Friday, 8 January 2021
In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them. Revelation 9:6
The translation here is lacking several definite articles –
“In those days, the men will seek the death and will not find it. They will desire to die. And the death flees from them.”
In this, it graphically personifies death, and it shows the miserable state of existence of these particular men. They are looking for Death, anticipating him. And yet, this same Death will be escaping out of their reach, fleeing from them though they long to embrace him.
With those changes noted, the words can be more precisely analyzed. John begins with, “In those days.” This is referring to the time of the locusts tormenting the men they target like the torment of a scorpion. It is a period of five months. From there, John says, “[the] men will seek [the] death.”
The death brought on by the locusts is what is anticipated. So constant, so maddening, and so terrifying is their sting that with each new attack, these targeted men will hope that the barrage will find them and destroy them. For five months, there will be no time of expected safety or calm.
Like a person enduring Chinese water torture, the attacks will come at any time without warning. Morning, noon, or throughout the night. Sleep will be impossible, mealtime will be a time of fear, and so on. The state of death will be preferred over continued existence. And yet, John says of their seeking death, that they “will not find it.”
Like soldiers stuck in a foxhole enduring a constant barrage of artillery, and who finally come to the point where they desire the next shell to end their existence, so will these people hope that the next air assault will be their end. The strain on the human physique, and the torture to the mind, will come to such an exhausted state that death will be preferable to life. Of this, John next says that “they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.”
The repetition here is a poetic tool known as parallelism. It is found throughout the Bible. A thought is stated and then it is restated in a similar manner. It is a means of intensifying the text to accentuate the emotion. It emphasizes what is being said and it draws the reader’s attention to the situation –
* men will seek death and will not find it
* they will desire to die, and death will flee from them
The obvious question is, “If they are seeking death and yet not finding it, then why don’t they kill themselves.” This is the paradox of human existence. Though we may long for something, we will often not actively pursue it.
Even when a person is faced with the hope of death, there is still such a strong will to survive that the thought of suicide is entirely excluded. Were it not so, the battlefields of history would be riddled with self-inflicted wounds. And yet, they are an almost insignificant number in comparison to the overall total.
And of those deaths that are self-inflicted during war, the majority of those are for reasons beyond the simple desire to end one’s existence. Soldiers will sacrifice themselves for the sake of others. Or they may fall on their own sword to avoid worse treatment while still alive (see 1 Samuel 31:4).
In this, one can see the absolutely horrifying nature of the attack by the locusts. Men will be driven to a point of desiring death and yet inwardly yearning to not die. This is where the parallelism of the passages finds its highest accentuation. Death, the feared entity of humanity, will be sought after as if a lover. And yet, he will flee from these men as if he were their greatest mocker.
Life application: There are many literary tools found in the Bible such as parallelism. They are given to help the reader understand the context, empathize with those referred to, find horror, suspense, or delight in what is being conveyed, and so on. Parallelism can be found in positive thoughts and in negative thoughts. A set of positive ones from the Psalms says –
“You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
3 You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.” Psalm 139:2, 3
Taking the words of John, and comparing them to known history, can then help us to understand what is being conveyed. In the Gulf War, the Iraqi soldiers who had been captured from the front lines made statements similar to what we read in this verse.
They had been under precision-guided attacks by the American forces and sat in their tanks waiting and wondering when their time would be up. They had prayed for death and it didn’t come. The agony of the uncertain state they were in was so horrifying that all they wanted was for it to be over. They desired death, but it fled from them.
This is the same sentiment that will come again during this time of targeted attacks by the locusts of Revelation and the parallels are striking. One thing the people won’t do, just as they didn’t do in Iraq, was to commit suicide. The force and desire to live is strongest at one’s own hand, but the desire to die is stronger when another may take it. It is a terrible state to be in.
As we read the Bible, let us consider the various types of literary tools that are employed, and then let us compare what is being said to things we know from our own experience. In this, we will have a better grounding in both the context and how it is worked out in human existence.
This is a link to one site of biblical literary devices. Make yourself aware of them – https://www.kentlee7.com/biblia/docs/blitdevice.htm
In knowing what is conveyed, we will be more responsible in our theology because we will be rightly analyzing what is stated. In this, we will then be rightly pursuing what the intent of the passage is. These things are given to properly unfold Scripture, and Scripture is given to properly reveal to us the One who came to lead us back to God. It is given to properly reveal JESUS!
Lord God, help us to get the message of Jesus out to the people of the world. It is a message of love, hope, and reconciliation with You. May we never tire in telling others of the wonder and majesty of the simple gospel of our salvation – Christ died for our sins, He was buried, and He rose again the third day. Belief in this simple plan is what brings us back to You. Praise You, O God, for the simplicity of the gospel. Amen.