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V. 1. The seventh seal is opened and there is silence in heaven about the space of half an hour. It is the lull before the storm; it is the suspense of dread before the breaking out of some great and portentous event. There is a sense of something great and fearful about to happen. One holds his breath in the intensity of expectation.
V. 2. John saw seven angels to whom were given seven trumpets. The trumpet was a signal of battle in Israel. They were told to blow the trumpet for alarm when faced with foes. When Jereboam attacked Judah the priests blew the trumpet and God gave Judah victory. These trumpets may well indicate God's war against his enemies. But yet the trumpets are slow to sound. There is still another halt. God is never in a hurry to smite; he is longsuffering and slow to anger.
Vs. 3,4. Another angel appears with a censor and much incense, and offers it with the prayers of all saints. And the smoke of the incense and the prayers of the saints ascend up before God. This is not the first time we have met the prayers of the saints in this book. In the sixth chapter we heard them pray: "How long, Lord, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?" That is upon their persecutors and the persecutors of the church. At the cry of God's people God will avenge. This scene shows that God will hear their prayers, vindicate their cause and overthrow their enemies.
V. 5. And the angel took the censor, filled it with fire from the altar, and cast it into the earth, and there were voices, and thunder, and lightnings, and an earthquake. Which evidently showed the immediate answer to their prayers. And then the angels prepare to sound, after these careful deliberate preliminaries, which seem to point to the magnitude and solemnity of the events. Observe that this falls under the seventh seal. The seventh seal did not bring on the earth any single event, but only disclosed the seven trumpets, and the trumpets are the signals of the events on earth.
Vs. 7-13. These verses give us the sounding of four trumpets. As the four seals had a similarity in the four horses, so the four trumpets have a similarity, and may be considered together. At the sounding of the trumpets certain plagues fall. The first plague fell on the land; the second on the sea; the third on the rivers; and the fourth on the heavenly bodies. And each plague destroys one third of what it touches. One third of the trees are burned; one third of the sea becomes blood; one third of the rivers and fountains become wormwood; and one third of the day and night are deprived of light.
It is useless to attempt to attach these trumpets to successive periods of history, and say that the first applies to so many centuries and the second covers so many centuries and so on. Some have tried to do that, and labored to show what periods of time each one covered; but with no satisfactory results. It is much better to regard them as all belonging to one time and one event, namely the destruction of the first great persecutor of the Christian church. Christ, in speaking of the fall of Jerusalem, described it in sufficiently alarming terms; and history fills out the event of about ten years before the fall of the city with scenes of crimes, and terror, robbery, and murder, and carnage sufficient to justify such symbols as these.
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the Second Week after Epiphany