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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 9 - Verse 11

Verse 11. And they had a king over them. A ruler who marshalled their hosts. Locusts often, and indeed generally, move in bands, though they do not appear to be under the direction of any one as a particular ruler or guide. In this case, it struck John as a remarkable peculiarity that they had a king—a king who, it would seem, had the absolute control, and to whom was to be traced all the destruction which would ensue from their emerging from the bottomless pit.

Which is the angel of the bottomless pit. See Barnes "Re 9:1".

The word angel here would seem to refer to the chief of the evil angels, who presided over the dark and gloomy regions from whence the locusts seemed to emerge. This may either mean that this evil angel seemed to command them personally, or that his spirit was infused into the leader of these hosts.

Whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon. The name Abaddon means literally destruction, and is the same as Apollyon.

But in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. From apollumi, — to destroy. The word properly denotes a destroyer, and the name is given to this king of the hosts, represented by the locusts, because this would be his principal characteristic.

After this minute explanation of the literal meaning of the symbol, it may be useful, before attempting to apply it, and to ascertain the events designed to be represented, to have a distinct impression of the principal image—the locust. It is evident that this is, in many respects, a creature of the imagination, and that we are not to expect the exact representation to be found in any forms of actual existence in the animal creation.

The question now is, whether any events occurred in history, subsequent to, and succeeding those supposed to be referred to in the fourth seal, to which this symbol would be applicable. Reasons have already been suggested for supposing that there was a transfer of the seat of the operations to another part of the world. The first four trumpets referred to a continual series of events of the same general character, and having a proper close. These have been explained as referring to the successive shocks which terminated in the downfall of the Western empire. At the close of that series there is a pause in the representation, (Re 8:13) and a solemn proclamation that other scenes were to open distinguished for woe. These were to be symbolized in the sounding of the remaining three trumpets, embracing the whole period till the consummation of all things—or sketching great and momentous events in the future, until the volume sealed with the seven seals (Re 5:1) should have been wholly unrolled and its contents disclosed. The whole scene now is changed. Rome has fallen. It has passed into the hands of strangers. The power that had spread itself over the world has, in that form, come to an end, and is to exist no more—though, as we shall see, (Revelation 11 seq.) another power, quite as formidable, existing there, is to be described by a new set of symbols. But here (Revelation 9) a new power appears. The scenery is all Oriental, and clearly has reference to events that were to spring up in the East. With surprising unanimity, commentators have agreed in regarding this as referring to the empire of the Saracens, or to the rise and progress of the religion, and the empire set up by Mohammed. The inquiry now is, whether the circumstances introduced into the symbol find a proper fulfilment in the rise of the Saracenic power, and in the conquests of the Prophet of Mecca.

(1.) The country where the scene is laid. As already remarked, the scene is Oriental—for the mention of locusts naturally suggests the East—that being the part of the world where they abound, and they being in fact peculiarly an Oriental plague. It may now be added, that, in a more strict and proper sense, Arabia may be intended; that is, if it be admitted that the design was to symbolize events pertaining to Arabia, or the gathering of the hosts of Arabia for conquest, the symbol of locusts would have been employed, for the locust, the groundwork of the symbol, is peculiarly Arabic. It was the east wind which brought the locusts on Egypt, (Ex 10:13) and they must therefore have come from some portion of Arabia—for Arabia is the land that lies over against Egypt in the east. Such, too, is the testimony of Volhey, "the most judicious," as Mr. Gibbon calls him, "of modern travellers." "The inhabitants of Syria," says he, "have remarked that locusts come constantly from the desert of Arabia," chapter 20 section 5. All that is necessary to say further on this point is, that on the supposition that it was the design of the Spirit of inspiration in the passage before us to refer to the followers of Mohammed, the image of the locusts was that which would be naturally selected. There was no other one so appropriate and so striking; no one that would so naturally designate the country of Arabia. As some confirmation of this, or as showing how natural the symbol would be, a remark may be introduced from Mr. Forster. In his Mohammedanism Unveiled, (i. 217,) he says, "In the Bedoween romance of Antar, the locust is introduced as the national emblem of the Ishmaelites. And it is a remarkable coincidence that Mohammedan tradition speaks of locusts having dropped into the hands of Mohammed, bearing on their wings thin inscription—'We are the army of the Great God.'" These circumstances will show the propriety of the symbol on the supposition that it refers to Arabia and the Saracens.

(2.) The people. The question is, whether there was anything in the symbol, as described by John, which would properly designate the followers of Mohammed, on the supposition that it was designed to have such a reference.

(a) As to numbers. Jud 6:5: "They (the Midiunite Arabs) came as locusts for multitude." See Barnes "Re 9:3".

Nothing would better represent the numbers of the Saracenic hordes that came out of Arabia, and that spread over the east, over Egypt, Libya, Mauritania, Spain, and that threatened to spread over Europe, than such an army of locusts. "One hundred years after his flight [Mohammed] from Mecca," says Mr. Gibbon, "the arms and reigns of his successors extended from India to the Atlantic Ocean, over the various and distant provinces which may be comprised under the names of Persia, Syria, Egypt, Africa, and Spain," iii. 410. "At the end of the first century of the Hegira, the caliphs were the most potent and absolute monarchs on the globe. Under the last of the Ommiades, the Arabian empire extended two hundred days' journey from east to west, from the confines of Tartary and India to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean."—Ibid, p. 460. In regard to the immense hosts employed in these conquests, an idea may be formed by a perusal of the whole fifty-first chapter in Gibbon, (vol. iii. pp. 408-461.) Those hosts issued primarily from Arabia, and in their numbers would be well compared with the swarms of locusts that issued from the same country, so numerous as to darken the sky.

(b) The description of the people.

Their faces were as the faces of men. This would seem to be in contrast with other people, or to denote something that was peculiar in the appearance of the persons represented. In other words, the meaning would seem to be, that there was something manly and warlike in their appearance, so far as their faces were concerned. It is remarkable that the appearance of the Goths (represented, as I suppose, under the previous trumpets) is described by Jerome (compare on Isaiah 8) as quite the reverse. They are described as having faces shaven and smooth; faces, in contrast with the bearded Romans, like women's faces. ( Fromincas incisas facies praeferentes, virorum et bene barbatorum fugieata terga confodiunt.) Is it fancy to suppose that the reference here is to the beard and moustache of the Arabic hosts? We know with what care they regarded the beard; and if a representation was made of them, especially in contrast with nations that shaved their faces, and who thus resembled women, it would be natural to speak of those represented in the symbol as "having faces as the faces of men."

They had hair as the hair of women. A strange mingling of the appearance of effeminacy with the indication of manliness and courage. See Barnes on "Re 9:8".

And yet this strictly accords with the appearance of the Arabs or Saracens. Pliny, the contemporary of John, speaks of the Arabs then as having the hair long and uncut, with the moustache on the upper lip, or the beard: Arabes mitrati sunt, cut intonso crine. Barba abraditur, praeterquam in superiore labro. Aliis et haec intonsa.—Nat. Hist. vi. 28. So Solinus describes them in the third century (Plurimis crinis intonsus, mitrata capita, pars rasa in cutem barba, c. 53;) so Ammianus Marcellinus, in the fourth century, (Crinitus quidam a Saracencrum cuneo, 31. 16;) and so Claudian, Theodore of Mopsuesta, and Jerome, in the fifth. Jerome lived about two centuries before the great Saracen invasion; and as he lived at Bethlehem, on the borders of Arabia, he must have been familiar with the appearance of the Arabs. Still later, in that most characteristic of Arab poems, Antar, a poem written in the time of Mohammed's childhood, we find the moustache, and the beard, and the long flowing hair on the shoulder, and the turban, all specified as characteristic of the Arabians: "He adjusted himself properly, twisted his whiskers, and folded up his hair under his turban, drawing it from off his shoulders," i. 340. "His hair flowed down on his shoulders," i. 169. "Antar cut off Maudi's hair in revenge and insult," iii. 117. "We will hang him up by his hair," iv. 325. See Elliott, i. 411, 412. Compare Newton on the Prophecies, p. 485.

And on their heads were as it were crowns of gold. See Barnes "Re 9:7".

That is, diadems, or something that appeared like crowns, or chaplets. This will agree well with the turban worn by the Arabs or Saracens, and which was quite characteristic of them in the early periods when they became known. So in the passage already quoted, Pliny speaks of them as Arabes mitrati; so Solinus, mitrata capita; so in the poem of Antar, "he folded up his hair under his turban." It is remarkable also that Ezekiel (Eze 23:42) describes the turbans of the Subcan or Keturite Arabs under the very appellation here used by John: "Subcans from the wilderness, which put beautiful crowns upon their heads." So in the Preface to Antar, it is said, "It was a usual saying among them, that God had bestowed four peculiar things on the Arabs; that their turbans should be unto them instead of diadems, their tents instead of walls and houses, their swords instead of intrenchments, and their poems instead of written laws." Mr. Forster, in his Mohammedanism Unveiled, quotes as a precept of Mohammed, "Make a point of wearing turbans, because it is the way of angels." Turbans might then with propriety be represented as crowns, and no doubt these were often so gilded and ornamented that they might be spoken of as "crowns of gold."

They had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron. See Barnes on "Re 9:9".

As a symbol, this would be properly descriptive of the Arabians or Saracens. In the poem Antar, the steel and iron cuirasses of the Arab warriors are frequently noticed: "A warrior immersed in steel armour," ii. 203. "Fifteen thousand men armed with cuirasses, and well accoutred for war," ii. 42. "They were clothed in iron armour, and brilliant cuirasses," i. 23. "Out of the dust appeared horsemen clad in iron," iii. 274. The same thing occurs in the Koran: "God hath given you coats of mail to defend you in your wars," ii. 104. In the history of Mohammed, we read expressly of the cuirasses of himself and of his Arab troops. Seven cuirasses are noted in the list of Mohammed's private armoury.—Gagnier, iii. 328—334. In his second battle with the Koreish, seven hundred of his little army are spoken of by Mr. Gibbon as armed with cuirasses. See Elliott, i. 413. These illustrations will show with what propriety the locusts in the symbol were represented as having breastplates like breastplates of iron. On the supposition that this referred to the Arabs and the Saracens, this would have been the very symbol which would have been used. Indeed, all the features in the symbol are precisely such as would properly be employed on the supposition that the reference was to them. It is true that, beforehand, it might not have been practicable to describe exactly what people were referred to, but

(a) it would be easy to see that some fearful calamity was to be anticipated from the ravages of hosts of fearful invaders; and

(b) when the events occurred, there would be no difficulty in determining to whom this application should be made.

(3.) The time when this would occur. As to this, there can be no difficulty in the application to the Saracens. On the supposition that the four first trumpets refer to the downfall of the Western empire, then the proper time supposed to be represented by this symbol is subsequent to that; and yet the manner in which the last three trumpets are introduced (Re 8:13) shows that there would be an interval between the sounding of the last of the four trumpets and the sounding of the fifth. The events referred to, as I have supposed, as represented by the fourth trumpet, occurred in the close of the fifth century, (A. D. 476-490.) The principal events in the seventh century were connected with the invasions and conquests of the Saracens. The interval of a century is not more than the fair interpretation of the proclamation in Re 8:13 would justify.

(4.) The commission given to the symbolical locusts. This embraces the following things:

(a) They were not to hurt the grass of the earth, nor any green thing;

(b) they were especially to go against those who had not the seal of God in their foreheads;

(c) they were not to kill them, but were to torment them.

They were not to hurt the grass of the earth, etc. Barnes on "Re 9:4".

This agrees remarkably with an express command in the Koran. The often quoted order of the Caliph Aboubekir, the father-in-law and successor of Mohammed, issued to the Saracen hordes on heir invasion of Syria, shows what was understood to be the spirit of their religion: "Remember that you are always in the presence of God, on the verge of death, in the assurance of judgment, and the hope of paradise. Avoid injustice and oppression; consult with your brethren, and study to procure the love and confidence of your troops. When you fight the battle of the Lord, acquit yourselves like men, without turning your backs; but let not the victory be stained with the blood of women or children. Destroy no palm-trees, nor burn any fields of corn. Cut down no fruit-trees, nor do any mischief to cattle, only such as you kill to eat. When you make any covenant or article, stand to it, and be as good as your word. As you go on you will find some religious persons who have retired in monasteries, and propose to themselves to serve God in that way; let them alone, and neither kill them [and to them it was given that they should not kill them,' Re 9:5], nor destroy their monasteries," etc.— Gibbon iii. 417-418. So Mr. Gibbon notices this precept of the Koran: "In the siege of Tayaf," says he, "sixty miles from Mecca, Mohammed violated his own laws by the extirpation of the fruit-trees," ii. 392. The same order existed among the Hebrews, and it is not improbable that Mohammed derived his precept from the command of Moses, (De 20:19) though what was mercy among the Hebrews was probably mere policy with him. This precept is the more remarkable because it has been the usual custom in war, and particularly among barbarians and semi-barbarians, to destroy grain and fruit, and especially to cut down fruit-trees, in order to do greater injury to an enemy. Thus we have seen, (See Barnes "Re 8:7") that in the invasion of the Goths their course was marked by desolations of this kind. Thus, in more modern times, it has been common to carry the desolations of war into gardens, orchards, and vineyards. In the single province of Upper Messenia, the troops of Mohammed Ali, in the war with Greece, cut down half a million of olive-trees, and thus stripped the country of its means of wealth. So Scio was a beautiful spot, the seat of delightful villas, and gardens, and orchards; and in one day all this beauty was destroyed. On the supposition, therefore, that this prediction had reference to the Saracens, nothing could be more appropriate. Indeed, in all the history of barbarous and savage warfare, it would be difficult to find another distinct command that no injury should be done to gardens and orchards.

This note is continued in next verse. See Barnes "Re 9:12"

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