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Observe here, 1. That those who understand this woe denounced by the fifth angel to denote a temporal judgment, apply it to the Jewish seducer, who headed the turbulent Zealots; he was a ringleader of most hellish villains, and the Zealots under him did all the mischiefs imaginable, marched up to Jerusalem, plundering the city, seizing the temple, and killing the high-priest, with the rest of the priests; but by God's providence it so happened, that this judgment of the Zealots fell not upon the Christians, signified by the trees and green things, but upon the Jews themselves only, because they were not of the faction of Zealots.
Observe, 2. That those who understand this woe to intimate a spiritual judgment, apply it, some to the first rising of the of the Turks and Mahometans, others to the Papacy and Papal clergy: Mr. Mede applies it to the former, king James to the latter. "By locusts and grasshoppers (says he) understand Monks and Friars, who seem to fly a little from the earth, but indeed are gorbellied devourers; in locusts you see little but a mouth and a belly; in Monks you see a mouth to mumble over masses, and a belly to consume; they seized when time was, upon the meadows, the fat and pleasant parts of the land, and like grasshoppers consumed every green, that is, every good thing."
Yet observe, 3. The commission and command given to them not to hurt the trees; such as are fruit-bearing and fruitful bearing Christians are preserved, and the storm falls upon drossy hypocrites: whence we may remark, that in times of error and seduction, as well as in times of judgment and calamity, God takes a special care of his faithful ones for their preservation; and has a special regard to the fruit of the trees of righteousness: It was commanded them that they should not hurt any tree.
That is, God would bring such dreadful judgments and calamities upon the wicked world, that men should be an affliction beyond all other afflictions, that they could not die: to flee death is a great misery, but to have death flee from us, or flee before us, and not be able to find it, is a far greater misery; God can so embitter life by afflictions and sufferings, that those who dread death may yet desire to die; not for any good that they see in death, but only to get rid of the troubles of this life: In those days men shall seek death, and shall not find it.
That this is a metaphorical description of a terrible army of cruel men, seems very plain: some understand it of the Jewish Zealots, who appeared as warriors, and were devouring wasters; they looked like men, kind and friendly, and pretending to be redeemers of the people, saviours of, and benefactors to, their country; but at the same time plundering and carrying away the spoils of their brethren, without any tenderness or compassion.
Others apply all this to the papal clergy, numerous like locusts; well fed, like horses for battle; mighty, for earthly possessions; crowned like petty princes; alluring like women with their hair, and other ornaments, &c.
Others again make the application to belong to the Turks and Saracens, who are represented as having many crowns on their heads, and as moved with wings in regard of the many and vast conquests, says Mr. Mede, which they made in a short time, even in Palestine, Syria, Armenis, Asia the Less, and many others.
As to the king, named here Abaddon and Apollyon, some understand it to be the devil, others Mahomet, others the pope; to whom, to every of whom, the name of a destroyer too fitly belongs, as seeking and endeavouring to destroy men's souls, and by blood and persecution to destroy and lay waste the church of Christ.
Note here, 1. From these words, One woe is past, and two more are to come, that God has a storehouse of judgments, as well as a treasury of mercy, and when one judgment will not do, he has more to inflict.
Note, 2. The golden altar, which is here said to be before God, signifies our Lord Jesus Christ, his purity and excellency, and his appearing continually in the presence of his Father for us, as our intercessor and mediator.
Note, 3. That this vast army of horsemen, consisting of two hundred thousand thousand, is expounded generally of Turks and Arabians, who have vast armies beyond all nations, whom God makes the executioner of his vengeance at his pleasure.
Note, 4. Whereas it is said, that the four angels were bound in the great river Eurphrates, and, till loosed by God's command, could never hurt nor stir,--it teaches us that the Lord has Satan, and all his instruments, in his own power, to loose them for our sins, and to bind them again upon our repentance: though their malice by infinite, yet their power is bounded; they cannot do all the mischief they would, and they shall not do all they can.
Note, 5. That when these destroying angels were loosed, their time of hurting was limited to a year, and a month and a day: showing, that the set and determinate time of the wicked's insolency is appointed by God to be either shorter or longer, as he thinks fit: yea, they execute nothing but with a divine permission; nay, nothing without a special warrant and commission from God. I heard a voice saying, Loose the four angels which are bound in the river Euphrates; and they were loosed for an hour, &c.
This is matter of singular consolation to us, that evil angels and wicked men are limited powers; they cannot move, much less hurt, until God loose them: A voice said, Loose the four angels.
St. John proceeds here in describing this vast army of Turks and Arabians, that with incredible swiftness did overrun and ruin the eastern churches; all these expressions of fire, and brimstone, and smoke, denote that cruel devastation and destruction which was occasioned by the Turks and Mahometans.
Behold here the instruments of Satan, how his own cruel and destructive nature is discovered, how exceedingly he is delighted in the perdition of mankind, having been a murderer from the beginning.
In the last two verses St. John declares, 1. What were the sins which produced so great a plague, namely, idolatry and the worshipping the works of their own hands, a sin very odious to God, and for which God suffered the Turks to be so severe a scourge to Christendom; what little reason had the Christians then to call their wars against the Turks the holy wars, when idolatry, the cause of it was not repented of? What success could they expect as long as the idoltry of Christians, and their other provoking sins, were so many?
Observe farther, What was the end God aimed at by such strong physic, by such terrible judgments as he then brought upon the world? It was to bring them to repentance? but so mad was antichristian world upon their idols, that they would not be reformed by the judgment with a sinful people, he will follow them with a variety and succession of plagues and judgments one upon another, till he has either brought them to himself, or brought them to nothing.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 9". Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17