And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God…
I. THE WORDS AS FROM MAN TO GOD. Looking up to God, man breathes the deep-drown sigh, "How long?" (Psalm 6:3; Psalm 13:1; Psalm 35:17; Psalm 74:10; Psalm 79:5; Psalm 89:46; Psalm 90:13; Psalm 94:4; Habakkuk 1:2; Revelation 6:10). These are the chief passages in which the expression occurs. Instead of dwelling on each in succession, let me thus sum up and classify their different meanings. It is the language —
1. Of complaint. The righteous man feels the burden and the sorrow and the evil that have so long prevailed in this present evil world, and he cries, "How long?" Have these not lasted long enough? Would that they were done! In this complaint there is weariness, and sometimes there is sadness — almost despair — when unbelief gets the upper hand. Creation groans. Iniquity overflows. Death reigns. The wicked triumph.
2. Submission. While impatience sometimes rises, yet the cry does not mean this. It is really a cry of submission to a wise and sovereign God. It is the cry of one putting all events, as well as all times and seasons, into His hands.
3. Inquiry. In all the passages there is an implied question. It is not merely, Oh that the time would come! but, When shall it come?
4. Expectation. It is the voice of faith, and hope, and longing desire. The present is dark, the future is bright; God's Word is sure concerning the coming glory; and so we, looking for and hasting to that glory, and depressed with the evil here, cry out day by day, "How long?"
II. THE WORDS AS FROM GOD TO MAN. I note the following instances (Exodus 10:3; Exodus 16:28; Joshua 18:3; 1 Kings 18:21; Psalm 82:2; Proverbs 1:22; Proverbs 6:9; Jeremiah 4:14). Taking up these words of God as spoken to different classes, we would dwell on the following points:
1. Long-suffering. Jeremiah's words to Jerusalem are the words of a long-suffering God, "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
2. Expostulation. How long halt ye between two opinions? How long shall ye be of deciding? How long of trusting Me?
3. Entreaty. How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? God beseeches man; He entreats him to give up his sin, to come and be saved. How long will ye refuse My love?
4. Earnestness. God's words are all sincere. He means what He says, and says what He means. "Ye will not come to Me!" "How often would I have gathered thy children!" "O that thou hadst known!"
5. Sorrow. Every moment's continuance in unbelief is vexing and grieving the Spirit.
6. Upbraiding. There is the land, the kingdom, why do ye not go in? The door is open; the way is clear.
7. Warning. How long will ye persist in your unrighteousness and unbelief? The day of grace is ending. The day of wrath is coming. Be warned. Flee from the wrath to come.
(H. Bonar, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: