I want to offer some thoughts on Revelation ch9 vv13-19
This passage is about the sixth of the "seven trumpets".
It also counts as the "second woe", because, at the end of the previous chapter, the dwellers on the earth were told to expect woe from the next three
So I'm going to be asking the question; what is the second woe?
When the sixth trumpet is sounded, something is released, but the exact nature of that "something" is not easy to pin down.
They are cavalry
At least the text calls them cavalry, and describes them as riding horses.
The first army in this chapter, the army of locusts, were clearly based on a topical model.
The army in this case, too, are probably based on a topical model, though few people in the modern world have heard of the Parthians.
They were a people ruling the territories eastward of the Roman Empire, and some of the details in this description would have been true about one of
The Parthians, if they invaded, would have been coming from the Euphrates.
They would have been wearing armour and fighting on horseback, a style of warfare learned from the nomads on the steppes.
And their horses did have a metaphorical "sting in the tail".The most famous tactical skill of the Parthian cavalry was their ability to despatch
arrows backwards while riding away from an enemy.
At the battle of Carrhae, the Parthians overwhelmed a force of seven Roman legions and killed the Roman leader Crassus, one of the allies of Julius
Caesar. They then attempted to invade Syria, but were beaten off.
So the thought of another Parthian invasion would have been a source of terror.
They are not ordinary cavalry
But the description has got additional details, bizarre details, which would not be found in an ordinary Parthian army.
The horses have lions' heads, with fire and smoke and sulphur coming out of their mouths.
Their tails are in the form of serpents, with biting heads of their own.
And the size of the army has been magnified, to a much greater size than human armies could muster.
So the image starts with a topical model (a Parthian army) which would have been a source of terror in its own right.
The emotion is then magnified. Further details are thrown into the vision to ramp up the intensity of the terror by several degrees.
So far, the Second Woe is following the pattern of the First Woe.
They come from "outside"
They come from the Euphrates, and presumably from the other side of the Euphrates.
At the time when John was writing, the upper Euphrates was the boundary between the Roman province of Syria and the Parthian territory around
So, from the viewpoint of Roman citizens, the other side of the Euphrates was the region "outside" the civilised world, the Graeco-Roman world.
It would belong to the world of the barbarians, not the world of ordered society.
They come from God
The army is released by a command which comes direct from God's altar.
This means that the cavalry has been released on God's authority.
(It's the reverse of the instruction given in ch7 v1, when the angels were ordered to hold back the four destructive "winds of the earth")
The fact that the action has been planned shows that it comes from God.
The force has been held in reserve for a specific pre-planned moment-
"The hour, the day, the month, and the year".
[Americans may like to make note of the logical sequence of this statement- starting from the smallest unit of time and working upwards. Here is the
Biblical endorsement of the "day/month/year" dating convention, as used by God himself)
The sheer size of the army confirms that it comes from God.
That number of "twice ten thousand times ten thousand" is an echo of the host which accompanied the Lord when he "came from Sinai into the holy
place". That force was "twice ten thousand, thousands upon thousands"- Psalm 68 v17
Similarly, when the Ancient of Days took his seat in Daniel's vision, "a thousand thousands served him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood
before him"- Daniel ch7 v10
Only "the Lord of hosts" can muster armies of that order of magnitude.
The implication is that these cavalry, too, are acting as God's army and serving his purpose.
So the Second Woe is continuing to follow the pattern of the First Woe.
It's becoming evident that these two armies are a pair.
A literary analysis of these chapters makes that clear;
A1; The first trumpet sounds, v1
A2; The army of locusts is released, v2
A3; "The first woe has passed...", v12
B1; The second trumpet sounds, v13
B2; The army of cavalry is released, v14
[Insertion of ch10 and most of ch11]
B3; "The second woe has passed...", ch11 v14
Two points become clear in that analysis.
We can see, from the way the pattern repeats, that the "second woe" statement really belongs to the cavalry (just as I've been assuming from the
beginning of this discussion).
But the postponement of that final statement has the effect of including the "inserted" chapters in the description of the Second Woe. We must assume
there's a reason for that, which I'll return to in a moment.
They bring destruction
We're told that this army will be killing one third of mankind.
This needs to be understood in the context of the other trumpets, which I was discussing on these two occasions;
The First Woe
My interpretation of the first four trumpets was that they were describing a major catastrophe, whether natural or man-made. There seemed to be an
impact on the planet at large, setting in motion the spoiling of the land, the sea, and the atmosphere.
Looking ahead to the "seven bowls", they seemed to be describing the culmination of the same process.
In which case, it looked like the kind of process which would ultimately render the earth almost uninhabitable.
My interpretation of the fifth trumpet was that it was describing the beginning of the human reaction to this catastrophe. It was describing a human
race falling into a state of intense despair, which would have been a very natural consequence of the events in the previous chapter.
I now suggest that the sixth trumpet is describing the social impact of the fifth trumpet. It's about the effect of despair on the bonds of human
The army of this vision comes from the Euphrates.
But I think we can understand that best by remembering what that river meant to the people of John's time.
It would have been the perceived boundary between the world of social order (as represented by the Roman Empire) and the barbarian world "outside" (as
represented by the Parthians).
So we might see in this cavalry a representation of all those forces which come from "outside" the social order, and which would have the effect of
These have never been completely absent from human life (they're at work in France, even as I write).
But they would undoubtedly be released in full force in the kind of emergency which these chapters appear to be describing.
The predominance of despair would undermine the motivation to keep things going.
It would be a case of
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world" (W.B. Yeats)
I would therefore understand this army as the collective symbol of all those forces which would have the effect of bringing human society crashing
down into anarchy, and which would thus
bring about the death of "one third of mankind".
To me, then, these "trumpets" look like a natural sequence;
The collapse of the physical
environment of the human race, under the (undetermined) catastrophe.
Followed by, as a natural consequence, the collapse of the psychological
environment of the human race, as humanity fell into despair.
Followed by, as a natural consequence, the collapse of the social
environment of the human race, as humanity fell into anarchy.
We need to find a place in this for the previously mentioned "inserted" chapters.
Ch10, which I'll consider another time, explains the meaning of what's happening.
Ch11 is about the conflict between the Beast and the church, and the death of the Witnesses.
So the implication is that these events are, in a sense, among the symptoms of the social breakdown.
A panic-stricken world is finding some reason to direct hostility against the Christian community.
There are clues to one possible reason within these chapters.
On the one hand, the star "wormwood" has the effect of making the waters bitter, and the third of the later "bowls" turns then into blood.
But in ch11 v6, the power to turn the waters into blood, as Moses did, is attributed to the Witnesses.
So the Witnesses would be proclaiming, as part of their call to repentance, that God was sending these things because of the sins of the world.
But the popular logic would be; "They're admitting it; the Christians and their God are responsible for all our troubles".
That would help to create the frame of mind in which the world at large would be ready to "rejoice over" the deaths of the Witnesses.
They bring a call to repentance
I've observed that the army of "cavalry" follows the pattern of the army of "locusts".
The army of locusts was clearly modelled on the invading locusts of Joel, and the function of those locusts was that they were a call to
"Yet even now (says the Lord) return to me with all your heart, with fasting and with weeping and with mourning"- Joel ch2 v12.
But what we see in Joel is a pair
of invading armies, coming in succession.
And what we see in this chapter is a pair
of invading armies, the locusts and the cavalry, coming in succession.
The implication is that these combined armies have the combined function of the two armies in Joel, the call to repentance.
However, the implied opportunity for repentance is not taken in this chapter;
"The rest of mankind...did not repent of the works of their hands nor give up worshipping demons...nor did they repent of their murders or their
sorceries or their immorality or their thefts"- vv20-21.
So if the function of the second Woe is to be a call to repentance, it appears to be a call which a few do not need, and most do not heed.
edit on 24-10-2010 by DISRAELI because: (no reason given)