Thursday, November 24, 2022
Chapter 9 gives much more detail on the first and second woes than the first four trumpets, which received just six verses. That mirrors the brief coverage of the first four seals. It is true that seven is “a number of completion or perfection”, but I think more than that is involved with the several sets of seven in Revelation. John’s vision is very complicated, but how it was relayed to him helped him pass it along. It also helped others to memorize it (many believers have heard rather than read Revelation). One aspect is how certain descriptions parallel or contrast with each other. Another useful detail is the images it contains, particularly the throne. Most of John’s vision can be placed relative to that central image. We can’t automatically visualize how that gives the vision structure, but we can attempt to bring it to mind. Perhaps John didn’t always hear the 24 elders at the same volume in the background of a scene, they could have been ‘turned down’ in his perception to let him concentrate on a new event, but several times we read of scenes happening near the throne or of John looking farther away. We don’t always understand the significance of the details John provides, but some of that may be in what we are actually looking for. John provided this book for audiences with varying needs, encouraging in times of persecution, reminding of God’s promises, and offering warnings, among others. Perhaps the final generation of this age will make very special use of the vision, employing some of its peculiar design as an aid to its understanding, when taken in context with events.
The fifth trumpet involves a pit being unlocked to release creatures that are like winged locust-horses prepared for battle. They have human faces with lion’s teeth, long human hair and something like gold crowns. They also have scorpion tails that they will use for five months to deliver pain in a reign of terror. Their targets are only those who don’t have God’s seal on their foreheads (9:4, referring back to chapter 7). These attacks cause so much pain people wish to be dead, but they aren’t killed. You can choose whether to see them as monsters, or perhaps a really complex metaphor. In Jeremiah 51 we read of an army serving God in bringing judgment described as “a population like locusts” (v. 14) and “horses like bristly locusts” (v. 27), maybe picturing their armor. But this goes a fair way beyond that. And it doesn’t help that their leader is described as an angel king known as Destruction or Destroyer. We only hear of him this one time, but it seems like we will read about the pit again a few days from now – the key to the pit will be brought back by another angel so that the devil can be locked up there (20:1-3).
The sixth trumpet is blown, and a voice speaks from the four horns of the golden altar (in front of God’s throne). This takes us back to just before the start of the sequence of seven trumpets when a censer filled with fire from the golden altar was cast onto the world. Each of the first four trumpets related to flame, and the fifth trumpet involved a burning star falling from the sky and smoke rising up. Now with the sixth trumpet the reference to flame is very distinct. The voice calls for four angels which have been bound at the Euphrates River in the Middle East to be released. We are told they were kept in waiting for this exact day and hour, but it isn’t fully plain what their role in the situation is. Perhaps they act as generals directing the force which emerges, for there comes a massive army of what are in effect mobile flame throwers. They are described as 200 million horsemen mounted on creatures with lion’s heads and snake tails capable of producing fire, smoke, and sulfur from the mouths at both ends. Sulfur (which has also been known as brimstone) produces a dangerous gas when it burns, and its flames are difficult to put out. The text pictures the fire, smoke, and sulfur as three plagues on humanity.
We are not given a timeframe for how long the second woe devastates humanity, but the death toll is a third of the global population. We also learn that in the wake of these events the survivors do not change their ways. In 6:16 we heard that the people realized God’s wrath had come, but they wanted to hide from it rather than repent. This text reaffirms that remorseless attitude, as well as stating some of the evils they were guilty of. Between the two trumpets there is quite the display, first a group of people who hurt so badly they wish they were dead but who don’t improve their lives during the course of five months of this, and then the deaths of masses of people without providing a cautionary tale to anyone. If God is teaching lessons by these events perhaps it is less to the people of that time than to us, letting us see how far gone matters will be by then, making us aware that God picked the right time for the end of the age. Renewal needs to come, I long for renewal actually, but let it be at the right time. The Father knows all the right days and hours.
Lord, you are loving and patient and kind. But you will not let the wicked go unpunished. You are the one who provided the Lamb, you wanted the stain of sin to be removed from me before I even knew what it was. You want to avoid punishing. You want to save, to protect, to shelter. You once flooded your creation and said you would never do it again. But you reserved this world for fire because the flood didn’t solve everything. And I’m sorry all this came about. I grieve that it was necessary. Please show me how to be a blessing, to use your Spirit to make this world a better place and reduce some of the suffering that might have been in it when you will need to act. Thank you God, I love you. Amen.
Reflection and Application Questions
- Would you rather…live through the events of the 5th trumpet or be killed in the events of the 6th?
- Why do you think God prompted John to write down the vision of the book of Revelation? Why are we reading it today? What specific further actions should it lead us to?
- Can you give an example of God’s perfect timing, either from the Bible or a personal account?
- How would you describe God’s love AND His need to punish the wicked to someone who has never met God?