The Myth of the 200 Million Man Army of the Kings of the East
The Myth of the
200 Million Man Army
Of the Kings of the East
by R. A. Coombes
Some popular Bible Prophecy commentators in the past few decades have promoted what must be considered a "myth." I refer of course to the notion that Revelation 9:16 refers to an army of 200 million men. Such a "myth" derives from a series of mistaken assumptions. In Revelation 9: 14 we find a reference to the 6th Trumpet judgment and the loosing of the 4 angels bound in the great Euphrates river. These 4 angels are assigned for a task to be carried out at a precise point in time. The task of these 4 angels is to slay a third of humanity. (See v. 15)
The very next verse, verse 16, then says "the number of the army of the horsemen were 'two hundred thousand thousand': and I heard the number of them." What is interesting to note is that verse 16 seems to be a radical departure from the context found in verses 14 and 15. It is indeed as if a new aspect or contextual subject is being introduced.
Now those popular prophecy commentators that we alluded to initially, take verse 16 and link it to Revelation chapter 16:12 which describes the Euphrates river as drying up to make way for the Kings of the East to invade with their armies. Please note that we do not claim that the Kings of the East will not bring invading armies through the Euphrates river valley. We only protest the notion that the number of those armies will measure out to be 200 million men. Why do we object to that number?
Hal Lindsey stated in his book "The Late Great Planet Earth" (p. 86):
We believe that China is the beginning of the formation of this great power called 'the kings of the east by the apostle John… In fact, a recent television documentary on Red China …quoted the boast of the Chinese themselves that they could field a 'people's army' of 200 million militiamen. In their own boast they named the same number as the Biblical prediction. Coincidence?
Here Hal is attempting to connect those two separate Revelation passages, that of chapter 9:15-16 and chapter 16 verse 12. We do need to pay attention to one small detail here. Revelation 16:12 has NO MENTION anywhere of 200 million of anything. Hal and company then refer back to the Revelation 9:15-16 passage for the distinction of the number and claim that it means 200 million men. However, there is a very serious and fatal flaw in drawing such a conclusion.
The actual, original Greek texts do not support such a conclusion. By the way, did you happen to note any particular correlation between the two passages? Aside from the fact that the Euphrates river is mentioned there is nothing else of a corollary. I mean, did you notice the term "kings of the East" in Rev 9: 15-16? I didn't. In fact, if you look at those two verses you clearly see 4 angels being described. Then in verse 16 you see "army of horsemen." So who are the horsemen? I take it that the verse is referring to angelic forces and not to human soldiers. The description of verses 17 and 18 certainly seem to indicate an ability beyond that of mere men. But there's a more practical reason for taking such a view. Let's take a look at a very practical reason why the notion of a 200 million man army is simply out of the question. We'll do this before we examine the actual Greek text itself.
From a practicality standpoint consider the logistical facts of a 200 million man army. Such a number is almost the equivalent population of the United States of America. For such a vast quantity of people, you have to remember the logistical support would be a virtual nightmare not to mention an impossibility when one accounts for the geographical challenges. How are you going to transport 200 million men from China across the most foreboding mountain ranges in the world? How are you going to transport them quickly? How are they going to eat, drink, maintain hygiene, sleep, and remain supplied with food, water, and fuel, not to mention providing them with the necessary equipment and weaponry? Remember, we're talking about a trek over thousands of miles including the highest mountains and the most imposing of deserts and we have virtually no roadways to work with over much of that distance.
Do you remember the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War? It took the US 6 months to airlift 500,000 men and their equipment into the gulf region. The US had a far faster and better transport capability than China has now. Still, at that rate of the Gulf War, it would take 200 years for China to move 200 million men to Jerusalem and Israel, proper. Remember, the Biblical text is indicating that such a group would be crossing the Euphrates river by land and not by air, meaning it would take even longer because overland travel is much slower and we would have to allow for massive traffic jams and bad weather too.
Now the proponent of the Hal Lindsey notion could point to the "Silk Road" that runs from China, skirting past India and going through the mighty Himalayas. Of course, to do so would mean travelling through parts of the old Soviet central Asian republics. Such a route is not exactly going through friendly territory for China.
However, let's put aside such minor difficulties as the route and focus on the sheer logistics of putting together a convoy of such magnitude that would move 200 million men in an army. This is gonna make for one very, very long parade. And make no mistake about this parade, it won't be full of funny shriner clowns running around in little noisy cars doing repeated circles throwing out candy to the onlookers. If we were extremely conservative, we could estimate at the minimum 10 MILLION vehicles. Now such a number would need to include, tank carriers, fuel trucks, armored personnel carriers, food trucks, command vehicles, trucks carrying larger weapons, radar, communications trucks, and of course, they'd have to carry their own water supplies through much of the terrain.
Now let's consider the issue of the roads. The route in question doesn't have expressways with multiple lanes of traffic for heading westbound, or eastbound for that matter. At best, you can expect 2 lane asphalt highways. At worst, no roads. But for sake of the argument, lets suppose that we've got a great 2 lane highway, with no potholes, totally smooth that stretches all the way from the great wall of China to Jerusalem and the valley of Armageddon. Now remember that would put it as going through the Himalayas, the Central Asian Republics, then on down through Afghanistan and then into Iraq and Jordanian deserts before eventually reaching Israel. But its all 2 lanes of traffic. So how far would our convoy stretch out?
Let's figure out how long our parade would be. Let's be conservative in estimating that each vehicle occupies about 40 yards of road space including the vehicle itself and the distance between vehicles, the length for 10 million vehicles would be over 225,000 miles!!! Now that's several times around the planet. Now some of you might be thinking, maybe we could move these folks at different times, and maybe stagger the departures. If you did so, then have the problem issue of running out of time to get there. In reality, this convoy would need to have gotten started decades ago in order to get there by now. They couldn't simply wait for the start of the Tribulation period, they'd have to go decades in advance. Also consider too, that it isn't a day trip drive from China to Israel. They gotta pull off somewhere to sleep and take bathroom breaks, prepare and eat food etc. There are very few Motel 6's between China and Israel, I'd guess. Or few of any sort of lodging facilities. Probably not a lot of truck stops for fuel or greasy food, nor travelers camp grounds either.
Now, if you're the eternal optimist in persisting in such a notion as a 200 million man army, then answer me one more thing. Where are you going to put 200 million Chinese troops into the valley of Armageddon? It would be impossible to get 200 million Chinese in the entire nation of Israel, let alone in such a valley and plain as Armageddon. Not to mention the problems of just trying to get them there period, not to mention trying to get them there 'on time.'
So now that we've looked at the impracticalities of the logistics of such a notion from an empirical standpoint, we should examine the issue from a textual standpoint. What does the original Greek text mean in Revelation 9: 16 when it talks about the number of the horsemen? Who are these horsemen?
I suspect that Revelation 9:16 is telling us about supernatural beings, or demons or fallen angels if you will. The possibility also exists that it is talking about human cavalrymen but one thing is clear. It is NOT talking about a 200 million man army.
The Greek word used in verse 16 is "muriadohn" and it consists within the phrase: "and the number of the bodies of soldiers of the cavalry was dismuriades muriadohn."
It is the word we use in English for "myriads" and the first term has a prefix of "dis" which means "twice"… i.e. "twice myriads of myriads." Now one could try to translate that as meaning 2x 10,000 x 10,000. However, to do so is to completely misunderstand the way in which the people of that time used and referred to numbers and arithmetic.
It is interesting to note that the ancient cultures didn't have much regard for very high numbers. After a certain point, high numbers would just tend to blur in the mind, so why bother keeping count? We find this concept in Genesis 32:12 in which Jacob is told that his descendants will be counted as the sand of the sea. In other words, it can't or shouldn't be bothered to be counted.
The people of the Biblical era just didn't have any use for terms that ran into the millions. Therefore, they would create "expressions" or idioms to describe the idea that it was not worth taking the time to count. In other words, "it’s a bunch."
Now on this issue of Revelation 9:16 the noted Greek Lexographer, Robert H. Mounce observed in his book "The Book of Revelation" (page 201) [ Eerdmans Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI, © 1977]
Attempts to reduce this expression to arithmetic miss the point. A "double myriad of myriads" is an indefinite number of incalculable immensity. Reference to a TIME article which reports the People's Republic of China as having a militia of 200,000,000 is interesting but of no special help.
To further underscore Mounce's position, we also have the noted Lexographical team of Bauer, Arndt, Gingrich and Danker who over the years have edited the now highly esteemed and mostly widely trusted Christian Greek-English Lexicon: "A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature" (a.k.a. "B-A-G-D). On page 199 it is stated about the phrase and terms "An indefinite number of incalculable immensity is indicated (indefinite as anarithmetoi murides of Theopompus in peri upsous 43, 2).
So there you have it. The dictionary definitions don't allow for the phrase to be taken as referring to 200 million. The sheer practicality of the matter doesn't allow for it either. Clearly, "Houston, we have a problem" needs to be issued to Mission Control. Somewhere along the way, some of our popular Biblical Prophecy experts got sidetracked into a hermeneutical rabbit trail. Anybody got a rope or a ladder so we can get 'em out? J
This magazine article is copyrighted
Copyright © 2001,2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006
R. A. Coombes
The Alpha-Omega Report
All publishing rights reserved
Permission granted for personal private use to reprint this article from a browser.
No commercial re-publishing of this article is permitted without prior written consent.