With today’s reading we are solidly in the section of Revelation that is both hard to understand in a simple reading and that reveals aspects of God that we neither think a lot about nor welcome.
After running quickly through the first four trumpets, John concentrates his attention on the fifth and sixth. As the revelation unfolds we see an army of lion-toothed locusts armed like scorpions come up out of the underworld to invade the world bringing torment as they go. With the sixth trumpet this only intensifies as a numberless horde of long-haired barbarians wreaks havoc on the countryside (bear in mind that the barbarians of northern Europe did in fact bring the end to the Roman Empire in the 400s AD). More than torment, this army of riders brings death to a wide swath of people. As a great fan of Tolkien, I can’t help but imagine an army of demented and distorted orcs marching across the land. Notice the faithful who have been marked on their foreheads by God as His are protected entirely from the effects of the trumpets (9:4). John now has God unleashing evil forces to punish the wicked. Maybe we are uncomfortable with this idea of God using evil, but here it is.
Maybe the most amazing point in this chapter is that even after all of this torment, even after a third of the world dies, the people being punished were so bent towards evil that they did not turn from their sinful ways:
All the other people, the ones who had not been killed in these plagues, did not repent of the things they had made. The did not stop worshipping demons — idols made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood, which cannot see, hear, or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, or their magic, or their fornication, or their stealing. (9:20-21)
Sadly, I have to believe that there are people alive today who are every bit as depraved as these.