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REVELATION OF ST. JOHN THE DIVINE - Chapter 8 - Verse 7

Verse 7. The first angel sounded. The first in order, and indicating the first in the series of events that were to follow.

And there followed hail. Hail is usually a symbol of the Divine vengeance, as it has often been employed to accomplish the Divine purposes of punishment. Thus in Ex 9:23, "And the Lord sent thunder and hail, and the fire ran along the ground; and the Lord rained hail upon the land of Egypt." So in Ps 105:32, referring to the plagues upon Egypt, it is said, "He gave them hail for rain, and flaming fire in their land." So again, Ps 78:48, "He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts." As early as the time of Job, hail was understood to be an emblem of the Divine displeasure, and an instrument in inflicting punishment:

"Hast thou entered into the treasures of the snow,

Or hast thou seen the treasure of the hail?

Which I have reserved against the time of trouble,

Against the days of battle and war?—Job 38:22-23

So also the same image is used in Ps 18:13:

"The Lord also thundered in the heaven,

And the Most High gave forth his voice,

Hailstones and coals of fire."

Compare Hag 2:17. The destruction of the Assyrian army, it is said, would be accomplished in the same way, Isa 30:30. Compare Eze 13:11; 38:22.

And fire. Lightning. This also is an instrument and an emblem of destruction.

Mingled with blood. By blood, "we must naturally understand," says Professor Stuart, "in this case, a shower of coloured rain; that is, rain of a rubidinous aspect, an occurrence which is known sometimes to take place, and which, like falling stars, eclipses, etc., was viewed with terror by the ancients, because it was supposed to be indicative of blood that was to be shed." The appearance, doubtless, was that of a red shower, apparently of hail or snow—for rain is not mentioned. It is not a rain storm, it is a hail storm that is the image here; and the image is that of a driving hail storm, where the lightnings flashed, and where there was the intermingling of a reddish substance that resembled blood, and that was an undoubted symbol of blood that was to be shed. I do not know that there is red rain, or red hail, but red snow is not very uncommon; and the image here would be complete if we suppose that there was an intermingling of red snow in the driving tempest. This species of snow was found by Captain Ross at Baffin's Bay on the 17th of August, 1819. The mountains that were dyed with the snow were about eight miles long, and six hundred feet high. The red colour reached to the ground in many places ten or twelve feet deep, and continued for a great length of time. Although red snow had not until this attracted much notice, yet it had been long before observed in Alpine countries. Saussure discovered it on mount St. Bernard in 1778. Ramond found it on the Pyrenees; and Summerfield discovered it in Norway. "In 1818, red snow fell on the Italian Alps and Apennines. In March, 1808, the whole country about Cadore, Belluno, and Peltri, was covered with a red-coloured snow, to the depth of six and a half feet; but a white snow had fallen both before and after it, the red formed a stratum in the middle of the white. At the same time a similar fall took place in the mountains of the Valteline, Brescia, Carinthia, and Tyrol."— Edin. Encyclo. Art. Snow. These facts show that what is referred to here in the symbol might possibly occur. Such a symbol would be properly expressive of blood and carnage.

And they were cast upon the earth. The hail, the fire, and the blood—denoting that the fulfilment of this was to be on the earth.

And the third part of trees was burnt up. By the fire that came down with the hail and the blood.

And all green grass was burnt up. Wherever this lighted on the earth. The meaning would seem to be, that, wherever this tempest beat, the effect was to destroy a third part—that is, a large portion of the trees, and to consume all the grass. A portion of the tree—strong and mighty—would stand against it; but that which was so tender, as grass is, would be consumed. The sense does not seem to be that the tempest would be confined to a third part of the world, and destroy all the trees and the grass there; but that it would be a sweeping and general tempest, and that wherever it spread it would prostrate a third part of the trees and consume all the grass. Thus understood, it would seem to mean that, in reference to those things in the world which were firm and established like trees, it would not sweep them wholly away, though it would make great desolation; but in reference to those which were delicate and feeble—like grass—it would sweep them wholly away.— This would not be an inapt description of the ordinary effects of invasion in time of war. A few of those things which seem most firm and established in society—like trees in a forest—weather out the storm; while the gentle virtues, the domestic enjoyments, the arts of peace, like tender grass, are wholly destroyed. The fulfilment of this we are undoubtedly to expect to find in the terrors of invasion; the evils of war; the effusion of blood; the march of armies. So far as the language is concerned, the symbol would apply to any hostile invasion; but, in pursuing the exposition on the principles on which we have thus far conducted it, we are to look for the fulfilment in one or more of those invasions of the Northern hordes that preceded the downfall of the Roman empire and that contributed to it.—In the "Analysis" of the chapter, some reasons were given why these four trumpet signals were placed together, as pertaining to a series of events of the same general character, and as distinguished from those which were to follow. The natural place which they occupy, or the events which we should suppose, from the views taken above of the first six seals, would be represented, would be the successive invasions of the Northern hordes which ultimately accomplished the overthrow of the Roman empire. There are four of these "trumpets," and it would be a matter of inquiry whether there were four events of sufficient distinctness that would mark these invasions, or that would constitute periods or epochs in the destruction of the Roman power.

At this point in writing, I looked on a chart of history, composed with no reference to this prophecy, and found a singular and unexpected prominence given to four such events extending from the first invasion of the Goths and Vandals at the beginning of the fifth century, to the fall of the Western empire, A.D. 476. The first was the invasion of Alaric, king of the Goths, A.D. 410; the second was the invasion of Attila, king of the Huns, "scourge of God," A. D. 447; a third was the sack of Rome by Genseric, king of the Vandals, A. D. 455; and the fourth, resulting in the final conquest of Rome, was that of Odoacer, king of the Heruli, who assumed the title of King of Italy, A.D. 476. We shall see, however, on a closer examination, that although two of these—Attila and Genseric—were, during a part of their career, contemporary, yet the most prominent place is due to Genseric in the events that attended the downfall of the empire, and that the second trumpet probably related to him; the third to Attila. These were, beyond doubt, four great periods or events attending the fall of the Roman empire, which synchronize with the period before us. If, therefore, we regard the opening of the sixth seal as denoting the threatening aspect of these invading powers —the gathering of the dark cloud that hovered over the borders of the empire, and the consternation produced by that approaching storm; and if we regard the transactions in the seventh chapter—the holding of the winds in check, and the sealing of the chosen of God— as denoting the suspension of the impending judgments in order that a work might be done to save the church, and as referring to the Divine interposition in behalf of the church; then the appropriate place of these four trumpets, under the seventh seal, will be when that delayed and restrained storm burst in successive blasts upon different parts of the empire—the successive invasions which were so prominent in the overthrow of that vast power. History marks four of these events— four heavy blows—four sweepings of the tempest and the storm—under Alaric, Genseric, Attila, and Odoacer, whose movements could not be better symbolized than by these successive blasts of the trumpet.

The first of these is the invasion of Alaric; and the inquiry now is, whether his invasion is such as would be properly symbolized by the first trumpet. In illustrating this, it will be proper to notice some of the movements of Alaric, and the alarm consequent on his invasion of the empire; and then to inquire how far this corresponds with the images employed in the description of the first trumpet. For these illustrations, I shall be indebted mainly to Mr. Gibbon. Alaric, the Goth, was at first employed in the service of the emperor Theodosius, in his attempt to oppose the usurper Arbogastes, after the murder of Valentinian, emperor of the West. Theodosius, in order to oppose the usurper, employed, among others, numerous barbarians—Iberians, Arabs, and Goths. One of them was Alaric, who, to use the language of Mr. Gibbon, (ii. 179,) "acquired in the school of Theodosius the knowledge of the art of war, which he afterwards so fatally exerted in the destruction of Rome," A.D. 392-394. After the death of Theodosius, (A. D. 395,) the Goths revolted from the Roman power, and Alaric, who had been disappointed in his expectations of being raised to the command of the Roman armies, became their leader.— Dec. and Fall, ii. 213. "That renowned leader was descended from the noble race of the Balti; which yielded only to the royal dignity of the Omali; he had solicited the command of the Roman armies; and the imperial court provoked him to demonstrate the folly of their refusal, and the importance of their loss. In the midst of a divided court and a discontented people, the emperor Arcadius was terrified by the aspect of the Gothic arms," etc. Alaric then invaded and conquered Greece, laying it waste in his progress, until he reached Athens, ii. 214, 215. "The fertile fields of Phocis and Boeotia were instantly covered by a deluge of barbarians, who massacred the males of age to bear arms, and drove away the beautiful females, with the spoil and cattle of the flaming villages." Alaric then concluded a treaty with Theodosius, the emperor of the East, (ii. 216;) was made master-general of Eastern Illyricum, and created a magistrate, (ii. 217;) soon united under his command the barbarous nations that had made the invasion, and was solemnly declared to be the king of the Visigoths, ii. 217. "Armed with this double power, seated on the verge of two empires, he alternately sold his deceitful promises to the courts of Arcadius and Honorius, till he declared and executed his purpose of invading the dominion of the West. The provinces of Europe which belonged to the Eastern empire were already exhausted; those of Asia were inaccessible; and the strength of Constantinople had resisted his attack. But he was tempted by the beauty, the wealth, and the fame of Italy, which he had twice visited; and he secretly aspired to plant the Gothic standard on the walls of Rome, and to enrich his army with the accumulated spoils of three hundred triumphs," ii. 217-218. In describing his march to the Danube, and his progress towards Italy, having increased his army with a large number of barbarians, Mr. Gibbon uses the remarkable language expressive of the general consternation, already quoted, in the description of the sixth seal. Alaric approached rapidly towards the imperial city, resolved to "conquer or die before the gates of Rome." But he was checked by Stilicho, and compelled to make peace, and retired, (Dec. and Fall, ii. 222,) and the threatening storm was for a time suspended. See Barnes "Re 7:1, seq. So great was the consternation, however, that the Roman court, which then had its seat at Milan, thought it necessary to remove to a safer place, and became fixed at Ravenna, ii. 224. This calm, secured by the retreat of Alaric, was, however, of short continuance. In A.D. 408, he again invaded Italy, in a more successful manner, attacked the capital, and more than once pillaged Rome. The following facts, for which I am indebted to Mr. Gibbon, will illustrate the progress of the events, and the effects of this blast of the "first trumpet" in the series that announced the destruction of the Western empire.

(a) The effect, on the destiny of the empire, of removing the Roman court to Ravenna from the dread of the Goths. As early as A. D. 303, the court of the emperor of the West was, for the most part, established at Milan. For some time before, the "sovereignty of the capital was gradually annihilated by the extent of conquest," and the emperors were required to be long absent from Rome on the frontiers, until, in the time of Diocletian and Maximin, the seat of government was fixed at Milan, "whose situation on the foot of the Alps appeared far more convenient than that of Rome, for the important purpose of watching the motions of the barbarians of Germany."—Gibbon, i. 213. "The life of Diocletian and Maximin was a life of action, and a considerable portion of it was spent in camps, or in those long and frequent marches; but whenever the public business allowed them any relaxation, they seem to have retired with pleasure to their favourite residences of Nicomedia and Milan. Till Diocletian, in the twentieth year of his reign, celebrated his Roman triumph, it is extremely doubtful whether he ever visited the ancient capital of the empire."— Gibbon, i. 214. From this place the court was driven away, by the dread of the Northern barbarians, to Ravenna, a safer place, which thenceforward became the seat of government; while Italy was ravaged by the Northern hordes, and while Rome was besieged and pillaged. Mr. Gibbon, under date of A.D. 404, says, "The recent danger to which the person of the emperor had been exposed in the defenceless palace of Milan [from Alaric and the Goths] urged him to seek a retreat in some inaccessible fortress in Italy, where he might securely remain, while the open country was covered by a deluge of barbarians."— Vol, ii. p. 224. He then proceeds to describe the situation of Ravenna, and the removal of the court thither, and then adds, (p. 225,) "The fears of Honorius were not without foundation, nor were his precautions without effect. While Italy rejoiced in her deliverance from the Goths, a furious tempest was excited among the nations of Germany, who yielded to the irresistible impulse that appears to have been generally communicated from the eastern extremity of the continent of Asia." That mighty movement of the Huns is then described, as the storm was preparing to burst upon the Roman empire, ii. 225. The agitation, and the removal of the Roman government, were events not inappropriate to be described by symbols relating to the fall of that mighty power.

(b) The particulars of that invasion, the consternation, the siege of Rome, and the capture and pillage of the imperial city, would confirm the propriety of this application to the symbol of the first trumpet. It would be too long to copy the account—for it extends through many pages of the History of the Decline and Fall of the Empire; but a few selected sentences may show the general character of the events, and the propriety of the symbols, on the supposition that they referred to these things. Thus Mr. Gibbon (ii. 226, 227) says, "The correspondence of the nations was, in that age, so imperfect and precarious, that the revolutions of the North might escape the knowledge of the court of Ravenna; till the dark cloud which was collected along the coast of the Baltic burst in thunder upon the banks of the Upper Danube. The king of the confederate Germans passed, without resistance, the Alps, the Po, and the Apennine; leaving on the one hand the inaccessible palace of Honorius securely buried among the marshes of Ravenna; and on the other the camp of Stilicho, who had fixed his head quarters at Ticinium, or Pavia, but who seems to have avoided a decisive battle till he had assembled his distant forces. Many cities of Italy were pillaged, or destroyed. The senate and people trembled at their approach within a hundred and eighty miles of Rome; and anxiously compared the danger which they had escaped, with the new perils to which they were exposed," etc. Rome was besieged for the first time by the Goths, A. D. 408. Of this siege, Mr. Gibbon (ii. 252-254) has given a graphic description. Among other things he says, "That unfortunate city gradually experienced the distress of scarcity, and at length the horrid calamity of famine." "A dark suspicion was entertained, that some desperate wretches fed on the bodies of their fellow-creatures whom they had secretly murdered; and even mothers—such were the horrid conflicts of the two most powerful instincts implanted by nature in the human breast— even mothers are said to have tasted the flesh of their slaughtered infants. Many thousands of the inhabitants of Rome expired in their houses, or in the streets, for want of sustenance; and, as the public sepulchres without the walls were in the power of the enemy, the stench, which arose from so many putrid and unburied carcases, infected the air; and the miseries of famine were succeeded and aggravated by a pestilential disease." The first siege was raised by the payment of an enormous ransom.—Gibbon, ii. 254. The second siege of Rome by the Goths occurred A.D. 409. This siege was carried on by preventing the supply of provisions, Alaric having seized upon Ostia, the Roman port, where the provisions for the capital were deposited. The Romans finally consented to receive a new emperor at the hand of Alaric, and Attalus was appointed in the place of the feeble Honorius, who was then at Ravenna, and who had abandoned the capital. Attalus, an inefficient prince, was soon publicly stripped of the robes of office, and Alaric, enraged at the conduct of the court at Ravenna towards him, turned his wrath a third time on Rome, and laid siege to the city. This occurred A. D, 410. "The king of the Goths, who no longer dissembled his appetite for plunder and revenge, appeared in arms under the walls of the capital; and the trembling senate, without any hope of relief, prepared, by a desperate effort, to delay the ruin of their country. But they were unable to guard against the conspiracy of their slaves and domestics; who, either from birth or interest, were attached to the cause of the enemy. At the hour of midnight, the Salarian gate was silently opened, and the inhabitants were awakened by the tremendous sound of the Gothic trumpet. Eleven hundred and sixty-three years after the foundation of Rome, the imperial city, which had subdued and civilized so considerable a part of mankind, was delivered to the licentious fury of the tribes of Germany and Scythia."—Gibbon, ii. 26O.

(e) It is, perhaps, only necessary to add that the invasion of Alaric was in fact but one of the great events that led to the fall of the empire, and that, in announcing that fall, where a succession of events was to occur, it would properly be represented by the blast of one of the trumpets. The expressions employed in the symbol are, indeed, such as might be applied to any invasion of hostile armies, but they are such as would be used if the design were admitted to be to describe the invasion of the Gothic conqueror. For

(1) that invasion, as we have seen, would be well represented by the storm of hail and lightning that was seen in vision;

(2) by the red colour mingled in that storm—indicative of blood;

(3) by the fact that it consumed the trees and the grass. This, as we saw in the exposition, would properly denote the desolation produced by war— applicable, indeed, to all war, but as applicable to the invasion of Alaric as any war that has occurred, and it is such an emblem as would be used if it were admitted that it was the design to represent his invasion. The sweeping storm, prostrating the trees of the forest, is an apt emblem of the evils of war, and, as was remarked in the exposition, no more striking illustration of the consequences of a hostile invasion could be employed than the destruction of the "green grass." What is here represented in the symbol cannot, perhaps, be better expressed than in the language of Mr. Gibbon, when describing the invasion of the Roman empire under Alaric. Speaking of that invasion, he says: "While the peace of Germany was secured by the attachment of the Franks and the neutrality of the Alemanni, the subjects of Rome unconscious of their approaching calamities, enjoyed the state of quiet and prosperity which had seldom blessed the frontiers of Gaul. Their flocks and herds were permitted to graze in the pastures of the barbarians; their huntsmen penetrated, without fear or danger, into the darkest recesses of the Hyrcanian wood. The banks of the Rhine were crowned, like those of the Tiber, with houses and well-cultivated farms; and if a poet descended the river, he might express his doubt on which side was situated the territory of the Romans. This scene of peace and plenty was suddenly changed into a desert; and the prospect of the smoking ruins could alone distinguish the solitude of nature from the desolation of man. The flourishing city of Mentz was surprised and destroyed; and many thousand Christians were inhumanly massacred in the church. Worms perished after a long and obstinate siege; Strasburg, Spires, Rheims, Tournay, Arras, Amiens, experienced the cruel oppression of the German yoke; and the consuming flames of war spread from the banks of the Rhine over the greatest part of the seventeen provinces of Gaul. That rich and extensive country, as far as the ocean, the Alps, and the Pyrenees, was delivered to the barbarians, who drove before them, in a Promiscuous crowd, the bishop, the senator, and the virgin, laden with the spoils of their houses and altars," ii. 230. In reference, also, to the invasion of Alaric, and the particular nature of the desolation depicted under the first trumpet, a remarkable passage which Mr. Gibbon has quoted from Claudian, as describing the effects of the invasion of Alaric, may be here introduced. "The old man" says he, speaking of Claudian," who had passed his simple and innocent life in the neighbourhood of Verona, was a stranger to the quarrels both of kings and of bishops; his pleasures, his desires, his knowledge, were confined within the circle of his paternal farm; and a staff supported his aged steps on the same ground where he had sported in infancy. Yet even this humble and rustic felicity (which Claudinn describes with so much truth and feeling) was still exposed to the undistinguishing rage of war. His trees, his old contemporary* trees, must blaze in the conflagration of the whole country; a detachment of Gothic cavalry must sweep away his cottage and his family; and the power of Alaric could destroy this happiness which he was not able either to taste or to bestow. 'Fame,' says the poet, 'encircling with terror or gloomy wings, proclaimed the march of the barbarian army, and filled Italy with consternation,'" ii. 218. And

(4) as to the extent of the calamity, there is also a striking propriety in the language of the symbol as applicable to the invasion of Alaric. I do not suppose, indeed, that it is necessary, in order to find a proper fulfilment of the symbol, to be able to show that exactly one third part of the empire was made desolate in this way, but it is a sufficient fulfilment of desolation spread over a considerable portion of the Roman world—as if a third part had been destroyed. No one who reads the account of the invasion of Alaric can doubt that it would be an apt description of the ravages of his arms to say that a third part was laid waste. That the desolations produced by Alaric were such as would be properly represented by this symbol, may be fully seen by consulting the whole account of that invasion in Gibbon, ii. 213-266.

Ingentem meminit parvo qui germine quercum

AEquaevumque videt consenuisse nemus.

 

A neighbouring wood born with himself he sees,

And loves his old contemporary trees.—Cowley

{c} "there followed" Eze 38:22 {d} "trees" Isa 2:13

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