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In the judgments of the vials, or bowls, we have undoubtedly a recapitulation of what has been already foretold in the trumpet and seal visions. This recapitulation is not a mere repetition; but the idea contained in the first visions is strengthened and set forth more forcibly, in conformity with Revelation 15:1, where we are told the wrath of God is finished in these plagues of the vials. The following comparison will illustrate the points of resemblance and contrast between the visions of the trumpets and of the vials.
1. Hail, fire, and blood cast upon THE EARTH; one third trees, etc., burnt.
2. One third of SEA made blood; one third of creatures therein and of ships destroyed.
3. One third of the RIVERS made bitter; many men destroyed.
4. One third of the SUN, etc. smitten; one third of the day darkened.
5. Star from heaven falls into the ABYSS; he sends forth locusts; men seek death; Hebrew name of their king is Abaddon.
6. Armies from the EUPHRATES destroy one third part of men; men repent not.
Episode:—The two witnesses of God WITNESS for him and work MIRACLES; WAR against them by the beast.
7. VOICES in heaven; the JUDGMENT; earthquake, etc., and HAIL.
1. Vial poured ON THE EARTH; sore upon the followers of the beast.
2. The SEA made blood as of a dead man; every soul therein destroyed.
3. RIVERS made blood; declared to be God's vengeance upon [ALL] men.
4. SUN smitten; men scorched; men blaspheme, men repent not.
5. The THRONE and kingdom of the beast smitten; men, in pain, blaspheme God; men repent not.
6. The way prepared for kings beyond the EUPHRATES.
Episode:—Three unclean spirits of the dragon WITNESS for him and work MIRACLES; WAR by the world at (the Hebrew) Armageddon.
7. VOICES in heaven; the FALL of Babylon; EARTHQUAKE, etc., and HAIL.,
We may from this comparison notice—
(1) The vials form a series of visions denouncing God's judgments against the wicked.
(2) The number seven as well as their character indicates the universal and complete nature of these judgments.
(3) The events portrayed occupy the same period in time as the seals and trumpets; that is to say, the period of the world's history terminating with the last judgment day.
(4) As in the eases of the seals and trumpets, they are general indications of God's judgments; and though particular events may be partial fulfilments, the complete fulfilment is in all time.
(5) In comparison with the seals and trumpets, we may observe some points in common and some in which the visions differ.
(a) Like the former visions, these may be divided into two groups of four and three (see on the trumpets).
(b) The structure of the vial visions is almost exactly parallel to that of the seals.
(c) The visions all terminate with the same events portrayed in similar language, though, as the three sets of visions proceed, more stress is laid upon the judgment of the wicked, and less on the victory of the redeemed.
(d) An episode occurs after the sixth vial of almost identical nature with, though much shorter titan, that after the sixth trumpet.
(e) The severity of the nature of the vial judgments is conspicuous. Whereas under the seals one fourth was afflicted, and under the trumpets one third, there is nothing to indicate any exemption in the vial visions.
(6) The reason of the employment of the term "vial," or "bowl," is most likely to be found in the expression, "cup of God's anger," in Revelation 14:10. It indicates the pouring out of God's wrath in an overwhelming and irresistible flood. It is, therefore, significant of retribution more dire than that symbolized by the trumpet, just as the trumpet indicated greater severity than the seal.
And I heard a great voice. Characteristic of all the heavenly utterances (cf. Revelation 14:7, Revelation 14:9, etc.). We have now the narration in full of the events of which Revelation 15:1-8. has given us a summary. Out of the temple. The ναός, shrine of God, mentioned in Revelation 15:8, and which no one could enter; the voice must, therefore, be the voice of God himself. Saying to the seven angels (see on Revelation 15:1). Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth; go ye and pour, etc. The seven vials is read in א, A, B, C, Andreas, Arethas, Primasius, and others. So, in Revelation 8:5, the angel casts fire on the earth.
And the first went, and poured out his vial upon the earth; his bowl into, etc. (Revised Version). (On "vial," see on Revelation 5:8.) The preposition εἰς, "into," distinguishes the first three vials from the last four, which have ἐπί, "upon," and some writers make this the basis for classifying the vials into groups of three and four; but it seems better to divide into groups of four and three (see on Revelation 16:1, and preliminary remarks on the trumpet visions). And there fell; and it became (Revised Version). Compare the phraseology of Exodus 9:10. A noisome and grievous sore upon the men which had the mark of the beast, and upon them which worshipped his image. The counterpart of the sixth plague of Egypt. The word ἓλκος, "sore," used here, is the same used in LXX., Exodus 9:1-35. It is impossible to say with certainty what (if any) particular judgment upon the ungodly is intended to be signified by St. John in this plague. From amongst the numerous interpretations which have been given to illustrate this passage, we may mention that of Andreas, who sees in it a reference to the "ulcer" (ἕλκος) of conscience. Or it may be that the writer has in contemplation that bodily disease which is the inevitable outcome of sin, and which often afflicts men in this world as the direct result of their misdoings; though, of course, it cannot always be asserted to be a consequence of a man's own personal misdoings. (On the latter part of the verse, see on Revelation 13:1-18.)
And the second angel poured out his vial upon the sea. Omit "angel," which is not found in the best manuscripts, though it is understood. "Into the sea," as in Revelation 16:2. The sea is also the object of the second trumpet plague (see on Revelation 16:1). And it became as the blood of a dead man; became blood as of a dead man. Almost an exact reproduction of the second trumpet, and of the first of the Egyptian plagues. The last clause intensifies the horrible nature of the judgment, and thus in some degree increases the severity of this plague over that of the trumpets. And every living soul died in the sea; and every soul of life died, [even] the things in the sea, though living soul (ζῶσα) is found in א, B, P, some cursives, versions, and Fathers. Not merely human lives. The things, τὰ, is omitted in א, B, P, and others. In Revelation 8:9 we have, "Even the creatures that were in the sea." The interpretations are as numerous as in the case of the second trumpet (see on Revelation 8:9). It is most probable that the sea is here mentioned as part of creation (another part of which is mentioned in the following verse), the whole of which suffers for the sin of man, and the whole of which, intended for his benefit, becomes a source of affliction and woe to him through sin.
And the third angel poured out his vial upon the rivers and fountains of waters; and they became blood. Omit "angel" (see on Revelation 16:3). "Into the rivers," etc., as in the previous cases. The singular ἐγένετο, probably on account of the neuter ὕδατα being understood. The idea of the second vial is carried on here (cf. on Revelation 16:3). Note the corresponding judgment of the third trumpet. In addition to the interpretation of the second vial given above, it is probable that the blood signifies the slaughter and death which is part of God's vengeance on the wicked (cf. Revelation 16:6). The divisions adopted in the first four vials correspond to those in Revelation 14:1-20., which designate the whole of God's created world, "heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters."
And I heard the angel of the waters say. The angels, throughout this book, are represented as having individual offices to fulfil. Here we have a reference to the angel whose duty it is to control the rivers, just as, in Revelation 14:18, another angel is represented as having authority over fire. This verse and the following one are anticipations of Revelation 19:2, which is a commentary on Revelation 18:1-24., which latter is an elaboration of the judgments here described. Thou art righteous, O Lord, which art, and wast, and shalt be, because thou hast judged thus; righteous art thou, which art and which wast, thou Holy One, because thou didst thus judge (Revised Version). There is scarcely any authority for inserting "O Lord," or "and shalt be" (cf. Revelation 11:17). The angel, as having authority over the waters, and, as it were, a commission to see that they do their duty for men, acknowledges the justice of the sentence which makes them into an instrument for, and type of, man's destruction. Though there is no authority for inserting "and shalt be," the idea is, no doubt, to express the eternal nature of God. The same expression occurs in Revelation 15:3 (Revised Version) in almost exactly parallel connection; so also in Revelation 11:17, Revelation 11:18. Thou hast judged thus refers to the judgment of the third vial, possibly to all the first three, Note the marginal reading of the Revised Version (supported by Alford), which disconnects this verse from the succeeding one.
For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy. This supplies the key to the interpretation of the previous visions. The ungodly have shed the blood of saints, therefore God deals out death to them. This is the meaning signified by the "blood" of the previous verses (cf. the doom of Babylon, described in Revelation 17:1-18., especially Revelation 17:6.; and Revelation 18:6, Revelation 18:24. Cf. the words, "they are worthy," with Revelation 3:4). It is correct to consider that this prophecy received its first fulfilment in the violent deaths of so many of those who were the earliest Christian persecutors. On this subject see Lactantius, 'De Morte Persecutorum.'
And! heard another out of the altar say. Omit "another out of." The altar is connected
(1) with the martyred saints (Revelation 6:9, Revelation 6:10; Revelation 8:3);
(2) with the judgments that fall on the earth in vengeance for the blood of the saints (Revelation 8:5; Revelation 9:13; Revelation 14:18); hence the appropriateness of this voice from the altar, which acquiesces in the judgments inflicted. The altar is here personified, and speaks concurring in the justice of those judgments sent on account of the saints who are represented by it. Some writers, however, understand "the angel of the altar," which is similar to the reading of the Authorized Version. Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments; Yea, O Lord God, the Almighty (Revised Version). Reaffirming what has been declared by the angel of the waters (Revelation 16:5), and expressing concurrence therein. (On "true" (ἀληθιναί), see on Revelation 3:17.) Compare the expression in Revelation 3:5. There God is declared righteous because he has thus judged; here the judgments are righteous because they. are his. Both phrases are equally true, giving the same truth from different standpoints. The same verdict is endorsed by the heavenly multitude in Revelation 19:2, when they celebrate the downfall of Babylon; another proof of the identity of the world which is here the object of the vial judgments and the Babylon, which is afterwards described, and whose doom is pronounced.
And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun. Ἀγγέλος, "angel," is omitted in nearly all manuscripts, though, of course, it is understood. For the first time we have ἐπί, "upon," instead of εἰς. "into" (see on Revelation 16:2). Another part of creation is visited, thus completing the visitation of the fourfold division of the universe—the earth, the sea, the rivers, the heavens—as foretold in Revelation 14:7. And power was given unto him to scorch men with fire. "And it was given to it" is more probable than "to him;" the angels do not directly punish, but indirectly by pouring out the vials. This form of words expresses the permissory nature of the evil which is wrought; nothing can be done but by the will of God (cf. Revelation 13:5, Revelation 13:7, Revelation 13:14). Bengel, Hengstenberg, and others consider that the permission to scorch men is given to the angel. The men (with the article); perhaps referring to those mentioned in Revelation 14:2. who had the mark of the beast, and those who worshipped his image, and who are the object of all the vial plagues. Though differing in form from the fourth trumpet, where the sun was darkened, yet the judgment is similar, though here of a more intense nature. In both cases, those objects which are given to men for their good are converted into instruments of punishment. We may, perhaps, see here an allusion to the heat of men's passions and vices, by which physically as well as morally they are destroyed; and which are also an emblem of the pains of hell as pictured in Luke 16:1-31. It has been noticed as a coincidence that the objects of creation which are the subjects of the judgments of the fourth trumpet and fourth vial, were created on the fourth day.
And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the Name of God. The men (see on Revelation 16:8). (On the meaning of the first clause, see on Revelation 16:8.) This is the first mention in the vials of men blaspheming. As with Pharaoh and the Egyptians, the judgments of God, instead of awakening them to repentance, only serve to harden their hearts. This again occurs under the fifth and seventh vials. So also in the sixth trumpet, we are told, men repented not—a statement also made in the subsequent part of this verse. As before pointed out (Revelation 13:1), the two things are identical; non repentance, continuance in the service of the dragon, is blasphemy against God; though we generally reserve the name "blasphemy" for the open avowal of infidelity to God. Which hath power over these plagues. This is what is implied in the words of Revelation 16:8, "it was given to it?' In this visitation men distinctly recognize the hand of God. And they repented not to give him glory. Vide supra, on the "blasphemy;" and contrast with Revelation 11:13—another example of the sense in which these vials are the "last plagues" (Revelation 15:1).
And the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast. Omit "angel" as before (see on Revelation 16:8). The throne of the beast. That throne which had been given to him by the dragon (Revelation 13:2), and which here typifies the centre and source of his power. While this throne may aptly refer to the Roman empire in St. John's time, its position varies at different times; wherever the world power is worshipped, there the beast has his throne. And his kingdom was full of darkness; was darkened. Another allusion to the plagues of Egypt. The darkness is a type of the spiritual darkness which prevails among the subjects of the beast, and which they themselves frequently realize in the course of their career. The fear of the future sometimes arouses their misgivings, and then there is no light or hope in their hearts. And they gnawed their tongues for rain. The pain arising from the darkness of their minds; the misgivings as to their future (vide supra); or perhaps also on account of their sufferings under the former plagues, to which this is an addition.
And blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores. The expression, "God of heaven," seems to enhance the exaltation of God, and to place in more terrible contrast the sin of those who ventured to blaspheme One so high, so far above them. This title is only mentioned here and in Revelation 11:13, where, however, some repented. (On the word "blaspheme," see on Revelation 11:9.) In spite, therefore, of their plagues, and perhaps as a consequence of their spiritual darkness, they still own the supremacy of the beast and deny God; just as Pharaoh hardened his heart. Compare the previous verses for an account of their pains and their sores; the allusion to which shows plainly that these plagues are not necessarily consecutive in time. And repented not of their deeds (see on Revelation 11:9).
And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river: Euphrates. Omit "angel" (see on previous verses). (On the Euphrates, see on Revelation 9:14.) This river also figures in the sixth trumpet vision, and possesses the same signification in both places. It is the natural direction from which enemies arise; and it derives this signification from the fact that the enemies of the Jews often came from that direction. The next sentence leaves no doubt that this is the meaning, and supports the view taken of Revelation 9:14. It is to be noticed that, though the vial is poured out upon the Euphrates, it is not with the purpose of inflicting injury on the river, but upon the men who are thus laid open to the attacks of their enemies. And the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared. The Revised Version gives the sense more plainly, That the way might be made ready for the kings that [come] from the sunrising. The meaning is that a barrier that wards off hostile hosts is removed. The "kings of the cast" represent God's judgments; those who are laid open to attack are the adherents of the beast. The imagery may be derived:
(1) From the fact (as explained in Revelation 9:14, which see) that the enemies of the Jews generally came from beyond the Euphrates. This accounts for the employment of this figure in Revelation 9:1-21., and may reasonably be considered to contain the same allusion here. In this case the minor details do not agree; the idea is merely to convey the central fact of an advance of enemies.
(2) From the historical fact of the taking of Babylon by Cyrus, by means of a diversion of the waters of the Euphrates—a circumstance referred to in Jeremiah 51:31, Jeremiah 51:32, etc.; Isaiah 13:1-22.; Isaiah 44:27, Isaiah 44:28. In this case the details are more in accordance with the general symbolism of the Apocalypse. Babylon would signify the kingdom of the beast (as in Isaiah 44:19). The kings of the east would still represent God's judgments, which now assail the kingdom of Satan. Satan attempts to meet this assault by the three spirits, which gather kings from the whole world (Isaiah 44:14) to battle against the Almighty. The "kings of the east" are certainly the forces ranged on the side of God. Many writers see an allusion to Christ and the saints. The sun is a frequent figure of Christ in Scripture (cf. Malachi 4:4; Zechariah 3:8 and Zechariah 6:12, LXX.; Luke 1:78; also Revelation 7:2; Revelation 12:1; Revelation 22:16). "The kings of the east" may thus be identified with the armies of Revelation 19:11-16.
And I saw; introduces a new phase of the vision (see on Revelation 4:1). The mention of the punishment of the ungodly by the kings of the east causes the seer to look forward to the conflict, the end of which is described in Revelation 19:19-21. He therefore now digresses somewhat, in order to describe the means by which the dragon endeavours to enlist the hosts of the world on his side. Three unclean spirits like frogs. These three spirits represent the influences of the dragon, the first beast and the second beast, which we have interpreted as the devil, the love of the world and worldly power, and self deceit; in other words, the devil, the world, the flesh. These influences axe spiritually unclean, and suggest the loathsome Egyptian plague of the frogs; that is to say, their likeness to frogs consists in their common quality of uncleanness. Perhaps also there is a reference to their devilish origin, in which they resembled the unclean spirits so frequently east out by our Lord while on earth. Burger very aptly refers to the contrast afforded by the dove-like form of the Holy Spirit of God. Come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. Omit "come." The seer does not behold the three spirits proceeding from the mouths of the evil trinity, but he sees those that are out of their mouths; he sees them in their works exhibited in the world. The second beast is here called the "false prophet," since he deludes men, and persuades them against their better judgment to worship the first beast (see on Revelation 13:11).
For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles. This explains the account given in Revelation 16:13. In the plague of the frogs, the Egyptian magicians imitated the plague of Moses; the second beast (the false prophet) is represented as leading men astray by his miracles (Revelation 13:13). After the sixth trumpet came the digression, in which an account was given of the two witnesses of God, who worked miracles (Revelation 12:1-17.); here, after the sixth vial, we have a short digression, in which an account is given of the three witnesses of Satan, who endeavour rework on his behalf, by exhibiting miracles. (For the meaning of this working of miracles, see on Revelation 13:13.) Which go forth unto the kings of the earth and of the whole world; the kings of the whole world—omitting "of the earth" (Revised Version). The kings of the world are those whose aim and delight is the possession of the pleasures of this world; those who have their treasure in this world, and whose hearts are therefore also there; those who exercise their influence and power in regard only to the things of this world; in short, the worldly. To gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty; God, the Almighty. This battle is described in Revelation 19:11-21, which see. The great day is the last great judgment day. The battle referred to here, and described in Revelation 19:1-21., and again in Revelation 20:1-10, is apparently the battle which is being waged against God by the forces of evil all through the history of the world, from the fall of Adam until the last judgment day. This seems certain from the description given in Revelation 19:1-21. and 20. How, then, can it be described as the "battle of the great day"? Probably because on that day will occur the crisis, as it were, of the conflict; on that day will the issue be plainly determined, and the struggle terminated. Though the battle is proceeding daily, there is little to remind us of it; the very existence of, and necessity for, such warfare is sometimes forgotten in the daily round of life: at the last day will be plainly exhibited the nature of the incessant hostility between God and the devil, and the power of the latter will be manifested only to be visibly shattered and finally destroyed.
Behold, I come as a thief. The very words addressed to the Church at Sardis (Revelation 3:3), and similar to those connected by our blessed Lord with the great day (see Revelation 16:14). The mention of that day, and perhaps the knowledge that the battle is a daily one (see on Revelation 16:14), naturally leads to the solemn warning given here. It is worth notice how St. John adopts this idea; and this of itself should suffice to demonstrate the incorrectness of endeavoring to compute the times and seasons, as has been done by so many Apocalyptic writers (cf. also Matthew 24:43; Luke 12:39; 1Th 5:2, 1 Thessalonians 5:4; 2 Peter 3:10). Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments, lest he walk naked, and they see his shame. The same figure again as in Revelation 3:17. Isaac Williams correctly points out that these words seem to indicate that the battle of Revelation 3:14 is a daily one, in which Christians are themselves engaged (see on Revelation 3:14). The garment is the garment of righteousness, the fervent love of God (see on Revelation 3:17).
And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon; or, as in the Revised Version, they Fathered; that is, the "spirits" of Revelation 16:14, of which this is a continuation, the same verb συνάγω being repeated. By the employment of the Hebrew term, attention is called to the symbolical nature of the name. Similar cases occur in Revelation 9:11 and elsewhere in St. John's writings (see on Revelation 9:11). The correct reading, Ἁρμαγεδών, Har-Magedon, signifies "Mountain of Megiddo;" the Authorized Version, Ἀρμαγεδών, Armageddon, "City of Megiddo." Mount Megiddo possibly refers to Carmel, at the foot of which lay the Plain of Megiddo, which was well known to every Jew as a gathering place for hostile hosts and as the scene of many battles. It is referred to in Zechariah 12:11 as a type of woe, on account of the overthrow and death of Josiah having taken place there (2 Kings 23:29). Ahaziah also died there (2 Kings 9:27); and there also the Canaanitish kings were overthrown (Judges 5:19). The name is, therefore, indicative of battle and slaughter, and intimates the complete overthrow in store for the dragon and the kings of the earth, which is described later on (Revelation 19:1-21.).
And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air. Omit "angel" as before. Upon the air; perhaps as the typical abode of the spirits of evil (cf. Ephesians 2:2, "the prince of the power of the air"); the seat also, so to speak, of the thunders and lightnings which follow. And there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done. There are slight variations in the text here. The best authorities omit "of heaven." One manuscript, א, instead of "throne" inserts τοῦ Θεοῦ, "of God." (On the characteristic great voice, see on Revelation 6:1, etc.) The same voice as in Revelation 16:1, probably that of God himself, as the words, "from the throne," seem also to show. It is noticeable that here, as in the seal visions and trumpet visions, we are not explicitly informed of the nature of the last vision. We have the accompanying circumstances described in Revelation 16:18, which are always attendant on the last great manifestation, but the end itself is left unrecorded. In the seals, the last vision is described by the silence in heaven; in the trumpets, the nature of the last judgment is only vaguely alluded to in the triumphant heavenly song. So here, only a brief summary is given (Revelation 16:18, Revelation 16:19) of what actually falls as the last extremity of God's wrath; a fuller account is reserved for Revelation 19:1-21.
And there were voices, and thunders, and lightnings; and there was a great earthquake, such as was not since men were upon the earth, so mighty an earthquake, and so great. The usual accompaniments of any special manifestation of God's power or presence (see on Revelation 4:5 and Revelation 6:12-17). A similar description is given of the close of the seal and the trumpet visions.
And the great city. The words which follow, as well as Revelation 11:8; Revelation 14:8; Revelation 17:18; Revelation 18:10, Revelation 18:16, etc., leave scarcely any doubt that the "great city" here is Babylon. These are the only passages in the Apocalypse where this title is found; for in Revelation 21:10, "great" is not the true reading. Was divided into three parts. The signification of this clause is somewhat uncertain. The idea is probably that of total destruction, as in Ezekiel 5:2, where a similar description is applied to Jerusalem. Possibly there is a reference to the trinity of evil mentioned in Ezekiel 5:13. And the cities of the nations fell. The nations signifies the ungodly, who stand in the same relation to the godly as the Gentiles to God's chosen people (cf. Revelation 11:18, etc.). This sentence declares the fall of every lesser form of evil, together with the greater typical form symbolized by" the great city." And great Babylon came in remembrance before God; and Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God (Revised Ver-tion). Cf. the title of "great city" (vide supra). Cf. also the similar expression in Acts 10:31. This clause, together with the following one, taken in conjunction with the preceding and succeeding verses, must be referred to the great judgment day. To give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath. This is the beginning of the fulfilment of the doom predicted by the angel in Revelation 14:10. The judgment is more elaborately described in Revelation 18:1-24.
And every island fled away, and the mountains were not found. This continues the description of the earthquake in Revelation 16:18, the parenthesis concerning Babylon occurring owing to the mention of the destruction of the city (cf. the account given under the sixth seal). Such convulsions of nature generally, in biblical descriptions, accompany the near approach of the last judgment. Some writers interpret the islands and mountains of kingdoms (cf. Revelation 17:9, Revelation 17:10).
And there fell upon men a great hail out of heaven, every stone about the weight of a talent; cometh down upon, the present tense, rendering the description more graphic. Commentators usually quote 'Diodorus Siculus' (19:45), who mentions. as something marvellous, hailstones of a mina in weight; the mina being one-sixtieth of a talent; and also the account of Josephus, who speaks of stones a talent in weight being thrown by machines at the siege of Jerusalem (see Wetstein, ad loc.). "The men," though not pointing to any particular group of men who have been definitely mentioned, nevertheless necessarily refers to the wicked, were are the object of this punishment. "Hail" is frequently mentioned as a judgment of God and is added here to heighten the general effect of the description (cf. Exodus 9:1-35.; Joshua 10:11; Psalms 78:47; Psalms 105:32; Isaiah 28:2; Isaiah 30:30; Ezekiel 13:11; Ezekiel 38:22; Haggai 2:17; also Revelation 8:7; Revelation 11:19). And men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail; for the plague thereof was exceeding great; is exceeding great (vide supra). As in Revelation 16:9, men repent not. Like Pharaoh, their hearts are hardened. These words end the general description of the vial judgments, but the events alludes to under the seventh vial are elaborated and particularized in the chapters which follow; the whole concluding at the end of Revelation 19:1-21.
The first five bowls.
While we by no means follow the historical interpreters of this book in the attempt to identify any chronological sequence of actual events with the seven seals, trumpets, and bowls, respectively, yet (as is well pointed out by Professor Godet £) there is undoubtedly a moral progression indicated. The seal points out an event concealed as yet, but foreseen by God. The trumpet points out an event announced as forthcoming. The bowl points out the event in actual execution. We have studied the ground plan of the Apocalypse with reference to the seals and trumpets; we now witness the pouring out of the bowls, i.e. the carrying out of the great judgments on the foes of God and of his Church, which in anticipation had been forecast already. The seven seals set before us the kind of events which were to be looked for—victory, war, famine, pestilence, martyrdom, convulsion; then the end. The seven trumpets have pointed out the sphere over which the several judgments shall fall which are to bring about the end. These correspond almost precisely with the seven bowls; thus confirming the impression that between trumpets and bowls there is the distinction between announcement and effect.
The trumpets follow thus in order:
1. Earth, Revelation 8:7
2. Sea, Revelation 8:8
3. Waters, Revelation 8:10, Revelation 8:11
4. Sun, Revelation 8:12
5. Smoke out of the abyss, Revelation 9:1-11
6. The great river, Revelation 9:13-21
7. The issue, Revelation 11:15-18
The bowls follow thus:
1. Earth, Revelation 16:2
2. Sea, Revelation 16:3
3. Waters, Revelation 16:4-7
4. Sun, Revelation 16:8, Revelation 16:9
5. Throne of the beast, Revelation 16:10, Revelation 16:11
6. The great river, Revelation 16:12-16
7. "It is done!" Revelation 16:17-21
There is one feature common to all the bowls—they are "the bowls of the wrath of God." By "the wrath of God" we understand nothing like revenge, malice, or vindictiveness; but that pure and holy indignation against sin, which is a necessity of nature in a Being of perfect love. As, however, we have so frequently found the scenes of the Old Testament furnishing material for the gorgeous imagery of this book, so it is here. The student can scarcely help noticing the similarity in the effect of the bowls with that of the plagues of Egypt. Thus they one and all seem to say, as the Lord once "put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel," so it will be again. The first deliverance was from the hosts of Egypt. The second was from the hosts of hell, when Jesus died. The third shall be the final one—from the hosts of earth and hell, when the Lord shall appear in his glory! While we reverently refrain from attempting an interpretation in detail of the effects of the pouring out of the several bowls, we can as little refrain from pointing out the manifold distinctive features of them, as illustrating permanent truths concerning the government of God.
I. ERE THE END COMETH, GOD'S JUDGMENTS OF WRATH WILL BE POURED OUT UPON THE WORLD. Our Lord, in his sermon on the mount, as well as in iris parables, teaches us that up to the time of the end there will be impenitent men; and that the clashing of good with evil will go on to the time of the great harvest day. The Old Testament prophets indicate the same, and they repeatedly declare that on the wicked the wrath of God will fall. The Lord did of old "put a difference between the Egyptians and Israel;" and he will, in his own time and way, show the difference between the Church and the world. The wicked shall be "broken to shivers."
II. GOD HATH HIS "BOWLS" IN WHICH ARE THE CONTENTS OF HIS WRATH WAITING TO BE OUTPOURED. "The 'vials' point to the metaphor in Revelation 14:10, 'the cup of God's anger.' The 'vial' (cf. Amos 6:6) was the shallow 'bowl' in which they drew from the larger goblet." £ There are many weapons hidden in God's armoury, many arrows in his quiver, many forces stored up ready to be brought forth; as yet he holdeth them back. He waiteth. He is long suffering. He hath forgotten neither his promises nor his threatenings. "He waiteth to be gracious." But he will not wait always. The Lord is a jealous God, and will not suffer his people always to be discomfited.
III. THE BRINGING OUT OF THESE HIDDEN FORCES IS FORESEEN AND DETERMINED. Three truths are taught us here.
1. That the authority to pour out the bowls comes from "the temple" (Revelation 16:1). From the sanctuary. "Heaven itself."
2. That there is an angelic ministry ready to be employed on this service (Revelation 15:6). "There is nothing in prophetic imagery more striking than this picture of the seven angels issuing, in solemn procession, from the sanctuary." £
3. The angel bands wait the word of command, "Go ye," etc. The angels of God are all ministering spirits, ascending and descending upon the Son of man.
IV. WHEN THE ANGELS OF JUDGMENT POUR OUT THE "BOWLS," ALL NATURE MAY BE FULL OF WHIPS AND STINGS. (Cf. Revelation 14:1-4, Revelation 14:8-11.) Here the elements of nature, which are the conditions and media of man's comfort, are all turned into so many instruments of torture, when used in wrath. When will men learn that nature brings us joy only through the mercy of God? that it is "of the Lord's mercies we are not consumed"? How little might suffice to make life intolerable! One equivalent less of oxygen in the air, or one equivalent more, and life would he unendurable. Sooner or later God will convict ungodly men of their "hard speeches," by sore judgments.
V. THE EFFECT OF THESE JUDGMENTS ON UNGODLY MEN WILL BE TO EXCITE TO ANGER, AND NOT TO BRING TO REPENTANCE. (Revelation 14:9, Revelation 14:11, "They repented not;" "They blasphemed.") Men, in their disloyalty to high Heaven, seem to think that the function of a Divine Being is just to make his creatures as comfortable as possible; as if there were no principles of righteousness for which a holy Governor should contend, and as if there were no claims on our obedience on which the great Governor ought to insist. And if he whom they have offended makes them smart, they "blaspheme"! "The foolishness of man perverteth his way, and his heart fretteth against the Lord." Note: Here is a refutation of the error that all suffering is disciplinary, and tends to improve. The vile heart of man perverts it, and makes it a means of his own hardening in sin.
VI. THE HOLY ONES SEE IN THE DIVINE RETRIBUTION A MANIFESTATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. In Revelation 14:5 "the angel of the waters" celebrates the righteousness of God, and in Revelation 14:7 "the altar" is said to do it; so the Revised Version reads; meaning, probably, the souls of the martyrs beneath it £ (Revelation 6:9). Only those beings who are in full sympathy with the Divine righteousness and love are in a position to judge rightly of the Divine procedure. And these, whether they be the ministering angels or the once suffering saints, see in the recompenses of a holy Governor new manifestations of that rectitude which presides over all. "It is a righteous thing with God to recompense affliction to them that afflict you, and to you that are afflicted, rest" (2 Thessalonians 1:6, 2 Thessalonians 1:7). There are times even now when the righteous find the sight of deeds of atrocity and wickedness more than they can bear, and they cry aloud in the language of the ninety-fourth psalm (cf. Psalms 94:1-4). That cry will be answered. But although in the cry there may be traces of human passion, in the answer there will be nothing contrary to perfect equity. Note:
1. Although all Scripture points to trouble on a vastly greater scale than we as yet see it, ere the end shall come, yet on a smaller scale God's judgments are ever at work. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." That which is a bulwark to the good is a detective to the evil.
2. Let us not forget that the wondrous way in which the balance of nature's forces is preserved, so as to bring us life and peace and comfort, is owing, not to nature, but to God. His attempering care and constant remembrance alone preserve our souls from death, our eyes from tears, and our feet from falling. Let us, then, not look too much at, nor lean too much on, earthly comforts. If they are comforts, it is God that makes them so, and we hold them at his disposal.
3. In our daily life we can sing of both mercy and judgment. No cup is all sweetness. A dash of bitter mingles with all. Not all bitter, lest we should pine away; not all sweet, lest we should become insensible to life's peril and responsibilities. We need the chastening reminders of our own faults and sins.
4. We are indebted to Divine mercy even for the sanctifying effect of our trials. It is not the natural influence of trouble to improve the soul. By itself it wears, worries, vexes. We chafe against it. It galls. Only when the sanctifying grace of God works with it and by it will it mature the spirit in meekness, submission, and love. Of all things to be dreaded, the very worst evil is that of being abandoned by God to that hardness of heart which will turn even the just penalty for our sin into an occasion for fiercer revolt of the heart, and viler words on the tongue!
The sixth bowl.
In the prophetic parables of this book there is, as we have before remarked, a manifest moral progression, although the varied attempts to indicate in detail an exact historic progression, with dates assigned, has resulted, and must result, in repeated and disappointing failure. We should also note that at about this part of the book many of the historical interpreters stop short, and give considerable scope to conjecture. But while on their method we always find ourselves "at sea," if we adhere to the plan of exposition we have thus far adopted, no extreme difficulty will present itself, since all falls in with the general tenor of the Word of God. In this paragraph there are two distinct parts, in each of which the imagery is drawn from Old Testament history. We have here indicated:
1. A great providential preparation for the overthrow of huge and mighty forms of evil. We see in this paragraph that the sixth angel poured out his bowl upon the great river, the river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way might be made ready for the kings that come from the sunrising, i.e. from the east. £ In olden time there had been a great city, Babylon. It was doomed. It was to fall by means of "the man from the east" (Isaiah 41:2, Isaiah 41:25; Isaiah 46:11). There was a river that ran through Babylon—the river Euphrates. Long outside the city gates the invader waited. The bed of the river was dried up, through the river itself being turned into another channel. Thus the way of the man from the east was prepared, and he entered in and took the city. While in this paragraph we have a prophetic parable, in those events we have the historic parable on which the prophetic one is based. "Babylon the great" (what that is we have yet to see) is doomed. And as of old the way was prepared for the destruction of "great Babylon," so will there be preparations (perhaps prolonged ones) for the downfall of this mystic Babylon. We have here:
2. A great onrush of the hosts of evil for a mighty conflict, which will be to their own downfall. The seer further descries a new outbreak, and apparently a simultaneous one, on the part of the three enemies of the Church already named—the dragon, the first beast, the second beast (the latter here named "the false prophet"). Out of their mouth go forth "three unclean spirits, as it were frogs," i.e. loathsome and detestable; these, we are told, are the spirits of demons, doing wonders (cf. Matthew 24:1-51.; 2 Thessalonians 2:1-17.). The effect of these seducing agencies will be to gather together to their culmination the forces hostile to the Most High. This daring, aggregate attempt will be the final one, for it will be one that shall end in most utter defeat. Again we are thrown back for illustration on ancient incident and on familiar name. This final struggle is at Har-Magedon, or the mountain of Megiddo, "which more, perhaps, than any other spot, is celebrated in the history of Israel as a scene of judicial and decisive conflict." £ Here was there a decisive conflict between Deborah and Sisera. Here Josiah was slain (2 Kings 23:29; also cf. Zechariah 12:11). Here Ahaziah died of his wounds, But mainly, on the mountain of Megiddo, i.e. Mount Carmel, took place that decisive contrast between Jehovah and Baal, which forced conviction on the people, and ended in the destruction of the spurious prophets and priests. A notable name, indeed, for suggesting disaster and overthrow. And by no more significant symbolism could the truth be suggested—evil is hastening to its own defeat. We are not to think simply of literal warfare. The sacred seer gives us only "the outward sign, the corporeal type. Under Christianity we can only see the broad line which will finally separate the righteous and the wicked." £ Here, however, we meet (shall we say unexpectedly?) with a gracious word of monition, in Revelation 16:15. As a writer£ strikingly says, "Suddenly the Spirit takes the reader aside, and whispers, 'Behold, I come quickly,'" etc. Thus we gather that this final struggle is to precede the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; and so we are taught
(1) that the issue of that struggle is clearly seen; and
(2) that, let it come when it may, our life work is perfectly clear.
In anticipation of his coming we are to watch; we are not to take off our garments as if preparing for repose, but we are to stand "with our loins girded about, and our lights burning." We are to be ready at a moment's notice for any duty that may be required. Hence we have a theme as plain and practical as any other part of the Word of God supplies.
I. WHATEVER MAY HAVE BEEN THE TROUBLES AND CONFLICTS OF THE CHURCH OF GOD IN THE PAST, SEVERER ONES ARE YET IN THE DISTANCE. Even if this were not indicated here, it would be clear from other parts of Scripture. The parable of the wheat and the tares would, indeed, involve all this. For if both are growing, that means that the good will get better, and the bad worse; thus antagonisms will become sharper, and conflicts fiercer and more daring.
II. ALREADY TO CHRISTIAN FAITH AND HOPE THIS FINAL CONFLICT OF EVIL IS REPRESENTED as "that great day of God Almighty." It will be a day in which the old word concerning human agency shall again be accomplished, "Howbeit he meaneth not so" (Isaiah 10:7). Man means one thing; God intends and fulfils another. The outcome of the whole will be as the prophet declares, "Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not."
III. THE CRISIS HERE INDICATED WILL PRECEDE THE COMING OF THE SON OF GOD. (Revelation 16:15.) We cannot doubt who the speaker is that says, "Behold, I come as a thief." "He is coming" is, indeed, the thesis of the entire Apocalypse. He will come:
1. To consume evil.
2. To complete his reign of righteousness, by consummating the kingdom of grace and ushering in the kingdom of glory.
3. To make his people glad in him. "When Christ, who is our Life, shall be manifested, then shall ye also be manifested with him in glory."
IV. CERTAIN EVENTS MAY HERALD HIS APPROACH, BUT YET HIS ACTUAL COMING WILL BE "AS A THIEF." This is the repeated teaching of the Word of God. It will be at the last moment sudden. "As it was in the days of Noah, so also shall the coming of the Son of man be." There are obvious reasons for this. Did we know precisely the moment, such knowledge would instantly paralyze society. Our Lord intends that the break up of things should be instantaneous. A sudden stop will be put to the world's machinery.
V. IN VIEW OF THIS ISSUE—CERTAIN IN FACT, THOUGH UNCERTAIN AS TO TIME—WE ARE TO KEEP ON THE WATCH. We are to be ready for the last moment by being ready at every moment. It is not in perpetually rushing to the door and peeping out to see if the master is near, that a servant's readiness for him consists; but in so attending to every duty that, let him come when he may, he finds the house in perfect order, awaiting his return.
VI. CONSEQUENTLY, BEING ON THE WATCH MEANS STANDING READY TO DO ANY DUTY WHATEVER, THE MOMENT IT IS REQUIRED. When a soldier enlisted in the Roman army, he had, before the tribune, to take a triple oath, viz.:
(1) That he would do whatever he was called on to do.
(2) That he would be ready at any moment.
(3) That he would never leave the army without the commander's consent. This triple oath was called sacramentum. Hence our word "sacrament" £—the believer's military oath of obedience to the great Commander.
"Think not of rest; though dreams be sweet,
Start up, and ply your heavenward feet.
Is not God's oath upon your head,
Ne'er to sink back on slothful bed,
Never again your loins untie,
Nor let your torches waste and die,
Till, when the shadows thickest fall,
Ye hear your Master's midnight call?"
VII. ON WHOMSOEVER IS STANDING IN THIS ATTITUDE OF SERVICE, THE MASTER'S BLESSING IS PRONOUNCED. "Blessed is he," etc.
1. He has the Lord's approval now.
2. The "signs of the times," so portentous to the ungodly, are for him full of hope.
3. The coming of the Lord will usher him in to the blessedness and glory of a new and renovated state of being.
Then let each one inquire—How am I standing at this moment in the sight of my Savior Judge? Am I so living that, if he were to come now, he could truthfully say, "Well done, good and faithful servant"?
The seventh bowl.
The precise identification of "Babylon the great" must be reserved for our study of the next chapter; the paragraph before us shows us what a downfall is awaiting her. For the present it is enough to remember that it is some vast power of the earth, earthy, whose influence and action have been against righteousness and peace. Under the sixth bowl we witnessed the gathering together of great hosts for a final conflict. Now that last conflict is decided. Man has summoned his forces. God brings his also to bear. With man it is the clash of arms. With God the forces are silent as light, potent as lightning, terrible as the earthquake, and, as if to set forth the exhaustless force stored up in heaven's armoury, we are told that "hailstones" fell, of the weight of a talent. And then, then it is that "Babylon the great" comes up into remembrance before God. Some great, yea, gigantic form of evil, proud as Babylon, lustful as Sodom, cruel as Egypt, which has thriven for long unpunished, comes up for remembrance at last. How far physical convulsions are here intended we do not venture to say, though such may precede the final stroke. It is very clear that judgment in some form or other is intended. And the strong probability is that, as in the cases of the Deluge, Sodom, Canaan, Tyre, Egypt, etc., both physical and moral crises will synchronize. The expression, that "Babylon the great was remembered in the sight of God," is full of deep meaning in its moral bearing, though its temporal and local application it may be, as yet, impossible to decide.
I. HOW MUCH OF EARTH'S SIN MUST THERE BE FOR GOD TO WITNESS! In the storehouse of his eternal and infinite mind, all the wrong of which earth has been the theatre and witness is "treasured up." How soon even we can summon up more than we can bear to reflect upon! The Amorites; Sodom; Egypt; Canaan; Babylon; pagan Rome; papal Rome; Mohammedanism; the Bartholomew Massacre; papal England; Madagascar martyrs; the Indian Mutiny; and an indefinite number more of nameless horrors. Together with a measureless amount of sin, and an innumerable multitude of sins that, in every village, town, and city are being committed in the light of day and in the shades of night. All seen, known, infinitely.
II. MEN OFTEN ASK—WHY IS GOD SILENT SO LONG? There are few trials of faith more severe than this. Why do millions have to endure so much of unnamed suffering without redress? And all this when so many prayers are being offered up to heaven. Why is it? "Our God," cried one in anguish, "is a God that does nothing!" Again and again the cry of the ninety-fourth psalm comes unbidden to the lips.
III. WHATEVER MAY BE THE TRIAL OF FAITH THUS CAUSED, WE ARE CERTAIN THAT GOD FORGETS NOTHING. He is neither indifferent, forgetful, nor weak. Not one unrepented sin is forgotten. Not one cry of the humble is unheard. The widow's moan, the orphan's tears, the miseries of the slave, and all the horrors connected with that "open sore of the world," are remembered by him.
IV. GOD HAS GREAT PURPOSES TO ANSWER IN PERMITTING EVIL TO GO SO LONG UNPUNISHED. We know not all of them. We know none of them fully. But we can, though with fear and trembling, suggest:
1. By suffering sin to come to its uttermost ripeness, he reveals to men what an evil it is. "By their fruits ye shall know them." He knows tendencies; we see issues.
2. When the blackness of evil is seen, the righteousness of God's judgments will also be manifest. Is it not in this direction that light comes on the text, "The Lord hath made all things for himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil "?
3. Meanwhile, God is "long suffering not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance."
V. AT THE APPOINTED HOUR THE "LONG SUFFERING" WILL CEASE. By this it is not meant that patience, as a Divine attribute, will be exhausted, but that there will come a time when the Divine Being will no longer refrain from inflicting his judgments on sin and sinners. Even now, "because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil." Soon will the Divine will be manifested, and the punishment of sin will be the vindication of the right and the condemnation of the wrong.
VI. THEN "BABYLON THE GREAT," WITH ALL HER SINS, SHALL COME UP FOR FINAL RECKONING AND RECOMPENSE. God will "render unto her even as she rendered." "Whatsoever a man soweth," etc.; "We must all be made manifest at the tribunal of Christ;" "God shall bring every work into judgment," etc.; "There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed;" "With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again;" "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord."
VII. THE FACT THAT ALL IS IN THE HANDS OF GOD IS A GUARANTEE OF PERFECT EQUITY. "He will render to every man according to his deeds." In the future retribution there will be no flaw in time or degree; no defect, no excess. The Judge of all the earth will do right; it is "in the sight of God" that great Babylon will be remembered.
VIII. WITH OUR GOD THE EXECUTION IS AS CERTAIN AS THE PURPOSE. The seer heard "a great voice from the temple, out of the throne, saying, It is done!" The fulfilment is perceived as well as decreed. Not a word shall fail of all that the Lord hath spoken. His plans can never be frustrated. Our Lord Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth.
1. Amid the perplexity caused by the prevalence and power of evil, let us stay ourselves on God. We know what he is, though we often fail to read what he does.
2. Let us do right, and wait God's time. We are not to shape our course according to expediency, but according to right principle.
3. Revenge is never to be any part of our policy. We are incompetent judges, and we ourselves are too often swayed by passion. God reserves vengeance to himself. Let us, therefore, not take the law into our own hands, but "leave room for the wrath of God." £
4. Let us be glad and grateful that believers in God are not left in the dark as to the meaning, aims, and issue of the Divine government of the world. This Book of the Apocalypse is written in parable, doubtless for the same reason that our Lord spake in parables when on earth (cf. Matthew 13:1-58.). They are so couched that unbelief cannot read them, but that faith can. And is there not infinite wisdom in this? Who would entrust his secrets to one who was known neither to trust nor to be trusty? Jesus did not commit himself to men, because he knew all men. The faith was delivered "once for all to the saints." They only are expected to keep it who love it. Hence to them only is it committed. Those who trust God are trusted by him. His secret is with them. And the contents of that secret are twofold—grace in saving, and equity in ruling. These are the pivots on which the Divine government turns. Grace reigns through righteousness; and where grace is refused and heaven is defied, there will yet be pure and unswerving equity.
5. Hence it behoves the righteous to walk this earth with a sense of their dignity, as those who are entrusted with the mysteries of the Divine plans: not, indeed, so minutely as to be inconsistent with the calm and steadfast fulfilment of duty, but yet in broad outline so clearly that for them there is no such thing as "the burden anti mystery of an unintelligible world." That helpless and hopeless perplexity is removed from all those who know that "the Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand."
6. But, whether in the portentous imagery of the Apocalypse or in the clearer language of the Epistles, it is revealed with an impressive clearness that the man who is trifling with the Divine loving kindness, not knowing that the goodness of God is drawing him with a view to repentance, is but treasuring up to himself wrath against the day of wrath, and of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God! All that is involved in the words, "He must reign till he hath put all enemies beneath his feet."
7. Is it "in the sight of God" that there will be remembrance of peoples hereafter? Then "in the sight of God" the people must fulfil their obligations now. It has been asked if faith in God is essential to the discharge of moral obligation. We answer—Loyalty to God is the first of all moral obligations, and none are rightly fulfilled where this is lacking. A striking commentary on all this is that most painful life of George Eliot, who, though living in outrageous defiance of the first duties of social life after she had given up faith in God, sneered at the words—
"Talk they of morals? O thou bleeding Love!
Thou Maker of new morals to mankind!
The grand morality is love of thee."
Finally, that which is the law for the individual is the law for the nation and for its rulers, viz. to learn the mind and will of the King of kings and Lord of lords, and then to carry that out irrespectively of human praise or blame. Woe to that nation which applauds a policy that will come in remembrance before God only to be everlastingly disgraced! Woe to the people whose trust is in chariots and horses, in armies and in fleets, in guns and in swords! Ever are we surrounded by men who clamour for glory, for conquest, for annexation, for empire! And this cry must be resisted by all who have learnt the Divine secret that "righteousness alone exalteth a nation," that "sin is a reproach to any people." Every great Babylon is doomed.
HOMILIES BY S. CONWAY
Be done by as you did.
"They have shed the blood … thou hast given them blood to drink." Grateful, indeed, ought men to be not alone for the golden rule which commands us to do unto others as we would be done by, but also for the converse of that rule, the eternal law—that as we have done so shall we be done by. It is the lex talionis—the law that ordains "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth;" that "with what measure ye mete, it shall be meted to you." And here in the text we have a vivid and awful illustration of it. And there have been a vast number more. They, everywhere and always, who have shed the blood of God's servants, have had given to them, sooner or Later, "blood to drink." Their turn has come, and it has been the more terrible because of what they have done to bring it upon themselves.
I. CONSIDER SOME ILLUSTRATIONS OF THIS LAW. Egypt. The memory of how she shed the blood of God's servants, and how blood was given her to drink, not merely in symbol by the water of her river being turned into blood, so that her people loathed to drink of it, but actually by the destruction that came upon her—the memory of all this is evidently fresh in the writer's mind. The atmosphere of Egypt, the bondage, and the Exodus, is all around this record of the seven vials. Israel under Ahab and other idolatrous kings. He and they shed the blood of God's prophets. But sure revenges came. At Carmel; in Assyria, where Israel was carried away captive, and where as a nation she perished. Assyria. Cf. the Book of Jonah for its sins and its predicted doom. Fate of Sennacherib. Destruction of Nineveh about B.C. 606, when Sardanapalus the king, in despair, burnt himself, with his concubines, eunuchs, and treasures. Persia. Cf. the Book of Esther, and the king's edict for the destruction of the Jews, and how averted and avenged. Greece. Cf. the Books of Maccabees, as to persecutions under Antiochus Epiphanes; his miserable death. Jerusalem. Cf. our Lord's words, "It cannot be that a prophet should perish out of Jerusalem," etc. (Luke 13:33, Luke 13:34). Her siege and fall. Rome, both pagan and papal (cf. Gibbon, for fall of pagan Rome; Alison, for calamities that came on Rome and Italy during the wars of the Revolution). France. Her persecutions of the Huguenots led on to the horrors of her revolution. Spain, once the greatest of European powers, became infamous for her bigotry and cruelties on all outside the Romish Church; she was the home of the Inquisition, and the auto-da-fe. But the persecutor's doom came upon her. Her glory has departed. The Stuart dynasty in England, who harried and drove tens of thousands of godly men out of the Church and out of the land; and then their turn came, and their race and name passed away in ignominy. And had England's loss of her American colonies nothing to do with her maintenance of the accursed slave trade? And did not America's civil war spring from that same bad cause? Such are some fulfilments of this law, some more, some less, evident. Doubtless Jerusalem, at the hour when St. John wrote in the very throes of her mortal agony, when blood was indeed given her to drink; and Rome, racked with civil war and the fierce factions fomented by this chieftain and that, and for whom yet more fearful fate waited—these were uppermost in St. John's mind. But the law lives yet, and lived before St. John's day; not one jot or one tittle of it has failed or can ever fail. And the Bible and the facts of life supply illustrations not a few of the fulfilment of this law in individuals as well as nations. And where the eye cannot trace the fulfilment, it is not to be thought that the law has failed. In his moral life—that which is within and unseen—the law can lay hold on the transgressor, and does so. Every man's sin finds him out, even if he be not found out.
II. ITS MODE OF ACTION. It is, like as most of God's laws are, self acting. There is no need for God to interfere to see that the law is vindicated. Power, perverted to persecution and oppression, and pampered by such means, becomes hideous and hateful to mankind, who after a while will turn upon the tyrant and hurl him from the place of power which he has prostituted to such vile uses. And so because he or they have "shed blood," blood is given, etc. Man may as well think to put in motion any given cause and to hinder the due effect from following, as to hinder the fulfilment of the law we are considering. Sow the seed, and its harvest will follow, not some other; there will be no need of miracle to secure this. And the seed of blood shed will infallibly secure a like harvest. Men may deny the existence of God, but they cannot deny the existence of laws, self acting, and which have an awful power of ensuring their own vindication, let men's opinions be what they will.
III. ITS LESSONS TO US ALL.
1. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that," etc.
2. The inveteracy, violence, and virulence of sin. Notwithstanding all that God has done, and does, to deter men from it, they will cling to it still.
3. "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints." "When he maketh inquisition for blood, he remembereth them."—S.C.
The hardened heart.
"They repented not to give him glory." This impenitence is told of in Revelation 9:20, and in this chapter again at Revelation 9:11 and Revelation 9:21. This repeated reference is designed to, as it well may, impress our minds with a fact at once so sinful, so solemn, and so sad. For such impenitence is—
I. A VERY CERTAIN FACT. The late Mr. Kingsley, in his book, 'The Roman and the Teuton,' draws out at length the evidence both of the horrible sufferings and the yet more horrible impenitence of the Roman people in the days of their empire's fall. He refers to these very verses as accurately describing the condition of things in those awful days, when the people of Rome "gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed," etc. (Revelation 9:11). And it is to Rome and her fall that St. John is here alluding. There can hardly be doubt of that. But the sinners at Rome were not the only ones who, in spite of the judgments of God resting upon them, have, nevertheless, hardened their hearts. Who has not known of such things?
II. AND VERY WONDERFUL. We say a burnt child dreads the fire, but it is evident that they who have been "scorched with great heat" (verse 9) by the righteous wrath of God are yet not afraid to incur that wrath again. Nothing strikes us more than the persistent way in which, in the "day of provocation in the wilderness," the Israelites went on sinning, notwithstanding all that it brought upon them in the way of punishment. There was every reason and motive for them to obey God, and yet they did scarce anything but provoke him. And it is so still.
III. AND VERY AWFUL. "Ephraim is joined to idols: let him alone." "Why should ye be stricken any more?"—no good comes of it, punishment does not make any difference. Such are the despairing words of the prophets of God. There are few surer signs of perdition than when a man is hardened in sin and more set in enmity against God by reason of his righteous judgments. What can even God do then? If what is designed to lead us to repentance only drive us into more sin, what hope is there? See those told of here; what a description of unspeakable distress—"gnawing their tongues for pain," but blaspheming God the while and repenting not! "From hardness of heart,… good Lord, deliver us."
IV. BUT YET NOT INEXPLICABLE. For:
1. Times of such distress as are told of here are just the most unfavourable times of all others for that serious, earnest thought which would lead to repentance. Distress distracts the mind, drags it hither and thither, so that it cannot stay itself upon God. To trust to the hour of death to turn unto God is, indeed, to build upon the sand.
2. Resentment against their ill treatment holds their mind more than aught else. Thrice are we told how the men who "gnawed their tongues for pain" blasphemed God. Burning rage against him enwrapped their souls. As if he were to blame, and not they! They explain that difficult verse in the ninetieth psalm, "Who regardeth the power of thy wrath? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath." It is only they who have a holy fear of God who will regard his wrath; according to the measure of that fear will be the measure of right regard of the wrath of God. Where that fear is not, God's wrath will exasperate, enrage, and harden, but there will be no repentance.
3. They attribute their sufferings to every cause but the true one. How easy it is to do this! how commonly it is done! How men snatch at every suggestion that will help them to lay the blame upon other men or things! It is part of "the deceitfulness of sin" to make men do this. But until a man is led to cry, with him of old, "God be merciful to me, the sinner!" (Luke 18:13), he may groan in agony of body or mind, but he will never turn in heart to God.
4. Sin has such hold on them that they cannot give it up. Yes, deeper than the dread of its punishment is the love of the sin. Once it might have been broken through as easily as the cobweb that stretches across the garden path; but, indulged and indulged, it has become a cable that holds the man in spite of all the storm of God's judgments and the tempest of his wrath. Cries and tears, protestations and prayers, may be extorted from the man through his terror and pain; but they are but surface sounds, and touch not the depth or reality of the man's soul.
5. "Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the hearts of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil" (Ecclesiastes 8:11). The interval between the sentence and its being carried out is given for repentance; but men have made it a means of greater sin. Such are some of the reasons that explain the seemingly wonderful fact we are considering.
V. AND IT IS FULL OF WARNING. Even torture does not turn a man, nor suffering save. That old and awful puritanic cry to sinners, "Turn or burn!"—a cry which, we believe, never yet turned one heart to God, for it is not the nature of terror to do that—has a yet more dread sequel; that if a man will not now, in "the day of salvation," turn to God, he may burn and yet not turn. Such is the teaching, not of our text alone, but of all experience too. O God, fill our hearts with the fear and love of thee!—S.C.
It is the name of a place. It lies to the northwest of the Plain of Esdraelon, on the southern slopes of Carmel. It is mentioned on various occasions in the Bible (cf. infra). But these verses tell of a great event connected with it.
I. WHAT WAS THIS? It is called "the battle of that great day of God Almighty" (Revelation 16:14). Whether St. John had some literal battle taking place in his day present in his mind, we cannot certainly say. Not improbably he had. Most of the symbols of this book refer, we think, to events with which he was familiar. Thus is it with all prophecies, not least with this one. Such events form the basis of those wider facts which alone can fill up the prophet's words. In this case it is the last great conflict with evil to which his words point, and of which we have not a few premonitions in the Scriptures. How far we are to understand what we read, here and elsewhere, literally, and how far figuratively, it is impossible to say, as the prediction is for the future, and is yet unfulfilled. But why it is called Armageddon may be because the Plain of Esdraelon was the battlefield of Palestine. And at Megiddo—and Armageddon means the hill of Megiddo—it was that King Josiah was defeated, and great sorrow had come upon God's people. And it was the hope of the adversary of God that what had been done to Josiah should be done to Jesus (Hengstenberg). Also it was, like Marathon, Waterloo, etc., a name for a decisive conflict, and this last one should be such. But this Scripture will be of little avail to us if we think only of the past or of the unknown future. The conflict of good and evil is ever proceeding. And, in this soul and that, Armageddons—decisive conflicts—are continually being fought. See, in the conversion of Saul at Damascus, how the forces of evil were overthrown. There comes in most men's lives a crisis in which the question—Whose shall I be—the Lord's servant, or the servant of selfishness and sin?—has to be settled. When all the clamour of passion and the might of temptation are resisted, and the heart goes over to the Lord's side, that has been the spiritual fulfilment of this mysterious vision.
II. WHAT CAME OF IT? This is given not here, but in Revelation 19:17-21, where the utter discomfiture of Christ's enemies is told of in the vivid, graphic way common in this book. Yes, the last great conflict shall be a triumphant one for Christ's Church. Oftentimes now the Church, in this or that part of the battlefield, seems to be worsted; but, at the last, victory "all along the line" shall be the Lord's, and, through him, hers also. And in those spiritual Armageddons which today are fought, and every day, there, too, victory is the Lord's. Let the noble army of martyrs tall. Let all who have witnessed faithfully for him say, "If he who will be with his people in the last decisive battle be with us now, then all the unclean spirits of hell, all the devil's might and power, bearing down against us shall leave us the victor still."
III. WHAT LED TO IT? Two facts, and very suggestive ones, are named.
1. The drying up of Euphrates. (Revelation 19:12.) That was an apparent providential preparation and prospering of the devil's purpose. Such things do happen. Some have thought that the drying up of Euphrates means the conversion of the East, the coming to the Lord's help against the mighty, of those remote lands. But what is told of here is part of the sixth vial of judgment; it is not a manifestation of grace, but of wrath. Therefore we understand by this symbol a seeming furtherance of evil designs by providential means. When Jonah went to flee from the presence of the Lord, there was a ship at Joppa ready for him. When men determine they will follow evil ways, how smooth the path becomes! Facilis descensus, etc. How many aids and abettors they meet with! A way being easy, a Euphrates dried up, a barrier removed, is no proof that God approves that way. Israel murmured for quails, and they had them, and died. These "kings of the east," who were part of the great aggregate of kings told of in verse 14, like the rest, had been persuaded to this awful war by the "unclean spirits" (verse 13). And lo, it seemed as if it were certainly the right and wise thing to do; for here was the great hindrance taken out of the way—Euphrates was dried up. What a Euphrates against evil a Christian home, or religious surroundings, or God-fearing friends, or wholesome public opinion, may be! But God's providence may take these away from you, and so that barrier against sin be put out of the way. But God does not mean you to sin on that account, nor will he excuse you if you do.
2. The power of the unclean spirits. They are said to have been "like frogs."
(1) Whom do they represent? See whence they issued.
(a) From the dragon; that is, the devil. Therefore the unclean spirit that thence came forth represents the malignant, wicked spirit that ever opposes itself against God.
(b) From "the beast;" that is, the world in its hostile manifestations against Christ's Church. It was represented chiefly by Jerusalem and Rome in St. John's day.
(c) From the false prophet, or the beast from the sea (Revelation 13:11); that is, the superstitions, lies, and manifold deceits of heathenism, whereby the people were beguiled and bound to the will of the godless world, which is emphatically called "the beast." Malignant hate, worldly power and policy, deceit,—these are the three frog-like, unclean spirits.
(2) What do they do? They persuade the nations to war against Christ. They are a sort of hellish trinity: the spirit of the dragon as opposed to the Father; of the beast, as opposed to the Son; of the false prophet, as opposed to the Holy Ghost (Hengstenberg).
(3) And they are likened to "frogs," partly because of the Egyptian symbols which are prevalent in this chapter, and this was one of their plagues. Also because of their loathsomeness—mud and mire their habitation, hideous in appearance, repulsive and abhorrent everywhere. Thus would St. John excite detestation of these spiritual evils, which he likens to these loathsome creatures.
(4) And these spirits are at work still, and do yet the same deadly work in leading human hearts to fight against God. Does not that old serpent, the devil, still stir up hard thoughts of God, and make God's "Law" the very "strength of sin"? And the spirit of "the beast," the world, its manifold opposition to Christ, how conscious we all are of its working day by day! And that of the false prophet, that second beast, which gave his strength to the first—how, in the subtle sophistries, the plausible philosophies of the day, the deceitful handling of Divine truths, the pandering to our lower likings, which so many of the popular teachings are chargeable with, do they not beguile and seduce many hearts into opposition to God and to his Christ? Without doubt they do. And, therefore, the lesson of the whole, which in verse 6 the Lord himself solemnly interposes to teach his Church, is for us today as for them of old. "Behold," he says, "I come as a thief." Many there were, many now are, in open association with his people who are not really of his people. To such especially he addresses his warning word. The time of trial, of his judgment, will come thief like—suddenly, unexpectedly, stealthily, surprisingly, with hostile intent—to those who do not watch. For these will be as a man who has laid himself down to sleep, and has put off his clothes. And so the sudden coming of the thief finds him unclothed. All which means that we are never to allow ourselves to be separated from Christ. We are to abide in him whom we profess to have "put on," never to put off. The love, faith, and fear of him are to be our garments, the Christian state and condition, in which we are always to be. Now, he who does not watch puts off, if, indeed, he ever really put on, that state. And hence, when trial comes, he will be detected, exposed, and scorned, for the pretended, but not real, Christian, which he really is. Abide in Christ, then, is the word to us all, and we need fear no conflict, not even the fiercest, which our foe may wage.—S.C.
HOMILIES BY R. GREEN
The Divine righteous judgments.
The spiritual aspects of these judgments must be especially kept in view. For under the veil of outward things the invisible and spiritual things are represented. The entire symbolism of these verses, and, indeed, of the whole section, plainly shows—
I. THAT JUDGMENT PROCEEDS FROM GOD. They are the judgments of the "Lord God, the Almighty." "Righteous art thou, which art and which wast, thou Holy One, because thou didst thus judge."
II. THAT THE JUDGMENTS ASSUME THE FORM OF WRATHFUL INDIGNATION. "In them is finished the wrath of God." "Seven golden bowls full of the wrath of God, who liveth forever and ever." The terribleness of that "wrath" must be gathered from the character of the symbols of its expression. The nature of that "wrath" must be ascertained from the teachings on the nature of him whose "wrath" it is.
III. THAT THE JUDGMENTS ARE CHARACTERIZED BY GREAT SUFFERINGS ON THE PART OF THEM ON WHOM THEY ARE INFLICTED. Here, doubtless, the spiritual is represented by the visible and material.
IV. THAT THESE JUDGMENTS ARE JUSTLY AND RIGHTEOUSLY INFLICTED, "Righteous art thou, which art and which wast, thou Holy One, because thou didst thus judge;" "Righteous and true are thy ways, thou King of the ages;"" Yea, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments." From these direful words we must exclaim truly, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God," when he ariseth to judgment. How definite is the call to men:
1. To guard against that devotion to evil which is "worshipping the beast and his image."
2. To the faithful to await with awe the final judgments of God upon the enemies of the truth, when he will "separate the just from the unjust," when "the tares shall be cast into the fire"!—R.G.
"The great river, the Euphrates."
The details of the wonderful symbolism of this book must find their interpretation, if it be needful, at the hands of the expositor. For the purposes of homiletic teaching, selections only can be treated. Of the parts of this chapter which serve our purpose we select the pouring forth of the "sixth vial," or "bowl." The whole book has but one burden—the conflict of the two kingdoms, light and darkness, Christ and Belial, good and evil in the world. It embraces the painfulness of the struggle to all men; the safety of the faithful under the Divine keeping; the judgment of God upon the evil ones, and the crushing of the kingdom of evil; and finally the perfect triumph of the Lamb, and of all who are in him or with him, and their perfect, undimmed, and eternal blessedness. These principles run, like a golden thread, through all the book. They belong to all time, and to all the varying conditions of the Church. To affix them to one period only is a grievous limitation that overlooks the world wide use of the book, and turns into a mere temporary history what is an embodiment of ever active principles. We can see no individual and no particular cluster of individuals represented to whom the words of the book must be limited in their application. There is a sequence in the order of events, but we can see no history and no chronology in any true or precise sense; but the reiteration of the same truth so deeply needed by the early Church, and so applicable to the Church in all ages and in all its varying conditions. With these views we proceed to interpret the present symbol—the drying up of the river, the great river "Euphrates"—and the coming forth of "three unclean spirits, as it were frogs." What the latter are is told in language that approaches to the literal and realistic. "They are spirits of devils, working signs; which go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty." Our interpretation of these symbols leads us to see the final removal of all hindrances to the perfect development of the antagonistic spirit of evil and error. That the symbols have a cumulative, an increasing force, seems most obvious; this sign is "great and marvellous;" this is the preparation for "the war of the great day of God." The effectual conquest can only be made when all let and hindrance shall have been taken off the enemy. Error must fully develop itself. The utmost malignity of evil must be revealed. "The way" must be "made ready for the kings that come from the sunrising." Doubtless in the great human history all forms of error and evil shall present themselves to "the truth," and the truth shall vindicate itself in presence of all. Foul sin shall put forth its utmost vileness; but righteousness shall hold its own, and be finally triumphant. Thus is "revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming" (2 Thessalonians 2:8). The enemies of "the Church of the living God"—that is, and must be, the living Church of God—shall be crushed. That they may be so crushed, let the way for their coming be opened. Comforting is this word of assuring, confident faith. The "little flock" need not fear, even though their enemies be let loose. The practical lessons are simple. The scene urges—
I. TO FIDELITY TO THE RIGHT, EVEN THOUGH EVIL GAIN POWER.
II. TO FEARLESSNESS IN PRESENCE OF THE GREAT FORCES OF EVIL.
III. TO A PATIENT ENDURANCE OF THE OPPRESSION OF EVIL.
IV. TO ASSURANCE OF ULTIMATE VICTORY, FREEDOM, AND PEACE.—R.G.
Revelation 16:13, Revelation 16:14
The unclean spirits.
Following the steps hitherto taken, we come to a symbol of great repulsiveness—a symbol doubtless intended to represent evil in its repulsive form. Again we premise we see no individual persons or individual systems in this figure. "The descriptions here, as well as in the parallel passage, point to the last, the most reckless antichristian and blasphemous manifestations of the beast and the false prophet, when impregnated to the fall with the spirit of Satan, and acting as his agents in the final effort he makes against the kingdom of God". "By likening the spirits to frogs some respect is had, according to the just remark of Bossuet, to one of the plagues of Egypt. The point of comparison is the uncleanness, the loathsomeness, which is expressly noticed." Our attention is called to spirits and powers of evil who are directly under the control of the evil one, and subject to his inspiration ("the devil having already put it into the heart of Judas, .. then entered Satan unto him")—"the spirits of devils." These "go forth unto the kings of the whole world, to gather them together unto the war of the great day of God, the Almighty." The servant of sin obeys the behests of sin. tie whose heart is open to Satan will find Satan walking in sooner or later. With the great battle we have not now to do. We see how the Church has to maintain her wrestling against "the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." This vision seems to represent an especial malignity and effort of evil in this "war of the great day of God." We can hardly forbear seeing some final intensifying of the Satanic power, some temporary prevalence of evil. But the admonition of the Lord sounds with especial force upon our ear, and must be removed from its merely parenthetical position. "Behold, I come as a thief. Blessed is he that watcheth, and keepeth his garments." In order to this let the Church be roused to behold the evilness of the enemy and the greatness of the danger.
I. THE UNCLEAN SPIRITS ARE "SPIRITS OF DEVILS." The devil stands as the representative and head of all that is unlike God, and that is antagonistic to his Name and kingdom—"the adversary."
II. THE SPIRITS ARE SPECIALLY DISTINGUISHED AS "UNCLEAN SPIRITS." All unholiness is uncleanness. They prompt to all disobedience and worldly lust and foulness of life, all unbelief and evilness of conduct.
III. THEY STIMULATE AND INSPIRE "THE KINGS OF THE EARTH"—the subtle ruling powers, passions, habits, and other forms of evil which hold sway and dominion over men. The king is the symbol, not of weakness, but of power and authority and government; fit emblem of whatever domineers over the life of man.
IV. THEY STAND IN DIRECT ANTAGONISM TO GOD. This is the utmost evilness conceivable. To be led astray by temptation, to fall by unwatchfulness, to yield to evil, is bad enough, and entails just and merited punishment; but the utmost vileness is that which places itself in direct and active opposition to the Holy One. "He that opposeth God and exalteth himself against all that is called God."
V. THEREFORE LET THE LOWLY BELIEVERS
(1) take heed: watching;
(2) keep free from the contamination Of sin in every guise: "keepeth his garments."
(3) For the danger is great;
(4) and the great Master cometh at an hour when we think not: "Behold, I come as a thief in the night."
(5) He that so watcheth is verily "blessed."—R.G.
HOMILIES BY D. THOMAS
"The seven vials:" predestined suffering in the government of the world.
"And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go your ways, and pour out the vials of the wrath of God upon the earth. And the first went," etc. "It is incredible," says Bishop Horsley, "to any one who has not made the experiment, what proficiency may be made by studying the Scriptures without any other commentary or exposition than what the different parts of the sacred volume naturally furnish for each other." Whoever has, with honesty of purpose and persevering endeavour studied the Bible for himself, will readily endorse this statement of the bishop. I would add to this, and say that it is incredible to any one who has not made the experiment, what an amount of priceless, vital, and practical truth can be got out of the Bible by studying its utterances in connection with the unbiassed reason and common sense of the human mind. Using these Apocalyptic visions of John as an illustration of the great truths dictated by reason and confirmed by the consciousness of every man, they come to us as a priceless revelation. The great truth which this chapter suggests to us, and strikingly illustrates, is that there is predestined suffering in the government of the world. There are "seven plagues," sufferings, that have been developing, still are being developed, and will be to the end. The abyss of agony contained in these seven plagues is immeasurable to all but the Infinite. The old dogma fabricated by the old makers of our theology, viz. that the physical suffering in the world is caused by sin, is an exploded fallacy, which all geological museums ridicule in mute laughter. Suffering is an element in the government of this world. Taking the whole of this chapter, we shall find it illustrative of three subjects, viz.
(1) that all the dispensations of this suffering are under the direction of God;
(2) that they have all a great moral purpose; and
(3) that they have all an influence coextensive with the universe. Observe—
I. ALL THE DISPENSATIONS OF THIS SUFFERING ARE UNDER THE DIRECTION OF GOD. "And I heard a great voice out of the temple saying to the seven angels, Go you, ways [Go ye], and pour out the vials [seven bowls] of the wrath of God upon the earth" (verse 1). From the very shrine of the Almighty, the holy of holies, he deals out and regulates every item of the sevenfold plagues.
1. He orders their agents. Each of the "seven angels" or messengers are sent forth by him. "Go your ways." The supreme Governor of the universe conducts his affairs through the agencies of others—a vast system of secondary instrumentalities. Thus, through all nature, he gives life, supports life, and takes away life. Albeit he sits at the head and is the absolute Author of all. There is not a pain that quivers in the nerve of any sentient being that comes not from him. He says, "Go your ways," and nothing moves but by his behests. He kills and he makes alive. Is not this a soothing and a strengthening thought under all the dispensations of sorrow?
2. He appoints their seasons. The "seven angels" do not all come together; each has its period. Every impulse that moves throughout the creation, whether it be to shake a leaf in the forest or to wheel systems throughout immensity, goes forth at his own time. All times and seasons are with him. When Shakespeare says, "Troubles come not singly, but in battalions," he is not right. Mercifully they do come singly to individuals and communities, some in one period of life and some in another. To man, collectively, they are ages apart—from the groans of Abel to the throes of the last judgment. There is not a drop of sorrow in any cup that comes not from Heaven.
3. He fixes their places. Each of the seven angels who, under God, are to dispense the plagues, has his place assigned him. Each had his "vial," or bowl, and each bowl had a place on which it was to be poured. The first came upon" the earth," the second on "the sea," the third upon "the rivers and fountains," the fourth upon "the sun," the fifth upon "the seat [throne] of the beast," the sixth upon "the great river Euphrates," and the seventh "into the air" (verses 2-12). Whether there is a reference here to plagues in Egypt, or suffering elsewhere, I know not; no one does know, nor does it matter. They were phantoms that rolled like clouds in the vision of John, and as such they illustrate the grand truth that even the very scenes and seasons of all our sorrows come from him who is, and was, and is to be, the Everlasting Father.
4. He determines their character. The sufferings that came forth from the bowls were not of exactly the same kind or amount; some seemed more terrible and tremendous than others. It appeared as a painful "sore" upon the men of the earth; it was as "death" to those on the sea; it appeared as "blood" upon the fountains and the rivers; it appeared as scorching "fire" in the sun; it appeared as "darkness" and "torture" upon the throne of the beast; it appeared as a terrible "drought," and as the spirits of devils like "frogs," on the rolling Euphrates; and it appeared as terrible convulsions of nature in the air. How different in kind and amount are the sufferings dealt out to men! The sufferings of some are distinguished by physical diseases, some by social bereavements, some by secular losses and disappointments, some by mental perplexities, some by moral anguish, etc. "Every heart knoweth its own bitterness." So much, then, for the fact that all the dispensations of predestined sufferings are under the direction of God.
II. ALL THE DISPENSATIONS OF THIS SUFFERING HAVE A GREAT MORAL PURPOSE. The suffering of the sevenfold plagues is settled in the government of God for moral ends. These ends are not malignant, but merciful. They are not to ruin souls, but to save them. They are curative elements in the painful cup of life; they are storms to purify the moral atmosphere of the world. Disrobing these verses of all metaphorical incongruities, they suggest the grand purpose of God in all the dispensations of suffering. They appear to involve three things.
1. The righteous punishment of cruel persecution. "And I heard the angel of the waters say, Thou art righteous, O Lord [Righteous art thou], which art, and wast, and shalt be [thou Holy One], because thou hast judged thus. For they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy" (verses 5, 6). To "shed blood" anyhow is one of the foulest crimes man can commit; it is an impious infraction of a fundamental law of Heaven, "Thou shalt not kill." Words which apply to man in every conceivable capacity and relation—to the hangman and the warrior as well as to the assassin. They speak as truly to Wolseley amidst his murdering exploits in the Soudan as to any other man on the face of the earth. Blood guiltiness is the chief of crimes. But to murder "prophets," good men and true teachers, is the chief of murders. For this Heaven would be avenged, and the whole intelligent universe will so recognize this as to break into the anthem, "Even so [yea], Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments" (verse 7).
"Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints," etc.
2. The righteous punishment of supreme worldliness. "And the fifth angel poured out his vial [bowl] upon the seat [throne] of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain" (verse 10). Worldliness in the ascendant is indeed like this beast portrayed in the Apocalypse. It sits supreme; it has a throne, a crown, a sceptre that extends over all. Supreme worldliness, whether in the individual or the society, is a "beast" coarse and hideous; and this beast, with all its votaries, is to be crushed. The whole government of God moves in that direction. Truly "blessed is he that overcometh the world"—this "beast."
3. The overwhelming ruin of organized wrong. "And the great city was divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath" (verse 19). Great Babylon, what is it? The moral evils of the world organized into its metropolis. Falsehood, sensuality, pride, ambition, impiety, fraud, tyranny, embodied in a mighty city. This is the Babylon, and all unredeemed men are citizens in it. The Divine purpose is to destroy it. All his dispensations are against it, and will one day shiver it to pieces. "The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever." Wrong will not stand forever before right. Though mountains of ice may stand before the glowing sunbeams of a thousand summers, wrong is bound to fall ultimately before the right. Take courage; be of good cheer!
III. ALL THE DISPENSATIONS OF THIS SUFFERING HAVE AN INFLUENCE COEXTENSIVE WITH THE UNIVERSE. There was not a drop from the bowl in either of the angels' hands that terminated where it fell. The contents of these bowls are not like showers falling on the rocks in summer, which having touched them are then exhaled forever. No, they continue to operate. The bowl that fell on the earth became an evil and painful sore; that which fell on the sea became blood and death; that which fell upon the sun scorched mankind; that which fell on the beast spread darkness and agony in all directions; that which fell upon the Euphrates produced a drought, and drew out of the month of the dragon wild beasts and strange dragons; the bowl that poured out its contents on the air produced lightnings and thunders and earthquakes, causing Babylon to be riven asunder, and every mountain and valley to flee away (verses 2-13, 19, 20). Observe:
1. Nothing in the world of mind terminates with itself. One thought leads to another, one impression produces another elsewhere, and so on. In matter the roll of an infant's marble shakes the massive globes of space. "No man liveth unto himself." Each step we give will touch chords that will vibrate through all the arches of immensity.
2. Whatever goes forth from mind exerts an influence on the domain of matter. These angels, unseen messengers of the Eternal, go forth from that shrine into which no eye has ever pierced—the secret place of him "who dwelleth in the light, whom no man hath seen or can see." Who are they? What eye has ever seen them? what ear has ever heard the rustle of their mystic wings? the "vials" or howls they bear in their mystic hands, what eye has seen them, and what hand has touched them? And yet these invisibilities from the invisible world produce an influence upon the material. Not only do sentient creatures from the earth and the waters and the air writhe and bleed and die, but inanimate matter also. The earth quakes, the mountains tremble at their influence. Human science seems to be reaching a point when we shall find that human minds in all directions exert an influence upon the forces and the operations of material nature. Mind is the primordial and presiding force of all forces. Morally, like Jacob on his stony pillow at Bethel, we are all dreaming, unconscious of the presence of the great Spirit. Ere long, however, we shall be wakened and exclaim, "Surely God is in this place, and I knew it not." £—D.T.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Revelation 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25