As the angel sounds the fifth trumpet, John sees a strange locust plague rising out of the bottomless pit like smoke. As with the other trumpets, this locust plague evokes the plagues on Egypt. This chapter is an excellent example of why we need to ground our reading of Revelation in its first-century context: the locust are NOT helicopters, drones, soldiers with jetpacks, or whatever new technology known today. These locusts are the ultimate demonic army which will be released in the last days.
The eighth plague was great plague of locust, such as has never been before nor will be again (Exod 10:14; Pss 78:48; 105:34-35). Ezekiel the Tragedian associated darkness and locust in the Egyptian plagues: “Darkness I’ll decree for three whole days, and locusts send, who shall the residue of food consume and every blade of grass” (EzTrag 1.144–146).
The curses for unfaithfulness include locust plagues (Deut 28:38; 1 Kings 8:36). Amos 4:9 describes a locust plague as God’s judgment on Israel and Jeremiah 46:23 describes the armies of Egypt as “more numerous than locusts; they are without number.” Huge enemy armies are uncountable locust (Judg 6:5; 7:12).
Since locusts are associated with a terrifying army of enemies who strip the land bare, a locust plague was a natural metaphor for a great final battle. Joel 2 uses a locust plague in Israel as a metaphor for an eschatological army descending on the land “like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come” (Joel 2:2).
Locust breed in the desert regions and can travel in a column as deep as one hundred feet and as long as four miles (Mounce, 186). Usually locust strip the land of all vegetation, but these locusts do not attack vegetation, but rather who are not sealed by God. This is the opposite of the normal activity of locust, they eat plants, not people!
But these are not ordinary locust (Rev 9:7-9). There is an Arabic proverb that says that a locust has the head of a horse, the chest of a lion, the feet of a camel, the body of a serpent, and antennae like the hair of a woman. Each of the items in the description are grounded in the Old Testament and the literature of Second Temple Judaism.
Like other crowns in Revelation, these golden crowns refer to the power that they are given to rule for five months (Aune, 2:532).
Long disheveled hair does not mean these creatures are feminine. Samson and Absalom were both known for their strength yet had long hair. The important difference is this hair is disheveled. D.C. Duling suggests (OTP 1:973, note a) disheveled hair was a characteristic Medusa and is found on Aramaic Incantation Bowls depicting the demon Lilith with disheveled hair. Both the Testament of Solomon and the Apocalypse of Zephaniah describe demons with disheveled hair.
Testament of Solomon 13.1 Then I ordered another demon to appear before me. There came before me one who had the shape of a woman but she possessed as one of her traits the form of one with disheveled hair.
Apoc. Zeph. 4.1-4 Then I walked with the angel of the Lord. I looked before me and I saw a place there. 2 [Thousands] of thousands and myriads of myriads of an[gels] entered through [it]. 3 Their faces were like a leopar[d], their tusks being outside their mouth [like] the wild boars. 4 Their eyes were mixed with blood. Their hair was loose like the hair of women, and fiery scourges were in their hands.
Apoc. Zeph. 6:8 That same instant I stood up, and I saw a great angel before me. His hair was spread out like the lionesses’. His teeth were outside his mouth like a bear. His hair was spread out like women’s. His body was like the serpent’s when he wished to swallow me.
Teeth like iron are proverbial for “something irresistibly and fatally destructive” (Aune, 2:532) and their breastplates of iron imply invincibility.
These demonic locust-scorpions are given the power to torment people for five months. Although their sting is painful, the sting of a scorpions in Judea are not usually fatal to humans. These locust with scorpion tails are only allowed to torment people for five months, but not to kill them.
Why five months? It is often observed that the normal life-span of a locust is 5 months (Charles, 1:243, Aune 2:530, five simply means “a few”) The dry season in Palestine is also about 5 months, the months that are most likely to experience a locust plague. The time limit is an indication that this is not just a capricious torment, but a punishment with definite limits. It is a warning to the earth, as are the other trumpets.
People “will beg God to kill them, but they won’t be able to die.” This is similar to the description given by Pliny of the eruption of Vesuvius, “People bewailed their own fate or that of their relatives, and there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying.” (Ep. 6.20.14)
Apoc. Elijah 9.1-7 They will desire death but death will flee from them. They will climb onto rocks and jump down on them, and say, “Fall on us!” And they will not die but death runs away from them.
The people tormented by these demonic beings want to die in order to escape the plague but all that awaits them is the lake of fire.