Best of JCM: Demon Locusts Demystified
No Josiah Concept Greatest Hits collection would be complete without mentioning my first viral article, “Demon Locusts of Revelation 9 Demystified.” I guess our culture has a death wish, because apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic stuff just seems to take off like wildfire.
Every time I checked my daily stats, the demon locust article was always #1 viewed, over and above anything I published recently. I could never quite figure out why, but these little guys dominated my blog.
While I kept the original title of this article for some clarity, I have revised my opinion of that article. At the time of the original writing, I had read a book called End Times Delusions: The Rapture, the Antichrist, Israel, and the End of the World by Steve Wohlberg. The book convinced me that the historicist interpretation of Revelation was true, and that the futurist interpretation that currently dominates Evangelical Christianity is wrong.
The prevailing interpretation of bible prophecy is the futurist viewpoint. Tim LaHaye says that there are 1000 prophecies in the Bible, and around half have been fulfilled. The remaining refer to the end times, and he believes they are yet to come.
The preterist viewpoint is best explained by apologist J.P. Holding:
If I had to sum up in everyday language, I would define preterism as a belief that some substantial portion of Biblical prophecy now taken to refer to the “End Times” actually was fulfilled by 70 AD, coincident with the destruction of Jerusalem. The core proof point for us is that we take Jesus’ warning of things taking place in “this generation” to clearly mean that they must take place within the next 40 years. Such time texts are a cornerstone for the preterist case.
The historicist interpretation is the middle ground. It sees the events described in Revelation as unfolding over the course of church history, equating the characters appearing in that book with real people or societies and the judgments as historical events (Mafli). I really felt convicted that that was true, and Wohlberg wrote a pretty convincing multi-step argument.
I was so convinced that I had always planned to write a series detailing each of the characters of Revelation (the Whore, the Beast, the Two Witnesses) according to a historicist perspective. The viral takeoff of my original historicist article convinced me that this was necessary.
The original article talked about the first woe in Revelation: a swarm of demonic locusts. John described them in great detail:
And the fifth angel blew his trumpet, and I saw a star fallen from heaven to earth, and he was given the key to the shaft of the bottomless pit. He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace, and the sun and the air were darkened with the smoke from the shaft. Then from the smoke came locusts on the earth, and they were given power like the power of scorpions of the earth. They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green plant or any tree, but only those people who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were allowed to torment them for five months, but not to kill them, and their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it stings someone. And in those days people will seek death and will not find it. They will long to die, but death will flee from them.
In appearance the locusts were like horses prepared for battle: on their heads were what looked like crowns of gold; their faces were like human faces, their hair like women’s hair, and their teeth like lions’ teeth; they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the noise of their wings was like the noise of many chariots with horses rushing into battle. They have tails and stings like scorpions, and their power to hurt people for five months is in their tails. They have as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit. His name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek he is called Apollyon. (Revelation 9:1-11)
The original article I summarized no longer appears online. A similar one, written by Dr. Daniel Botkin, appears on the Hope of Israel Ministries website. Botkin takes each point of identification described above and equates it to the spread of Islam during the Crusades (see also Mafli).
I was still convinced of the truth of historicism and so tried to verify Botkin’s claims. I figured that would only bolster the case in the minds of the many people who read my original article and found historicism. The problem? Many claims were dubious or outright false.
First, let’s talk about the true claims. Abdul A’la Mawdudi, in his book Towards Understanding Islam, had as a subheading “Arabia—the Abyss of Darkness.” He said that this is where Mohammed’s message came from. The locusts, according to the passage above, come from the abyss. In the original text, the Greek word can be translated into English as either “bottomless pit” or “abyss” (Strong 32).
The locusts wear breastplates of iron. The Koran says, “God hath given you coats of mail to defend you in your wars” (Botkin).
According to Botkin, the Koran says, “When you fight the battles of the Lord… [d]estroy no palm trees, nor burn any field of grain. Cut down no fruit trees….” In his blog post discussing vegetation in the Koran, Mohamed points out that warring tribes often cut down date palms until the Prophet strongly discouraged this practice. Further, one of the first Muslim caliphs, Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, decreed the same (“Islamic Law”).
In his commentary on the Bible, Godbey equates the scorpion-like tails and stingers with the Muslim’s ability to shoot accurately while in full retreat (59). Muslims were renown for this tactic (“Islamic Warfare”).
Dubious claims include the Arabic connection with the locust and the “faces of man” (a possible reference to the beard) with hair of a woman (long hair, 1 Cor 11:15). The source for these is an Arabic poem titled “Antar.” I can find no references to this poem outside of historicist attempts to argue that Islam is the fulfillment of Revelation 9, which leads me to conclude this poem doesn’t exist.
The remaining claims of Botkin are false. The crowns of gold are used to refer to the Muslim’s turban (Barnes 401). Muslims were supposed to have worn yellow turbans (Godbey 58). But yellow turbans are worn by unbelievers (Encyclopedia of Islam, 886).
The locusts of Revelation are unable to hurt anyone with the sign and seal of God. Botkin equates this with the declaration by Caliph Aboubekir, “Let them alone, and neither kill them, nor destroy their monasteries” (Barnes 401). But this is false, because Muslims are recorded as burning at least one monastery in 885 (“Islam and Europe Timeline”).
The timeline of Islam’s rise and spread given by Botkin is also incorrect. The locusts torment the church for five months. Using the prophetic formula of one year being equivalent to one day (suggested by Numbers 14:34, Ezekiel 4:6, and Daniel 9:24), that’s a span of 150 years. The Muslim Crusades, however, lasted nearly 200 years, from 1095 to 1291 (Trueman).
That the comparison of the locusts to horses has anything to do with the Muslims being expert horsemen to the point that “the horse and his rider seem to make but one animal” (Clarke 1100) is pure speculation. Also pure speculation is the locusts’ possession of lion’s teeth being representative of the Muslim’s ferocity in battle.
While there are some true items, there are many misleading or false pieces of information. It seems that the perpetrators of this theory have even made up a nonexistent Arabic poem to bolster their case. Therefore, it is easy to conclude that this interpretation of Revelation just doesn’t hold water.
Barnes, Albert. Barnes’ Notes on the Bible. Vol. 18.
Botkin, Daniel. “The Army of Locusts.” Hope of Israel Ministries. <http://www.hope-of-israel.org/locustarmy.html>. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
Clarke, Adam. Clarke’s Commentary. Vol. 18.
The Encyclopedia of Islam. Lieden, The Netherlands: E.J. Brill, 1993.
Godbey, W.B. Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 1.
Holding, J.P. “An Introduction to Preterism.” Tekton Apologetics Ministry. <http://www.tektonics.org/esch/pretsum.php>. Retrieved April 18, 2018.
“Islam and Europe Timeline.” The Latin Library. <http://thelatinlibrary.com/notes/islamchron.html>. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
“Islamic Law and the Rules of War.” ReliefWeb, April 24, 2014. <http://reliefweb.int/report/world/islamic-law-and-rules-of-war>. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
“Islamic Warfare.” The Cultural Crusades, November 20, 1997. <http://umich.eud/~eng414/topics/war/islamic_warfare.html>. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
LaHaye, Tim and Jerry B. Jenkins. Are We Living in the End Times? Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 2011.
Mafli, Ken. “Why Historicism Eschatology Went In and Out of Favor.” Glass House Theology, August 4, 2014. <http://glasshousetheology.com/historicism-eschatology-went-favor/>. Retrieved April 24, 2014.
Mawdudi, Abul A’la. Towards Understanding Islam. Leicestershire, U.K.: Islamic Foundation, 2013.
Mohamed, Najma. “Plants in Qur’an: Date Palm.” AboutIslam.net, March 9, 2018. <http://aboutislam.net/science/faith-science/plants-quran-date-palm/>. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
Strong, James. Strong’s Concordance. Cincinnati: Cranston & Curts, 1894.
Trueman, C.N. “The Crusades.” The History Learning Site, March 5, 2015. <http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/medieval-england/the-crusades/>. Retrieved April 24, 2018.
Wohlberg, Steve. End Times Delusions: The Rapture, the Antichrist, Israel, and the End of the World. Shippensburg, PA: Treasure House, 2004.