The Fifth Trumpet: Locust from the Abyss – Revelation 9:1-12

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.

6 thoughts on “The Fifth Trumpet: Locust from the Abyss – Revelation 9:1-12

  1. Very interesting post! I’ve been interested in this topic since I was a child. Question: Is there any Biblical passage(s) that led you to conclude that the locust army is demonic? Perhaps your definition of demon = fallen angel (?). It’s my understanding that demons are the souls/spirits of the dead Rephaim (giants).

    This is my take after much thought.

    The locust army of Rev. 9 should more properly be called fallen angels or evil spirits than demons. Depending (of course) on how one defines terminology. In actuality, it’s the “sons of God” (בני ה אלהים) of Gen.6 which are recorded as being imprisoned in the nether regions of the Earth. See I Pet. 3:19 (Eph.4:9),
    II Pet. 2:4 & Jude 6. Also, Job 26:5-6 provides an important link to Abaddon (and the Rephaim; which are the offspring of the “sons of God”).

    Unfortunately, there’s a couple of prerequisite interpretive stance’s that one must take before their Theology can allow for such an interpretation. Hence, it’s rarity.

    Thanks again for the great post! -MMR

    • Thanks for your kind words. Hopefully you will find enough here it stick around.

      I am not very precise here on what demons are (or are not), only that the description of the locust is consistent with other early Jewish writings (Testament of Solomon, etc.) I think there are too many things we do not know to be dogmatic on the origin of demons. For example, are the demons in the Gospels the same as the imprisoned angels in 2 Peter 2:4? Possibly, but it is far from clear.

      I think your suggestion that “demons are the souls/spirits of the dead Rephaim (giants)” is as good as any. This is certainly an option in the first century, you would find some support in the Enoch literature (Book of the Watchers, etc.)

      You also said “Job 26:5-6 provides an important link to Abaddon,” I posted on Abaddon today before reading this comment!

      I just received Michael Heiser’s new book, Demons from Lexham Press. I will review it soon, keep an eye out for that coming soon.

  2. There is no direct statement as to the origin of this army, but the implication is, from the fact that the angels of verse 14 were bound in or at Euphrates, that the army may come from the East. A similar and later development mentioned in Revelation 16:12 following the outpouring of the sixth vial also depicts an invasion from the East. Unless the vials and the trumpets coincide as some believe, these are two different events, possibly two different phases of the same operation. Chronologically the trumpets involved closely succeed one another and their judgments seem to fall like trip-hammer blows as the great Tribulation comes to its close. Whether the army is held to be the literal number mentioned or not, it is clear that this is a massive force of tremendous military power as evidenced in its capacity to slay a third part of the human race. It may be that the army here described continues to fight until the time of the second coming of Christ, and the number slain is the total number involved in the conflict.

  3. Reading through this blog about the locusts from the abyss helped put the image into its symbolic meaning. I was imagining horses with nice hair, scary teeth, and scorpion tails. At first it sounded like a curious mythical creature. Comparing the description of their hair with the description of demon made me realize that this is not a strange beast like in Harry Potter but a demon sent to torture the unfaithful. The fact that they are from “the bottomless pit” also probably should have clued me in (9:1). The ESVSB mentions that the animal descriptions are not literal but “show demons to be powerful, swift, intelligent, fierce, and capable of inflicting intense mental and spiritual torment” (p. 2476). As you, (P. Long) mentioned, normal locusts consume all the vegetation in their path, but this swarm was overwhelming the people in their path. This imagery shows that none who deserve this punishment with get away from this. The pain will be so severe that they will wish these stings were deadly. But if they were, it would “bring relief to their victims” (ESVSB, 2476). Because these creatures resemble demons more than regular locusts, I agree that this section’s description of the locusts from the abyss should not be read literally.

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