Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The fifth angel sounds, and a star falls from heaven to earth, Rev 9:1. The bottomless pit is opened, and locusts come out upon the earth, Rev 9:2, Rev 9:3. Their commission, Rev 9:4-6. Their form, Rev 9:7-10. Their government, Rev 9:11, Rev 9:12. The sixth angel sounds, and the four angels bound in the Euphrates are loosed, Rev 9:13-15. The army of horsemen, and their description, Rev 9:16-19. Though much evil is inflicted upon men for their idolatry, etc., they do not repent, Rev 9:20, Rev 9:21.
A star fall from heaven - An angel encompassed with light suddenly descended, and seemed like a star falling from heaven.
The key of the bottomless pit - Power to inundate the earth with a flood of temporal calamities and moral evils.
He opened the bottomless pit - Το φρεαρ της αβυσσου· The pit of the bottomless deep. Some think the angel means Satan, and the bottomless pit hell. Some suppose Mohammed is meant; and Signior Pastorini professes to believe that Luther is intended!
There arose a smoke - False doctrine, obscuring the true light of heaven.
Locusts - Vast hordes of military troops: the description which follows certainly agrees better with the Saracens than with any other people or nation, but may also apply to the Romans.
As the scorpions of the earth have power - Namely, to hurt men by stinging them. Scorpions may signify archers; and hence the description has been applied to Cestius Gallus, the Roman general, who had many archers in his army.
They should not hurt the grass - Neither the common people, the men of middling condition, nor the nobles. However, this appears rather to refer to the prudent counsels of a military chief, not to destroy the crops and herbage of which they might have need in their campaigns.
Which have not the seal of God - All false, hypocritical, and heterodox Christians.
To them it was given - That is, they were permitted.
That they should be tormented five months - Some take these months literally, and apply them to the conduct of the Zealots who, from May to September, in the year of the siege, produced dreadful contests among the people; or to the afflictions brought upon the Jews by Cestius Gallus, when he came against Jerusalem, before which he lay one whole summer, or nearly five months - See Joseph., Bell. Jud., l. ii. c. 19.
Others consider the months as being prophetical months, each day being reckoned for a year; therefore this period must amount to one hundred and fifty years, counting thirty days to each month, as was the general custom of the Asiatics.
Their torment was as the torment of a scorpion - The phraseology here is peculiar, and probably refers to the warlike weapon called a scorpion, several of which, or men armed with them, Cestius Gallus brought with him in his army.
Isidore describes this scorpion thus: Scorpio est sagitta venenata arcu vel tormentis excussa, quea, dum ad hominem venerit, virus qua figit infundit; unde et scorpio nomen accepit. "The scorpion is a poisoned arrow shot from a bow or other instrument, which, when it wounds a man, deposits the poison with which it is covered in the wound; whence it has the name of scorpion." Seneca, in his Hercules Oetaeus, act iv., ver. 1218, describes the torment which is occasioned by this species of poisoned arrow: -
Heu qualis intus scorpius, quis fervida
Plaga revulsus cancer infixus meas
In those days shall men seek death - So distressing shall be their sufferings and torment that they shall long for death in any form, to be rescued from the evils of life. There is a sentiment much like this in Maximianus, Eleg. i., ver. 111, commonly attributed to Cornelius Gallus: -
Nunc quia longa mihi gravis est et inutilis aetas,
Vivere cum nequeam, sit mihi posse mori?
O quam dura premit miseros conditio vitae!
Nec mors humano subjacet arbitrio.
Dulce mori miseris; sed mors optata recedit:
At cum tristis erit, praecipitata venit.
"Seeing that long life is both useless and burdensome When we can no longer live comfortably, shall we be permitted to die? O how hard is the condition on which we hold life! For death is not subjected to the will of man. To die is sweet to the wretched; but wished - for death flees away. Yet when it is not desired, it comes with the hastiest strides."
Job expresses the same sentiment, in the most plaintive manner: -
Why is light given to the miserable,
And life to the bitter of soul?
Who wait for death, but it is not;
And dig for it more than hid treasures.
They rejoice for it, and are glad,
And exult when they find the grave.
The locusts were like unto horses - This description of the locusts appears to be taken from Joe 2:4. The whole of this symbolical description of an overwhelming military force agrees very well with the troops of Mohammed. The Arabs are the most expert horsemen in the world: they live so much on horseback that the horse and his rider seem to make but one animal. The Romans also were eminent for their cavalry.
Crowns like gold - Not only alluding to their costly tiaras or turbans, but to the extent of their conquests and the multitude of powers which they subdued.
Their faces were as the faces of men - That is, though locusts symbolically, they are really men.
Hair as the hair of women - No razor passes upon their flesh. Their hair long, and their beards unshaven.
Their teeth were as the teeth of lions - They are ferocious and cruel.
They had breastplates - of iron - They seemed to be invulnerable, for no force availed against them.
The sound of their wings - Their hanging weapons and military trappings, with the clang of their shields and swords when they make their fierce onsets. This simile is borrowed from Joe 2:5-7.
They had tails like unto scorpions - This may refer to the consequences of their victories. They infected the conquered with their pernicious doctrines.
Their power was to hurt men five months - The locusts make their principal ravages during the five summer months. But probably these may be prophetic months, as above, in Rev 9:5 - 150 years.
A king over them - A supreme head; some think Mohammed, some think Vespasian.
The angel of the bottomless pit - The chief envoy of Satan.
Abaddon - From אבד abad, he destroyed.
Apollyon - From απο, intensive, and ολλυω, to destroy. The meaning is the same both in the Hebrew and Greek.
One wo is past - That is, the wo or desolation by the symbolical scorpions.
There came two woes more - In the trumpets of the sixth and seventh angels.
The four horns of the golden altar - This is another not very obscure indication that the Jewish temple was yet standing.
Loose the four angels - These four angels bound - hitherto restrained, in the Euphrates, are by some supposed to be the Arabs, the Saracens, the Tartars, or the Turks; by others, Vespasian's four generals, one in Arabia, one in Africa, one in Alexandria, and one in Palestine.
For an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year - We have in this place a year resolved into its component parts. Twenty-four hours constitute a day, seven days make a week, four weeks make a month, and twelve months make a year. Probably no more is meant than that these four angels were at all times prepared and permitted to inflict evil on the people against whom they had received their commission. There are some who understand these divisions of time as prophetical periods, and to these I must refer, not professing to discuss such uncertainties.
Two hundred thousand thousand - Δυο μυριαδες μυριαδων· Two myriads of myriads; that is, two hundred millions; an army that was never yet got together from the foundation of the world, and could not find forage in any part of the earth. Perhaps it only means vast numbers, multitudes without number. Such a number might be literally true of the locusts. Those who will have their particular system supported by the images in this most obscure book, tell us that the number here means all the soldiers that were employed in this war, from its commencement to its end! Those who can receive this saying let them receive it.
Breastplates of fire - jacinth, and brimstone - That is, red, blue, and yellow; the first is the color of fire, the second of jacinth, and the third of sulphur.
And the heads of the horses - Is this an allegorical description of great ordnance? Cannons, on the mouths of which horses' heads were formed, or the mouth of the cannon cast in that form? Fire, smoke, and brimstone, is a good allegorical representation of gunpowder. The Ottomans made great use of heavy artillery in their wars with the Greeks of the lower empire.
By these three was the third part of men killed - That is, By these was great carnage made.
Their power is in their mouth - From these the destructive balls are projected; and in their tails, the breech where the charge of gunpowder is lodged.
Their tails were like unto serpents, and had heads - If cannons are intended, the description, though allegorical, is plain enough; for brass ordnance especially are frequently thus ornamented, both at their muzzles and at their breech.
Yet repented not - The commission which these horsemen had was against idolaters; and though multitudes of them were destroyed, yet the residue continued their senseless attachment to dumb idols, and therefore heavier judgments might be expected. These things are supposed to refer to the desolation brought upon the Greek Church by the Ottomans, who entirely ruined that Church and the Greek empire. The Church which was then remaining was the Latin or western Church, which was not at all corrected by the judgments which fell upon the eastern Church, but continued its senseless adoration of angels, saints, relics, etc., and does so to the present day. If, therefore, God's wrath be kindled against such, this Church has much to fear.
Neither repented they of their murders - Their cruelties towards the genuine followers of God, the Albigenses, and Waldenses, and others, against whom they published crusades, and hunted them down, and butchered them in the most shocking manner. The innumerable murders by the horrible inquisition need not be mentioned.
Their sorceries - Those who apply this also to the Romish Church understand by it the various tricks, sleights of hand, or legerdemain, by which they impose on the common people in causing images of Christ to bleed, and the various pretended miracles wrought at the tombs, etc., of pretended saints, holy wells, and such like.
Fornication - Giving that honor to various creatures which is due only to the Creator.
Their thefts - Their exactions and impositions on men for indulgences, pardons, etc. These things may be intended, but it is going too far to say that this is the true interpretation. And yet to express any doubt on this subject is with some little else than heresy. If such men can see these things so clearly in such obscure prophecies, let them be thankful for their sight, and indulgent to those who still sit in darkness.