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THE SEVEN SEALS
The seer is snatched up to heaven, and sees there a holy assemblage, in which all points to the judgment, which, for the benefit of his sorely oppressed church, the Lord is going to execute upon the ungodly world, ch. 4. What the whole scene was of itself fitted to suggest is then brought clearly out in ch. 5, where a book with seven seals is delivered to Christ for the purpose of being opened, containing the judgments to be inflicted on the world. This opening follows, and the judgments- one after another become manifest in ch. 6 and in ch. Revelation 8:1. Ch. 7 forms an intermediate episode, in which is represented the preservation of the faithful in the midst of the judgments which alight on the world.
Revelation 8:2. And I saw the seven angels, who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets. Luther translates improperly: And I saw seven angels (leaving out the article), who entered before God. The expression: who stand before God, appears here as the characteristic mark of the seven angels; q.d. those seven angels, who stand before God. To go at seasonable times before God, to execute his commands, is peculiar to all angels—comp. Job 1:6. [Note: Vitringa: “It is the part of all, who are employed in the temple before God, to stand before him; that is, to denote and yield their services to him with the greatest promptitude of mind. In the temple of the Lord of Hosts it is the part of no one to tit, excepting Jehovah himself.”] But here it is a constant standing before God that is spoken of, which belongs only to the elect angels—those among them, who have a similar position to the seven princes among the servants of the kings of Persia, “who saw the king’s face, and sat the first in the kingdom,” Esther 1:14; comp. Ezra 7:14. To stand before God is of like import with “beholding the face of the Father in heaven” ( Matthew 18:10), and the entering in before the glory of the Holy One, which, in Tob_12:15 , is affirmed of the seven most distinguished angels. [Note: That passage in which Raphael is represented as calling himself one of the seven angels, who present the prayers of the saints and go in before God’s glory, serves to confirm what we have said on the article in the passage before us. In both alike the seven angels are spoken of who have such access to God.] The important office was committed to the most eminent of God’s servants. How glorious the dignity of the church, since the most exalted of the angels are employed in her service!
The distinction of angelic orders is involved in the very being of angels. For God’s creations are no democratic chaos. They everywhere form organisms, in which a gradual rise takes place from the lower to the higher. What the apostle says in 1 Corinthians 15:41 respecting the material department of the heavenly bodies, “there is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another in glory,” must prevail also in the spiritual. The position, too, which Satan took up is incomprehensible on any other supposition than that he was furnished before his fall with powers or prerogatives that ennobled him above the other angels, and invested him with an exalted dignity. In the Old Testament the seraphim in Isaiah 6 point to a distinction of rank among the angels, appearing as they do to stand immediately before the throne of God, and whose name, the nobles, the principles, alone indicates their elevated place; so also do the angel-princes in Daniel 10:13. [Note: See in regard to the distinction of higher and lower angels in the Old Testament my Beitr. I. p. 163.] A distinction in rank is recognised by our Lord himself in the New Testament, when in Matthew 18:10, out of the circle of angels he makes mention of those, who always behold the face of his father in heaven. In Luke 1:19 Gabriel describes himself as one who stands before God, as one of the most distinguished angels. In the enumeration of “thrones, dominions, principalities, powers,” in the epistles of Paul, Colossians 1:16, Colossians 2:10, comp. Romans 8:38, Ephesians 1:20, ss., Ephesians 3:10, Ephesians 6:11, ss., we cannot but perceive a recognition of different ranks in the angelic world, while it is true that St Paul maintains a reserve as to any more specific distinctions, and opposes the prying curiosity that would seek for such. In 1 Peter 3:22 also, beside the general name of angels, principalities and powers are mentioned; and in Jude Jude 1:8 (comp. 2 Peter 2:10) dominions and majesties are spoken of among the angels. The only thing peculiar to the passage before us is the seven number of angels in the first rank. No other passage of Scripture teaches this. Even in the Apocrypha it occurs only in a poetical way in the book Tobias. [Note: Nitzsch., System, § 90: “On the foundation now laid of doctrinal truth, there may again often be produced a free poetical application and use of what in recorded.”] But the variance is only an apparent one; for the limits between the different angelic orders will always be more or less of a fluctuating sort, and that precisely seven should here be mentioned arises from the seven trumpets which were required for the scenic representation. It is manifestly the seven number of the trumpets which determined the seven number of the angels, and not the reverse. Had ten trumpets been needed, there would also, beyond doubt, have been ten angels spoken of as standing before God.
THE SEVEN TRUMPETS (Ch. Revelation 8:2 to Revelation 11:19 )
The distribution of this group is as follows.
Revelation 8:2, “And I saw the seven angels, who stand before God, and to them were given seven trumpets,” supplies, as it were, the place of a superscription. It presents immediately before our eyes, those from whom all action proceeds in the great drama that follows. Next comes in the vision of the incense-offering angel, a kind of prelude Revelation 8:3-5. Then begins the work of the seven angels. The plagues of the four first, Revelation 8:6-12, alight upon the earth, the sea, the rivers, the heavens, and thus compose together one whole, inasmuch as they embrace the entire territory of creation. The three last trumpets are likewise bound up together. After the four first have been brought to a close, they are announced in ch. Revelation 8:13 by an eagle, which proclaims a threefold woe on the inhabitants of the earth. The fifth trumpet and the first woe is contained in ch. Revelation 9:1-12; the sixth trumpet and the second woe in Revelation 8:13-13, on which follows an episode in Revelation 10:1 to Revelation 11:13, so that the concluding formula is only given in ch. Revelation 11:14. Then comes at the close of the whole the seventh trumpet and the third woe, in ch. Revelation 11:15-19.
The three last trumpets, by being designated as the three last woes, are represented relatively to the four first, as greatly the more important and frightful; and in accordance with this is the much more lengthened description that is given of them. The fifth trumpet, or the first woe, takes up almost twice as much space as is devoted to the whole of the first four together. Only in the third woe, the seventh trumpet, do we find a less extended description than might have been expected; the reason of which shall afterwards be considered.
Again, on the first six trumpets in relation to the seventh—leaving out of view the point of some of them belonging to the woes—there is impressed the character of the half and incomplete. In the first four trumpets the third part of the sphere on which the injury alight is uniformly mentioned. The locusts under the fifth trumpet torment, according to ch. Revelation 9:5; Revelation 9:10, five months, the five being the signature of the half and incomplete, in contrast to the last trumpet and the last woe, when the mystery of God is finished, which he has revealed to his servants, the prophets, ch. Revelation 10:7. In the sixth trumpet the third part of men is again killed.
The following remarks may serve for defining the circle within which the seven trumpets move. The historical starting-point of the whole book comes first into consideration. The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which John imparts, was occasioned by a severe oppression of the Christian church through the heathen world-power. Accordingly, we expect such a revelation as will bring destruction to this hostile power, but salvation to the church. Then, the introductory vision of the angel with frankincense, in ch. Revelation 8:3-5, is to be taken into account. The fundamental thought here is, that God will hear the fervent prayers of his struggling and afflicted church, and cause his judgments to go forth against the world. Hence, only such things can be suitable here as are salutary to the church, destructive to the world; and the expositions, which discover in the group persecutions of Christians, heresies (that of Arius, for example, whom many understand most strangely under the falling star in ch. Revelation 8:10), mendicant friars, etc., are at the outset excluded. Finally, the whole in the seven trumpets runs out into the fact, that the kingdom of the world has become the Lord’s and his anointed, ch. Revelation 11:15. But the six first trumpets are already even outwardly marked as preparatory to the seventh. They could, therefore, only indicate approaches of the dominion of the Lord and his anointed, precursory manifestations of power on their part in respect to it—as Bengel justly remarks, though unfortunately, without afterwards abiding by the right view: “Beforehand, however, there falls on the kingdom of the world one stroke and calamity after another.” Vitringa, also, had a correct apprehension of the general import, and only departed from this in his interpretation of the particular parts; for he says, “The plagues were designed to punish and extirpate the enemies of God’s people, so that that large and glorious kingdom might be prepared for Christ and his saints.”
There can be no doubt that this group bears an independent character, that it stands by itself separate and complete. This is manifest especially from a comparison of ch. Revelation 8:5 with ch. Revelation 11:19. In the former passage we have the prophecy, in the latter the complete fulfilment. Further, at the close of the vision we stand at the last end (see Introd. to ch. 12), so that the scene cannot be prolonged farther in this line. At the beginning, again, of the vision, we stand at the first commencement, and it cannot possibly be imagined that we have here a description of the things that were to follow immediately on what is announced in ch. Revelation 8:1. (See, in regard to the notion of every thing to the end of ch. 11 still belonging to the territory of the seven seals, the Introd. to ch. 12.) In ch. Revelation 8:1, at the opening of the seventh seal, we see the world-power lying shattered and prostrate on the ground. Here, on the other hand, we have another series of catastrophes, which bear the signature of the half and incomplete, and only when we reach the seventh trumpet do we find ourselves again at the same point at which we were when the seventh seal was disclosed. In the sixth seal even, where every thing appeared already in dreadful convulsion and immediately approaching its end, it was impossible that such catastrophes should follow, as are indicated here in the first four trumpets. The result is, that the world-catastrophes represented here could only run parallel to those described in the earlier group. But the independence maintained by us is that only of but one group, not that of a separate writing, which has been only accidentally and externally united into one whole with another. There exists, first, a near connection between this group and the preceding one. If we had here an independent writing before us, the beginning: And I saw the seven angels, would be unsuitable. The introductory vision of the angel with incense would then also have formally stood at the head, without being connected by any sort of bridge with what goes before. But now, since the seven angels with the trumpets are formally linked together with the seven angels, they must also be materially associated with them. In an independent writing also the theatre would have required to be more particularly described. Here, it is presupposed as a thing known from the preceding context (ch. Revelation 4:1): John still finds himself in heaven. But this group likewise points forward to what is to follow; as appears in a double respect. First, the final catastrophe, to which all the others are preparatory, the object of all the fervent longings of the people of God, is delineated here with greater brevity than the other preliminary ones. The description of it is properly confined to ch. Revelation 11:19. This can only be explained on the ground, that the more extended representation of the final catastrophe was reserved for a later opportunity. The supposition is the more probable, as the brevity is an enigmatical one, pointing to a commentary afterwards to be given. Further, the Revelation was seen in the midst of the Roman persecution. According to the analogy of the earlier prophets, that, for example, of Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 13, we expect on the general ground of the representation of judgments to be inflicted on the world, a special disclosure of the fate of this ungodly world-power in particular. But this is as little found here as in the group of the seven seals. All the judgments befal the inhabitants of the earth, under whom the Romans are certainly comprehended, but never solely intended. Vitringa, who remarks, “The seven trumpet-blasts indicate the evils which are decreed against the Roman kingdom on account of its hostility to the church of Christ, and which shall end with the entire subjection of this kingdom,” resorts to an arbitrary limitation of the sphere of the divine judgments. But this group, like the preceding one, for the most part retains a kind of general character, which was admirably in place in the introduction to the closing prophetical book of Scripture, though it could not possibly continue to stand at that. We should have laid down the book with an unsatisfactory feeling, if it had merely been distinguished by the vividness with which it represented the avenging righteousness and redeeming love of God, and had not presented the leading features of the later development of things in the history of the church and the world, more especially in that direction, which accords with the historical starting-point of the Revelation. We could not otherwise have been able to get rid of the thought, that the introduction in ch. Revelation 1:1-3 makes too high pretensions. None of the great prophets of the Old Testament, though they still had the mission first of all of instilling general truths into the minds of the people, while John found this already done to his hand, remained thus at mere general enunciations, such as, that sin is the destruction of a people, that God punishes all the enemies of his church, etc. With all of them, indeed, the special rests on the general as its foundation; only it does not stand there. There is, besides, in Revelation a twofold special reference to the contents of the later groups. The voices of the seven thunders in ch. Revelation 10:4, which John (in the meantime) was not to write, but to seal up, point to a later group, in which it is going to be reported concerning the time of the mystery of God, as he has announced it to his servants the prophets. And the beast which ascends from the abyss, which suddenly meets us in ch. Revelation 11:7, is a riddle that finds no solution within this group, though it is impossible but that a solution should be given. These indications pointing forwards to the following groups correspond to the not less intended allusion to the group of the seven seals in ch. Revelation 9:4.
We may endeavour to determine more exactly the relation of this group to the preceding one. The commonest and most frightful scourge through which the vengeance of heaven discharges itself on the apostate earth is war. The other plagues, such as hunger and pestilence, commonly appear only in its train. In the preceding group also war has broken out. But it appears there only as on a like footing with the other plagues. This second introductory group, however, is entirely devoted to it. To the last trumpet, that of the final victory, all here is only an expansion of the words of our Lord, “Nation shall rise up against nation, and kingdom against kingdom,” Matthew 24:7.
We have now only further to endeavour to explain the symbol of the trumpets. In Scripture trumpets are always employed on account of their piercing, loud sound. What may be more exactly meant, must in each case be determined by the connection. The sound of the trumpet has no intrinsic worth in itself.
That the loud stirring noise of the trumpet is the essential characteristic is evident from the circumstance that the sound of the trumpet is itself described as a cry, תרועה , or sample in Leviticus 25:9, and that the loud cry goes along with it as a fitting accompaniment; comp. Joshua 6:5, where the people were to raise a great shout at the blowing of the trumpets, Zephaniah 1:16. Then it appears from such passages as Isaiah 58:1, “Raise thy voice like a trumpet,” Hosea 8:1, “Put the trumpet to thy mouth and say, He comes upon the house of the Lord like an eagle,” where the loud tone is plainly indicated by that of the trumpet. Finally, it appears from the use of trumpets in the sacred music. In my Commentary on the Psalms, it was remarked in reference to this: “Other instruments (besides harps and psalteries) are mentioned only in festival and national songs of praise; as trumpets at the thanksgiving for Jehoshaphat’s victory, Psalms 47:5, at the paschal feast in Psalms 81:3, at the consecration of the walls of the city in Nehemiah’s time, in Psalms 150. In the historical books trumpets are mentioned at the bringing in of the ark of the covenant, 1 Chronicles 15:24, “And the priests trumpeted with trumpets before the ark of the Lord” (comp. 2 Samuel 6:15, “And David and all Israel brought up the ark with a shout and the sound of trumpets”)—at the consecration of the temple, 2 Chronicles 5:12-13—at the solemn restoration of the worship under Hezekiah, 2 Chronicles 29:26-27; finally, in Ezra 3:10, Nehemiah 12:35. They are always mentioned in connection with other very noisy instruments. In 2 Chronicles 30:21 it is said of the passover under Hezekiah, that “they praised the Lord with instruments of strength, which were to Jehovah,” Michaelis: musical instruments being employed of such a kind as gave forth a strong sound; Jarchi: with trumpets, having respect to 2 Chronicles 29:26-27. (Psalms, vol. III. p. xvi., Eng. Trans.) Accordingly, the loud stirring voice was the characteristic. This use of the trumpets in sacred music entirely accords with Numbers 10:10, “And on your feast-days, and on your high festivals, and on your new moons, ye shall blow with trumpets.” Hence, festivals and trumpets were inseparably connected together. As the festival-day was related to other days, so the sound of the trumpet to other sounds.
Bähr in his Symbolik (Th. II., p. 594), has laboured in vain to give to the sound of the trumpet a definite meaning, especially to bring it into connection with the Sabbath-idea. But it is against this, that in the Sabbatical year there was no sounding of trumpets, nor at the Sabbath of weeks. Then, it must be altogether denied that on the first day of the seventh month pre-eminently the trumpets were blown, so as that it should be known by this, and in this alone should be found the peculiarity of the festival. The day is called in Leviticus 23:24, Numbers 29:1, not the day, but a day of blowing of trumpets, not less than the great festivals, at which this was to be understood, as a matter of course, to be done. The sound of the trumpet was not more peculiar to it than the cessation from work, the calling of a sacred convocation, the presentation of sacrifices. Still less indeed, for it was common to this feast not merely with the great feasts, but even with all the new moons, according to Numbers 10:10. We must not separate the blowing of the trumpets on the first day of the seventh month, as to its meaning, from that on the other new moons, and generally on the public festivals. As the sacrifices on this day possessed no partial character, but represented all spheres of the religious life, so we must not give to the sound of the trumpets a partial meaning. It points to the more excited character of the religious feeling, which is peculiar to festive occasions generally, of the “Lord, have mercy on us,” not less than of the “Lord, we give thee thanks,” and in particular to those feasts which marked the commencement of a new period of time. Besides, the sound of the trumpet being put for the mark or signal in Leviticus 23:24, shows that the blowing of the trumpets on that day had only a subjective character, that it merely served to bring the Lord to the remembrance of the congregation, comp. Numbers 10:9, “And ye shall blow an alarm with the trumpets, and it shall be remembered to you before the Lord your God, Numbers 10:10, and it shall serve to you for a remembrance before your God.” Bähr’s supposition, of its being indicated by the sound of the trumpet, that Israel was brought into remembrance before Jehovah, is against this passage. According to it the blowing with trumpets is a call of the congregation, and not an announcement on the part of God. Else, the blowing with trumpets must have been committed to the priests, and not to the people. Nor in Numbers 29:1, could it have appeared among the obligations of the church at large, along with the calling of sacred convocations, and the cessation from all work. Finally, the hypothesis of Bähr finds no support in the circumstance, that by the prescription of the law the trumpets must be sounded throughout the land in the year of jubilee on the day of atonement. By this it was merely intimated, through the strong, far-resounding sound of the trumpet, that an important time for the land had come in. The 50th year was thereby consecrated, Leviticus 25:10, set apart from the number of the rest. The more definite purpose is intimated in the proclamation of liberty throughout the whole land for all its inhabitants, mentioned in that passage. Only in this connection did the loud sound become at the same time a joyful one.
We must distinguish, whether the trumpets must denote what God has to say to the church or the world, or what the church has to Say to God. This distinction was already made in the Mosaic law. Of the use of the trumpets for what the Lord has to say to the church, it is treated in the classic passage on the trumpets, Numbers 10:2-8; where, however, only two occasions are mentioned, the assembling of the congregation and decamping. And of their use in what the church had to say to God, in times of distress or on festival days, it is treated in Numbers 10:9-10. In the former case, the sound of the trumpet might with perfect indifference be employed to announce a joyful subject, a great salvation; as, for example, the falling of the walls of Jericho; or to give notice of great tribulation, as in Joel 2:1, where the day of judgment is announced by trumpets, “Blow with trumpets on Zion, and sound upon my holy mount, let all inhabitants of the earth tremble, for the day of the Lord comes, and is near.” But it can only be in respect to important transactions, such as were of general significance, of deep pervasive power, that they are used; either great catastrophes are announced by trumpets, or important tidings, which the Lord has to communicate to his people. As the Lord will never summon his people for trifling matters to his throne, the sound of the trumpet might certainly be taken for the common note of a summoning before the Lord.
In the latter case the blowing of the trumpets might serve equally well to denote an animated “Lord, in distress to thee we call,” and an animated and solemn, Te Deum laudamus. The characteristic is merely the rising of the state of feeling above the common measure.
The question: Why should the blowing of trumpets have been a matter properly belonging to the priests by the law of Moses? is simply to be answered thus: because the trumpets “had of all instruments the loudest, strongest, most powerful tone,” and on this account were used, where the Lord had to say something of importance to his church, or where the church came before him in a particularly lively and excited state of feeling. The trumpets stand related to the other instruments, as the Lord’s servants to the ordinary members of the church, as the feast-day to the other days.
Let us turn now more especially to the section before us. The more immediate import of the trumpet-sound is determined by the starting-point of the hook. The occasion of this was the oppression of the church by the heathen world-power. Accordingly by the trumpets only great catastrophes can be denoted, through which destruction should be brought to the world, and salvation be first prepared for the church, and then actually brought in. The trumpets here are exciting for all— joyfully exciting for the church, frightfully exciting for the world.
Such generally is the signification of the trumpets here. With a certain degree of truth, however, three special references may still be supposed.
By combining the seven number with the trumpets we are not unnaturally reminded of the conquest of Jericho. For seven days must Israel, according to Joshua 6, march round the city at the Lord’s command in solemn procession, with the ark of the covenant and seven priests blowing with trumpets—each day once—but on the seventh day, seven times. And at the last round the walls fell down. In the book of Joshua Jericho has a kind of symbolical meaning. What was done at the fortress, which guarded the entrance into the territory of the Canaanites, presented an image of what should be done in general respecting the Canaanitish power. Faith saw in the last trumpet-blast at the walls of Jericho, along with these, the whole state of the Canaanites, apparently so strong and invincible, falling to the ground. If Jericho, then, in the book of Joshua forms an image of the Canaanitish power, it is admirably fitted to stand as a type of the world-power generally, the overthrow of which ensues on the blowing of the seventh trumpet, in which all the preceding ones culminate.
The Old Testament presents a second case of the combination of trumpets with the seven, and one that stands in an easy and natural connection with the subject before us. After seven times seven years it was ordained in the Mosaic law, that the year of jubilee should be proclaimed by trumpets—the year, when the Lord announced himself as proprietor—the year, when every one returned to his possession ( Leviticus 25:13)—the year of freedom and of restoration for all the distressed, who looked for it with anxious longing. This year appears even in the Old Testament, in Isaiah 61:1-2, as a type of the redemption from the slavery of the world, the year of the Lord’s grace and the day of the vengeance of our God, to comfort all that mourn. Such consolation breaks in here at the sounding of the seventh trumpet. Finally, the trumpet stands in a close relation to the excited character of war, and is peculiarly the warlike instrument—comp. Zephaniah 1:16; Jeremiah 4:19, Jeremiah 42:14; Ezekiel 7:14. Hence also, among the catastrophes to be inflicted by the Lord, which were denoted in general by the blowing of the trumpets, it was especially suited for announcing the tribulations of war that were impending from the Lord. Bengel: “In the prophecy is described God’s war against the enemies of his kingdom, on account of which the trumpets are here peculiarly appropriate.”
Revelation 8:3. And another angel came and stood beside the altar, and had a golden censer; and much incense was given him, that he might give it to the prayers of all saints on the golden altar before the throne. In the times of the first persecutions, as Bengel remarks, the Christians prayed with great earnestness and stedfast perseverance. But under the form of the fact there is here, at the same time, couched an admonition: if ye would gain the victory over the world, and see its completion, continue instant in prayer; for, “the prayer of the righteous availeth much when it is earnest. Elias was a man like as we are, and prayed a prayer that it should not rain, and it rained not upon the earth for three years and six months,” James 5:16-17. Many of the older expositors would understand Christ by the other angel. But this view is inadmissible, not for the reasons assigned by Bengel, that Christ is never represented as an angel in the New Testament, and that another angel could only mean one who had likewise been created. In opposition to this see ch. Revelation 7:2, Revelation 10:1, Revelation 18:1, where by the other angel is undoubtedly meant Christ. The reason why he cannot be understood here is, that there is no distinguishing predicate, nor is there anything in what the angel accomplishes, which raises him above the rank of ordinary angels. It is not his coming forth that renders the prayers of the saints Acceptable; but he has simply the position of a messenger and a bearer—a heavenly representative. Only by misapprehending the position here occupied by the angel, by supposing that it was through his mediation the prayers of the saints were first rendered truly acceptable, have men come, on the ground of no properly mediatorial agency being ascribed to angels in Scripture, to adopt the conclusion that the angel here can be no other than Christ. [Note: The origin of tins exposition was correctly pointed out by Bossuet: “The Protestants, offended at seeing angelic intercession so clearly established in this passage would have the angel here to be Jesus Christ himself.”] The angel in this case is only a symbolical figure; his agency belongs merely to the character of the vision, which must give to all a visible shape, not to the substance itself—although in this respect the internal harmony between the heavenly hosts and the church on earth certainly lies at the foundation. The angel could not otherwise have had even this place in the vision assigned to him. If prayer embodied itself in frankincense, there must be a heavenly representative of believers above who should present the frankincense. If the veil of the frankincense is a thin and transparent one. so also is that of the angel. That the angel does not necessarily belong to the substance is clear from ch. Revelation 5:8, where the twenty-four elders as representatives of the church have golden vials full of incense, which are the prayers of saints. Bengel’s remark: “In no book of Scripture are angels so frequently spoken of as this,” itself betokens that much here must belong only to the form of the representation. By the altar must be understood here, according to many expositors, the altar of burnt-offering. From this the fire was wont to be taken to kindle the frankincense on the golden altar. Undoubtedly, the altar of burnt-offering is frequently mentioned in Revelation—comp ch. Revelation 6:9. But here it cannot be thought of. For the altar here receives its more immediate determination from the mention of the incense. On this account alone, unless we should arbitrarily change the incense-pan into one merely of coals, we can understand only the altar of incense to be meant. But even if his having a golden censer did not supply the more exact definition—a circumstance quite overlooked by those who speak of the “indefiniteness,” “that the word golden is only found afterwards”—it still could not be the altar of burnt-offering that is mentioned. For, though the altar of burnt-offering might otherwise have been fitly enough understood, yet this is quite unsuitable here, since necessarily, if the altar of burnt-offering had been meant, a more exact description would have been needed to prevent it from being identified with the altar of incense mentioned immediately afterwards. The archaeological consideration, however, which has led to the idea of the altar of burnt- offering being meant, is an entirely groundless one. Even in Leviticus 16:12, “And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar, which stands before the Lord, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the veil, and he shall put the incense upon the fire before the Lord,” the incense-pan was filled with coals from off the incense-altar. The implement with which the angel comes forth, places his work immediately before us. Bengel: “A golden censer, this was a sign and instrument of what the angel had to do.” Much incense was given to the angel. Bengel: “A mighty power was to be formed, whence again was to arise a mighty operation, and a movement extending far and wide.” The object of the prayers of the saints is more exactly defined here by the connection, by the starting-point and the result. Accordingly, by the prayers are to be understood such as those in Joel 2:17, “Spare thy people, O Lord, and give not thine heritage to reproach, that the heathen should rule over them;” in Psalms 9:19, “Arise, O Lord, let not man prevail; let the heathen be judged in thy sight;” in Psalms 89:11-12, “Let the sighing of the prisoner come before thee, according to the greatness of thy power preserve thou those that are appointed to die. And render unto our neighbours sevenfold into their bosom their reproach, wherewith they have reproached thee, O Lord.” According to ch. Revelation 5:8 frankincense is prayer; so here also by Revelation 8:4. Hence everything beside the frankincense and the prayers is to be avoided here. That suits well to the earthly, but not to the heavenly sanctuary. The frankincense should be regarded not as an addition to the prayers, but we should explain: frankincense, importing the prayers which are offered in and along with it. When the explanation is given: which was required for their behoof, so that the prayers might be accepted, then the collateral and unsuitable idea is introduced, that the angel had then merely the frankincense, and to the saints belonged the prayers. We should also have to separate the prayers here from those in Revelation 8:4; and the angel should have an abnormal agency ascribed to him. For, that the prayers of the saints required a presentation at the hands of the angel, is an unscriptural representation. It is opposed even by ch. Revelation 5:8, where no mention is made of an angel. But the explanation, that he contributed somewhat to the prayers of the saints, is still more objectionable. It is not an addition, but a gift that is spoken of. Instead of: to the prayers, it might also have been, the prayers, τὰ?ς προσευχά?ς . Only there would then have been a complete overlooking of the embodiment of prayer as frankincense, and in the place of the symbol there would have stood the figure.
Bengel: “We have remarked of the saints at ch. Revelation 5:8, that by this name are denoted alike the saints on earth and in heaven. And because it is said expressly here, ‘of all saints,’ we understand both to be meant, especially since what was prayed for concerns the saints both on earth and in heaven. There would also be a gap between the angel and the saints in heaven, if the saints in heaven were excluded.” From the circumstance of the angel acting in behalf of the saints, one might conclude with some reason, that respect was not had to the heavenly portion of them; if these had been taken into account, they could, without the mediation of an angel, have represented themselves and the saints upon earth. It is, however, to be observed, that the position of the angel here is a double-sided one, that he not merely causes the incense of the prayers of the saints to ascend, but also the fire of God’s wrath to come down. This combined agency is suited only to an angel.
The golden altar is represented as standing before the throne. That the veil is to be understood as also existing here, appears from ch. Revelation 11:19, Revelation 15:5. It shall only be uplifted, when the glory of the Lord will shew itself through great catastrophes in unveiled splendour. Even under the New Testament, and after the work of reconciliation has been effected, the infinite distance still remains between the Creator and the creature, God remains the unapproachable and the holy.
There is no reason for supposing that only the altar of incense, and not the whole of the heavenly sanctuary, was disclosed to the Seer; according to his point of view, which fashioned itself after the personal eye-sight of the temple at Jerusalem, there was certainly present to his mind an undivided whole. Indeed, it is said expressly here, that the altar was before the throne. Therefore, beside the sanctuary, in which was the altar of incense, there must also have been the Most Holy Place.
Revelation 8:4. And the smoke of the incense went up to the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God. To the prayers, importing these, which were presented in and with the frankincense. [Note: The ταῖ?ς προσευχαῖ?ς are Dinted to the θυμιαμά?των , exactly as לנפשתיכם , in Genesis 9:5, to דמכם , your blood to your souls, importing or being us good as these—your blood, that is, your souls.]
Revelation 8:5. And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar, and poured it out upon the earth. And there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and earthquakes. Bengel: “Frankincense and prayer draw a great deal after it: it is acceptable, it will be heard; God then causes his righteous judgments to go forth, for a terror to the world, for the discomfiture of his enemies, and for the advancement of his kingdom.” The angel exercises the function of a days-man, מליץ , Job 33:23. In Revelation 8:3-4 he represented the church, and brought its petitions before God. Here he fulfils the second part of his office. He is the medium of communication in respect to God’s answer to the requests of the church. In fulfilment of his commission, he throws God’s fire down upon the earth. According to John 1:52, “From henceforth ye shall see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of man” (comp. Genesis 28:12), the angels first ascend up from Christ in his state of humiliation, and hence also from his militant church, bringing their petitions and prayers before the throne of God; and then they descend down and bring the answer and the help and the vengeance on the enemies.
The internal connection between the fiery prayer, and the fiery indignation which is to consume the adversaries ( Hebrews 10:27), is shadowed forth by the circumstance, that of the same fire of the altar, with which the frankincense was kindled, there was taken and thrown upon the earth. By the first use of the fire in kindling the frankincense, it was in a manner consecrated for the second. Fire is here, as usually in the Apocalypse (comp. on Revelation 4:5), the symbol of the holy wrath and judgment of God. [Note: Ezekiel 10:2, ss., is not, with Vitringa, to be compared. The fire, which the man clothed in linen there takes out of the midst of the wheels of the Cherubim, is not, us here, a symbolical representation of the wrath of God, but it is the elementary fire. For the setting on tire and burning of the city must there be indicated. The wheels of the Cherubim denote the powers of nature, primarily the wind (comp. ch. 10:13), but then also the fire. The Cherub supplies the fire: the earth presents heaven with the material for its judgments.]
The fire, the voices, &c., have here only a typical, a prophetical character. The fulfilment of the prophecy begins with the first trumpet and closes with the last; comp. ch. Revelation 11:19. In ch. Revelation 4:5 the voices, lightnings, and thunders are likewise, not the judgment itself, but the matter-of-fact or symbolical announcement of it. The seven seals are the realization of that announcement. See what is said there respecting the voices, lightnings, and thunders. Here the earthquake is besides named, as the pre-intimation of great approaching revolutions—comp. on ch. Revelation 6:12.
Revelation 8:6. And the seven angels with the seven trumpets prepared themselves, to sound. Bengel: “To the angels, who had the seven vials given them, it is said: Go your ways, Revelation 16:1-2. But the angels with the trumpets do not go away ; and consequently they remain in their state of preparation, and even when they sound, still stand before God.” The prayers of the saints are a necessary pre-existing condition of their preparing themselves.
The angels do not inflict the punishment, they merely announce it. Only at the sixth plague there is found, by way of exception, an active angelic agency. The angel first blows, then he looses the four angels that were bound by the great river Euphrates. Even there, however, the angel with the trumpet is not God’s proper instrument for inflicting punishment, but the four angels are so.
The First Trumpet
Revelation 8:7. And the first (angel) sounded. And there was a hail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth. And the third part of the earth was burnt, and the third part of the trees was burnt, and all green grass was burnt. John beholds concentrated in a great and fiery hail-storm the desolations of the war, which through the course of centuries constantly bursts forth anew against the world that is at enmity with God. The prototype was the seventh plague, that fell upon Pharaoh, the malignant enemy of the people of God, whom God raised up, that he might shew his power, and have his name proclaimed throughout the earth—the first type of the world-power, on which God’s avenging might manifested itself, as a prelude to all the succeeding judgments, which he should hereafter execute for the benefit of his kingdom. “And the Lord,” it is said in Exodus 9, “caused it to rain hail over the land of Egypt. And there was hail and fire mingled with the hail. . . . And the hail smote all the grass of the field, and brake all the trees of the field.”
The fire is here, according to Revelation 8:8-9, not the expression of the wrath of God, but the fire of wrath and war, which was certainly kindled by the anger of God.
The “mingled with blood” gives for both the hail and the fire the more specific determination—shews, that the storm of hail and the fire are emblems of war in its desolating and consuming property. [Note: Bossuet: “The desolation is vividly represented by the comparison of a beautiful and rich country, which is laid waste by hail.” Bengel: “A mighty, compact, widespread, sudden irruption and calamity.” Mede: “John has mingled blood contrary to nature, that he might indicate how the whole of this image points to slaughter.”] Different plagues could not, as Vitringa supposes, be denoted by hail, fire, and blood. He conceives the hail to indicate famine, the fire pestilence, the blood war. In that case we should be thrown upon conjecture in the two first. Then, in the representation of the effects, it could not be simply the being burnt that would be mentioned. It is a further objection, that all the other plagues in this group bear a simple character, and that they have generally to do with war; and so, indeed, that the difference in the particular trumpets only consists in the diversity of the symbols. The same matter is represented in a series of manifold, frightful images, which should fill the mind and fancy with holy dread before the Lord, as going to manifest himself in the approaching war of the world.
This prophecy is not more definite than that of our Lord, “Ye shall hear of wars and rumours of wars,” and “nation shall rise against nation.” [Note: Vitringa was upon the right track when he remarked: “It is perhaps not improper to suppose, that this trumpet does not unfold to us some divine judgment upon the Roman empire of one period, but a certain species of divine judgment, to be expected at various periods after the times of John.”] Viewed as a special prediction, it would be very defective, and would fail in its end. As it has respect to the whole earth, this shews that we are not to limit it to any single war, but that we have, so to speak, a species before us personified as an individual. All wars bear a particular character. A limitation exists only in the starting-point of the book. According to this, the scourge of war comes into consideration only in so far as it respects the opposition of the heathen world to the kingdom of Christ, with which ch. Revelation 9:20 agrees. Hence the event, to which Bengel refers this prophecy as a special prediction, the Jewish war under Trajan and Hadrian, does not at all come within it. The compass of this judgment reaches as far as the opposition of the earth to heaven, which always calls forth a reaction on the part of the latter—as far as the opposition of the heathen world to the kingdom of God. But since this in the sequel does not continue within the limits of the Roman empire, since afterwards the ten kings trod in this respect in its footsteps, and still again after the thousand years of Christ’s dominion, the great party of Gog and Magog, it would be arbitrary here to confine the representation of punishment to the Roman empire. This, however, is to step beyond the circle of this group, which, like the preceding one, still knows nothing except the Roman empire.
As hail, fire, and blood, are employed to represent the judgment, the effect may be described by a single verb, which has immediate respect to the image of fire. The object of the judgment is the whole earth; but only a third part of the earth is destroyed by it, because it is still not the final judgment.
The clause: and the third part of the earth was burnt, which is wanting in Luther, is necessary on this account alone, because the third part of the earth here forms the contrast to the third part of the sea, the rivers, the sun in what follows. The threefold division of the destroyed corresponds to the threefold division of the instruments of destruction. The following context describes more exactly what on the earth was affected by the burning. The omission in a few manuscripts, and these not important, has been occasioned merely by the resemblance of the three sentences.
By the trees are denoted the high and mighty. In the Old Testament the image had become quite an established one. The grass indicates the people, according to Isaiah 40:7, “Surely the people is grass.” Trees and grass occur also in ch. Revelation 9:4, as a designation of the high and low, princes and subjects. It is better to refer the predicate green to the cheerful bloom and prosperity, which was to continue till the very moment of the plague’s bursting forth (comp. Job 5:25; Psalms 72:16), than to the freshness of youth. With the grass also the third part only is to be understood as being burnt. In the same way, with a limitation determined by the context, the all is frequently found in the account given of the Egyptian plagues.
The Second Trumpet
Revelation 8:8. And the second angel sounded. And like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea. And the third part of the sea became blood. Revelation 8:9. And the third part of the living creatures in the sea died, and the third part of the ships was burnt. The person who throws is God, who visits the sins of an apostate and antichristian world. The expression: like a great mountain, indicates that we are not to stand at the outward appearance, are not to think of a natural mountain.” Thus I saw the horses in the vision,” in ch. Revelation 9:17, corresponds. In the Old Testament mountains had come to be used as a common symbol of kingdoms; see, for example, Psalms 76:4, “Thou art more glorious and excellent than the plunder-mountains,” mighty peoples that are set on plunder, despoiling kingdoms, Psalms 68:16, Psalms 65:6. In Zechariah 4:7 the great mountain before Zerubbabel was the Persian kingdom, which set itself against the building of the temple. In ch. Revelation 17:9 of this book the seven mountains are seven kingdoms. The symbolical action in ch. Revelation 18:21, also rests upon the symbolical signification of a mountain, and there, as in the original passage, Jeremiah 51:63-64 (comp. also Daniel 2:35), the mountain, the symbol of the mighty kingdom, is represented by the great stone, and the sea of the peoples, out of which Babylon had risen up with great power in the time of prosperity, but into which she now again sunk down, by the Euphrates.
The great mountain burns with fire. The fire is the fire of wrath, the lust of war and conquest. Allusion is made to Jeremiah 51:25, where it is said in reference to the Chaldean empire, “Behold, I am against thee, O destroying mountain, saith the Lord, which destroyest all the earth: I will stretch out my hand upon thee, and roll thee down from the rocks, and will make of thee a burnt mountain.” Out of the burning mountain there is made in just recompense a burnt mountain, according to the word, “As he has done, so shall it be done to him.”
The great mountain burning with fire is cast into the sea. The sea, in Scripture, generally and specially in the Apocalypse, is the common symbol of the world and the nations—comp. on ch. Revelation 6:14, Revelation 13:1, Revelation 17:15. Mountain and sea are connected together, as here, in Psalms 46:2-3, “Therefore we are not afraid, though the earth be changed, and mountains shake in the heart of the sea, (though) its waters rage, foam, mountains tremble through its loftiness,” comp. Psalms 45:6-7, Matthew 21:21. The meaning, therefore, of the symbolical representation is this: The apostate world shall be punished by war and conquest, a kingdom greedy of plunder shall be itself plundered. Bengel remarks: “Here, therefore, the invasion of the Roman empire by foreign nations, and the barbarians, as they were called, is indicated. About the year 250 the warlike Goths made an expedition into the Roman dominions, and from that time the roving incursions and inroads of such tribes never ceased, till they had, as it were, incorporated themselves with the Roman empire.” The only fault in this exposition is, that the fulfilment is sought in an event, which can only be regarded as a particular fulfilment, instead of perceiving that in reality we have here an entire species of divine judgments before us, and that the fulfilment of this prophecy is to be considered as still in progress That we have here to do not specially and exclusively with the Roman empire, to which undoubtedly the truth in the prophecy more immediately bore respect, is evident alone from the symbol of the sea. The waters, according to the explanation given by the Seer himself in ch. Revelation 17:15, are “peoples and multitudes, and nations and tongues.”
In consequence of the sinking of the mountain in the sea the third part of the sea becomes blood. In the first Egyptian plague, Exodus 7:20-21, it is said, “And all the water that was in the Nile was changed into blood, and the fish that were in the Nile died.” And that we have here a reference to that plague, which was a symbolical pre-intimation of the last, the killing of the first-born in Egypt, is plain from the circumstance of the blood and the dying of the fish being in both places alike connected together The third part of the living creatures that were in the sea died. In the further extension of the symbol of the sea men appear also in the Old Testament under the image of the living’ creatures in the sea. What in Psalms 104:25 is said of the natural sea, “Here is the great and wide sea, wherein are creeping things innumerable, small beasts with great,” is poetically regarded as an image of what is to be found in the sea of the world. Isaiah in Isaiah 27:1 denotes the possessor of the world-power as the dragon that is in the sea. In Habakkuk 2:14-17, the men who were involved in destruction by the Chaldean thirst for conquest appear as fish in the sea, which the spoiler caught in his net. In Ezekiel 29:3-4, Pharaoh the king of Egypt presents himself to the prophet under the image of fish, sticking to his scales. In Ezekiel 47:9, there are in the dead sea, the symbol of the world, very many fish, after it has been quickened by the river of life that flows into it. In the New Testament this symbolical representation is carried still farther. Matthew 4:18-19 rests on it, where the Lord said to Peter and Andrew, “I will make yon fishers of men,” implying that the fish in the sea stand for the world of living men. On it also rests Peter’s wonderful draught of fish before the resurrection (Luke 5), which the Lord applies by telling him that from henceforth he was to catch men; and his wonderful draught after the resurrection (John 21). Our Lord’s similitude of a net cast into the sea, and gathering fish of all sorts, Matthew 13:47, is of the same description. In the passage before us there is a special reference to Ezekiel 42:9, “And they (the waters of life) come into the sea, and when they come into the sea the waters of it are made whole. And it comes to pass that every thing that lives, that moves, whithersoever the double-stream comes, [Note: The double stream is the strong stream, as in Jer. 1.21. מרתים , the double apostasy, in the time of the Judges, Cushan-Risbathaim, the double wickedness, for the great wickedness. The great mountain here corresponds to the double stream there.] shall live and shall have very many fish; and all shall be whole and shall live whither this stream comes.” The healing and life-diffusing stream there forms the contrast to the burning and death-bringing mountain here, much as the saving net of Christ stands opposed to the destructive net of the Chaldeans, or the healing tree which Moses put into the water, to the great star, burning like a torch, which makes the waters bitter. There is set before mankind a dreadful alternative. Those who refuse admission to restoring grace are doomed to judgment; such as will not have Jesus for their Saviour must be given up to the destroyer. It is the same person who directs the quickening and refreshing stream into the sea, and throws into it the burning mountain. The energy of love, which is announced by the first, cannot exist without a corresponding energy in righteousness. He does not abandon the sea and the fish to themselves. Blessing or cursing they must receive from him.
The third part of the ships is destroyed. In Psalms 104:20 we find immediately after the words quoted above, “There go the ships.” In symbolic language possessions in common are indicated by ships, as in these many persons are together, having one aim, risk, profit and loss. In the symbolical action in Mark 4:30, ss., Matthew 8:23, Luke 8:22, the ship is the church. Here, where only worldly possessions in common can be spoken of, we are rather to think of cities and villages than states; since for the latter in the Apocalypse there is employed another symbolical term, and one taken from the same category of things—that of islands.
The Third Trumpet
Revelation 8:10 . And the third angel sounded. And there fell a great star from heaven, which burned like a torch, and fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. Revelation 8:11. 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 had become bitter. The symbol of the star has, without exception in the Apocalypse, the meaning of ruler—comp. on ch. Revelation 6:13, Revelation 1:16, Revelation 2:1; Revelation 2:28, Revelation 3:1, Revelation 9:1, Revelation 12:1; Revelation 12:4. The star falls from heaven, whence comes down every good and perfect gift, and likewise also every destructive result; for the earth is dependent on heaven both as to salvation and perdition. By the falling from heaven here, and again in ch. Revelation 9:1, is denoted the sudden and unexpected nature of the occurrence; comp. also in Revelation 8:8 the expression, he was thrown. The falling here is a different one from that mentioned in ch. Revelation 6:13, and is similar to that of Matthew 21:44, “On whomsoever he falls he will grind him to powder.” The fire with which the great star burns is the fire of wrath, war, and plunder. As the sea is the image of masses of people, so is the water of rivers an image of affluence, prosperity, and success; see my work on Balaam, at Numbers 24:6-7, and my Commentary on Psalms 107:33-35, the substance of which is: God causes the waters of the world’s commerce and prosperity to dry up, but those of his church to flow copiously; or, Babylon shall be parched, the land of the Lord well watered; see also Psalms 68:6, “The rebellious dwell in a dry land.” The fountains beside the rivers denote the sources of the prosperity. By another turn of the image the effect might, instead of an imbittering of the waters, have been described as a drying up of the fountains and springs, and a dying of men from thirst; comp. Isaiah 50:2, “Behold at my rebuke I dry up the sea, I make the rivers a wilderness; their fish stink, because there is no water, and die for thirst.” Here, however, there is also an allusion to Exodus 15:23-26, “And when they came to Marah they could not drink of the waters of Marah, for they were bitter: therefore the name of it was called Marah. And the people murmured against Moses, saying, what shall we drink? And he cried unto the Lord, and the Lord showed him a tree which, when he had cast into the waters, the waters were made sweet. And the Lord said, if thou wilt diligently hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, &c., I will put none of these diseases upon thee which I have brought upon the Egyptians; for I am the Lord that healeth thee.” (This implies that the partaking of the bitter water had already brought sickness upon them.) The star, burning like a torch and named Wormwood, forms here a contrast to the wood with which Moses, as a type of Jesus the Saviour, made the bitter water sweet, just as in Revelation 8:8-9, the great mountain burning with fire forms the contrast to the mighty life-stream of Ezekiel. For his own people God makes the bitter waters sweet, for the world he makes the sweet waters bitter. Through means of his servants, and by the manifestation of his glory, he shows to his own a healing tree, which, when put into the waters, makes them good ; but in righteous judgment to the world, because they would not behold this tree, he throws a great star burning like a torch into the waters, by which they are made bitter.
Several expositors would put poison in place of the bitterness, because bitterness does not kill. But even in nature bitter water produces sickness, according to Exodus 15, and the bitterness of water in a spiritual sense certainly occasions death.
The Fourth Trumpet
Revelation 8:12. 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 that their third part was darkened, and the day did not appear for the third part of it, and the night in like manner. On the shining of the lights of heaven as a symbol of the grace of God and of salvation, and on their darkening as a symbol of troublous and distressing times, see on ch. Revelation 6:12. The more exact meaning is determined here by the connection. Before and after the subject discoursed of are the sore tribulations of war, and with these the whole group is occupied. So here we can only think of the alarming and distressing times of war. The fifth seal in like manner receives from the context its more precise meaning Bengel: “If great persons think that such affairs may be committed to them, they shall still find that the judgments of the Almighty are thereby executed and his words fulfilled. Come and behold the works of the Lord, what desolations he has wrought upon the earth. All such things must be considered thus, as they belong to the vast administration of God throughout every region and place of the world. They are no mere news, but they happen under the trumpets of the holy angels, for the glory of the Almighty, through whose righteous judgment it has ever and anon been effected, that the world in its opposition to his kingdom has never been able to succeed. God has always controlled matters so, that space should be obtained at the proper time for his kingdom.”
The being smitten of God is the cause, the darkening is the effect. That a third part of the sun, moon, and stars is smitten, denotes long periods of time, during which distressing times should alternate with better ones. In the seventh trumpet the sun, moon, and stars are wholly smitten. Here a third part as it were each time covers the watches, or interferes with the function of shining. Two bright sections are followed by a dark one. The very circumstance that this is not applicable to natural things, shews, that we are placed here upon the territory of the symbolical, in which the glittering splendour of the sun, moon, and stars represents a prosperous and happy state, and the darkening of these trouble and distress. By pressing too closely, the rule of the natural sun, etc., commentators have been led into difficulties and constrained significations. Thus, according to Bengel and Züllig. not the third part of the length of the day and of the night must be meant, but the third part of the degree of brightness, which the day and the night have more or less. This exposition cannot stand with the words. The taking away of a third part of the brightness were considerably too small, and would not comport with the heavy tribulations before and after. In the prototype also of the Egyptian plague, Exodus 10:21-23, which is the more nearly related to the passage before us, as in it the external darkness was but an image of the night of distress, which rested upon Egypt, there were three days of total darkness.
Revelation 8:13. And I saw, and heard an eagle flying through the midst of heaven, and saying with a loud voice: Woe, woe to those who dwell upon the earth before the other voices of the trumpets of the three angels, which are yet to sound! Bengel: “The trumpets of the four first angels were not previously announced with their contents, but in regard to the three last there is now made an anticipatory proclamation. Under the former severe tribulations had already happened; yet they were not called woes. But now great lamentations come one after another, and it is declared, that although the trumpets of the four first angels have reached to all the four ends of the earth, still three woes under the trumpets of the three last must be endured (must pass by—for the trumpets are salutary to the church), ere the kingdom of God shines forth under the trumpet of the seventh angel.”
The eagle, according to an entire series of passages in the Old Testament, is excellently fitted as a symbol and messenger of the divine judgment, especially of such as consists in hostile oppression. “The Lord will bring against thee,” it is said in the original passage, Deuteronomy 28:49, “a people from afar, from the end of the earth, as the eagle flies.” In Hosea 8:1, it is said, “The trumpet to thy mouth! As an eagle (will the enemy come) upon the house of the Lord, because they have trampled upon my covenant, and have done wickedly against my law.” This passage is the more remarkable, as the eagle appears in it, as here, in connection with the trumpet. In Habakkuk 1:8, “His (the Chaldean’s) horsemen come from afar, they fly as an eagle hastens to his prey.” In Jeremiah 48:40 it is said of Nebuchadnezzar, “Behold as an eagle will he fly, and spread out his wings against Moab.” In Ezekiel 17:3 the king of Babylon appears as a great eagle. With these passages of the Old Testament the declaration of our Lord connects itself in Matthew 24:28, “Where the carcase is, there the eagles gather themselves together. Instead of an eagle, several critical helps, which Luther follows, have an angel. But this reading has merely originated in the vicious realism of the exposition, which appears also in the remark of several, who retain an eagle, that by this is to be understood here an angel like to an eagle. For the eagle there is a decided preponderance of external authorities, and even were the evidence on the other side equal, we should still hold the eagle to be the proper word. Bengel expressed his surprise, that angel should not have been found in more copies. Among prosaic copyists and critics no one certainly would have thought of eagle, unless it had originally stood in the text. But, on the other hand, how natural it was to displace the eagle, may appear from the remark of Züllig: “We could very well dispense with the marvellous speaking eagle.” If an angel had been the subject, he would have been mentioned as another angel; comp. Revelation 8:3, Revelation 7:2, Revelation 14:6; Revelation 14:8-9. Not less stumbling than the speaking eagle must be the voice from the four horns of the altar, in ch. Revelation 9:13, to the realistic mode of exposition, and the song of praise from all the creatures in ch. 5. It is quite fitting that such hard stumbling-blocks should be thrown in the way of such a style of exposition. It should teach men to be less opposed elsewhere to the ideal interpretation, where matters do not lie so much on the surface—to perceive, for example, that the angels themselves also in the Apocalypse are often but the substratum for the kind of representation given, as in Revelation 8:3, Revelation 9:14. The flying is not decisive for either of the two readings. It is used of the eagle in ch. Revelation 4:7, and of the angel in ch. Revelation 14:6. The eagle here forms a contrast to the dove in John 1:32. Those cannot have had the dove coming down upon them, to whom the eagle is sent.
John sees the eagle flying in the midst of heaven. The space in the midst of heaven is here and in ch. Revelation 14:6 quite suitable for a message which must be heard by the whole earth. In ch. Revelation 19:17 also it is equally suitable. There an angel stands in the sun. doubtless because that is the loftiest position and radiates in all directions, and calls to all birds flying in the midst of heaven, round where he himself stands. [Note: These are the three passages in the Revelation where the μεσουπά?νημα occurs. Ewald’s exposition of the space between heaven and earth is against the usage. Μεσουρὰ νεω always signifies in medio s. umbilico coeli sum, see Stephani Thes. ed. Paris.]
Whether the οὐ?αί? , woe, should remind one of the croaking of the raven, as Hofmann thinks, we leave undecided.
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Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 8". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27