe; which is the severe providence of God, conceived to be here foretold as the consequent of this sixth angel’s sounding. The Turks who, though come over the river Euphrates, had hitherto by the providence of God been bounded near unto it, not much contending to enlarge their territories, now joined together with the Saracens under Ottoman, and went further into Europe, and could by no means be stopped till they had got the empire of Constantinople.

Verse 15

For an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year; that is, say some, for any time whatsoever God would have them move; or for that certain time which God had determined; but Mr. Mede hath here a peculiar notion; he observeth that an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, make just three hundred and ninety-six years. In a year are three hundred and sixty-five days in a month thirty, which make three hundred and ninety-five, to which add the odd day, they make three hundred and ninety-six. The Turks began their empire under Ottoman, who began his reign Anno 1296: but their leader, Tangrolipix, upon the taking of Bagdad was inaugurated, and put on the imperial robe, Anno 1057. Constantinople was taken by them Anno 1453, between which are just three hundred and ninety-six years. In which time they slew a numberless number of men, called here

the third part.

Verse 16

He saith nothing of the infantry, but leaves us to conjecture how great that must be, from the number of the horse; we must not think there was precisely this number, but the meaning is, that the armies should be vastly great, as we know all the Turkish armies are. Magog’s army is described from the cavalry, Ezekiel 38:4,Ezekiel 38:15.

Verse 17

We have no such description or representation as this in any other place of holy writ. Some understand it of the several coloured breastplates that the soldiers wore; some of a red and flaming colour, like fire; others blue, like the jacinth; some pale: all such as wear them look terribly. Mr. Mede hath here again a peculiar notion; thinking that the Holy Ghost doth here signify their fighting with great guns, (not known before the siege of Constantinople), which throw out fire and smoke, &c., and so alter the air, the medium by which we see, that the opposite party in fighting appear to those that use these arms, as if they were covered with breastplates that were red, and blue, and pale. To confirm this, he tells us of Chalcondylas’s report of this siege, who mentioneth great guns used at it of that vast bigness, that one of them required threescore and ten yoke of oxen and two thousand men to draw it, &c. It is at least a very ingenious conjecture, and I could not but mention it in honour to the learned author; leaving it to my reader’s liberty, whether he will, with Mr. Mede, judge this literal sense of the text is best, or interpret all these phrases more generally, only of a terrible appearance of those armies.

Verse 18

That is, a great part of men were killed by these numerous armies. No such devastations were ever made by any enemies that ever appeared in the world, as by the Turks have been; nor ever were there such vast great guns made, out of which came

fire, and smoke, and brimstone.

Verse 19

By their tails some understand their infantry or foot soldiery; others, their serpentine craft and subtlety: as the locusts, Revelation 9:10, are compared to scorpions, whose sting was in their tails, and who were said to hurt with their tails; so the same thing is said of these armies, intimating that the Turks should be mischievous by the same arts and means as their predecessors the Saracens. These are said to have had heads in their tails, which was not said of the locusts; the reason of which interpreters judge to have arisen from the different animals by which they are represented.

Verse 20

And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues; the two-thirds of men that should be left, for we read of one-third part destroyed; and this also must be understood of men dwelling in countries subject formerly to the Roman empire on this side of the Euphrates.

Yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils: this leaves this applicable to none but papists; for there are none else but them who worship demons, Greek, δαιμονια, or idols of gold and silver. By

devils are meant demons, that is, persons that are dead, whom the heathens made their petty gods, and worshipped as middle beings between them and the supreme gods, according to their notion; which is the same thing the papists are guilty of, with this only difference, (as Mr. Mede excellently observeth), that the heathens made many supreme gods, and these modern idolaters own but one in that notion, but as many deastri or demons as they did, which are all those saints to whom they pay an adoration, as to those who should present their desires to God, which, as Mr. Mede sufficiently proves from writers, was the very work the pagans allotted for those whom they canonized after death. From whence came the names of Baal and Bel, &c., but from Belus, who is said to have been the first prince, whom, being dead, they made a god, and adored? Which demons God in Scripture calleth devils. Nor do any but they now worship images, the works of men’s hands, made of

gold, silver, brass, and wood, who are here described in the same words as by the psalmist, Psalms 115:4; Psalms 135:15. Notwithstanding God’s great judgment executed upon the Grecian churches, yet they repented not of their idolatry and superstition; so as God hath brought them wholly under the power of those barbarous enemies; and though the Romish party seeth this, yet neither do they repent; which may give them cause to fear that God should make use of the same adversary to destroy them likewise; especially considering that neither to this day do they repent.

Verse 21

Neither repented they of their murders; of their murdering the saints of God, but go on in that practice;

nor of their fornication, which is publicly allowed amongst them;

nor of their theft and sacrilege, and other wickedness, but are as infamous for their debaucheries as for their superstition and idolatry. How long this great judgment of the Turk shall continue upon Christians we cannot tell; it is Mr. Brightman’s opinion that it shall determine in the year 1696; but of that the Scripture hath not informed us, and guessing is a vanity, where we have no sure foundation; and so many have appeared to have been mistaken in such particular determinations, that he lightly exposeth his reputation that will adventure further upon such rocks.

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Bibliographical Information
Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Revelation 9". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. 1685.