And the sixth angel poured out his vial on the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up…
The hosts that have mustered behind the Euphrates were once God's handiwork and God's creatures. They have broken loose from that relationship. They have chosen them another leader — himself already emancipated from the yoke of the original blessedness. There is one power, one only, which God does not-shall we say it with reverence? perhaps cannot — exercise: the compulsion of the will — that coercion of the moral being, which some talk of as though it certainly would be applied if God were at once Almighty and all-loving, but which a deeper reflexion feels to be inconsistent alike with the definition of man and with the definition of salvation. Man without free will is man no more — and a salvation imposed by main force would be no salvation. There is a point in the affairs of nations — there is a point even in spiritual history — beyond which war is the one solution. Enmity — even between man and his Maker — may become hostility. As the end draws on, prophets and evangelists concur in anticipating a culmination, if not an incarnation, of evil, only to be dealt with by an intervention of God Himself to decide the long controversy, and to regenerate earth, as a prophet has written, "by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning." The prophetic figure for this catastrophe is that of a war and a battle. God would have the matter fought out. But how strikingly is the distinction here drawn between God's part, and that which is not God's part, in the impending conflict! An angel dries the Euphrates, but no angel stimulates to the crossing. That is the office of the unclean spirits; and they issue from the mouth of the three enemies — the dragon, the wild beast, and the false prophet. "He gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." The "gathering" is ascribed, in the 14th verse, to the three spirits. The word is the same here — and the Greek idiom will bear the rendering "they gathered." But the instinct of our English translators has well guided them to the transition: the parenthesis of ver. 15 has broken the thread. The unclean spirits go forth to gather — "Behold, I come as a thief — Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments" — "And he gathered them together into the place which is called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon." The spirits of evil do not choose the battle-field: they whisper, and buzz, and irritate — they suggest, and prompt, and incite; but there is a hand and a will above theirs, which leaves not to them the strategy or the combination. "He gathered together," and He chose the ground. Thus is it in the Old Testament prophecies of the same last encounter. "Thou shalt come up against My people, as a cloud to cover the land: it shall be in the latter days, and I will bring thee." Thou shalt come — and I will bring. this is from Ezekiel. "I will gather all nations... thither cause thy mighty ones to come down, O Lord." This is from Joel. "The day of the Lord cometh For I will gather all nations to battle... Then shall the Lord go forth, and fight against those nations." This is from Zechariah. The spirits go forth, but it is God who "gathers." He dries the Euphrates, and He fixes the Armageddon. We scarcely recognise, in that name of mystery, the familiar Megiddo — "Armageddon," "hill of Megiddo" — on the southern skirt of that great plain of Esdraelon which was the scene of so many conflicts, for defeat or victory, in the earlier and later history of Israel. But does any one imagine that we are to seek, on the map of Palestine or of the world, a site or a place for the last great battle? It is well to look into the imagery: it is helpful toward the understanding of the thing signified; it is in the comparison of Scripture type and Scripture parable that we learn what God has written about this consummation of all things. Even in that last suggestion, of the attractiveness to a later enemy of a battle-field fatal to Josiah, we have something to learn as to the fascinations of that lying spirit which alone can make any man a fighter against God. But we are reading of spiritual things: the field of that war is not local — any more than its armour, whether of defence or attack, is carnal. Nay, the place itself is varied in various predictions. St. Jehu points us to the valley of Esdraelon and the hill of Megiddo; Joel makes the place of "decision" the valley of Jehoshaphat; and Zechariah gathers all nations against Jerusalem, speaks of a siege and capture of Jerusalem, and sets the feet of the Divine Deliverer upon the Mount of Olives before Jerusalem eastward. Such varieties should guard us against all temptations to limit or localise where the matter itself spoken of is not carnal but spiritual. As surely as the vulture scents its prey wheresoever there is death, so surely shall the destroying Angel find out sin, so surely shall delivering Angels find out God's elect, so surely shall there be for every man a day of judgment, for every man a way of salvation: not here, nor there, particularly, shall the war of the end be waged or the battle of decision fought out: Armageddon is a type, not a locality, and the prophecy, like all prophecy, is not letter but spirit.
(1) We have before us, then, the two camps, distinct and separate, of the faithful and the foe. It is characteristic of the scene and of the time. A battle is impending, and there can be no battle without a choice of sides. Silently and half unconsciously the two camps are forming: every sinful thing done, every unkind word spoken, every heart-murmuring, every spirit-blasphemy, against the commandment or against the revelation or against the providence of God, is drifting the doer or the speaker or the thinker towards the camp of the foe: every act of good, every earnest effort, every struggle with a sin, every soul's prayer and soul's "feeling after" the invisible, every thought of love to Him who died for us, every longing yearning desire after a heaven of holiness and of service, is tending towards that "camp of the saints" of which a later chapter tells — safe whatever befalls, because God Himself is there.
(2) "Behold I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth." The absent Lord speaks — and says, I come. On the eve of the battle — while yet there may be a failing heart needing to be encouraged, or a rebel heart opening itselt to conviction — the voice sounds between the two camps — I come. Creep back, rebel heart, to thy allegiance — be strong, coward heart, be strong — behold, I come — come as a thief — mad blessed is he that watcheth! And what is "watching"? Is it a restless, hurrying, rushing activity, which counts every moment a sin that is not either excited devotion or bustling charity? Is it the refusal of every comfort and every enjoyment, lest a God who is looking out for our fall should take advantage of us and come because we are resting? Is it the eager calculating of times and seasons, the living much with what Isaiah calls "stargazers and prognosticatore," men who can give a name out of this book to each dynasty and each potentate of modern history, and tell precisely at what point we stand on the bank of the stream of time in reference to the advent or the millennium? Is this the life to which Jesus Christ calls us, when He sends that voice, between the two camps, from the excellent glory, "Blessed is he that watcheth"? None of these things. To "watch," in Christ's sense, is to have the heart interested in truth, and the spirit alive to duty — to be able to say, in hours of resting, "I sleep, but my soul waketh" — to listen for the voice of God, even in the night hours, and to be always alert to answer, "Speak, for Thy servant heareth." To "watch," is to keep the heart with all diligence, lest it pollute, at the source, the very stream of the life — to guard against the first rising of sinful thought, ere it form itself into desire or have time to set up an idol — to have the door ever open between the soul and its God, that it may breathe the air of heaven, and weigh all things here with the very shekel of the sanctuary.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared.