The First Seal is Broken – The Roman Conqueror
“Then I saw when the Lamb broke one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures saying as with a Voice of thunder, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.” (Rev. 6:1, 2)
After John envisioned the majestic worship of the Lamb and the Judge on the throne, he realized the worship that he witnessed was heaven’s acknowledgement that Yahveh’s judgments which were to be unleashed were based on truth and righteousness (Rev. 19:2). Yahveh warned His people if they repudiated His covenant, He would bring upon them “a sword which will execute vengeance for the covenant…” (Lev. 26:25a)
As the Lamb broke the first seal, the first living creature with lion-like features called forth a rider on a white horse. A white horse is suited for a conquering general going to war. The horse would be easily recognized by all subordinate soldiers, who would be ready to receive and obey orders from the one who held its reins. He who held these reins was the Roman general, Vespasian, when in 66 A.D. planned to quell the Jewish revolt against Roman control of Judea. The “crown given to him” signified the installation of Vespasian as emperor by his legions. Vespasian reigned A.D. 69 – 79.
John saw the rider with a “bow,” but no arrows or sword are mentioned. As general, Vespasian commanded from a distance, and by his military forces “went out conquering and to conquer.” One occurrence was when Vespasian made war plans for the taking of the city of Taricheae, a fortified city near the Sea of Galilee. The Jews made a sudden attack against the Roman legions as they were beginning to build a wall about their camp. The Jews were beaten back and pursued by the Romans. Many Jews escaped in ships, and some escaped by way of a plain near the city. Vespasian sent his son, Titus, and 600 chosen horsemen with an order to disperse the Jews. Titus perceived that the Jewish forces were numerous, and sent his father Vespasian a message requesting more forces. However, Titus saw in his horsemen an eagerness to fight without the help of the needed forces. Their zeal sparked within Titus the idea that if they alone conquered the enemy, he and his men would gain a great reputation. Here is a small portion of an address Titus made to his men encouraging them to be resolute. Note that Titus refers to his father as one who is a conqueror.
“We must also reflect upon this, that there is no fear of our suffering any incurable disaster in the present case; for those that are ready to assist us are many, and at hand also; yet it is in our power to seize upon this victory ourselves; and I think we ought to prevent the coming of those my father is sending to us for our assistance, that our success may be peculiar to ourselves, and of greater reputation to us. And I cannot but think this an opportunity wherein my father, and I, and you shall be all put to the trial, whether he be worthy of his former glorious performances, whether I be his son in reality, and whether you be really my soldiers; for it is usual for my father to conquer; and for myself, I should not bear the thoughts of returning to him if I were once taken by the enemy. And how will you be able to avoid being ashamed, if you do not show equal courage with your commander, when he goes before you into danger? For you know very well that I shall go into the danger first, and make the first attack upon the enemy. Do not you therefore desert me, but persuade yourselves that God will be assisting to my onset. Know this also before we begin, that we shall now have better success than we should have, if we were to fight at a distance.” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 3, Ch. 10)
Vespasian’s renown came from his military success. Josephus records in “The Wars of the Jews, Books 2 and 3” the great tumult, calamities, battles and destruction made in cities throughout the Land, ending in Jerusalem.
The Second Seal is Broken – Civil War
“When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, ‘Come.’ And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.” (Rev. 6:3, 4)
John then heard the second living creature with calf-like features call forth the red horse and its rider. He carried and wielded a great sword, and was granted authority “to take peace” or remove peace and harmony from “the earth.” The word “earth” is more accurately translated “Land,” and context invites us to interpret it as referring to the Land of Judea.
This rider caused men “to slay one another.” This phrase infers much infighting, that is, civil war. Many of the Jewish zealots who were called “blood-shedding villains” and “tyrants” were “zealous in the worst actions… who walked about in the midst of the holy places, at the very time their hands are still warm with the slaughter of their own countrymen… one may hereafter find the Romans to be the supporters of our laws, and those within ourselves the subverters of them.” These are a few of the actual words of the High Priest, Ananus, who stood in tears addressing a large multitude who were indignant when the zealots seized upon the Temple and murdered many of their own countrymen. Many more atrocities of the zealots shedding their countrymen’s blood are also recorded. (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 4, Ch. 3)
The Third Seal is Broken – Famine
“When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, ‘Come.’ I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a denarius (a day’s wage), and three quarts of barley for a denarius; and do not damage the oil and the wine.’” (Rev. 6:5-6)
During the days of Elisha the Prophet, Samaria was besieged by the army of Ben-Hadad, King of Aram. Because of the siege, the people of Israel could not go to their fields for food, and thus the people suffered a great famine. People were in such terrible straits, they resorted to cannibalism (II Kings. 6:24-30). When conditions were at their worst, to the suffering people’s astonshiment Elisha said:
“Listen to the word of Yahveh; thus says Yahveh, ‘Tomorrow about this time a measure (eight quarts) –of fine flour will be sold for a shekel, and two measures of barley for a shekel, in the gate of Samaria.’” (II Kings. 7:1)
Many were in shock and disbelief, yet Yahveh fulfilled His promise, for the Arameans mistakenly heard a mustering of troops of armies they thought was coming to engage them. Fearing for their lives, they fled in haste leaving all their provisions in the camp. Four leprous men discovered the spoils, and reported it to the king of Israel. Food became immediately available at a reduced price, just as Elisha had prophesied.
When John gazed at the rider on the black horse of famine, a Voice from the center of the four living creatures spoke out. It was the same Voice that had spoken in Elisha’s days during the siege of Samaria, but now it was Yahveh’s Voice decreeing His people would pay a “denarius,” a full day’s wage, just to eat a morsel of food during the Roman siege of Jerusalem. “Many there were indeed who sold what they had for one measure; it was of wheat, if they were of the richer sort, but of barley, if they were poorer.” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 5, Ch. 10)
Josephus writes of the intolerable things and terrible miseries people suffered, and the vicious transformation of people’s character toward each other for lack of food:
“Now of those perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious, and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable; for if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did anywhere appear, a war was commenced presently; and the dearest friends fell a fighting one with another about it, snatching from each other the most miserable supports of life. Nor would men believe that those who were dying had no food; but the robbers would search them when they were expiring, lest any one should have concealed food in their bosoms, and counterfeited dying: nay, these robbers gaped for want, and ran about stumbling and staggering along like mad dogs, and reeling against the doors of the houses like drunken men; they would also, in the great distress they were in, rush into the very same houses two or three times in one and the same day. Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew everything, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed: the very wisps of old hay became food to some; and some gathered up fibers, and sold a very small weight of them for four Attic (drachmae). But why do I describe the shameless impudence that the famine brought on men in their eating inanimate things, while I am going to relate a matter of fact, the like to which no history relates, either among the Greeks or Barbarians! It is horrible to speak of it, and incredible when heard…” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 6, Ch. 3)
The prophet Jeremiah lamented the calamities suffered by Israel because of her sins in the Book of Lamentations, when their food supply was controlled by the Babylonians during their siege. Listen to his heart’s lament:
“My eyes fail because of tears,
My spirit is greatly troubled;
My heart is poured out on the earth
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people,
When little ones and infants faint
In the streets of the city.
They say to their mothers,
‘Where is grain and wine?’
As they faint like a wounded man
In the streets of the city,
As their life is poured out
On their mothers’ bosom.” (Lam. 2:11, 12)
“Arise, cry aloud in the night
At the beginning of the night watches;
Pour out your heart like water
Before the presence of the Lord;
Lift up your hands to Him
For the life of your little ones
Who are faint because of hunger
At the head of every street.”
See, O Yahveh, and look!
With whom have You dealt thus?
Should women eat their offspring,
The little ones who were born healthy?
Should priest and prophet be slain
In the sanctuary of the Lord?” (Lam. 2:19, 20)
“Those who ate delicacies
Are desolate in the streets;
Those reared in purple
Embrace ash pits.
For the iniquity of the daughter of My people
Is greater than the sin of Sodom,
Which was overthrown as in a moment,
And no hands were turned toward her…
Their appearance is blacker than soot,
They are not recognized in the streets;
Their skin is shriveled on their bones,
It is withered, it has become like wood.
Better are those slain with the sword
Than those slain with hunger;
For they pine away, being stricken
For lack of the fruits of the field.
The hands of compassionate women
Boiled their own children;
They became food for them
Because of the destruction of the daughter of my people.
Yahveh has accomplished His wrath,
He has poured out His fierce anger;
And He has kindled a fire in Zion
Which has consumed its foundations.” (Lam. 4:5, 6, 8-11)
“Our skin has become as hot as an oven,
Because of the burning heat of famine.” (Lam. 5:10)
During the days of King David and the prophet Samuel, thousands of Levites were appointed to their office of trust (I Chron. 9:22). Of the various duties; “Some of them also were appointed over the furniture and over all the utensils of the sanctuary and over the fine flour and the wine and the oil and the frankincense and the spices.” (I Chron. 9:29)
All these supplies and provisions for the service of the priesthood were kept in Temple storehouses, that were guarded (I Chron. 26:15-17). There were also treasuries that were managed and guarded. (I Chron. 26:20-26) King David also had storehouses for wine and oil in the country, cities and villages on property belonging to the king (I Chron. 27:25-28).
All grain offerings, frankincense, wine and oil were prescribed for the Levites. (Neh. 13:5) For a common person to take and use what was prescribed for priests was “to act contrary to what is divinely appointed,” “to act unjustly towards; injure, harm,” “damage.” This was the meaning of the Voice’s declaration that John heard when the Voice said, “do not damage the oil and the wine.”
During Jerusalem’s Roman siege, a tyrant by the name of Yahanan, after plundering many of his fellow Jews, began seizing many of the sacred golden vessels and utensils of the temple. He “emptied the vessels of that sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept to be poured on the burnt offerings and which lay in the inner court of the Temple.” (Josephus, Wars of the Jews, Book 5, Ch. 13) He distributed these sacred things to his followers. This band of evil men, by their sacrilege, “damaged the (sacred) oil and the wine.”
The Fourth Seal is Broken – Sword, Famine, Pestilence
“When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, ‘Come.’ I looked, and behold, an ashen (sickly pale) horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.” (Rev. 6:7, 8)
Again, in the days of Jeremiah when Jerusalem was about to be besieged by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, the prophet recorded the following:
“So Yahveh said to me, ‘Do not pray for the welfare of this people. When they fast, I am not going to listen to their cry; and when they offer burnt offering and grain offering, I am not going to accept them. Rather I am going to make an end of them by the sword, famine and pestilence.’ But, ‘Ah, Lord Yahveh!’ I said, ‘Look, the prophets are telling them, You will not see the sword nor will you have famine, but I will give you lasting peace in this place… If I go out to the country, behold, those slain with the sword! Or if I enter the city, behold, diseases of famine! For both prophet and priest have gone roving about in the land that they do not know.’” (Jer. 14:11-13, 18)
“Then Yahveh said to me, ‘Even though Moses and Samuel were to stand before Me, My heart would not be with this people; send them away from My presence and let them go! And it shall be that when they say to you, ‘Where should we go?’ then you are to tell them, ‘Thus says Yahveh:
‘Those destined for death, to death;
And those destined for the sword, to the sword;
And those destined for famine, to famine;
And those destined for captivity, to captivity.”’ (Jer. 15:1, 2)
“The word of Yahveh also came to me saying, ‘You shall not take a wife for yourself nor have sons or daughters in this place.’ For thus says Yahveh concerning the sons and daughters born in this place, and concerning their mothers who bear them, and their fathers who beget them in this land: ‘They will die of deadly diseases, they will not be lamented or buried; they will be as dung on the surface of the ground and come to an end by sword and famine, and their carcasses will become food for the birds of the sky and for the beasts of the earth.’” (Jer. 16:1-4)
“Then Jeremiah said to them, ‘You shall say to Zedekiah as follows:
‘Thus says Yahveh, God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to turn back the weapons of war which are in your hands, with which you are warring against the king of Babylon and the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the wall; and I will gather them into the center of this city. I Myself will war against you with an outstretched hand and a mighty arm, even in anger and wrath and great indignation. I will also strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast; they will die of a great pestilence. Then afterwards,’ declares Yahveh, ‘I will give over Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people, even those who survive in this city from the pestilence, the sword and the famine, into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, and into the hand of their foes and into the hand of those who seek their lives; and he will strike them down with the edge of the sword. He will not spare them nor have pity nor compassion. You shall also say to this people, Thus says Yahveh, ‘Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who dwells in this city will die by the sword and by famine and by pestilence; but he who goes out and falls away to the Chaldeans who are besieging you will live, and he will have his own life as booty. For I have set My face against this city for harm and not for good,’ declares Yahveh. ‘It will be given into the hand of the king of Babylon and he will burn it with fire.’” (Jer. 21:3-10)
Jeremiah’s record serves as a commentary in explaining the meaning of who the rider “Death” was, who killed with sword, famine, pestilence and wild beasts. “Hades” following “Death,” speaks of the destination of the unrepentant wicked who perish, as did the rich man in Luke’s gospel. “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’” (Luke 16:23, 24)
The Fifth Seal is Broken – Prayers of the Martyrs
“When the Lamb broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Yahveh, holy and true, will You refrain from judging and avenging (Lit. do You not judge and avenge) our blood on those who dwell on the earth (or Land)?’ And there was given to each of them a white robe; and they were told that they should rest for a little while longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brethren who were to be killed even as they had been, would be completed also.” (Rev. 6:9-11)
James Stuart Russell, in his book “The Parousia,” uses the parable spoken by Yahshua in Luke 18:1-8 and Peter’s statement in I Peter 4:6 in his excellent exposition on the breaking of the fifth seal:
“It is impossible not to be struck with the marked resemblance between the vision of the fifth seal and our Lord’s parable of the unjust judge (Luke xviii. 1-8): ‘And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith in the land?’ This is more than resemblance: it is identity. In both we find the same complainants, —the elect of God; they appeal to Him for redress; in both we find the response to the appeal, ‘He will avenge them speedily;’ in both we find the scene of their sufferings laid in the same place —‘in the land’ —i.e. the land of Judea. The vision and the parable also mutually supplement one another. The vision tells us the cause of the cry for vengeance, and who the appellants are, viz. the martyred disciples of Jesus who have sealed their testimony with their blood. The parable suggests the time when the retribution would arrive, —‘when the Son of man cometh;’ and likewise the mournful fact that when the Parousia took place it would find Israel still impenitent and still unbelieving.
The vision of the fifth seal likewise elucidates an obscure passage which has hitherto baffled all attempts to solve its meaning. In I Peter iv. 6 we find the following statement: ‘For, for this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.’ Referring the reader back to the remarks made upon this passage…, it will suffice here to recapitulate the conclusions there reached. The statement really is, ‘For, for this cause a comforting message was brought even to the dead, that they, though condemned in the flesh by man’s judgment, should live in the spirit by the judgment of God.’ This evidently points to the vindication of those who had by this unrighteous judgment of men suffered death for the truth of God; it declares that they had been comforted after death by eternal life. There is no allusion anywhere to be found in Scripture to any such transaction, except in the passage before us, —the vision of the fifth seal. This, however, precisely meets all the requirements of the case. Here we find ‘the dead,’ —the Christian martyrs, who had died for the faith; they had been condemned in the flesh by the unrighteous judgment of man. It is manifestly implied that they had appealed to the righteous judgment of God. In response to their appeal ‘a comforting message’ (εὐαγγέλιον) had been communicated to them; they are told to rest a little while until their brethren and fellow-servants who are to be killed like them shall join them; while ‘white robes,’ the tokens of innocence and emblems of victory, are given to them. We think it must be obvious that this scene under the fifth seal exactly corresponds with the allusion of St. Peter and the parable of our Lord. It is important also to observe the place which this scene occupies in the tragic drama. It is after the outbreak, but before the conclusion, of the Jewish war; it precedes by a little while the final catastrophe of the sixth seal. It is the impatient cry of the martyred saints, ‘How long, O Lord, how long?’ It calls for just retribution on those who had shed their blood; and it distinctly specifies who they are by describing them as ‘them that dwell in the land.’ And all this is immediately antecedent to the final catastrophe under the next seal, which depicts the wrath of God coming upon the guilty land ‘to the uttermost.’ Here, then, we have a body of evidence so varied, so minute, and so cumulative that we may venture to call it demonstration.” (The Parousia, pp. 395, 396)
When the bronze altar was made for the Tabernacle offerings, Yahveh also commanded Moses to make a grating or sieve of bronze. Yahveh told Moses where to place this grating; “You shall put it beneath, under the ledge of the altar, so that the net will reach halfway up the altar.” (Ex. 27:5)
“Halfway up the altar” is the position on the altar where the flame is most intense for the sacrifice to be quickly and thoroughly consumed. The grate suspended halfway up the altar allows oxygen to circulate creating intense heat. The symbolism of the souls underneath the altar depicts the intense fire of persecution and death believers in Yahshua experienced in the first century. Yahshua warned His disciples of these events before Jerusalem’s fall:
“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute. But you will be betrayed even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death, and you will be hated by all because of My name. Yet not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives.
“But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance, so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.” (Luke. 21:12-22)
The Sixth Seal is Broken – (Introduction)
The whole Bible may be regarded as written for “the Jew first,” and its words, ideas and idioms ought to be understood and rendered according to the Middle Eastern Hebrew mindset and usage then in existence.
“In interpreting very many phrases and histories of the New Testament, it is not so much worth what we think of them from notions of our own… as in what sense these things were understood by the hearers and lookers on, according to the usual custom and vulgar dialect of the nation.” (Bishop Lightfoot quoted in The Vocabulary of the Greek New Testament, xii, Moulton & Milligan, Eerdmans Pub. Co., 1959)
“The moment the student has in his mind what was in the mind of the author or authors of the Biblical books when these were written, he has interpreted the thought of Scripture… If he adds anything of his own, it is not exegesis.” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, V. 3, p. 1489, 1952)
“For no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” (II Pt. 1:21)
At times the Holy Spirit kindly condescends to man’s necessity by His use of apocalyptic language to affect mentally man’s understanding in a most vivid and dramatic way the ultimate consequences of his actions whether they be good or evil. Therefore, it is important to keep in mind that the language of prophecy, with its figures and symbols, descriptions of afflictions and distresses, as well as deliverance and grace, is a language of Semitic poetry and allegory. If one is not familiar with prophecy’s poetic style, the reader may misinterpret the assumed meaning of prophecy and fail to grasp the true meaning of Scripture as intended by the Holy Spirit. Literal and detailed fulfillment of certain extravagant passages of prophecy would violate the rule of logic and would confuse poetry with prose.
Bernard Ramm, in his book Protestant Biblical Interpretation, says:
“What is the control we use to weed out false theological speculation? Certainly the control is logic and evidence… interpreters who have not had the sharpening experience of logic… may have improper notions of implication and evidence. Too frequently such a person uses a basis of appeal that is a notorious violation of the laws of logic and evidence.” (pp. 151-153, W. A. Wilde Co, 1956)
A demonstration of the use of poetry in prophecy in Scripture is necessary at this point. The following are a few examples of poetry in prophecy.
In Ezekiel chapter 32 Yahveh told Ezekiel to take up a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt:
“‘I will lay your flesh on the mountains
And fill the valleys with your refuse.
I will also make the land drink the discharge of your blood
As far as the mountains,
And the ravines will be full of you.
And when I extinguish you,
I will cover the heavens and darken their stars;
I will cover the sun with a cloud
And the moon will not give its light.
All the shining lights in the heavens
I will darken over you
And will set darkness on your land,’
Declares the Lord Yahveh.” (Ezek. 32:5-8)
Isaiah used the embellished language of prophecy in describing Babylon’s conquest by the Medes in 538 B.C.:
“Behold, the Day of Yahveh is coming
Cruel, with fury and burning anger,
To make the land a desolation;
And He will exterminate its sinners from it.
For the stars of heaven and their constellations
Will not flash forth their light;
The sun will be dark when it rises
And the moon will not shed its light…
I will make mortal man more precious than pure gold
And mankind than the gold of Ophir.
Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
And the earth will be shaken from its place
At the fury of Yahveh of hosts
In the day of His burning anger…
Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them,
Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold.
And their bows will dash to pieces the young men,
They will not even have compassion on the fruit of the womb, Nor will their eye pity children.
And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride,
Will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah.”(Isa. 13:9-10, 12-13, 17-19)
Another example of poetic prophecy is when Isaiah prophesied against Edom and other nations surrounding Israel:
“For Yahveh’s indignation is against all the nations,
And His wrath against all their armies;
He has utterly destroyed them, He has given them over to slaughter…
And all the host of heaven will wear away,
And the sky will be rolled up like a scroll;
All their hosts will also wither away
As a leaf withers from the vine,
Or as one withers from the fig tree.
For My sword is satiated in heaven,
Behold it shall descend for judgment upon Edom And upon the people whom I have devoted to destruction.” (Isa. 34:2, 4-5)
Judah and Jerusalem also had a “Day of Reckoning.” Yahveh was against the “proud and lofty” who were described in these words:
“For Yahveh of hosts will have a day of reckoning
Against everyone who is proud and lofty
And against everyone who is lifted up,
That he may be abased.
And it will be against all the cedars of Lebanon that are lofty and lifted up,
Against all the oaks of Bashan,
Against all the lofty mountains,
Against all the hills that are lifted up,
Against every high tower,
Against every fortified wall,
Against all the ships of Tarshish
And against all the beautiful craft.
The pride of man will be humbled
And the loftiness of men will be abased;
And Yahveh alone will be exalted in that day” (Isa. 2:12-17)
The beginning and ending of this portion of verses encapsulates and summarizes what the figurative language is about, that is, the pride and loftiness of men would be humbled. Bishop Lowth quoted in the Benson Commentary, on this passage stated:
“These verses afford us a striking example of that peculiar way of writing, which makes a principal characteristic of the parabolical, or poetical style of the Hebrews, and in which their prophets deal so largely: namely, their manner of exhibiting things divine, spiritual, moral, and political, by a set of images taken from things natural, artificial, religious, historical, in the way of metaphor or allegory. Thus, you will find in many other places, besides this before us, that cedars of Libanus (Lebanon) and oaks of Bashan are used, in the way of metaphor and allegory, for kings, princes, potentates, of the highest rank; high mountains and lofty hills, for kingdoms, republics, states, cities; towers and fortresses, for defenders and protectors, whether by counsel or strength, in peace or war; ships of Tarshish, and works of art and invention employed in adorning them, for merchants, men enriched by commerce, and abounding in all the luxuries and elegancies of life, such as those of Tyre and Sidon; for it appears from the course of the whole passage, and from the train of ideas, that the fortresses and ships are to be taken metaphorically, as well as the high trees and lofty mountains.”
Observe the imagery used by the Psalmist, David, as he describes his deliverance from all his enemies and from King Saul:
“But I called upon the Lord in my distress,
And he heard me from his Temple.
My cry reached his ears.
Then the earth shook and trembled;
The foundations of the heavens quaked
Because of his wrath.
Smoke poured from his nostrils;
Fire leaped from his mouth
And burned up all before him,
Setting fire to the world.
He bent the heavens down and came to earth;
He walked upon dark clouds.
He rode upon the glorious—
On the wings of the wind.
Darkness surrounded him,
And clouds were thick around him;
The earth was radiant with his brightness.
The Lord thundered from heaven;
The God above all gods gave out a mighty shout.
He shot forth his arrows of lightning
And routed his enemies.
By the blast of his breath
Was the sea split in two.
The bottom of the sea appeared.
From above, he rescued me.
He drew me out from the waters;
He saved me from powerful enemies,
From those who hated me
And from those who were too strong for me.” (II Sam. 22:7-18 TLB)
An example of proverbial use of language is when Zerubbabel, governor of Judea, and Joshua, High Priest, undertook the task of rebuilding the destroyed Temple. They met strong opposition from neighboring peoples, and Yahveh encouraged Zerubbabel through the prophet Zechariah saying:
“Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of Yahveh to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says Yahveh of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’” (Zech. 4:6, 7)
The “great mountain” is a proverbial expression denoting a great obstacle or difficulty. The great obstacle was the enemies of the Jews who hindered their work of rebuilding the temple. The great obstacle, the “mountain” would become a “plain,” that is, Yahveh would remove this opposition, and the work would go on, with Zerubbabel crowning the project by placing the headstone on top of the temple.
These few references of Scripture serve as examples to show the peculiar way and parabolic style of writing which prophets employed when writing prophecy in the form of poetry.
As Yahshua was being led to His crucifixion, women were mourning and lamenting Him. He turned to them saying:
“Daughters of Jerusalem, stop weeping for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren, and the wombs that never bore, and the breasts that never nursed.’ Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘cover us.’ For if they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” (Luke 23:28-31)
These women undoubtedly understood the meaning of Yahshua’s figures of speech since these were ancient sayings that were still in use at that time. Yahshua’s expression was as if He had said:
“The calamities about to fall on you and your children are most terrible, and call for the bitterest lamentations; for in those days of vengeance you will vehemently wish that you had not given birth to a generation whose wickedness has rendered them objects of divine wrath to a degree that never was experienced in the world before. And the thoughts of those calamities afflict My soul far more than the feeling of My own sufferings.” (Benson Commentary on Luke 23:28-29)
At this moment in history, Yahshua foretold to, “the daughters of Jerusalem” (the city of the Great King), of a coming famine and hardship they would experience because of the city’s siege by the Roman Army. It would be of such great magnitude that young children would be eaten in order for the people to survive. The city would be conquered and the people of Jerusalem would seek any type of refuge or shelter to hide from their enemies – the Romans. This is the meaning of their saying, “to the mountains, fall on us, and to the hills, cover us.” These women would be repeating the very words that their ancestors uttered when Israel fell into idolatry, broke His covenant, forsook Yahveh their God and said “to the mountains, cover us; and to the hills fall on us” when the Assyrians came upon them. (Hosea 10:8)
As Yahshua looked into the teary eyes of these women, He uttered another proverbial expression, “If they do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Yahshua represented “the green tree” full of life, who was not deserving the punishment inflicted on Him by the Romans (“they”). It is improper to cut down a green tree and then immediately use it for fire. However, if a tree is dry (representing the wicked) the “wood” is ready for burning by the same Roman soldiers who were about to nail Yahshua to the crucifixion stake. (Note: See the parable of the Fig Tree (Luke 13:1-9) and the explanation of the “trees” (Ezek. 20:45-49 with Ezek. 21:1-5)).
Little did these “daughters of Jerusalem” know that the One for whom they had wept, the very Lamb of God being led to the slaughter, would be the Lamb who would soon pour out His wrath upon the same beloved city and people for their violation of the covenant. Yahshua said:
“I have come to cast fire upon the earth (Land); and how I wish (Lit. what do I wish if) it were already kindled!” (Luke 12:49)
The Sixth Seal is Broken – Terror Against the Pride of the Wicked
“I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, as a fig tree casts its unripe figs when shaken by a great wind. The sky was split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up, and every mountain and island were moved out of their places. Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders (chiliarchs, in command of one thousand troops) and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Rev. 6:12-17)
Assuming that John’s vision of the great convulsions is to be taken literally, questions agreeable to reason must be asked. What magnitude of an earthquake would cause “every mountain and island to be moved out of their places?” Where would the epicenter be and what degree of devastation and destruction would there be?
The sun’s diameter is about 109 times as big as the diameter of the earth. If the earth were the size of a “BB,” then on the same scale the sun would be the size of a basketball at about 30 yards away. If the “sun became darkened as black as sackcloth” would there be any life at all on earth? The moon’s diameter is one-four hundredth of the sun’s diameter. How would the “whole moon become like blood” if there is no light from the sun to reflect the blood-red color? If stars are many more times as big as the earth, how would the earth manage to bear up to “stars of the sky falling to the earth?” In what manner can the “sky split apart like a scroll when it is rolled up?” What energy would cause this?
These questions are not designed to deny the supernatural or miracles, and power of God, but there is a vast difference between the figurative expressions used in prophecy and the doctrine of signs, miracles and wonders recorded in Scripture. Prophetic figurative expressions are characteristic of the original languages, and familiar to the inspired writers who appropriated them to express spiritual truth.
The sense of Scripture is to be determined by words; and a true knowledge of the words used is the knowledge of the sense. The meaning of words is fixed by the usage of language. If the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense, it behooves the interpreter to seek no other sense. However, if the sense of Scripture makes no sense, then obviously another sense or understanding must be sought.
When Yahveh inflicted the last plague upon the Egyptians, death to their firstborn, “there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead.” (Ex. 12:30) People died; plain sense of Scripture. “But against any of the sons of Israel a dog (did) not bark, whether against man or beast…” (Ex. 11:7) Here, another sense or understanding must be sought. The phrase “not a dog bark” is a Hebrew idiom meaning: the People of Israel would not be affected by this judgment, therefore, no outcry would be heard. There would be only peace and tranquility in their camp.
When the sons of Dathan and Korah rebelled against Moses, Yahveh allowed “the earth to open its mouth and swallow them up and their households…” (Num. 16:32) People died by the supernatural power of God. The event is confirmed by the Psalmist (Psa. 106:16-18); plain sense. Isaiah wrote:
“The earth is broken asunder,
The earth is split through,
The earth is shaken violently.
The earth reels to and fro like a drunkard
And it totters like a shack,
For its transgression is heavy upon it,
And it will fall, never to rise again…” (Isa. 24:19, 20)
Content will determine the logic and meaning of Isaiah’s words. The answer to its meaning is hinted in the following verse:
“So it will happen in that day,
That Yahveh will punish the host of heaven on high,
And the kings of the earth on earth.” (Isa. 24:21)
The word “earth” is the Hebrew “eretz,” the short definition may with equal propriety be translated “land.” It chiefly is used to denote the Land of Israel or Judah.
Many scholars believe the prophecy of the 24th chapter of Isaiah alludes to the Fall of Jerusalem and its inhabitants by the Romans as depicted in the Book of Revelation for the following reasons:
As already mentioned the word “earth” can equally be rendered “Land.”
Isaiah prophesied the “Fall” of various nations; “Fall of Tyre,” (Isa. Ch. 23) and the “Fall of Jerusalem.” (Isa. Ch. 24)
The priesthood is characteristic of Jerusalem. (Isa. 24:2)
The word “world” (Hebrew Tevel) means “inhabitants” of a region, not the entire earth. (Isa. 24:4)
The inhabitants transgressed “laws” (Hebrew Torat) violated “statutes” and broke the “everlasting covenant,” terms associated with Yahveh’s people Israel. (Isa. 24:5)
There was a “curse” upon the Land; the “guilty inhabitants” were “burned.” (Isa. 24:6) Jerusalem was burned and razed to the ground as prophesied by Yahshua, John the Baptist and Malachi. (Lk. 19:41-44; Lk. 3:9, 17; Mal. 4:1)
The descriptive language of both Isaiah chapter 24 and Revelation chapter 18 are similar. The judgments of both chapters are upon the same city, Jerusalem, and in both accounts Yahveh reigns in “Zion” after judging His people, especially Jerusalem, the city He had chosen to place His name (I Kings 8:48).
“The new wine mourns,
“cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls… and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep… has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them…
“Then the moon (political leaders) will be abashed and the sun (spiritual leaders) ashamed,
“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was
John’s words on the affected “sun, moon, stars, sky, mountain, island” represented the “kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man…” who cried out the very words that Yahshua had prophesied to the “daughters of Jerusalem:”
“they said to the mountains and to the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’” (Rev. 6:16-17)
The prophet Malachi prophesied of these days:
“Behold, I am going to send… the Messenger of the covenant, in whom you delight, behold, He is coming,” says Yahveh of hosts. “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.” (Mal. 3:1, 2)
When Apostle John saw the heavenly vision of the great convulsions of the sixth seal, it depicted the terror and disturbances that would come upon the high, middle, low and lowest ranks of people within the regions who the Romans would overwhelm and conquer. From those of the Temple and synagogue service, the political class, people involved in commerce, the military and various other professions; to the very rich and poor alike would be affected by the siege and attack of their enemies. This coincides with Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 24:21-23.
A Word of Warning
“The landscape of history is strewn with the remains of nations, once great, who let moral decay from within bring them to ruin.
As the Roman Empire rose to greatness, its populace, no doubt assumed that it would be around for centuries to come. But even while its citizens romped in apparent prosperity, its foundations were crumbling underneath them. And so historians record ‘The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire.’
Greece gave the world its first historical attempt at democracy, splendid architecture, excellence in culture. It produced a dazzling roster of men, including Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Greek civilization rose to its ‘Golden Age,’ until corruption set in: in politics, business, personal life, even religion. According to a popular proverb, there were more gods in Athens than men! The apostle Paul clearly identified that nation’s spiritual poverty when from Mars Hill he preached his famous sermon on their ‘unknown God.’ In time Greece fell. And with it their democracy fell, because Greece did not have the moral fiber to undergird it.
Other great civilizations have come and gone. The ancient Mayan nation developed brain surgery, excelled in mathematics and astronomy, and built an incredible network of irrigation canals. Then corruptions took hold. Today it is a ghost of the past.
Is God blind to the sin of our own nation? Will He continue to bless us as He looks on our idols of silver and gold, on our pride of personal achievement, on our prevailing rebellion against Him?
The Bible repeatedly warns that, without repentance, judgment is inevitable. ‘Righteousness exalteth a nation; but sin is a reproach to any people.’
America is not big enough to shake her fist in the face of a holy God and get away with it.
Does the black shadow of judgment already loom over our land?” (The Rebirth of America, The Arthur S. DeMoss Foundation, pg. 141)
“May Yahveh bless you and keep you, may Yahveh make His face shine on you and show you His favor, may Yahveh lift up His face towards you and give you Shalom.”Google+