Poole on Revelation 6:5: The Third Seal, Part 1

Verse 5:[1] And when he had opened the third seal, (Rev. 4:7) I heard the third beast say, Come and see. And I beheld, and lo (Zech. 6:2) a black horse; and he that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand.

[The third living creature] With a human likeness (Mede’s Works 549, similarly Piscator, Cluverus), which indicates, either, 1. that wisdom with moderation is required to bear this evil (Cluverus, similarly Durham); or, 2. that prudence in Ministers of the Gospel is necessary, and that they are going to be illustrious for that during this period (Durham); that from its station in the South, which it indicates, this seal begins, with an Emperor proceeding from that compass point, like Septimius Severus Afer, an Emperor from the South[2] (Mede’s Works 549). Others: I think that this one is Paul, to whom this famine was predicted, Acts 11:28 (Grotius).

[Come and see] This terrible judgment was inflicted as revenge for contempt of the Gospel, which the wise alone understand (Forbes).

The third beast was he who had the face of a man, who also inviteth John to come and see what came forth upon his opening the third seal.

[A black horse] This is a symbol, either, 1. of famine (Piscator, Cotterius, Gravius, Forbes, Andreas Cæsarius and others in Pareus, Hammond), which renders the appearance of men dark, Lamentations 4:7, 8 (Piscator, similarly Forbes, Gravius). See also Lamentations 2:20 (Forbes); 5:10 (Durham), to which agree the scales, by which rations are not estimated, but weighed out (Gravius); and bread is eaten by weight, according to Leviticus 26:26; Ezekiel 4:16 (Forbes). Many have been the evils of this sort, Matthew 24:7; Luke 21:11; but especially that eminent one predicted by Agabus, where οἰκουμένη, the habitable earth, is Judea.[3] This scarcity happened during the Rule of Claudius, Acts 11:28, as Josephus also testifies in his Antiquities of the Jews 20:2, 3 (Grotius). But this famine preceded the Apocalypse (Hammond, Pareus). This interpretation appears to be neatly arranged. Yet to it is objected, 1. the Event. For nothing singular is found concerning Famine at this period of time and in this sequence of the Seals. 2. The rationale of the Symbol. For a balance, by which we weigh, is not aptly enough placed together with a Chœnix, which is the name of a measure.[4] 3. That, while the condition of the informing living Creature completely agrees with the things signified under the rest of the Seals, the Lion with Victory, the Ox with Slaughter, the Eagle with the Corpses of the following Seal; here there would be no reason for the conjunction. For what would be the agreement between a Man and Famine? 4. That the color black, neither by its own nature, nor by use of the old Prophets, was tied to famine alone; but it was equally serviceable for signifying sorrow, squalor, and terror[5] (Mede’s Works 549). 5. That the following Seal treats of famine. 6. That that in the following verse, a Chœnix…for a denarius, etc., indicates plenty rather than famine (Anonymous). 7. That famine is an evil common to all, not peculiar to the Church. 8. That this is an evil by men, and brings vengeance upon them, verses 9 and 10, while famine proceeds immediately from God. 9. That in a famine it was not possible to refrain from oil and wine (Durham). Here, I indeed understand famine, yet not natural, but spiritual, or mystical, namely, of the word of God; as the solicitude of all the four living Creatures shows, which attend not to tables and foods, but to the word of God, Acts 6:2 (Cluverus). [These things concerning the first opinion.] Or, 2. of civil Justice (Anonymous), under the pretext of which the Roman Emperors persecuted Christians (Durham). The substance of this Seal is the Balance, or Strictness, of justice, the management of which throughout the Roman world was more notable and remarkable than in any former or subsequent time (Mede’s Works 549). The third state of the Empire was especially notable for justice, and the management of the grain supply for the Roman world (Mede’s Works 1123). Than Severus, says Aurelius Victor,[6] no one was more illustrious in the Republic, as as author of laws altogether equitable. He permitted honors to be sold to no one…with inexorable vices (Mede’s Works 549). Concerning him, thus Spartianus’ “Hadrian”[7] 8, Of the grain supply, he found so little that he, dying, bequeathed to the Roman people a Measure of seven years, etc. Of oil he bequeathed so much that it would suffice for all of Italy for five years (Mede’s Works 1123). But these things are of no account compared to those that are found concerning Alexander, son of Mamæa,[8] who was so very pleased with that sentence of Christ, What thou wouldst not have done to thyself, do not to another.[9] Concerning him, thus Lampridius,[10] He enacted moderate and innumerable laws concerning the rights of the people and of the exchequer, etc. If ever he saw a Judge steal…he spewed cholera in the agitation of his spirit, with his entire face glowing red, so that he was not able to speak, and he had his finger in readiness to dig out the eye of that one[11] (Mede’s Works 549). The same adds, The oil which Severus had given to the people (and which Elagabalus had diminished) he restored in its entirety,[12] etc. To this strictness of justice agree, both, the black color, which sort also was belonging to Severus, with respect to nation and quality of person (Mede’s Works 1123); and, the scales, by which, as a symbol, no one is ignorant that justice is depicted; and, what is subjoined in the following verse, inasmuch as, if you take heed, it will appear thus to ring, Let not wheat or barley be carried away to anyone, except with a just price paid: let a similar law of justice be kept in the case of wine and oil, as if he had said, Thou shalt not steal. [See what things are to be said on the following verse.] Behold, Reader, the rider of the black horse balancing that golden, and sent down from heaven, balance of Justice in the Theater of the earth; which was so eminent in the case of the Pagan Emperor,[13] that in this Seal it is not strange that the Spirit has regard to it (Mede’s Works 550). To this those things have regard in Oneirocritica, If someone in dreams should see scales balanced, he understands this of the person of the Judge: Modii[14] also have the same interpretation by proportion with measures; but are adapted to the persons of inferior judges (Mede’s Works 560). [These things concerning the second opinion.] Or, 3. of heretics (Ribera, Pererius, Lapide, Gagnæus, Menochius, Tirinus, Pareus, Cluverus, similarly Camerarius), as think Bede, Tichonius, Haymo, etc. (Ribera), Augustine, Primasius, Andreas Cæsarius, and a great many Ancients. [They construct this opinion in this way:] 1. Among the common evils with which the world [or rather, the Church] is pressed, certainly some place is to be given to deceptions and heresies (Cluverus). 2. The order of events and the context, as it were, indicate this (Ribera). For the Devil, discerning that he is accomplishing nothing through persecutions, stirs these new enemies of the Church (Gagnæus, similarly Ribera, Pererius, Lapide). 3. The event answers to this. For persecution continued until Constantine, under whom the heresy of the Arians arose (Pererius). In the first two hundred years [after Christ] arose Cerinthus, Ebion, Marcion, etc.; and in the two subsequent centuries, Photinus,[15] Sabellius,[16] Arius, Eunomius,[17] Macedonius,[18] etc.; in the subsequent two hundred years, Pelagius,[19] Nestorius,[20] etc. (Pareus). Many by this horse understand the Vandals and Goths, who were Arians, and to a remarkable extent ravaged the Church for three hundred years[21] (Lapide). 4. To this the words of this passage are able aptly to be applied. Heretics are elegantly prefigured by a horse, an animal swift, pugnacious, daring, ambitious, wanton, and without understanding, Psalm 32:9 (Pererius), and indeed black (Pererius, Ribera, Cluverus, Gagnæus, Pareus). For this color aptly denotes and suits those operating in the dark and and fleeing the light of day[22] (Lapide); or, the soul destitute of the light of true faith and holiness, and darkened by the obscurity of errors[23] (Pererius). And, as the color White denotes Teachers, eminent for purity of doctrine and innocence of life (Cluverus), bringing peace, joy and victory: so Black, which is opposite to the former, denotes teachers of errors (Cluverus, similarly Ribera), learned in deceitfulness of speech, dissimulation in manners, and all fraud (Cluverus), who bring to men miseries and darkness (Ribera, thus Cluverus), and doubt (Cluverus), and eternal sorrow (Ribera). The black horse denotes, either, the concealed craft of the heretics obscured by shadows, and, so that it might not be recognized, cloaked (Gagnæus): or, the afflicted condition of the Church, deformed by foul heresies, so that, as she was previously white, now she appears black (Pareus). To these things agree also the scales, which, since they are twofold, are just, Proverbs 16:11, and uneven, Proverbs 11:1; 20:23; here, that voice shows that they are understood as uneven, even that voice which, prohibiting ἀδικίαν/ harm in the wine and oil, shows that this is to be employed in the rest. It signifies, therefore, that this horseman cheats, even indeed under the pretext of justice (Cluverus). He has a balance in his hand, attending, as it were, to what he says, and not speaking without mature deliberation; and thoroughly examining the meaning of the words of Scripture, and pondering them with an equal balance (Ribera), and feigning justice, and promising the certain knowledge of truth to his followers, and confidence of salvation, yet deceitfully (Pererius); and the Scripture, which is the true balance and rule of faith and manners, as pliable he employs for his own purposes (Gagnæus, similarly Cluverus), and that he uses as a pretext for his heresies (Pareus); its testimonies he frequently employs, and associates himself with its genuine interpreters, although he sets it forward deceitfully, and interprets it falsely and perversely (Pererius). [These things concerning the third opinion.] Or, 4. of that most afflicted state of the Church after the first two persecutions, not so much on account of any particular affliction, as on account of a conflux of various evils, persecutions, schisms, errors and heresies, etc., by which the beauty of the Church is obscured more than by the preceding violence. It favors this opinion, 1. that the Scripture is wont to describe any extremely heavy judgments whatever under the words sword, famine, pestilence, etc., Ezekiel 24: 2. that famine is sometimes mentioned as a special calamity of the Saints, as in Romans 8:35; 2 Corinthians 11:27: 3. that a famine also of the word of God occurs, Amos 8:11, and this famine is peculiar and proper to the Church: 4. that the blackness of the Church is described in Scripture as the effect of external persecution, and of internal negligence, decline, and division, Song of Songs 1:5, 6: 5. the language of the balance: to which agrees, both, that these persecutions were conducted by the authority of laws and under the pretext of justice; and, that errors of the word protect themselves by legal patronage: 6. that to this distinction, and its authors and effects, certain limits are set; and, although the beauty of the Church is spoiled, yet the principal and fundamental truths (which are the marrow of the Gospel, and are called the purest wheat, honey, wine and oil, Psalm 81:16; Isaiah 25) are preserved in good repair and protected. In particular, I think that here is denoted the state of the Church in the second century after the death of Domitian, under the five subsequent persecutions, that is, under Trajan, Hadrian, Antonius Pius (the persecution of which is held by some to be one, for it was not interrupted), Antoninus Philosophus, Pertinax, Maximinus and Severus.[24] Persuading to this are, 1. the order of the Seals; for the preceding Seal signified the first two persecutions: 2. the changed nature under these persecutions. For these persecutions were designed principally against the Ministers, and against the public assemblies of Christians; whence the famine of the word, which famine external famine also accompanied on account of the plundering of goods, etc.: 3. that the Church in those times had defected not a little from its primitive simplicity, purity of doctrine, and unity; and was stained with errors, schisms, contentions, etc., and also attacked with reproaches and calumnies: 4. that the authors of these persecutions were men most famous for justice and prudence, of which sort were Trajan, Antonius, etc.: 5. that these persecutions were limited by the Emperors themselves, by the Apologies offered to them by Tertullian, Quadratus,[25] Aristides, etc. (Durham).

[Who was sitting, etc.] He was, either, 1. some heresiarch; or, 2. the Devil (Pererius, Zegers, Lapide, Camerarius, Menochius, Ribera); or, 3. an Angel, who had received this Prefecture from Christ (Grotius); or, 4. Christ, who sits upon heretics with His balances, that is, the Sacred Scripture, which is the standard of true and false doctrine. Now, upon those He sits, both, 1. by profession and appearance, for those profess the name of Christ and of the Church, and hang their errors upon the balance of Scripture, but most wickedly distorted; and, 2. by His providence, by which He is not absent from the Church in the midst of confusions, but appoints heresies for its testing (Pareus).

[He was having a balance, etc., ζυγὸν] Ζυγὸς signifies both a yoke, as in Genesis 27:40; Numbers 19:2; Isaiah 10:27; 14:25;[26] and a scale, or balance, which is like unto a yoke, as in Job 6:2; Proverbs 11:1; Isaiah 40:12, 15 (Cluverus). This is a symbol, either, 1. of the costliness of provisions (Piscator, similarly Forbes, Cotterius). For parts of loaves are wont in the context of costly provisions to be weighed unto individuals, either by Magistrates, or by heads of household (Grotius). Or, 2. of feigned justice and equity (Zegers, similarly Durham), by the authors of these evils, persecutions, and schism (Durham).

He seeth a black horse, and a rider upon him, with a pair of balances. There is a difference amongst interpreters what should be signified by this black horse; some by it understand famine, because a scarcity of victuals bringeth men to a black and swarthy colour; some understand by it justice, because the rider is said to have a pair of balances in his hand; others understand by it heresies, and great sufferings of the church by heretics and others. He that sat on him had a pair of balances in his hand; either to give men their bread by weight, (as is usual in times of great scarcity,) or to measure out every one their due.

[1] Greek: Καὶ ὅτε ἤνοιξε τὴν τρίτην σφραγῖδα, ἤκουσα τοῦ τρίτου ζώου λέγοντος, Ἔρχου καὶ βλέπε. καὶ εἶδον, καὶ ἰδού, ἵππος μέλας, καὶ ὁ καθήμενος ἐπ᾽ αὐτῷ ἔχων ζυγὸν ἐν τῇ χειρὶ αὐτοῦ. [2] Septimus Severus Afer was Roman Emperor from 193 to 211. He was known for being the first Roman emperor to be born in Africa (Rome’s Africa Province, modern Tunisia). [3] Acts 11:28: “And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth throughout all the world (ἐφ᾽ ὅλην τὴν οἰκουμένην): which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.” [4] Revelation 6:6b: “…A measure (χοῖνιξ/chœnix) of wheat for a penny, and three measures (χοίνικες/chœnices) of barley for a penny; and see thou hurt not the oil and the wine.” [5] For example, Jeremiah 8:21. [6] Sextus Aurelius Victor (c. 320-c. 390) was a Roman historian and politician. He was the author of Historia Romana, a collection of works treating Roman history from Augustus to Julian. [7] Casaubon produced a critical edition of Scriptores Historiæ Augustæ (Augustan History), a series of biographies on the various emperors from 117-284 AD. It includes Ælius Spartianus’ (probably early fourth century) biography of Hadrian. [8] Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexander, or Alexander Severus, was the last Roman emperor of the Severan dynasty; he reigned 222-235. He was the son of the Syrian magistrate Marcus Julius Gessius Marcianus and Julia Avita Mamæa. [9] Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31. [10] Ælius Lampridius (fourth century) was a Roman historian. [11]Historia Augusta “The Life of Alexander Severus” 16, 17. [12]Historia Augusta “The Life of Alexander Severus” 21. Alexander Severus restored the grain supply and the largess of oil that had been established by Septimius Severus but wasted and diminished by Heliogabalus (who reigned 218-222). [13]Justitia, the Roman goddess of justice, holding scales, was an image employed on Roman coins and other symbols of Roman authority. [14] A modius appears to be a little larger than an English peck (two dry gallons). [15] Although the exact character of Photinus’ (died 376) beliefs are not clear, he appears to have in some way denied the full and proper Deity of Jesus Christ. [16] Sabellius (flourished 215) taught that God was a single person, who manifested Himself in three modes (Father, Son, and Spirit) successively. Both Tertullian and Hippolytus of Rome vigorously opposed Sebellius’ anti-Trinitarian Modalism. [17] Eunomius (died c. 393) was a leader among extreme Arians, who believed that the Son was of a completely different nature than the Father (Anomœanism). [18] Macedonius I of Constantinople (fl. 350) was the progenitor of a heretical group known as the Macedonians, who denied the Deity of the Holy Spirit. [19] Pelagius (c. 354-c. 420/440) was an opponent of Augustine; he denied Augustine’s doctrine of total depravity and the freeness and sovereignty of God’s grace. [20] Nestorius (c. 386-451) taught that in Christ, there are not only two natures, but two persons, Jesus of Nazareth and the eternal Son of God. Some believe that this was not actually Nestorius’ view, but rather his opponents’ caricature of his beliefs. [21] The Goths were an East Germanic tribe which warred with the Roman Empire in the third and fourth centuries. The Goths, having been introduced to Christianity by Arian missionaries, embraced Arianism. The Vandals were an East Germanic tribe; they sacked Rome in 455. They embraced Arianism during the reign of the Arian Emperor Valen, 364-378. [22] See John 3:19. [23] See Romans 1:21; 11:10; Ephesians 4:18. [24] EmperorReignTrajan98-117Hadrian117-138Antonius Pius138-161Antonius Philosophus (also known as Marcus Aurelius)161-180Pertinax192-193Maximinus235-238Severus193-211 [25] Quadratus was an early Christian writer and disciple of the Apostles. He was chosen as Bishop of Athens in 125. His Apology to Hadrian does appear to have stopped the persecution temporarily. [26] In these passages, the Hebrew word l(o/yoke is rendered zugo_j in the Septuagint.


Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.




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