Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Revelation 9:7

The shape of the locusts was like
Up to this point, the creatures which come up out of the bottomless pit have been identified as “locusts” (Rev. Rev. 9:3+). Now, John begins a series of descriptions which are similitudes—representations which approximate what he sees concerning the locusts. Comparative terms such as ὁμιόωμα [homioōma] (likeness, image, form, appearance), 1 ὅμοιος [homoios] (like, similar), 2 and ὡς [hōs] (as, like)3 will occur frequently in the descriptions which follow. As elsewhere in this book, much of what John is shown exceeds anything he has seen before and so he struggles to relate the vision using similes which provide an approximation of what he is being shown. These comparative terms do not provide license for fanciful symbolism or allegorical interpretation—they represent the closest similarity which John knew for describing what he saw. If anything, they provide support for understanding John’s description as closely accurate of the reality before him.

Before continuing with our study of this passage, we feel it is important to discuss how we are to understand the seemingly fantastic4 description of the locusts (and the horses and horsemen of the sixth trumpet) which follow in this chapter. Many find their description so unbelievable that they are driven to spiritualize the passage:

Many commentators interpret the plague as a condition of sinful life rather than an eschatological event. Hendricksen sees the description as “the operation of the powers of darkness in the soul of the wicked during this present age” (p. 147). For Hengstenberg it is the hellish spirit that penetrates the earth (I, pp. 429 ff), and for Dana, the forces of decay and corruption which God will use to undermine the Roman Empire (pp. 126 ff).5

As we have observed in our discussion of Interpreting Symbols , the decision to depart from a literal interpretation, which recognizes figures of speech, is a serious one for it places the interpreter upon a sea of subjectivity. Moreover, if all this chapter is meant to teach is general moral principles or even the depravity of men (Jer. Jer. 17:9), then how does one explain the excessive details of the vision? What possible purpose could they serve? Why not say the same thing with far fewer words? No, what is being described here is real, literal, and important to understand in detail else God would not have “wasted” words on it.

We would ask the reader to keep in mind several considerations:

  1. Demonic Capabilities - We know next to nothing concerning the demonic realm and especially the transformative capabilities of angels—be they elect or fallen. Scripture records that angels are “ministering spirits” (Ps. Ps. 104:4; Heb. Heb. 1:7, Heb. 1:14), yet they appear in numerous passages as anatomically accurate human men . When Isaiah, Ezekiel, and John are shown the seraphim and cherubim, there is considerable difficulty describing their appearance in a manner that we could possibly grasp (Isa. Isa. 6:2; Eze. Eze. 1:10; Eze. 10:14; Rev. Rev. 4:7+). The description of Satan, the “anointed cherub,” is equally fantastic (Eze. Eze. 28:12-14). Thus, we should not be surprised to find malevolent beings of immense spiritual and transformative powers with such fantastic descriptions. “They seem, from their description, to be a kind of Infernal Cherubim . The horse, the man, the lion, and the scorpion are combined in them [Rev. Rev. 4:7+].”6
  2. Size of the Locusts - We know nothing concerning the size of the demonic locusts. Depending upon their similarity to earthly locusts, they are likely between 0.5 to 7 inches (13 to 175 mm.).7 In other words, these demon locusts may be on the scale of insects. The fact that they have a painful, and possibly poisonous sting, which does not kill their victims also points in this direction. For if the locusts were much larger than their largest earthly counterparts, then the sting alone could easily be a mortal wound.8
  3. Fantastic Appearance of Natural Insects - When asked to describe a simple spider or dragonfly when viewed under a magnifying glass or a flea under a microscope, how many of us would resort to similes like those of John (Rev. Rev. 9:7-10+, Rev. 9:17-19+)? Most, if not all of us! The simple fact is that known insects of the natural world are almost equally bizarre—but lacking in demonic power—to those described here. Consider the following description. The creature had four wings, each of which was covered with something like 250 thousand scales, and a tripartite body with a head as it were with six thousand eyes. Two long hair-like whips extended from its head with which it guided itself over immense distances. Its tongue was like a fire hose and one fourth the length of its body and it pranced upon six legs, the forelegs of which terminated in six needle-like spears. A bizarre fantasy? Not at all! A female monarch butterfly.9 A rather benign insect at that!

Once we trade in the Golden Rule of Interpretation for the fools gold of symbolism and allegory, we embark upon a sea of conjecture concerning the identification of this judgment. Bullinger and Seiss, in defense of a literal understanding, identify the mischief which results from jettisoning a literal interpretation:

The most common interpretation sees the fulfilment of this judgment in the Invasion of Europe by the Turks. In that case the “star” is seen to be Mahomet. His “fall from heaven” means that his family was once high and wealthy; he being an orphan and poor. “To him was given the key of the bottomless pit;” i.e., “he professed to receive a key from God.” So that in his case profession was evidently possession! How he opened the pit the interpreters do not tell us, but the “smoke” was his false teaching. Out of the pit came the locusts. Arbah in Hebrew means a locust. That is quite near enough with them for Arabians, though there could hardly be Mahommedans before Mahomet. . . . The “crowns like gold” were the turbans of linen. “Faces as men” means courage. “They had hair as women:” this refers to the horse tail decorations worn by the Pashas on their heads.10

Many indeed, consider it mere fancy-work, fiction, and symbol, referring to events in the past history of the race and intended to describe quite other things than are thus literally depicted. But the account is given as an account of realities. There is no difficulty involved in the language employed. The grammatical sense is plain and obvious. Neither is there any intimation whatever of any other sense. And if any other sense was intended, there lives not a man who can tell, with any degree of certainty, what that other sense is. Many and great minds have laboured to make out an allegorical and historical interpretation of these locusts from the pit, but thus far, as Alford has justly remarked, only “an endless Babel” has been the result. Alford gives it up. Stuart gives it up. Hengstenberg gives it up. Vaughan gives it up. Others have given it up. And every candid man just give it up, on any scheme that will consistently interpret the Apocalypse as a whole, or preserve to the sacred records the credit and value which this book claims for its contents.11

The text compares these creatures to locusts. Since most of us have probably never studied the appearance and capabilities of even the household spider in detail, let us be wary to take John’s description seriously knowing that God’s severe judgment at the time of the end will certainly call forth such a devilish reality. “What God says is plain enough. He does not ask us to understand it. He asks us to believe it; and this, by God’s help, we mean to do.”12

horses
Joel used similar terminology to describe the locust plague of his day—and the demonic plague of this day.

Their appearance is like the appearance of horses; and like swift steeds, so they run. With a noise like chariots over mountaintops they leap, like the noise of a flaming fire that devours the stubble, like a strong people set in battle array. (Joel Joel 2:4-5) [emphasis added]

We are not alone in understanding Joel’s vision of God’s locust army as depicting something far beyond his immediate event—this ultimate eschatological invading army released from the pit.

At the sight of this terrible army of God the nations tremble, so that their faces grow pale. ʿAmmīm means neither people (see at 1 Kings 1K. 22:28) nor the tribes of Israel, but nations generally. Joel is no doubt depicting something more here than the devastation caused by the locusts in his own day.13

As will be seen by examining the many similarities between this passage and that of Joel, Joel saw both the local locust plague of his own day, but also understood it as a type (or model) of this demonic locust plague in the final Day of the Lord. Both the natural locusts of Joel’s day and the demonic locusts here represent sovereign judgments of God.14 Like John, he resorted to similitude in comparing the locusts with horses:15

Such an association is facilitated by three facts: (1) The heads of locusts and horses are similar in appearance. The German and Italian words for “locust” literally mean “hay-horse” [Heupferd] and “little horse” [cavalletta], respectively (Wolff, Joel and Amos, p. 45, n. 46; cf. also Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos, p. 52). (2) Both locusts and human armies advance swiftly. (3) The locusts’ buzzing wings resemble the sound of chariot wheels (for accounts of the sounds made by locusts, see Driver, The Books of Joel and Amos, p. 52).16

on their heads were crowns of something like gold
John does not use simile to describe the crowns, but only the material out of which they were made. The crowns they wear also differentiates them from natural locusts. These are from among the hierarchy and rank of fallen angels (Rom. Rom. 8:38; Eph. Eph. 1:21; Eph. 3:10; Eph. 6:12; Col. Col. 1:16; Col. 2:10). “Alford understands it of the head of the locusts actually ending in a crown-shaped fillet which resembled gold in its material.”17 “Not actual crowns, but AS crowns. Milligan remarks that any yellow brilliancy about the head of the insect is a sufficient foundation for the figure.”18 More likely, the crowns are an indicator of the victory the locusts will enjoy over their prey. See Crowns.

their faces were like the faces of men
This indicates they are intelligent rational beings and not normal locusts.


Notes

1 Frederick William Danker and Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 567.

2 Ibid., 566.

3 Ibid., 897.

4 American Heritage Online Dictionary, Ver. 3.0A, 3rd ed. (Houghton Mifflin, 1993), s.v. “Bizarre, as in form or appearance; strange..”

5 Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1977), Rev. 9:10.

6 E. W. Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1984, 1935), Rev. 9:3.

7 “Scorpions range in size from 13 to 175 mm (0.5 to 7 inches) and have six pairs of appendages. The chelicerae, the small first pair, are used to tear apart prey. The pedipalps, the second pair, are large and have strong, claw-like pincers, which are held horizontally in front and are used as feelers and for grasping prey. The last four pairs, each equipped with a pincer, are walking legs.”—Britannica CD 99 Multimedia Edition, s.v. “scorpion.”

8 Against this view, Mounce observes: “John apparently would have us understand the locusts to be of considerable size. Otherwise the description of hair, face, teeth, etc. would tend toward the comic.”—Mounce, The Book of Revelation, Rev. 9:7.

9 My description constructed from [Jules H. Poirier, From Darkness to Light to Flight: Monarch—the Miracle Butterfly (El Cajon, CA: Institute for Creation Research, 1995)].

10 Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation, Rev. 9:12.

11 J. A. Seiss, The Apocalypse: Lectures on the Book of Revelation (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1966), 207.

12 Bullinger, Commentary On Revelation, Rev. 9:12.

13 Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002), Joel 2:4-6.

14 “So among Mohammedans, ‘Lord of the locusts’ is a title of God.”—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), Joel 2:11.

15 Job also compared the horse with the locust (Job Job 39:19-20).

16 Robert B. Chisholm, “Joel,” in John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1983), Joel 2:3.

17 Fausset, “The Revelation of St. John the Divine,” Rev. 9:7.

18 M. R. Vincent, Vincent’s Word Studies (Escondido, CA: Ephesians Four Group, 2002), Rev. 9:7.

Read Revelation 9:7