Are we having fun yet? Does the Bible get any weirder than this?
Actually, this isn’t that weird. If you understand something about the type of literature this is—apocalyptic, rich in imagery and numbers and grand cosmic events the make a sort of coded language with which to speak about what God is doing, and if you have read enough of the Bible to understand the allusions to other passages in Scripture (like the locust plague here that recalls one of the 10 plagues of Egypt), and if you take a moment to consider the context, this text is actually pretty straightforward.
Today’s verses are part of the graphic depiction of God’s response to the prayers of his saints that was pictured for us in chapter 8: 1-5. As we have already noted, the trumpet plagues which continue here recall the Exodus plagues. Those plagues were not for the purpose of punishment, but penitence. They were not designed simply to make Pharaoh suffer, but to change his mind.
A locust army also recalls the first two chapters of Joel. Interestingly enough, those chapters sound a call to repentance as well.
When these verses were written, the church was being persecuted by Rome much like their ancestors were persecuted in Egypt. God once again calls for the people of the earth to repent. But when they don’t—when they square off with God, in bold opposition to Him (notice the locusts only attack those who do not bear the seal of God upon their foreheads), the result is terrible (with the word “terror” very much in focus). The day will come where the people of the earth will face the consequences of their actions even as Pharaoh did before them.
What is the message for us? One is certainly the power and importance of prayer. Are we praying for the world? For the church? For the people around us?
But second, I think, is this graphic picture of a life lived at odds with God and his ways. It is not a pretty picture. Is God speaking to us about areas of our life where we need to repent? If so, we would do well to listen, to bring our life into line with His life so that we bear the seal of God upon our forehead (an image of life lived in harmony with God’s ways; our thoughts in harmony with His thoughts). It is infinitely preferable to the sting of locusts!