Woe Will Have an End – Revelation Bible Guide Day 13
March 7, 2018
16They will hunger no more, and thirst no more;
the sun will not strike them,
nor any scorching heat;
17for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of the water of life,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. 4And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. 5Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth; and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
6Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets made ready to blow them.
7The first angel blew his trumpet, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were hurled to the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
8The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea. 9A third of the sea became blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many died from the water, because it was made bitter.
12The fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of their light was darkened; a third of the day was kept from shining, and likewise the night.
13Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew in midheaven, “Woe, woe, woe to the inhabitants of the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
Points of Interest
- “seventh seal” – After a dramatic pause, we return to the unfolding of history from God’s perspective. John’s been honest. It hasn’t been going so well for people.
- “silence in heaven” – One more dramatic pause. God waits, there is a rare moment of silence in the noisy scene of Revelation’s throne room for God to do what none of the ancient gods were ever purported to do: God listens to people. God will wait to hear what people have to say.
- “the prayers of the saints” – If the purpose of heaven’s pause is for God to hear prayers, poetically at least, we’re told they make a difference. The prayers are like temple incense, meaning they reach God and are pleasing to God, and they impact what God returns to the earth. That sounds great until we see what comes next – more chaos and violence. How is this in any way an answer to prayer? The many commentaries I’ve read largely sidestep this question. I think the only satisfactory answer is that the first six trumpets seem to recapitulate the first six seals, with new imagery. The seventh trumpet, though, will take us somewhere new. Perhaps the answer to prayer comes then. But we’ll have to wait until next week in our guide – when we look at Revelation 11 – to see it. Maybe there’s a lesson here. God has compassion for us but doesn’t share our experience of time and maybe takes the long view sometimes on answering our prayers.
- “the seven trumpets” – These aren’t our modern brass instruments, but rams’ horns. They had more to do with power – king’s announcements and battle cries – than music. The seven trumpets together seem to make up the seventh seal, seven inside of seven in John’s complicated symbolic universe.
- “hail and fire” – The first four trumpets tell the same story of human suffering under the violence of nations that the first four seals told. But they use more vivid language for it, often the language of the plagues on Egypt from the Bible’s Exodus story.
- “the star is Wormwood” – The one image that isn’t from Exodus evokes another Hebrew scripture – Jeremiah 9 – of something good that is ruined. Wormwood was a shrub with some medicinal use but also bitterness. Every time humans spoil the environment, every time we mix power into sex, every good word we use to manipulate, all the ways we corrupt something good, we rewrite the bitter story of the third trumpet for ourselves.
- “woe, woe, woe” – Revelation is brutally honest about how hard life is and how tragic much of human history has been and still will be. The eagle is right – it is full of woe. John makes a subtle poetic point, though. In Revelation, he’ll mark the first of these two woes in upcoming chapters, but the third will never come. God will rescue us from our worst possible story we could write for ourselves
Each day this week, you’re invited to withdraw from the stress and urgency of daily life and reflect on God’s power and goodness. Consider today this chapter’s image for your destiny. Return to yesterday’s image of God wiping your tears. If anything in your life is troubling you, tell God about that today. Thank God that woe will have an end and that God is listening to you. Imagine God as attentive to you, catching each tear that falls.
A Direction for Prayer
Today, be the person who prays for God’s mercy on each of your six, sparing them from the worst that life could bring, and asking God to rewrite the end to any bad stories playing out in their lives.
The Bible Guide
This blog post is part of a Lenten journey through the book of Revelation. Every year during the season of Lent, we take a focused look at a portion of Scripture as part of our communal spiritual practice. This year, we are exploring what it means to be Children of God in a Fractured World, with Revelation as our lens. The series starts here.