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Bible Commentaries

Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary
Revelation 8

 

 

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Verse 1

CH. Revelation 6:1 to Revelation 8:1.] THE OPENING OF THE SEVEN SEALS. As preliminary to the exegesis of this section, I may observe that it is of the first importance to bear in mind, that the openings of these seals correspond to the various arrangements of God’s Providence by which the way is prepared for the final opening of the closed book of His purposes to His glorified Church. That opening shall not fully and freely be made, till His people will know even as they are known. And that will not be, till they are fully gathered in to His heavenly garner. This book the Lamb opens, containing as it does matters which οὐδεὶς οἶδεν, οὐδὲ ἄγγελος ἐν οὐρανῷ, οὐδὲ ὁ υἱός, first by the acts and procedures of His establishment of His reign over the earth, and then finally by His great second coming, the necessary condition of His elect being gathered out of the four winds into His glory. When these preparations for His coming have taken place, and that coming itself has passed, and the elect are gathered into glory, then will be the time when the last hindrance to our perfect knowledge will be removed, and the book of God’s eternal purposes will lie open—the theme of eternity’s praise.

I may add that for the sake of perspicuity, I shall mainly follow, in these notes, the track of that interpretation which seems to me to be required; noticing only differences in those of other Commentators where grammar and philology are concerned.


Verse 1

1.] And when (for ὅταν with indic., see reff. Notice, that it occurs in the opening of this seal only, giving it an indefiniteness which does not belong to any of the rest. The touch is so slight as not to be reproducible in another language: but it can hardly be denied that in the Writer’s mind it exists) he opened the seventh seal (what sign may we expect to follow? The other six seals have been accompanied each by its appropriate vision. Since the opening of the last one, followed as it was by the portents and terrors of the day of the Lord, there has been an episodical series of visions, setting forth the gathering in of the elect, and the innumerable multitude of the glorified Church. What incident is appropriate for the removal of this last, the only obstacle yet remaining to the entire disclosure of the secret purposes of God?) there was (there became, there came on, supervened, from a state very different, viz. the choral songs of the great multitude, re-echoed by the angelic host) silence in the heaven about (see reff. There is no ellipsis in the ὡς: the duration is contained in the ἡμίωρον) half an hour (in enquiring into the meaning of this silence, let us first see whether we have any indication by analogy in the book itself, which may guide us. In ch. Revelation 10:4, when the Apostle is about to write down the voices of the seven thunders, he is commanded to abstain, and not to write them down. And though neither the manner nor the place of that withholding exactly corresponds to this half-hour’s silence, yet it holds a place related to the sounding of the seventh trumpet, quite sufficiently near to that of this, with regard to the seventh seal, to be brought into comparison with it. It imports 1) a passing over and withholding, as far as the Apostle is concerned, of that which the seventh seal revealed: i. e. of that complete unrolling of God’s book of His eternal purposes, of the times and seasons which He holds in His own power. For this unrolling, every thing has been prepared: even to the taking off of the last seal which bound the mysterious roll. But as to what the roll itself contains, there is silence. 2) But it also imports, as Victorinus beautifully says, “semihora, initium quietis æternæ:” the beginning of that blessed sabbatical state of rest, during which the people of God shall be in full possession of those things which ear hath not heard nor eye seen. With equal truth and beauty does the same, our earliest apocalyptic expositor, proceed: “sed partem intellexit, quia interruptio eadem per ordinem repetit. Nam si esset juge silentium, hic finis narrandi fieret.” So that the vexed question, whether what follows belongs, or not, to the seventh seal, is, in fact, a question not worth seriously answering. Out of the completion of the former vision rise up a new series of visions, bearing a different character, but distinguished by the same number, indicating perfection, and shewing us that though evolved out of the completion of the former series, they do not belong to the last particular member of that series, any further than as it leads the way to them. Even more marked is this again below in ch. 11–16, where the pouring out of the seven vials can in no way be said to belong to or form part of the blowing of the seventh trumpet. It will be seen then that I believe all interpretation to be wrong, which regards the blowing of the seven trumpets as forming a portion of the vision accompanying the seventh seal in particular; and again that I place in the same category all that which regards it as taking up and going over the same ground again. In the seven seals, we had revealed, as was fitting, the opening of the great Revelation, the progress and fortunes of God’s Church and people in relation to the world, and of the world in relation to the church.

With regard to the trumpets themselves, we may observe, 1) that they repeat again the same mystic number seven, indicating that the course of events (see below) represented by this sounding is complete in itself, as was that indicated before by the breaking of the seals, and as is also that afterwards to be indicated by the pouring out of the vials: 2) that as in the case of the seals, there is a distinction made between the first four and the following three. Cf. below, Revelation 8:13. 3) that as also in the case of the seals, there is an interval, with two episodical visions, between the sixth and the seventh trumpet. Cf. ch. 10, and ch. Revelation 11:1 to Revelation 14:4) that of the trumpets, six only announce visions partaking of the common character of judgments, whereas the seventh forms, as we also saw in the case of the seventh seal, the solemn close to the rest. 5) and further, that as regards this seventh trumpet, the matters imported by it as being ἡ οὐαὶ ἡ τρίτη (ch. Revelation 11:14) are not given, but merely indicated by ἦλθενὁ καιρὸς τῶν νεκρῶν κριθῆναι, κ. τ. λ. (ch. Revelation 11:18): just as we saw that the things imported by the opening of the seventh seal were not detailed, but only indicated by the episodical visions, and by the nature of the similitude used. 6) that before the sounding of the seventh trumpet, the mystery of God is finished, as far as relates to the subject of this course of visions. This is indicated by the great Angel in ch. Revelation 10:7; and again by implication in ch. Revelation 11:15-19, both by the purport of the voices in heaven, Revelation 11:15, and by the ascriptions of praise, Revelation 11:16-18. This is the same again at the pouring out of the seventh vial, where the great voice from the throne announces γέγονεν, ch. Revelation 16:17; as we saw that it was at the opening of the seventh seal, as indicated by the silence of half an hour. Each course of visions is complete in itself: each course of visions ends in the accomplishment of that series of divine actions which it sets forth. 7) that as, when the preparation for the seven angels to sound their trumpets is evolved out of the opening of the seventh seal, the vision of the seals is solemnly closed in by ἐγένοντο βρονταὶ καὶ ἀστραπαὶ καὶ φωναὶ καὶ σεισμός, so the vision of the trumpets is solemnly closed in by ἐγένοντο ἀστραπαὶ καὶ φωναὶ καὶ βρονταὶ καὶ σεισμὸς καὶ χάλαζα μεγάλη. That the similar occurrence, ch. Revelation 16:18, does not close the series of the vials, seems to be owing to special circumstances belonging to the outpouring of the seventh vial: see there (ch. Revelation 16:21). 8) that as in Revelation 8:3-5, which form the close of the vision of the seals, and the opening of that of the trumpets, the offering of the prayers of the saints is the prominent feature (see notes below), so in the close of the series of the trumpets we have a prominent disclosure of the ark of the covenant of God, declaring and sealing His faithfulness to His church. Similarly again at the beginning of the series of the vials, we have the temple of the tabernacle of witness opened. Why we have not a similar appearance at the close of that series, is to be accounted for as above. 9) that, seeing that this course of visions opens and closes as last noticed, it (to say nothing at present of the following series of the vials) is to be regarded as embracing a course of judgments (for such evidently is every one of its six visions) inflicted in answer to those prayers, and forming a portion of that ἐκδίκησις invoked by the souls of the martyrs in ch. Revelation 6:10. 10) If this be so, then, as this series of visions is manifestly to be regarded as extending to the end of the whole period of time (cf. ch. Revelation 10:7, ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῆς φωνῆς τοῦ ἑβδόμου ἀγγέλου, ὅταν μέλλῃ σαλπίζειν, καὶ ἐτελέσθη τὸ μυστήριον τοῦ θεοῦ, κ. τ. λ.), we may fairly say that it takes up the great world-wide vision of the seals at the point where it was said to the vengeance-invoking martyrs ἵνα ἀναπαύσωνται ἔτι χρόνον: and that the judgments of this series of visions occur during the time of waiting. This view is confirmed by finding that οἱ κατοικοῦντες ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς, upon whom the vengeance is invoked in ch. Revelation 6:10, are the objects of vengeance during this series of judgments, cf. Revelation 8:13. 11) In reference to this last remark, we may observe that no one portion especially of the earth’s inhabitants is pointed out as objects of this series of judgments, but all the ungodly, as usurpers of the kingdom of Christ. This is plain, by the expressions in the ascription of praise with which it closes, I mean, ἐγένετο ἡ βασιλεία κ. τ. λ. Earthly domination is cast down, and the Lord’s Kingdom is brought in. And it is also plain, from the expression used in that same ascription of praise, καὶ διαφθεῖραι τοὺς διαφθείροντας τὴν γῆν, of what character have been these ungodly—the corrupters of the earth—the tainters and wasters of the means and accessories of life. 12) Whatever be the interpretation which follows from the foregoing considerations, two canons must not be violated. a) As in the case of the seals, so it is manifest here, from ch. Revelation 11:18, ἦλθεν.… ὁ καιρὸς τῶν νεκρῶν κριθῆναι, κ. τ. λ., that the series of visions reaches forward to the time of the end, and is only terminated by the great events indicated in those words. And b) as yet, no particular city, no especial people is designated as the subject of the apocalyptic vision. All is general. The earth, the trees, the grass, the sea, the waters, the lights of heaven, mankind,—these are at present the objects in our field of view. There is as yet no θρόνος τοῦ θηρίου, as in the outpouring of the vials, ch. Revelation 16:10. The prophecy goes on becoming more specific as it advances: and it is not for us to anticipate its course, nor to localize and individualize where it is as yet general and undefined. The further details will be treated as we go on).


Verse 2

2.] First appearance of the seven trumpet angels. And I saw (viz. during the symbolic silence, at the end of the half-hour. What now follows is not to be considered as in the interpretation chronologically consequent upon that which was indicated by the seals, but merely as in the vision chronologically consequent on that course of visions. The evolution of the courses of visions out of one another does not legitimately lead to the conclusion that the events represented by them are consecutive in order of time. There are other and more important sequences than that of time: they may be independent of it, or they may concur with it) the seven angels which stand before God (cf. Tobit 12:15, ἐγώ εἰμι ῥαφαήλ, εἷς ἐκ τῶν ἑπτὰ ἁγίων ἀγγέλων οἳ προσαναφέρουσι τὰς προσευχὰς τῶν ἁγίων καὶ εἰσπορεύονται ἐνώπιον τῆς δόξης τοῦ ἁγίου. The agreement is not entire, inasmuch as here another angel, and not one of the seven, presently offers the prayers of the saints. These are not the archangels, as De W. and Stern, nor are they the seven spirits of ch. Revelation 4:5, as Aret. and Ewald: nor again are they merely seven angels selected on account of the seven trumpets, as Hengstb. and Ebrard: this is entirely precluded by the article τούς. It is clear that the passage in Tobit and the words here refer to the same matter, and that the fact was part of that revelation with regard to the order and employments of the holy angels, which seems to have taken place during the captivity), and there were given to them seven trumpets (understand, with intent that they themselves should blow them). And another angel (not to be identified with Christ, as is done by Bed(103), Vitringa, Calov., al., and recently by Elliott: for thus confusion is introduced into the whole imagery of the vision. In ch. Revelation 5:8, we have the twenty-four elders falling down with vials containing the prayers of the saints: here we have an angel offering incense that it may mingle with the prayers on the heavenly altar. Any theological difficulty which belongs to the one belongs also to the other; and it is a canon which we must strictly observe in interpretation, that we are not, on account of any supposed doctrinal propriety, to depart from the plain meaning of words. In ch. Revelation 7:2 we have ἄλλος ἄγγελος in the sense of a created angel (see note there): and would it be probable that St. John would after this, and I may add with his constant usage of ἄγγελος throughout the book for angel in its ordinary sense, designate our Lord by this title? There is something to me far more revolting from theological propriety in such a supposition, than in an angel being seen in the heavenly ministrations offering incense to mix with the prayers of the saints. It ought really to be needless to remark, in thus advocating consistency of verbal interpretation, that no countenance is hereby given to the invocation of angels: the whole truth of their being and ministration protesting against such an inference. They are simply λειτουργικὰ πνεύματα, and the action here described is a portion of that their ministry. Through Whom the prayers are offered, we all know. He is our only Mediator and channel of grace) came and stood over ( ἐπί with gen., not simply juxta, nor ante, but super; so that his form appeared above it; the altar being between the Apostle and him) the altar (viz. the altar named ch. Revelation 6:9, as the repetition of the word with the art. shews: see below on Revelation 8:5), having a golden censer (the word λιβανωτός is elsewhere the frankincense itself: so ref. 1 Chron.: so also Schol. on Aristoph. Nub., cited by Grot., λίβανος.… αὐτὸ τὸ δένδρον· λιβανωτὸς δὲ ὁ καρπὸς τοῦ δένδρου: and Ammonius (ib.), λίβανος μὲν γὰρ κοινῶς καὶ τὸ δένδρον καὶ τὸ θυμιώμενον· λιβανωτὸς δὲ μόνον τὸ θυμιώμενον. But here it unquestionably means a censer: cf. below, Revelation 8:5, εἴληφεν τὸν λ. καὶ ἐγέμισεν αὐτὸν κ. τ. λ. No argument can be derived from the censer being a golden one, as Elliott, partly after Sir I. Newton. The spirit of the heavenly imagery will account for this without going farther: we have, throughout, crowns (ch. Revelation 4:4), incense-vials (Revelation 5:8), vengeance-vials (Revelation 15:7), girdles (Revelation 15:6), a measuring-reed (Revelation 21:15), &c., all of the same costly metal). And there was given to him (viz. by divine appointment, through those ministering: not, by the saints who offered the prayers (Ell.), for two reasons: 1) because the incense is mentioned as something distinct from the prayers of the saints; see below: 2) because no forcing of ἐδόθη will extract this meaning from it. It is a frequent apocalyptic formula in reference to those things or instruments with which, or actions by which, the ministrations necessary to the progress of the visions are performed: cf. Revelation 8:2, ch. Revelation 6:2; Revelation 6:4 bis. 8, 11, Revelation 7:2, Revelation 9:1, &c.) much incense (see ch. Revelation 5:8, and on the difference of the imagery, below), that he might (if we read δώσει, which after all is not really a various reading,— η, and ηι, being in the MSS. perpetually confused with ει,—we must remember that the fut. with ἵνα is a mixed construction, made up of ἵνα δώσῃ and ἃ δώσει. We are compelled in English to choose one of these) give it to (various renderings and supplyings of the construction have been devised: but the simple dative after δώσει appears the only legitimate one: and the sense as expressed by Calov., “ut daret ταῖς πρ., orationibus sanctorum, eadem, i. e., ut redderet eas boni odoris preces.” This object was, to incense the prayers of the Saints: on the import, see below) the prayers of all the saints (not only now of those martyred ones in ch. Revelation 6:9; the trumpets which follow are in answer to the whole prayers of God’s church. The martyrs’ cry for vengeance is the loudest note, but all join) upon (the ἐπί with accus. carrying motion; which thus incensed were offered on the golden altar, &c. From what follows it would seem that the prayers were already before God: see below) the altar of gold which was before the throne (this may be a different altar from that over which the angel was standing; or it may be the same further specified. The latter alternative seems the more probable. We must not imagine that we have in these visions a counterpart of the Jewish tabernacle, or attempt to force the details into accordance with its arrangements. No such correspondence has been satisfactorily made out: indeed to assume such here would perhaps be inconsistent with ch. Revelation 11:19, where first the temple of God in heaven is opened. A general analogy, in the use and character of the heavenly furniture, is all that we can look for). And the smoke of the incense ascended to (such again seems to be the only legitimate rendering of the dative. The common one, “with,” cannot be justified: see Winer, edn. 6, § 31. 6. The prayers, being already offered, received the smoke of the incense. The whole imagery introduces the fact that those prayers are about to be answered in the following judgments) the prayers of the saints out of the hand of the angel, before God (these latter words belong to ἀνέβη, or rather to ἀνέβη ταῖς πρ. τ. ἁγ. Notice, that no countenance is given by this vision to the idea of angelic intercession. The angel is simply a minister. The incense (importing here, we may perhaps say, acceptability owing to the ripeness of the season in the divine purposes, so that the prayers, lying unanswered before, become, by the fulness of the time, acceptable as regards an immediate reply) is given to him: he merely wafts the incense up, so that it mingles with the prayers. Düsterd. well remarks, that the angel, in performing sacerdotal offices, is but a fellow-servant of the saints (ch. Revelation 19:10) who are themselves priests (ch. Revelation 1:6, Revelation 5:10, Revelation 7:15)).


Verse 5

5.] And the angel took (it is quite impossible to maintain a perfect sense: an aorist ( ἐγέμισεν) is indeed coupled to εἴληφεν) the censer (after having used it as above, i. e. shaken from it the incense on the altar) and filled it (while the smoke was ascending) from the fire of the altar (i. e. from the ashes which were on the altar), and cast it (i. e. the fire with which the censer was filled: the hot ashes) towards the earth (to signify that the answer to the prayers was about to descend in the fire of God’s vengeance: see below, and compare Ezekiel in ref.): and there took place thunders and voices and lightnings and an earthquake (“per orationes sanctorum,” says Corn.-a-lap., “… precantium vindictam de impiis suisque persecutoribus, ignis vindictæ, i. e. tonitrua, fulgura et plagæ sequentes vii. angelorum et tubarum in impios sunt demissa.” All these immediate consequences of the casting down of the hot ashes on the earth are the symbolic precursors of the divine judgments about to be inflicted).

One point must here be noticed: the intimate connexion between the act of this incense-offering angel and the seven trumpets which follow. It belongs to them all: it takes place when now the seven angels have had their trumpets given them, and this series of visions is introduced. So that every interpretation must take this into account: remembering that the judgments which follow are answers to the prayers of the saints, and are inflicted on the enemies of the church.


Verse 6

6.] And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves that they might blow (raised their trumpets to their mouths, and stood in attitude to blow them).


Verse 7

7.] And the first blew his trumpet, and there took place hail and fire mingled in blood (i. e. the hail and the fire were mingled together (plur.) in blood, as their flux or vehicle; the stones of hail and the balls of fire (not lightning, as Ebr.) fell in a shower of blood, just as hail and fireballs commonly fall in a shower of rain. There is here manifestly an allusion to the plague of hail in Egypt, of which it is said that “the fire ran along upon the ground:” ἦν δὲ ἡ χάλαζα καὶ τὸ πῦρ φλογίζον ἐν τῇ χαλάζῃ, ref. Exod.: but with the addition of the blood. With regard to this latter, we may remark, that both here and under the vials, where the earth, seas, and rivers are again the objects of the first three judgments, blood is a feature common to all three. It appears rather to indicate a general character of the judgments, than to require any special interpretation in each particular case. In blood is life: in the shedding, or in the appearing, of blood, is implied the destruction of life, with which, as a consequence, all these judgments must be accompanied), and it was cast into the earth (towards the surface of the earth): and the third part (this expression first occurring here, it will be well once for all to enquire into its meaning in these prophecies. I may first say, that all special interpretations seem to me utterly to have failed, and of these none so signally as that of Mr. Elliott, who would understand it of a tripartite division of the Roman Empire at the time to which he assigns this judgment. It is fatal to this whole class of interpretations, that it is not said the hail, &c. were cast on a third part, but that the destruction occasioned by them extended to a third part of the earth on which they were cast. And this is most expressly declared to be so in this first case, by all green grass being also destroyed, not a third part: a fact of which Elliott takes no notice. It is this mixture of the fractional third with other designations of extent of mischief, which will lead us, I believe, to the right interpretation. We find it again under the third trumpet, where the star Wormwood is cast ἐπὶ τὸ τρίτον τῶν ποταμῶν, καὶ ἐπὶ τὰς πηγὰς τε͂ ν ὑδάτων: the result being that τὸ τρίτον τῶν ὑδάτων was embittered. This lax usage would of itself lead us to suppose that we are not to look for strict definiteness in the interpretation. And if we refer to the prophecy in Zechariah 13:8 f., where the import is to announce judgment on a greater part and the escape of a remnant, we find the same tripartite division: καὶ ἔσται ἐν πάσῃ τῇ γῇ, λέγει κύριος, τὰ δύο μέρη αὐτῆς ἐξολοθρευθήσεται, καὶ ἐκλείψει, τὸ δὲ τρίτον ὑπολειφθήσεται ἐν αὐτῇ. καὶ διάξω τὸ τρίτον διὰ πυρός, κ. τ. λ. Nay, in the Apocalypse itself, we have τὸ τρίτον used where the sense can hardly but be similarly indefinite: e. g., under the sixth trumpet, ch. Revelation 9:15; Revelation 9:18, and Revelation 12:4, where it is said that the dragon’s tail σύρει τὸ τρίτον τῶν ἀστέρων τοῦ οὐρανοῦ: the use of the present shewing that it is rather a general power, than a particular event which is designated. Compare again the use of τὸ τέταρτον τῆς γῆς in ch. Revelation 6:8, and of τὸ δέκατον τῆς πόλεως in ch. Revelation 11:13. All these seem to shew, that such prophetic expressions are to be taken rather in their import as to amount, than in any strict fractional division. Here, for instance, I would take the pervading τὸ τρίτον as signifying, that though the judgment is undoubtedly, as to extent, fearful and sweeping, yet that God in inflicting it, spares more than he smites: two thirds escape in each case, while one is smitten) of the earth (i. e. plainly of the surface of the earth, and that, of the cultivated soil, which admitted of such a devastation) was burnt up (so that the fire prevails in the plague, not the hail nor the blood), and the third part of the trees (in all the earth, not in the third part) was burnt up, and all green grass (upon earth: no longer a third part: possibly because green grass would first and unavoidably every where scorch up at the approach of such a plague, whereas the hardier crops and trees might partially escape) was burnt up.


Verses 7-12

7–12.] The first four trumpets. It has been before observed, that as in the case of the seals, so here, the first four are marked off from the last three. The distinction is here made, not only, as there, by an intrinsic feature running through the four, but by the voice of the eagle in Revelation 8:13, introducing those latter trumpets and giving them also a distinguishing feature. And as we there maintained (see note on ch. Revelation 6:8) that any interpretation, to be right, must take into account this difference between the four and the three, so here also. But in order to the taking into account of this difference, we must gain some approximate idea of its import. Does the intrinsic feature, common to these four plagues, bear a general interpretation which will suit their character as distinguished from the other three? I imagine it does. For, whereas each of those three (or rather of the former two of them, for, as has been observed, the seventh forms the solemn conclusion to the whole) evolves a course of plagues including separate and independent details, these four are connected and interdependent. Their common feature is destruction and corruption: not total, it is true, but partial: in each case to the amount expressed by τὸ τρίτον: but this fractional extent of action appears again under the sixth trumpet, ch. Revelation 9:15; Revelation 9:18, and therefore clearly must not be pressed as carrying the distinctive character of the first four (on its import see note below, Revelation 8:7). It is in the kind of exercise which their agency finds, that these four trumpets are especially distinguished. The plagues indicated by them are entirely inflicted on natural objects: the earth, trees, grass, sea, rivers, lights of heaven: whereas those indicated by the two latter are expressly said to be inflicted on men, and not on natural objects: cf. ch. Revelation 9:4; Revelation 9:15. Surely, however these natural objects are in each case to be understood, this is a point not lightly to be passed over. Nor can it fail to strike every unprejudiced student, that we must not, as is done by many expositors, interpret the γῆ and χόρτος and δένδρα as signifying nations and men in the former portion of the series of visions, and then, when the distinction between these and men is made in the latter part, be content with the literal meaning. With every allowance for the indisputable intermixture, in many places, of literal and allegorical meanings, all analogy requires that in the same series of visions, when one judgment is to destroy earth, trees, and grass, and another not to injure earth, trees, or grass, but men only, the earth, trees, and grass should bear the same meaning in the two cases. We may fairly say then, that the plagues of the four former trumpets affect the accessories of life—the earth, the trees, the green grass, the waters as means of transit and of subsistence, the lights of heaven:—whereas those of the last two affect life itself, the former by the infliction of pain, the latter of death.

A certain analogy may be noticed, but not a very close one, between these plagues and those in Egypt of old. The analogy is not close, for the order is not the same, nor are all particulars contained in the one series which are contained in the other: but the resemblance is far too striking to pass without remark. We have the hail and fire, the water turned to blood, the darkness, the locusts(, the infliction of death): five, in fact, if not six, out of the ten. The Egyptian plagues are beyond doubt remembered in the sacred imagery, if they are not reproduced.

The secret of interpretation here I believe to be this: The whole seven trumpets bring before us the punishment of the enemies of God during the period indicated by their course. These punishments are not merely direct inflictions of plagues, but consist in great part of that judicial retribution on them that know not God, which arises from their own depravity, and in which their own sins are made to punish themselves. This kind of punishment comes before us especially in the four first trumpet-visions. The various natural accessories of life are ravaged, or are turned to poison. In the first, the earth and its produce are ravaged with fire: in the second, the sea is mingled with blood, and ships, which should have been for men’s convenience, are destroyed. In the third, the waters and springs, the essential refreshments of life, are poisoned, and death is occasioned by drinking of them. In the fourth, the natural lights of heaven are darkened. So that I regard these first four trumpets as setting forth the gradual subjugation of the earth to Him whose kingdom it is in the end to become, by judgments inflicted on the ungodly, as regards the vitiating and destroying the ordinary means of subsistence, and comfort, and knowledge. In the details of these judgments, as also of the two following, there are many particulars which I cannot interpret, and with regard to which it may be a question whether they are to be considered as other than belonging to the requisite symbolic machinery of the prophecy. But in confessing this I must also say, that I have never seen, in any apocalyptic Commentator, an interpretation of these details at all approaching to verisimilitude: never any which is not obliged to force the plain sense of words, or the certain course of history, to make them fit the requisite theory. Many examples of these will be found in the history of apocalyptic interpretation given by Mr. Elliott in vol. iv. of his Horæ Apocalypticæ.


Verse 8

8.] And the second angel blew his trumpet: and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea (first, by the ὡς, that which was cast into the sea was not a mountain, but only a burning mass so large as to look like one. Then, it was this mass itself, not any thing proceeding from it, which was cast down. So that the introduction of a volcano into the imagery is quite unjustifiable. In the language (hardly in the sense) there seems to be a reminiscence of Jeremiah 28:25, δώσω σε ὡς ὄρος ἐμπεπυρισμένον. It is remarkable that there the ὄρος should be characterized as τὸ διεφθαρμένον τὸ διαφθεῖρον πᾶσαν τὴν γῆν: cf. our ch. Revelation 11:18), and the third part of the sea became blood (so in the Egyptian plague the Nile and all the Egyptian waters. By the non-consequence of the result of the fiery mass falling into the sea (so De W., “eine Wirkung ohne Analogie”) is again represented to us that in the infliction of this plague from above, the instrument of it is merely described as it appeared ( ὡς), not as it really was. So that all ideas imported into the interpretation which take the mountain, or the fiery character of it, as elements in the symbolism, are departures from the real intent of the description): and the third part of the creatures (reff.) (that were) in the sea (not, as Elliott, “in the third part of the sea,” but in the whole. Nor again must we stretch ἐν τῇ θαλάσσῃ to mean the maritime coasts, nor the islands, nor the transmarine provinces: a usage not even shewn to exist by the examples cited by him, vol. i. p. 344 note: nor by Tacitus’s “plenum exsiliis mare;” any more than, if we were to say “the sea is full of emigrants from Ireland,” we should by “the sea” mean “the ships”) died (cf. Exodus 7:17-21) those which have life (animal souls: see reff.: and for the appositional nominative, ch. Revelation 2:20 reff.), and the third part of the ships were destroyed (another inconsequent result, and teaching us as before.

We may remark, at the end of this second trumpet, that the judgments inflicted by these first two are distinctly those which in ch. Revelation 7:3 were held back until the servants of God were sealed: μὴ ἀδικήσητε τὴν γῆν μήτε τὴν θάλασσαν μήτε τὰ δένδρα, ἄχρι σφραγίσωμεν κ. τ. λ. So that, as before generally remarked, the place of these trumpet-plagues must be sought after that sealing: and consequently (see there) in very close conjunction with the day of the Lord itself).


Verse 10

10.] And the third angel blew his trumpet, and there fell from heaven a great star burning as a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers and upon the fountains of the waters (it can hardly be said, as Düsterd., that we are here as matter of course to understand, on the third part of the fountains, any more than we are to limit the πᾶς χόρτος χλωρός in Revelation 8:7 to all the grass within the third part of the earth). And the name of the star is called Wormwood (the more usual forms are τὸ ἀψίνθιον, or ἡ ἄψινθος. The masc. seems to be chosen on account of its conformity to ὁ ἀστήρ. There is a river in Thrace so called. See on the plant, and its medicinal use by the ancients, Winer, Realw. art. Wermuth: and Pliny, xxvii. 28), and the third part of the waters became (was turned into, see reff.) wormwood: and many of the men (who dwelt by these waters: such may be the force of the article. But τῶν ἀνθρ. may be general. It is the only place where the expression πολλ. τῶν ἀνθρ. occurs) died from ( ἐκ of the source whence a result springs, see Winer, edn. 6, § 47, sub voce) the waters, because they were embittered (compare the converse history, Exodus 15:23 ff., of the bitter waters being made sweet by casting a certain tree into them: see also 2 Kings 2:19 ff. The question whether wormwood was a deadly poison or not, is out of place here. It is not said that all who drank, died. And the effect of any bitter drug, however medicinally valuable, being mixed with the water ordinarily used, would be to occasion sickness and death. It is hardly possible to read of this third plague, and not to think of the deadly effect of those strong spirituous drinks which are in fact water turned into poison. The very name absinthe is not unknown in their nomenclature: and there is no effect which could be so aptly described by the falling of fire into water, as this, which results in ardent spirit,—in that which the simple islanders of the South Sea call firewater. That this plague may go on to destroy even this fearful proportion of the ungodly in the latter days, is far from impossible, considering its prevalence even now in some parts of the civilized world. But I mention this rather as an illustration, than as an interpretation).

And the fourth angel blew his trumpet: and the third part of the sun was struck (it is not said, as in the case of the former three trumpets, with what. And this absence of an instrument in the fourth of these correlative visions perhaps teaches us not to attribute too much import to the instruments by which the previous judgments are brought about. It is the πληγή itself, not its instrument, on which attention should be directed) and the third part of the moon and the third part of the stars, that the third part of them might be darkened, and the day might not shine during the third part of it (the limitation of the τὸ τρίτον is now manifestly to time, not to brightness. So E. V. rightly, “for a third part of it.” That this consequence is no natural one following upon the obscuration of a third portion of the sun, &c., is not to be alleged as any objection, but belongs to the altogether supernatural region in which these visions are situated. Thus we have a globe of fire turning sea-water to blood—a burning star embittering the waters: &c.), and the night in like manner (i. e. the night as far as she is, by virtue of the moon and stars, a time of light. And this is far more so under the glorious Eastern moon and stars, than in our mist-laden climate).


Verse 13

13.] Introduction of the three remaining trumpets by three woes. And I saw and heard (the construction is zeugmatic) an ( ἑνός indefinite, as in reff.: see Winer, edn. 6, § 18. 9. Or it may carry meaning—a single or solitary eagle,—as might also be the case in one of the reff., ch. Revelation 18:21, see there) eagle (hardly to be identified with the eagles of Matthew 24:28; for 1) that saying is more proverbial than prophetic: and 2) any application of that saying would be far more aptly reserved for our ch. Revelation 19:17. Nor again is the eagle a bird of ill omen, as Ewald: nor a contrast to the dove in John 1:32, as Hengstb.: but far more probably the symbol of judgment and vengeance rushing to its prey, as in Deuteronomy 28:49; Hosea 8:1; Habakkuk 1:8. Nor again is it to be understood as an angel in eagle’s shape: but a veritable eagle in the vision. Thus we have the altar speaking, ch. Revelation 16:7) flying in mid-heaven (i. e. in the south or noon-day sky where the sun reaches the meridian, for which μεσουρανεῖν is the word. Wetst. cites from Eustath. on Il. θ. 68, αὔξησις ἡμέρας λέγεται καθʼ ὅμηρον τὸ ἀπὸ πρωΐας μέχρις ἡλιακοῦ μεσουρανήματος, τὸ δὲ ἐντεῦθεν φθίνειν ἡμέρα δοκεῖ. See his many other examples. So that the word does not signify the space intermediate between heaven and earth, but as above. And the eagle flies there, to be seen and heard of all. I may also notice that the whole expression favours the true reading ἀετοῦ as against the substituted ἀγγέλου) saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to those that dwell (the government of an accus. after οὐαί is also found in ch. Revelation 12:12) upon the earth (the objects of the vengeance invoked in the prayers of the martyrs, ch. Revelation 6:10; the ungodly world, as distinguished from the church) by reason of (so E. V., well: ἐκ denoting, as in Revelation 8:11, the source whence the woe springs) the remaining voices of the trumpet (the sing, is used generically: the three voices all having this common to them, that they are the sound of a trumpet) of the three angels who are about to blow.

 


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Bibliography Information
Alford, Henry. "Commentary on Revelation 8:4". Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/hac/revelation-8.html. 1863-1878.

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