Friday, 18 November 2016

Revelation before Advent 8+9: angels, trumpets & disasters

This is the seventh of a series of blog posts on the book of Revelation. There's an introduction to the series. Previous reading: ch 7, marking the righteous souls. Where I quote from the Bible, it's generally the New Revised Standard Version unless I say otherwise. The numbering covers the chapters of the book, not the days of the reading. 

 I was out yesterday evening & wrote most of this last night, but didn't get around to posting it. Two chapters, 8 and 9, to consider, but they sit very well together.

Yesterday I sang Mozart's Requiem with the Open University Choir. Much beauty, and the 'lux perpertua' of the ending stays with me. But these two chapters fit better with the Dies Irae - 'day of wrath, that day will dissolve the earth in ashes'. And that's pretty much the story of chapters 8 & 9.

In chapter 6, we saw six of the seals on the great scroll opened. Now the Lamb opens the seventh seal, and all hell breaks loose - quite literally. First there's a nice part about the prayers of the faithful being burnt on the altar like incense. Then seven angels are given seven trumpets, six blow them in turn, and dreadful things happen on the earth.

The key number this time, is one-third. Each time one-third of the earth is harmed following the angel's trumpet.

There is hail and fire which burns a third of the earth; there is a mountain of fire in the sea, which turns it to blood and kills a third of sea-creatures and ships; there is a star falling from heaven which turns the waters bitter and kill people; the sun and moon and stars are struck and lose a third of their light. That makes four angels+trumpets, and only then an eagle cries "woe, woe, woe".

Next trumpet has a falling star which opens up a bottomless pit out of which locust-like creatures (described in loving and rather horrid detail) appear, ruled by one called Abaddon (destruction) and which torture the inhabitants of the earth for five months. And the sixth trumpet releases four more angels with 200 million soliders and horses whose firey & sulphurous breath kills a third of humanity.

Lovely stuff. As a coda we're told that the remainder of the human race doesn't take a blind bit of notice, but carries on as before with idolatry & immorality.

I can think of little positive to say out of this torrent of woes & destruction. Except to repeat my mantra for these readings: apocalyptic literature is a cry from the oppressed. Sometimes that cry comes out as a shout for justice, sometimes as a violent roar. Psalm 137 infamously ends with the line, addressed to the people of Babylon who took the Israelites into captivity and exile: "Happy shall be those who take your little ones and dash them against the rock". I cannot accept such attitudes as the voice or the will of God. Nor can I justify them as human actions. But I can understand why human beings in awful situations form such attitudes and want to call God on their side for the only kind of revenge they can see possible.

Next reading: ch 10+11, eating his words

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