Comments on ‘R. Govett and the First Woe’
Robert Govett’s commentary on Revelation 9:1-11 is part of his exposition of the Apocalypse. His exposition of the First Woe prophecy, from an abridged edition of his commentary, is provided in this pdf file: R. Govett on the First Woe.
Govett claimed the woe-trumpets described in this chapter begin the great tribulation. “With the woe-trumpets the time of Great Tribulation on earth begins. Matt. xxiv. 21, 22.” Govett identified the “bottomless pit” with “hell.” He said men will become “fearfully immortal” for five months, the time associated with the first woe: “Men are made fearfully immortal during five months of Satan’s reign.”
Govett identified the angel having the key to the bottomless pit as Satan.
The key was given to this fallen star. Our translators have rightly put “to him” instead of “to it,” as seeing that an intelligent being is necessarily supposed. That word “was given” connects this plague with all the main incidents of the Apocalypse. It was by order of the throne. And this key, as we are informed in the first chapter of Revelation, belongs properly to Jesus. i. 18. The key now committed to him is the key of “Death,” or of the bottomless pit. xx. 13, 14. As to Jesus is given the key of Hades, and at His opening of it His elect come forth; so to Satan now, at the opening of the Wild Beast’s kingdom, the key of the place of the lost is given, and his False Christ, False Prophet, and army come forth. Satan opens the pit: and throughout his time of empire it stands open.
Govett suggested that the bottomless pit is a literal hole that will open up in Palestine. “The predicted eruption appears to have burst forth in Judaea,” he wrote. He also suggested that the earth’s interior is hollow, and has gates. Demons fear being cast into it. He wrote:
But it is not simply “the key of the bottomless pit,” as our translators have it, but “the key of the well of the bottomless pit.” This gives us new information. It supposes a shaft, or well, or mine sunk through the crust of the earth, till we arrive at the entrance to the hollow interior of the globe, which is closed by gates. Of these the Scripture speaks more than once. The Abyss, or bottomless pit, is a place of departed souls. “Who shall descend into the bottomless pit? (That is, to bring up Christ again from the dead“) (Rom. x. 7). It is a dungeon, and a place of punishment, as is manifested by the fear of the demons, lest they should be cast in thither.
Govett insisted that the creatures John described are literal. He offered the following proof:
Here is the proof of the literality of these creatures. (1) Whatever can be taken literally without absurdity, is literal. (2) Whenever an instrument has actually been used before of God, whether it be the very same, or one resembling it in principle, it cannot be absurd to account it literal when predicted in the future. But God in former days used noxious insects as a plague. These then are literal creatures. As the smoke is literal, producing its ordinary effects, so are the locusts actual creatures; and not mere symbols of a heresy, or of an invading army.
Govett stated that the locusts normally dwell in the abyss, the bottomless pit.
“These locusts usually dwell in the abyss, and amidst its fire and smoke.”
He said they have never been observed by humans.
These are creatures from beneath, never seen before by man. They are compared, therefore, with known animals, whose abode is on earth. From the familiar forms of the surface, the student of the prophetic page is led to comprehend the appearance of creatures hitherto unseen.
Although Govett said the locusts came out of the pit, John said they came from out of the smoke. The pit, Govett said, is “the place of torment.” He wrote:
In the infernal flames we find the cause of the “smoke” which ascends from beneath; and from the place of torment ascend the “locusts” that inflict anguish. Earth is a picture of the place of the damned. Darkness and smoke shut out the light of the sun; and beneath its sulphurous pall the godless are tormented, even as the damned themselves.
In Revelation 9:1-11, the words “like,” “as,” and the phrase “as it were” occur profusely:– “as the smoke of a great furnace”; “as the scorpions of the earth have power”; “their torment was as the torment of a scorpion”; “the locusts were like unto horses”; “on their heads were as it were crowns like gold”; “their faces were as the faces of men”; “they had hair as the hair of women”; “their teeth were as the teeth of lions”; “they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron”; “the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle”; “they had tails like unto scorpions.”
These examples demonstrate that few things in the prophecy can be taken literally, but Govett overlooked this. By neglecting to interpret the symbols by the scriptures, he was led to absurd conclusions.
The sun, which is darkened by the smoke from the bottomless pit, represents the Gospel. The smoke represents false doctrines. Locusts that come from out of the smoke are those who are deceived by false teachings, and who deceive others. In this case the false teachings are about the fate of unbelievers, those who do not have the seal of God in their foreheads. The sun, representing the gospel, is darkened, by the teachings about the soul that were imported from Greek philosophy, which obscure the truth of the gospel. The sun clothes the woman in heaven, who represents the church. [Rev. 12:1] Jesus spoke of the righteous who “shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father.” [Matt. 13:43] Jesus is described as shining like the sun. “And he had in his right hand seven stars: and out of his mouth went a sharp twoedged sword: and his countenance was as the sun shineth in his strength.” [Rev. 1:16]
The locusts in Revelation 9 allude to the Israelites in the wilderness, after they came out of Egypt, but lacked the faith to enter the promised land. The experience of the Israelites in the wilderness, in the New Testament, was for the church’s example. [1 Cor. 10:1-11] In the report of the spies who Moses sent out to survey the land for forty days, they described the people living in the land as giants, and themselves as grasshoppers. “And there we saw the giants, the sons of Anak, which come of the giants: and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers, and so we were in their sight.” [Numbers 13:33] Paul taught that the experiences of the Israelites under Moses happened as examples for the Church. [1 Corinthians 10:1-12] In the prophecy of Revelation 9:1-11 the locusts represent people who have not fully believed the Gospel, especially as it relates to unbelievers.
And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that they should be tormented five months: and their torment was as the torment of a scorpion, when he striketh a man.
Belief in the immortality of the soul, and the doctrine of unending infernal torment of unbelievers, is torment.
The five months alludes to the flood, which lasted for 150 days, or five months. The ark is a type of the Church. Those who were not on board the ark perished. They are a type of those who do not believe the Gospel.
And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.
The threat of infernal torment of unbelievers is torment. The doctrine that the soul is immortal worries unbelievers, and their loved ones.
And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle; and on their heads were as it were crowns like gold, and their faces were as the faces of men.
And they had hair as the hair of women, and their teeth were as the teeth of lions.
Faces of men, and hair of women together signify those bringing doctrines that dishonour Christ. Paul wrote:
“But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoureth his head.” [1 Corinthians 11:3-4]
“Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering.” [1 Corinthians 11:13-15]
The doctrine of unending infernal torment of unbelievers dishonours Christ.
Horses in prophecy signify people who have no 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.” [Psalm 32:9]
“And the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle.” The wings of the locusts may represent their interpretations of prophecy. Horses and chariots rushing to battle would make a loud, clattering sound, as chariot wheels rolled over stony ground. Their controversies generate lots of noise!
Lion’s teeth [vs. 8] depict their ferocious attitude towards unbelievers. [2 Tim. 3:1-3]
Breastplates are associated with righteousness. [Eph. 6:14] Their breastplates are not breastplates of righteousness, but of iron. These breastplates are a powerful reason for rejecting the idea that the locusts represent demons; instead they show that the locusts represent mortal humans. Why would demons need breastplates? The locusts’ breastplates of iron defend them from truth, and reason. Cruel hearts are hard to reach.
“On their heads were as it were crowns like gold.” Their crowns like gold suggest they appear to be Christians, those who Peter described as “a royal priesthood.” [1 Peter 2:9]
“And they had tails like unto scorpions.” [vs. 10] Scorpions are mentioned in connection with threats of chastisement and punishment by Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. He said to the people of Israel, “My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” [1 Kings 12:14]
Unending infernal torment in hell is supposed to be the punishment for unbelief.
Their tails represent “a prophet that teaches lies.” Isaiah said, “. . . the prophet that teacheth lies, he is the tail.” [Isa. 9:15] The doctrine of the locusts distorts the gospel of Christ. Centuries of tradition and superstition have established the concept of unending infernal torment of unbelievers as biblical truth in the minds of many. Those views are not easily discarded.