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Revelation 9:3  (King James Version)

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Revelation 9:3

And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth - That is, they escaped from the pit with the smoke. At first they were mingled with the smoke, so that they were not distinctly seen, but when the smoke cleared away they appeared in great numbers. The idea seems to be, that the bottomless pit was filled with vapor and with those creatures, and that as soon as the gate was opened the whole contents expanded and burst forth upon the earth. The sun was immediately darkened, and the air was full, but the smoke soon cleared away, so that the locusts became distinctly visible. The appearance of these locusts is described in another part of the chapter, Revelation 9:7 ff. The locust is a voracious insect belonging to the grasshopper or grylli genus, and is a great scourge in Oriental countries. A full description of the locust may be seen in Robinson' s Calmet , and in Kitto' s Encyclo . vol. ii. pp. 258ff. There are ten Hebrew words to denote the locust, and there are numerous references to the destructive habits of the insect in the Scriptures. In fact, from their numbers and their destructive habits, there was scarcely any other plague that was so much dreaded in the East. Considered as a symbol, or emblem, the following remarks may be made in explanation:

(1) The symbol is Oriental, and would most naturally refer to something that was to occur in the East. As locusts have appeared chiefly in the East, and as they are in a great measure an Oriental plague, the mention of this symbol would most naturally turn the thoughts to that portion of the earth. The symbols of the first four trumpets had no special locality, and would suggest no particular part of the world; but on the mention of this, the mind would be naturally turned to the East, and we should expect to find that the scene of this woe would be located in the regions where the ravages of locusts most abounded. Compare, on this point, Elliott, Horae Apoc . i. 394-406. He has made it probable that the prophets, when they used symbolical language to denote any events, commonly, at least, employed those which had a local or geographical reference; thus, in the symbols derived from the vegetable kingdom, when Judah is to be symbolized, the olive, the vine, and the fig-tree are selected; when Egypt is referred to, the reed is chosen; when Babylon, the willow. And so, in the animal kingdom, the lion is the symbol of Judah; the wild ass, of the Arabs; the crocodile, of Egypt, etc. Whether this theory could be wholly carried out or not, no one can doubt that the symbol of locusts would most naturally suggest the Oriental world, and that the natural interpretation of the passage would lead us to expect its fulfillment there.

(2) Locusts were remarkable for their numbers - so great often as to appear like clouds, and to darken the sky. In this respect they would naturally be symbolical of numerous armies or hosts of men. This natural symbol of numerous armies is often employed by the prophets. Thus, in Jeremiah 46:23;

"Cut down her forests (i. e. her people, or cities), saith Jehovah,

That it may not be found on searching;

Although they surpass the locusts in multitude,

And they are without number."

So in Nahum 3:15;

"There shall the fire devour thee;

The sword shall cut thee off; it shall devour thee as the locust,

Increase thyself as the numerous locusts."

So also in Nahum 3:17;

"Thy crowned princes are as the numerous locusts,

And thy captains as the grasshoppers;

Which encamp in the fences in the cold day,

But when the sun ariseth they depart,

And their place is not known where they were."

See also Deuteronomy 28:38, Deuteronomy 28:42; Psalms 78:46; Amos 7:1. Compare Judges 6:3-6; Judges 7:12; and Joel 1:2.

(3) Locusts are an emblem of desolation or destruction. No symbol of desolation could be more appropriate or striking than this, for one of the most remarkable properties of locusts is, that they devour every green thing and leave a land perfectly waste. They do this even when what they destroy is not necessary for their own sustenance. "Locusts seem to devour not so much from a ravenous appetite as from a rage for destroying. Destruction, therefore, and not food, is the chief impulse of their devastations, and in this consists their utility; they are, in fact, omnivorous. The most poisonous plants are indifferent to them; they will prey even upon the crowfoot, whose causticity burns even the hides of beasts. They simply consume everything, without predilection - vegetable matter, linens, woolens, silk, leather, etc.; and Pliny does not exaggerate when he says, fores quoque tectorum - ' even the doors of houses' - for they have been known to consume the very varnish of furniture. They reduce everything indiscriminately to shreds, which become manure" (Kitto' s Encyclopedia ii. 263). Locusts become, therefore, a most striking symbol of an all-devouring army, and as such are often referred to in Scripture. So also in Josephus, de Bello Jude book v. ch. vii.: "As after locusts we see the woods stripped of their leaves, so, in the rear of Simon' s army, nothing but devastation remained." The natural application of this symbol, then, is to a numerous and destructive army, or to a great multitude of people committing ravages, and sweeping off everything in their march.

And unto them was given power - This was something that was imparted to them beyond their ordinary nature. The locust in itself is not strong, and is not a symbol of strength. Though destructive in the extreme, yet neither as individuals, nor as combined, are they distinguished for strength. Hence, it is mentioned as a remarkable circumstance that they had such power conferred on them.

As the scorpions of the earth have power - The phrase "the earth" seems to have been introduced here because these creatures are said to have come up from "the bottomless pit," and it was natural to compare them with some well-known objects found on the earth. The scorpion is an animal with eight feet, eight eyes, and a long, jointed tail, ending in a pointed weapon or sting. It is the largest and the most malignant of all the insect tribes. It somewhat resembles the lobster in its general appearance, but is much more hideous. See the notes on Luke 10:19. Those found in Europe seldom exceed four inches in length, but in tropical climates, where they abound, they are often found twelve inches long. There are few animals more formidable, and none more irascible, than the scorpion. Goldsmith states that Maupertuis put about a hundred of them together in the same glass, and that as soon as they came into contact they began to exert all their rage in mutual destruction, so that in a few days there remained but fourteen, which had killed and devoured all the rest.

The sting of the scorpion, Dr. Shaw states, is not always fatal; the malignity of their venom being in proportion to their size and complexion. The torment of a scorpion, when he strikes a man, is thus described by Dioscorides, lib. 7:cap. 7, as cited by Mr. Taylor: "When the scorpion has stung, the place becomes inflamed and hardened; it reddens by tension, and is painful by intervals, being now chilly, now burning. The pain soon rises high, and rages, sometimes more, sometimes less. A sweating succeeds, attended by a shivering and trembling; the extremities of the body become cold, the groin swells, the hair stands on end, the members become pale, and the skin feels throughout the sensation of a perpetual pricking, as if by needles" (Fragments to Calmet' s Dic. vol. iv. p. 376, 377). "The tail of the scorpion is long, and formed after the manner of a string of beads, the last larger than the others, and longer; at the end of which are, sometimes, two stings which are hollow, and filled with a cold poison, which it ejects into the part which it stings" (Calmet' s Dic.). The sting of the scorpion, therefore, becomes the emblem of what causes acute and dangerous suffering. On this comparison with scorpions see the remark of Niebuhr, quoted in the notes on Revelation 9:7.

Other Barnes' Notes entries containing Revelation 9:3:

Revelation 9:5
Revelation 9:10
Revelation 9:11
Revelation 9:12
Revelation 9:20-21
Revelation 16:13


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