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Henry M. Morris and the second woe

August 25, 2013

A unique feature of the interpretation of the second woe by Henry M. Morris was that he invoked the special creation of 200 million horses with lions’ heads and serpent tails.

Henry Madison Morris, The Revelation record: a scientific and devotional commentary on the book of Revelation. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1983. pp. 168-170.

Morris’s pseudo-literal interpretation of the second woe is an example of the “fire, smoke, and brimstone” that comes from the mouths of the horses. He wrote:

The tremendous horde released with the four bound angels was far too great for John himself to count. However, someone–perhaps the voice from the altar–said the number was 200 million, far greater than any army ever amassed before in human history, a number almost equal to the entire population of the United Stares.

However, this is not an army of human horsemen, despite the preponderance of published interpretations to that effect. Although it might be possible for an earthly army of this size to be assembled, the description which follows cannot legitimately be equated to anything human.

Morris rejected the idea that John employed symbolic language in his prophecy, and followed a woodenly literal approach, adding embellishments of his own.

Literalism kills the true meaning of the prophecy. Paul said, “The letter killeth, but the Spirit giveth life.” This applies to prophecy especially. Morris claimed that the horses are “literal;” he wrote: “Their bodies are real physical bodies, capable of generating physical fire and brimstone causing the physical death of those men and women whom they attack.”

However, asserting that the horses, and the fire, and the smoke, and the sulphur that comes from their mouths are “real” and “literal” is absurd nonsense. There are no Scriptures that say prophecy should be taken literally. Morris asserts that the prophecy of the second woe is “not a dream or vision,” but nothing John wrote supports that. In fact, verse 17 refutes it. Morris continued:

Revelation 9:17. And thus I saw the horses in the vision, and them that sat on them, having breastplates of fire, and of jacinth, and brimstone: and the heads of the horses were as the heads of lions; and out of their mouths issued fire and smoke and brimstone.The host seen by John appeared like a tremendous cavalry, with both horses and riders stretching almost endlessly across the earth… The sight seen by John was indeed remarkable, but it was real–not a dream or vision. Nevertheless it will be a sight never seen on earth before or after.

Like the scorpion-locusts under the preceding trumpet, this will be a demonic legion of nightmarish animals indwelt by evil spirits, hitherto bound up in the Euphrates with their four evil overlords. It must be that these frightful “horses” and “horsemen” are demon-possessed creatures whose bodies are especially created by God for the awful judgment which they are thereby enabled to inflict upon mankind. Their bodies are real physical bodies, capable of generating physical fire and brimstone causing the physical death of those men and women whom they attack. This suggests that the bodies are specially created right at the time of the release of the unclean spirits from their prison, and are then immediately taken over by the ascending spirits.

The horses and riders are described as wearing breastplates, showing they are mortal, not demons. Demons would not need breastplates.

Morris asserts that the horses are creatures “whose bodies are especially created by God for the awful judgment which they are thereby enabled to inflict upon mankind.” He invokes this portentous detail, in violation of his own Creationist doctrine, to prop up his method of interpretation, probably in response to the dilemma presented by the sudden appearance of a large number of horses, which could not be bred naturally in a short time. Obviously their lion’s heads and serpent-tails preclude any literal view. Horses, heads of lions, and serpents are easily identified prophetic symbols. Commentators who adhere to the literalist mantra are blind to the most obvious clues to the meaning of the prophecy, and therefore fulfil it, because they promote false interpretations, and become “prophets who teach lies.” [Isa. 9:15] They are figuratively horses, because they lack understanding. David wrote, “Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee.” [Psa. 32:9]

The horses of the second woe represent people who lack understanding. John embellished Isaiah’s metaphor by saying that the horses had heads of lions, and that their tails were serpents. Both heads of lions and serpents allude to Satan, who was the serpent in Eden. The apostle Peter compared the devil to a roaring lion. He wrote, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” [1 Peter 5:8]

Tails represent prophets who teach lies, and this figure based on Isa. 9:15 is enhanced by John’s statement that the tails of the horses were serpents, a term that Jesus applied to the scribes and Pharisees. [Matt. 23:33]

Because Morris overlooked the significance of breastplates in the prophecy, as showing that mortal humans are meant, and he mistakenly imagined the horses were especially created demon-possessed creatures, his comments obscure the significance of the serpent-tails of the horses, which are symbolic of false teachers.

Morris continued,

Like a great storm, they spread forth from their pit, raging over the earth to take vengeance on mankind, whom they regard as responsible for their circumstances. No longer constrained as they once were by the need of some kind of physical body wherewith to enslave men, they are now able to use their newly-secured bodies to destroy men.

And fearful bodies they are! Appropriately designed for malignant spirits who will use them for thirteen months, they themselves will eventually be destroyed when their function has been served.

They are not horses, but their bodies are “like” horses, and their heads are said to be “as” the heads of lions. Perhaps they are like fabled Centuars–horses with humanlike heads and upper bodies, in appearance like men riding horses except that the horses ridden by them are also their own bodies. In this case, the heads are like lions rather than men and, since no other description of the “horsemen” is given, the implication is that the lionlike heads are atop the riders whose bodies merge into the bodies of the steeds.

Heads of lions on the horses is a metaphor which Morris failed to comprehend. It was already shown that the lion alludes to the adversary, the devil. In the New Testament the natural mind of man is similar, so carnal human nature may be represented by the head of a lion. Paul said, “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” [1 Cor. 2:11-14]

Horses with heads of lions in the second woe, interpreted biblically, depict people who cannot comprehend things of the Spirit, as they lack the Spirit of God. Morris continued,

It is a fearsome sight, whatever its aspect, and it must strike indescribable fear into the hearts of men as they watch them swarm forth. This fear is well justified, for the creatures are as deadly as they look. Armored with breastplates of jacinth (a hard gemstone, probably zircon), they have the appearance of burning fire and brimstone (usually interpreted as sulphur; however, its Hebrew root is related to resin from the gopher wood used in Noah’s ark, and its Greek form seems to have come from roots meaning “divine appearance”). Evidently sulphur is considered the natural substance whose burning most nearly fits such apocraphal specification, but its exact composition is unknown. The lion-faces actually breathe out fire and smoke and nauseous brimstone, as though clothed in the very aura of hell itself.

No doubt all this sounds fantastic and impossible, so commentators have invented all sorts of figurative meanings to apply to these deadly horses. But these are not the first fire-breathing animals the earth has seen. Ancient nations everywhere describe fire-breathing dragons which formerly existed on earth, and the Bible describes at least one such creature, called leviathan (Job 41:19-21). There are many indications that these dragons were actually dinosaurs, and the fossil record does show structures on at least some dinosaurs that could well have served as mixing chambers for flammable chemicals that could be expelled in the form of fire and smoke. John is merely describing what he actually saw.

Many assertions by Morris provide an example of metaphorical “fire, smoke, and brimstone” coming from the mouths of the horses. Morris believed all these events would come upon the world of unbelievers in the final seven-year tribulation, after the church has been raptured to heaven. He embraced the doctrine of dispensationalism. There is not enough time in the alleged seven year period to breed 200 million horses, so he invokes their special creation by God, disregarding the consequences of such opinions, which tend to depict God as a fiend. Morris continued:

Revelation 9:18. By these three was the third part of men killed, by the fire, and by the smoke, and by the brimstone, which issued out of their mouths.

All three of these deadly exhalations of the roaring mouths of the lionlike heads of these creatures are lethal. Men will be consumed in the flames, suffocated by the smoke, poisoned by the sulphurous gases. As the panic-stricken citizens of the world’s nations, hardly recovered from the five-month terror of the locusts, hysterically flee and seek to hide, multitudes will be slain.

No doubt some of the animals will themselves be slain. as various weapons are turned against them. The scene will be like one of the monster movies dreamed up by science fiction writers and Hollywood moguls, but it will be real. Eventually, perhaps, government and military leaders will become organized to combat these invaders and finally, after thirteen terrible months, will manage to destroy them. The jacinth-stone breastplates are essentially bullet-proof however, and it will take many powerful weapons to defeat them. Once the animals are dead, their carcasses will deface and pollute the landscape, and their demonic occupants will again be without bodies. Whether they are then herded back to some pit in Hades or allowed to roam the earth as disembodied spirits through the remainder of the tribulation has not been revealed.

But the human carnage left in their train is almost incredible. One-third of the world’s population at the time will be dead. Even with all the previous judgments, this undoubtedly means that about 1.2 billion people are slain, averaging about six victims per horseman.

The text does not say that the horses came out of the pit, or that they are specially created beings, or that they are “demon-possessed,” or that they will be killed. The cavalry of horses with heads of lions of the second woe probably corresponds to the hordes of deceived people who come against the camp of the saints and the holy city.  John wrote: “And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.” [Rev. 20:7-9]