Commentary on the Bible, by Adam Clarke, , at sacred-texts.com
The opening of the seventh seal, Rev 8:1. The seven angels with the seven trumpets, Rev 8:2-6. The first sounds, and there is a shower of hail, fire, and blood, Rev 8:7. The second sounds, and the burning mountain is cast into the sea, Rev 8:8, Rev 8:9. The third sounds, and the great star Wormwood falls from heaven, Rev 8:10, Rev 8:11. The fourth sounds, and the sun, moon, and stars are smitten; and a threefold wo is denounced against the inhabitants of the earth, because of the three angels who are yet to sound, Rev 8:12, Rev 8:13.
The seventh seal - This is ushered in and opened only by the Lamb.
Silence in heaven - This must be a mere metaphor, silence being put here for the deep and solemn expectation of the stupendous things about to take place, which the opening of this seal had produced. When any thing prodigious or surprising is expected, all is silence, and even the breath is scarcely heard to be drawn.
Half an hour - As heaven may signify the place in which all these representations were made to St. John, the half hour may be considered as the time during which no representation was made to him, the time in which God was preparing the august exhibition which follows.
There is here, and in the following verses, a strong allusion to different parts of the temple worship; a presumption that the temple was still standing, and the regular service of God carried on. The silence here refers to this fact - while the priest went in to burn incense in the holy place, all the people continued in silent mental prayer without till the priest returned. See Luk 1:10. The angel mentioned here appears to execute the office of priest, as we shall by and by see.
The seven angels which stood before God - Probably the same as those called the seven Spirits which are before his throne, Rev 1:4 (note). There is still an allusion here to the seven ministers of the Persian monarchs. See Tobit 12:15.
Another angel - About to perform the office of priest.
Having a golden censer - This was a preparation peculiar to the day of expiation. "On other days it was the custom of the priest to take fire from the great altar in a silver censer, but on the day of expiation the high priest took the fire from the great altar in a golden censer; and when he was come down from the great altar, he took incense from one of the priests, who brought it to him, and went with it to the golden altar; and while he offered the incense the people prayed without in silence, which is the silence in heaven for half an hour." See Sir Isaac Newton.
Much incense, that he should offer it - Judgments of God are now about to be executed; the saints - the genuine Christians, pray much to God for protection. The angelic priest comes with much incense, standing between the living and those consigned to death, and offers his incense to God With the prayers of the saints.
The smoke of the incense - with the prayers - Though incense itself be an emblem of the prayers of the saints, Psa 141:2; yet here they are said to ascend before God, as well as the incense. It is not said that the angel presents these prayers. He presents the incense, and the prayers ascend With it. The ascending of the incense shows that the prayers and offering were accepted.
Cast it into the earth - That is, upon the land of Judea; intimating the judgments and desolations which were now coming upon it, and which appear to be farther opened in the sounding of the seven trumpets.
There were voices - All these seem to point out the confusion, commotions, distresses, and miseries, which were coming upon these people in the wars which were at hand.
Prepared themselves to sound - Each took up his trumpet, and stood prepared to blow his blast. Wars are here indicated; the trumpet was the emblem of war.
Hail and fire mingled with blood - This was something like the ninth plague of Egypt. See Exo 9:18-24 : "The Lord sent thunder and hail - and fire mingled with the hail - and the fire ran along upon the ground." In the hail and fire mingled with blood, some fruitful imaginations might find gunpowder and cannon balls, and canister shot and bombs.
They were cast upon the earth - Εις την γην· Into that land; viz., Judea, thus often designated.
And the third part of trees - Before this clause the Codex Alexandrinus, thirty-five others, the Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Armenian, Slavonic, Vulgate, Andreas, Arethas, and some others, have και το τριτον της γης κατεκαη· And the third part of the land was burnt up. This reading, which is undoubtedly genuine, is found also in the Complutensian Polyglot. Griesbach has received it into the text.
The land was wasted; the trees - the chiefs of the nation, were destroyed; and the grass - the common people, slain, or carried into captivity. High and low, rich and poor, were overwhelmed with one general destruction. This seems to be the meaning of these figures.
Many eminent men suppose that the irruption of the barbarous nations on the Roman empire is here intended. It is easy to find coincidences when fancy runs riot. Later writers might find here the irruption of the Austrians and British, and Prussians, Russians, and Cossacks, on the French empire!
A great mountain burning with fire - Supposed to signify the powerful nations which invaded the Roman empire. Mountain, in prophetic language, signifies a kingdom; Jer 51:25, Jer 51:27, Jer 51:30, Jer 51:58. Great disorders, especially when kingdoms are moved by hostile invasions, are represented by mountains being cast into the midst of the sea, Psa 46:2. Seas and collections of waters mean peoples, as is shown in this book, Rev 17:15. Therefore, great commotions in kingdoms and among their inhabitants may be here intended, but to whom, where, and when these happened, or are to happen, we know not.
The third part of the sea became blood - Another allusion to the Egyptian plagues, Exo 7:20, Exo 7:21. Third part is a rabbinism, expressing a considerable number. "When Rabbi Akiba prayed, wept, rent his garments, put of his shoes, and sat in the dust, the world was struck with a curse; and then the third part of the olives, the third part of the wheat, and the third part of the barley, was smitten "Rab. Mardochaeus, in Notitia Karaeorum, p. 102.
The third part of the ships were destroyed - These judgments seem to be poured out upon some maritime nation, destroying much of its population, and much of its traffic.
There fell a great star from heaven - This has given rise to various conjectures. Some say the star means Attila and his Huns, others, Genseric with his Vandals falling on the city of Rome; others, Eleazer, the son of Annus, spurning the emperor's victims, and exciting the fury of the Zealots; others, Arius; infecting the pure Christian doctrine with his heresy, etc., etc. It certainly cannot mean all these; and probably none of them. Let the reader judge.
The star is called Wormwood - So called from the bitter or distressing effects produced by its influence.
The third part of the sun - moon - stars, was smitten - Supposed to mean Rome, with her senates, consuls, etc., eclipsed by Odoacer, king of the Heruli, and Theodoric, king of the Ostrogoths, in the fifth century. But all this is uncertain.
I - heard an angel flying - Instead of αγγελου πετωμενου, an angel flying, almost every MS. and version of note has αετου πετωμενον, an eagle flying. The eagle was the symbol of the Romans, and was always on their ensigns. The three woes which are here expressed were probably to be executed by this people, and upon the Jews and their commonwealth. Taken in this sense the symbols appear consistent and appropriate; and the reading eagle instead of angel is undoubtedly genuine, and Griesbach has received it into the text.