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John Peter Lange on the second woe

September 1, 2013

The following is Lange’s commentary on the second woe of Rev. 9:13-21.

John Peter Lange, Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, Critical, Doctrinal and Homilectical. 1874. vol. 10. pp. 209-212.


In consequence of the omission of the utterances of the seven Thunders, ch. x., the esoteric sketch of the cycle in question is incorporated in the sixth Trumpet. And this makes it possible to regard the sixth Trumpet as a double Trumpet.

It is half the Trumpet of heresies; half the Trumpet of beginning apostasy. Hence the second woe is continued through ch. x. to ch. xi. 14. Hence, also, it results that the second woe is in two stages. At the end of the first stage, men do not repent of the works of their hands, ch. ix. 20; at the end of the second stage, there is at least a repentance of fear, ch. xi. 13. Still it must be observed that the section consisting of chs. x. and xi. to ver. 14 is representative of an entirely new cycle — a cycle connected with the preceding section only from ch. xi. 7. The connection between the two consists in the fact, that in ch. ix. we have to do with the spiritual end of the course of the world; in ch. xi. 7 sqq., with the spiritual beginning of the end of the world. Thus at the revelation of the consummate offence, the precursory offences form themselves into a unit. See 2 Thess. ii. 7, 8.

Ver. 18. A voice from the four horns. — Not from God, “behind the altar.” The four horns of the altar denote the complete, all-sided protective power of the altar. From the same altar on which the prayers of the saints were perfected (ch. viii. 8-5), the signal that they have been heard goes forth. The earth is now, in its sealed ones, prepared by voices and thunders and lightnings and an earthquake of the spiritual life; the greatest temptations may, therefore, now be let loose. The distinction between these new and great temptations and the foregoing ones is at the same time expressed. That which the voice from the horns of the altar says, is, of course, to be traced back to Divine decision. According to Düsterdieck, the misapplication of the horns to the four Gospels (Zeger and others) may have even occasioned the reading — four horns. Nevertheless, four, as the number of completeness, is not devoid of significance in a correct apprehension of the passage.

Other interpretations of the four horns see in Düsterdieck, p. 332. How important it is that the trials should not break out before their set time, appears from the fact, that the Angel of the sixth Trumpet may loose the four bound Angels only upon a higher order. The same truth is demonstrated by the co-operation of the sixth Angel. Offences must come.

Ver. 14. Loose the four angels. — The number four being the number of the world, the four symbolical angels represent the collective spirit of the world, collective heathenism, in its infection of Christianity and transformation of Christian truths into powerful lies, 2 Thess. ii. These angels are, therefore, neither bad angels (Bede, Düsterdieck and others), nor good ones (Bossuet), nor destroying ones (De Wette, Ebrard), if, by such, personal beings are understood. As symbolic forms they are, beyond question, evil spirits — yet in angelic shape; as it were in the angelic shape of the one Satanic mask of an Angel of light (2 Cor. xi. 14) in four world-forms. Different interpretations of the quaternary see in Düsterdieck, p. 333.

At the great river. — We doubt not that the hither bank of the great river Euphrates has an import similar to that of Babylon, yet without coinciding with Babylon. Babylon is a peculiar configuration of the spiritual river Euphrates; that river, the general basis and condition of Babylon — spiritual Babylon as the sphere of historical Babylon.

Different interpretations: Parthian armies against the Romans; Roman armies against Jerusalem; Tartars, Turks (the Angels being their commanders). The Euphrates, the Tiber; Babylon, Rome (Wetstein). The Euphrates, the border of Abraham’s land, or of the Roman empire.

According to Düsterdieck, the mention of the Euphrates is merely schematical [schematisch] as the region whence plagues usually came in the Old Testament — the Assyrians, for instance. Insignificant enough!

Ebrard: “Almost all ancient Protestant exegetes discover in this passage a prediction of Mohammedanism. Grotius, Wetstein, Herder, Eichhorn and others think it prophetic of the army of Titus, which destroyed Jerusalem. De Wette, with Züllig and Ewald, occupies the ground of ‘fancy.'”

In opposition to these historical conceptions, a just reference has been made to the supernaturalness of the martial hosts portrayed. Düsterdieck will not listen to any allegorical apprehension of this supernaturalness, and so, according to him, these armies are still more incomprehensible than those of the locusts. According to Gärtner (p. 465), the two hundred millions of horses are two hundred millions of devils — hosts of Satan, amongst whom the fanatical faith of Islam, symbolized, as he contends, by the Euphrates, originates. The horsemen are such men as are borne away by the horses.

Ver. 15. The four angels were loosed. — The resistance hitherto made by the power of truth is withdrawn.

Prepared for the hour, etc. — Beautifully expressive of the certainty that these trials, like all hateful things in the world, have their appointed time, and that time only, Luke xxii. 58.

To slay the third part of men. — Only spiritual slaying can be meant here, as is further indicated by “the third part,” three being the number of spirit, ch. viii. 7-12.

Ver. 16. And the number.Two hundred millions [‘two myriads of myriads’]. He did not himself count the hosts, but heard the number through the voice of prophecy; this fact makes the number more than ever significant. It being impossible to conceive of an army of this site, Bengel has added together all the Turkish armies of more than two centuries; Hengstenberg sees an allegorical collective designation of all armies in the number; whilst Düsterdieck takes it as sohematical [sehematisch] — that is to say, denoting, like the army, nothing definite. But, manifestly, the number itself is allegorical. The myriad is indicative of an enormous number; the formula, myriad times myriad, denotes the infinite productivity of the figures; and, finally, the binary is significant of an antithesis, either of positive and negative offences, or of dogmatical and ethical heresies.

Ver. 17. And thus I saw the horses.— In the vision, he adds, probably because the monstrosity of their appearance necessitates a slight reminder of the fact that, we have here to do with allegorical forms; an assumption which Düsterdieck, in his horror of allegory, endeavors to refute.

And those who sat on them. — The horses are of prime importance (see above); their riders, however, are first described. In this place the riders bear the colors of the horses, as the horses the colors of the riders in ch. vi.

Having breastplates. — According to Bengel and others, the riders are here referred to; according to Düsterdieck and others, the words, having breastplates, refer to both horses and riders. This view is contradicted, in the first place, by the impossibility of putting the idea into execution; and, furthermore, by the antithesis between the colors of the breastplates and the destructive stuff issuing from the mouths of the horses. Many hypotheses have been founded on the colors of the breastplates, see Düsterdieck, p. 337. On ὑακινθίνους see Ebrard. He conjectures that this color was dark brown; it cannot but be seen, however, that it must correspond with the color of smoke. Düsterdieck would have it that “dark red” is the corresponding color.

As the heads of lions. — Not actual lions’ heads. A cruel and terrific aspect cannot be meant by this, according to Düsterdieck, because it “would undoubtedly correspond better with the allegorical exposition.”

It is likewise denied that there is an allegorical meaning to fire, smoke, and brimstone. The combination is, most certainly, found in volcanoes in natura. The significance of these forms, however, appears from the following other passages: ch. xiv. 10, 11; xix. 20; xxi. 10. For different interpretations, see Düsterdieck. The view of Calov., who finds the three substances associated in the Koran, is particularly striking. Other singular exegeses are those of Grotius (burning torches), Hengstenberg and Bengel (the murderous spirit and wanton destructiveness of soldiers). It is worthy of note that the same materials which compose the erring spirit of this world, create the hellish torment of the next: the fire of fanaticism; self-dissolution in ambition and self-seeking; demonic irritability — inflammability.

Ver. 19. For the power of the horses. — They are hurtful in a two-fold manner; with their mouths and with their snake-like tails. Their principal power, however, is in their mouths. On the futile application of this double figure to the fable of two-headed serpents or amphisbænæa (Wetstein, Beng., Herder), see Düsterd.

Other interpretations: Bengel: Reference is had to the turning of the Turkish cavalry, to the sudden detriment of their pursuers.

Hengstenberg interprets the hurtful power in the tails as significant of the insidious malignity of martial hosts; for fiery wrath, warlike terrors, and the like, pervade the visions of the fifth and sixth Trumpets particularly, according to him.

Grotius: The tails are indicative of foot soldiers [on the backs of the horses, behind the horsemen].

Sander: They dragged the teachings of their false prophet behind them.

Volkmar has even applied this passage to the kicking out of the horse behind.

The after-effects of all heresies consist in the fact that they poison morals and manners, introducing a destructive element into Christian social life especially, and thus issuing in psychical and physical evils.

Ver. 20. And the rest of the men, who were not killed by these plagues. — The Seer distinguishes between the specific destruction of a third of mankind by the fatal horses and the general corrupt condition of the human race.

Repented not. — Comp. ch. xvi. 11. Their conversion should show itself in a specific abstinence from religious and moral transgressions. The works of their hands, therefore, do not directly denote their whole conversation and walk, but those characteristic sins in which, of a truth, their whole walk was reflected, it has been maintained that idols are thereby indicated, as their own manufacture (Hengstenberg, Düsterdieck); but the first object — τ δαιμόνια — stands in the way of this view. This first object is, indeed, of prime importance to the Seer. The meaning is as follows: subtile demon-worship, symbolized by subtle idol-worship offered to images of the most diverse materials; see 1 Cor. x. 20.

Which neither see, etc. — Compare the analogous passages in the Old Testament [Pss. cxv. 4-7; exxxv. 15-17; Is. xlvi. 7; Jer. x. 5; Dan. v. 23].

Ver. 21. Of their sorceries. — The poison-mingling, as the word might likewise be understood, is already contained in the preceding murders.

Ebrard: “Sorcery is to be understood as seductive enchantments.” The reason alleged in support of this view, viz., that true sorcery is a sin against God, whilst the present passage treats of injuries inflicted by man upon his brother man, is, however, of insufficient weight. All gross (poison-mingling) and all refined sorcery is conjoined with injury to one’s neighbor. The terms are, doubtless, symbolical throughout; Gal. v. 20.

“It is clear that the author is thinking of heathen.” De Wette (similarly Düsterdieck). Truly, the author regards all the things mentioned, even in respect of their most subtle conception, their most subtle manifestation in Christendom, as heathenish.