The opening of the seventh seal (8:1) introduces the seven trumpet judgments. The half hour of silence in heaven is a time of suspense and anticipation. The calm before the storm.
In vv. 3-5 we see once again the prayers of the saints typified by the fragrant smoke of incense. Only this time fire is taken from the heavenly altar of incense and hurled to the earth by an angel, resulting in loud noise, thunder, lightning, and an earthquake. Again we see that God’s response to the prayers of the saints is to send judgment against the earth dwellers. These trumpet judgments are more severe than the seal judgments.
The first four trumpet judgments are directed against the earth (vv. 6-12). The first trumpet is reminiscent of the plagues brought against Egypt in the days of Moses. The bloody flaming hailstones damage a third of the land, trees, and plants (grass). The second trumpet looks to John like a huge flaming mountain thrown into the sea. The key word here is like. John is not sure what he is seeing, and he describes it as best he can using human language. A third of the salt water is turned to blood and a third of the ships in the ocean are destroyed. A third of all sea life likewise perishes. The third trumpet targets the fresh water rivers and springs, polluting them and turning them bitter. The fourth trumpet somehow causes a darkening of the heavenly bodies. This and the other three trumpet judgments at least vaguely resemble the judgments against Pharaoh in the book of Exodus.
There is significance in the fact that God is destroying the environment here. The earth dwellers are involved in pagan religions which have a common denominator: worship of the creature/creation rather than the Creator. These religions were fertility cults that really denied the transcendent God of the Bible. God stretches out His hand in judgment and wreaks havoc against that which they cherish most. They are earth dwellers–they are tied to this earth. God attacks the object of their devotion and security–the earth itself.
There is an application here for us. This is God’s universe. Of course we ought to respect it and take care of it as good stewards. But if we hold the environment to be sacred in lieu of God, and we strive to take care of it because it’s all there is and it belongs to us, then we are guilty of idolatry. All our environmental consciousness is a foul stench in the nostrils of God. This fallen earth will not last forever–it is in a continual state of entropy right now. One day God will destroy it by fire, and in the meantime He can do what He wants with it. He will not compete with the false god called Mother Nature.
Chapter Eight is short and so will tonight’s entry be; so let me say a few words about the symbolic language used in the Apocalypse using an illustration from modern life. There are different genres of movies. When you see a film that tries to more or less present an historical narrative, such as Saving Private Ryan, you expect a pretty straight forward literal and linear presentation where the meaning is right on the surface. On the other hand, movies like Avatar or any of the Harry Potter, Narnia, or Lord of the Rings films are filled with symbolism and mythical creatures. You know going in that what you are going to see is not intended to approximate real life. Even so, movies with lots of fantasy can communicate deep messages.
People back in New Testament times had imaginations as vivid as ours, and perhaps more so. They did not have the technology available to express their creativity in a virtual fashion on a screen, but they did have genres of literature that served a similar purpose. Narrative literature, like the four gospels and Acts, are straightforward literal accounts. The epistles are mostly literal, and when figures of speech are used they are obvious, much like in modern letters. The poetic material like the Psalms contains a wealth of figures and symbols. And the apocalyptic genre is represented by the book of Revelation and chunks of Daniel and the prophets. Apocalyptic literature was never designed to be understood in a wooden literal way.
Why do I labor this point? Because we are going to get into some really fantastic images as we work our way through the Apocalypse; and if we attempt to find a real-world counterpart for every item portrayed using symbolism, we will miss the forest for the trees. Again, do not get caught up in every detail but instead look for the broad brush strokes. Try to determine the principle, the timeless truth behind the symbols and figures.
I know there are those who will say you must always interpret the Bible literally, and people like me are distorting scripture by using what they call a spiritualizing hermeneutic. But there is a biblically-based precedent for this–and remember, scripture interprets scripture.
Here is a true story taken from my experience just this morning that demonstrates the point I am getting at. My day starts very early with an hour of reading and meditating on the Greek text of Revelation. Then I get into prayer; but because I am a slow starter when it comes to praying I have made it my habit to begin by reading a psalm aloud as a prayer. That usually primes the pump. So anyway, today I opened my Bible to the Psalms and selected one totally at random–I kid you not. The first words my eyes saw were these:
Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundation of the hills also quaked and were shaken, because He was angry. Smoke went up from His nostrils, and devouring fire from His mouth; coals were kindled by it. He bowed the heavens also, and came down with darkness under His feet. And He rode upon a cherub, and flew; He flew upon the wings of the wind. He made darkness His secret place; His canopy around Him was dark waters and thick clouds of the skies. From the brightness before Him, His thick clouds passed with hailstones and coals of fire. The Lord thundered from heaven, after the most high uttered His voice, hailstones and coals of fire. He sent out His arrows and scattered the foe, lightnings in abundance, and He vanquished them. Then the channels of the sea were seen, the foundations of the world were uncovered at Your rebuke, O Lord, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
What you have just read is Psalm 18:7-15. This is a psalm written by David on the day the Lord had delivered him from the hand of Saul, as recorded in 2 Samuel 22. God intervened in a mighty way on David’s behalf, but none of what David describes in the text quoted above happened literally. And no Jew in his right mind who read this psalm would have ever thought otherwise. I encourage you to read this psalm in its entirety, and also to peruse the psalms because when you do you will see that this kind of language is used often.
The eighth chapter of Revelation closes with the announcement of the three remaining woes (trumpet judgments). Whereas the first four were directed against the environment, these will be aimed directly at the earth dwellers.