This chapter is one of my favorites; the imagery and detail are brought to another level, which was to be expected by the eagle’s cry of “woe, woe, woe” which is to come from the last three trumpets (8:13). This chapter will reveal the fifth and sixth trumpets. It is important to recognize the distinction between these two trumpets, for many link them together, believing that they refer to the same group of people. This is troubling to me, for I cannot make that same connection, the text itself will not permit me. It is evident from a simple reading of the chapter that the tormenting group in the first woe (the fifth trumpet) is separate from the coming troops of the second woe (the sixth trumpet). The coming of the first is from a hole in the ground, while the coming of the second is across the Euphrates. The Euphrates is the iconic boundary that has long been the last hurdle to jump for ancient militia to invade Israel. The Euphrates represents gentiles invading Judea and must be connected to the Roman army and its allies coming to besiege Jerusalem. However, the first woe displays a tormenting group who was invasive upon the Jews apart from the invasion of the Romans. As we get into the text, let’s keep this distinction in observation.
(1) 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.
t the blast of the fifth trumpet, the first of three woes are unleashed. We see a star falling from heaven to earth, and this star is identified later as an angel (9:11). Many commentators view this scene to be demonic and interpret the angel to be some fallen and wicked angel. However, I don’t see it that way when I consider the context. These are, after all, the seven blasts of God’s warning to the people to repent of their sins. The desolation arising from this fifth trumpet should follow that this is God’s doing. Another indicative is that this angel, who many believe is a demon, is seen later (20:1) using the same key which he has here in chapter nine, but using it to lock up Satan. Could that be a demonic spirit? Or is it simply an angel just like the text describes?
“A star fallen from heaven.” Angels can be symbolized by stars (1:20), and this is certainly an angel (9:11, 20:1). Others can be symbolized as stars too, like the Babylonian king was in Isaiah 14:12, so the interpretation must be determined by context. The idea of stars falling from heaven is a picture God uses for judgment elsewhere (Isaiah 13:10; Ezekiel 32:7; Joel 2:10, 3:15; Matthew 24:29; Revelation 6:13), and it certainly carries that concept here as well; this angel is coming down with a message of judgment upon the Jews. In this scene he drops from heaven, not because he’s been bad, but because he has to leave heaven in order to unleash the locusts from the bottomless pit in the earth.
“He was given the key.” This is by God’s authority. Jesus is described as having the keys to death and hades (1:18), and the possessor of the key to the bottomless pit would not be different. The Lord gave his angel the key to unleash judgment upon the Jews.
(2) 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.
This bottomless pit is certainly an abyss, but it is not the abyss of the sea. It is bottomless (abussos), another word for abyss, but it is a pit (phrear), making it a deep hole in the ground. Why make this distinction? Because the abyss (deep) of the sea is a symbol of gentile peoples (11:7, 13:1, 17:8), while an abyss from the land would indicate just the opposite, i.e. Jews. I need to make a quick comment on the “bottomless pit” in 11:7 and 17:8, so that there is no confusion. The “bottomless pit” in 11:7 and 17:8 are different from 9:2 in the Greek manuscripts. We saw the distinction in 9:2 that this “bottomless pit” is a hole in the ground (phrear), however, this distinction in the Greek is not present in 11:7 and 17:8; these two places only say abusso (abyss) and correspond to the watery or sea abyss (13:1). Therefore, the abyss of 11:7 and 17:8 refers to gentile peoples, while the land abyss here in 9:2 refers to those Jews who had reached the deepest depths of sin and darkness.
“From the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace.” Here is seen more archetypal judgment language. In the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, it is recorded that Abraham “looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain; and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land which went up like the smoke of a furnace” (Genesis 19:28). The ninth plague of Egypt carries a similar thought with darkness that was so thick that it could even be felt (Exodus 10:21). Most importantly, the pillars of smoke prophesied by Joel and repeated by Peter are a parallel to this text, all referring to the same time of fulfillment (Joel 2:30; Acts 2:19).
“The sun and the air were darkened with the smoke.” The people described in this first woe come from a very dark place and their effect on the rest of the land is darkness. They bring darkness upon Judea. This is not to say that Judea was full of light before this, on the contrary, these calamities of judgment would not have come upon them if they had been faithful to the covenant; However, the darkness which these people bring upon the already dark land is a vexing darkness on the rest of the people.
The sun being darkened certainly symbolizes that this is all part of God’s judgment on the old covenant people (see comments on 6:12). The further detail that it is with smoke that the sun and the air were darkened shows the effect on the Jews. Put yourself into the vision for a moment, there is thick black smoke everywhere, it has caused the lights in the sky to disappear from your view and your eyes and lungs are filled with terrible smoke. There is wheezing and coughing all around you and there is no fresh air to be found though it is sought diligently by the bloodshot eyes of the multitude. Is this not agonizing? Jesus warned of those days when he said “woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people” (Luke 21:23).