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Revelation 16:12

the great river Euphrates and its water was dried up
At the sounding of the sixth trumpet, the second woe, four angels were released who had previous been bound at “the great river Euphrates.” Because both this and the sixth trumpet are the sixth in a series of seven judgments, and because they both are associated with the river Euphrates, some have suggested a correspondence, as if the sixth bowl recapitulates the sixth trumpet. Although there are similarities, there are also significant differences. The release of the four angels during the sixth trumpet lead to the attack by the myriads of demonic horsemen which killed one-third of mankind. No such effect is mentioned here. Instead, the Euphrates is dried up so that kings from the east may cross to the west. Their movement is associated with the Campaign of Armageddon and, unlike the demonic horsemen of the sixth trumpet, their intent is not the slaughter of mankind in general. Moreover, the sounding of the sixth trumpet (Rev. Rev. 9:13+) preceded the sounding of the seventh trumpet (Rev. Rev. 11:15+), under which these bowl judgments subsequently come forth. Therefore, the two events are also separated in time. See commentary on Revelation 9:14. See Sequential Events.

The Euphrates is one of the oldest rivers of history, being one of the four rivers which was fed from Eden in the pre-flood world (Gen. Gen. 2:10).1 The Euphrates was one of the boundaries of the Promised Land which God gave to Abraham and his descendants (Gen. Gen. 15:18; Deu. Deu. 1:7; Jos. Jos. 1:4). According to Herodotus, Babylon was overthrown when Cyrus diverted the Euphrates allowing the Persians to wade into the city unexpected.2 This may be the near-term reference of Jeremiah: “A drought is against her waters, and they will be dried up” (Jer. Jer. 50:38), which may also speak of the ultimate Day of the Lord drying up of the Euphrates described here. The Euphrates is mentioned because the events of the Tribulation involve the literal city of Babylon on its banks.

Its flood plain was the site of the first human city (Babel) after the great Flood and it was the site of Nebuchadnezzar’s magnificent capital city Babylon in the days of Daniel the prophet. On its shores will apparently be erected the even more magnificent New Babylon to serve as the capital of the beast in his brief but unprecedented worldwide reign in the great tribulation.3

See The Identity of Babylon.

Isaiah saw this event:

He will set up a banner for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth. Also the envy of Ephraim shall depart, and the adversaries of Judah shall be cut off; Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall not harass Ephraim. But they shall fly down upon the shoulder of the Philistines toward the west; together they shall plunder the people of the East; they shall lay their hand on Edom and Moab; and the people of Ammon shall obey them. The LORD will utterly destroy the tongue of the Sea of Egypt; with His mighty wind He will shake His fist over the River, and strike it in the seven streams, and make men cross over dry-shod. There will be a highway for the remnant of His people who will be left from Assyria, as it was for Israel in the day that he came up from the land of Egypt. (Isa. Isa. 11:12-16)

The restoration from Babylon can scarcely be a fulfillment, because of four things: (1) There is the Kingdom-age context of this prophecy. (2) There is its accomplishment by direct, miraculous, and divine intervention—“the Lord shall set his hand” . . . like the Egyptian deliverance. . . . (3) There is the express inclusion of all the twelve tribes. At the return from Babylon, only Judah was restored with some few from the twelve tribes. (4) There is the fact that the regathering is the final one, eventuating in millennial Kingdom blessing.4

Zechariah contains a similar passage (Zec. Zec. 10:8-12), which some attribute to the Nile,5 but may be more readily explained as the Euphrates.6

The parting of the Red Sea at the Exodus allowed God’s people to flee from destruction. Now, the waters of the Euphrates are dried so that God’s enemies can gather to their destruction. God dried up the Jordan for Israel to cross into her inheritance, the Promised Land (Jos. Jos. 3:15-17; Jos. 4:22). Now He dries up the Euphrates to gather the kings into His inheritance, for which they will be judged (Ps. Ps. 79:1). See The Plagues of Egypt and the Tribulation.

kings from the east
From the east is τῶν ἀπὸ ἀνατολῆς ἡλίου [tōn apo anatolēs hēliou] , from the rising of the sun. Previously, God had called Cyrus of Persia “a bird of prey from the east, the man who executes My counsel, from a far country” (Isa. Isa. 46:11). The wise men also came from the rising of the sun (Mtt. Mat. 2:1). The movement of these kings probably contributes to the “news from the east and the north” which disturbs the Antichrist (Dan. Dan. 11:44). See Campaign of Armageddon.

Although numerous commentators connect these kings with the 200 million horsemen of the sixth trumpet judgment, they are not related:

The “two hundred million” [Rev. Rev. 9:16+] are in a Trumpet Judgment, whereas the kings of the east are in a Bowl judgment. Furthermore, . . . it was shown that the two hundred million are demons and not men. . . . Everywhere else in the Scriptures, the east always refers to Mesopotamia (Assyria and Babylonia). Consistency demands that this, too, would be a reference to Mesopotamia and not to China (e.g., Mtt. Mat. 2:1).7

Some suggest these to be kings from the Orient, but this is not required by the text. All that is indicated is that they are kings representing nations east of the Euphrates. “East and West are to be reckoned from the standpoint of the prophecy, and not from that of the reader. Here, that standpoint is God’s Land and City.”8 “Through the centuries, commentators particularly of the postmillennial and the historical schools have guessed at the identity of the kings of the East and as many as fifty different interpretations have been advanced. The very number of these interpretations is their refutation.”9

Notes

1 It is likely that its name is among the oldest names of rivers, but that its modern source and location probably do not match that of the pre-flood Euphrates due to the great changes in geography which almost certainly attended the break up of the fountains of the deep at the Flood.

2 Herodotus, History of the Persian Wars, 1:190-191 cited by [John F. Walvoord, Daniel: The Key to Prophetic Revelation (Chicago, IL: Moody Bible Institute, 1971), 129-130].

3 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 16:12.

4 Merrill F. Unger, Unger’s Commentary on the Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2002), Isa. 11:12.

5 “Only the floods of the Nile . . . are mentioned, because the allusion to the slavery of Israel in Egypt predominates, and the redemption of the Israelites out of all the lands of the nations is represented as bringing out of the slave-house of Egypt. The drying up of the flood-depths of the Nile is therefore a figure denoting the casting down of the imperial power in all its historical forms.”—Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), Zec. 10:11.

6 “Thus the Red Sea and the Euphrates in the former part of the verse answer to ‘Assyria’ and ‘Egypt’ in the latter.”—A. R. Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” in Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997, 1877), Zec. 10:11.

7 Arnold G. Fruchtenbaum, The Footsteps of Messiah, rev ed. (Tustin, CA: Ariel Ministries, 2003), 316.

8 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), Rev. 16:12.

9 John F. Walvoord, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1966), Rev. 16:12.

Read Revelation 16:12