1When the fifth angel blew his trumpet, I saw a star fall from the sky to earth. It was given the key to the tunnel that leads down to the deep pit. 2 As it opened the tunnel, smoke poured out like the smoke of a great furnace. The sun and the air turned dark because of the smoke. 3 Locusts came out of the smoke and covered the earth. They were given the same power that scorpions have.
4 The locusts were told not to harm the grass on the earth or any plant or any tree. They were to punish only those people who did not have God's mark on their foreheads. 5The locusts were allowed to make them suffer for five months, but not to kill them. The suffering they caused was like the sting of a scorpion. 6 In those days people will want to die, but they will not be able to. They will hope for death, but it will escape from them.
7 These locusts looked like horses ready for battle. On their heads they wore something like gold crowns, and they had human faces. 8 Their hair was like a woman's long hair, and their teeth were like those of a lion. 9 On their chests they wore armor made of iron. Their wings roared like an army of horse-drawn chariots rushing into battle. 10Their tails were like a scorpion's tail with a stinger that had the power to hurt someone for five months. 11Their king was the angel in charge of the deep pit. In Hebrew his name was Abaddon, and in Greek it was Apollyon.
12The first horrible thing has now happened! But wait. Two more horrible things will happen soon.
13 Then the sixth angel blew his trumpet. I heard a voice speak from the four corners of the gold altar that stands in the presence of God. 14The voice spoke to this angel and said, “Release the four angels who are tied up beside the great Euphrates River.” 15The four angels had been prepared for this very hour and day and month and year. Now they were set free to kill a third of all people.
16By listening, I could tell there were more than 200,000,000 war horses. 17 In my vision their riders wore fiery-red, dark-blue, and yellow armor on their chests. The heads of the horses looked like lions, with fire and smoke and sulfur coming out of their mouths. 18One third of all people were killed by the three terrible troubles caused by the fire, the smoke, and the sulfur. 19The horses had powerful mouths, and their tails were like poisonous snakes that bite and hurt.
20 The people who lived through these terrible troubles did not turn away from the idols they had made, and they did not stop worshiping demons. They kept on worshiping idols that were made of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood. Not one of these idols could see, hear, or walk. 21No one stopped murdering or practicing witchcraft or being immoral or stealing.
I’m afraid it’s getting darker by the day. As the fifth trumpet sounds we move from natural disasters to direct satanic attack. John sees a vast bottomless pit belching out smoke and fire which darkens the sun. Then, emerging from the black hole, he sees locusts who morph into horses with human faces. It’s like a horror movie.
The language is symbolic, but leads us to contemplate the black holes in our world and, dare I say it, in our personal lives. Beneath the smooth surface of our contemporary society and the well-being of our own lives, there are dark forces waiting to break out. Sad betrayals, sudden acts of violence, moments of greed and avarice.
The sixth trumpet describes external attack, hordes massing at the Euphrates and moving in for the kill. Throughout history the fear of the enemy outside the gate has haunted nations. In our own times there has been threat from behind the iron curtain, then fears generated by Muslim Arab countries and more recently the horrors of terrorist attack. Nor are the threats just military. We contend with invasive ideologies, rampant atheism and latterly cyber warfare. Revelation is the most contemporary of books.
These two trumpets challenge us to take an unflinching look at what lies beneath the surface of our lives and to pray for forgiveness. The problem, says John, is idolatry. To offer worship where it does not belong blinds people to the goodness of God, and makes us vulnerable to Satan’s attack. ‘The dearest idol I have known/ Whate’er that idol be/Help me to tear it from Thy throne/ And worship only Thee.’ (William Cowper, 1769 O for a closer walk with God)
There has not been a lot of light in today’s reading. Don’t give up, it gets better tomorrow.
Lord help me to be honest about what is going on in the world, and in my life. I offer you the idols that have won my heart. Please dethrone them and help me to worship you alone. Amen.