Part 5. The 7 trumpets (8:1—11:19)
5.4. 5th trumpet (first woe): demonic locusts (9:1-12)
5.5. 6th trumpet (second woe): fiendish cavalry (9:13-21)
† PICTURE: In the centre of the court of heaven, 7 angels stood near the throne, each holding a trumpet. Four angels have blown the trumpets. Now, with the 5th and 6th angels blowing their trumpets, demonic hordes numbering millions appear and attack all the non-believers on earth.
9:1 The fifth trumpet brings a star falling from the sky to the earth. In 8:10 (3rd trumpet), the star that fell from the sky and contaminated the waters was a mass of molten material. Here, the star is a person for he receives a key. This person uses the key to open the shaft of the Abyss.
Who then is this person? There are 2 possible answers:  In Isa 14:12, the king of Babylon is portrayed as a day star fallen from heaven. Jesus said He had seen “Satan fall like lightning (perhaps a blazing comet) from heaven.” (Lk 10:18) Some think that “fallen” can be taken in a theological and moral sense, meaning the star is a fallen angel. Therefore, some conclude that this person is either Satan or Abaddon, the angel of the Abyss (9:11).  The verb “to fall” can simply mean “to descend”. Therefore, it is also possible that the person is an angel (not a fallen one) carrying out the will of God, and may even be the same angel who in 20:1 comes down out of heaven with the key of the Abyss. In 1 Enoch 19:1 and 20:2, the archangel in charge of the Abyss is identified as Uriel.
9:2 The Abyss is a subterranean chasm where evil spirits dwell. The nine NT references to the Abyss describe it to be inhabited variously by the scorpion centaurs, the demonic prince (9:11), and the beast of the Abyss (11:7; 17:8). The Abyss appears to be like a gigantic furnace. 1 Enoch 21:7 describes the Abyss to be a horrible place with “great descending columns of fire”. Here, when the shaft leading to the Abyss is opened, great clouds of smoke pour out. The smoke is so dense that the sun and sky are darkened. Note that the smoke is different from things that come out of the smoke.
9:3 From the smoke come evil spirits who have been imprisoned in the Abyss. They are creatures that look like locusts. The infestation of scorpion-like locusts are similar to the 8th plague in Egypt (Ex 10:13-15).
In the OT, the locust is a symbol of destruction (Dt 28:42; 1Ki 8:37; Ps 78:46). Bred in the desert, they invade cultivated areas in search of food. They may travel in a column 30 metres deep and up to 6 km in length. When they pass, all vegetation is stripped bare.
These locusts are given a scorpionlike power to torment people on earth. The scorpion is wellknown in Palestine since ancient times. It is a lobsterlike vermin 10 cm (4-5 inches) long and has a claw on the end of the tail that secrets a poison when it strikes. This poison can cause great pain to the victim. Note that the scorpion, like the snake, is a creature hostile to man and so became a symbol of the forces of spiritual evil. It should also be noted that the demonic locusts have the power like scorpions but not the appearance.
9:4 The locusts are commanded to not harm the vegetation of the earth but attack only those who do not have the seal of God. Only Christians who were sealed (7:3) will escape the demonic assault. They are owned by God, protected by God, and will not experience the wrath of God.
9:5 The poisonous strike of the locusts does not kill but causes people such torment that they seek death. The torment is limited to a period of five months. Some explain this to be the life cycle of the locust. The fact that people are not killed allows them a chance to turn from their wickedness and repent.
Note that the passive voice is used in speaking of the release (v.1), the empowering (v.3), and limiting (v.4-5). While the one who give these commands is not named, the implication is that the plague, even though demonic, is under the sovereign control of God.
9:6 People will actively seek release from torment through death yet find that it is impossible to die. The present tense of “elude” indicates the habitual avoidance of death, meaning death keeps running from them.
9:7 John already describes the origin (vv.2-3) and the mission (vv.4-6) of the locusts. Now he describes what they look like (vv.7-10). They are horse-shaped, with long hair, scorpion tails, humanlike faces but with lions’ teeth, wearing golden crowns (perhaps describing their blonde hair) and ironlike breastplates. The entire appearance is one of unnatural and awesome cruelty. These locusts must be of considerable size. Otherwise, John will not be able to see all the details. That they were prepared for battle may indicate either the eagerness with which they sprang forth to inflict harm or the protective armament described in v.9.
When John looked directly into the face of the advancing horde, he did not see that rather torpid expression of the animal world but the highly intelligent cunning and cruelty of demonic beings.
9:8 The long hair may be a symbol of vitality like that of Samson (Jdg 16:13,19) and Absalom (2Sa 14:25-26). The lions’ teeth perhaps emphasize the fierceness of the locusts. Yet they do not attack with their teeth but with their tails.
9:9 They were protected with breastplates of iron, indicating that it is difficult to strike back at the locusts in a vulnerable spot. They sound like a stampede of approaching destruction.
9:10 Their stinging tails are the main weapon of attack.
9:11 The king of the Abyss is Abaddon. In the OT, the name Abaddon means destruction (Job 31:12). In case the reader did not grasp the significance of the Hebrew name, John adds the Greek equivalent—Apollyon, Destroyer. It is possible that the Greek name is added by John to attack the emperor cult of the Romans as related to demonic activities. Emperor Domitian liked to be regarded as Apollo incarnate. The name of Apollo was derived from the same Greek verb as the root of Apollyon (apollumi) and the locust was one of the symbols of the god Apollo.
9:12 The first of three woes is past but two more are approaching. As previous plagues have followed a trend of increasing intensity, the next plagues will doubtlessly be even more terrible.
9:13 The sixth trumpet brings a command from a voice from the golden altar. This could be the voice of the angel of 8:3-5 who presented the saints’ prayers. Again, this judgment is probably prompted by the prayers. It is not known why the term “horns” or corners (of the altar) is included. In half of the Greek manuscripts, the word is omitted.
9:14 The command from the altar is for the sixth angel to release the 4 angels of destruction who were temporarily bound at the Euphrates. These 4 angels appear to be in charge of the limitless horde of demonic horsemen.
When God made a covenant with Abram, He promised him and his descendants the land that stretched from the Nile to the Euphrates (Gen 15:18) so the river marked the boundary between Israel and her chief enemies. The Euphrates was also the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire.
9:15 The four angels are said to be in a state of readiness. They are released only at the exact moment decreed by God. The passive voice again reinforce the idea of sovereign control of God over all events.
9:16 The number of horsemen is 200,000,000 which is “two myriads of myriads,” twice 10,000 x 10,000. The term is to express an extremely large number of incalculable immensity. It is of course impossible for John to count as he simply heard the number reported.
9:17 Although what John described in this book are supposedly all visions, it is only here (in the whole book) that John specifically indicate that it is a vision.
Both the riders and their mounts wear breastplates. The breastplates have the colours of red, dark blue, and yellow to match the fire, smoke, and sulphur that come out of the mouths of the horses. It is possible that each breastplate has just a single colour which matches one of the three destructive agents that are emitted. The heads of the horses look like lions’ head, symbolizing cruelty and destruction.
9:18 The three different plagues of fire, smoke, and sulphur together kill one third of mankind. While the first Woe brought torment, the second Woe brings death.
9:19 Plagues from the horses’ mouths cause death. In addition, they have the power to hurt, like the locusts. Their tails are snakes and have heads that inflict injury. The association with snakes again emphasize the demonic origin of the horses.
9:20 Even with plagues like these, the rest of mankind still do not repent, not of their idolatry, nor their evil conduct. They are hardhearted. They still worship demons and inanimate idols, representing respectively spiritual evil and physical evil. Today, idolatry in the west is different from that in ancient times. Yet, worshipping material wealth (money, cars, houses, luxuries) represents the modern variation of idolatry. In the Bible, idolatry also refers as greed (Col 3:5).
9:21 Closely associated with idolatry are the heathen practices of murder, magic arts, sexual immorality, and theft. Three of the four are fundamental vices prohibited in the Ten Commandments (6th, 7th, and 8th). Magic arts refers to witchcraft and the use of magic potions that were practices related to heathen idolatry.
† In the midst of these horrific plagues, those who have the seal of God are still protected from the demonic activities. Today, we can be tempted by the devil but we are protected against being dominated or possessed by demons because we have the seal of the Holy Spirit. We do not need to be afraid of evil spirits because God will protect us so long as we rely on God.
† One of the major evil committed by the unrepentant world is the worship of idols. We must constantly be watchful or else we may inadvertently commit the same sin by worshipping modern idols such as material wealth, power, etc..