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Bible Commentaries

F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary
Revelation 9



Other Authors
Verses 1-21

THE FIFTH AND sixth trumpets follow in chapter 9; both of them are termed a “woe,” so severe is the judgment they inflict. In general there is a resemblance between them, but the fifth brings torment so fierce that men will desire death and yet death will elude them. The sixth does bring death. In reading this chapter we need hardly remind ourselves that the descriptions are couched in symbolic language. If taken literally we should have to picture something very grotesque.

Under the fifth trumpet infernal influences are let loose upon the earth. The star that falls from heaven to earth indicates some person of eminence that apostasizes, and to him the key of the abyss was given. The personal pronoun, “him,” certainly infers that a person is meant. In the light of what follows later in the book, this may well be the Antichrist himself. The immense cloud of smoke that arises from the opened pit, darkening the air, graphically figures the sending forth of dark and even demonic influences, which shut out from men the light of heaven. In our times we have witnessed something like a preliminary essay of Satan in this direction. About the middle of the nineteenth century a puff of smoke from the pit arose and shaped itself into the mystic word, “evolution.” Think of the darkening influence that puff of smoke has thrown over the minds of millions! The light of God has been obscured in their minds by an imaginary ape-man, or even a mere speck of protoplasm. It is the god of this age who blinds the minds of them that believe not.

Out of this darkening influence comes the swarm of “locusts.” Here is another graphic figure. The locust is an insignificant insect in itself, but terrifying when it arrives in countless hordes. These had the poison of scorpions, and unlike the natural locust that preys upon every green thing, these were only to afflict the unsealed of men. This refers us back to the opening verses of Revelation 7:1-17, where we find that those sealed were the servants of God out of the tribes of Israel. We presume, therefore, that those of Israel who were not sealed are particularly in question here. If this inference is correct it would strengthen the thought that the fallen star is the Antichrist, for the darkening influence of his apostasy would specially affect the mass of Israel who are still in unbelief. The effect produced is described as the torment of a scorpion’s sting, which is very acute but does not usually kill. There is a limit to the period of this infliction—5 months; that is, while the torment is so acute that men would prefer death, it is not prolonged.

The details given in verses Revelation 9:7-10 have a meaning which is not really obscure. Battle horses surely signify aggressive might. The crowns they wear are not the diadems of royalty but the wreaths of victory, which they have assumed. To the eye they looked like gold, but they were not really what they appeared to be, but only, “as it were.” The face of a man speaks of intelligence: the hair of women of subjection: the teeth of lions of ferocious power. Breast plates of iron would indicate complete imperviousness to attack. Their sting being in their tails is reminiscent of Isaiah 9:15, where we read, “The prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.” Another reference this, which directs our minds to the Antichrist.

Finally, these symbolic locusts were under the direction of a king, whose name means “The Destroyer.” He is described as “the angel of the bottomless pit.” This indicates that these locusts are an organized force, and under the direction of a controlling destructive power, just as in nature the locust swarms of countless millions act like a well-directed army. Though under the direction of the destroyer, this woe falls upon man not unto death—for death flees from them—but into the destruction of all that makes life on earth worth living. Darkness and torment of a spiritual sort is what is indicated.

At the sounding of the sixth trumpet the golden altar is again mentioned. Not now the priestly offering of incense with the prayers of saints, but forth from it a voice of Divine authority, commanding the loosing of the four angels that had been bound in the Euphrates, who were prepared to bring death upon men—not torment now but death. Four speaks of universality, and the Euphrates was the great river that divided the lands of the east from the land of Israel. In chapter Revelation 16:12, we find this great river mentioned again in connection with the sixth vial. It may well be that what happens here has a bearing upon the happening indicated then. This woe is strictly limited, not merely to the day but even to the hour of its execution.

The loosing of the four angels of death precipitates upon men the immense army of 200,000,000 horsemen, who were their instruments in this dreadful task. Verses Revelation 9:17-19, give us details of these horses and their riders, which are again symbolic and figurative. The “third part of men” appears again here, so we gather this woe from the east falls especially on what we have called the Roman earth. It is indeed a woe, for even the breastplates—normally a piece of armour wholly defensive are of fire and jacinth and brimstone, and therefore bear an offensive character. This time too the “power” is in the mouth as well as in the tail; but the tails were like serpents with heads dealing out “hurt,” while the mouths cast forth fire and smoke and brimstone. All this is indicative surely of something that is very satanic on the one hand, and what is suffocating and death-dealing and full of judgment and pain on the other. If the earlier woe was more applicable to the unsealed apostates of Israel, this falls rather on the Gentile nations and the proud Roman Empire, which in its revived form will be the dominant political power in the earth in the last days.

The “death” spoken of here we understand to signify utter and irremediable apostasy which sinks a man into final alienation from God. Those smitten with this death would be past all feeling or judgment as to what is right and what is wrong. We have recently had some striking examples of this kind of thing in those who fell under the Nazi delusion and became the instruments of its appalling cruelties. It may well be, of course, that literal death of the body follows in many cases, but it is not, we believe, the primary thought.

Verse Revelation 9:20 speaks of “the rest of the men” who were not smitten by death. They did feel the weight of the plagues but they did not repent. Here for the first time in Revelation we get this word, “plague.” It at once turns our minds to the plagues in Egypt, recorded in the early chapters of Exodus; and this, we think, not without reason. God’s judgments run a course which is consistent with Himself. Judgment is His “strange work;” He does not delight in it, and therefore He does not strike the final overwhelming blow without giving ample warning by preliminary blows of a lesser sort. He may well know that these lesser judgments will not produce repentance and so avert the final intervention, nevertheless He justifies His ways in judgment in the sight of all heavenly intelligences, and permits them to see how right He is when at last He strikes overwhelmingly. So in the case before us: men did not repent. We are permitted to see the depths to which men will have sunk in those days; worshipping demons on the one hand, and the insensible works of their own hands on the other.

Is it possible that men, who live in lands where the light of the Gospel once has shone, can sink to such a level? It certainly is. Millions of men and women were recently worshipping Hitler, who apparently was in touch with a demon by means of clair-audience—hearing voices from the unseen world. He would have been next to nothing without his “familiar spirit,” and in worshipping him men were really worshipping the demon that inspired him. The worship too of the material grows apace, as more and more men are obsessed with their great discoveries, and the works of their own hands by which these discoveries are made available, whether for good or for ill. In worshipping these works of their hands, man really is worshipping himself. In those days then, men will worship themselves and demons. They are not very far away from it today.

The last verse of our chapter shows that along with this will go complete moral breakdown. Sorceries or witchcraft indicate traffic with demonic powers, in all its various forms; the other three things specified we are all acquainted with. When life is held cheaply, when personal purity is quite disregarded, when the rights of property are ignored, a state of things must be produced reminiscent of the state of the earth before the flood, or the degradation that prevailed in Sodom and Gomorrah at a later date.

Such is to be the state of things on earth when these “woe” judgments are unleashed. But we have heard the Lord’s own words, “As it was in the days of Noe, so shall it be also in the days of the Son of Man... Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot... Even thus shall it be in the day when the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:26-30). So we are not surprised.


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Bibliography Information
Hole, Frank Binford. "Commentary on Revelation 9:4". "F. B. Hole's Old and New Testament Commentary". 1947.

Lectionary Calendar
Friday, October 30th, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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