The Kibitzing Altar

Revelation 16:7 “And I heard the altar saying, ‘Yes, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.’ ”

Observation: Seven angels were pouring seven bowls of wrath upon the earth, and each bowl contained terrifying, though merely temporal, judgments of God: (1) malignant sores; (2) seas turned to blood; (3) rivers and springs turned to blood; (4) fires unleashed to scorch men; (5) unremitting darkness; (6) the drying of the Euphrates River; (7) lightning, thunder, and earthquakes of a magnitude never before imagined.

Application: In the midst of all this, voices come from the altar saying, “You, O Lord God, the Almighty, true and righteous are Your judgments.” Who or what is this kibitzing altar? Revelation 6:9 says that underneath the altar are the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and because of the testimony they had maintained. They were crying out to God asking Him how long He would refrain from avenging their blood. These are saints who have already experienced their own personal bowl of wrath.

Three times, in Revelation 16:9, 11, and 21, we are told that the people’s response to these catastrophic bowls of wrath is to blaspheme God. As awful as it is, I must consider my own response to catastrophes. How quick I am to look at catastrophes in the natural realm (hurricanes, tsunamis) or by the hand of men (wars, ethnic cleansing campaigns) and to interpret these things as somehow deserved: a just response of an angry God against sin. But shall I then say the same thing about those who speak from under the altar, having already experienced their personal bowls of wrath? Of course not.

What I must understand is this: God is at work in the midst of these things. Wind and water obey His command. So when my heart cries with fear, or when I lay spiritual claim to exemption from such catastrophes, I am exposing the limits of my view of His sovereignty. After all, it was Stephen’s stoning that broke the hard heart of Saul, making Him into Paul.

I must remember how puny and insignificant I am when compared to God; His ways are not my ways. Blasphemy of God spawns from an overdeveloped sense of entitlement; a failure to have died to self. A clear-eyed reading of Scripture reveals that I will experience a personal bowl of wrath: death to self, however it comes. My heart rejoices when I do not receive what I deserve, but the real test comes in the midst of the wrath: will my heart rejoice then? I am at true peace only in that the finished work of Christ has given me a guaranteed outcome in the end.

Prayer: God, have Your way with me. Teach me to praise and thank You no matter the storm around me.

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