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Introduction to Alethea In Heart Ministries

The Revelation of John - Chapter VIII
Commentaries on the Entire Bible

By Rev. Henry Cowles
Professor of Church History and Prophesy at Oberlin College, and Main Editor of
The Oberlin Evangelist (responsible for giving us most of Finney's sermons).





Unlike either of the first six seals this seventh when opened discloses not one particular symbol, indicating a single event (or some special phase of an historic period) to be sketched in few words; but it discloses an entire sevenfold set of new symbols; in other words, the seventh seal is itself expanded into the seven trumpets, and each of these trumpets becomes a distinct symbol. The object is manifestly to spread out the symbols of judgment and woe, and make them more impressive by a fuller detail—a more minute and extended description.—According to Mosaic law (Num. 10: 9) and Hebrew usage (2 Chron. 13: 12) the great trumpet was blown as the signal of war, and hence became a natural symbol of calamity, judgment.

In this chapter we have with the opening of the seventh seal, the solemn silence (v. 1); the seven angels receiving each his trumpet (v. 2); the symbol of incense accompanying and representing the prayers of saints (vs. 3, 4); the casting of fire from the altar down to the earth and the results (v. 5); and then the scenes which successively followed the sounding of the first four of these trumpets (vs. 6-13).

1. And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.

This is the silence of solemn, portentous expectation! Momentous results are foretokened: there is a sense as of something grand, appalling, sublime, yet fearful, about to happen. All heaven is still as if holding breath with strained eye to see what is coming. Yet this waiting period is very short, for judgments hasten to fulfill their mission.

2. And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets.

It is noticeable that the original Greek like our English version has it, not merely seven angels, but "the seven angels," as if they were made definite by previous mention or by some other circumstances of their case. Hence those who take the, "seven spirits before the throne" (l: 4) to be the seven archangels explain the article here as referring to that previous mention. Others suppose them to be simply the seven pre-eminent or arch-angels, assumed to be somewhat well known as usually or normally "standing before God." This seems to meet best all the conditions of this case: the seven who customarily stand nearest before God and of highest rank.—It is more to our purpose to note that this is the trump of doom; that these angels have the ministry of sounding forth each his message of fearful forewarning.

3. And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.

4. And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand.

It results from the prescribed arrangements for Jewish temple worship that prayer is associated with incense. The odors exhaled from burning incense ascended before God in the hour of public prayer, indicating that prayer comes up before God with a pleasing and acceptable fragrance. See Luke 1: 10, and Lev. 16: 12, 13.—The angels seem here to perform the functions before the altar in heaven which the High Priest performed before the altar on earth. Whether this scene indicates that the angels offered their prayers along with the prayers of saints on earth, it may not be possible for us to determine with certainty. It is however sufficiently clear that the prayers of saints on earth have an important connection with God's sending forth judgments upon the great persecutors of his Zion, even as was shown on the opening of the fifth seal (6: 9-11). The moral purpose of this exhibition we may assume was to assure those suffering Christians that God did certainly hear their prayer for the triumph of his cause and the deliverance of his people, and for the destruction of opposing powers, in so far as this result was demanded by the ends of justice and victory.

5. And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it into the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.

This scene evinces the close connection between the prayers that go up from the stricken souls of persecuted saints, and the judgments that come down from the Hearer of prayer upon their persecutors.

6. And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.

The prolonged preparationthe careful, almost slow development of the preliminary steps, foretoken the magnitude and solemnity of the impending scene.

7. The first angel sounded, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth and the third part of trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.

8. And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood;

9. And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.

10. And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters;

11. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

12. And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise.

Remarkably these first four trumpets have several of their most prominent points in common, being alike in all; e, g., (1.) That the plague denoted by each has its own special sphere, the first falling upon the land; the second upon the sea; the third upon rivers and fountains; the fourth upon the heavenly bodies as sources of light: and (2.) That each plague limits its destructive agency to one third part:—one third part of the trees of the earth were burned up; one third part of the sea became blood; one third part of the living creatures in the sea died; one third part of the ships on the great waters were destroyed; the great star from heaven fell on the third part of the rivers and fountains; one third part of the waters became wormwood; one third part of the sun, moon and stars was smitten, and one third of the light of day and night also was cut off. Now it seems obvious that this definite regularity is due to the influence of the idea of order over these symbols, and must not be supposed to measure with just this precision the extent of these several plagues. Nor indeed need we expect to locate these judgments in actual history, the first installment upon the earth; the second upon the sea; the third upon rivers and fountains; and the fourth upon the great lights of heaven. To assume and expect this would be to misconceive the true purpose of such symbolic representations. Much less as it seems to me are we authorized to map out these successive trumpets on the grand chart of human history, giving to the first a section of from two to five hundred years, more or less; to the second another successive section of either fixed or variable length, applying every point of these symbols to some supposed analogous event, etc. Some have done this, with immense labor, but with ever varying results. It is simply impossible that such speculations in searching out some analogies between these symbols and the history of the long ages since the Christian era, can ever be harmonious, or very satisfactory to any but those who have made them. The fatal vice in them all is that their very construction of these symbols makes them a labyrinth of mysteries. Then, having made them such, they try to find a path through and out, with absolutely no thread to guide them. They begin the study of the whole book by ignoring or ruling out the landmarks, or to retain the figure, the guiding thread which marks the pathway through.

But let us return to the symbols of our passage. To some extent they seem to imitate the plagues on Egypt; especially the first, the plague of hail; the second, the waters turned to blood; the third is analogous; the fourth bears a resemblance to the plague of darkness, or rather it follows the general law of poetic imagery, by which, darkness represents calamity.—The "great mountain burning with fire, cast into the sea," suggests volcanic eruptions as its source; the great star burning as a lamp falling from heaven has its prototype at long intervals in those startling manifestations in the heavens which have the appearance of being great world-conflagrations, burning for months with surprising brilliancy, and then becoming extinct forever!—In verse 11 the waters that became wormwood were not only bitter but poisonous.—In verse 12 it becomes a question, in reference to the day and the night, whether the language means that one-third of the usual period of each was made absolutely dark; or that one-third of their ordinary light was withdrawn, leaving but two-thirds of the average amount shining. The latter seems most probable, this being the natural result of obscuring one-third part of those luminous bodies from which day and night obtain their light.—As has been said, all these symbols indicate calamity, judgment. I can not regard it as demanded of the interpreter that he make up a series of historic facts which shall precisely match these symbols one by one and measure accurately to each its amount woe, as inflicted on each city, or each generation, or in each year. Suffice it that Jesus himself in his predictions of the fall of Jerusalem and its premonitory indications (Mat. 24, and its parallel passages) has drawn a picture strikingly similar to this. Let it also suffice that history fills the interval of some ten years, more or less, before the final fall of the city, with scenes of alarm, terror, outrage, calamity, carnage, crime, and woe, to which these symbols correspond with a precision that seems to me to leave nothing more to be desired.

13. And I beheld, and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!

The best authorities read the text eagle instead of "angel"—the sense being no doubt an angel flying eagle-like through mid-heaven. His mission was to pre-intimate yet more fearful woes upon the sounding of the last three trumpets. Hence these last three are frequently designated "woe-trumpets."

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"Day" = year?