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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Revelation 9

 

 


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Verse 1

Revelation 9:1. What the Seer beheld was not a star ‘fall’ out of heaven, but a star fallen (as in the Authorised Version). The difference is important, for we are thus led to think not of any punishment which befell the star, but of its moral and religious condition at the time when it was permitted to inflict the plague to be immediately described. The mention of a ‘star’ leads to the thought of a potentate or power; and, as what is said of it can hardly be separated from the statement of chap. Revelation 12:7-9, there is little doubt that the star represents Satan,—there his expulsion from heaven, here his condition after he is expelled. This conclusion is confirmed by the fact that it is everywhere the manner of St. John to present evil as the direct counterpart of good. Christ is the ‘Morning Star’ (chap. Revelation 22:16); Satan is a ‘star fallen.’ The words used suggest also the important consideration that, in the view of the apostle, Satan was not originally evil. He is a spirit fallen ‘out of heaven,’ not merely ‘from heaven,’ as if to describe the greatness of his fall, but ‘out of heaven,’ that abode of purity and bliss to which he had formerly belonged. Once he was like other happy spirits there: he is now fallen into the earth, the abode of sin and trouble.

That which was given him was the key of the well of the abyss. The word ‘pit’ in both the Authorised and Revised Versions fails to convey the proper meaning of the original. It is a ‘well’ that is spoken of: and, though the expression may seem strange, it is proper to retain it, both because what men lock is not a pit but the long shaft of a well, which to this day in the East is often covered at the mouth and locked, and because we seem to have here one of the remarkable contrasts so characteristic of St. John,—that between a ‘fountain’ and a ‘well.’ Truth emanates from a fountain. Jesus Himself is the true ‘fountain of Jacob’ (John 4:6; John 4:14). Only to the eye which does not yet see is that fountain a ‘well’ (John 4:12).—The shaft of the well goes down into the ‘abyss,’ the abode of Satan (chaps. Revelation 11:7, Revelation 17:8, Revelation 20:1; Revelation 20:3).


Verses 1-12

The verses before as contain an account of the fifth trumpet.


Verse 2

Revelation 9:2. No sooner was the well opened than there went up a smoke out of the well as the smoke of a great furnace. The smoke must be thought of as so thick and black that the sun was shrouded from view and the whole air darkened. It is hardly necessary to remind the reader that-darkness is the note of Satan’s kingdom as light is of Christ’s (comp. Ephesians 6:12, where Satan and his angels are called ‘the world-rulers of this darkness’).


Verse 3

Revelation 9:3. Out of the smoke, we are next told, there came forth locusts into the earth. We need not ask whether these locusts came out of the well, or only out of the smoke after it reached the surface of the earth. The latter is all that the Seer beholds, but it cannot be doubted that he looks upon the plague as demoniacal in its origin. The locusts are compared with locusts of the earth, and they have given unto them the frightful power of destruction belonging to the latter. The idea of the plague is no doubt taken in the first instance from the Egyptian plague of the same kind (Exodus 10:14-15); but a similar image of terrible and irresistible destruction is frequently employed by the prophets (Psalms 105:34; Jeremiah 46:23; and especially Joel 2:1-2).


Verse 4

Revelation 9:4. In one respect, indeed, there is a remarkable distinction between the ravages of the locusts mentioned here and those of the common locusts of the earth. Grass and trees and all green things are what the last lay desolate, but such things these locusts are forbidden to touch. It was said unto them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; and the prohibition may be so given in order to bring out, more strongly than would otherwise be done, the singleness with which their rage is directed against men,, as well as the degree to which that rage is increased by want of their ordinary food. Not all men, however, but only such men as have not the seal of God on their foreheads, are to be smitten by the plague; and the inference, in its bearing on the interpretation of the sealing in chap, 7, ought not to pass unnoticed. If we confine the sealing to the tribes of Israel, it will be impossible to extend the locust plague beyond that limit; yet no one will contend for such a view.


Verse 5

Revelation 9:5. While ‘men’ are thus the object of the locust plague, its violence is even as to them restrained. And it was given them that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months. The killing of men is reserved for a still higher stage of judgment, under the sixth trumpet. In the meantime torment alone is to be inflicted, but that of a kind most painful and acute, as the torment of a scorpion when it striketh a man. The locust is generally said to have no sting (see below). Here, therefore, in order to bring out the terror of the plague, it has the sting of the scorpion assigned to it (comp. Deuteronomy 8:15; Ezekiel 2:6).—The time during which the torment is to be inflicted is ‘five months,’ and the explanation most commonly accepted is, that five months are the period of the year during which locusts commit their ravages. The explanation is improbable, because—(1) There is no sufficient proof that five months is really the duration of a locust-plague. Such a plague is rather short and swift; (2) It is out of keeping with the style of the Apocalypse to give literal periods of time; (3) On the supposition that five months are the ordinary duration of a locust-plague, the ravages here referred to are committed during the whole time to which the plague naturally belongs; whereas the period of five months is named for the sake of showing that the plague is checked. We must, therefore, apply the same principle of interpretation as in chap. Revelation 8:1. Five is the half of ten: it denotes a broken, imperfect, limited, shortened time. The type of the period spoken of may perhaps be found in the Deluge, which lasted for five months.


Verse 6

Revelation 9:6. So terrible is the plague that men shall eagerly, but in vain, desire to die a point reached under the sixth seal, but now under the fifth trumpet,—the usual climax of the Apocalypse. Before passing on it may be well to notice the remarkable double reference to the book of Job in these verses. There, as here in Revelation 9:5, Satan was restrained when the patriarch was delivered into his hands (Job 2:6). There, as here, the smitten one longed to die (Job 3:11; Job 3:20-21). This double reference must be considered as conclusive upon the point that Job is in the Apostle’s eye; and, if so, nothing more is needed to convince us that the locust-plague is demoniacal not earthly in its origin.


Verses 7-11

Revelation 9:7-11. The locusts are now more particularly described, and the description consists of three parts; the first general, the second special, the third the locust king.

The general description. Their shapes are like horses prepared for war. The same comparison is found in Joel 2:4; and the likeness of the locust to a horse is so marked that the insect is named in German Heupferd, and in Italian Cavaletta (Cheval).

The special description in seven particulars.—1. On their heads were, as it were, crowns like unto gold,—not crowns but ‘as’ crowns, so that any yellow brilliancy about the head of the insect is a sufficient foundation for the figure. The crowns are emblems of victory (Revelation 6:2), and the locusts are presented as a conquering host.—2. Their faces were as faces of men,—again not actually human faces, but faces suggesting the likeness, which the face of the locust is said to do. It is a question whether the word ‘men’ is to be understood in the general sense of human beings, or (in contrast with women) of the male sex only. Chap. Revelation 4:7 seems to determine in favour of the latter. Boldness and strength, perhaps even severity and fierceness, are suggested by the figure.—3. And they had hair as hair of women. There is said to be an Arabic proverb comparing the antennae of locusts to the hair of girls. If so, we have a sufficient foundation for this feature of the comparison. What the idea may be it is not easy to say. But softness and effeminacy, with their attendant licentiousness, are probably the point in view.—4. And their teeth were as teeth of lions. This feature, whether drawn from actual observation of the insect or not, is sufficiently accounted for by Joel 1:6.—5. And they had breastplates as it were breastplates of iron,—a feature taken from the thought of the plate which forms the thorax of the locust, and which resembles the plates of a horse clad in ancient armour when prepared for war.—6. And the sound of their wings, etc. It is said that locusts in their flight make a fearful noise (Smith’s Dict, of Bible, ii. 132).—7. And they have tails like unto scorpions, and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt men five months. There is general agreement that, in this feature at least, comparison with the insect as it exists in nature fails; although, if the insect be the Acridium lineola, and if the plate in Smith’s Bible Dict. (vol. 2 p. 129) is to be trusted, there is a distinct sting in the tail. In such a case the sting now spoken of is only magnified, and declared to be like a scorpion, in order to bring out its destructive power.

(3) Their king. Unlike the insect-locusts of whom it is expressly noted in Proverbs 30:27 that ‘they have no king,’ these locusts have a king, the head of their kingdom (Matthew 12:26). They have over them as king the angel of the abyss. This ‘angel’ is the expression of the abyss, in whom all its evil influences are concentrated. In other words he is Satan. It is no serious objection to this that we have found the ‘star’ to be Satan (Revelation 9:1). We are not told that the king spoken of issued out of the abyss, and we may quite easily think of the locusts either as his hosts or as those of the ‘star.’

The name of the king is in Hebrew Abaddon. The word is used for the place of perdition in Job 26:6; Job 28:22, Psalms 88:12, Proverbs 15:11, but its first meaning seems to be perdition itself. Here, however, the idea of perdition is personified; and hence the mention of Apollyon, where the Greek term for perdition is so changed as to make it also a personification of the abstract idea. The character of the king and of his host appears in the name borne by the former. Their aim is not to save, but to destroy.

Before passing from this vision we have still to ask more particularly as to its meaning. All application to the host of the Mahomedans may be at once dismissed. The woe falls upon the whole world, not merely upon a part of it, and it is not permitted to affect the redeemed Church. At the same time it cannot find its fulfilment in mere war, or in the calamities which war brines. The woe is obviously spiritual. It issues from the abyss of hell; the smoke of it darkens the air; the torment which accompanies it is not one that brings death but that makes the soul weary of life. These circumstances point to a great outburst of spiritual evil which shall aggravate the sorrows of the world, make it learn how bitter is the bondage of Satan, and teach it to feel, even in the midst of enjoyment, that it were better to die than to live.


Verse 12

Revelation 9:12. We are now at a higher stage of judgment than in the seals. More solemnity therefore befits the occasion. At the close of the fifth seal we passed directly to the sixth: not so now. The Seer interposes with the warning, The one woe is passed; behold, there come yet two woes hereafter.


Verse 13-14

Revelation 9:13-14. When the trumpet sounded, the Seer heard one voice out of the horns of the golden altar which is before God. This ‘golden altar’ is the altar of incense already mentioned in chap. Revelation 8:3 as that the incense of which mingled with the prayers of the oppressed saints. We cannot doubt, therefore, that the plague to be described is presented to us as an answer to these prayers. Not, indeed, we again repeat, that the prayers were for vengeance on the oppressor. They were prayers that God would vindicate His own cause, and the mode in which He does so is by judgment on His adversaries. The voice issues ‘out of the horns’ of the altar, that is, out of the horn-shaped projections at its four corners. These horns expressed the idea of the altar in its greatest potency, and they are fitly referred to here when the power of the prayers which had ascended from the altar is to appear in the answer sent. It is probably because they were four in number that the voice is spoken of as ‘one.’

The voice thus heard cried to the angel that bad the sixth trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound at the great river Euphrates. We have already seen that in the Apocalypse the ‘angel’ of anything is the thing itself in activity, in the performance of the service due from it to the Almighty. The angel of the Euphrates is the Euphrates in activity, in the fulfilment to its mission. It is true that ‘four’ angels are here mentioned; but this arises from the fact that four is the number of the world, the whole of which is to be affected by the plague. The name of the river is used symbolically, and the thoughts upon which the symbol rests may be traced without difficulty. The Euphrates was the boundary line of Israel on the North-East. When the covenant was first made with Abram, the promise of the Lord to the patriarch was, ‘Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates’ (Genesis 15:18). This promise was subsequently repeated (Deuteronomy 1:7; Joshua 1:4), and in the days of David and Solomon it appears to have been fulfilled (2 Samuel 8:3-8; 1 Kings 4:21; 2 Chronicles 9:26). The Euphrates thus formed the natural defence of God’s chosen people against the terrible armies of Assyria on the other side. But for the same reason it became also, especially when swollen by those floods to which it is periodically subject, a fit emblem of the judgments inflicted by the Almighty upon Israel by means of Assyria and Babylon. Because Israel at such times ‘refused the waters of Shiloah that go softly,’ the great river was brought up as it were in flood to overflow with a deep stream the whole land of Immanuel (Isaiah 8:5-8). To the prophets the Euphrates thus became the symbol of all that was most disastrous in the judgments of the Almighty, and in this sense, therefore, we are here to understand the mention made of it. With the literal river we have no more to do than in so far as it supplies the foundation of the figure. In its essential meaning it has no closer connection with the East than with the West or North or South. The plague may issue from any of these quarters as well as that supposed to be specially referred to. It is interesting to notice the progress from the fifth trumpet plague to that before us. In 6:5 the Midianite invaders of Palestine are compared to locusts, ‘they came as locusts’ (not ‘grasshoppers,’ as in A. V.) ‘for multitude,’ and they ‘left no sustenance for Israel, neither sheep, nor ox, nor ass’ (Revelation 9:4), but they left the people in the land. Now we have reached a further stage in the procession of God’s judgments. We are at the cruel and murderous invasions of Assyria and Babylon, when not only sustenance was destroyed but men were killed (Lamentations 2:21).


Verses 13-21

The verses before us contain an account of the sixth trumpet


Verse 15

Revelation 9:15. A new circumstance connected with the four angels is added in this verse. They had not only been bound: they had been kept ready for an appointed moment. They had been prepared unto the hour and day and month and year. The translation of these last words in the Authorised Version conveys an altogether false idea of their meaning, suggesting as it does that we are to put together the four periods mentioned, and to regard the sum as indicating the length of time during which either the preparation had been going on, or the plague was to continue. It is to be observed, however, that the words ‘unto’ and ‘the’ are not repeated before ‘day and month and year.’ Add to this the fact, already illustrated in the writings of St. John (chap. Revelation 5:12; John 14:6), that when we have a series of nouns grouped together in this way the emphasis lies upon the first, the others only filling up the thought, and we shall be satisfied that we are not to combine into one these portions of time. The meaning is that the angels are prepared ‘unto the hour’ appointed by God, and that this hour shall fall in its appointed day and month and year.—The commission given to the angels is to kill the third part of men. The point chiefly to be noticed is the climax from a one-fourth part under the seals to a one-third part here. In the climax marking the separate members of the trumpets the progress is from the ‘tormenting’ in the fifth trumpet to the ‘killing’ in the sixth.


Verse 16-17

Revelation 9:16-17. A further part of the vision is unfolded, in which we are introduced to horsemen, as if we were already familiar with them, although nothing had been said of them before. The number of the horsemen was so great that they could not be counted: St. John only heard the number of them. A fuller description both of the horses and of their riders follows. The latter, not the former, had breastplates of fire, and of hyacinth stone, and of brimstone. The hyacinth stone is of a dull dark-blue colour resembling that produced by flaming brimstone; and thus the colours of the breastplates are those of the things that in the next words issue out of the mouths of the horses. The breastplates also are more than mere weapons of defence. With the brimstone blueness of their colour they inspire the beholder with terror. It is possible that the colours are only the reflexion, on the breastplates of the riders, of the ‘fire and smoke and brimstone’ that come forth from the horses’ mouths. This idea is in keeping with the general strain of the passage, which seems to attach all the terror to the horses and to keep the horsemen in the background; but there is no direct evidence in its support, and it is unnecessary to resort to it.—Having spoken of the riders the description turns to the horses. To the Jew the horse, even considered by itself, was an object of terror, not of admiration. It was connected only with war, a living and swift weapon of destruction. As, however, the locusts of the fifth trumpet were more terrible than the locusts of the earth, so the horses of the sixth have their terror enhanced by the addition of new features not found in the horses of this world. Their heads were as the heads of lions (comp. on chap. Revelation 4:7).

And out of their months cometh forth fire and smoke and brimstone; that is, all the three elements of woe issue from the mouth of each horse of the whole host,—a frightful substitute for foam.


Verse 18

Revelation 9:18. Before the description of the horses is continued, the effect of the three plagues that issue from their mouths is noticed. By these three plagues was the third part of men killed,—the third part, that is, of men over the whole earth, and whatever the division of the human race to which they belonged.


Verse 19

Revelation 9:19. The description of the horses is resumed, for the purpose of bringing out another terrible feature of their destructive power. That power is also in their tails, for their tails are like unto serpents, having heads, and with them they do hurt. Three characteristics of the tails are specially mentioned; first, they are ‘like unto serpents,’ long, smooth, subtle, clasping their victim in an embrace from which he cannot escape; secondly, they ‘have heads’ at the extremity farthest from the body; where the power of an ordinary tail ceases these tails receive increased intensity of power, the glittering eye, the poison fang; thirdly, with them, that is, with the heads, they ‘do hurt.’ The tail of a horse is for its own protection: these tails devastate. Yet they are not so fatal as the mouths. The former ‘hurt,’ the latter ‘kill.’


Verse 20-21

Revelation 9:20-21. The vision is over, but the guilt of the world which was now under judgment has to be set forth with greater fulness, in order that we may better understand the evil of sin and the justness of the judgments that overtake it. And the rest of men which were not killed in these plagues repented not. ‘Men’ here are obviously the ungodly, the same as those of Revelation 9:4, or as those spoken of in chap. Revelation 8:13, in the words ‘they that dwell on the earth.’ By the works of their hands it is generally agreed that we are to understand not their course of life but the idols mentioned immediately afterwards. As a natural consequence of not repenting of their idol-worship these men also repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts. Four sins are mentioned, implying universality, and leading our thoughts to both Jew and Gentile. Nor does even the mention of ‘idols’ entitle us to confine the obstinate hardness of heart spoken of to the heathen. Idolatry is chargeable against all the enemies of God, whether Jew or Gentile (comp. 1 John 5:21). Again we see that the ‘sealed,’ upon whom this plague certainly does not fall, must belong to both these divisions of mankind.

We may here pause for a moment to make one or two general remarks upon the sixth trumpet. In general characteristics it greatly resembles the fifth, but the climax of the Apocalypse may be easily marked in the progress from the latter to the former. Not only are the horses of the sixth trumpet more powerful than the locusts of the fifth, but the terribleness of the one is much greater than that of the other. To quote the words of an old commentator (Bishop Forbes of Aberdeen), ‘the horses are said to have heads of lions to denote open rage and professed cruelty, whereas the locusts covered their lions’ teeth with faces of men and hair of women.’ Their destructive energy too is more fatal, for the power of the locusts ‘to hurt’ (Revelation 9:10) becomes in them a ‘power to kill.’ In other respects no distinction need be drawn between the two trumpets. Special forms of judgment visiting the earth at different periods of its history can hardly with propriety be sought in them. The judgments which they represent are peculiar to no people or age. They are rather those judgments of a general kind which always have followed, and always will follow, sin. These spring in every form from the same causes, and are designed to promote the same ends. The misery with which earth is filled, whether from war or pestilence or famine, whether showing itself in poverty or crime or death, is to be traced to one and the same root,—that evil of the human heart which leads men to reject the revelation of the love of Him who willeth not that any of His creatures should perish, who would stanch all their wounds and heal all their sorrows. Upon this we are to fix our thoughts, not only under the last two, but under all the trumpets, noting only further, as we do so, that the longer mercy is despised the greater is the judgment which follows, and that the later messengers of Divine wrath are more dreadful than the earlier.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Revelation 9:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/revelation-9.html. 1879-90.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, October 31st, 2020
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30
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