[Table of Contents]|
B. W. Johnson|
Vision of the Ages (1881)
THE ARABIAN LOCUSTS.
The State of Christianity.--The Dying World.--The Eastern
Symbols.--The Fallen Star.--The |
The blast of the fourth trumpet, the last of the series of trumpets, representing the four winds that were held back, marks one of the most important eras in history. As the trumpet angels come forth in succession the mighty tide of invasion rolls upon the vast empire that had long ruled the world, and after the fourth trumpet, Rome, for twelve hundred years a seat of power, and for over five hundred years the capital of the world, was overwhelmed and hopelessly crushed beneath the barbarian wave. Ancient history ends with A. D. 476, when the Roman fabric finally gave way before the Goths, the Vandals, and the Huns. From that period a new Europe begins. The fresh blood of the northern hordes,  mingled with that of the civilized inhabitants of western Europe, begins the formation of the new races that lead the world at this day. The Saxons, the Franks, the Goths, and the Lombards are represented in the nineteenth century by the Anglo-Saxon, the French, the Spanish, and the Italian. The Christianity of the West was deep-rooted and vigorous enough to overcome the Pagan faith of the northern invaders, and the new kingdoms which were formed out of the fragments of old Rome, all became Christian states.
It has already been seen that the trumpet angels are divided into two groups. There remain the three who have been called the woe angels, on account of the language applied to them in Chap. 8:13. It is manifest that the first four have completed their work, and that the others are devoted to another and a distinct work, which shall be the source of great woe to a part of the inhabitants of the earth. This work must be at a later period, and hence must be after the year 476.
In order to enable the reader who is not well read in history to appreciate what will follow, it will be needful to give a short view of the condition of the world about one hundred years later. In all western and southern Europe, as far east as the Adriatic Sea, and in  northern Africa, the, Gothic nations were moulding their new kingdoms. In the East there existed a fragment of the old Roman Empire, with Constantinople as its capital. Its dominions embraced a part of the territory of modern Turkey in Europe and in Asia, and also Egypt in Africa. It professed the Christian faith, but there has seldom been a more corrupt state of society than existed in A. D. 600. Idolatry and saint worship had supplanted the simple faith of the apostles; luxury had undermined society; frivolity, effeminacy and licentiousness had taken the place of manhood. The hierarchy ruled the Church, instead of Christ, and bishops were more ambitious to supplant rival bishops than to convert heathen, or to promote the spiritual condition of their dioceses. The worldliness, excesses, license, and corruption which held unchecked sway in the cities and towns had caused tens of thousands who sighed for a purer life to flee from the haunts of men and to hide themselves, as hermits, in the recesses of the desert, or to bury themselves, as monks and nuns, in monasteries. Monasticism, unauthorized by the letter or spirit of Christianity, and destined finally to become utterly corrupt, was born of a yearning for a holier life.
In the two centuries that had passed since  the triumph of Christianity over Paganism, the unholy alliance of Church with State had led the former into practical apostasy from her ancient faith. The spiritual despotism which had overthrown the liberty of the children of God seemed to be almost universal, but the corruption of society was far greater in the East than in the West. The hierarchy ruled absolutely, and idolatry prevailed in both quarters of the world, but the recent acceptance of the Christian faith by the conquerors of the West, and their pure, vigorous blood, saved them from the effeminacy of the luxurious East. Western rulers had little taste for theatres, eunuchs, dances, and harems. In the East a rottenness prevailed of which it is hard for us in this nineteenth century to form even a conception. The Western world had died and risen again. The East was slowly dying of corruption.
THE FIFTH TRUMPET.
We are now prepared to listen to the trumpet of the fifth angel, and to behold the symbolism described by the prophet. I quote:
And the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star fall from heaven unto the earth; and to him was given the key of the bottomless pit. And he opened the bottomless pit; and there arose a smoke out of the pit, as the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by reason of the smoke of the pit. And  there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth: and unto them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power. And it was commanded them that they should not hurt the grass of the earth, neither any green thing, neither any tree; but only those men which have not the seal of God in their foreheads. 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 the scorpion, when he striketh a man. And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them. 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. And they had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron; and the sound of their wings was as the sound of chariots of many horses running to battle. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails: and their power was to hurt men five months. And they had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. One woe is past; and, behold, there come two woes, more hereafter. 9:1-12.
When the angel blows his trumpet, the apostle sees a key given to a falling star. This is used to open a pit. From it a smoke ascends, and the heavens are filled with darkness; from out of the smoke there emerge swarms of locusts that descend upon the earth to devour. It is needless that I should pause to describe the insect now mentioned. The grasshoppers that sweep down from the rainless deserts near the Rocky Mountains are the American  representatives of the Asiatic locust. But these locusts are peculiar, and John describes their features with great minuteness. These are instruments of destruction under the fifth trumpet, and it will be well with us to note closely the characteristics that he names.
The locusts go forth in countless numbers to destroy wherever they descend. We would expect them to symbolize a numerous and destructive host. The term is often used by the prophets as an emblem of a numerous and destroying army. We quote from Nahum 3:15. "The sword shall cut thee off. It shall devour thee as the locust. Thy crowned princes are as the numerous locust, and thy captains as the grasshoppers," etc. John notes a remarkable circumstance. Other locusts destroy every vestige of vegetation. These destroy no green thing. Their hurtful power is turned upon men,--men who are not engaged in the service of God. Whatever may be signified, they shall spare the fields and turn their rage upon the inhabitants of the earth. Still, while they shall torment men, their object shall not be to kill them. They will not blast nations from the face of the earth. They shall continue this work of torment for five months. We are told in Ezekiel, that a day shall stand for a year. It does commonly in prophetic language. We  will find that such is its usual meaning in the book of Revelation. This torment would then be continued for a period of one hundred and fifty years.
It has been seen, thus far, that each angel represents the movement of some people upon the Roman Empire. Though Rome had fallen, still the Eastern Empire remained, and it would be entirely in harmony with the probabilities if the next movement should strike it with overwhelming force. It will be needful to inquire, from what quarter of the world the blow will come, what people will strike the blow, and what is the meaning of the various symbols. It is manifest that the scene is transferred from the West to East, and all the symbolism points with unerring precision to one country which had not before this figured in history. That country is
The locust, the groundwork of the symbolism, is peculiarly Arabic. It was the "east wind," the wind that swept from Arabia, that brought the locusts into Egypt, at the time of the exodus of the children of Israel. The inhabitants of Syria declare that the locusts come to them from Arabia. Like the American grasshopper, they are bred in rainless deserts,  at irregular intervals, sweep down with resistless power upon more fertile lands. The sandy wastes of Arabia have always been a breeding ground for locusts. The locusts of the vision have teeth like lions; the lion has always had its home upon the Arabian deserts. They also have a shape like horses; naturalists consider Arabia the native country of the horse, and from time immemorial it has produced the most famous horses of the world. Finally, the tail and sting of the locusts is like that of the scorpion, another animal bred on the Arabian sands. The zoology of the symbolism points beyond a doubt to the portion of the world in which Arabia is located. I will presently inquire whether any mighty movement, fitly described by the imagery, was inaugurated in Arabia in the age to which we have been led.
Not only the facts just mentioned, but the description of the men symbolized by the locusts, point to Arabia. The locusts "were like unto horses prepared for battle." The Arabians, unlike the Goths, Vandals, and Huns, were an army of horsemen, and moved over a country almost with the swiftness of the locust. Let the reader note the following facts concerning the Arabs: 1. They came forth from the home of the locust. 2. They all fought on horseback. There was not a foot-soldier in the  armies which in A. D. 632, assailed the Eastern Empire. 3. They wore upon their beads something like crowns of gold. The historians of the period often speak of them as the "turbaned Arabs." Ezekiel (Chap. 23:42) speaking of the Sabeans, which were an Arabian tribe, says, "The Sabeans of the wilderness who put upon their heads beautiful crowns." The yellow turbans of the Arab horsemen, at a little distance, would strikingly resemble "crowns of gold." 4. The locusts had "the faces of men." The Jews and Arabs wore long, patriarchical beards. The Roman and northern races shaved the face. John notes that these locusts have the distinguishing mark of manhood in the East,--the unshorn board. 5. But to the faces of men is added "the hair of women." The female distinction is long hair, and evidently John beholds, as the riders rush by, long hair flowing from their shoulders and streaming in the air. Did the Arabs in the seventh century wear long hair? Pliny, who was the contemporary of John, speaks (Nat. His. 7:28) of "the turbaned Arabs with their uncut hair." Ammianus Marcellinus in the fourth, and Jerome in the fifth century, each speak of the long-haired Arabs. An Arabian poem, Antar, written in Mahomet's time, often speaks of the hair of its heroes flowing down upon their  shoulders. We quote: "He adjusted himself, twisted his beard, and folded his hair under his turban, drawing it up from his shoulders." 6. But the locusts had breastplates, as it were breastplates of iron." The historians of the Arabian wars constantly speak of the iron coats of mail. Gibbon, Vol. V., p. 132, speaks of seven hundred horsemen with steel cuirasses. Again, Vol. V., p. 13: "Three hundred cuirasses were a part of the spoil." Mahomet, in the Koran, 11-104 says: "God hath given you coats of mail to defend you in your wars."
From this array of facts it seems certain that we are pointed to Arabia, and that we must look there to see the locusts gather that rush upon the earth. Do we find any remarkable historical movement arising in this region and subsequent to the fall of Rome?
Before the beginning of the seventh century the Arabs were little known to the historian. Occasionally they had made a marauding excursion beyond their borders, but they were only feared, as troublesome robbers who could hide themselves from pursuit in their deserts. While their trackless sands and poverty had protected them from conquest, they had never proved formidable to neighboring states, and had exercised as little influence upon the political destinies of the world as the blanketed Indians of the Northwest. But early in the seventh century they rush out from their native wastes, and throw themselves upon the world with a swiftness, a fury, and a success that hardly finds a parallel in the history of nations. The creation of the Arabian, or Saracen Empire as it is usually called, was due to the work of Mahomet.
About A. D. 609, in the deserts of Arabia, one of the most remarkable, most talented, most brilliant leaders of men that the world has ever known, began his work. He claimed to be the prophet of God. He was a star, but a fallen star; a prophet, but a false prophet. To extend his religion and reign he resorted to the sword, and his converts became a race of warriors. By the year 632, all Arabia had been subjected to his dominion, and in that year, the Arabian armies, countless as the locusts of their own deserts, all on horseback, not a foot-soldier among them, all the fierce followers of Mahomet rushed forth from the country of the locusts to assail the world. They appeared with "horses prepared for war."
In the year 632, the Saracens marched out of Arabia to subvert the world to the sway of the Koran. Syria, a part of the Eastern Empire,  was instantly overrun by the swift bands of cavalry who dashed in every direction, with a rapidity unknown before in war. In A. D. 634, the city of Damascus was taken, and has ever since been a Mahometan city. In 637, the city of Jerusalem fell, and the churches were converted into mosques. In 638, Egypt was conquered, and their armies then pushed westward to the banks of the Atlantic Ocean. In 675, they had poured northward to the borders of Europe, had crossed the Hellespont, besieged Constantinople, and after a long siege had been driven back from its walls. In 711, they crossed the Straits of Gibraltar into western Europe, and conquered Spain. In 716, they laid siege to Constantinople a second time, and were, a second time baffled. In 721, they crossed the Pyrenees into France to attempt the conquest of northwestern Europe.
At this period the Saracen dominion extended from Central Asia over Persia, Arabia, Syria, westward over Africa to the Pillars of Hercules, and in Europe it embraced Spain and Portugal. Within a hundred years from the time that the Arabs emerged from the desert they had secured the dominion of Asia, Africa, and southwestern Europe. As a mighty conquering force, history makes no record of one more remarkable than the establishment of the  Arabian dominion. Surely we have a movement significant enough to meet the demand, springing from the very country, and carried on by the very people indicated by the prophet. It remains for me, to inquire whether this movement corresponds to the details of the inspired description.
I have shown that the rise of Mahometanism. corresponds, in its time, country, people, and character, fully with the general features of the prophecy. I will next take up the various features of the symbolism in the order they are presented. The first thing that we notice is that the apostle saw a falling star which inaugurated the invasion of the locusts. We have already found that a star is symbolical of a leader. Attila was represented by a burning star. This falling star would evidently refer to some brilliantly endowed, but wicked leader of men. That a man, and not a literal star, is referred to is shown by the next statement that to him were given the keys of the bottomless pit. The fact that the star had fallen would seem to indicate that, at the time the keys of the pit were given to it, it did not possess the pre-eminence it once enjoyed. If a star represents a king or prince, a fallen star would  represent a prince who had been shorn of his power.
It is remarkable how these details are fulfilled in the case of Mahomet. He belonged by birth to the princely house of Koreish, the ruling family of Mecca. At his birth his grandfather was the ruling prince. His grandfather and his father, in the view of surrounding nations, were prominent stars. But, just after his birth his father died, and very soon after, his grandfather also. The boy, apparently destined to rule his country, was set aside, and a different family received the headship of the tribe, the governorship of Mecca, and the keys of the Caaba. Though by birth a star, he becomes now a fallen star, his prospects for life apparently blasted, and at manhood he entered into the service of a rich widow as a servant, in which capacity he visited Damascus, to traffic in the markets of that great city. It is probable that be brooded over the thought that he was a servant in a city where his ancestors ruled at his birth, and that this thought caused him to devise the means by which he should attain to power. Thus it is seen that he was a star, a fallen star, and his history shows us that he again attained to the prominence of a star of the first magnitude, though shining with a baleful light. 
THE KEY.--To this star was given a key. The key can have only two uses. It may indicate that the doors of the bottomless pit shall be closed, or that they shall be opened. The sequel shows that they were opened, and the language evidently foreshadows that the hosts of hell shall come forth, or that there shall be a gathering of the instruments of wickedness. Perhaps the term has not only this, but still further significance. The "star," or ruler of Mecca, held the key of the Caaba, a kind of idol shrine, and the possession of that key in a family was significant of its princely power. The loss of the key had made Mahomet a fallen star. The key of the bottomless pit now given him, not only restores him to the position of ruler of his own countrymen, but makes him a prince among the kings of the earth.
THE BOTTOMLESS PIT.--The term translated pit is used in Ezekiel 31:17, Luke 8:31, and Rev. 20:1, in the sense of hell, or the abode of the prince of darkness. That is evidently the sense here, and it is implied that the fallen star shall employ hellish agencies to aid him in his work. This could not be fulfilled more effectively than by a system of imposture, or false religion, proceeding from the father of lies, and deceiving a large part of the race. This idea is confirmed by the statement that a  smoke should come forth that darkened the earth. It is a fact that at this period a false religion arose, led by Mahomet, an impostor; a vile system which taught men inhumanity and lust, to live bloody and sensual lives, and to look for a sensual heaven. This false and hellish system "darkened" a large portion of the world, and there are still vast regions where the light of Christianity once prevailed which have exchanged the Bible for the Koran. The Christian faith was buried under the ruins of a country tracked and desolated by the Arabian locusts. I wish the reader to distinctly note that it is not stated in the case of any other trumpet that the powers of the pit are employed. No other leader appears as the prophet of the new and false religion. It is Mahomet alone who employs the powers of the bottomless pit to secure empire and rule the earth.
THE LOCUSTS.--It is said that the "locusts came out of the smoke." This is a statement of great importance. It means that the armies symbolized by the locusts were gathered by means of the imposture indicated by the smoke which Mahomet let out of the pit. Never was a prophecy more accurately fulfilled. The Arabians were unknown as a conquering power until they had been filled with the fierce, stern, pitiless fanaticism taught by the Koran. Out of  the "smoke of the new religion" they emerged and rushed upon the world to torment, to sting, and to darken. Let us observe the work of the locusts as described by the apostle.
1. They do not destroy the grass of the earth, or trees, or any green thing. They injure men. Did the Saracen hosts adopt such a policy? Moses (Deut. 20: 19,) from motives of mercy had commanded the Jews to abstain from devastation in time of war. Mahomet adopted the same course from policy. At the very time when the Saracens rushed forth upon the Eastern Empire, the Caliph Abubeker, the successor of Mahomet, commanded, (Gibbon Vol. V., p. 189,) "Cut down no palm trees, nor burn fields of corn. Cut down no fruit trees." They shall not endeavor to destroy lands, but shall attack the human race. The policy of the Saracens was in great contrast with that of the Goths. They destroyed "the trees of one third of the earth, and every green thing." The historians speak continually of the "desert places" that they had made; but the Arabs had learned in their almost treeless deserts to cherish the tree as heaven's choicest blessing, and they went forth with the avowed purpose to conquer and occupy the countries they assailed. Hence, in their own interest they sought, and were commanded, to preserve the trees in the regions which they  invaded. It is a remarkable circumstance that the opposite course of both the Goths and the Saracens should be so particularly noted in Revelation.
2. It is also stated that they "shall not kill them." It is remarkable that these warriors did not go forth to slay. They were missionaries. They went to save. They attacked their enemies upon the battle-field, but when resistance ended, and their foes were converted, they ceased the work of destruction. A part of the same marching orders from which we have just quoted, also gave command that they "should not kill religious persons who were trying to serve God in another way." Gibbon, Vol. V., p. 189.
Perhaps, however, this has another meaning. It may mean that they did not politically kill, or annihilate either Church or State in Christendom. Though they besieged Constantinople twice, the Eastern Empire still survived, and the Eastern Church continued to exist.
3. But their torment should be terrible, like the sting of a scorpion. Though the Saracens did not seek to exterminate, they sought to reduce all to slavery or to submission to the Koran. They gave to the nations where they marched their choice of three things. (1) The Koran; (2) the payment of tribute and  subjection to slavery; or, (3) to be put to the sword. Abubeker commanded, "Cleave the skulls of the priests unless they will become Mahometan." Gibbon, Vol. V., p. 189. The condition of Christians in the countries overrun was terrible. Under the fierce sting of the scorpions of the desert the torment was almost unendurable. It was so hard to bear that perhaps the majority of the population abandoned their old faith, which they regarded true, and accepted one that they esteemed false. Those who did not, no doubt, were often constrained "to seek death" as a refuge, but instead of being slain, were reduced to a pitiless slavery.
THE FIVE MONTHS.
We will next consider the duration of this torment. It was to continue five months, or one hundred and fifty days. We have already stated that in Revelation uniformly, and usually in all the prophets, the day is the symbol of a year. This would imply that the locusts should scourge the world for one hundred and fifty years.
It has been seen already that, although Mahomet began his work earlier, it was not until about A. D. 632, that the Arabs had been compacted, organized, and filled with the fanatical fury needful to enable them to burst  forth upon the world. Before this they did not begin their "torment." Marching forth in that year, they began an almost uninterrupted series of conquests in the countries then occupied by the Church. Within a few years the congregations planted by the apostles, those of Palestine, Syria, Egypt and Asia Minor, had been crushed under the tread of the Arabian horsemen, and within a century, the "torment" had extended from the Euphrates to the Pyrenees Mountains. In 732, just a century after they emerged from the desert, their armies crossed into France, were met by Charles Martel in the battle of Tours, defeated, driven back over the Pyrenees, and their progress stayed. In 750, the vast empire of the Caliphs was rent by dissensions and divided. The family upon the throne, the Ommiades, was supplanted by the Abassides, and fled from the East to Spain, where it established a new capital; and in the year 762, the usurper removed his capital from Damascus to Bagdad, upon the Tigris. Thus moved to a distance from Christendom, and weakened by division, the Saracens gradually gave up their designs of universal conquest, and the rude Ishmaelites whose hands had been against every man, who had sought to conquer the world, now began to cultivate the arts of peace, and to think of living on  friendly terms with other nations. In 781, the Caliph Haroun Al Rashid was their ruler. This is the golden age of the Saracen power. This is the era of the Arabian Nights. Bagdad was called the "City of Peace." How long is this from the time when the torment that had stricken half the world began? In A. D. 632, the Arabs assailed the nations, to which date one hundred and fifty years may be added. This would bring us to 782, the second year of Haroun Al Rashid's reign. Did the torment continue longer? Nay. He was engaged in friendly correspondence with the Christian rulers of Europe, and from this time the Saracens ceased their efforts to make the world Mahometan. Their aggressive wars were forever ended. Their weakening effect upon the Eastern Roman Empire was over. As far as they have to do with its destruction their work was finished,--completed one hundred and fifty years after it began!
Thus we find, next in order after the fall of Rome in 476, signified by the fourth trumpet, that the scene of the mighty events is transferred to the East. From the deserts, the home of the locusts, there emerge a people corresponding in all respects to the symbolism. That people changed the map of the world and founded a mighty religious empire. For a  period of one hundred and fifty years they continued to torment the nations of the earth by their conquests, but after that period the Saracen Empire abandoned the attempt to conquer the Christian world. Its aggressive warfare was forever ended.
Other questions might arise, but I will only take space to ask: Did they assail men who had not the seal of God in their foreheads? They assailed an apostate Church. Of the condition of the Eastern Church at this time I will have more to say under the discussion of the next trumpet, but the remarks in the introduction to this chapter indicate its lamentable corruption. I believe that every candid reader will admit that prophecy was never fulfilled more surprisingly than John's prediction of the scourge of Arabian locusts. 
[Table of Contents]|
B. W. Johnson|
Vision of the Ages (1881)