The stage is set, The pace of the drama picks up!
‘The Seven Seals’, and ‘The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’
We are moving out of an age of text and reason, Into a new one of icon, a visual culture a few cling to one use or another. We have a history of interpretation, traditions of the meaning for the 7 seals, and the 4 horsemen. When so few of us can even list 10 commandments, and know the Golden Arches of McDonalds better than the graphic icon for the 2 tablets of Torah,
There’s little chance we can list the 7 + 4-let alone put them in relationship as a unit, within the context of this onion structure.
So, sure: 1st seal: white horse, announced by the 1st beast (lion): Come!
A bow, a crown,Conquering hero!
2nd seal: bright red horse, announced the 2nd beast (ox): Come!
A sword bringing war – Releasing people to slaughter each other
3rd seal: black horse announced by the 3rd beast (human face): Come!
A scale in the rider’s hand – Economic disaster, poverty, inflated prices
4th seal: pale green horse announced by the 4th beast (eagle): Come!
The rider called Death, followed by Hades, Sword, pestilence, famine, wild beasts: epidemic mortality for ¼ of us So we’ve 3 more seals, and no more beasts
For the symmetry of the opera –
5th seal: martyrs under the altar They cry out to God, ‘How long… till vengeance?
They get white robes, and assured ‘Not long…’ Though martyrdom will continue to its completion. The injustices of the world will continue to kill
6th seal: black sun, red moon, falling stars, earth moves the kings, rulers, rich, powerful, all announce in terror: Flee! Why to the wicked prosper? God knows, but not forever!
O sinner man, where you gonna run to…. All on that day?
In caves, among rocks, they beg to be crushed
If you don’t have any emotional response, Read it again, listen again, imagine…Gut level, apocalyptic imagery. Today, let’s not attach any specific element of the vision, so some specific ‘ism’ or ‘ology’ or political entity. Rather, feel the powerlessness, as things ‘bigger than individuals, smaller than God’ erupt. The drama has lots of fallout – but first, observe the panoply, between your ears. This is not the 20th century liberal optimism, the brotherhood of man building the kingdom of God – this is 20th century experience of great, lethal events, but, in our a-millenial tradition, it’s every century and the nightmare of chapter 6 is not linear, and we don’t get to wake up or organize it neatly.
New Jerusalem Bible
1 Then, in my vision, I saw the Lamb break one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures shout in a voice like thunder, 'Come!'
2 Immediately I saw a white horse appear, and its rider was holding a bow; he was given a victor's crown and he went away, to go from victory to victory.
3 When he broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature shout, 'Come!'
4 And out came another horse, bright red, and its rider was given this duty: to take away peace from the earth and set people killing each other. He was given a huge sword.
5 When he broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature shout, 'Come!' Immediately I saw a black horse appear, and its rider was holding a pair of scales;
6 and I seemed to hear a voice shout from among the four living creatures and say, 'A day's wages for a quart of corn, and a day's wages for three quarts of barley, but do not tamper with the oil or the wine.'
7 When he broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature shout, 'Come!'
8 Immediately I saw another horse appear, deathly pale, and its rider was called Death, and Hades followed at its heels. They were given authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague and through wild beasts.
9 When he broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of all the people who had been killed on account of the Word of God, for witnessing to it.
10 They shouted in a loud voice, 'Holy, true Master, how much longer will you wait before you pass sentence and take vengeance for our death on the inhabitants of the earth?'
11 Each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to be patient a little longer, until the roll was completed of their fellow-servants and brothers who were still to be killed as they had been.
12 In my vision, when he broke the sixth seal, there was a violent earthquake and the sun went as black as coarse sackcloth; the moon turned red as blood all over,
13 and the stars of the sky fell onto the earth like figs dropping from a fig tree when a high wind shakes it;
14 the sky disappeared like a scroll rolling up and all the mountains and islands were shaken from their places.
15 Then all the kings of the earth, the governors and the commanders, the rich people and the men of influence, the whole population, slaves and citizens, hid in caverns and among the rocks of the mountains.
16 They said to the mountains and the rocks, 'Fall on us and hide us away from the One who sits on the throne and from the retribution of the Lamb.
17 For the Great Day of his retribution has come, and who can face it?'
New Revised Standard Version
Then I saw the Lamb open one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures call out, as with a voice of thunder, ‘Come!’
2I looked, and there was a white horse! Its rider had a bow; a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering and to conquer.
3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature call out, ‘Come!’
4And out came another horse, bright red; its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people would slaughter one another; and he was given a great sword.
5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature call out, ‘Come!’ I looked, and there was a black horse! Its rider held a pair of scales in his hand,
6and I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures saying, ‘A quart of wheat for a day’s pay, and three quarts of barley for a day’s pay, but do not damage the olive oil and the wine!’
7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature call out, ‘Come!’
8I looked and there was a pale green horse! Its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth.
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given;
10they cried out with a loud voice, ‘Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?’
11They were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number would be complete both of their fellow-servants and of their brothers and sisters, who were soon to be killed as they themselves had been killed.
12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and there came a great earthquake; the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood,
13and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree drops its winter fruit when shaken by a gale.
14The sky vanished like a scroll rolling itself up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place.
15Then the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains,
16calling to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb;
17for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’