Chapter IV – The Origin of the First Woe – The Local Appropriateness of Scripture Symbols


Let me then remind the Reader, and I think it may be well worth his while to pause for a few moments on the topic, ere proceeding to examine the imagery of the vision before us, that the symbols and hieroglyphics of Scripture prophecy are not of that locally indefinite character, for the most part, as simply to indicate characteristic qualities; without reference in the selection to what we may call geographical propriety. Many images there are indeed, and these too useful and striking to be left out of the language of symbolic prophecy, that belong alike to every country; such as (to borrow examples from Apocalyptic vision; already analyzed) those of the luminaries of the heaven above, and the tempests and the convulsions of the earth beneath. 1 On the other hand, as there are many varieties, whether we regard its plants and animals, or the dress, visible customs, or assumed insignia of the inhabitants, by which, in the wise appointment of the world’s great Creator and Governor, one country under heaven is in a measure. distinguished from others, so, where these characteristic objects afford suitable emblems of the things to be signified of a people, it is the frequent habit of Scripture to select them for its purpose.

The beauty of this local appropriateness of the Scripture imagery, where so ever the locality may have been stated, must doubtless have often struck the tasteful and observant reader. Again where it is unnamed, as in the unexplained prophecies, and it is to this point that I here wish to call the reader’s attention, the mind may reason on the imagery; and, with no slight measure of confidence often, argue from the symbol to the country symbolized. We might almost do this when glancing at the graphic comparisons that are sometimes used by uninspired writers; writers such as are both intimate with the countries spoken of, and select in their choice of figures.

But the habit of scripture to make use of locally appropriate imagery is much more marked than that of any uninspired writer. Moreover that which I am here proposing to argue from, meets us in the form of symbolic impersonation, not of mere comparison. Hence the force of the inference is in its case greater in proportion. In order to judge of the strength of the argument thence arising, it seems necessary that the reader should satisfy himself as to the strength of this Scripture habit, if I may so call it.

I shall therefore beg him, in the present Section, just to cast his eye with me over some of its symbols; and to observe how strikingly, whether the figure be borrowed from the botanical world or the zoological, or from the appearance, dress, or other visible characteristics of the inhabitants of a country, the local appropriateness that I speak of still marks the selection e will find that the symbolic pictures are indeed for the most part pictures drawn from life.

1st, let us notice examples of emblems from plants.

Is it then Judah that is to be symbolized? We find the olive, the fig-tree, and the tine, selected to symbolize it:2 fruit-trees, because the point and moral of the comparison had reference to its religious culture by God, and consequently expected fruitfulness; but all fruit trees of the country: and of these the vine most frequently, as being of all others, perhaps, the most characteristic of its mountain produce; indeed, as such, particularized in Judah blessing by Jacob. 3 And as of Israel nationally, so of particular classes in it. Of its princes and hi h ones, the cedar of Lebanon, the loftiest of the trees of Israel, is the frequent symbol: the beauty of its holy ones is resembled to the palm, perhaps the stateliest fruit-tree in the land: 4and the people, when withering under God’s displeasure for sin, to the dried up grass upon the housetops. 5

The same is the case in respect of other countries. So when Egypt is the subject, and the particular point to be illustrated its weak and faithless friendship to the Jews trusting in it, the reed is the symbol chosen. 6 that characteristic produce of the Nile banks. Or when a Babylonish dependency, then the willow; that of which Zion’s captives told as growing by the rivers of Babylon. “A great eagle came unto Lebanon, and took the highest branch of the cedar. He cropped off the top of his young twigs and carried it into a land of traffic. He took also of the seed of the land, and planted it in a fruitful field : he placed it by eat waters, and set it as a willow tree. And it grew, and became a spreading vine.” 7 It was Jehoiakim, king of Judah, that was the top-most branch of the cedar. It was Nebuchadnezzar that was the eagle that cropped it, and carried it to Babylon. It was Zedekiah that was the seed of the land, and consequently a vine in the prophetic imagery : but which was planted as a willow tree; i.e. as prince dependent on, and to be supported by, the king of Babylon.

2. Next let us turn to emblems from animals.

It is less often that Judah is so symbolized. For its relation to God is that which is most constantly and prominently dwelt on in what is said of Judah: and thus the illustrative emblems required, are in characte r such rather as those already noticed; or perhaps that of a city dedicated, or a virgin affianced to Him; 8 not of a wild animal. Still there occurs at times occasion for the animal symbolization; and then the zoology of Judah furnishes the emblem. Thus is it Judah conquering? The figure is that of the lion, such as might rise Lip from the swelling of Jordan “Judah couched as a lion: who shall rouse him up?” Or Judah foolishly snared by her foes ? It is that of the dove, so common in the land; as that bird’s constant use in the Jewish sacrifices assures us; “Ephraim is a silly dove.” Is it Judah apostatizing? Then, it may be, the dromedary is the figure; impatient of the holy city, and bent on regaining the wilderness of its preference.9 Or Judah in desolation?” I am like a pelican in the wilderness, like an owl in the desert.”10 Of other nations the animal class of symbols is frequent. 11 And see the suitableness.

The symbol of Edom was that of the eagle that might have built his eagle in the mountain-rock; the very image, as he that has seen pictures of Petra, or other Idumean cities, must be aware, of the high rocky excavations that they inhabited. 12 The wild ass of the desert is the not less characteristic symbol of the Arabs; ” Ishmael is a man, a Wild ass.” and the crocodile, the dragon of the Nile, that of Egypt. 13 Nor, passing to Daniel’s animal-symbols, do we find any thing inconsistent with the usual Scriptural rule of local appropriateness in the selection. In the case of the four wild beasts emblematic, according to the all but universal consent of commentators ancient and modern, of the four successive heathen and persecuting powers of Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, there is indeed less of distinctiveness; in consequence of the wide-range, over many countries, of such savage animals as might fitly represent the persecutors of God’s people.

Yet still the lion was a native of Babylonia; the bear of the Median mountains; and the leopard, as we may infer from hints in the old notices of the neighboring countries, of the forests of Pindus and Macedon.14 Besides that the winged lion has been found by Capt. Layard, as almost a self-appropriated Assyrian emblem, in majestic sculpture at the gates of the royal palace of Nineveh., Again in another of Daniel’s visions, (that in chap. 8) the nature of the comparison allowing it, we find selected as the symbols animals directly characteristic, in the same manner as the last noted, of the powers symbolized; that is, of Persia and Macedon respectively. For the symbols are those. adopted by the nations themselves, as in a manner their own appropriate emblems, and stamped as such, by the one and the other, on their respective coinage 15 mean the ram symbolizing Persia, the goat of Macedon. 16 Of which two emblems one at least, and perhaps both, may further have had allusion to a current name of the country or nation.

The examples last given being those of symbols not otherwise locally characteristic only, but self applied as characteristic by the inhabitants of the countries symbolized, I might naturally proceed, were it the occasion, to notice other self-adopted national emblems, whether derived from animals or other objects, and whether designative of the people themselves collectively, or of certain ranks or offices of note among them, that have been likewise, with its usual beautiful appropriateness, adopted and applied by sacred Scripture. Such, for example, are those striking symbolizations, (and more striking, I think, there could not be,) that have occurred to our notice under the three first Seals of this Apocalyptic prophecy.

And indeed I wish, by this passing retrospective notice of them, to connect the emblematic imagery of the parts already discussed of the Apocalypse, as well as that of those which remain, with this general view of the local fitness of Scripture emblems, and of the argument from it. But my present more immediate object is to prepare the reader for a right appreciation of the symbols of the fifth Trumpet. And I shall therefore hasten on to suggest just one other class of symbols, locally significant, that are more directly illustrative of the vision I am referring to; I mean the class of the prosopopaeia.

In the which class, the symbolic figure exhibited being in the human form, occasion is taken to notice distinctive points,

3rdly, in the personal appearance, whether in respect of dress, armor, or otherwise, of the people symbolized. Take, as a first example, that beautiful personification of Judah given in Ezek. 16, as a woman child saved at the birth, and brought up through childhood and youth by her God, then affianced to Him, but soon faithless and apostatizing. Here, in the dressing up of the prosopopaeia, there are certain details of personal appearance naturally brought into the description; the woman-like growth of hair, the anointing with oil, the white and broidered apparel, the jewels, and other personal ornaments: and commentators, not without reason, as it seems to me, have assigned an emblematic meaning to them, as significant of the spiritual privileges and graces conferred by God on Israel. 19

However this may be, and whether they were intended to be emblematic themselves, or merely appendages to the general emblematic picture, in one thing we cannot be mistaken, viz. that these characteristics of appearance and dress in the female personified, were drawn from the appearance and dress of the noble ladies of Israel, that is, that the details of personal appearance portrayed in the hieroglyphic were those of a portraiture drawn from life.

A second example, and one precisely of the same character, will be found in Ezek. 23: but with this addition, that besides the female personifications of Judah and Israel, the neighboring heathen with whose idolatries they associated, both the Assyrians and others, are here also in a manner symbolized; viz. as their lovers. The description paints them as cavaliers, all goodly young men, girded with girdles, and with turbans of dyed attire, or it might be crowns, on their heads: 20 a description that must be noticed afterwards, as containing in it points of resemblance very striking to certain of the details in the imagery of the fifth Trumpet.

But there is no need at present of further dwelling on this example, as it is so similar to the former therefore proceed to;

A third example, different from the other, and indeed somewhat peculiar in character; but which may yet partially, if I mistake not, be connected with the class I speak of: I mean that of the symbolic image of gold, silver, brass, and iron, seen in vision by Nebuchadnezzar.

In this there were figured to himself, and to the prophet Daniel, those four kingdoms that, rising round Judah as a center and all connected with it, were in succession, and each in image-form, (i. e. as associated with, and upholding idolatry,) 21 I to hold the empire of the civilized world, until the establishment at the last of God’s own kingdom. It has been the all but universal opinion of commentators, both ancient and modern, that the four kingdoms, thus prefigured, were the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, and Roman. And with reason. For the succession of these four great empires is a plain historical fact, recognized by the most learned heathen writers, as well as christian. 22 And the suitableness of the component metals of the image to symbolize them, in regard at least of the golden splendor of the first and the iron strength of the fast, is obvious, and partially confessed even by Gibbon. 23 Besides which illustration from qualities, it has been further and appositely observed by expositors, that there was in one case a visible resemblance between the nation symbolized and the symbolizing metal; inasmuch as the very appearance of the warrior Greek was characterized by his brazen armour.

Now the same kind of illustration, it appears to me, might be carried further. In comparison of the appearance of the Greek (or indeed of the Roman) battalia, the splendid adornment of the Persian with silver or with gold (the Babylonians having at this time been absorbed and included in the Persian empire) was very characteristic, and often observed on. It was noted on occasion of the battle of Plataea, in the grand review of Xeres, and on the fields of Issus and Arbela;25 and was but the result and expression of that superiority in wealth, which shewed itself also in their general appearance and habits of life. On the other hand in the Roman battle array, iron, a metal of later discovered working, at least for military purposes, was as observable as the gold and silver in the Persico Assyrian, or the brass in the Grecian.

The Mars they worshipped as their father, was not, as with the Greeks, the brazen, but the iron-armed Mars.’ It was early inculcated on them by their generals, that iron armor, not gold and silver, as with more luxurious nations, was the proper guise of the Roman soldier. And when, in the progress of their conquests, even oriental kings had been subjected to Rome, the poet describes it as the subjection of he purple to the Latin iron. Thus we see a correspondence in the metals of the image with certain characteristics in the visible appearance not of one only but of all, of the respective people.

Nor was the image-form in which they were combined an objection to this their national distinctiveness: because the idolatry that these kingdoms successively exhibited and enforced was but as part and parcel of themselves. It was the golden splendor of himself and his empire, that Nebuchadnezzar would have homage done to, in that golden image that was set up in the plain of Dura. 26

The same was the case with Darius, and with the Seleucids. Finally it was Rome’s own iron will and power to which the consciences of men were required to bow down, when it allowed of no other worship but that of its idolatrous state-religion.

And now we shall be better prepared for an intelligent consideration of our present subject. The point of personal appearance, observed on in the last example, I mean as regards the metal amour, will not be without its use in illustrating a part of the imagery of the 5th Trumpet. The two previously noted examples under the same head, of direct living impersonations, will yet more illustrate it. And when with these there is conjoined in the reader’s remembrance the class of Scripture animal hieroglyphics noted under a former head, he will find himself furnished, I think, with all the parallelisms that he could desire, to help him to a right appreciation of the point and meaning of what I may call the prima facie nationally distinctive symbols of the vision.