Home > Book of Revelation, Second woe, The Gospel > Henry Alford on the second woe

Henry Alford on the second woe

July 30, 2013

The following is Henry Alford’s commentary on Revelation 9:13-21, from The Greek Testament with a critically revised text, a digest of various readings, marginal references to verbal and idiomatic usage, prolegomena, and a critical and exegetical commentary, for the use of theological students and ministers. 3rd ed. by Henry Alford (1810-1871). Published 1856 by Rivingstons, Deighton, Bell, and Co. in London, Cambridge. pp. 644-648.
Link to source: http://archive.org/details/greektestamentwi5604alfo 

13—21.] The sixth Trumpet. And the sixth angel blew his trumpet, and I heard a (it is doubtful, in the uncertain authenticity of τεσσάρων, whether any stress is to be laid on this μίαν or not. Vitringa gives it the emphasis, — “quatuor haec cornua simul edidisse vocem, non diversam, sed unam eandemque:” and so Hengstb. The allegorical interpreters give it various imports — the agreement of the four Gospels [Zeger, Calov., al.], — that of the prayers of exiled Jews [Grot.], &c.) voice out of the [four] horns of the golden altar which was before God (the same altar as that previously mentioned in ch. viii. 3 and vi. 9, where see notes. From ch. xvi. 7 it would appear that the voice probably proceeded from the altar itself, represented as uttering the cry of vengeance for the blood shed on it; cf. ch. vi. 9, with which cry of the martyred saints the whole series of retributive judgments is connected. The reading in the Codex Sinaiticus [see digest] is very remarkable, and may represent the original text. To suppose, as Elliott, that the cry from the altar is indicative of an altar having been the scene of some special sin on the part of the men of Roman Christendom, and so to apply it to the perversions of Christian rites in the Romish Church, is surely to confuse the whole imagery of the vision. For it is not of any altar in the abstract that we are reading, but of the golden altar which was before God, where the prayers of the saints had been offered by the angel, ch. viii. 3, 5: and the voice is the result of those prayers, in accordance with which those judgments are inflicted. The horns again, representing the enceinte of the altar, not any special rites with which the horns of an altar were concerned, cannot be pressed into the service of the above-noticed interpretation, but simply belong to the propriety of that heard and seen. The voice proceeded from the surface of the altar, on which the prayers had been offered: and that surface was bounded by the κίρατα) saying (the noun to which the participle, in this broken construction, is to be referred, may be either φωνὴν, which is most probable, or κεράτων, in which latter case emphasis would naturally fall foregoing μίαν, or, εχοντυ read, θυσιαστηρίου) to the sixth angel, who had (construction, see reff. It is far better to take ὁ ἔχων as the appositional nom., so common in this book, than, as Tregelles, understand it as vocative. It is natural that the word έκτω should be further specified by adding the class to which the angel belonged, ό εχων τὴν σάλπιγγα: but hardly, that he should be singled out by the address, “Thou that has the trumpet,” from the whole seven who had the trumpets) the trumpet (την, as being that one now before us—belonging to the present vision), Loose (it is too much to say that the angel himself is made the active minister of this loosing: we do not read καί πορευθεΐτ ελκυσεν following, but simply κα ελύθησαν. We must therefore believe that the command is given him only in so far as he is the representative and herald of all that takes place under his trumpet-blowing) the four angels which are bound (so E. V. rightly: “are bound” is the true perfect passive, not “have been bound”) on (not “in,” as E.V.: έπί with dat. denotes close adherence or juxtaposition: so our Lord sat ἐπὶ τῇ πηγῇ, John iv. 6) the great river Euphrates (the whole imagery here has been a crux interpretum: as to who these angels are, and what is indicated by the locality here described. I will point out, amidst surging tumult of controversy, one or two points apparent refuge to which we must not betake ourselves. First, we must not yield to the temptation, so attractive at first sight, of identifying the four angels with the four angels standing on the corners of the earth and holding the four winds, in ch. vii. 1. ff. for the mission of the angels is totally distinct from theirs, as is the locality also. There is not a syllable of winds here, nor any hurting of earth, sea, or trees. Secondly, the question need not perplex us here, whether these are good or bad angels: for it does not enter in any way into consideration. They simply appear, as in other parts of this book, as ministers of the divine purposes, and pass out of view as soon as mentioned. Here, it would almost seem as if the angelic persons were little more than personifications; for they are immediately resolved into the host of cavalry. Thirdly, that there is nothing in the text to prevent “the great river Euphrates” from being taken literally. Düsterd. maintains, that because the rest of the vision has mystical meaning, therefore this local designation must have one also: and that if we are to take Euphrates literally and the rest mystically, endless confusion would be introduced. But this is quite a mistake, as the slightest consideration will shew. It is a common feature of the Scripture allegory to intermingle with its mystic language literal designations of time and place. Take for instance the allegory of Ps. lxxx. 8, 11, “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt …. she sent out her boughs unto the sea, and her branches unto the river:” where, though the vine and her boughs and branches are mystical, Egypt, the sea, and the river, are all literal. Some good remarks on this in Mr. Elliott’s 1st vol., p. 331 ff., where the above example is cited among others). And the four angels were loosed, which had been prepared (the perf. part in conjunction with an aor. verb is necessarily pluperf. in sense) for (in the ordinary sense of εἰς after έτοιμάζω and its kindred words — viz. “in reference to,” “in reservation for,” “with a view to:” see ver. 7; 2 Tim. ii. 21; and πρὸς, 1 Pet. iii. 15) the hour and day and month and year (viz. which had been appointed by God: the appointed hour occurring in the appointed day, and that in the appointed month, and that in the appointed year. The art. prefixed, and not repeated, seems to make this meaning imperative. Had the art. been repeated before each, the ideas of the appointed hour, day, month, year would have been separated, not, as now, united: had there been no art., we might have understood that the four were to be added together to make up the time, even though thus the εἰς occurring once only would have made some difficulty. The natural way of expressing this latter meaning would be, εἰς ὥραν κ. εἰς ἡμέραν κ. εἰς μῆνα κ. εἰς ένιαυτόν. The only way in which it can be extracted from the words as they now stand, is by understanding την to designate some previously well-known period, “for the [well-known] hour and day and month and year.” But as no such notoriety of the period named can recognized, we must I conceive adhere to the sense above given), that (ίνα belongs to ητοιμασμίνοι more naturally than to έλύθησαν) they should kill the third part of men (on τὸ τρίτον, see above, ch. viii. 7. It seems necessary, that in τῶν ανθρώπων we are to include only the κατοικοΰντ κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς of ch. viii. 13, not any of the servants of God): and the number of the armies of the cavalry was twice myriads of myriads (i.e. 20,000 x 10,000:= two hundred millions. The number seems to be founded on those in the reff.);— I heard the number of them. And after this manner (i.e. according to the following description) saw I the horses in my vision (Düsterd. suggests, and it seems likely enough, that this express reference to sight is inserted on account of the ἤκουσα which preceded) and those who sat upon them, having (ἔχοντας most naturally refers to both horses and riders, not to riders only. The armour of both was uniform) breastplates fiery-red (the three epithets express the colours of the breastplates, and are to be separated, belonging each to one portion of the host, and corresponding to the fire, smoke, and brimstone which proceeded out of the horses’ mouths below) and fuliginous (answering to καπνὸς below. ύακίνθινοί is used for any dark dull colour; Homer calls dark hair υακινθινψ ανθeι δμοίας, od. ζ. 231, ψ. 158. The hyacinth of the Greeks is supposed to have been our dark blue iris: see Palm and Rost, sub voce) and sulphureous (light yellow such a colour as would be produced by the settling fumes of brimstone) and the heads of the horses (των ίππων takes up the horses again, both horses and riders having been treated of in the preceding sentence) [were] as heads of lions, and out of their mouths goeth forth fire and brimstone (i.e. separately, one of these out of the mouths of each division of the host. It is remarkable, that these divisions are three, though the angels were four). From (ἀπὸ indicates not directly the instrumentality, but the direction from which the result comes) these three plagues were killed the third part of men, by (εκ, source out of which the result springs) the fire and the smoke and the brimstone which went forth (the participle agrees with the last noun only, but applies to all) out of their months. For the power of the horses is in their mouths (principally; seeing that by what proceeded from their mouths their mission, to slay the third part of men, was accomplished) and in their tails: for their tails were like serpents, having heads and with (iv prep, used clad armed man any thing) them they hurt (i.e. inflict pain: viz. with the bites of the serpent heads in which they terminate. I cannot but mention, in no unfriendly spirit, because, both being friends, truth is dearer, that which may be designated the culminating instance of incongruous interpretation in Mr. Elliott’s historical exposition of these prophecies. These tails are, according to him, the horsetails, borne as symbols of authority by the Turkish Pachas. Well may Mr. Barker say [Friendly Strictures, p. 32], “an interpretation so wild, if it refutes not itself, seems scarcely capable of refutation.” Happily, it does refute itself. For it is convicted, by altogether leaving out of view the power in the mouths, which is the principal feature in the original vision: by making no reference to the serpent-like character of these tails, but being wholly inconsistent with it: by distorting the canon of symmetrical interpretation in making the heads attached to the tails to mean that the tails are symbols of authority: and by being compelled render ἀδικοῦσιν “they commit injustice,” a meaning which, in this reference, it surely will not bear. When it is said of the fire- and smoke- and brimstone-breathing horses which kill the third part of men, that besides having power in their mouths they have it in their tails, which are like serpents, ending in heads, it would be a strange anti-climax to end, “and with these they do injustice.” I will venture to say, a more self-condemnatory interpretation was never broached than this of horsetails of the Pachas). And the rest of men (this specification which follows clearly shews what sort men are meant; viz. the ungodly alone) who were not killed in (the course of: the ἐν again of that in which, as its vehicle or investiture, death would come, if it had come) these plagues, did not even (the force of οὐδὲ, which on the whole seems likely to have been the original reading) repent of (ἐκ, so to come out from: see reff.) the works of their hands (i. e. as the whole context here necessitates, not, the whole course of their lives, but the idols which their hands had made. This will at once appear on comparing our passage with Deut. iv. 28, λατρευσετε εκει θεοις ετεροις εργοις χειρων ανθρωπων ξυλοις και λιθοις οι ουκ οψονται, κ.τ.λ. and Ps. cxxxiv. 15, τα ειδωλα των εθνων αργυριον και χρυσιον εργα χειρων ανθρωπων, κ.τ.λ. See also Acts vii. 41) that they should not (in order not to: the final purpose, explaining the οΰ μετεν. ἐκ preceding: cf. Winer, edn. 6, § 53. 6) worship (for ϊνα with indic. fut. see above, ch. iii. 9 reff.) devils (see reff. 1 Cor.; 1 Tim., and notes there. The objects of worship of the heathen, and of semi-heathen Christians, are in fact devils, by whatever name they may be called), and images of gold (lit. the images which are, &c. But this we idiomatically express as above) and of silver and of brass and of stone and of wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk: and they did not repent of their murders nor of their witchcrafts (lit. their drugs: concrete in sense of abstract, as in all the places in the canonical LXX in reff. On the sense, see note on Gal. v. 20) nor of their fornication (Bengel remarks on πορνείας being in the sing., whereas the rest are plural, “Alia scelera ab hominibus per intervalla patrantur: una perpetua πορνεία est apud eos qui munditie cordis carent.” But perhaps this is too refined) nor of their thefts. The character of these sins points out very plainly who are the sufferers by this sixth, or second woe trumpet, and the survivors who do not repent. We are taught by St. Paul that the heathen are without excuse for degrading the majesty of God into an image made like unto corruptible things, and for degenerating into gross immoralities in spite of God’s testimony given through the natural conscience. And even thus will the heathen world continue in the main until the second advent of our Lord, of which these judgments are to be the immediate precursors. Nor will these terrible inflictions themselves bring those to repentance, who shall ultimately reject the Gospel which shall be preached among all nations. Whether, or how far, those Christians who have fallen back into these sins of the heathen, are here included, is a question not easy to decide. That they are not formally in the Apostle’s view, seems clear. We are not yet dealing with the apostasy and fornication within the church herself. But that they, having become as the κατοικοῦντας ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, even so far as to inherit their character of persecutors of the saints, may by the very nature of the case, be individually included in the suffering of these plagues, — just as we believe and trust that many individually belonging to Babylon may be found among God’s elect, — it is of course impossible to deny.

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