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1. And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star - Far different from that mentioned, chap. viii, 11. This star belongs to the invisible world. The third woe is occasioned by the dragon cast out of heaven; the second takes place at the loosing of the four angels who were bound in the Euphrates. The first is here brought by the angel of the abyss, which is opened by this star, or holy angel. Falling to the earth - Coming swiftly and with great force. And to him was given - when he was come. The key of the bottomless pit - A deep and hideous prison; but different from "the lake of fire."
2. And there arose a smoke out of the pit - The locusts, who afterwards rise out of it, seem to be, as we shall afterwards see, the Persians; agreeable to which, this smoke is their detestable idolatrous doctrine, and false zeal for it, which now broke out in an uncommon paroxysm. As the smoke of a great furnace - where the clouds of it rise thicker and thicker, spread far and wide, and press one upon another, so that the darkness increases continually. And the sun and the air were darkened - A figurative expression, denoting heavy affliction. This smoke occasioned more and more such darkness over the Jews in Persia.
3. And out of the smoke - Not out of the bottomless pit, but from the smoke which issued thence. There went forth locusts - A known emblem of a numerous, hostile, hurtful people. Such were the Persians, from whom the Jews, in the sixth century, suffered beyond expression. In the year 540 their academies were stopped, nor were they permitted to have a president for near fifty years. In 589 this affliction ended; but it began long before 540. The prelude of it was about the year 455 and 47iv, the main storm came on in the reign of Cabades, and lasted from 483 to 532. Toward the beginning of the sixth century, Mar Rab Isaac, president of the academy, was put to death. Hereon followed an insurrection of the Jews, which lasted seven years before they were conquered by the Persians. Some of them were then put to death, but not many; the rest were closely imprisoned. And from this time the nation of the Jews were hated and persecuted by the Persians, till they had well nigh rooted them out. The scorpions of the earth - The most hurtful kind. The scorpions of the air have wings.
4. And it was commanded them - By the secret power of God. Not to hurt the grass, neither any green thing, nor any tree - Neither those of low, middling, or high degree, but only such of them as were not sealed - Principally the unbelieving Israelites. But many who were called Christians suffered with them.
5. Not to kill them - Very few of them were killed: in general, they were imprisoned and variously tormented.
6. The men - That is, the men who are so tormented.
7. And the appearances - This description suits a people neither throughly civilized, nor entirely savage; and such were the Persians of that age. Of the locusts are like horses - With their riders. The Persians excelled in horsemanship. And on their heads are as it were crowns - Turbans. And their faces are as the faces of men - Friendly and agreeable.
8. And they had hair as the hair of women - All the Persians of old gloried in long hair. And their teeth were as the teeth of lions - Breaking and tearing all things in pieces.
9. And the noise of their wings was as the noise of chariots of many horses - With their war-chariots, drawn by many horses, they, as it were, flew to and fro.
10. And they have tails like scorpions - That is, each tail is like a scorpion, not like the tail of a scorpion. To hurt the unsealed men five months - Five prophetic months; that is, seventy-nine common years So long did these calamities last.
11. And they have over them a king - One by whom they are peculiarly directed and governed. His name is Abaddon - Both this and Apollyon signify a destroyer. By this he is distinguished from the dragon, whose proper name is Satan.
12. One woe is past; behold, there come yet two woes after these things - The Persian power, under which was the first woe, was now broken by the Saracens: from this time the first pause made a wide way for the two succeeding woes. In 589, when the first woe ended, Mahomet was twenty years old, and the contentions of the Christians with each other were exceeding great. In 591 Chosroes II. reigned in Persia, who, after the death of the emperor, made dreadful disturbances in the east, Hence Mahomet found an open door for his new religion and empire. And when the usurper Phocas had, in the year 606, not only declared the Bishop of Rome, Boniface III., universal bishop, but also the church of Rome the head of all churches, this was a sure step to advance the Papacy to its utmost height. Thus, after the passing away of the first woe, the second, yea, and the third, quickly followed; as indeed they were both on the way together with it before the first effectually began.
13. And the sixth angel sounded - Under this angel goes forth the second woe. And I heard a voice from the four corners of the golden altar - This golden altar is the heavenly pattern of the Levitical altar of incense. This voice signified that the execution of the wrath of God, mentioned verses 20, 21, ver. 20, 21 should, at no intercession, be delayed any longer.
14. Loose the four angels - To go every way; to the four quarters. These were evil angels, or they would not have been bound. Why, or how long, they were bound we know not.
15. And the four angels were loosed, who were prepared - By loosing them, as well as by their strength and rage. To kill the third part of men - That is, an immense number of them. For the hour, and day, and month, and year - All this agrees with the slaughter which the Saracens made for a long time after Mahomet's death. And with the number of angels let loose agrees the number of their first and most eminent caliphs. These were Ali, Abubeker, Omar, and Osman. Mahomet named Ali, his cousin and son-in-law, for his successor; but he was soon worked out by the rest, till they severally died, and so made room for him. They succeeded each other, and each destroyed innumerable multitudes of men. There are in a prophetic Com. Years. Com. Days. Hour 8 \ Day 196 \ in all 212 years. Month 15 318 / Year 196 117 / Now, the second woe, as also the beginning of the third, has its place between the ceasing of the locusts and the rising of the beast out of the sea, even at the time that the Saracens, who were chiefly cavalry, were in the height of their carnage; from their, first caliph, Abubeker, till they were repulsed from Rome under Leo IV. These 212 years may therefore be reckoned from the year 634 to 847. The gradation in reckoning the time, beginning with the hour and ending with a year, corresponds with their small beginning and vast increase. Before and after Mahomet's death, they had enough to do to settle their affairs at home. Afterwards Abubeker went farther, and in the year 634 gained great advantage over the Persians and Rom. in Syria. Under Omar was the conquest of Mesopotamia, Palestine, and Egypt made. Under Osman, that of Afric, (with the total suppression of the Roman government in the year 647,) of Cyprus, and of all Persia in 651. After Ali was dead, his son Ali Hasen, a peaceable prince, was driven out by Muavia; under whom, and his successors, the power of the Saracens so increased, that within fourscore years after Mahomet's death they had extended their conquests farther than the warlike Roman did in four hundred years.
16. And the number of the horsemen was two hundred millions - Not that so many were ever brought into the field at once, but (if we understand the expression literally) in the course of "the hour, and day, and month, and year." So neither were "the third part of men killed" at once, but during that course of years.
17. And thus I saw the horses and them that sat on them in the vision - St. John seems to add these words, in the vision, to intimate that we are not to take this description just according to the letter. Having breastplates of fire - Fiery red. And hyacinth - Dun blue. And brimstone - A faint yellow. Of the same colour with the fire and smoke and brimstone, which go out of the mouths of their horses. And the heads of their horses are as the heads of lions - That is, fierce and terrible. And out of their mouth goeth fire and smoke and brimstone - This figurative expression may denote the consuming, blinding, all-piercing rage, fierceness, and force of these horsemen.
18. By these three - Which were inseparably joined. Were the third part of men - In the countries they over-ran. Killed - Omar alone, in eleven years and a half, took thirty-six thousand cities or forts. How many men must be killed therein!
19. For the power of these horses is in their mouths, and in their tails - Their riders fight retreating as well as advancing: so that their rear is as terrible as their front. For their tails are like serpents, having heads - Not like the tails of serpents only. They may be fitly compared to the amphisbena, a kind of serpent, which has a short tail, not unlike a head from which it throws out its poison as if it had two heads.
20. And the rest of the men who were not killed - Whom the Saracens did not destroy. It is observable, the countries they over- ran were mostly those where the gospel had been planted. By these plagues - Here the description of the second woe ends. Yet repented not - Though they were called Christians. Of the works of their hands - Presently specified. That they should not worship devils - The invocation of departed saints, whether true, or false, or doubtful, or forged, crept early into the Christian church, and was carried farther and farther; and who knows how many who are invoked as saints are among evil, not good, angels; or how far devils have mingled with such blind worship, and with the wonders wrought on those occasions? And idols - About the year 590, men began to venerate images; and though upright men zealously opposed it, yet, by little and little, images grew into manifest idols. For after much contention, both in the east and west, in the year 787, the worship of images was established by the second Council of Nice. Yet was image worship sharply opposed some time after, by the emperor Theophilus. But when he died, in 842, his widow, Theodoura, established it again; as did the Council at Constantinople in the year 863, and again in 871.
21. Neither repented of their murders, nor of their sorceries - Whoever reads the histories of the seventh, eighth, and ninth centuries, will find numberless instances of all these in every part of the Christian world. But though God cut off so many of these scandals to the Christian name, yet the rest went on in the same course. Some of them, however, might repent under the plagues which follow.
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