Those people under the altar, asking, “How long, how much longer?” None of us (far as I remember) have been killed for witnessing to the Word of God. But we have observed what’s being done in the world; we hunger and thirst to see righteousness prevail–and we don’t see it. Every now and then we’re shown some righteousness –like that Italian secret service man who threw himself over the escaping journalist a year or so ago–It was a beautiful act, and he did prevail, in the sense that his death protected her until the troops stopped firing. But none of the journalist’s words have been enough to stop the war. So this question unavoidably comes to us.
And then I wondered: What is the relation, between all this and “seals”? There’s a recurring pattern to the story: A seal is opened, something nasty results–Why?
A “seal” vouches for the authenticity of a document. In this case, as each seal is opened, an event follows to confirm that the author of the document is the One who can make such things happen.
The trouble is, we have too much of such confirmation. The sort of events the horsemen bring are all too familiar; they are exactly what people have done for as long as we’ve known them–and even before that, God was said to have drowned humankind because “the Earth was filled with violence from them.”
Tyranny, warfare, greed, death [influences of Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, Saturn]–and from under “the altar” (a specific constellation, “Autel”) martyrs demanding vengeance “on the inhabitants of the Earth.” And then, once they’ve been told to be quiet a little while longer, that vengeance evidently commences.
Malina & Pilch say, “As in Israel’s traditions, our seer considers the sky a large, rolled-out scroll. The stars in their configurations are like writing on the scroll from which one can obtain positive or negative communications from the divinity. When the sky is rolled up, God has nothing more to say, so to speak.” What was once promised or threatened is being carried out.
The “wrath of the Lamb” that people flee sounds odd to us, not at all what we would consider “in character” for a “Lamb.” But it doesn’t mean there’s bad feelings involved. In the society that produced this book, “‘Wrath’ is part of the vocabulary of honor and shame interactions. Wrath… is about revenge or vengeance that a person must take on one who dishonors in order to prove that one is honorable and thus maintain honor. The term does not connote anger or rage. Its focus is not the offender and the offense but the onlookers who acknowledge a person’s honor.”
The sixth seal signals the onset of vengeance; the seventh (coming soon!) leads to a seemingly endless series of calamities, worse by implicaton than the old familiar efforts of the four horsemen. Can that confirm this book as a true prophecy? Does it really vindicate God’s honor? I think not. While every disaster that ever came along may have served to authenticate it for some readers, we’ll just have to see what this scroll has to say for itself.
In our contemporary News Reality, we’ve reached a point where divine vengeance might be a blessing. The longer that things go on as they’ve been, the farther into hell our world threatens to sink. God’s continued mercy seems only to enable further outrages.
I am frankly bewildered by all this. We’d better go on.