They were the six first seals, in which the state of the empire, yet standing and flourishing, was described, until the power of idolatry fell by intestine misfortunes. The seventh succeeds, the subject matter of which is seven trumpets, under which the fates of the declining and falling empire, proceeding to ruin by a sevenfold order of plagues, while the trumpets are sounding the alarm, are displayed under images suited to such an event. God, in truth, executing punishment by that destruction for the blood of so many martyrs, shed under Roman auspices. For He, whose will it is that even brute animals should not be spared, if they have slain man, made in His image, would He not require the blood of His servants of the empire which had been a martyricide for so many revolving years?
Neither could the late piety of the Christian emperors, then possessed of the power of the state, avail to intercede with the justice of God, any more than the piety of Josiah, for the kingdom of Judah, guilty of the blood spilt by Manasseh, that it might escape the ruin decreed by God. This revenge, the souls of the martyrs, groaning under that dreadful butchery of the fifth seal, invoked earnestly with their prayers: This God promised, as soon as the Roman tyrant, by the addition of those who still remained to be slaughtered, had filled up the measure of iniquity, c. vi. v.11]. This time had now arrived.
Wherefore an angel, the priest of heaven, at the altar of incense, offers up those prayers (as was the custom with the prayers of the people made in the temple), by fumigation to the throne of God; and recalls them to His memory.
In the mean time, |there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour,| according to the rites of the temple in performing a sacrifice of this nature. For it is evident, that in sacrifices, in every part of the world, silence was a part of religion. They said, |Attend in silence.| That was observed by the people of God, when they offered incense. For, while the sacrifices were offering (which was the first part of their liturgy), the temple resounded with hymns, trumpets, and other musical instruments, 2 Chron. c. xxix. v.25-28. But at the time of incense every thing was silent, and the people prayed in silence to themselves, Luke, c. i. v.10. To this, then, there is an allusion, when it is said, that while the angel was about to offer sacrifices at the golden altar, |there was silence in heaven for the space of half an hour;| that is, during the whole time of incense. Which being at length finished, |an angel filled a censer with fire from the altar, and cast it on the earth.| And he acted thus to signify by this rite, to what subject those prayers referred, which rising to God, had been imbued with grateful odour; namely, to implore vengeance on the inhabitance of the earth, who had injured the saints, and had even shed their blood.
But the prayers immediately obtained an answer; for |there were,| says he, (that is, from the Throne, or inmost recess of the temple,) |voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.| In which words is described the oracle vt qvl -- Bath Kol, that is, the daughter of the voice, or of thunder, by which God formerly gave responses to his ancient people, and by the same assented here to the prayers of the saints. Now in the Hebrew language it is to be understood, that voices and thunderings have the same signification. For thunderings are called qvlvt, that is, voices. Kai, then, is either to be taken explanatorily, for that is; or as I should prefer by the figure en dia duoin, voices and thunderings are voices of thunder, or attended with thunder. God, indeed, for the most part, uttered His decrees with thunder, as he also delivered the law, Ex. c. xix. v.16. Nay, it was the only oracle which remained to the Jews after the Babylonian captivity; of which there is an example in our evangelist, c. xii.28. When the Lord had said, |Father, glorify thy name, there came,| says he, |a voice from heaven, I have both glorified it and will glorify it again.'| It follows. |And the people which stood by and heard it, said it thundered. Others said, An angel spake to him;| that is, some said it was Divine thunder, or thunder joined with the Divine voice, namely, the daughter of thunder; but others, that an angel spoke. And hence it is that, in the Apocalypse, not only in this place, but elsewhere generally, thunder is connected with Oracles and Divine voices, as c. iv. v.5, c. vi. v.1, c. x. v.3. Vide the sacred Aristarchus of the most illustrious Daniel Heinsius, p.277 and 455.
The sacrifice being thus ended, and God having assented to the prayers of his saints with the voice of thunder, |the seven angels who had the seven trumpets, prepared themselves to sound.| That the works of Divine providence and government are carried on by the administration of angels, is confessed by all theologians. The angels, therefore, preserve their place in those visions, in the transactions to which they are pre-appointed by God, and what is performed by the common agency of angels and men, is said to be performed by the authority of angels, as principals and leaders. So that they appear to me to wander wholly from the mark, who, under the name of angels, imagine that some mystery lies concealed. The angel trumpeters then, who are here mentioned, are those who were appointed to direct the plagues of the trumpets, while men were employed in the performance, by whom it pleased God to execute his decrees. The four first of these trumpets are the cause of the less extensive and minor plagues, inasmuch as they were those during which, while they hung over the greatest part of the Western, or Latin world, the Roman bishop was to be healed, and from that time to become at least the head of that world. For rightly applying the images of which, here likewise let the reader observe, that the Roman community is secretly assimilated by the Holy Spirit with the other empires of the world, to a mundane system, whose parts are the earth, sea, rivers, heaven, and stars; in such a way that the system of every empire may have its earth likewise, which is like the ground itself, a low substance, and the basis on which the mass of the whole political structure rests. Also a sea, which by flowing round its earth, may wear altogether the similitude of a sea; (and this is the amplitude or extent of dominion.) Political rivers likewise, which, in the manner of other rivers, derive their origin from the sea, and return to it again; of which kind are provincial magistrates, and other administrators of government, together with the provinces themselves, the channels of those rivers. The sun lastly, and other stars in the heaven, of supreme power, referring to the sun, moon, and stars, in the mundane system. This analogy being observed, the interpretation, as it is completely fortified by similar figures of the ancient prophets, so it will be easy to be understood, and very apposite in every part to the event recorded.
But what is so often repeated of the third part, as the third part of the trees of the earth, the third part of the sea, of the rivers, of the heaven, I understand of the bounds of the Roman empire, embracing in its circuit the third part of the world, as it was known in the time of John. Which appears capable of being proved from this circumstance, that afterwards, in chap. xii. |the seven-headed ten-horned dragon,| (that is, the heathen Roman empire), is said to have drawn |a third part of the stars of heaven with his tail, and cast them to the earth;| that is, to have subjected a third part of the princes and dynasties of the world to his dominion. These things being premised, let us come to the interpretation of particulars.
C. viii. v.7. |And the first angel sounded, and there came hail and fire mingled with blood, and it was cast upon the earth, and a third part of the trees was burnt up, and every green herb was burnt up.| -- |And the second angel sounded, and as it were, a great mountain burning with fire, was cast into the sea, and a third part of the sea became blood. And a third part of the creatures in the sea, which had life, died, and a third part of the ships was destroyed.| -- |And the third angel sounded, and there fell from heaven a great star burning like a torch, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star was Wormwood, and a third part of the waters became as wormwood, and many men died of he waters because they were embittered.| -- |And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was stricken, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so that the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not as to a third part of it, and the night likewise.|