Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.VIII.
(1) And when he had opened the seventh seal . . .—Translate, And when he opened the seventh seal there took place a silence in heaven as it were for half an hour. It is greatly to be regretted that this verse should have been prefixed to this chapter. The section of the book with which it is connected is that which goes before, not that which follows. The second verse of this eighth chapter introduces a new series of visions: the first verse gives the close of the visions which follow the opening of the seals. But what is the meaning of this verse which describes a half-hour’s silence in heaven? It is a disputed point whether the book, or roll, fastened with the seven seals (Revelation 5:1-2) is ever really unrolled to view. Some have thought that as each seal is opened a portion of the roll is displayed, unfolding the vision of the seal: others have regarded the visions as mere accompaniments of the opening of the seals, and quite distinct from the writing on the roll; those who take this view are disposed to think that the roll never is read, for that when the last seal is broken, and all are expecting to hear what is written in the book, no reading takes place, but only a silence ensues. It does not seem to me that this latter view is altogether tenable. It appears a singularly harsh interpretation to say that the contents of the roll are never disclosed. The book of God’s purposes was seen in the hand of Him who sat on the throne. The Evangelist longed to know something of its contents; vain efforts were made to open it; the Evangelist wept with disappointment; he was then comforted in his sorrow by hearing that the Lion of the tribe of Judah had conquered to open the book; but then, after all this, not a line or word of the book, it is said, is ever revealed. The servant is waiting to hear the divine word; the seer is waiting to record what is unfolded; but though the seals are opened, we are told that the words he waits for never came. St. John himself gives no hint of so disappointing a conclusion. Later on (Revelation 10:4) he is told not to record the utterances of the seven thunders, but there the concealing of the utterances is clearly commanded. Here he evidently associates the visions of the seals with the contents of the roll. It is only a spirit in bondage to foolish literalisms which will ask how the visions can be the writing in the roll. The book represents God’s purposes and principles of His government in relation to the world-history; the seals show us some typical scenes in that world-history, and if not seen on the parchment of the roll, are yet unfoldings of principles and truths in the book. But it does not follow that all that is in the roll is ever unfolded. Such portions are made manifest as the seer could hear, and as the Church of Christ needed; and thus it may well be that the half-hour’s silence is significant that all God’s purposes and revelations are not exhausted—that there is something behind which it is not well that we should know—that prophecy as well as knowledge is partial. But the stillness of this half hour, if it reminds us of what is yet untold, yet proclaims to us a time of deep, unbroken tranquility, when the cries and groans of the earth, and even the grateful doxologies of heaven are hushed into calm. It is the silence which tells us that sorrow is ended, and eloquently tells us of heart peace. It is the rest of the troubled on the breast of God. All the earth, with her strife of tongues is still; all the cries of men (Revelation 6:15), of trafficker and warrior, of struggling wise, and suffering good, are stilled; all flesh keeps silence before Him; He gives His people peace.
“O earth, so full of dreary noises!
O men with wailing in your voices!
O delved gold, the waiter’s heap!
O strife, O curse, that o’er it fall!
God strikes a silence through you all,
And giveth His beloved sleep.”
Only those who have been carried away by an over- refined philosophy or morbid sentimentalism can see anything selfish in longing, out of earth’s cares and injustices, for such a rest as this. It is surely not ignoble to pray—
“Vouchsafe us such a half-hour’s hush alone,
In compensation for our stormy years;
As heaven has paused from song, let earth from moan.”
And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.(2) THE VISIONS INTRODUCED BY THE SOUNDING OF SEVEN TRUMPETS.—The series of visions which is now introduced extend to the close of the eleventh chapter. There are some features which may be noticed here. There is a marked correspondence of arrangement between these and the visions of the seals. As there, so here, there are introduced two subordinate visions towards the end of the series. The sixth seal was followed by the vision of the one hundred and forty-four thousand and the countless multitude: the sixth trumpet is followed by the vision of the little book and the seven thunders and the measurement of the temple of God (Revelation 10 and Revelation 11:1-14). The general intention of these interposed visions is similar. In both cases they seem designed to give us an insight of the life within the life of Christ’s Church. The main visions give us more external aspects; the interposed visions show the inner and more spiritual aspects. Thus the seals show the great outer features of world and Church history—the war, controversies, the famine and barren dogmatism, the death, and deathlike externalism, the persecutions and sorrows and revolutions of on-coming history; the interposed visions of Revelation 7 show us the calm and strength and the victory of the children of God. So also with these visions of the trumpets. The main visions give us the trumpet-voices of God’s manifold providences summoning the world to surrender to Him; the subsidiary visions point to the witness and work of the true children of God in this world, and the more secret growth of the Church of Christ. Another similarity between the seals and the trumpets is to be found in the separation between the first four and the last three. The first four trumpets, like the first four seals, are grouped together. The first four seals are introduced by the cry “Come”; the first four trumpets are followed by judgments on natural objects—the earth, the sea, the rivers, the lights of heaven—while the last three have been described as woe trumpets, being introduced by the thrice repeated cry of “Woe” (see Revelation 8:13). There is thus a correspondence of arrangement in the two series of visions; but their general import is very different. We reach in the seventh seal the eternal quiet of God’s presence. Through a series of visions we have been shown that the way to rest is not easy, that we must be prepared to see the great features of earth’s troubles remain till the close, and that the children of God must through tribulation and even persecution enter into the kingdom of God’s peace. The seals answer the question, “Lord, wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom?” But the kingdom will be restored. The Church may find her way a way of difficulty, delay, danger; but it will be a way to triumph. The kingdoms of the world will become the kingdoms of the Lord. Let the people of God go forward; let their prayers be set forth as incense; let them blow the trumpet, and summon men to repentance; they are not alone; the Lord still fights for His Israel. This is the assurance which we gather from the trumpets. In all l he wondrous providences which the history of the world discloses we may hear the trumpet-voice which heralds the kingdom of Christ, to which the Church is hearing constant and sufficient witness (Revelation 11:3-4). The seals close with peace; the trumpets close appropriately with victory (Revelation 11:15). The visions are not scenes of events which chronologically succeed one another. The one set shows us the way through trouble to rest; the other shows the way through conflict to triumph: the one set shows us the troubles which befall the Church because of the world; the other shows us the troubles which fall on the world because the Church advances to the conquest of the world, as Israel to the possession of the land of promise.
And I saw the seven angels . . .—Better, And I saw the seven angels which stand (not “stood”) before God; and there were given to them seven trumpets. “The seven angels:” Who are these? The usual answer is that they are seven angels (or, according to some, archangels) distinguished among the myriads round the throne. The passages referred to in support of this view are two—one from the Apocryphal Book of Tobit, “I am Raphael, one of the seven holy angels which present the prayers of the saints, and which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One” (Tobit 12:15); the other, the well-known passage from St. Luke, “I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God” (Luke 1:19). This may be true, and the emphatic article (the seven angels) gives the view some support, but seeing that the number seven is to be taken throughout the book as symbolical, and not literal, it is perhaps better to view the seven angels as representatives of the power of God over the world. They are the seven, the complete .circle of God’s power in judgment; for as we do not take the seven-spirits to be literally seven spirits, but symbols of the complete and manifest influence of the one Holy Spirit, the third person in the glorious Trinity, so neither need we infer from the mention of the seven angels here that they are literally seven preeminent angelic personages, but rather regard them as symbols of that complete and varied messenger-force which God evermore commands.
Seven trumpets.—It will help our understanding of the symbol here employed to recall the occasions on which the trumpet was used. It was used to summon the people together, whether for worship, or festival, or war, “for the calling of the assembly, and for the journeying of the camps.” “When they shall blow with them (the trumpets), all the assembly shall assemble themselves to thee (Moses) at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation” (Numbers 10:4-8). For journeying an alarm was to be blown (Numbers 10:6). “And if ye go to war in your land against the enemy that oppresseth you, then ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets; and ye shall be remembered before the Lord your God, and ye shall be saved from your enemies” (Revelation 8:9). And as for war, so also on festival days the trumpets were blown: “Also in the day of your gladness, and in your solemn days, and in the beginnings of your months, ye shall blow with the trumpets over your burnt offerings, and over the sacrifices of your peace offerings; that they may be to you for a memorial before your God: I am the Lord your God.” The reader will remember other illustrations. When the people were assembled to hear the Ten Commandments the voice of the trumpet sounded long, and waxed louder and louder (Exodus 19:19). The feast held on the first day of the seventh month was “a day of blowing the trumpets” (Numbers 29:1) among the people who would blow up the trumpet in the new moon, in the time appointed, on their solemn feast day (Psalm 81:3). At the siege of Jericho seven priests bore before the ark seven trumpets of rams’ horns, and on the seventh day the priests blew with the trumpets (Joshua 6:4-5). For assembling, for journeying, for war, the sound of the trumpets was heard. The judgments which follow the blowing of the trumpets in this series of visions are the trumpet-toned calls of God, summoning mankind to assemble to the true tabernacle, bidding His people go forward, and announcing the overthrow of His adversaries. Every judgment, on earth, or sea, or river, by war, or by invasion, is a call which bids men listen to the still small voice, which they have neglected, perhaps resisted. Every judgment should rouse the true servant to greater vigilance and further advance: it is an alarm sounded on the great battle-field of life. Miracles have been called the alarm bells of the universe; no less are the strange and startling events of the world’s history the alarm notes blown by God’s angels across the world, to remind us of the war in which every citadel of evil must inevitably fall. It is mainly, then, as an alarm of war that these angel- trumpets are sounded. The land of promise is to be rescued from the tribes and peoples who corrupt it. As the Canaanites of old were swept away lest their wickedness, increasing beyond measure, should spread abroad a moral death, so are the judgments of these trumpets sent to undermine, purge away, and finally to destroy all evil powers which destroy the earth (Revelation 11:18). We may hear, then, in “each blast of the symbolical trumpet a promise and instalment of the victory” for which the groaning and travailing creation yearns, and which will be the banishment of earth’s destroyers, and the manifestation of the sons of God.
And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.(3) And another angel came and stood at (or, over) the altar, having a golden censer. —The appearance of this other angel has given rise to some questioning, and some strained explanations. Some have thought that by this other angel we are to understand Christ Himself. This is very doubtful: the designation “another angel” (see Revelation 7:2) is against this view. There is really no need to ask who the several angels are: the book is symbolical. The angels are not particular personages, but symbolical of those agencies—whether personal, or natural, or supernatural—which are employed by Him who sitteth on the throne. The angel stood at the altar. The altar mentioned in Revelation 6:2 corresponded with the altar of burnt sacrifice, which stood in the open court in front of the tabernacle or temple. The symbolism of the Apocalypse being so largely built up out of Jewish materials, we need not be surprised to find the altar of incense introduced here. This altar was of gold, and was situated in the holy place. Here the priest was wont to burn incense, while the people outside were praying. We have an example of the custom in the history of Zecharias (Luke 1:8-11). The scene described by St. Luke bears a close resemblance to this, and gives a key to the symbolism. The prayers of the people and the smoke of the incense are ascending together. The angel has a golden censer. The word here rendered censer is used sometimes for the incense, but the epithet “golden” shows that it is the vessel to hold the incense which is intended. The censer is of gold, as was the altar, and as are so many things in the Apocalypse. (See Revelation 4:4; Revelation 5:8; Revelation 15:6-7; Revelation 21:15; Revelation 21:21.)
And there was given unto him much incense . . .—Literally, And there was given to him much incense that he might (not “offer it with,” as English version, but) give it to the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. The incense was to be mingled with the prayers of the saints. The incense was added to give a fragrance to the prayers of the saints, and render them acceptable before God. The action of the angel has been spoken of as though it might give countenance to the erroneous doctrine of the mediatorship of saints and angels. It is only when we persist in viewing symbols as literal facts that there is any danger of such an inference. Dogmas, whose only foundation is in the incidental symbolism of a prophetic book, are ill-grounded. It is a safe canon that doctrinal inferences from metaphors are always to be suspected. The angel here is a mere symbol of a divinely- appointed agency. No personal angel actually ever did what is described here: how could incense mix with prayers? The whole is symbolical of the truth, that the prayers of all the saints need to be rendered acceptable by the infusion of some divine element. The best prayers of the best saints are weak, and polluted and imperfect at the best. The incense which is added to the prayers is not supplied by the angel: it is first given to him, and he then mingles it with the prayers of all saints. It is hard to forget here Him whose offering and sacrifice became a savour of sweet smell (Ephesians 5:1-2). The altar is described as the golden altar—i.e., the altar of incense, as noted above. It is well for us to remember Dean Alford’s caution that we must not attempt to force the details of any of these visions into accordance with the arrangements of the tabernacle. “A general analogy in the use and character of the heavenly furniture is all that we can look for” (Alford, in loco).
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.(4) And the smoke of . . .—Better, And there went up the smoke of the incense for (or to, i.e., designed for, and to give fragrance to) the prayers of the saints, out of the hand of the angel, before God. The emblem of the rising column of smoke, in which incense and prayer now mingled, is the token that the prayers of the saints, now rendered acceptable, and no longer premature, are about to be answered. These prayers of God’s people, weak and imperfect as they are, are yet invincible weapons in the hands of Christ’s soldiers, and will be found mightier than any carnal weapons. As Jericho fell without Israel needing to strike a blow, so now the Israel of God will be seen to be omnipotent through true and faithful prayer. The charter of the Church’s power is in the words of Christ: “If ye abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you” (John 15:7). The judgments that follow are not indeed specifically prayed for by the Church of Christ, but they are the results of their prayers, and prove the might of all prayer.
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.(5) And the angel . . .—Translate, And the angel has taken (or, took) the censer, and he filled it from the fire of the altar, and cast it (i.e., the fire or hot ashes which filled the censer) upon the earth. The prayers have gone up, and the sprinkling of the ashes earthward is the symbol of the answer descending from heaven. We may recall the similar action of Moses before Pharaoh, when he took ashes of the furnace and sprinkled it towards heaven, but it descended towards earth, as a symbol of the plague about to fall upon the land (Exodus 9:8-10). The hot ashes are the tokens of the coming judgments. As in the parallel vision in Ezekiel (Ezekiel 10:2), when the man clothed with linen is bidden to “go in between the wheels, even under the cherub, and fill his hand with coals of fire from between the cherubims, and scatter them over the doomed city;” so here the ashes fall—the judgments are at hand
And there were voices . . .—Or, And there took place thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake. There is some variety among the MSS. in the order of the words here used. Some place “lightnings” before “voices.” These signs and sounds herald the approach of judgments. God has arisen in answer to the cry of His people. “The earth shook and trembled. There went up a smoke and a fire: coals were kindled at it. At the brightness that was before Him His thick clouds passed, hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord also thundered in the heavens, and the Highest gave His voice, hailstones and coals of fire. Yea, He sent out His arrows, and scattered them: He shot out lightnings and discomfited them . . . He delivered me from my strong enemy” (Psalm 18:4-19). It is a solemn thought that we may send up prayers, and the answer may come down a judgment; for often it is only through judgment that true loving-kindness can make her way.
And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.(6) And the seven angels . . .—Translate, And the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared themselves that they might sound. The angels raised their trumpets to their mouths, ready to blow. The sounding of the trumpets introduced the series of startling events (or providences, as we sometimes call them) which serve to arrest men’s attention, and remind them that there is a kingdom which cannot be shaken. Such events are landing-stages in the great advancing progress of Christ’s kingdom. It may be well to remind those who are desirous of actual and limited historical fulfilments which correspond with the features of the several visions, that the aim of the visions seems to be to give the seer, and through him the Church at large, some idea of the general kind of events which ever mark the decay of the kingdom of wrong and the growth of the kingdom of our Lord. It is to this consummation the visions of the trumpets lead us. We are to see the destruction of those who destroy the earth, and the establishment of the kingdom of Him who will reign in righteousness (Revelation 11:15-18). This great consummation is to be achieved by slow and painful steps. “Wilt thou at this time restore the kingdom?” is the question answered by the seals. “How wilt thou restore the kingdom?” is the question answered by the trumpets. In both cases the answer is similar. These great results are not and cannot be attained in the quick ways human impatience would suggest. The history of the world is not to be folded up in a hurry, for that history is a development and a discipline; it is not only the consummation which is to be desired: the steps to that end are salutary, though painful. The chastisement which is not joyous but grievous may be the best means of bringing to the world the peaceable fruits of righteousness;—
“And man, unfriended, faltering on the way,
Must learn to weep before he learns to pray.”
And this wholesome lesson of tears must be taught the world, in the slow and bitter progress of a human history marked not by one judgment but by many. The fulfilment, then, of these prophetic visions is not exhausted in one event, however nearly its features may correspond with the character of the vision.
The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.(7) The first angel . . .—Better, And the first sounded, and there took place hail, and fire mingled in blood, and it was cast upon the earth; and the third part of the earth was burnt up, and the third part of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up. The reference to the Egyptian plagues is obvious: “There was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous . . . and the hail smote every herb of the field, and brake every tree of the field” (Exodus 9:23-25). This resemblance to the history of Israel in Egypt gives us the hint of the true meaning. It carries us back to the past, and asks us to remember the mighty works of God in old times. It reminds us that He who bade Joshua cause the trumpets to be sounded by the walls of Jericho, and who delivered His people from the tyranny of Pharaoh, is the same God, mighty to save His people, to break the fetters of ignorance, and to cast down the high walls of pride and sin. But it is needful to observe the variation as well as the resemblance. This plague differs from the Egyptian in the introduction of blood. This variation carries it out of the possibility of literal interpretations. We begin to think of the strongly figurative language of Joel: “the blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke” (Joel 2:30); and we call to mind that St. Peter announced that the fulfilment of this prophecy of Joel commenced with the Pentecostal effusion of the Holy Spirit. Then the war trumpet of deliverance had been sounded; then the process of the earth’s emancipation had begun; then commenced the series of sorrows and judgments which the obstinate love of men for darkness rather than light would bring upon themselves; and through the operation of these the kingdom of Christ would be established. The first judgment falls upon the trees and grass. Beneath its touch the grass withereth, the flower fadeth. Thus the day of the Lord is upon the cedars of Lebanon that are high and lifted up, and upon all the oaks of Bashan; upon every one that is proud and lofty (Isaiah 2:12-13; and 1Peter 1:24). It matters little in what way this humbling of human pride takes place. The world is full of illustrations. The loftiness of Jerusalem was lowered when the weakness of her self-sufficient religiousness was revealed and her Pharisaic pride was exposed; the loftiness of Rome was humbled when the Gothic invaders, like a storm of hail (so they were described by Claudian), devastated the empire. These are illustrations; but the prophecy is for all time, for the day of the Lord is upon “all that are proud.” We must not press the phrase “the third part” too closely: it clearly is designed to remind us that in wrath God remembers mercy, and that while He humbles all He does not utterly destroy. (Comp. Zechariah 13:8.) Is this the baptism of fire which withers the florid, pretentious, but fruitless religions of mankind?
And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;(8, 9) And the second angel . . .—Translate, And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea; and the third part of the sea became blood; and the third part of the creatures that were in the sea died, those which have lives; and the third part of the ships were destroyed. The sea becoming blood reminds us again of the plagues in Egypt (Exodus 7:20-21); but we must once more note the variation. It is not an uplifted rod like that of Moses which produces this result: it is the casting into the sea of a huge mass, as it were a great mountain, burning with fire. Professor Stuart calls this image appropriate or peculiar to St. John. The prophet Jeremiah, however, in a chapter which in many particulars is parallel to this and the following chapter (comp. Revelation 11:18), makes use of a very similar image: “Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, which destroyest all the earth; and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain” (Jeremiah 51:25). The mountain was the emblem, in Jeremiah’s prophecy, of the strong consolidated power and institutions of Babylon. Not only must the loftiness of man be brought low, but the mountains which they made so strong for themselves. The power of God’s advancing cause would hurl the rooted mountains from their base. The power of faith, Christ declared, would suffice to do this (Matthew 21:21); and it is at least a singular coincidence that this saying of the Lord’s respecting the overthrow of a mountain should occur in His own comment on the destruction of the fig-tree, just as, in this chapter, the vision of the mountain overthrown follows that of the destruction of tree and grass life. Our Lord encourages the faith of His disciples: “Your power will not only expose the pretentious religionisms of the world, as My word has shown the worthlessness of this tree, but you will overthrow also the long established usages and evil customs of nations which corrupt the world.” The powers which seemed strong as the great mountains would be seen to be but evil powers, burning, poisoning, destroying; but its power to destroy is checked: it is cast into the sea. Yet no great institution, or nationality, or evil principle is overthrown without some corresponding disadvantages. The falling mountain carries evil even in its fall, the sea becomes blood, the ships are destroyed. The fall of a great nation—a Babylon— is always fraught with unavoidable miseries to the world and its nations. Doubtless, the interests of commerce and shipping suffer; but this is not, it seems to me, the point of the vision. The symbolism is only weakened by supposing an allegorical mountain to fall into a literal sea and to destroy literal ships. The force of the vision is that certain gigantic forms of evil will be overthrown, but the overthrow will be accompanied with the development of new evils: the advance is made, but the step forward unveils the subtle force of evil. Every corrupt institution is destroyed with the risk of the evil elements diffusing themselves elsewhere; just as the political victory of Christianity was followed by the infusion of certain Pagan elements into the Church. The vanquished always manage to impose some laws on the victor. Even the advance of the Church is accompanied by some such experience.
And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;(10) And the third angel . . .—Translate, And the third angel sounded, and there fell out of the heaven a great star burning (or, kindled—the light is not inherent, but borrowed) as a torch (or, lamp—same word as in Revelation 4:5), and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the springs of the waters. The flaming star seems to symbolise the fall of a potentate; the trumpet-blast proclaims that the mighty who have been, as luminaries, admired, and perhaps worshipped, will fall. The advancing progress of Christianity is to be marked by many such a fall. The rulers of earth, burning with lust of conquest or with pride of fanaticism, will be plucked from their seat among the stars (Obadiah 1:4); but their fall is accompanied, as in the last instance, with miseries. The fountains and rivers are smitten, the sources of health and joy, the streams of prosperity, are injured.
And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.(11) And the name of the star . . .—Translate, And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many of mankind died from the waters, because they were embittered. The bitter, nauseous plant known as wormwood (apsinthos) is used to represent troubles and calamities. In Jeremiah 9:15 we have an example of this: “Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink.” It is worth noticing that the Israelites are warned against idolatry as “a root that beareth gall and wormwood” (Deuteronomy 29:18); and we may recall the symbolical act of Moses, who ground the golden calf to powder, cast the powder in the brook, and made the children of Israel drink (Exodus 32:20). Some have thought that this falling star signified some false teacher, whose evil influence poisoned the pure currents of the gospel, and perverted the minds of men of original genius, who are represented here as fountains. The passages cited above favour the thought, and it may be included in the general meaning of the vision; but the main point seems to be to give us hints of those stages which will mark the advance of Christianity. The fall of the great men, the rulers and leaders, will take place, and their fall will bring misery to mankind. Doubtless the appearance of false teachers in the Church is one of the evidences find an unavoidable accompaniment of a progressing faith (Matthew 13:26). But all such false lights shall fall before Him who is the true Light and Morning Star, and who will heal all embittered waters of life. (Comp. Exodus 15:23, and 2Kings 2:19.)
And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.(12) And the fourth angel . . .—Translate, And the fourth angel sounded, and there was smitten the third part of the sun, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; that the third part of them might be darkened, and the day might not appear as to its third part, and the night in like manner. The dimness which thus falls on the lights of heaven carries us back to the plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21-23); but yet there is this difference: there the children of Israel had light in their dwellings while all the rest of the land suffered the darkness that might be felt; here, however, the darkness is only such as results from the withdrawal of the third part of the light of the sun by day, and of the moon and the stars (so much more brilliant and needful in Eastern lands than in our own) by night. It is a day of the Lord in which the light is not clear nor dark—not day nor night (Zechariah 14:6-7). There will be periods in which the lights which guide men will give forth uncertain glimmers; upon the earth there will be distress of nations, men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of heaven shall be shaken (Luke 21:25-26). Such times of darkness and sorrow must be. It is through seasons such as these, when the lights of human wisdom and of spiritual guidance seem alike obscured, that the Church must go forward. The chaos precedes creation, and it is through chaos again that the Church of Christ must pass to the new heaven and new earth. These trumpet-visions, if read by the side of the story of Genesis, seem like the undoing of creation: the vegetation is smitten, the earth and sea are intermingled, the lights of the heavens are darkened, the living things in seas and streams are destroyed; but
“Fresher life the world shall draw
From their decay.”
The pulling down must precede the building up; the removing of the degenerate is one step in the way to the regeneration.
And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!INTRODUCTION TO THE LAST THREE, OR WOE, TRUMPETS. AN EAGLE UTTERS THE THREEFOLD WOE.
(13) And I beheld . . .—Better, And I saw, and I heard a single eagle (not “angel,” as in English version) flying in mid-heaven, saying with a mighty voice, Woe, woe, woe, to those that dwell upon the earth by reason of the remaining voices of the trumpet of the three angels who are about to sound! The best MS. authority is against the reading “angel,” and in favour of eagle. It is, then, an eagle, a solitary eagle, that moves across the heaven, and utters the warning Woe! It flies through the meridian sky, and is thus visible to the very horizon. It was an appropriate emblem: high-soaring as the spirit of the seer, the eagle-glance scanned the borders of the earth, and caught sight of the coming troubles, and gave warning; swift and strong as the judgments of God, its very form gave emphasis to the warnings of its voice (Deuteronomy 28:49; Hosea 8:1; and Matthew 24:28). And yet the emblem must bring to the minds of God’s children the care of Him who led Israel, instructed him, and kept him as the apple of His eye, and cherished him as “an eagle stirreth up her nest, fluttereth over her young, spreadeth abroad her wings, taketh them, and beareth them on her wings” (Deuteronomy 32:11). Is it not also a precursor of those eagle-like judgments which fall upon the carcase of dead nations or a dead society?