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|New American Bible|
2002 11 11
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1 2 Then I watched while the
Lamb broke open the first of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four
living creatures cry out in a voice like thunder, "Come forward."
I looked, and there was a white horse, and its
rider had a bow. 3 He was given a crown, and he rode forth
victorious to further his victories.
When he broke open the second seal, I heard the
second living creature cry out, "Come forward."
4 Another horse came out, a red one. Its rider
was given power to take peace away from the earth, so that people would
slaughter one another. And he was given a huge sword.
When he broke open the third seal, I heard the
third living creature cry out, "Come forward." I looked, and there
was a black horse, 5 and its rider held a scale in his hand.
I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst
of the four living creatures. It said, "A ration of wheat costs a day's
pay, 6 and three rations of barley cost a day's pay. But do
not damage the olive oil or the wine."
When he broke open the fourth seal, I heard the
voice of the fourth living creature cry out, "Come forward."
I looked, and there was a pale green 7
horse. Its rider was named Death, and Hades accompanied him. They were given
authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and plague,
and by means of the beasts of the earth.
When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw
underneath the altar 8 the souls of those who had been
slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God.
They cried out in a loud voice, "How long
will it be, holy and true master, 9 before you sit in
judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?"
Each of them was given a white robe, and they
were told to be patient a little while longer until the number was filled of
their fellow servants and brothers who were going to be killed as they had been.
10 Then I watched while he broke open the sixth
seal, and there was a great earthquake; the sun turned as black as dark
sackcloth 11 and the whole moon became like blood.
The stars in the sky fell to the earth like
unripe figs 12 shaken loose from the tree in a strong wind.
Then the sky was divided 13
like a torn scroll curling up, and every mountain and island was moved from its
The kings of the earth, the nobles, 14
the military officers, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person
hid themselves in caves and among mountain crags.
They cried out to the mountains and the rocks,
"Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one who sits on the throne
and from the wrath of the Lamb,
because the great day of their 15
wrath has come and who can withstand it?"
[⇒ 6:1-⇒ 16:21] A series
of seven disasters now begins as each seal is broken (⇒ Rev
6:1-⇒ 8:1), followed by a similar series as
seven trumpets sound (⇒ Rev
8:2-⇒ 11:19) and as seven angels pour
bowls on the earth causing plagues (⇒ Rev
15:1-⇒ 16:21). These gloomy sequences are
interrupted by longer or shorter scenes suggesting the triumph of God and his
witnesses (e.g., Rev 7; 10; 11; 12; 13; 14).
2 [1-17] This chapter provides a
symbolic description of the contents of the sealed scroll. The breaking of the
first four seals reveals four riders. The first rider (of a white horse) is a
conquering power (⇒ Rev 6:1-2), the second (red
horse) a symbol of bloody war (⇒ Rev 6:3-4), the
third (black horse) a symbol of famine (⇒ Rev 6:5-6),
the fourth (pale green horse) a symbol of Death himself, accompanied by Hades
(the netherworld) as his page (⇒ Rev 6:7-8).
⇒ Rev 6:8b summarizes the role of all four riders.
The breaking of the fifth seal reveals Christian martyrs in an attitude of
sacrifice as blood poured out at the foot of an altar begging God for
vindication, which will come only when their quota is filled; but they are
given a white robe symbolic of victory (⇒ Rev
6:9-11). The breaking of the sixth seal reveals typical apocalyptic
signs in the sky and the sheer terror of all people at the imminent divine
judgment (⇒ Rev 6:12-17). * [1-8] The imagery is
adapted from ⇒ Zechariah 1:8-10;
3  White horse . . . bow: this may
perhaps allude specifically to the Parthians on the eastern border of the Roman
empire. Expert in the use of the bow, they constantly harassed the Romans and
won a major victory in A.D. 62; see the note on ⇒ Rev 9:13-21.
But the Old Testament imagery typifies the history of oppression of God's
people at all times.
4  Huge sword: this is a symbol of
war and violence; cf ⇒ Ezekiel 21:14-17.
5  Black horse: this is a symbol
of famine, the usual accompaniment of war in antiquity; cf
⇒ Lev 26:26; ⇒ Ezekiel
4:12-13. The scale is a symbol of shortage of food with a
corresponding rise in price.
6  A day's pay: literally, "a
denarius," a Roman silver coin that constitutes a day's wage in
⇒ Matthew 20:2. Because of the famine, food was
rationed and sold at an exorbitant price. A liter of flour was considered a
day's ration in the Greek historians Herodotus and Diogenes Laertius. Barley:
food of the poor (⇒ John 6:9,
⇒ 13; cf ⇒ 2 Kings 7:1,
⇒ 16, ⇒ 18); it was
also used to feed animals; cf ⇒ 1 Kings 5:8. Do not
damage: the olive and the vine are to be used more sparingly in time of famine.
7  Pale green: symbol of death and
decay; cf ⇒ Ezekiel 14:21.
8  The altar: this altar
corresponds to the altar of holocausts in the temple in Jerusalem; see also
⇒ Rev 11:1. Because of the witness . . . word of
God: literally, "because of the word of God and the witness they had
9  Holy and true master: Old
Testament usage as well as the context indicates that this is addressed to God
rather than to Christ.
10 [12-14] Symbolic rather than
literal description of the cosmic upheavals attending the day of the Lord when
the martyrs' prayer for vindication (⇒ Rev 6:10)
would be answered; cf ⇒ Amos 8:8-9;
⇒ Isaiah 34:4; ⇒ 50:3;
⇒ Joel 2:10; ⇒ 3:3-4;
⇒ Matthew 24:4-36; ⇒ Mark
13:5-37; ⇒ Luke 21:8-36.
11  Dark sackcloth: for mourning,
sackcloth was made from the skin of a black goat.
12  Unripe figs: literally,
"summer (or winter) fruit."
13  Was divided: literally,
"was split," like a broken papyrus roll torn in two, each half then
curling up to form a roll on either side.
14  Nobles: literally,
"courtiers," "grandees." Military officers: literally,
"commanders of 1,000 men," used in Josephus and other Greek authors
as the equivalent of the Roman tribunus militum. The listing of various ranks of
society represents the universality of terror at the impending doom.
15  Their: this reading is
attested in the best manuscripts, but the vast majority read "his" in
reference to the wrath of the Lamb in the preceding verse.
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