We can pause for a moment and think of the sounds in heaven. They are very pronounced and accompany the vision in every instance. John describes the voice of God like the sound of many waters, the angels with trumpets, the new song, the worship of innumerable saints, the voices of the martyrs and nature in active participation. It is sounds that cannot be ignored. So often it is sound that catches our attention, causes us to look up and see something appearing on the scene. We build sound into our lives to alert us of things that need our awareness – people arriving at our door, robbers who trigger the alarm, telephones ringing to communicate.
Chapter 8 starts with silence and the breaking of the seventh seal. We have talked about the seventh seal in the previous chapter. It cannot be emphasized enough that the events as described and divided into chapters are not chronological and do not follow each other in strict succession. The opening of this chapter is meant to be further illustration of things already touched on in previous chapters.
The silence creates the theatrical introduction to a vital, significant continuing occurrence in heaven – the prayers of the saints. The sudden silence gives weight to the picture unfolding. More than sound, sudden silence is greatly effective in capturing attention, ceasing activity and draws the concentration to a focal point.
Pebble pals, the image of the altar of incense with the prayers of the saints before the Throne of God has been a pillar in my prayer life that builds faith and drives out fear and worry.
All of heaven is silent as the prayers of the saints arrive in the golden altar before God.
An image of the altar in the desert Tabernacle.
One scholar is of the opinion that the needs of the saints are more to God than all the psalmody of heaven. All of heaven is completely silent so that even the faintest, whispered prayer of the humblest of saints is heard. I do not think it is necessary for God to have silence to hear our whispered sigh, but John describes it to us in human terms, to explain the importance of our prayers to our Father.
We need silence to concentrate. Just think what we do in a car while driving. It is fine for the music to play and the children to fool around at the back, but the moment things become difficult – a complicated traffic situation, road works, detours and gravel or ice, we want silence to concentrate. We order the kids to be quiet and turn the music softer. We need silence to hear the whisper of another.
This is our Father. He will silence the cosmos for us. Rejoice in this. Our prayers are in the golden altar within reach of His touch.
Andrew Murray writes this:
It is fellowship with the Unseen, most holy One. The powers of the eternal world have been placed at its [prayer’s] disposal. It is the very essence of true religion, the channel of all blessings, the secret of power and life. Not only for us, but also for others, for the church, for the world, it is to prayer that God has given the right to take hold of Him and His strength.
God hears all prayer. He is more ready to answer prayer than we are to pray it.
The angel is standing at the altar. The altar is mentioned often – (6:9,9:13,14:18). It is the altar of incense in the Holy Place before the entrance to the Holy of Holies, where the table with showbreads and the golden lampstand are. It is not the altar of burnt-offering as there is no sacrifice in heaven. The altar is described in Leviticus 16:12, Numbers 16:46, Luke 1:8-10. It depicts worship and prayer.
It was made of gold, eighteen inches square and three feet high. It was hollow with horns on the corners. Covered over with a gold plate it had a little railing, a miniature balustrade, to contain the burning coals.
Prayer is a sacrifice, wrapped in a beautiful fragrance pleasing to God. No other sacrifice is necessary, only prayer, which are helped by angelic hands. The image of live coals taken by the angel and thrown on the ground is the prelude to more revelation and happenings on earth. Prayer is the key to revelation and consequences in circumstances.
The live coal from the altar touched Isaiah’s lips to prophecy described in Isaiah 6:6. The cherubim scatters the coals of the altar over the city in Ezekiel 10:2.
The angel takes the live coals from the censor and hurls it to the earth (8:5). Prayer directly impacts earth.
Verse 2 belongs with the rest of the narrative on the trumpets.
A trumpet is a symbol of the intervention of God in history.
It is warning to wake up, or a call to battle or the announcement of royalty and celebrations. It was often used to announce the wrath of God: Zephaniah 1:14-16, Joshua 6:1-8.
The trumpet sounded:
- when the law was given: Exodus 19:16, 10.
- to summon back the exiles: Isaiah 27:13
- the day of the Lord: Joel 2:1, Zechariah 1:16, 9:14
- the gathering of the elect: Matthew 24:31.
Paul speaks of the day the trumpet shall sound. (1 Corinthians 15:52-53 & 1 Thessalonians 4:16) It is a day of great joy for the church, a day of revelation and reckoning on behalf of the faithful.
The first four trumpets announce the unleashing of the elements on earth to destroy. Nature takes part in the judgment of the world. Only a part of the world is struck. It is only a prelude to the end and not the final judgment.
A third depicts a significant minority. The detail of the sequence is given in the next verses:
First the earth (8:7), then the sea (8:8-9), then the fresh water and springs (8:10-11) and then the heavenly bodies (8:12), in other words every part of creation.
Origins of these afflictions on earth can be found in the plagues of Egypt – hailstones, water turned to blood, the fishes die, darkness. [Exodus 7: 17-21,9:23-25 &10:21-23] Zephaniah 1:3 talks about the birds and fish that are struck in judgment.
All these calamities are repetitive though history with acceleration and intensification in the last days. It gives us insight into the natural disasters and pollution these days that is hard to understand. In the light of these judgments, we as a church know that the earth groans under the consequences of sin.
Wormwood depicts the bitterness of the judgment. [Greek = apsinthos – a plant from which a bitter oil is extracted that is highly toxic to the nervous system.] The name “wormwood” comes from the fact that the oil was used medicinally to kill intestinal worms.
Rain that looks like blood has been reported in Italy and southeast Europe 1901. It was explained as the sand from the Sahara desert that is red being blown over the Mediterranean into the rainfall over Europe. A flaming mass falling into the sea sounds like a volcano, which is a well-known occurrence all over the world. In 79 AD Vesuvius destroyed Bay of Naples and buried the city Pompeii under lava. Today it is a well-preserved tourist attraction to reveal life in ancient Rome.
The last verse mentions an eagle, not an angel, which utters three fearful woes, forewarning doom to come. An eagle in Jewish writing was very familiar as the king of the birds to carry prophecy and revelation.
During the first four trumpets, judgment fell on nature, but in the final three trumpet judgments (Revelation 9-11), unbelieving humanity will be directly punished through torment, death, and at last total destruction.
The world around us is a picture of this heartbreaking state of affairs. God’s judgment is the natural result of a sinful, evil-embracing world. His first gift to mankind was choice and He never revokes any gift ever (Romans 11:29). We, who are privileged to call ourselves children of God by repenting our sins and inviting Jesus into our hearts, are in a unique position to live in the embrace of redemption within the judgment.