Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth.Ch. 16:1-21.] The seven vials. See the general remarks on ch. 8:1 for all questions common to the three great series of visions. The following special particulars are here to be noticed: 1) In the description, ch. 15:1, which first introduces these plagues, they are plainly called τὰς ἑπτὰ πληγὰς τὰς ἐσχάτας. There can then be no doubt here, not only that the series, reaches on to the time of the end, but that the whole of it is to be placed close to the same time. And this is borne out by the particulars evolved in the course of the visions themselves For we find that they do not in point of time go back, but at once take up the events of the former visions, and occur during the times of the sounding of the seventh trumpet, when the mystery of God should be finished. 2) As in the seals and in the trumpets, so here again, there is a marked distinction between the first four and the following three. As there, so here, the objects of the first four are the earth, the sea, the springs of waters, and the sun. After this the objects become more particularized: the throne of the beast, the river Euphrates, with the reservation of that peculiar and vague character for the seventh, which seems to belong to it in all the three series. 3) As before, so now, there is a compendious and anticipatory character about several of the vials, leading us to believe that those of which this is not so plain, partake of this character also. For example, under the third vial we find an acknowledgment of the divine justice in making those drink blood who shed the blood of saints and prophets. This, there can be little doubt, points on to the judgment on Babylon, in whom, ch. 18:24, was found the blood of saints and prophets, and of all that had been slain on the earth. Again, under the sixth we have the same great gathering to battle which is described in detail, ch. 19:17-21. And finally, under the seventh, we have a compendious anticipatory notice of the judgment of Babylon, hereafter, ch. 7, 8, to be described in detail,—and of the great day itself in ver. 20, also hereafter (ch. 20:11-15) to be resumed at more length. 4) As we might expect in the final plagues, we have no longer, as in the trumpets, a portion of each element affected, but the whole. 5) While in the first four vials the main features of the first four trumpets are reproduced, there is one notable distinction in the case of the fourth. While by the plague of the fourth trumpet, the sun, moon, and stars are partially darkened, by that of the fourth vial the power of the sun is increased, and the darkening of the Kingdom of the beast is reserved for the fifth.
The minor special features will be noticed as we proceed. On the whole, the series of the vials seems to bear a less general character than the other two. It takes up a particular point in the prophecy, and deals with symbols and persons previously described. It belongs, by its very conditions, exclusively to the time of, or to days approaching very near to the time of, the end: including in itself the subsequent details as far as the end of ch. 20: without however noticing most important features and considerable prophetic periods.
1.] Introductory. And I heard a great voice out of the temple (from the fact ch. 15:8, that the divine Presence is filling the temple, and that none might enter into it, this voice can be no other than the divine voice. The words ἐκ τοῦ ναοῦ may have been erased (as in var. readd.) from the difficulty presented by τοῦ θεοῦ below, none being able to enter during the pouring out of the vials) saying to the seven angels, Go and pour out the seven vials of the wrath of God into the earth (so, previous to the series of trumpets, the angel casts the fire from the altar into the earth, ch. 8:5).
2.] And the first departed (each angel, as his turn comes, leaves the heavenly scene, and from the space between heaven and earth, empties his vial on the appointed object) and poured out his vial into the earth (the γῆ, which before in ver. 1 was general, is now particular, and correlative with the objects of the other vials, cf. vv. 2, 3, εἰς τὴν θάλασσαν, εἰς τοὺς ποταμούς): and there came (took place: fell, as E. V.) an evil (κακόν, in itself) and painful (πονηρόν, to the sufferers, ἐπίπονον, Suidas. See reff.) sore upon the men that had the mark of the beast and that worshipped his image (see above ch. 13:15-17, 14:9, 10. The allegorical and historical interpretations have been very various: see them in Elliott, vol. iv. Notice the parallel with the sixth Egyptian plague, Exodus 9:8 ff. Cf. Deuteronomy 28:27, Deuteronomy 28:35).
3.] And the second poured out his vial into the sea: and it (the sea, cf. ch. 8:8, 11: not, “there was,” as De Wette: for the question would arise, where? the analogy of the Egyptian plague is surely decisive) became blood as of a dead man (blood as when a dead corpse lies in its blood: loathsome and corrupting): and every soul of life (living soul, ref. Gen.: ψυχή in its physical sense of animal soul) died, (all) the things in the sea (τά is in apposition with and exegetical of πᾶσα ψ. ζωῆς).
4-7.] And the third poured out his vial into the rivers and the fountains of the waters: and they became (it is quite impossible, in the lax construction of the Apocalyptic Greek, to maintain here a distinction, as Düsterd. has done, from the previous ἐγένετο, and to render here, “there came blood.” Analogy must be our guide: and the account to be given of the singular is either that it belongs to τὰ ὕδατα, or that the rivers and fountains are taken together, and regarded as neuter in sense though not in construction) blood (that the fact was so, is testified by what follows, in which it is assumed that the sources of ordinary drink have become blood). And I heard the angel of the waters (i. e. the angel who was set over the waters; see reff.: not as Grot., “vocatur angelus aquarum quia in aquas immisit phialam.” Schöttgen, h. l., p. 1131 f., gives examples of angels of the earth and of the sea: see also Wolf, h. l. This is more probable than Düsterd.’s idea that the analogy to be followed is that of the four living-beings, and that the angel symbolized the waters) saying, Thou art righteous who art and wast (as in ch. 11:17, the καὶ ὁ ἐρχόμενος is omitted. For the construction, see reff.) holy (I incline against Düsterd., to the usual connexion, viz. the making ὅσιος belong to ὁ ὢν κ. ὁ ἦν, and not in apposition with δικαιος. And that which moves me to it is, 1) the extreme improbability of two epithets, δίκαιος and ὅσιος, both being predicated in such an acknowledgment of an act of justice: and 2) that as I have taken it, it best agrees with the ὅσιος in ch. 15:4, where it is predicated of God not as the result of any manifested acts of His, but as an essential attribute confined to Him alone), because Thou didst judge thus (lit., “these things:” viz. the issue mentioned in ver. 4; the turning the drinking-water into blood: “Thou didst inflict this judgment”): because (this ὅτι repeats the former ὅτι, καί (following being “and:” not, as it might be taken, “because they, &c., Thou hast also”) they shed the blood of saints and prophets, and Thou hast given them blood to drink (on the form of the inf., πεῖν, see Winer, edn. 6, § 15, and Anthol. xi. 140. 3, οἷς οὐ σκῶμμα λέγειν, οὐ πεῖν φίλον): they are worthy (these words are made stronger by their asyndetous character). And I heard the altar saying (certainly the simplest understanding of these words is, that they involve a personification of the altar. On the altar are the prayers of the saints, offered before God: beneath the altar are the souls of the martyrs crying for vengeance: when therefore the altar speaks, it is the concentrated testimony of these which speaks by it), Even so, Lord God Almighty: true (reff.) and just are Thy judgments.
8, 9.] And the fourth poured out his vial upon (no longer εἰς) the sun: and it was given to it (the sun: not “to him,” the angel, as, strangely enough, Bengel and Hengstb., and Elliott, iii. 361. The angels throughout this vision are simply the pourers out of the vials, not the executors of the plagues. Besides which, the verb καυματίζω, in a sentence where the sun is mentioned, can have but one reference: see reff.) to scorch men (the τούς is probably generic merely. If it is to be assigned a meaning, it may be, the men who have received the mark and number of the beast. But the other is more likely) with (the ἐν of investiture: the element in which the scorching takes place) fire (not, as Hengstb., understanding αὐτῷ of the angel, some fire other than the sun: but the glowing increased heat of the sun itself), and men were scorched with great heat (on the accus. after the passive verb which takes a double accus. in active, see reff., and Winer, edn. 6, § 32. 5), and blasphemed the name of God who hath power over these plagues, and did not repent to give Him glory (on the inf. epexegetic, see Winer, edn. 6, § 44.1).
10, 11.] And the fifth poured out his vial upon the throne of the beast (given to it by the dragon, ch. 13:2. That is, on the spot where the power and presence of the beast had its proper residence): and his kingdom (those lands which owned his rule) became darkened (as in the ninth Egyptian plague, Exodus 10:21 ff., the darkness is specially sent over the land, not occasioned by any failure of the lights of heaven). And they (the inhabitants: the subjects of the beast. They are by and by identified with those who had received his mark) chewed their tongues (the word μασάομαι is confined to the comedians and later Gr. prose. ἡ τῶν γλωσσῶν μάσησις τὴν ὑπερβολὴν τῆς ὀδύνης δηλοῖ, says Andreas) from (ἐκ, of the source of the action: see reff.) their pain (viz. under which they were previously suffering: not, that occasioned by the darkness, which would not of itself occasion pain: see below), and blasphemed the God of heaven (see ch. 11:13) by reason of (ἐκ as above) their pains and their sores (these words bind on this judgment to that of the first and following vials, and shew that they are cumulative, not simply successive. The sores, and pains before mentioned, are still in force), and repented not of (see ch. 9:20, 21) their works.
12.] And the sixth poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates: and its water was dried up, that the way of the kings which come from the rising of the sun might be prepared (notice, but not to be blindly led by it, the analogy of the sixth trumpet, also having reference to the river Euphrates. In order to understand what we here read, we must carefully bear in mind the context. From what follows under this same vial, we learn that the kings of the whole earth are about to be gathered together to the great battle against God, in which He shall be victorious, and they shall utterly perish. The time is now come for this gathering and by the drying up of the Euphrates, the way of those kings who are to come to it from the East is made ready. This is the only understanding of these words which will suit the context, or the requirements of this series of prophecies. For to suppose the conversion of Eastern nations, or the gathering together of Christian princes, to be meant, or to regard the words as relating to any auspicious event, is to introduce a totally incongruous feature into the series of vials, which confessedly represent the “seven last plagues.” Andreas explains it as above: and so Bleek, Ewald, De Wette, Düsterd., al.).
13-16.] And I saw (notice the curious reading of , which derives some interest from the absence of any participle to signify “going forth”) out of the mouth of the dragon (who is still in the prophetic scene, giving his power to the beast, ch. 13:2) and out of the mouth of the beast and out of the mouth of the false prophet (viz. the second beast of ch. 13:11 ff. Cf. ch. 19:20, 20:10) three unclean spirits like frogs (in shape and character. In the entire absence of Scripture symbolism,—for the only mention of frogs besides this is in, or in regard to, the relation of the plague in Egypt,—we can only explain the similitude from the uncleanness, and the pertinacious noise, of the frog. Daubuz quotes from Philo, De Sacr. Abel et Cain, 19, vol. i. p. 176, ἀλλὰ ταῖς ἀψύχοις δόξαις, λέγω δὲ βατράχοις πιεσθείς, ἦχον καὶ ψόφον ἔρημον πραγμάτων ἀποτελοῦσι: from Cicero ad Att., xv. 15, “ranæ ῥητορεύονσι:” and from Artemidorus ii. 15, βἀτραχοι δἑ ἄνδρας νόητας κ. βωμολόχους προσημαίνουσι), for (γάρ gives a reason for ὡς βάτραχοι) they are spirits of devils doing miracles (this is a plain declaration of the interpretation of these three, and by it the limits of interpretation are clearly set, and must not be overpassed. The explanation of these as any men, or sects of men, is therefore clearly wrong) which go forth over the kings of the whole earth (it is the uniform testimony of the prophetic Scriptures that the antichristian power shall work signs and wonders as means of deceiving mankind: see Matthew 24:24; 2Thessalonians 2:9) to gather them together to the war of the great day of Almighty God (that day viz. which is explained in detail in the subsequent part of the prophecy, ch. 19:17 ff. This great gathering of the beast and the kings of the earth against God and the Lamb, is the signal for the immediate and glorious appearing of the Lord. And therefore follows an exhortation to be ready, and clad in the garments of righteousness, when He shall come). Behold, I come (the Seer speaks in the name of Christ) as a thief (that personal advent shall happen when many least expect it, when the world is secure in the ungodliness of ages): blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked and they (men) see his shame (the figure is that of one apprehending the thief’s coming, and therefore keeping watch in his clothes, not undressing. In the spiritual sense, the garments are the robe of righteousness put on by faith in Him who is our Righteousness: and the walking naked is that destitution of these garments which will at that day bring shame before assembled men and angels). And they (the unclean spirits, as is evident from συνήγαγεν being merely a recital of the συναγαγεῖν before: not, the angel of the sixth vial, as Bengel; nor God, as Hengst. and Ebrard) gathered them together to the place which is called in Hebrew Harmagedon (it is evidently in the meaning of the Hebrew name of this place that its appropriate significance lies. For otherwise why should ἑβραϊστί be prefixed to it? When St. John does this in his Gospel, in the cases of Bethesda, 5:2, Gabbatha, 19:13, Golgotha, 19:7, and in this book in the case of Abaddon, ch. 9:11, it is each time not without such reference: see the notes in those places. But this circumstance does not deprive the name of geographical reality: and it is most probable on every account that such reality exists here. The words τὸν τόπον τὸν καλούμενον would surely not be used except of a real place habitually so named, or by a name very like this. Nor need we search far for the place pointed out. הַר־מְנדּוֹ, the mountain of Megiddo, designates at least the neighbourhood where the Canaanitish kings were overthrown by Barak, Judges 5:19; an occasion which gave rise to one of the two triumphal songs of Israel recorded in the O. T., and therefore one well worthy of symbolizing the great final overthrow of the Kings of the Earth leagued against Christ. That the name slightly differs from that given in the O. T. where it is the plain (2Chronicles 35:22) or the waters (Judg. l, c) of Megiddo, is of slight consequence, and may be owing to a reason which I shall dwell on below. The LXX in both places adopt the form which we have here, Μαγεδώ -δών or -δδώ. Nor must it be forgotten, that Megiddo was connected with another overthrow and slaughter, viz. that of Josiah by Pharaoh-Necho (2Kings 23:29; 2Ki_2 Chron. ubi supra), which though not analogous to this predicted battle in its issue, yet served to keep up the character of the place as one of overthrow and calamity: cf. also Zechariah 12:11, and the striking description, 2Chronicles 35:25, of the ordinance of lamentation for Josiah. At Megiddo also another Jewish King, Ahaziah, died of the wounds received from Jehu, 2Kings 9:27. The prefix Har, signifying “mountain,” has its local propriety, see Stanley’s description of the plain of Esdraelon, in the opening of his Sinai and Palestine, ch. 9. And to the fisherman of the lake of Galilee, who would know Megiddo as he saw its background of highland lit up by the morning or evening sun across the plain from his native hills, the name would doubtless be a familiar one. Still there may have been a deeper reason which led to, or at all events justified the prefix. As the name now stands, it has a meaning ominous of the great overthrow which is to take place on the spot. Drusius, believing the word to be merely a mystic one, explains it to be חרמא גדהון, “internecio exercitus eorum,” the overthrow of their army. But, conceding and maintaining the geographical reality, must not we suppose that such a name, with such a sound, so associated with the past, bore to a Hebrew ear, when used of the future, its ominous significance of overthrow? It is remarkable that in Zechariah 12:11, where the mourning for Josiah is alluded to, the LXX render not in the plain of Megiddo, but ἐν πεδίῳ ἐκκοπτομένου: and this agrees with the interpretation of Andreas here, who supposes the name equivalent to διακοπή).
17-21.] And the seventh poured out his vial upon the air (the consequences are presently seen), and there came forth a voice out of the temple from the throne (the voice, as in ver. 1, of God Himself. This is rendered even more certain here by the addition of ἀπὸ τοῦ θρόνου) saying, It is done (the limitation of the meaning of γέγονεν to “that is done which was commanded,” viz. the outpouring of the seven vials, is in fact no limitation: for the plagues are the last plagues: if therefore they are done, all is done. But the declaration is of course proleptically made, and imports that the outpouring of the seventh vial had done that which should accomplish all and bring in the end. One who had fired a train would say, “It is done,” though the explosion had not yet taken place). And there were lightnings and voices and thunders (the usual accompaniments of the close of each series of visions, see ch. 8:5, 11:19. But, as before remarked, these phænomena occur here in rather a different connexion from that in the other two places. Here, they are more the result of the outpouring of the last vial, and they do not conclude, but only begin its effects, which do not cease until the destruction of Babylon and the great overthrow of the antichristian hosts): and there was a great earthquake (this may perhaps be not without connexion with the pouring out of the vial into the air: in the descriptions of earthquakes we read of the darkened and lurid appearance of the air preceding the shock) such as was not from the time when there was a man (not, “since man was:” the generic meaning would more probably be expressed by οἱ ἄνθρωποι ἐγένοντο, as altered in rec.) upon the earth, such (on τηγικοῦτος, see note on ref. Heb.) an earthquake so great. And the great city (Rome: cf. ch. 11:8 and note, 14:8, 17:18, 18:10, 16, 18, &c., 21) became into (i. e. was divided or split, scil. by the earthquake) three parts (see ch. 11:13, where a similar judgment takes place at the end of the episode of the two witnesses. The three parts are supposed by Düsterd. to refer to the three arch-enemies just now mentioned. But this is very uncertain: see on the tripartite division at ch. 8:7), and the cities of the nations fell (not only the greatest city, but other great capitals of nations fell, from the violence and extent of the earthquake. We have its further consequences presently): and Babylon the great (mentioned specially, although really the same (see the places referred to above) with ἡ πόλις ἡ μεγάλη, because of her special adulterous character to be hereafter described, The destruction of the material city of Rome is but the beginning of the execution of vengeance on the mystic Babylon) was remembered before God (reff.), to give her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of His wrath (so E. V. for τοῦ θυμοῦ τῆς ὀργῆς; “excandescentia iræ,” Vitringa. θυμός (θύω) is the outbreak, ὀργή the temper of mind. See on Romans 2:8: and on the figure of the cup, ch. 14:8, note. The sense is, that all these material judgments were but prefatory; the divine intent, in the midst of them, being to make Babylon drink the cup of His wrath in her judgment which follows): and every island fled (the effects of the earthquake are resumed, the mention of Babylon coming into remembrance being parenthetical, and suggested by the great city having been split into three parts. On the sense, as belonging to the imagery of the great day, see ch. 6:14), and there were found no mountains (not as E. V., “the mountains (τὰ ὄρη) were not found.” The expression is far stronger than this: amounting to that in ch. 6:14, that every mountain was removed out of its place and was looked for in vain), and a great hail (see reff. Egypt is again in view) as of a talent in weight (i. e. having each hailstone of that weight. Diod. Sic. xix. 45 speaks of hailstones of a mina each in weight as being enormous: καταῤῥαγόντων ἐξαίφνης μεγάλων ὄμβρων, καὶ χαλάζης ἀπίστου τὸ μέγεθος, μνααῖαι γὰρ ἔπιπτον, ἔστι δʼ ὅτε καὶ μείζους, ὥστε πολλὰς μὲν τῶν οἰκιῶν συμπίπτειν διὰ τὸ βάρος, οὐκ ὀλίγους δὲ καὶ τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἀπόλλυσθαι: and the talent contained sixty minæ. Josephus, in reff., speaks of the stones which were thrown from the machines in the siege of Jerusalem as each of a talent weight) descendeth from heaven on men (τοὺς ἀνθρ. must apparently be generic here: it can hardly mean the men; for the plague is universal. See above on ver. 9): and men blasphemed God by reason of the plague of the hail, because great is the plague of it exceedingly (i. e. mankind in general,—not those who were struck by the hailstones who would instantly die,—so far from repenting at this great and final judgment of God, blasphemed Him and were impenitent. The issue is different from that in ch. 11:13, where the remnant feared and gave glory to God).