Revelation 9:17
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(17) And thus I saw . . .—Better, And after this manner saw I the horses in the vision, and those who sat upon them, having breastplates fiery and jacinth-like, and brimstone-like, and the heads of the horses were as heads of lions; and out of their mouths goeth forth fire and smoke and brimstone. The seer proceeds to describe the general appearance of the horses and horsemen. After this fashion were they: the horses and horsemen were armed with breastplates of triple hue (corresponding to the three-fold destructive stream which goes forth from their mouth), the hues of flame, and dark purple (jacinth), and brimstone. The jacinth colour seems to be the dark purple or blue so often seen in smoke. The Poet Laureate uses the word “azure” to describe the colour of ascending columns of smoke (“azure pillars of the hearth arise to thee”): the colour here would be darker, the smoke not arising from peaceful dwellings, but generated among death-giving elements. The army is mainly of horsemen, and they are described as resolute and relentless: we are reminded of somewhat similar features in the Chaldean armies spoken of by Habakkuk, “I raise up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation: they are terrible and dreadful: their horses also are swifter than leopards,” &c. (Habakkuk 1:6-10).

9:13-21 The sixth angel sounded, and here the power of the Turks seems the subject. Their time is limited. They not only slew in war, but brought a poisonous and ruinous religion. The antichristian generation repented not under these dreadful judgments. From this sixth trumpet learn that God can make one enemy of the church a scourge and a plague to another. The idolatry in the remains of the eastern church and elsewhere, and the sins of professed Christians, render this prophecy and its fulfilment more wonderful. And the attentive reader of Scripture and history, may find his faith and hope strengthened by events, which in other respects fill his heart with anguish and his eyes with tears, while he sees that men who escape these plagues, repent not of their evil works, but go on with idolatries, wickedness, and cruelty, till wrath comes upon them to the utmost.And thus I saw the horses in the vision - That is, he saw them as he proceeds to describe them, for the word "thus" - οὕτως houtōs - refers to what follows. Compare Robinson's Lexicon on the word (b), and see Matthew 1:18; Matthew 2:5; John 21:1; Hebrews 4:4. Prof. Stuart, however, refers to what precedes. The meaning, as it seems to me, is, that he fixed his attention on the appearance of the immense army - the horses and their riders, and proceeded to describe them as they struck him.

And them that sat on them - He fixed the attention on horse and rider. Their appearance was unusual, and deserved a particular description.

Having breastplates of fire - That is, those who sat on them had such breastplates. The word rendered here as "breastplate" denoted properly a coat of mail that covered the body from the neck to the thighs. See the notes on Ephesians 6:14. This would be a prominent object in looking at a horseman. This was said to be composed of "fire, and jacinth, and brimstone"; that is, the part of the body usually incased in the coat of mail had these three colors. The word "fire" here simply denotes red. It was burnished and bright, and seemed to be a blaze of fire. The word "jacinth" - ὑακινθίνους huakinthinous - means "hyacinthine." The color denoted is that of the hyacinth - a flower of a deep purple or reddish blue. Then it refers to a gem of the same color, nearly related to the zircon of the mineralogists, and the color mentioned here is deep purple or reddish blue. The word rendered "brimstone" - θειώδης theiōdēs - means properly "sulphurous," that is, made of sulphur, and means here simply yellow. The meaning of the whole then is, that these horsemen appeared to be clad in a special kind of armor - armor that shone like fire, mingled with blue and yellow. It will be necessary to look for the fulfillment of this in cavalry that was so caparisoned.

And the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions - Resembled, in some respects, the heads of lions. He does not say that they were the heads of lions, or that the riders were on monsters, but only that they, in some respects, resembled the heads of lions. It would he easy to give this general appearance by the way in which the head-dress of the horses was arrayed.

And out of their mouths issued - That is, appeared to issue. It is not necessary to understand this as affirming that it actually came from their months, but only that, to one looking on such an approaching army, it would have this appearance. The pagan poets often speak of horses breathing out fire and smoke (Virgil, Geor. vol. ii. p. 140; iii. 85; Ovid, Met. vol. vii. p. 104), meaning that their breath seemed to be mingled smoke and fire. There is an image superadded here not found in any of the classic descriptions, that this was mingled with brimstone. All this seemed to issue from their mouths - that is, it was breathed forth in front of the host, as if the horses emitted it from their mouths.

Fire and smoke and brimstone - The exact idea, whether that was intended or not, would be conveyed by the discharge of musketry or artillery. The fire, the smoke, and the sulphurous smell of such a discharge would correspond precisely with this language; and if it be supposed that the writer meant to describe such a discharge, this would be the very language that would be used. Moreover, in describing a battle nothing would be more proper than to say that this appeared to issue from the horses' mouths. If, therefore, it should be found that there were any events where firearms were used, in contradistinction from the ancient mode of warfare, this language would be appropriate to describe that; and if it were ascertained that the writer meant to refer to some such fact, then the language used here would be what he would adopt. One thing is certain, that this is not language which would be employed to describe the onset of ancient cavalry in the mode of warfare which prevailed then. No one describing a charge of cavalry among the Persians, the Greeks, or the Romans, when the only armor was the sword and the spear, would think of saying that there seemed to be emitted from the horses' mouths fire, and smoke, and brimstone.

17. thus—as follows.

of fire—the fiery color of the breastplates answering to the fire which issued out of their mouths.

of jacinth—literally, "of hyacinth color," the hyacinth of the ancients answering to our dark blue iris: thus, their dark, dull-colored breastplates correspond to the smoke out of their mouths.

brimstone—sulphur-colored: answering to the brimstone or sulphur out of their mouths.

We have no such description or representation as this in any other place of holy writ. Some understand it of the several coloured breastplates that the soldiers wore; some of a red and flaming colour, like fire; others blue, like the jacinth; some pale: all such as wear them look terribly. Mr. Mede hath here again a peculiar notion; thinking that the Holy Ghost doth here signify their fighting with great guns, (not known before the siege of Constantinople), which throw out fire and smoke, &c., and so alter the air, the medium by which we see, that the opposite party in fighting appear to those that use these arms, as if they were covered with breastplates that were red, and blue, and pale. To confirm this, he tells us of Chalcondylas’s report of this siege, who mentioneth great guns used at it of that vast bigness, that one of them required threescore and ten yoke of oxen and two thousand men to draw it, &c. It is at least a very ingenious conjecture, and I could not but mention it in honour to the learned author; leaving it to my reader’s liberty, whether he will, with Mr. Mede, judge this literal sense of the text is best, or interpret all these phrases more generally, only of a terrible appearance of those armies. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them,.... In such numbers, and with horsemen on them, and in such order, and in appearance, as follows:

having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth and brimstone; which may be understood either literally of their external breastplates, which being of polished iron, according to the custom of these people, looked at a distance like sparkling fire, and seemed to be of the colour of hyacinth, or of a sky colour, and appeared as flaming sulphur; though some think that their breastplates were of different colours, some looked like fire, others like jacinth, and others like brimstone; or it may denote that they would be accoutred in scarlet, blue, and yellow, which are the colours the Turks have commonly wore; or this may be understood of their internal breastplates, and the disposition of their minds, having in their breasts nothing but wrath, fury, desolation, and destruction; a fire devoured before them, and behind them a flame burned:

and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions: gaping and roaring for their prey, or all bloody with it, and looked fierce, and savage, and terrible: this designs not so much the strength, boldness, and intrepidity of their horses, which are warlike creatures, and very undaunted in battle, as of the men that sat upon them, who were like David's heroes and warriors, 1 Chronicles 12:8.

And out of their mouths issued fire, and smoke, and brimstone; which may be referred either to the horses, or to the horsemen, or both: some interpret this allegorically, and by "fire" understand either the tyranny of the Turks over their own people, or their fury against others, or their blasphemy against God, and Christ, and his people, being like so many railing Rabshakehs against the God of the Christians; and by "smoke" the false doctrine of Mahomet, which came out of the same bottomless pit the doctrine of the Romish antichrist did; and is fitly compared to smoke for its disagreeableness, darkness, levity, and duration; See Gill on Revelation 9:2; and by "brimstone" the immorality and sad corruption of manners among the Turks, and what is allowed of, or winked at, as fornication, polygamy, sodomy, &c. but rather this is to be taken more literally, and represents the firing of guns on horseback in battle. Guns are a late invention, and the use of them was found out in the age this trumpet refers to; and were much made use of by the Turks in their wars, and particularly great guns or cannons; these were used by Amurath at the sieges of Belgrade, and of Constantinople (m); and by Mahomet the Second at the taking of Constantinople, where a gun or cannon was used of that size, as to be drawn by seventy yoke of oxen, and two thousand men (n). Gunpowder set on fire is fitly signified by fire, smoke, and brimstone, which is made of nitre, charcoal, and brimstone; and the firing of guns on horseback is most aptly described by these coming out of the mouths of horses and horsemen: nor could it well appear to John to be otherwise, who could never have seen a gun, and one fired off in his life; nor could he well represent to others what he saw in vision, than in this manner.

(m) Chalcocond. l. 5. p. 152, 163. (n) Chalcocond. l. 8. p. 252.

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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 9:17. Here only the writer refers to his “vision”. ἔχοντας (horse and rider regarded as one figure: in the Persian heavy cavalry horses as well as men were clad in bright plate) κ.τ.λ., “they wore coats of mail, the colour of fire and jacinth and brimstone,” i.e., gleaming red, dark blue, and yellow, unless ὑακ. (a favourite Oriental military colour) is meant to denote the colour of dull smoke. Plutarch, in his life of Sulla, describes the Medes and Scythians with their πυροειδῆ καὶ φοβερὰν ὄψιν (cf. Sir 48:9).—πῦρ, κ.τ.λ., like Job’s leviathan, Ovid’s bulls (Metam. vii. 104), or Diomede’s horses (Lucret. ver 29, cf. Aen. vii. 281). They are also as destructive as Joel’s locusts. The description is a blend of observation and fantastic popular beliefs. Brimstone was a. traditional trait of divine wrath among people who “associated the ozonic smell which often bo perceptibly accompanies lightning discharges with the presence of sulphur”(E. Bi. 611). The symbolism is coloured by actual Parthian invasions (cf. Revelation 6:1 f.) and by passages like Sap. 11:18 where God punishes men by sending “unknown, newly-created wild beasts full of rage, breathing out a fiery blast or snorting out noisome smoke or flashing dread sparkles from their eyes.” Mr. Bent recalls the curious superstition of the modern Therans, who during the eruptions of last century saw “in the pillars of smoke issuing from their volcano, giants and horsemen and terrible beasts”.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.Revelation 9:17. Πυρίνους καὶ ὑακινθίνους καὶ θειώδεις, of fire, and of jacinth, and of brimstone) Lucretius joins together the same colours in another matter: lib. iv.—

Lutea russaque vela

Et ferruginea—

(yellow, red, and black hangings). Ferruginea are the same as hyacinthina. Virgil says, ferrugineos hyacinthos; that is, according to Servius, of a dark colour. Wherefore in this passage, the breast-plates of jacinth and the smoke answer to one another; as the breast-plates of fire and the fire, and the breastplates of brimstone and the brimstone. Literal and figurative things are blended together in this and the following verses.Verse 17. - And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them. That is, according to the description following, not "thus, in such numbers as I have described." Having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone. Ἔχοντας, "having," probably refers to both horses and riders, though it may refer to the riders only. The Revised Version renders jacinth more exactly as hyacinth. Alford translates, "breastplates, fiery red, fuliginous, and sulphureous." It seems to be rightly concluded that the hyacinhine hue answers to the "smoke" further on in the verse. "The expression, 'of jacinth,' applied to the breastplate, is descriptive simply of a hyacinthine, i.e. dark-purple colour" (Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible'). The description intensifies the terrible nature of the vision, and it is doubtful whether these details should be pressed to a particular interpretation. If they bear any meaning at all, they seem to point to the doom in wait for the wicked, whose portion is fire and brimstone (cf. Psalm 11:6). And the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone; proceedeth fire, etc. (Revised Version). Here, as in the preceding clause, the intention is evidently to enhance the terrible appearance of the vision. The "smoke" corresponds to the hyacinth hue, mentioned in the previous part of the verse (vide supra). The horses, in accordance with a well-known poetic figure, are said to breathe out "fire and smoke." Brimstone is mentioned in addition, in order to set forth plainly the fact that their acts are directed against the wicked (cf. Genesis 19:24; Job 18:15; Psalm 11:6; Ezekiel 38:23; Isaiah 30:33; Luke 17:29). Lions' teeth are mentioned in the description of tire locusts, with the same purpose (ver. 9). It is difficult to see why Alford should imagine that the fire, smoke, and brimstone proceed separately from different divisions of the host: it was not so in the case of the breastplates. Thus (οὕτως)

After this manner.

In the vision (ἐν τῇ ὁπάσει)

Or "in my vision." See on Acts 2:17. The reference to sight may be inserted because of I heard in Revelation 9:16.

Of fire (πυρίνους)

Rev., "as of fire." Fiery red.

Of jacinth (ὑακινθίνους)

Ὑάκινθος hyacinth is the name of a flower and also of a precious stone. The noun occurs only Revelation 21:20, and the adjective only here. According to classical mythology, the flower sprang up from the blood of Hyacinthus, a beautiful Spartan youth, who was accidentally killed during a game of quoits. It was thought by some that the letters AI, AI, the exclamation of woe, could be traced on the petals, while others discovered the letter Υ, the initial letter of Ὑάκινθος. The story of the slaying of Hyacinthus is told by Ovid.

"Lo, the blood

Which, on the ground outpoured, had stained the sod,

Is blood no more. Brighter than Tyrian dye,

Like to the lily's shape a flower appears,

Purple in hue as that is silvery white.

Nor yet does such memorial content

continued...

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