“When the Lamb opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.” That’s how chapter 8 of Revelation begins. What in the world, one may ask, is going on?
In chapter 6, John has a vision of the Lamb opening the first six of seven seals on God’s scroll. (This is the Lamb “standing as if it had been slaughtered, having seven horns and seven eyes,” from 5:6.) As the six seals are broken, scary stuff happens—judgments are revealed. Chapter 7 features the servants of God being marked with a seal on their foreheads. The enigmatic number 144,000 appears. Then, as the seventh seal is opened, there is silence. Artistically, this is great. There’s a dramatic pause before… Before what?
In her contribution to the Anchor Bible, Revelation, J. Massyngberde Ford acknowledges this “ominous silence” with its “important dramatic effect.” (134) But more important is the theology. She mentions another apocalyptic work, 2 Esdras (also known as 4 Ezra), which speaks of the silence at creation. This book purports to contain visions of Ezra. In chapter 6, he speaks of creation, when “the spirit was blowing, and darkness and silence embraced everything; the sound of human voices was not yet there” (v. 39). In chapter 7, his angelic companion tells him of the “primeval silence” (v. 30).
Still, the overriding theme is that of judgment. A book from the apocrypha, 1 Maccabees, begins with Alexander the Great, of whom it is said, “He advanced to the ends of the earth, and plundered many nations. When the earth became quiet before him, he was exalted, and his heart was lifted up” (1:3). His foolish pride results in his being judged.
But of course, more than any of these other examples, John is referencing the Old Testament. There are many cases of silence associated with the judgment of God. A prophet that John makes liberal use of is Zechariah. In 2:13 of his book, we read, “Be silent, all people, before the Lord; for he has roused himself from his holy dwelling.”
There is silence. Then there are seven trumpets given to seven angels. And we get to go again!
Here’s a question. What precisely do we mean by the judgment of God?
(The photo of sunset was taken from our front porch in June 2010.)