Poole on Revelation 5:7, 8: The Incense-Prayers and Harp-Praise of the Saints

Verse 7:[1] And he came and took the book out of the right hand (Rev. 4:2) of him that sat upon the throne.


[And He came, and took, etc.] It is a pleonasm, concerning which Revelation 2:5 (Grotius). Others: He came, etc., that is, He approached more closely to the throne of God (Estius, similarly Pareus, Cluverus), and by His feet, which are to a lamb in the place of hands, took the Book (Estius). For to Him all the counsels of God are open, and He has a right to reveal those things to whom He will (Grotius). By this symbol it is signified, 1. that all knowledge, care, and providence of His Church and of the whole world was commited to Christ, already from the first instant of conception: 2. that Christ was going to judge, etc., out of the Book of Providence and the decrees of God (Estius): 3. that we have this Apocalypse and all blessings from the Father through Christ[2] (Forbes). In this place we have the three Divine persons, the Father on the throne, the Lamb, and the seven spirits; and the threefold office of Christ, Sacerdotal, inasmuch as He is the lamb slain, Royal, in the horns, etc., Prophetic, inasmuch as He took the Book and opened the counsels of God, etc. (Durham).


He came and took the book, etc.: This Lamb with seven horns and seven eyes, having been slain, and having prevailed with his Father to open this book, mentioned verse 1, of all the secrets, counsels, and purposes of God relating to his church, he came and took it of his Father, in whose right hand it was, as verse 1.


From hence to the end of this chapter, are nothing but songs sang by the living creatures which John saw, and the twenty-four elders which he saw, and an innumerable company of angels, to the honour and glory of Jesus Christ, as the Redeemer of man, and the Head of the church, upon this taking of the book from the right hand of his Father.


Verse 8:[3] And when he had taken the book, (Rev. 4:8, 10) the four beasts and four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them (Rev. 14:2; 15:2) harps, and golden vials full of odours (or, incense[4]), (Ps. 141:2; Rev. 8:3, 4) which are the prayers of saints.


[When, etc., ὅτε ἔλαβε, etc.] When He had taken, etc. (Piscator). Namely, so that He might unseal it: which follows in Revelation 6:1 (Grotius).


[The living Creatures and…the elders] Concerning which see what things were said on Revelation 4 (Gomar). The other Apostles, who with no less desire than John were burning to know what things were going to come to pass with respect to the Jews; and imitators of the Apostles, as in Revelation 4:9, 10 (Grotius).


And when he had taken the book, etc.: When the Lamb that had been slain had obtained of him that sat on the throne to open the book of God’s secret counsels relating to his church, mentioned Revelation 5:1, and had taken it out of his right hand, John saw the four beasts, the four living creatures, mentioned Revelation 4:6-8, by which seemed to be represented the ministers of the gospel, or the whole church of Christ; and the four and twenty elders, that had on their heads crowns of gold, mentioned Revelation 4:4, by which, we said, were represented either the ministers of the church, or the whole church.


[They fell down before the Lamb] Acknowledging His power (Ribera, Menochius), and adoring Him (Menochius), presenting to Christ an honor exceedingly like unto that honor which they had presented to God, Revelation 4:10 (Grotius); indeed, presenting to Him the same veneration (Cluverus), suppliants subjecting themselves to His will (Pareus). This is an argument for the Deity of Christ (Cluverus, similarly Pareus). Compare Isaiah 42:8 (Cluverus).



[Having each lyres (instruments of praise [Grotius, thus Ribera, Forbes, Durham, Piscator, Cluverus, Menochius), and of thanksgiving [Piscator], Psalm 33:2; 49:4; 57:8; etc.: The preaching of the word is understood [Grotius]) and vials (which were vessels with wide-spreading mouths, set apart for sacred things, Exodus 27:3; Numbers 7:13, 14, 85, 86; Zechariah 9:15; 14:20 [Cluverus]: And this was taken from the Temple: In that place were many types of vials, for drink offerings, for blood, for wine: concerning which we said certain things on Zechariah 9:15; 14:20: Now, here are understood bowls, in which was frankincense and other incense: which among the Latins Cornutus[5] thinks were called acerras, boxes for incense: See what things were said on 2 Chronicles 4:22 [Grotius]: He here describes Gospel Worship by terms taken from the Law: This shows that they were ready and willing to offer this [Durham]) golden (which word denotes the faith and pure hearts of the saints [Forbes]), full of aromatic spices, θυμιαμάτων] Of incenses (Beza, thus Piscator, de Dieu), which was done two times daily (de Dieu out of Josephus). These things agree with the following verses, in which they sing that they have been made Kings and Priests. For lyres befit Kings, like David; vials, Priests (Cluverus).


[Which, etc., αἵ, etc.] In the place of ἅ/which, that is, θυμιάματα/ incenses. An elegent anomaly of gender,[6] which sort is in Revelation 20:14.[7] Compare Revelation 8:3 (Piscator). Which are (that is, denote symbolically [Tirinus]) the prayers of the saints (Piscator, etc.). Of them, that is, who were having the lyres and vials: or indefinitely, of all the saints, whose prayers are denoted by incense (Durham). An extraordinary comparison, and taken from Psalm 141:2 (Grotius). Just as the incenses of the Temple were ascending toward heaven, and were of a pleasant smell, Exodus 30:34, so also the prayers of the pious go to God, Acts 10:4, 31; Ecclesiasticus 35:2;[8] and to this they are agreeable (Grotius, similarly Cluverus, Gomar). See Revelation 8:3, 4; 18:13. See Philo, Clement, and Origen (Grotius) [and their words are in Grotius]. Hence it is evident that the Saints in the heavens pray for us, and offer our prayers to God (Pererius). But it is evident that this is said of the Church militant (Forbes), or of the saints reigning, not in heaven, but on earth, verse 10 (Hammond). He speaks here of the prayers of saints acting in this life also (Estius).


Fell down before the Lamb, having every one of them harps, and golden vials full of odours: he alludeth to the worship of God under the Old Testament, where in the temple they were wont to praise God with instruments of music, and offering up of frankincense: see 1 Chronicles 13:8; 15:16; 2 Chronicles 5:12; Nehemiah 12:27; Psalm 33:2; 141:2; 150:3. These vials of odours, he tells us, signified the prayers of the saints. The whole verse signifies the prayers and praises, even all that adoration which God, under the gospel, should have from his ministers and people, for constituting his Son the Head of his church, and making him their Prophet, Priest, and King.

[1] Greek: καὶ ἦλθε, καὶ εἴληφε τὸ βιβλίον ἐκ τῆς δεξιᾶς τοῦ καθημένου ἐπὶ τοῦ θρόνου. [2] See Revelation 1:1-5. [3] Greek: καὶ ὅτε ἔλαβε τὸ βιβλίον, τὰ τέσσαρα ζῶα καὶ οἱ εἰκοσιτέσσαρες πρεσβύτεροι ἔπεσον ἐνώπιον τοῦ ἀρνίου, ἔχοντες ἕκαστος κιθάρας, καὶ φιάλας χρυσᾶς γεμούσας θυμιαμάτων, αἵ εἰσιν αἱ προσευχαὶ τῶν ἁγίων. [4] Greek: θυμιαμάτων. [5] Lucius Annæus Cornutus (c. 60) was a Roman Stoic philosopher. His major surviving work, Theologiæ Græcæ Compendium, is a presentation of popular Greek mythology through the lens of Stoicism. [6] Θυμιάματα is neuter; αἵ is feminine, ἅ neuter. [7] Revelation 20:14: “And death and hell were cast into the lake (τὴν λίμνην, feminine) of fire (τοῦ πυρός, neuter). This (οὗτός, masculine) is the second death (ὁ δεύτερος θάνατος, masculine).[8] Ecclesiasticus 35:2, 16, 17: “He that requiteth a good turn offereth fine flour; and he that giveth alms sacrificeth praise…. He that serveth the Lord shall be accepted with favour, and his prayer shall reach unto the clouds. The prayer of the humble pierceth the clouds: and till it come nigh, he will not be comforted; and will not depart, till the most High shall behold to judge righteously, and execute judgment.”

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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