Vincent's Word Studies
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.
Of the bottomless pit (τοῦ φρέατος τῆς ἀβύσσου)
Rev., of the pit of the abyss. See on John 4:6, and compare Luke 14:5. It is not however a pit that is locked, but the long shaft leading to the abyss, like a well-shaft, which, in the East, is oftener covered and locked.
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.
The idea of this plague is from the eighth plague in Egypt (Exodus 10:14, Exodus 10:15). Compare the description of a visitation of locusts in Joel 2. There are three Hebrew words in the Old Testament which appear to mean locust, probably signifying different species. Only this word is employed in the New Testament. Compare Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6.
See Ezekiel 2:6; Luke 10:19; Luke 11:12. Shaped like a lobster, living in damp places, under stones, in clefts of walls, cellars, etc. The sting is in the extremity of the tail. The sting of the Syrian scorpion is not fatal, though very painful. The same is true of the West Indian scorpion. Thomson says that those of North Africa are said to be larger, and that their poison frequently causes death. The wilderness of Sinai is especially alluded to as being inhabited by scorpions at the time of the Exodus (Deuteronomy 8:15); and to this very day they are common in the same district. A part of the mountains bordering on Palestine in the south was named from these Akrabbim, Akrab being the Hebrew for scorpion.
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.
See on Revelation 6:8.
Men which (ἀνθρώπους οἵτινες)
The double relative denotes the class. Rev., such men as have, etc.
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.
They should be tormented (βασανισθῶσιν)
See on torments, Matthew 4:24.
Dr. Thomson says that the scorpion cannot strike sideways. All accounts agree as to the fearful pain from its sting.
And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
Rather, the men: those tormented.
Shall desire (ἐπιθυμήσουσιν)
Ἑπι has the force of vehemently, earnestly.
Shall flee (φεύξεται)
Read φεύγει fleeth. Aeschylus says: "Not justly do mortals hate death, since it is the greatest deliverance from their many woes" ("Fragment"). Herodotus relates the address of Artabanus to Xerxes, when the latter wept on beholding his vast armament. "There is no man, whether it be here among this multitude or elsewhere, who is so happy as not to have felt the wish - I will not say once, but full many a time - that he were dead rather than alive. Calamities fall upon us, sicknesses vex and harass us, and make life, short though it be, to appear long. So death, through the wretchedness of our life, is a most sweet refuge to our race" (vii., 46).
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.
Compare Joel 2:4. The likeness of a locust to a horse, especially to a horse equipped with armor, is so striking that the insect is named in German Heupferd hay-horse, and in Italian calvaletta little horse.
Not actual crowns, but as crowns. Milligan remarks that any yellow brilliancy about the head of the insect is a sufficient foundation for the figure.
As the faces of men
There is a distant resemblance to the human countenance in the face of the locust. Men (ἀνθρώπων) is to be taken not as distinguishing sex, but in the generic sense: human faces.
And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
Hair of women
The antennae of the locust. There is said to be an Arabic proverb in which the antennae of locusts are compared to girls' hair.
Teeth of lions
Compare 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.
The breast of the locust resembles the plates of a horse's armor.
Sound of their wings
Olivier, a French writer, says: "It in difficult to express the effect produced on us by the sight of the whole atmosphere filled on all sides and to a great height by an innumerable quantity of these insects, whose flight was slow and uniform, and whose noise resembled that of rain." For a graphic description of their numbers and ravages, see Thomson, "Land and Book, Central Palestine and Phoenicia," 295-302.
Of chariots of many horses
That is, of many-horsed chariots. The Rev., by the insertion of a comma, apparently takes the two clauses as parallel: the sound of chariots, (the sound) of many horses.
Tails like unto scorpions
The comparison with the insect as it exists in nature fails here, though Smith's "Bible Dictionary" gives a picture of a species of locust, the Acridium Lineola, a species commonly sold for food in the markets of Bagdad, which has a sting in the tail.
Originally any sharp point. A goad. See on pricks, Acts 26:14. Plato uses it of the peg of a top ("Republic," 436). Herodotus of an instrument of torture. Democedes, the Crotoniat physician, having denied his knowledge of medicine to Darius, Darius bade his attendants "bring the scourges and pricking-irons (κέντρα) (3, 30) Sophocles of the buckle-tongues with which Oedipus put out his eyes.
"Woe, woe, and woe again!
How through me darts the throb these clasps (κέντρων) have caused."
"Oedipus Tyrannas," 1318.
Of the spur of a cock, the quill of a porcupine, and the stings of insects.
For the A.V., there were stings in their tails, read as Rev., and stings; and in their tails is their power to hurt.
And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months.
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.
They had a king over them (ἔχουσιν ἐφ' αὐτῶν βασιλέα).
Render, as Rev., they have over them as king. Compare Proverbs 30:27. Hence distinguished from the natural locusts.
In Hebrew (Ἑβραΐ̀στὶ)
Meaning destruction. Compare Job 26:6; Job 28:22; Proverbs 15:11. Here the Destroyer, as is evident from the Greek equivalent Ἁπολλύων Apollyon destroyer. Perdition is personified. It is after John's manner to give the Hebrew with the Greek equivalent. Compare John 1:38, John 1:42; John 4:25; John 9:7; John 11:16, etc.
One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes more hereafter.
The first woe (ἡ οὐαὶ ἡ μία)
Lit., the one woe.
And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
A voice (φωνὴν μίαν)
Lit., one voice.
See on Revelation 8:3.
Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
In the great river (ἐπί)
Rev., more correctly, at.
The Euphrates was known as the great River, the River, the Flood. It rises in the mountains of Armenia, breaks through the Taurus range and runs south and southeast until it joins the Tigris in lower Babylonia Its total length is from 1,600 to 1,800 miles, and it is navigable for small craft twelve hundred miles from its mouth. It was the boundary-line of Israel on the northeast (Genesis 15:18; Deuteronomy 1:7; Joshua 1:4. Compare 2 Samuel 8:3-8; 1 Kings 4:21). It thus formed the natural defense of the chosen people against the armies of Assyria. The melting of the mountain snows causes an annual flood, beginning in March and increasing until May. These floods became an emblem of the judgments inflicted by God upon Israel by means of Babylon and Assyria. The brook of Shiloah which flowed past Zion and Moriah was a type of the temple and of its mighty and gracious Lord; and the refusal of allegiance to God by the chosen people is represented as their rejection of the waters of Shiloah which flows softly, and their punishment therefor by the bringing in of the waters of the mighty and great river (Isaiah 8:5-8; compare Jeremiah 17:13). To the prophets the Euphrates was the symbol of all that was disastrous in the divine judgments.
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.
For an hour and a day and a month and a year
This rendering is wrong, since it conveys the idea that the four periods mentioned are to be combined as representing the length of the preparation or of the continuance of the plague. But it is to be noted that neither the article nor the preposition are repeated before day and month and year. 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.
And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
Of the horsemen (τοῦ ἱππικοῦ)
Singular number, like the English the horse or the cavalry.
Two hundred thousand thousand (δύο μυριάδες μυριάδων)
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.
After this manner.
In the vision (ἐν τῇ ὁπάσει)
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
Phoebus Apollo at whose word it rose.
Upon its leaves he writes his own laments,
And on the flower forever stands inscribed
"Metamorphoses," x., 175 sqq.
As a stone, it is identified by some with the sapphire. As to color, the hyacinth of the Greeks seems to have comprehended the iris, gladiolus, and larkspur. Hence the different accounts of its color in classical writings, varying from red to black. A dull, dark blue seems to be meant here.
Of brimstone (θειώδεις)
Perhaps light yellow, such a color as would be produced by the settling fumes of brimstone.
Of the horses
In the Bible the horse is always referred to in connection with war, except Isaiah 28:28, where it is mentioned as employed in threshing, the horses being turned loose in the grain as in the Italian triglia. The magnificent description in Job 39:19-25 applies to the war-horse. He is distinguished not so much for his speed and utility as for his strength (see Psalm 33:17; Psalm 147:10), and the word abbir strong is used as an equivalent for a horse (Jeremiah 8:16; Jeremiah 47:3). The Hebrews as a pastoral race, did not need the horse; and, for a long time after their settlement in Canaan, dispensed with it, partly because of the hilly nature of the country, which allowed the use of chariots only in certain places (Judges 1:19), and partly because of the prohibition in Deuteronomy 17:16. Accordingly they hamstrung the horses of the Canaanites (Joshua 11:6, Joshua 11:9). The great supply of horses was effected by Solomon through his connection with Egypt. See 1 Kings 4:26.
Proceedeth fire and smoke
"Then, if the sound of arms he hear from far,
Quiet he cannot stand, but pricks his ears,
Trembles in every limb, and snorting, rolls
The gathered fire beneath his nostrils wide"
"Georgics," iii, 83-85.
Also Job 39:20 : "the glory of his nostrils is terrible."
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.
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.
Their power (ἐξουσίαι αὐτῶν)
Read ἐξουσία τῶν ἵππων the power of the horses.
Like unto serpents
"Long, smooth, subtle, clasping their victim in an embrace from which he cannot escape" (Milligan). As one of the innumerable fantasies of Apocalyptic exposition may be cited that of Elliott ("Horae Apocalypticae") who finds a reference to the horse tails, the symbols of authority of the Turkish pashas.
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:
Repented not of the works (οὔτε μετενόησαν ἐκ τῶν ἔργων)
Works of their hands
See, hear, walk
Compare Daniel 5:23.
Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.
Only here, Revelation 18:23; and Galatians 5:20, where φαρμακεία sorceries, A.V., witchcraft is enumerated among the "works of the flesh." Used in the Septuagint of the Egyptian sorceries (Exodus 7:22. Of Babylon, Isaiah 47:9, Isaiah 47:12). From φάρμακον a drug, and thence a poison, an enchantment. Plato says: "There are two kinds of poisons used among men which cannot clearly be distinguished. There is one kind of poison which injures bodies by the use of other bodies according to a natural law... but there is another kind which injures by sorceries and incantations and magic bonds, as they are termed, and induces one class of men to injure another as far as they can, and persuades others that they, above all persons, are liable to be injured by the powers of the magicians. Now it is not easy to know the nature of all these things; nor if a man do know can he readily persuade others of his belief. And when men are disturbed at the sight of waxen images, fixed either at the doors, or in a place where three ways meet, or in the sepulchers of parents, there is no use of trying to persuade them that they should despise all such things, because they have no certain knowledge about them. But we must have a law in two parts concerning poisoning, in whichever of the two ways the attempt is made; and we must entreat and exhort and advise men not to have recourse to such practices, by which they scare the multitude out of their wits, as if they were children, compelling the legislator and the judge to heal the fears which the sorcerer arouses, and to tell them, in the first place, that he who attempts to poison or enchant others knows not what he is doing, either as regards the body (unless he have a knowledge of medicine) or as regards his enchantments, unless he happens to be a prophet or diviner" ("Laws," xi., 933).