Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The angels are commanded to pour out their vials upon the earth, Rev 16:1. The first pours out his vial on the earth, by which a grievous sore is produced, Rev 16:2. The second angel pours out his trial on the sea, and it is turned into blood, Rev 16:3. The third angel pours out his vial on the rivers and fountains, and they are turned also into blood, Rev 16:4-7. The fourth angel pours out his vial on the sun, and men are scorched with fire, Rev 16:8, Rev 16:9. The fifth angel pours out his vial on the throne of the beast, Rev 16:10, Rev 16:11. The sixth angel pours out his vial on the river Euphrates, Rev 16:12. Three unclean spirits come out of the mouth of the beast, dragon and false prophet: and go forth to gather all the kings of the world to battle, in the place called Armageddon, Rev 16:13-16. The seventh angel pours out his vial on the air, on which followed thunders, lightnings, earth-quakes, and extraordinary hail, Rev 16:17-21.
Go your ways, and pour out - These ministers of the Divine justice were ready to execute vengeance upon transgressors, having full power; but could do nothing in this way till they received especial commission. Nothing can be done without the permission of God; and in the manifestation of justice or mercy by Divine agency, there must be positive command.
A noisome and grievous sore - This is a reference to the sixth Egyptian plague, boils and blains, Exo 9:8, Exo 9:9, etc.
As the blood of a dead man - Either meaning blood in a state of putrescency, or an effusion of blood in naval conflicts; even the sea was tinged with the blood of those who were slain in these wars. This is most probably the meaning of this vial. These engagements were so sanguinary that both the conquerors and the conquered were nearly destroyed; every living soul died in the sea.
Upon the rivers and fountains of waters - This is an allusion to the first Egyptian plague, Exo 7:20; and to those plagues in general there are allusions throughout this chapter. It is a sentiment of the rabbins that "whatever plagues God inflicted on the Egyptians in former times, he will inflict on the enemies of his people in all later times." See a long quotation on this subject from Rabbi Tanchum in Schoettgen.
The angel of the waters - The rabbins attribute angels, not only to the four elements so called, but to almost every thing besides. We have already seen the angel of the bottomless pit, Rev 9:11, and the angel of the fire, Rev 14:18. The angel of the earth is spoken of in Yalcut Rubeni, fol. 13, 2, and is called Admael. They have also an angel that presides over the grass; another that presides over the cattle which feed upon the grass.
They say that God employed the angel of the sea to swallow up the waters at the creation, that the dry land might appear. He disobeyed, and God slew him; the name of the angel of the sea is Rahab. See Baba bathra, fol. 74, 2. It is plain from several places that the writer of the Apocalypse keeps these notions distinctly in view.
Thou hast given them blood to drink - They thirsted after blood and massacred the saints of God; and now they have got blood to drink! It is said that when Tomyris, queen of the Scythians, had vanquished Cyrus, she cut off his head and threw it into a vessel of blood, saying these words: Satia te sanguine, quem sitisti, cujusque insatiabilis semper fuisti; "Satisfy thyself with blood, for which thou hast thirsted, and for which thy desire has been insatiable." See Justin. Hist., lib. i. c. 8. This figure of speech is called sarcasm in rhetoric.
"Sarcasmus with this biting taunt doth kill:
Cyrus, thy thirst was blood; now drink thy fill."
Poured out his vial upon the sun - Mr. Robert Fleming, more than one hundred years ago, in his View of Scripture Prophecy, supposed that the sun here meant the French empire, and conjectured that this vial would be poured out on that empire about the year 1794. And it is remarkable that in 1793 the French king was beheaded by the National Assembly; and great and unparalleled miseries fell upon the French nation, which nearly extinguished all their nobility, and brought about a war that lasted twenty-three years, and nearly ruined that country and all the nations of Europe.
They repented not - No moral national amendment has taken place in consequence of the above calamities in that unhappy country, nor indeed any of those nations engaged against her in that long and ruinous contest, which has now terminated, (1817), without producing one political, moral, or religious advantage to herself or to Europe.
The seat of the beast - Επι τον θρονον του θηριου· Upon the throne of the wild beast. The regal family was smitten by the fourth vial; they did not repent: then the fifth angel pours out his vial on the throne of the wild beast, or antichristian idolatrous power.
Was full of darkness - Confusion, dismay, and distress.
Blasphemed the God of heaven - Neither did they repent; therefore other judgments must follow. Some think that the sun was Vitellius, the Roman emperor, and that his throne means Rome; and the darkening refers to the injuries she sustained in her political consequence by the civil wars which then took place, from which she never entirely recovered. Others apply it all to papal Rome, and in this respect make out a very clear case! Thus have men conjectured, but how much nearer are we to the truth?
Upon the great river Euphrates - Probably meaning the people in the vicinity of this river; though some think that the Tiber is intended.
The water thereof was dried up - The people discomfited, and all impediments removed.
The kings of the east - There seems to be an allusion here to the ruin of Babylon by Cyrus, predicted by the Prophet Jeremiah, Jeremiah 50:1-51:64. But what city or people is pointed out by this Babylon it is in vain to conjecture.
Three unclean spirits - Perhaps false teachers, called afterwards spirits of devils, which persuade the kings of the earth by lying miracles to come forth to the place of general slaughter, Rev 16:14, Rev 16:16,
Some good critics apply this to Vespasian, and his pretended miracles. See the account in Tacitus, lib. iv. c. 81.
Behold, I come as a thief - Here is a sudden but timely warning to put every man on his guard, when this sudden and generally unexpected tribulation should take place.
Keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked - Here is a plain allusion to the office of him who was called the prefect or overseer, of the mountain of the temple. His custom was to go his rounds during the watches of the night; and if he found any of the Levites sleeping on his watch, he had authority to beat him with a stick, and burn his vestments. See Middoth, fol. 34, 1, and Tamid. fol. 27, 2; 28, 1. Such a person being found on his return home naked, it was at once known that he had been found asleep at his post, had been beaten, and his clothes burnt; thus his shame was seen - he was reproached for his infidelity and irreligion.
Armageddon - The original of this word has been variously formed, and variously translated. It is הר־מגדון har-megiddon, "the mount of the assembly;" or חרמה גדהון chormah gedehon, "the destruction of their army;" or it is הר־מגדו har-megiddo, "Mount Megiddo," the valley of which was remarkable for two great slaughters: one of the Israelites, Kg2 23:29, the other of the Canaanites, Jdg 4:16; Jdg 5:19. But Mount Megiddo, that is Carmel, is the place, according to some, where these armies should be collected.
But what is the battle of Armageddon? How ridiculous have been the conjectures of men relative to this point! Within the last twenty years this battle has been fought at various places, according to our purblind seers and self-inspired prophets! At one time it was Austerlitz, at another Moscow, at another Leipsic, and now Waterloo! And thus they have gone on, and will go on, confounding and being confounded.
Poured out his vial into the air - To signify that this plague was to be widely diffused, and perhaps to intimate that pestilences and various deaths would be the effect of this vial. But possibly air in this place may have some emblematical meaning.
It is done - It is said, Rev 10:7, that in the days of the seventh trumpet the mystery of God should be finished; so here we find it completed. Γεγονε· All's over! Fuimus Troes! Ilium fuit! Once there were Trojans, and they had a city; but now all are extinct.
A great earthquake - Most terrible commotions, both civil and religious. Or a convulsion, shaking, or revolution.
The great city - Some say Jerusalem, others Rome pagan, others Rome papal.
The cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath - Alluding to the mode of putting certain criminals to death, by making them drink a cup of poison. See on Heb 2:9 (note).
Every island fled away - Probably meaning the capture of seaport towns, and fortified places.
A great hail - about the weight of a talent - Has this any reference to cannon balls and bombs? It is very doubtful; we are all in the dark in these matters.
The words ὡς ταλαντιαια, as a talent, are used to express something great, excessively oppressive; as νοσηματων ταλαντιαιων, terrible diseases, not diseases of the weight of a talent. See Rosenmuller.