Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth: and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit.The Fifth Trumpet. First Woe. Chap. 9 Revelation 9:1-121. fall from heaven] Rather, fallen. St John does not say that he witnessed the actual fall.
to him was given] Clearly therefore the star is identified with a person: no doubt a “fallen angel,” in the common sense of the term. For the identification of angels with stars, cf. Revelation 1:20, and Job 38:7 : and of fallen angels in particular, Enoch xviii. 16, xxi. 3, &c. The fall of this star may legitimately be illustrated, as to the image by Isaiah 14:12, and as to the meaning by Luke 10:18; Luke 12:9 in this book: but it is not to be assumed that this passage refers to the same event as either of the two last, still less that the first does.
of the bottomless pit] Lit. of the pit (or well) of the abyss: the depth of Hell, the home or penal prison of the demons (see Luke 8:31, where the word translated “the deep” is the same), is conceived as a pit in the earth’s surface, no doubt literally bottomless, but of finite area, so that it can be fitted with a cover which can be fastened down with a padlock or seal. Cf. Revelation 11:7, Revelation 17:8, for the notion of evil beings issuing from the pit; Revelation 20:1; Revelation 20:3, for their being confined there. But notice (i) that this pit is nowhere identified with the “lake of fire,” the final destination of the Devil and his angels: (ii) that we are not told that the Devil himself is cast into it yet; rather the contrary is implied.
And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit.
And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.3. the scorpions of the earth] i.e. common natural scorpions: these infernal locusts are able to hurt men, as common scorpions are, but common locusts are not.
And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads.4. that they should not hurt the grass, &c.] i.e. not to do the damage that natural locusts do—these natural objects having been plagued already, Revelation 8:7—but other damage, still more directly distressing the sinful world.
the seal of God] See Revelation 7:3 and note.
And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.5. five months] It has been conjectured that this period is named, as being the time for which a plague of the literal locusts is liable to last. But more probably the period is to be reckoned on the same principle—whatever that be—as the other periods of time indicated in this book.
And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.6. shall flee] Lit. fleeth.
And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.7. like unto horses] See Joel 2:4. Probably that passage is only a highly idealised description of a natural swarm of locusts, and the verse cited refers to the resemblance in shape of the locust’s head, and perhaps the legs, to a horse’s. It is doubtful whether the words “prepared unto battle” (more accurately “unto war”) suggest comparison between the frame of the locust and the plate-armour of a horse: such armour was rarely used in ancient times. More probably the comparison here is to the discipline of the locust host: as in Joel 2:7-8.
as it were crowns like gold] Lit. as it were crowns like unto gold—perhaps a mere golden mark, such as it is quite possible a real insect might have. But,
their faces were as the faces of men] Marks them distinctly as differing from real locusts. The word used for “men” means, in classical Greek at least, “human beings,” not necessarily males. But in Hellenistic Greek it is not infrequently used in opposition to women, and probably the next clause marks it so here.
And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.8. as the hair of women] It is said that, in Arabic poetry, the same comparison is used of the antennæ of the natural locust: but more probably this is one of the supernatural features of the description.
teeth of lions] Joel 1:6.
And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.9. breastplates of iron] This probably is an idealisation of the structure of the natural locust.
chariots] Joel 2:5.
And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.10. And they had … in their tails] Read, And they have tails like unto scorpions, and stings: and in their tails [is] their power, to hurt,” &c.
And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon.11. And they had a king] Whereas “the (natural) locusts have no king,” Proverbs 30:27. In Amos 7:1 the LXX. has the curious mistranslation or corrupt reading, “and behold one locust grub [was] Gog the king;” which possibly arose from, or suggested, a superstition that St John uses as an image.
the angel of the bottomless pit] Either the fallen star of Revelation 9:1, who opened the pit and let them out of it, or a spirit—presumably, if not quite certainly, a bad one—made the guardian of that lowest deep of God’s creation. See Excursus I.
Abaddon] Properly an abstract noun, “destruction,” but used apparently in the sense of “Hell” in Job 26:6, &c. But
Apollyon] is a participle, “destroying,” and so “Destroyer.”
One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.12. One woe] Of the three denounced by the eagle, Revelation 8:13. A decided majority of orthodox commentators understand this vision as foretelling the Mahometan conquests—some taking the fallen star of Revelation 9:1 of Mahomet himself. The last is scarcely credible—unless one should adopt the view,—not perhaps inconsistent with the facts of Mahomet’s career, but hardly in harmony with the general order of Revelation—that he really had a divine commission, but perverted it to serve his selfish ambition. It seems almost certain that the “star” is an angel, strictly speaking: but the interpretation as a whole seems worthy of respect. Perhaps the Mahometan conquest is to be regarded as at least a partial fulfilment of this prophecy: but the attempts to shew that it is in detail an exact fulfilment have not been very successful.
And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,The Sixth Trumpet. Second Woe, Revelation 9:13-2113. a voice] Lit. one voice: see on Revelation 8:13. The word “four” just afterwards should probably be omitted: else “one voice from the four horns” would give the numeral a special meaning.
Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.14. Loose the four angels] We are reminded of the four angels of Revelation 7:1, but it is hardly possible that they are the same as these. The plagues held back by them, on “the earth, the sea, and the trees,” have come already, Revelation 8:7-9 : moreover, these angels do not stand “on the four corners of the earth,” but in one not very remote part of it. No satisfactory explanation of their meaning has been given: nor can we be sure whether the name Euphrates is to be taken literally. We hear of it again in Revelation 16:12, where the arguments for and against a literal interpretation seem almost equally balanced.
And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.15. for an hour] Should be “for the hour.” The article is not repeated, but plainly the one article belongs to all the nouns: they are “prepared for the hour, and day, and month, and year,” when God has decreed to execute the vengeance here foretold.
And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.16. of the horsemen] It is implied that the way the four angels will slay the third part of men will be by means of a vast invading army. The word rendered “horsemen” is not here plural but collective, as we should say “the cavalry.” But it is not that he gives the number of one arm only of an army containing more: apparently this army consists of cavalry exclusively. This illustrates the use of the name Euphrates, just so far as to make it possible that the image was suggested to St John’s mind by the fact that the Parthian cavalry were the most formidable barbarian force of his own day. More than this we can hardly say, as to the meaning of the vision, and any partial fulfilment that it may have had or be about to have.
two hundred thousand thousand] The number is perhaps suggested by Psalm 68:17 : still, it hardly seems as if these horsemen were celestial (like those of Revelation 19:14), though they are not distinctly infernal, like the locusts of the previous visions.
and I heard] Omit “and.”
And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.17. having breastplates] This must be understood of the riders chiefly, but perhaps not exclusively: comparing Revelation 9:9 we cannot be sure that St John would not use the word “breastplate” of the defensive armour of a horse, if he had such in his mind. In fact, the word is used in later Greek of defensive armour generally, not the breastplate only.
of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone] All these are expressed in Greek by adjectives. The last means only “like brimstone;” and though the terminations of the two former would properly indicate the material, yet the “jacinth” seems so incongruous with the other two, that it is easiest to understand all three as referring to colour only: they had breastplates of fiery red, of smoky blue, and of sulphurous yellow. Whether all had tricoloured armour, or whether there were three divisions, each in a distinctive uniform, may be doubted: but the three plagues corresponding to these colours, which we hear of directly after, are almost certainly inflicted by the whole army alike: and this affords some presumption that the attire of all was symbolical of all three.
By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.18. By these three] Read, by (lit. from) these three plagues were the third part of men killed, by the fire, and the smoke, and the brimstone, &c.
For their power is in their mouth, and in their tails: for their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads, and with them they do hurt.19. For their power] Read, for the power of the horses. For the use of the word “power” (the same as is sometimes elsewhere translated “authority” or “licence”), cf. Revelation 6:8, Revelation 9:3 : St Luke 22:53 illustrates the meaning of the word in such a context.
And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk:20. that they should not worship … idols] This verse gives us the only clue we have to the interpretation. It is a plague on idolaters that is here described—neither on unfaithful Christians, nor on antichristian infidels of a more refined type—unless the latter shall in the last days, as in the age of the Roman persecutions, and one may almost say of the Renaissance and Reformation, ally itself against the Gospel with the vulgar or sensuous idolatry which it was its natural tendency to despise.
Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.21. sorceries] Fitly mentioned between “murders” and “fornication,” and in connexion with “idolatry;” cf. Galatians 5:20, and note on Revelation 21:8.