Still going with all of those trumpet judgements. Not a good one to jump straight into today – I suggest you either start at the beginning of our series in Revelation 4-11, or at least from last Friday, the start of chapter 8. Yesterday, we saw the plague of locusts (that became some kind of demonic army) in 9:1-13. Today, it’s the sixth trumpet, or second woe:
9:13-16 The sixth angel sounded his trumpet, and I heard a voice coming from the four horns of the golden altar that is before God. It said to the sixth angel who had the trumpet, “Release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates.” And the four angels who had been kept ready for this very hour and day and month and year were released to kill a third of mankind. The number of the mounted troops was twice ten thousand times ten thousand. I heard their number.
The sixth trumpet signals a voice (God’s? The martyrs under the altar (Rev 6:9-10) crying out for vengeance? An angel?). The voice, in turn, releases the four restraining angels, who have been busy holding back judgement since at least verse 1 of chapter 7. Judgement is released at the Euphrates river – the direction from which destruction often came to Israel (e.g. the Assyrians and Babylonians), and the biggest threat to the Roman empire (from Persia, and the Parthian warriors).
There’s an unfathomably big number of troops involved: 2 x 10,000 x 10,000 = 200,000,000. But this is simply a rhetorical way of saying “think of the biggest number you can; now square it, then double it!” (There was no word for a million; myriad, meaning 10,000, was the largest, and was often used the way we exaggerate with the word “millions,” or even “gazillions.”) And although he hasn’t seen them yet, the ominous, terrifying sound was enough for John to realise how big this army was. Then they come into view:9:13-17 The horses and riders I saw in my vision looked like this: Their breastplates were fiery red, dark blue, and yellow as sulfur. The heads of the horses resembled the heads of lions, and out of their mouths came fire, smoke and sulphur. A third of mankind was killed by the three plagues of fire, smoke and sulphur that came out of their mouths. The power of the horses was in their mouths and in their tails; for their tails were like snakes, having heads with which they inflict injury.
Like the locust plague yesterday, the army involves horses and weird heads. Kind of like the first day of Spring Carnival at the racetrack. They spit out smoke and sulphur, symbolising judgement. And their tails were like snakes, which could cause injury from behind – quite like the Parthians who twisted their horses’ tails to look like snakes, and could fire their arrows in all directions as they rode.
Just like a third of everything was destroyed by the first three trumpets (land, sea, fresh water, stars), so a third of humanity is wiped out. (Up from a quarter of everything in the seal judgements of chapter 6, if you’ve been keeping count.*)
Anyway, what’s the effect of all of this judgement? The seals, then the trumpets – what was it supposed to accomplish?
Like we said last week, the aim is to give a taste of what it will be like when God leaves humans to their own devices for good. When God’s final, irrevocable judgement comes, when he leaves the people who rejected him to figure out if they can keep the world going without the creator’s help, let alone keep themselves from tearing each other apart. This is how the movie ends, says God, if you don’t turn back to me.
But did it work?9:20-21 The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.
Apparently not. All of the natural disasters and wars and everything else – people just keep on going the way they were. Is that the best plan God has? Is there some element missing?
Maybe. Think about what might still be needed if God is to get the world’s attention. Because we’ll look at the answer tomorrow.
* This footnote is for that special kind of person – you’ll know if you are – who would like to point out that if a quarter of everything was destroyed in chapter 6, that leaves three quarters. And if a third of three quarters is then destroyed in chapters 8 and 9, that’s still only the same amount of destruction (one quarter of the original amount). But it’s the rhetorical effect of one quarter, increasing to one third, and then increasing to everything in chapter 16. Stop being so pedantic.