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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Revelation 8

 

 

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Verse 1

Seventh seal issues no revelation, but inaugurates the seven trumpets, Revelation 8:1-6.

1. And—The cycle of the six seals being finished, the office of the seventh seal is simply to inaugurate the next seven-series—that of the trumpets.

Just so it is the office of the seventh trumpet to issue the seven-series of the vials, with all the events of which they are a central part. Again, as the purpose of the opening of the seals is revelation, so the sounding of the trumpets is proclamation. That is, the cycle of world-destiny, briefly disclosed by the seals, is, with a new round, enlarged and proclaimed by the trumpets. And thus the revealing part of the apocalypse is a double cycle, a lesser and a larger; the lesser is given in chapters vi and vii; the larger, commencing here, fills the rest of the book. The following tabulation will show this parallelism:— These two columns verify each other, demonstrating that our interpretation must be generically correct. See further in note on Revelation 12:1.

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[* It will be noted that in both columns here is the changing point. Thus far the powers of evil are triumphant. Now commence the redemption and retribution.]

Silence in heaven—The inauguration of this new seven-series opens with solemn ceremony. A dread silence, incense offering, fire casting, ominous soundings. This imposing prelude is based upon the scenes of the daily sacrifice offered at the temple, and familiar to every Jerusalemite. Morning and evening the people assembled at the temple, incense was burned on the incense altar, and then a lamb was sacrificed on the great altar. While the incense was burning, and its fragrant smoke ascending, there was profound silence, the people breathing their voiceless prayer without. Notes on Luke 1:8-10. Next, when the sacrifice was being offered, the trumpets were sounded, attended with Davidic instruments and with voices. See 2 Chronicles 29:25-28.

Accordingly, it was during the silence in this theophanic or symbol heaven (note Revelation 4:11) that the incense of Revelation 8:3-4 is burning, and the trumpeters of Revelation 8:2 appear at their stand, and the trumpets are placed in their hands. The silence is broken by the detonations of Revelation 8:5, followed by the trumpets, 6, 7. This plainly preludial character of 1-6, will, perhaps, clearly show that the passage belongs to the (so to speak) machinery of the panorama, and not to the predictive part of the work. To make it, as the ultra-historical interpreters do, represent and predict historical events, mistakes the frame for the picture.

Half an hour—About the length of time of the incense burning.


Verse 2

2. I saw… seven angels which stood—From this phraseology, Stuart identifies them with “the seven presence-angels,” or amshaspends of the Persians. He quotes the words of Raphael, in the apocryphal Book of Tobit: “I am… one of the seven angels… which go in and out before the glory of the Holy One.” And so, also, he quotes the seven “watchers” of the Book of Enoch, who wait and watch for the divine commands. Alford draws the strong inference that the existence of these angels is a part of the additional revelation derived by the Jews from the captivity. See our note on Matthew 1:20. Hengstenberg takes a different view. He shows that there are, indeed, ranks and gradations of angels: “For God’s creations are no democratic chaos.” He quotes the seraphim of Isaiah 6; the “angel-princes” of Daniel 10:13; the “thrones, dominions, principalities, powers,” of St. Paul; also 1 Peter 3:22, and Jude Revelation 8:8, in proof of these ranks. Yet this particular seven he believes to be only occasional, arising from the sevenfold arrangements of the book, and this seven would indeed have been ten, had there been ten trumpets. Agreeing with Hengstenberg in this occasional character of the seven, and in the existence of angel ranks, we doubt whether this standing implies any permanent rank of this seven. The seven had been standing before John saw them; and they had stood before the throne for a definite purpose; namely, the receiving and blowing the trumpets. They stood before the theophanic throne just as the another angel, Revelation 8:3, stood before the altar, both to perform a given task. The Greek for stood is in the perfect tense, who have stood, or have been standing. Just so in Revelation 8:5, took is perfect—has taken. The seer’s eye watches and tells what has been done, as soon as it is done. So, “I saw the seven angels who have been for some time standing” to receive the trumpets.


Verse 3

3. Another angel—Who serves as priest to burn the incense. Compare our notes of Luke 1:8-11. We suppose the theophanic throne, with its court assemblage, to occupy the holy of holies. As the crowds of the last chapter have disappeared, the golden altar of incense is seen in its place in the front apartment.

Censer… incense—See note on Hebrews 9:4.

Should offer it with the prayers—Literal Greek, should give it to the prayers. The prayers are ascending, and the angel-priest gives the incense as accessory to the prayers, to imbue them with its acceptable fragrance and buoy them up to an approving God.

All the saints—Not of the martyrs alone. The martyrs called once for retribution (Revelation 6:9) on their persecutors; but the great body of saints always, with the martyrs often, call for grace and mercy, both on themselves and on the world.

Altar… before… throne—And, therefore, the incense and prayers coming direct to God.


Verse 4

4. Came—Greek, “And the smoke of the incense went up to the prayers of the saints, out of the hand of the angel.” The incense went up to the ascending prayers to perfume and reinforce them.

Before God—The ascending incense was in the theophanic presence.


Verse 5

5. The censer has now been emptied of its incense. The angel then fills it with altar-fire, and flings the fire upon the earth, and terrible detonations arise. A most striking symbol. But we do not agree with Hengstenberg and Alford, that these vengeful voices and the judgments that follow are consequences of the prayers of all the saints. No. Save the martyrs’ cry for justice, the ascending prayer of the universal Church is for the world’s conversion, reformation, salvation. But on the contrary there is the terrible fire—the reverse of the incense—the ordinary Scripture symbol of divine wrath. And this emblem of wrath, fire, will, as will soon appear, be found in three if not in all four of the judgments of the four creational trumpets. In each appears, as it were, a coal from the angel’s censer. Yet this fire is more deeply the symbol of divine purity, indicating on the one side its purifying power in the believer, and on the other side its condemnatory and consuming power upon the profane. The earth, in its now fallen state, is, as it were, impregnated with sin, and when the fire of divine purity is cast upon it, then, as when two opposite chemical elements come together, a terrible explosion results. The incense of saintly prayer goes up to heaven; the fire of divine wrath is cast down upon the earth.

Voices… earthquake—The creational four in something of climax. These are but monitions of judgments soon to be realized.


Verse 6

6. Prepared… to sound—From the nature of trumpets and from the frequent mention of blood in the judgments of the first four, Hengstenberg concludes that the whole six are a “war” series, entirely “war.” But the trumpets of 2 Chronicles 29:25-28, were not war trumpets, but ceremonial and proclamation trumpets. The sevenfold trumpets overthrowing Jericho, typical of the overthrow of the antichristic capital, Babylon, was a bloodless overthrow. And blood within the bodily frame is “the life,” but without it, it is the symbol of death, death by any method.


Verse 7

Four Creational Trumpets, Revelation 8:7-12.

THE FIRST TRUMPET—The scorched earth, Revelation 8:7.

7. Hail… fire… blood—Based upon the hail plague, Exodus 19:18-25, with fearful variations. That was “hail, and fire mingled with hail,” “and the fire ran along the ground.” But in that, the “hail” was the main destroyer, in this, the fire. Here the fall of “hail” indicates descent from God; the fire is the token of wrath, the blood of death. The third part in each of the four mundane plagues, being the trinitarian number, indicates the divine limitation of the evil; and the proportion of one third indicates that mercy spares more than wrath destroys, even in this sin-filled world.


Verse 8-9

SECOND TRUMPET—The curse-struck sea, Revelation 8:8-9.

8, 9. As it were—Not really a mountain, but a burning bolt, mountain-shaped and mountain-sized. Fire again indicates that it is a bolt of wrath; its size is necessary to its doing such damage to so vast a domain as the sea. The third part symbolizes a divine proportioning, leaving a major part in beneficence. To the fisherman, the seaman, the merchant-man, the beneficence of the sea is thus much despoiled; while the images of blood and the third of lost ships, may suggest ideas of naval slaughter.


Verse 10

THIRD TRUMPET—The wormwood waters, Revelation 8:10-11.

10. Fell a great star—As the star fall of Revelation 9:1, is based on the first fall of Satan, so this fall may be based on the apostasy of Adam and his race. Burning… lamp, or rather torch, is emblem, as in previous trumpets, of divine wrath.

Rivers… fountains—The sources of draughts to quench thirst.


Verse 11

11. Name… wormwood—Wormwood, (often associated with gall,) seems to have been either the trouble produced by an apostate, or an emblematic penalty for apostasy. So, in Deuteronomy 29:18, the apostate from Jehovah is a “root that beareth gall and wormwood,” producing on Israel the guilt and punishment of apostasy. In Jeremiah 23:15, God threatens against apostate prophets, “I will feed them with wormwood, and make them drink the water of gall.” And as Jeremiah, personating the apostasy and downfall of Israel, says, Lamentations 3:15, “He hath filled me with bitterness, he hath made me drunken with wormwood.” This explains that “root of bitterness,” of Hebrews 12:15, where the “root” is the apostate, and the “bitterness” the result of his apostasy. Says Wordsworth, “Wormwood is very bitter, and in certain cases produces convulsions, delirium, epilepsy, and death,” a fit emblem of the ruin of mind and body produced by the primal apostasy and by sin. The symbolism of our seer in this passage represents vividly how, by this means, those springs and streams which should, in the ideal, be the sources of delight, nourishment, health, and buoyant vitality, become a bitterness, a miasm, a death.


Verse 12

FOURTH TRUMPET—The smitten luminaries, Revelation 8:12.

12. Smitten—The wrath expressed by fire and burning in previous trumpets is expressed by a smite in this. This may arise from the fact that to darken luminaries by a fire is a contradictory conception.

Third part of the sun—It is the third part of the sun and of each star that is darkened, not the one third of the number of luminaries, nor the whole number one third of the time. Assuming a natural, healthful standard of the amount of light, the perpetual diminution of one third would produce a ghastly twilight, a chill, and a depression of spirits and health provocative of disease and death. Vivid picture of the sad effects of our loss of divine favour by apostasy and persistent sin.

Day… third part of it—Not a third part of the time but of the degree of light.

Night likewise—This smite of the moon and stars darkens the dimness of night, as that of the sun the brightness of day.


Verse 13

13. Annunciation of the three woe trumpets—The four creational are succeeded by the three spiritual trumpets.

An angel—The reading now adopted by all scholars is an eagle. Alford rejects Ewald’s idea that the eagle is a bird of ill-omen, as also Hengstenberg’s idea that it is the contrast to the dove, (John 1:32;) and holds it to be “the symbol of judgment rushing to its prey, as in Deuteronomy 28:49; Hosea 8:1; Habakkuk 1:8. We see not why all these Scripture uses do not blend together to characterize the eagle as a symbol. He is here certainly a bird of evil omen, the reverse of the dove, and an announcer of judgment; yet all this does not impute to the present announcer an evil or demoniac character, for a good messenger, a prophet, may be the divine announcer of woe. Hence we venture to suggest that an eagle messenger is not here a strange thing, as the fourth living being (Revelation 4:7) was like a flying eagle, the very phrase here used; and as this living being represents not, like an angel, the celestial, but the earthly, so he announces that even the three spiritual trumpets are to bring woes to the inhabitants of the earth.

Midst of heaven—A single Greek compound for which the English compound mid-heaven is an exact equivalent. To an English reader the natural idea suggested by the word would be mid-air, the space conceptually half way between sky and earth. But Wetstein shows by copious examples that it means in classic Greek the middle or highest point of the sun’s course in the sky, the zenith. But the same word in Revelation 19:17, clearly means the heavens where all the birds fly. The angel in that passage stands in the zenith, and the birds fly in the mid-air below. And in Revelation 14:6, it is the region where an angel flies so low as to be supposed to be heard from the earth. It is in these three places alone of the Greek Testament that the word occurs, and we hold it to be unquestionable that St. John uses it in a sense of his own, and not the classic, meaning the mid-space between earth and the apparent sky.

Inhabiters of the earth—An adverse descriptive phrase. The earthy announcer utters a menace against earthy men. The woes are for the evil and profane, “who have not the seal of God,” Revelation 9:4. The third woe trumpet will be terrible to such, but ultimately glorious for the sealed. The three woes are, 1. The infernal locust demons of Revelation 9:1-11; Revelation 2. The war-horse demons of Revelation 9:12-21; Revelation , 3. The antichristic dragon of Revelation 12:1-12; entailing as consequences the war between Christ and antichrist, resulting in the eternal triumph of the former.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Revelation 8:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/revelation-8.html. 1874-1909.

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