Thursday, 7 January 2021
And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man. Revelation 9:5
These locusts that came out of the smoke of the abyss were given power like scorpions and were commanded to not harm the grass or any green thing. They are only given permission to harm the people who don’t have the seal of God on their forehead. As John says, “And they were not given authority to kill them.”
What is being described here is not unlike a modern battle using aerial weapons. This will become more evident in the verses ahead. Locusts are flying creatures. Scorpions are creatures that have a hard exoskeleton. And more, scorpions have stingers to harm their enemies.
Unlike real locusts, these have an authority over them. That authority has determined to torment, but not to kill. This is exactingly what happened during the Vietnam war at times, also in the Gulf War, and in many battles since. It is also what happens in Israel constantly. The air forces of these nations are given authority to attack the enemy from the air, but they are actually not given permission to kill anyone. Hence, for example, they will give a warning that a building is going to be destroyed. Once the occupants clear out, down it goes.
An example of this is recorded on Wikipedia, saying –
“As early as 2006 the IDF had the practice of warning the inhabitants of a building that was about to be attacked. Roof knocking was used during the 2008–2009 Gaza War, Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, and Operation Protective Edge in 2014. In the six months prior to its use, Israel collected data on Hamas members, which they used to issue warnings. Typically, Israeli intelligence officers and Shin Bet security servicemen contacted residents of a building in which they suspected storage of military assets and told them that they had 10–15 minutes to flee the attack, although in some cases the delay has been as little as five minutes.’
This was common practice in the Gulf War as well. Coalition forces would give demonstrations of their capabilities to the enemy battle lines. This would be followed with a warning to surrender or be destroyed in the same manner. Again, from Wikipedia –
“Eleven BLU-82Bs were palletized and dropped in five night missions during the 1991 Gulf War, all from Special Operations MC-130 Combat Talons. … Later, bombs were dropped as much for their psychological effect as for their anti-personnel effects. Due to the size of the conventional blast, a British SAS unit that witnessed the explosion mistakenly assumed the U.S. had used a nuclear weapon and radioed back to their headquarters exclaiming, ‘Sir, the blokes have just nuked Kuwait!’”
In one such drop, intended for psychological effect, an entire battle line surrendered rather than face such a terrifying weapon. This type of warfare is then a perfect example of John’s next words. The locusts were given authority not to kill, “but to torment them for five months.”
The Gulf War lasted forty-two days. During much of that time, surgical strikes were made that were intended to harm but not to kill. Operations in the Gaza war lasted various time lengths, and the intent by Israel was to wage war with as little loss of enemy life as possible. What John is seeing in Revelation is certainly such a battle. This is then evidenced by the next words. He notes that “Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.”
John is describing what he calls locusts. These have power as the scorpions of the earth have (certainly offensive, but not excluding defensive – meaning its exoskeleton), and they are given authority to torment, but not to kill. The offensive torment of a scorpion is a sharp and painful sting.
A person two thousand years ago who is watching a modern battle would see jet fighters shooting their missiles at the enemy (who has already been given warning to evacuate a building) and think he was watching some sort of creature shooting its sting. John, not understanding what he was seeing in a modern sense, is accurately describing exactly such a modern scenario with imagery that was known to him. This will continue to be exactingly described by him in the verses ahead.
Life application: What is happening here is similar to the account in Ezekiel Chapter 9 where judgment came on the Israelites for rejecting God and turning after idolatry.
In that passage, those without the seal of God are killed. However, these unbelievers during the Tribulation are only tormented for five months but are not killed. There is a mixture of grace and punishment in this. The mercy is that their lives are spared, but the punishment is that they have to endure the torment as if being struck by a scorpion when it strikes a man. In other words, there is great affliction, pain, and suffering involved in a scorpion sting and these people will endure through that. Lamentations 4:9 tells us that sometimes death is preferable to life in such dire situations –
“Those slain by the sword are better off
Than those who die of hunger;
For these pine away,
Stricken for lack of the fruits of the field.”
In the end, such trials and troubles are brought upon us. We can’t point our finger at God and blame Him when He has revealed Himself to us in the Person of Jesus, as testified through His word. Even more so, we have to accept the fact that the world has been told, in advance, of what is coming and how to avoid it. Surely God is just.
But in His love for His people, He sent an offer of peace in the giving of His Son. Through Him is pardon from sin and reconciliation to God through adoption. All God asks man to do is to believe. Accept the gospel today. Call on JESUS.
Lord, our eyes look to You for all good things, and surely all the necessities of life are graciously given to us. But when we receive them, we look at them as the work of our own hands, forgetting that they came from You. Eventually, we push You out of our lives completely and reap the harvest of such unrighteousness. Surely You are justified when You judge us in our faithlessness. But Lord, soften our hearts and remind us that You are the Source of all goodness and blessing. May we always return gratitude to You for such things. Amen.