I’m a huge Steeler’s fan. I’ve been that way for awhile now, so many years I look forward to seeing the Black and Gold kick some butt and take names. I love watching these great athletes win and win big. When the Steelers beat the Cardinals in 2009, I was overjoyed and happily rubbed the loss into people’s faces, even my High School Students (because I was there youth pastor)! Then came the loss to the Packer’s in the Super bowl not too long ago and I’ll admit I was crushed. I began to make excuses for the fallen Heroes trying to show their injury list and this small fact and that small fact. The reality was that my idol fell that day. Hopes and dreams can’t be put into teams because eventually they will lose and let us down. I know this, you know this. We can’t place all our money on one team all the time because one day they will let us down and the idol we’ve placed up will fall.
I use this silly story to introduce the concept that all things will fail. Eventually all things will crumble and become meaningless portions of history. When we replace God at the center and replace it with an idol we must know that we’ve replaced the eternal with the temporal and this temporal idol will leave us high and dry. When we look at today’s passage I am sure than many of you listening will wonder what this has to do with anything. When looking at the passage instead of asking “Why do idols fall” you will be asking: “Why does God allow this evil?”
Why Would God Allow this Evil?
Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and 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 say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.
5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”
7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider’s name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth.
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.
12 When he opened the sixth seal, I looked, and behold, there was a great earthquake, and the sun became black as sackcloth, the full moon became like blood, 13 and the stars of the sky fell to the earth as the fig tree sheds its winter fruit when shaken by a gale. 14 The sky vanished like a scroll that is being rolled up, and every mountain and island was removed from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth and the great ones and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, 16 calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6 ESV)
I believe that God gives us much of what we ask for. We live in a world that doesn’t desire Him. Many folks beg for God to be separate from this world or they wish him away all together. You and I have done the very same thing when we turn to idols and choose to neglect His Spirit’s promptings inside of us. We sometimes choose to ignore God. This passage is a rough one to approach and I’ve been wrestling with how to come at it for ages. Until I saw that God was allowing this evil to expose our idols and to show he is the only eternal choice. We will see that even after the idols are stripped many still reject the one true God and many instead of turning their lives over to Him curse him. Let’s take a lesson from this passage and that lesson I believe is of fallen idols.
The Idol of Human Relationships (Vs. 1-4)
“In a world where persons refuse God’s lordship and reject Christ’s salvation, war is the route to achieve mastery and discover glory”. (Peterson, pg. 78)
Here in this passage we see the creature around the throne calling the Horses of Conquest and War to come! They then head to earth and take peace away from the earth and pit man against man in all out war, giving each man the desire to conquer the other man in savage brutal war. Obviously chaos ensues and there is no way one can trust their neighbor.
“In Jewish pictures of the end time, an essential element is the complete disintegration of all human relationships.” (Barclay, book 2, pg. 6)
Many times we put our trust in other humans more than we do God Himself. We are needy for love and affection and instead of seeking it in God we seek it in human relationships. Sons with mom issues cling to the women in their lives hoping for a deeper connection and women with dad issues do the same.
When I was younger in Middle School and some in high school I clung to relationships like this, where they became god in my life. I desperately sought to date girl after girl trying to get my fulfillment in them. Hoping the next make out session would cure my aching heart. Hoping that this next girl would heal my wounds. I realize this was due to a broken heart from my mother and I was seeking an idol rather than seeking God. These relationships didn’t fill a thing within me and each loss of relationship ended up causing more emptiness and more woundedness.
Here we see that no matter what in the end, human relationships can not replace God, eventually the heart of the conquest and war horse will cause fights, quarrels and separation like never before. It is a picture that will become a reality but it is a strong picture now to us to see that only a relationship with God is long-lasting. Everyone else will wound and hurt.
This is not to say never have close relationships, but it is a warning of building those relationships into idols where you pour all that you are into them because you will never reap a reward equal to the price put into it. Next we see the destruction of another idol, the idol of wealth.
The Idol of Wealth (vs. 5-6)
“The scales of the third horseman measure the economic structures of a fallen world, where poor persons are deprived of food, and where the earth’s poor have need for God’s bounty” (Wall, 2011, Ch. 6).
Many of us humans, especially in our Western society find wealth and possessions to be the center of our worship. Here we see the Black Horse and Horsemen sent out to cause famine, depriving most people from food but allowing the rich fatties to get richer and fatter while many suffer. We may see this on a small scale now, imagine a global epidemic of it. Many people in poorer countries are turning to Jesus because they recognize that the idol of wealth has left them deprived and depressed. When we in America are stripped of our wealth, our possessions, I wonder what will be forefront in our worship then. Will materialistic Christianity crumble under the weight of this horse and his rider? Many ask why would God allow evil like this to be unleashed? I feel as though this is God’s last portion of grace to allow us and the world to see how worthless idol worship really is.
Caird correctly concludes that “The heavenly voice which says, ‘Come!’ is not calling disasters into existence … Rather the voice is declaring that nothing can now happen, not even the most fearsome evidence of man’s disobedience and its nemesis, which cannot be woven into the pattern of God’s gracious purpose” (Revelation, p. 83).
The Idol of Health (vs. 7-8)
The last horse we encounter is the horse of pestilence and death. We in our Western society are obsessed with health. We have healthy foods, healthy drinks, healthy exercises, and healthy magazines to teach how to be healthy and health is important to us. I’m not saying this is bad, in fact much of what we are calling healthy is getting back to normal, God designed foods, without all the additives and mess. These are issues most people in the world don’t deal with because they eat what they kill, catch or grow anyways. Our western obsession with wealth has hindered our health and now we are trying to go back to health. We can’t take the junk from earth with us and we are guaranteed an exit from this life, no matter how hard we try to develop technology that helps us live longer.
This pale horse devours life in 25% of the earth, just consumed, gone. Life is short and we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Why do we always live as if we have the next 25-50 years to live. Everyday is a gift. This horse reminds us of the idol we make of our health and is a sobering and humble reminder that we are not guaranteed the tomorrow we think we are.
The Idol of Safety (vs. 12-17)
Here, after all of the other idols in their life, the people try to hide from the very God who could save them. They prefer death upon the rocks over submitting to the Lamb. They fear the wrath of the Lamb. When we realize that all of this universe has been continuously held up by a loving, long-suffering creator we come to the realization there is truly only two choices. We either choose Him, or we don’t. God being a righteous judge will give us over to our desires. If we desire Him, he will give himself. If we desire not him, he will give us over to His absence. Some would call this unjust, but He is simply giving us what we desire.
When seeing that all we idolize will crash, fall and burn and realize that God gives us the desires of our hearts, I ask what is your hearts desire? Is it to worship Christ and give Him center stage? If not, I challenge all of us to reconsider. To look to Christ for all fulfillment, all life and give Him all that we are because truly anything else is unfit to worship. Everything else will fail us, but He will not!