31 August 2021

First Four Bowls

The first four bowls of wrath destroy the economic infrastructure of the “beast,” and punish those who took its “mark”Revelation 16:1-9

Shipwreck - Photo by Sam Power on Unsplash
At the start of the vision, the
saints were standing on the “sea of glass, having come off victorious from the beast, and from his image, and from the number of his name.The heavenly tabernacle was opened, and the angels with the “seven bowls of wrath” went to empty their “bowls” on the “inhabitants of the earth,” those who took the “mark of the beast” - [Photo by Sam Power on Unsplash].

The first four bowls target the economic structures necessary to support commerce and otherwise maintain the economic health of society. Since the “beast” has deprived the followers of the “Lamb” of the means to participate in economic life, so its followers will now suffer economic loss.

Old Testament imagery is employed throughout the “seven bowls of wrath,” including the plagues of Egypt, the exodus from Egypt, the defeat of Pharaoh in the Red Sea, the “Song of Moses,” and the “Tent of Testimony.” Each of the seven “last plagues” corresponds to one of the ten plagues of Egypt.

The first four “bowls” form a distinct group. Like the first four trumpets, the first four “bowls of wrath” inflict plagues on the earth, the sea, and celestial objects; basically, against the economic infrastructures needed for the prosperity of the “inhabitants of the earth.”

FIRST BOWL. The first angel “poured out” the contents of his bowl. The verb translates the Greek term ekcheō, used in the Greek Septuagint version of Leviticus for the ashes from the burnt offerings that were “poured out” outside the camp of Israel.

In Revelation, ekcheō occurs only in the series of the “seven bowls” whenever one of the angels “pours out” his bowl, and when God was praised for punishing those who “poured out the blood of the saints and the prophets.” That is the verbal link to the image of the martyrs “under the altar” in the “fifth seal.” Since the wicked have “poured out” the blood of the martyrs, God has poured out “blood for them to drink” - (Leviticus 4:12, Revelation 6:9-11).

The “noisome and grievous sore” alludes to the sixth plague of Egypt, the plague of boils inflicted on that ancient nation. Thus, the men who took the “mark of the beast” are marred by “grievous sores” - (Exodus 9:9-11, Deuteronomy 28:27, Revelation 7:1-3).

SECOND BOWL. The description of the next “bowl” employs language from the first Egyptian plague, where the waters of Egypt were turned to blood and its fish killed. Here, the “sea” becomes like the blood of a dead man. Previously, the “second trumpet” turned a third of the “sea” into blood, destroying a third of its living creatures. The contents of the second “bowl” turn the entire sea into blood, killing every living thing in it.

In Revelation, the “sea” symbolizes the mass of humanity that is hostile towards God, the nations from which the “beast ascended.” It is conceptually parallel to the Abyss, the source of the “beast” - (Daniel 7:1-2, Revelation 7:1-3, 9:1-10, 12:12, 13:1, 20:8).

The destruction of sea life means the cessation of the sea-borne commerce that is so vitally important to the economic health of nations. This plague anticipates the later judgment dirge against “Babylon,” she who sits on “many waters,” on “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” - (Revelation 17:6-15, 18:6, 18:23-24).

The cessation of maritime commerce means economic loss and hardship. The contents of the second “bowl” point to economic upheaval in the kingdom of the “beast.”

THIRD BOWL. The third “bowl” also echoes the first Egyptian plague, but it affects all sources of fresh water, and it turns the “sea” into a place of death. Once again, the sea is necessary for maritime commerce, and fresh water is vital for agriculture and the life of society.

ANGEL OF THE WATERS. An interjection is made. The third angel emptied his “bowl” on the “fountains of the waters,” and now is called the “angel of the waters.” The declaration sums up the justification for the first three “bowls”; the men who took the mark “were given blood to drink, because they poured out the blood of saints and prophets.” These words anticipate the judicial pronouncements against “Babylon” for her persecution of the saints, and because she caused the nations of the earth to drink the “wine of her fornication” - (Revelation 16:17-21).

Dry Riverbed - Photo by Chester Ho on Unsplash
Photo by Chester Ho on Unsplash

They are worthy.” This refers to the martyrs, not to followers of the “beast.” Because the martyrs overcame, they are vindicated by the “last plagues” unleashed against their persecutors.

God is the one who “is and who was,” the same appellation assigned to Him previously, the One “who is and who was and who is coming.” However, here, the third part of the statement is dropped, for no longer is God “coming.” The final judgment has arrived with the “seven bowls of wrath,” in which His wrath will be “finished” - (Revelation 1:4, 1:8, 4:8, 11:17).

God is the “righteous and holy one who judges.” These words echo the plea of the martyrs found “underneath the altar” when the fifth seal was opened (How long, O Master, holy and true, do you not judge and avenge our blood”) – (Revelation 6:9-11, 8:3-5).

Fourth Bowl. The fourth bowl alludes to the ninth plague of Egypt, when the sun was darkened. But this “bowl” causes scorching heat that burns the followers of the “beast” - (Revelation 16:8-9).

Rather than repent, the “inhabitants of the earth” continue to blaspheme the “name of God who had power over these plagues,” and they deny that their sufferings are due to His sovereign acts.

The term “blasphemy” or “slander” connects the “inhabitants of the earth” to the “beast from the sea”; they have taken on its nature, for previously, the “beast” had engaged in “slander” or “blasphemy” against “those who are tabernacling in heaven,” that is, against the “saints” - (Revelation 2:9, 13:6-7).

They repented not.” The refusal of the “inhabitants of the earth” to repent despite the destruction unleashed by the first four “bowls” evidences the righteousness of God’s judicial acts. Previously, the “plagues” unleashed by the “seven trumpets” only harmed a “third” of the earth, sea, fresh water, and vegetation. The purpose was to drive men to repentance. But despite the pain of those plagues,” the “inhabitants of the earth” still refused to repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood; which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk, and they repented not of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.” Their complete destruction by the “bowls of wrath” is fully justified – (Revelation 9:20-21).

The stage is now set to complete the “wrath of God.” The final three “bowls of wrath” will impose judicial sentence on the empire of the “beast,” the “kings of the earth” who allied themselves with it, and “Babylon, the great city,” the economic powerhouse behind the “throne.”