As the seven trumpets continue sounding, we now have the two woes being poured out upon the earth. Chapter 9 begins with a description of a falling star that was given the key to the Abyss and who released sun-blotting smoke and locusts upon the earth. While the first four trumpets were from God and from above, this one comes from the depths, from the Abyss. McGuiggan says that the fallen star with power over the Abyss is Satan, and the imagery fits as monsters emerge from the depths to attack people. They are not allowed to harm the 144,000 who have been sealed and they are to torture those who are not faithful for five months.
This trumpet turns many things upside down. First of all, a plague of locusts (as was seen in Egypt in Exodus 10) would completely destroy plants, crops, trees, and the land while not doing significant harm to people. However, when the trumpet sounds, these locust-like-monsters torture people while not harming and plant or tree. Additionally, this situation is exactly the reverse of Luke 10:18-20 where Jesus tells the disciples that he saw Satan fall like lightning from Heaven and that he (Jesus) has given the disciples authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome the power of the enemy. In this woe-filled trumpet, a star falls from heaven and the locusts with scorpion attacks are given power and authority. Things have gone wrong because of the sinfulness of mankind. After the five months of locust attacks, the sixth trumpet sounds and four angels were released to kill 1/3 of mankind.
The imagery of judgment is violent and extreme, and yet it remains partial. After the sixth trumpet is sounded and great violent death comes to 1/3 of mankind, the book will now stop to evaluate whether or not mankind has learned its lesson. Will they heed the warnings of the trumpets and repent? Unfortunately they do not. Those who survived the plagues did not repent but continued in their sin.
There is an important principle that has some connection to this passage. In Romans 1:24-28 we are told that God punished the Gentile world by “giving them up” to their own sinful desires. Proverbs 14:34 says that entire nations can be brought down by moral depravity. In this sense, the crime is the punishment. When we choose sin over God, the greatest punishment that can often be given to us is to be allowed to choose sin over God. This would be similar to a parent whose child is about to do something wrong or dangerous, who after warning the child to not do that thing, then decides to step back and allow the child to learn from their own mistakes. Sometimes when we choose sin, God’s punishment is to let us sin. He turns us over to our own desires. For nations, this often results in entire generations or cultures being given over to moral depravity and corruption. It would be difficult to study the fall of the Roman Empire without recognizing the impact that moral depravity had on that once powerful society. Today, we must recognize that a loss of morality can have be a punishment in and of itself on both ourselves and our society. (This idea is developed fully in N.T. Wright’s book Simply Christian.)
Is it possible that there are times in our lives that if it were a book, the author could step back as Revelation does at the end of chapter 9 and say, “And yet they did not learn from their mistakes. They did not repent. They continued in their sin and foolishness.”