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Christopher Wordsworth on Armageddon

March 7, 2012

The following is a discussion of the significance of Armageddon by Christopher Wordsworth (1807-1885), adapted from his book: Lectures on the Apocalypse: critical, expository, and practical, delivered before the University of Cambridge (1852), pp. 394-403.

Christopher Wordsworth

Christopher Wordsworth

Here it will be enquired, What is meant by Armageddon? For an explanation of it St. John refers us to the Hebrew tongue, and there the word Har signifies a Mountain; and Ar-mageddon is a word formed by St. John to signify a defeat and slaughter, such as that of the Kings of Canaan at Megiddo, in the region of Galilee, wrought by a miraculous interposition of Almighty God, discomfiting the vast and terrible army of Sisera and his confederate Princes.

The Kings came and fought, then fought the Kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo. They (the armies of God) fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera. [Judges 5:19, 20]

The Holy Spirit, by the mouth of David, specially speaks of these Kings as types of God’s foes, in their sin and doom. Do Thou to them as unto the Madianites; unto Sisera, and unto Jabin, at the brook of Kison; who perished at Endor, and became as the dung of the earth. [Psalm 83:9]

These Kings had oppressed Israel, and were routed by the army of God at Megiddo; and in like manner, earthly powers will rise against Christ and His Church, and be defeated in a marvellous manner, in a great encounter, which is called by St. John Armageddon.

It may also be observed, that King Josiah was defeated and mortally wounded at Megiddo; and though Josiah was a pious King, yet it must be remembered that, when at Megiddo, he was disobeying a divine command, given him by the Prophet Jeremiah. [2 Chron. 35:20] He was endeavouring to repel Pharaoh-Necho, who was marching towards the river Euphrates, to besiege Babylon; and so Josiah, the King of Jerusalem, was acting as an ally of Babylon.

Thus Megiddo, or Mageddo, was a name, made ready for St. John, to denote the scene of a sudden and mysterious defeat and slaughter of God’s foes, and of the allies of Babylon.

This explanation is satisfactory, as far as it goes; but it must be carried further.

St. John, in the Apocalypse, expresses ideas by Hebrew terms.

Thus, for example, the word Jew is always used in the Apocalypse in a spiritual sense, founded on its Hebrew etymology, which indicates one who confesses and praises God — a true Christian.

Another reference to Hebrew etymology is found in the word Abaddon, formed by St. John to describe the Angel of the bottomless pit; and derived from a Hebrew term, signifying perdition.

Another Hebrew Term is Hallelujah, Praise ye the Lord, used four times in the Apocalypse.

Observe, also, St. John here specially calls our attention to the Hebrew etymology, by saying that the place is called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.

Ar-mageddon is formed of two Hebrew words; the one signifying a Mountain, the other, a cutting to pieces; and thus it means a Mountain of excision, or of slaughter.

When the Prophet Zechariah is speaking of the destruction of all nations that come against the City of God, he says that there will be a great mourning in the valley of Megiddon; [Zech. 12:9] and Megiddon is there translated by the Septuagint Interpreters, cut up, or destroyed. [LXX. Zech. 12:11]

The word Armageddon, then, signifies a mountain of slaughter; and it connects the judgments predicted in the Apocalypse with those foretold by the Hebrew Prophets.

If we refer to the third chapter of the Prophet Joel, from the ninth verse to the end, we there see a sublime description of the gathering together of the foes of Christ, and of their final overthrow.

Multitudes! Multitudes! exclaims the Prophet, in the valley of decision.

The word here rendered decision is one which signifies, threshing, bruising, cutting, and crushing; and the words rendered valley of decision are translated by the Septuagint, valley of judgment.

It is observable, also, that God says by the Prophet Joel, in the same place, that He will gather all nations, and bring them down into the valley of Jehoshaphat. [Joel 3:2] And again; Let the heathen come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, for there will I sit to judge all the heathen round about. [Joel 3:12]

In the word Jehoshaphat there is an historical reference to a signal and miraculous slaughter of God’s enemies in King Jehoshaphat’s reign; [2 Chron. 20:1-26] just as in the word Megiddo there is an historical reference of the same kind.

And, in both cases, there is something more.

Megiddo means destruction and Jeho-shaphat signifies judgment of God.

All nations cannot be gathered together to one valley, or to one mountain, on earth.

Hence it is rightly concluded, that the Valley of Jehoshaphat here mentioned is a general term for a signal execution of God’s Judgment on all His enemies throughout the world.

In a word, the gathering together of the nations to the Valley of Jehoshaphat, is the same as the gathering together to Armageddon.

The parallelism between the prophecies of Joel and St. John is remarkable in other respects.

The conflict is compared by both to a Winepress, and to a Harvest.

The words of Joel are, Proclaim ye this among the Gentiles, (that is, the enemies of Christ,) Prepare war, wake up the mighty men, let all the men of war draw near, let them come up; heat your ploughshares into swords, and your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong. [Joel 3:9-10]

That is, let Earth rebel against Heaven.

Assemble yourselves, and come, all ye heathen, and gather yourselves round about.

Then the Prophet turns to the armies of God;

Thither cause Thy mighty ones to come up, O Lord.

Then God Himself speaks;

Let the heathen be wakened, and come up to the Valley of Jehoshaphat; for there will I sit to judge the heathen.

Then He sends forth His own Angel-armies to the conflict, as to a day of Harvest or Vintage.

Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: come, get you down; for the press is full, and the fats overflow; for their wickedness is great.

Multitudes, multitudes in the Valley of decision: for the day of the Lord is near, in the Valley of decision.

Such is the prophecy of Joel: now let us hear St. John. [Rev. 14:14-20]

I looked, and behold a white cloud, and upon the cloud one sat like unto the Son of man, having on his head a golden crown, and in his hand a sharp sickle.

And another angel came out of the temple, crying with a loud voice to him that sat on the cloud. Thrust in thy sickle, and reap : for the time is come for thee to reap; for the Harvest of the earth is ripe.

And he that sat on the cloud thrust in his sickle on the earth; and the earth was reaped.

And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.

And another angel came out from the altar, which had power over the fire ; and cried with a loud cry to him that had the sharp sickle, saying. Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth; for her grapes are fully ripe.

And the Angel thrust in his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.

And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the Winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and sir hundred furlongs.

Such is the language of St. John.

It may now be enquired, Why is the scene of this conflict called a Valley by the prophet Joel, and a Mountain by St. John?

It is called a Valley in one place, and Mountain in another, for the same reason as the Conflict itself is called a Vintage, and a Harvest, that is, in order that we should not imagine that these prophecies are to be understood literally.

The Valley of Jehoshaphat, and the Mount of Megiddo, or Armageddon, are not to be regarded as any one place on earth; nor do they represent any one event, but a general, open rising of the enemies of God; a marshalling together of some Rulers and Nations against the Lord and against His anointed; [Psalm 2:2] a marching forth of some earthly Powers under the proud banners of Infidelity; an open league of the Dragon, the Beast, and the False Prophet; that is, an unholy union of Christian psalms with shouts of blasphemy, a profane junction of sacraments with sacrilege, and of the Cross of Christ with the symbols of Antichrist.

This gathering together is said to be a Mountain; for they who thus associate themselves are swollen with pride, and elated with confidence; and they rise up against the Mountain of the Lord’s House, the Church of God, the Holy Hill of Zion, upon which Christ is set as a King. [Psalm 2:6]

But this their Mountain will sink into a Valley — it will yawn, as it were, into a gulf of misery, an abyss of shame — a Gehenna, or Valley of Hinnom; and so the Gatherings of Armageddon will be Multitudes, Multitudes in the Valley of Decision!

We are thus brought to the conclusion, that the Apocalyptic Armageddon is not any spot in Judaea, (as some have thought,) or in Italy, (as others have imagined,) but it is the World at large, wheresoever men associate themselves in a League of ungodly Polity and corrupt Religion; and that the words they gathered them together to Armageddon are a figurative expression, which means, they gathered them together for final and total destruction.

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