Wednesday, November 23, 2022
At the start of chapter 8 the Lamb opens the final, seventh, seal of God’s book, and there is silence in heaven for about half an hour. John may have experienced this, felt it, but it is difficult as a reader to appreciate a dramatic pause. And it was not just a pause but a silence – praise has been the backdrop of John’s vision for some time, from beasts and elders and angels and creatures, and more recently they were joined by a vast throng. Suddenly all is silent. This was reverence. The book was fully open. We humans still aren’t told what that means precisely, but what it means is very big.
We then transition into a new series of seven with the blowing of trumpets. It isn’t quite clear whether this resulted from opening the seventh seal, or not. People question whether the trumpet blasts proceed chronologically after the seals or if the trumpets describe some of the same time as the seals, perhaps focusing in tighter and narrowing our attention.
After the trumpets were distributed, and before they were to be blown, we are reminded that the tabernacle on earth was a shadow of the one in heaven. An angel works with the prayers of the saints that are on the golden altar before the throne, mixing them with incense in a censer and letting the mix go up to God on His throne. Maybe these are the prayers of believers on earth, or this may be yet another reference to the souls of the saints that are beneath the altar, calling God to render judgment soon. Then the angel puts fire from the altar into the censer and casts it down onto the earth – the sounds that accompany its fall suggest this may symbolize judgement commencing (or resuming).
As the trumpets begin to blast (sounding after the quiet, like a new fall of Jericho) there are disasters that bring to mind the plagues against Egypt, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As with the first four seals the first four trumpets seem to go together in a set, but the big number this time is one-third rather than one-fourth. We don’t know whether a single huge portion of the planet (land, sea, and rivers) is rendered uninhabitable or if scattered sections across it are devastated. Each of the first three trumpets involves things falling from the sky, and the fourth involves the sky growing darker as the lights start to go out. The impression is of creation being undone – but not fully undone, because God still has use for it. It is tempting to say that the falling objects are of increasing size and violence, but we struggle to understand John’s reporting of his vision. For one thing, sometimes we are unsure whether to treat John’s words more as descriptive of what he saw in the vision or as coming from the vision. For example, verse 8 says that something like a mountain fell into the sea, and verse 10 says a great star fell in the waters – from our perspective of what a star really is we may suppose that these two objects were not very different in size but that the “star” probably glowed as it fell. Both would be terrifying.
One more pause comes with the final verse of the chapter, as an eagle warns that the remaining three trumpet blasts will mark terrible woes. It is unclear if anyone living on the earth can hear the warning. Of course the warning has long been available in the book of Revelation. It remains remarkable for God to offer a warning to people He is on the verge of bringing these punishments to for their sins. But God doesn’t stop caring about His creation even when faced with tearing it apart. We’re talking about the God who is aware of the death of every bird. Creation groans, but God lays out plans so that one day it will be freed from the curse.
Lord, thank you for your openness to the prayers of your saints. And thank you for not always saying yes to prayers. I, for one, would not have been wise enough to choose all of your plans. You are kind enough to guide us into things we do not understand. Thank you for the opportunity to worship you and rejoice in your presence. Please also help me take opportunities to be silent before you. You are awesome and deserving of both my loudest praise and my silent reverence. Thank you, Lord. Amen.
Reflection and Application Questions
- What do you think the significance or purpose of the silence might be when the 7th seal is opened? Have you sat before God in silence? What might the benefit be?
- What are your thoughts on God’s justice and judgment? Have you ever prayed for it (for someone else more sinful than yourself of course)? How can we better appreciate God’s timing and wisdom in this matter?
- Have you thanked God for his creation today? Thank Him for His plans to free us from the curse.