The Concordant Version
1And when It opens the seventh seal, a hush occurred in heaven as it were half an hour.
2And I perceived the seven messengers who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3And another messenger came and was standing at the altar, having a golden thurible. And much incense was given him that he shall be imparting to the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar before the throne. 4And the fumes of the incense with the prayers of the saints ascended out of the messenger's hand before God. 5And the messenger has taken the thurible, and he crams it with the fire of the altar and casts it into the earth. And thunders and voices and lightnings and an earthquake occurred.
6And the seven messengers who have the seven trumpets make themselves ready that they should be trumpeting.
7And the first trumpets. And there came to be hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was cast into the earth, and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
8And the second messenger trumpets. And as it were a huge mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood, 9and a third of the creatures in the sea, which have a soul, died, and a third of the ships decayed.
10And the third messenger trumpets. And a large star falls out of heaven, burning as a torch. And it falls on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11And the name of the star is said to be Absinth. And a third of the waters became absinth, and many of mankind died of the waters, seeing that they were made bitter.
12And the fourth messenger trumpets. And a third of the sun and a third of the moon and a third of the stars were eclipsed, that a third of them may be darkened, and the day may not be appearing for a third of it, and the night likewise.
THE FIRST FOUR TRUMPETS
HITHERTO, from the time that John was called by a trumpet through the open door of heaven (4:1), our ears have been greeted by voices and thunders, by loud proclamations and the commands of the Lambkin, by the prayers of the saints and the petitions of the impenitent, by marvelous melody of myriads of messengers and the ringing response of all creation.
Now there comes to be a hush in heaven for half an hour. The seventh seal is opened in silence. If we have intelligently followed the breaking of the seals it will not be difficult for us to hold our peace in breathless expectation. The seals which have been broken have been of tremendous import. But the sealing and sheltering of the sixth seal suggest that the most momentous events are yet to come. But one more seal remains. It must involve the consummation. When it is broken all we can do is to join the mute messengers and silent elders, and seek to understand this voiceless utterance, this hushed heralding, this stillness, more awful and full of premonitory import than if a thousand trumpets had flared forth in clamorous alarm.
But why the delay! Is not all ready? Yes, all the saints are sealed, the trumpets are prepared. Is not the full time come and judgment ripe for harvest? It is. The day of man is past, the judgment more than due. Why then the delay?
The rage of man is reckless, thoughtless, unrestrained. All that he cares for is to destroy the object of his hate. He will strike as soon as possible. What cares he for his enemy's regard?
But God's indignation is of an entirely different stamp. When His judgments are in the earth the inhabitants will learn righteousness. He makes deliberate haste and holds back His upraised hand.
To us this silent session in the very midst of judgment is the touch which transforms all these terrors from unreasoning, insatiate wrath to careful, calculated indignation, designed to deal out righteousness, not merely unrestrained revenge.
It will be noted that this hush in heaven is in contrast to the trumpet blasts which follow. From death-like silence comes the thunder's reverberating roll and the trumpet's loud alarm. It is the stillness before the storm. If the trumpets peal forth His indignation, the silence speaks of His kindness. In wrath He remembers mercy (Hab.3:2). The pause is brief, but it is eloquent. It bids us remember that the terrific tragedies which follow are not so much as tinged with malice, that they are not only right but rectifying, and, in their final result, but another manifestation of His goodness.
The seven seals were broken by the Lambkin Itself. The trumpets are blown by seven messengers. As the opening of the seventh seal involves the seven trumpets, we may easily identify the seven messengers with the seven horns of the Lambkin, which are the seven spirits of God, commissioned for the entire earth (5:6). As we have already seen, the saints of this present administration of grace are members of Christ's body, and, as such, will be His agents in disseminating the knowledge of the transcendent riches of God's grace among the celestials in the coming eons. So also, the Lambkin is a composite, including not only Christ, but the seven messengers who are Its horns and eyes. As the horns of an animal are its aggressive weapons of destruction, so these seven messengers are His agents in the trumpet judgments.
But before the trumpets sound, God once more guards His character by showing us the immediate motive of the ensuing judgments. Under the fifth seal He heard the prayers of the saints for vengeance on their oppressors. To these we may add the petitions of those who were not persecuted, for He taught them to pray, "Thy kingdom come!" If the kingdom is to some and His elect are to be revenged, the trumpets must sound. The whole of the judgments are aptly symbolized by the action of the messenger at the golden altar. He is given much incense, that sweet smelling compound which speaks of the varied and delightful excellences of Christ, which he offers with the faulty prayers of His people. The effect is twofold. The vapor ascends to God, and provides the motive for His judgments. The result is that the messenger crams his thurible with fire and flings it to the earth, to symbolize the source of earth's woes.
Men cannot touch His saints without attacking Him He is bound to support their cause. The supernatural, terrorizing trumpet judgments are His response to the petition of His saints and His reply to the rebellion of mankind.
THE FIRST TRUMPET
At the first trumpet hail and fire mixed with blood are east into the earth. As a result a third of the earth, with the trees and grass, are burned.
The deliverance of the saints has many a parallel with the exodus out of Egypt and the plagues that preceded it. The first plague was of blood (Ex.7:14-25). It turned all the waters into blood. Here, however, it is not the waters which are turned to blood, but what would correspond to the rain on the earth. The third trumpet deals with the waters. This one is confined to the earth.
Occasionally, mankind has been startled by the appearance of red rain or red snow, and expositors have eagerly seized on this to "explain" this infliction. But such a spectacular farce will not be staged to interest or amuse mankind when the time of His indignation comes. The blood in Egypt was not colored water, but dreadful, deadly, detestable gore.
The seventh Egyptian plague was hail and fire mingled with the hail (Ex.9:13-35). This corresponds closely with this infliction. The Egyptians were warned and sought protection. At the sounding of the seventh trumpet this will be repeated on a grander scale and with a fiercer fire. The Egyptians seem to have suffered little from the fire, but here it is the chief agent of destruction.
Men little realize how combustible earth's vegetation is until a dry summer turns it to tinder and it begins to burn almost without cause. A single lightning stroke can lay a vast forest in ashes. But a few weeks before this was written miles upon miles of mountain land were burned over and millions of dollars damage was done by the dropping of a match, not quite extinguished. What a lurid, smoking inferno this earth will be when the heavens drop down fire and a third of its surface is swept by the devouring flames!
I well remember an experience of my own in fighting a mountain fire, or, rather, what threatened to become such. Some smoldering embers, thought to be dead, suddenly started to life and a gust of wind swept a flicker to a nearby bush. In a moment a flame flared high and another bush was blazing. Left alone, it would be but a few minutes before the whole canyon would be ablaze and the whole mountain beyond a seething sea of flame. So I hastily seized some wet sacks and attacked the wind-whirled waves of angry, crackling fire. It seemed impossible to get near enough to strike without being swallowed up by the flames. Yet in some way - how, I hardly know - the fire was checked at the canyon's mouth, but it left me so exhausted that it was a week before I was myself again.
On another occasion I rode through a forest which had recently been burned over. The ground was black and hot with ashes. The tree tops were still aflame in many places. Little imagination was needed to picture the fearful fury of the flames when they are roused to fight the forest.
But I have noticed that the green grass does not burn. It is seared and scorched at times, but only in the hottest fire. Flames fly upward. Heat rises. The ground and the grass suffer from the radiant heat, but are not burned like that which lies in the path of the flames. But in that dreadful day the fire will be so fierce as to burn the very earth and completely consume the greenest of the grass.
The surface of this earth will receive a scorching such as it has never had since man has come upon the scene. At times a region, such as Sodom's sinful vale, is incinerated in the flames. But after this ordeal is past one third of earth's surface lies a smoldering shroud of ashes beneath a somber pall of smoke.
THE SECOND TRUMPET
The second trumpet shifts the scene from the land to the sea. Instead of a barrage of hail, the artillery of heaven bombards with an enormous mountain-like meteor, which falls into the ocean. A mountain burning with fire may describe a volcano, but the simile suggests that it was not a mountain, but a mass of matter which looks like one. Indeed, the fire does not seem to be of great moment. Nothing is burned, but it seems to be quenched in the waters of the sea. It may have an important office in the divine chemistry which converts a third of the water into blood, and poisons the soul life of the sea and speedily spoils the shipping.
To most men such a thing seems incredible. The vast mass of the waters, the enormous extent of the visitation - these are not easy for the human mind to imagine. But such matters are simply questions of comparison. Our standard is too tiny. If we allow, for the nonce, the usually accepted figures for the size of the earth and the depth of the sea, the water becomes a relatively small portion of the whole. If a miniature earth about three feet in diameter were plunged into water, the thin film which adheres when it is withdrawn would represent the waters of the sea. It would be nothing for a man to replace a third of this with blood. Why then should we doubt God's declaration that He will merge the meteor and the sea and make them blood? Moses did this with the waters of Egypt with no medium but his staff. Even the magicians accomplished it (Ex.7:19-22). It is no feat for God.
Cannot He Who made the sea change the character of its waters? If God is going to impress mankind with His power and righteousness it would be useless to repeat the marvels which greet them every day. His acts must be stupendous and unnatural and terrifying. Fire and blood are the very synonyms of war. To these are being added noxious gas, and this also finds its place under the third trumpet. The earth will be charred by fire and bathed in blood and poisoned by gas.
THE THIRD TRUMPET
It is well known that the words which we translate "earth" and "land" do not include the sea or the lakes and rivers. It means land in its exclusive sense. So, it will be seen, that the springs and rivers have not been touched by the first two trumpets. Hence this is the sphere of the third.
Absinth, or wormwood, is a bitter herb, intoxicating and fatal if used too freely. It produces convulsions, paralysis and death. A third of the supply of water for mankind is transformed from the most healthful and beneficial of fluids into a potent poison, and many of mankind drink, are made drunk and die of the bitter waters.
THE FOURTH TRUMPET
Thus far the devastating judgments have destroyed man's means of living. The trees and herbage are burned, the fish are destroyed, the water is poisoned. Earth is not a pleasant place to live in when a large part of the bare necessities are destroyed or deal out death instead of fostering life. But the sun, the source of life, still shines, and the moon gleams bright, and the stars still sparkle in the heavenly vault. Here, then is the sphere of the fourth infliction. Heaven from above, as well as earth beneath, contributes to the consternation of mankind.
Those beneficent heavenly orbs which give us light and warmth, on which all growth depends, retire behind a sable curtain as though ashamed to look on such a scene, and add their share to the chilling misery and sickening gloom.
Thus mankind is enveloped in heaven-sent calamities that men may learn the long forgotten lesson taught to Nebuchadnezzar when the nations were first given the sovereignty of the earth. "The heavens do rule" is written on its face with fire and blood and it is traced upon the heavens themselves in dismal characters.
But the hand of judgment is restrained. Two-thirds remains untouched. Had all these inflictions been worldwide, as well they might, who would be left? No food, no water, no light - no creatures could exist for long in such a case. Judgment is measured, and dare not break beyond the bounds assigned by Him Whose strange work it is. Severe as it seems to be it is always a fraction of its potential force. Were it the blind rage of a heartless autocrat, what would hinder him from exterminating mankind with one fell stroke? But the trumpets are sounded by the horns of the Lambkin, Who Himself has known a scene very like to this. Fire from above burned into His bones, blood flowed from His veins, a darkness shadowed Golgotha. We may well leave the justice of this judgment in His hands!
The first four trumpets are thus briefly told. But the last three are described with much more detail. There is much to come before us before the seventh trumpet's blast, which ushers in the kingdom. So horrible are these inflictions that they well deserve to be called woes. The fifth trumpet is the first woe. The sixth is the second. Then we hear the seven thunders interpose with their frightful reverberations. Then the temple on mount Zion is measured, and becomes the nucleus of the coming kingdom. Next we consider the testimony of the two witnesses, their superhuman powers, their disgraceful death and their triumphal ascension. And then comes that great event, for which the world has waited since the flood, when government was first entrusted to the hands of men. The kingdom of this world finally falls into the hands of Him Whose right it is, Who alone can heal its mortal wound and bring peace to a war-worn world.