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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 9

 

 

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Verse 1

1. Star fall from heaven—Rather star fallen from heaven. Note Revelation 4:11. The seer did not see the fall, for that had taken place ages ago. Jesus in spirit saw Satan falling as lightning from heaven. Luke 10:18. He beholds the fallen star on the earth, as king of the infernal locusts, and his name is Abaddon. Revelation 9:11.

Was given— Originally by the Supreme.

Key—As keeper and sovereign.

Bottomless pit—In the Greek the αβυσσος, or abyss, etymologically signifying, a depth without a bottom. Note Revelation 13:1. But the Greek phrase here is very peculiar— φρεστος της αβυσσου, the well of the abyss. The abyss is the under world, consisting largely of waters, yet the abode of evil spirits and wicked souls. It is entered from the earth through a narrow descending passage or well; and this well has a key to it held by Abaddon, the fallen star.


Verses 1-11

The three Spiritual (or Woe) Trumpets, Revelation 9:1 - Revelation 22:6.

THE FIFTH (first Woe) TRUMPET—

Abysmal locust-demonsemblems of infernal influences on earth, Revelation 9:1-11.

Rising from the curse-scarred surface of the earth into the sphere of spiritual woes, we now behold a vivid picture of diabolical influences issuing from hades, headed by Abaddon, and filling the moral atmosphere of our earth. They are presented as hellish locust swarms, in which the qualities of that insect being made the basis, all demoniac traits are added. This picture informed the early believers that the dominating influences of hell on earth were still to continue for awhile, even during the Messianic dispensation, making life a pessimism and death a desire to the profane world. These infernal locusts are an image of the infernal swarm of errors and vices issuing from hell and Satan, and filling men’s lives with misery.

Hengstenberg interprets the whole as a picture of human war, and justifies his interpretation by several Old Testament passages in which locusts are symbolical of armies, as Jeremiah 46:23; Jeremiah 51:27. Yet as these locusts come from the pit and are led by Apollyon, we may believe the image to be elevated from the idea of war between man and man to a moral war of the infernal upon the terrestrial. This is sustained by the prohibition to kill, Revelation 9:5, and the still stronger fact that death is sought in vain, Revelation 9:6.

It is a strange symbol of physical war which prohibits killing!


Verse 2

2. A smoke—As from the crater of a volcano, indicating that there is a hellish fire in the under world as well as water. This smoke images the infernal darkening power of error, in which sin becomes predominant over our world.

Sun… air… darkened—The moral atmosphere is in a demoniac twilight.


Verse 3

3. Came out—Emerging from the smoky volume are flying locustine forms, the demoniac embodiments of hell-born error and seduction, authors of human misery.

Was given—By divine destiny.

Scorpions of the earth—Not in distinction from “scorpions of the sea,” as Stuart and others; but these supernatural or infernal locusts had a power symbolized by that of a natural earthly scorpion. They could poison and inflame the interior of humanity, the inner man, without killing immediately. So fiery flying serpents and scorpions are associated in Deuteronomy 8:15; Numbers 21:6. A similar association of serpents and scorpions, as symbols of the infernal to be trodden on by the holy, is Luke 10:19.


Verse 4

4. Commanded—Divine limitation over the powers of evil.

Not hurt the grass—And so unlike the natural locusts. Their hurt was for men— profane men—without the seal of justifying grace. The blessed Spirit given through the atonement is the great preserver from sin and deliverer from hell.


Verse 5

5. Not kill—As the war-demons (Revelation 9:18) would. These inflict agonies; agonies from which, indeed, natural death may naturally, in time, result: but it is not the work of these error-demons, as of the war-demons, to slaughter and slay.

Tormented—For misery is the outflow of error and sin.

Five months—A divine limitation again, based on the nature of the locust, whose ravages last usually about five months; that is, from May to September. And so temptation, error, and sin have not limitless control over all the life of humanity. Gospel truths take their turn of influence and offer. Even the smoke of the bottomless pit produces but twilight here, not total darkness.

Torment of a scorpion—The wounds of a scorpion are not usually fatal unless they are neglected; but the poison is so acrid that it occasions great agony. Like to this are the images of the hornet, the bee, and the wasp. See the Old Testament, for example Deuteronomy 7:20; Exodus 23:28; Joshua 24:12; Deuteronomy 1:44.

Torments— A frequent word in the Greek in the Apocalypse. Its noun-form, βασανος, signifies the Libyan touchstone, by which the purity of metals was claimed to be tested. Thence the verb signified any examination of a thing by criticism, or of a person by torture. Thence it signifies any torment or suffering. In the New Testament it never signifies infliction on an inanimate object but once, Matthew 14:24, where it speaks of a ship as “tossed by the waves.” Our seer applies the term here to the sting of the locusts; to the torment of the people by the two witnesses, Revelation 11:10; to the pains of child-birth, Revelation 12:2; and to the fiery torment of the wicked, Revelation 14:10; Revelation 20:10.


Verse 6

6. In those days—The days of the five locustine months; the periods of a man’s subjection to infernal error.

Seek death—A most intense trait of misery under sin. Life is a pessimism, and death is subjectively looked for as a deliverer.

Not find it—Not but that death will find them: for men will die. But they will subjectively prefer the sudden death of slaughter (ver.

19) to their long, scorpion-like agonies. Note on Revelation 6:16.

Flee from them—A slight personification. Their imaginary deliverer takes to flight. Indeed, should he make the serious offer, he might not be so welcome, after all.

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Verse 7

7. Shapes—A minute description of the locust-demons. In nearly every point there is some basis in the natural locust; but some additional trait both shows them supernatural and suggests the symbolic signification. Infernal, soul-corrupting errors and lies are belligerent like horses prepared for battle; are dominant as with crowns; have very intelligent and plausible-looking faces; are winning, like women, but biting as with teeth of lions; they are self-fortified, as with breastplates; their sounding wings indicate their infinite number and their readiness for moral but not slaughtering battle; their stings indicate what miseries they entail upon the unsealed and profane. Sin is often beautiful to sight, but has ever a sting in its tail.

Like unto… as… as—The repeated as in this whole description must be specially noted. It indicates in each case resemblance, not a reality.

These locusts were only as horses, not real horsemen, such as meet us in Revelation 9:16. It is a moral, or rather immoral, army that is here symbolized. Naturalists have remarked the resemblance of the locust to a horse. Hence he is called in German a heupferd, a grass-horse. So Joel, (Joel 2:4,) describing locusts, says, “Their appearance is as the appearance of horses.”

Crowns like gold—”Probably means the horns (antlers, feelers) of the locust tipped with yellow, that is, with a golden colour, and these are in all probability here called crowns to show that they are the emblems of victorious and irresistible march.”

Faces… as… of men—However devilish or brutal in nature, error must wear an intelligent, rational, and humanized look. A distant resemblance in the locust to a human face is the natural base that suggests the symbol.


Verse 8

8. Hair of women—”If a woman have long hair it is a glory to her.” 1 Corinthians 11:15. “De Wette quotes from Niebuhr an Arabic proverb, in which the antlers of locusts are compared to the hair of girls.”—Alford. The hairs of the natural locust are naturally increased and beautified to form the symbol of feminine attractiveness. Error is reason-like, like man, and seductive, like woman.


Verse 9

9. Breastplates—”Referred here to the hard and firm cuticle on the fore part of the locust, which serves as a shield while it moves among the thorny and furzy vegetation.”—Stuart. Such is the natural basis which symbolizes how damning lie is ever ready to defend itself in the moral battle with truth and righteousness.

Sound of their wings—It is from their wings that issues the stridulous noise of the locust tribe. And so the wings of swarming lies from the pit fill the air with their monotonous noise and confusion. Human life is distracted with their eternal racket.


Verse 10

10. Tails—The secret of their power of harming without killing. The consequences left behind by error are the stings in their tails. Their faces are fair and seductive; their tails are pointed with poison and pangs.


Verse 11

11. A king over them—Unlike the natural locusts, who are a noisy and pestilent democracy.

Abaddon—He is King Destruction. For so the Hebrew word signifies. In Job 26:6, and Proverbs 15:11, it seems to designate the place of the destruction of the wicked. So that here the word for sheol, or the abyss, or bottomless pit, is framed into a name for its angel. In Revelation 20:14, death and hades are framed into personalities. Abaddon is translated by our seer into Greek, as Apollyon, Destroyer. As angel of the bottomless pit, bearing its title as his name, and heading the demons of sin swarming through the world, he can hardly be less than Satan himself. Abaddon and his locusts are a plain image of the devil and his angels, Matthew 25:41. This description is a reduction to picture of St. Paul’s “prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the hearts of the children of disobedience.”


Verse 13

SIXTH (the second Woe) TRUMPET—The war-demons of Christendom, Revelation 9:12-21.

13. A voice—Greek, one voice; perhaps emphatic one. The striking thought then would be, that the one voice came from the four horns. There was a unanimity in the four.

From—Literal Greek, out from. The altar was impregnate with the spirit of divine retribution, and called through all its horns for its speedy execution.

Altar—Notes on Revelation 6:3; Revelation 8:5.


Verse 14

14. The great river Euphrates—Literal Greek, in the river, the great Euphrates. Alford notes that this river-symbol has been the puzzle of commentators. It certainly will be insoluble to any one who looks to the literal Euphrates, or to any Eastern locality, for the meaning. It was upon that great real river, illustrious in profane and sacred history, that Babylon was founded. But in our Apocalypse, Babylon is symbolically antichrist’s capital. And we are expressly told that the waters upon which Babylon “sitteth” “are,” (Revelation 9:15,) “peoples and nations.” That is, they are the human supporters of antichrist universally, without regard to locality. And thus while the locustine influences come upon the earth from the bottomless pit and from Abaddon, the tumults and blood-sheds of war spring up from the masses of men; from the lust of the flesh and the wild ambitions of the depraved heart. The four angels are the war-spirits in and among those “peoples and nations.” They are four, the cosmical number, implying that no particular war is meant, but the sum total of wars during the Christian ages. These are bound by divine restraint until the hour determined by divine justice. Then the word goes forth, Loose! and the four war-angels spring in all directions on their mission of vengeance.


Verse 15

15. For an hour—Our version gives the indefinite article instead of the definite the, and thus misleads some interpreters into a very devious course. They have taken these notes of time as telling how long the war was to last, and then, having calculated, symbolically, the length of the period, have endeavoured to find a war of the exact length in actual history. But these time-words indicate not the length of any one war, but the precise instant when, by divine permission, they commence. At the right hour, in its due place in month and year, the minister of vengeance springs forth.

For to slay—The error-demons only torment; the war-demons slay.

Third part of men—The divine number three indicates, like the five months of Revelation 9:5, (where see note,) a divinely-fixed limitation. It of course implies no literal fulfilment as to number.


Verse 16

16. Horsemen—Alford correctly says, that the four angels are apparently “resolved into the hosts of cavalry.” The cavalry alone, of this great army, is stupendous, letting alone the infantry. The number amounts to two hundred millions. It is the decimal of totality raised to the seventh power, and reduplicated, to indicate how vast the totality of the wars of the Christian ages would be!

Heard the number—For no human eye could see it.


Verse 17

17. I saw—The forms of the horses; he could only hear the number.

Fire—Rather, fire-coloured, a fiery red.

Jacinth—A dull, smoky red.

Brimstone—An adjective, sulphureous. The three colours of the breastplates correspond to the three elements issuing from the horses’ mouths.

Out of their mouths—Had real cavalries been described, swords and arrows would have been in their hands. But these are not war-men, but war-demons—symbols of the furies of war. The fire is the blaze of warlike wrath; the smoke (see note on Revelation 9:2) betokens moral darkness; the brimstone, destruction.

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Verse 19

19. Tails—Another demoniac trait. See note on Revelation 9:10.

Had heads— Alford, with justice, reprehends Elliot’s absurdly making these tails figure the “horse-tails” on the standards of the Turkish pachas. Indeed, a large share of the interpretations of the historical commentators may fairly be styled exegesis run wild. More taking, perhaps true, is the idea that the fire, smoke, and brimstone, here, are a foreshadowing of the effects of gunpowder. But they are really intended as infernal imageries correspondent to those in Revelation 9:1-2. The mouths of the horses breathed the direct destructions of war; the tails figured the resulting effects entailed by it. The tails of the horses became as serpents with biting heads at the end. A fit intimation of the devastation, poverty, demoralization, and barbarization, left behind by wars.


Verse 20

20. The rest—The two thirds of the profane world, not the sealed of God, (note Revelation 9:4,) remained obdurate. War punishes and reduces the number of the wicked and brings them to subjection; but it rather demoralizes than reforms the incorrigible.

Repented not—Of their false religions in this verse; of their wicked practices in the next verse. The pagan adhered to his idols, the criminal to his crimes. Two classes of pagan thinkers are distinguished; those who worshipped the mere image, and those who worshipped the supposed deity it represented.

Devils—Demons, which in the Greek includes both good and bad spirits.


Verse 21

21. Four classes of crime are named as specimens. They are crimes, not of pagan alone, but of virtual pagans, even in Christian lands.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 9:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/revelation-9.html. 1874-1909.

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