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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 9 - Verse 12

Continuation of Barnes Notes on Revelation 9:11

(d) Their commission was expressly against "those men who had not the seal of God in their foreheads." See Barnes on "Re 9:4".

That is, they were to go either against those who were not really the friends of God, or those who in their estimation were not. Perhaps, if there were nothing in the connexion to demand a different interpretation, the former would be the most natural explanation of the passage; but the language may be understood as referring to the purpose which they considered themselves as called upon to execute: that is, that they were to go against those whom they regarded as being strangers to the true God, to wit, idolators. Now, it is well known that Mohammed considered himself called upon, principally, to make war with idolaters, and that he went forth, professedly, to bring them into subjection to the service of the true God. "The means of persuasion," says Mr. Gibbon, "had been tried, the season of forbearance was elapsed, and he was now commanded to propagate his religion by the sword, to destroy the monuments of idolatry, and, without regarding the sanctity of days or months, to pursue the unbelieving nations of the earth," iii. 387. "The fair option of friendship, or submission, or battle, was proposed to the enemies of Mohammed."—Ibid. "The sword," says Mohammed, "is the key of heaven and hell; a drop of blood shed in the cause of God, a night spent in arms, is of more avail than two months of fasting and prayer: whosoever falls in battle, his sins are forgiven; at the day of judgment his wounds shall be resplendent as vermilion, and odoriferous as musk; and the loss of his limbs shall be supplied by the wings of angels and cherubim."—Gibbon, iii. 387. The first conflicts waged by Mohammed were against the idolaters of his own country—those who can, on no supposition, be regarded as "having the seal of God in their foreheads;" his subsequent wars were against infidels of all classes, that is, against those whom he regarded as not having the "seal of God in their foreheads," or as being the enemies of God.

(e) The other part of the commission was "not to kill, but to torment them." Barnes on "Re 9:5".

Compare the quotation from the command of Aboubekir, as quoted above: "Let not the victory be stained with the blood of women and children." "Let them alone, and neither kill them nor destroy their monasteries." The meaning of this, if understood as applied to their commission against Christendom, would seem to be, that they were not to go forth to "kill," but to "torment" them; to wit, by the calamities which they would bring upon Christian nations for a definite period. Indeed, as we have seen above, it was an express command of Aboubekir that they should not put those to death who were found leading quiet and peaceable lives in monasteries, though against another class he did give an express command to "cleave their skulls." See Gibbon, iii. 418. As applicable to the conflicts of the Saracens with Christians, the meaning here would seem to be, that the power conceded to those who are represented by the locusts was not to cut off and to destroy the church, but it was to bring upon it various calamities to continue for a definite period. Accordingly, some of the severest afflictions which have come upon the church have undoubtedly proceeded from the followers of the Prophet of Mecca. There were times in the early history of that religion when, to all human appearance, it would universally prevail, and wholly supplant the Christian church. But the church still survived, and no power was at any time given to the Saracenic hosts to destroy it altogether. In respect to this, some remarkable facts have occurred in history. The followers of the false prophet contemplated the subjugation of Europe, and the destruction of Christianity, from two quarters—the East and the West—expecting to make a junction of the two armies in the north of Italy, and to march down to Rome. Twice did they attack the vital part of Christendom by besieging Constantinople: first, in the seven years' siege, which lasted from A. D. 668 to A. D. 675; and, secondly, in the years 716-718, when Leo the Isaurian was on the imperial throne. But on both occasions they were obliged to retire defeated and disgraced. —Gibbon, iii. 461, seq. Again, they renewed their attack on the West. Having conquered Northern Africa, they passed over into Spain, subdued that country and Portugal, and extended their conquests as far as the Loire. At that time they designed to subdue France, and having united with the forces which they expected from the East, they intended to make a descent on Italy, and complete the conquest of Europe. This purpose was defeated by the valour of Charles Martel, and Europe and the Christian world were saved from subjugation.—Gibbon, iii. 467, seq. "A victorious line of march," says Mr. Gibbon, "had been prolonged above a thousand miles, from the rock of Gibraltar to the mouth of the Loire; the repetition of an equal space would have carried the Saracens to the confines of Poland and the highlands of Scotland. The Rhine is not more impassable than the Nile or the Euphrates, and the Arabian fleet might have sailed without a naval combat into the mouth of the Thames. Perhaps the interpretation of the Koran would now be taught in the schools of Oxford, and her pulpits might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelations of Mohammed." The arrest of the Saracen hosts before Europe was subdued, was what there was no reason to anticipate, and it even yet perplexes historians to be able to account for it. "The calm historian," says Mr. Gibbon, "who strives to follow the rapid course of the Saracens, must study to explain by what means the church and state were saved from this impending, and, as it should seem, inevitable danger." "These conquests," says Mr. Hallam, "which astonish the careless and superficial, are less perplexing to a calm inquirer than their cessations—the loss of half the Roman empire than the preservation of the rest."— Middle Ages, ii. 3, 169. These illustrations may serve to explain the meaning of the symbol—that their grand commission was not to annihilate or root out, but to annoy and afflict. Indeed, they did not go forth with a primary design to destroy. The announcement of the Mussulman always was "the Koran, the tribute, or the sword," and when there was submission, either by embracing his religion or by tribute, life was always spared. "The fair option of friendship, or submission, or battle," says Mr. Gibbon, (iii. 387,) "was proposed to the enemies of Mohammed." Compare also vol. iii. 453, 456. The torment mentioned here, I suppose, refers to the calamities brought upon the Christian world—on Egypt, and Northern Africa, and Spain, and Gaul, and the East, by the hordes which came out of Arabia, and which swept over all those countries, like a troublesome and destructive host of locusts. Indeed, would any image better represent the effects of the Saracenic invasions than such a countless host of locusts? Even now, can we find an image that would better represent this ?

(5.) The leader of this host.

(a) He was like a star that fell from heaven, (Re 9:1) a bright and illustrious prince, as if heaven-endowed, but fallen. Would anything better characterize the genius, the power, and the splendid but perverted talent of Mohammed? Mohammed was, moreover, by birth, of the princely house of the Koreish, governors of Mecca,.and to no one could the term be more appropriate than to one of that family.

(b) He was a king. That is, there was to be one monarch—one ruling spirit to which all these hosts were subject. And never was anything more appropriate than this title as applied to the leader of the Arabic hosts. All those hosts were subject to one mind—to the command of the single leader that originated the scheme.

(c) The name, Abaddon, or ApollyonDestroyer, Re 9:11. This name would be appropriate to one who spread his conquests so far over the world; who wasted so many cities and towns; who overthrew so many kingdoms; and who laid the foundation of ultimate conquests by which so many human beings were sent to the grave.

(d) The description of the leader "as the angel of the bottomless pit," Re 9:11. If this be regarded as meaning that "the angel of the bottomless pit"—the spirit of darkness himself—originated the scheme, and animated these hosts, what term would better characterize the leader? And if it be a poetic description of Mohammed as sent out by that presiding spirit of evil, how could a better representative of the spirit of the nether world have been sent out upon the earth than he was—one more talented, more sagacious, more powerful, more warlike, more wicked, more fitted to subdue the nations of the earth to the dominion of the Prince of darkness, and to hold them for ages under his yoke?

(6.) The duration of the torment. It is said (Re 9:5) that this would be five months; that is, prophetically, a hundred and fifty years. See Barnes on "Re 9:5".

The Hegira, or flight of Mohammed, occurred A.D. 622; the Saracens first issued from the desert into Syria, and began their series of wars on Christendom, A.D. 629. Reckoning from these periods respectively, the five months, or the hundred and fifty years, would extend to A.D. 772 or 779. It is not necessary to understand this period of a hundred and fifty years of the actual continued existence of the bodies symbolized by the locusts, but only of the period in which they would inflict their "torment"—" that they should be tormented five months." That is, this would be the period of the intensity of the woe inflicted by them; there would be at that time some marked intermission of the torment. The question then is, whether, in the history of the Saracens, there was any period after their career of conquest had been continued for about a hundred and fifty years, which would mark the intermission or cessation of these "torments." If so, then this is all that is necessary to determine the applicability of the symbol to the Arabian hordes. Now, in reply to this question, we have only to refer to Mr. Gibbon. The table of contents prefixed to chapters forty-one and forty-two of his work would supply all the information desired. I looked at that table, after making the estimate as to what period the "five months," or hundred and fifty years, would conduct us to, to see whether anything occurred at about that time in the Mohammedan power and influence, which could be regarded as marking the time of the intermission or cessation of the calamities inflicted by the Arabic hordes on the Christian world. After Mr. Gibbon had recorded in detail (vol. iii. 360-460) the character and conquests of the Arabian hordes under Mohammed and his successors, I find the statement of the decline of their power at just about the period to which the hundred and fifty years would lead us, for at that very time an important change came over the followers of the prophet of Mecca, turning them from the love of conquest to the pursuits of literature and science. From that period, they ceased to be formidable to the church; their limits were gradually contracted; their power diminished; and the Christian world, in regard to them, was substantially at peace. This change in the character and purposes of the Saracens is thus described by Mr. Gibbon, at the close of the reign of the caliph Abdalrahman, whose reign commenced A. D. 755, and under whom the peaceful sway of the Ommiades of Spain began, which continued for a period of two hundred and fifty years. "The luxury of the caliphs, so useless to their private happiness, relaxed the nerves, and terminated the progress, of the Arabian empire. Temporal and spiritual conquest had been the sole occupation of the successors of Mohammed; and after supplying themselves with the necessaries of life, the whole revenue was scrupulously devoted to the salutary work. The Abassides were impoverished by the multitude of their wants, and their contempt of economy. Instead of pursuing the great object of ambition, their leisure, their affections, and the powers of their minds, were diverted by pomp and pleasure: the rewards of valour were embezzled by women and eunuchs, and the royal camp was encumbered by the luxury of the palace. A similar temper was diffused among the subjects of the caliph. Their stern enthusiasm was softened by time and prosperity: they sought riches in the occupations of industry, fame in the pursuits of literature, and happiness in the tranquillity of domestic life. War was no longer the passion of the Saracens; and the increase of pay, the repetition of donative, were insufficient to allure the posterity of these voluntary champions who had crowded to the standard of Abubeker and Omar for the hopes of the spoil of paradise," iii. 477, 478. Of the Ommiades, or princes who succeeded Abdalrahman, Mr. Gibbon remarks in general—"Their mutual designs or declarations of war evaporated without effect; but instead of opening a door to the conquest of Europe, Spain was dissevered from the trunk of the monarchy, engaged in perpetual hostility with the East, and inclined to peace and friendship with the Christian sovereigns of Constantinople and France," iii. p. 472. How much does this look like some change occurring by which they would cease to be a source of "torment" to the nations with whom they now dwelt! From this period, they gave themselves to the arts of peace; cultivated literature and science; lost entirely their spirit of conquest, and their ambition for universal dominion, until they gradually withdrew, or were driven, from those parts of the Christian world where they had inspired most terror, and which in the days of their power and ambition they had invaded. By turning merely to the "table of contents" of Mr. Gibbon's history, the following periods, occurring at about the time that would be embraced in the "five months," or hundred and fifty years, are distinctly marked:—

"A. D. 668-675. First siege of Constantinople by the Arabs.

,, 677. Peace and tribute.

,, 716-718. Second siege of Constantinople.

,, ,, Failure and retreat of the Saracens.

,, ,, Invention and use of the Greek fire.

,, 721. Invasion of France by the Arabs.

,, 732. Defeat of the Saracens by Charles Martel.

,, They retreat before the Franks.

,, 746-750. The elevation of the Abassides.

,, 750. Fall of the Ommiades.

,, 755. Revolt of Spain.

,, ,, Triple division of the caliphate.

,, 750-960. Magnificence of the caliphs.

,, ,, Its consequence on private and public happiness.

,, 734, etc. Introduction of learning among the Arabians.

,, ,, Their real progress in the sciences."

It will be seen from this that the decline of their military and civil power; their defeats in their attempts to subjugate Europe; their turning their attention to the peaceful pursuits of literature and science, synchronize remarkably with the period that would be indicated by the five months, or the hundred and fifty years. It should be added, also, that in the year 762, Almanzor, the caliph, built Bagdad, and made it the capital of the Saracen empire. Henceforward that became the seat of Arabic learning, luxury, and power, and the wealth and talent of the Saracen empire were gradually drawn to that capital, and they ceased to vex and annoy the Christian world. The building of Bagdad occurred within just ten years of the time indicated by the "five months"—reckoning that from the Hegira, or flight of Mohammed; or reckoning from the time when Mohammed began to preach, (A.D. 609—Gibbon, iii. 383,) it wanted but three years of coinciding exactly with the period.

These considerations show with what propriety the fifth trumpet— the symbol of the locusts—is referred to the Arabian hordes under the guidance of Mohammed and his successors. On the supposition that it was the design of John to symbolize these events, the symbol has been chosen which of all others was best adapted to the end. If, now that these events are passed, we should endeavour to find some symbol which would appropriately represent them, we could not find one that would be more striking or appropriate than that which is here employed by John.

Verse 12. One woe is past. The woe referred to in Re 9:1-11. In Re 8:13, three woes are mentioned which were to occur successively, and which were to embrace the whole of the period comprised in the seven seals and the seven trumpets. Under the last of the seals, we have considered four successive periods, referring to events connected with the downfall of the Western empire; and then we have found one important event, worthy of a place in noticing the things which would permanently affect the destiny of the world—the rise, the character, and the conquests of the Saracens. This was referred to by the first woe-trumpet. We enter now on the consideration of the second. This occupies the remainder of the chapter, and in illustrating it the same method will be pursued as heretofore: first, to explain the literal meaning of the words, phrases, and symbols; and then to inquire what events in history, if any, succeeding the former, occurred, which would correspond with the language used.

And, behold, there come two woes more hereafter. Two momentous and important events that will be attended with sorrow to mankind. It cannot be intended that there would be no other evils that would visit mankind; but the eye, in glancing along the future, rested on these as having a special preeminence in affecting the destiny of the church and the world.

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