Fish Fingers and Custard… Nearly!

Five years ago, Doctor Who’s fifth season opened with a story in which the newly-regenerated Doctor tried a variety of foods offered to him by the young Amelia Pond. He discovered his latest persona hated yogurt, beans, bacon, bread and butter… Then he found custard and fish fingers:

This has become a classic scene of modern Who. Scores of Whovians raided their refrigerators for fish fingers (fish sticks in the U.S.) and custard so they could try this new Time Lord delicacy. All well and good if you’re not vegetarian… which I am. For five years I’ve had to wonder what fish fingers and custard tastes like.

Then I discovered this:

At last I could find out what all the fuss was about.

For the custard, I looked to my oldest child who has learned how to make custard from scratch, which is most pleasing to her custard-loving father. I will go as far as to say, my daughter’s custard is the best on the planet. “Better than Bird’s” I call it (my British readers should understand).

So here it is–the closest thing a vegetarian can get to fish fingers and custard:


What did I think? To be honest, even when I was a meat-eater I never liked fish. I used to eat fish fingers when I was a child because there was very little actual fish content, so most of what you tasted was the breading and whatever else was in it. One time, my Mum bought fish fingers that were 80% real cod. Never again. I hated them. Way too fishy. But for the sake of that Eleventh Doctor experience, I was willing to give this a try. And it wasn’t too bad. If I really liked fish, I’d probably enjoy it a lot more. But I was surprised at how well the sweetness of the custard blends with that fish flavor.

Have you ever tried fish fingers/fish sticks and custard? What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Book Review: WATCHED by CJ Lyons

For the last four years, sixteen-year-old Jesse Alexander has lived in fear. A cyber-stalker called “King” has already ruined his life, and the lives of many other kids, and now he has control of Jesse. Unless he submits to King’s demands, and the demands of King’s clients, terrible things could happen, not only to Jesse, but to his Mom and little sister. Of course, they have no clue why Jesse has to leave his laptop on every night, or why he must answer his phone, even if it goes off in the middle of a test. Jesse feels trapped, owned by King, locked into a life of humiliation and slavery with no way out. Until the a brown envelope arrives for him containing a phone and a note that simply says: “I can help.”

Yes, this is unusual–two book reviews in as many weeks. And this is not a book I thought I’d be raving about. King is the vilest kind of cyber-stalker: one who preys on children–kids who, in a moment of foolish carelessness, send pictures to friends that they ought not to have sent, or make a video they believe will only be seen by a few. Kids who can be controlled by threats to make the pictures public, or kids who can be easily manipulated by threats to their family if they don’t comply with King’s wishes.

I thought this would be an uncomfortable read, and it was. But Lyons makes it compelling by focusing on the kids. It’s their story, not King’s. This is about their fears, their desires, and their heroism. There are two main characters, Jesse and the person who sent the phone. CJ’s narrative switches between the two with Jesse’s story in the first person, and phone-sender’s in the third. I think there’s more to this than simply a device to help the reader keep track of who’s story we’re reading. Jesse’s situation is very personal and on-going; the threat to him is not just from without, but it’s from within, too. Phone-sender, on the other hand, has been through the ordeal, with the damage already done. But phone-sender is no less trapped, and is as much reaching out for help as Jesse. This a clever use of perspective to add to their characters.

The story is a thriller, so there are lots of moments of suspense. Despite the nature of the story, Lyons avoids any explicit discussion of what King demands of Jesse (or any of his other victims). Instead, you get the idea through implication, which is emotionally much more powerful than if she had spelled things out. The story is mostly about Jesse and phone-sender’s attempt to put an end to King, and free those who, like Jesse, are still trapped.

There’s a lot of depth and layers to this story that I’m not going into because I don’t want to spoil it. But if you’re a teen or a parent, this is a book you really ought to read. There’s some profanity, and, of course, the subject matter is a little mature for young teens. But with so many of our kids online, using social media, chat rooms, sending pictures, and so on, we need stories like this to help them develop wiser heads than we, as parents, ever wanted to think they would need. Books like this shouldn’t be necessary, but sadly they are. And I commend CJ for taking on this subject and doing it in way that is extremely readable, highly engaging, and very thought-provoking. An easy five Goodreads stars.

Why Do Publishers Do This?

Have you ordered a book, or been in a bookstore and picked up a brand new novel, only to find the pages look like this?:


You see that copy of Shirley Jackson’s LET ME TELL YOU? See the pages on the side, how they’re all rough and uneven? Here’s a close-up in case you can’t quite see what I mean:


This was not on the discount rack in some podunky, rag-tag, off-the-back-of-a-truck warehouse store. This was on the “New” shelf of our Barnes and Noble. The copies behind it were all the same. It’s not just B&N either; I’ve had new books from Amazon that were like this. Look at this copy of Carolina De Robertis’ THE GODS OF TANGO on a different shelf:


Same rough, uneven pages. I know I could probably return a book in this condition, but if all the books on the shelf have the same problem, what are the chances they’ll find me a “clean” copy? Might they all be like that? Would I have to wait for a second edition, or the paperback edition, to get one that looks good?

While this apparent carelessness does grate on my sensibilities, often I’ll just sigh and take the book anyway (after all, it’s the content that matters, right?). But it makes me wonder why publishers will let books go out on the shelf like this. How much control do they have over the quality of the end product? It certainly doesn’t reflect well on them.

If you have any insight into what’s going on here, please let me, and others who are curious, know!

Who Review: The Witch’s Familiar

DoctorWho-TheWitchsFamiliarContinuing from last week’s episode, the Doctor finds himself face-to-face with a dying Davros. The Doctor is usually quite savvy to his evil opponent’s evil intents, but could it be that as his life comes to an end, Davros is softening? Could it be that all he wants is to make his peace with the Time Lord? Meanwhile, what happened to Clara and Missy? Are they really dead, victims of the Daleks? Or is there some Missy mischief going on…?

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

This was again, I think, a strong opening story. I expected the second part to begin with a cliff-hanger resolution (as one does if one is used to Classic Who). Instead, Moffat decided to resolve the Clara-Missy death shocker. The explanation sort-of works, and it does neatly answer the question of how Missy survived “Death in Heaven.” I was left wondering how on earth she would have had time to calibrate both vortex manipulators to use the energy from the Daleks’ weapons. She would have had plenty of opportunity to calibrate them for the Cybermen’s guns… but, oh well. I can accept it’s a generally good idea, and it keeps Clara alive a little longer (see my comments last week).

In this episode, we learn that Skaro has a sewer system that is their “graveyard”–only these Dalek mutations aren’t dead. They are the discarded remains of Daleks, left to rot, except they never do. Which means, given the opportunity to lash out, they take it. Such as when a Dalek’s armor casing is compromised, or they get a sudden blast of Time Lord regeneration energy. No complaints from me about this. There’s nothing I recall from Classic Who that contradicts this idea and it serves multiple ends: it gives a bit more depth to the character of the Daleks (they dispose of their “dead” and these remains have anger issues), it provides a neat resolution to the story, and it gives us something to consider in anticipation of the next Dalek encounter–re-energized angry Dalek goo!

Last week I complained about the idea of Missy being the Doctor’s “best friend,” and I was afraid for a while we were going down the same path with Davros. From the get-go I was not taken in, and would have been very annoyed with Moff if Davros had been sincere. At first I found it hard to believe when the Doctor said he wasn’t fooled, but I suppose if I wasn’t fooled, why would the Doctor have been? Maybe he just played innocent a lot better than I would have. And as for Missy, the Doctor’s “best friend”–doesn’t the fact she was goading the Doctor to kill Clara when she was disguised as a Dalek, making the Doctor believe it really was a Dalek, tell you enough? Missy is all about Missy. Her “friendship” with the Doctor, like everything else in her life, is just a means to her own selfish and evil ends. Kids, your best friend would never do this. If you have a best friend who would have you kill one of your other friends just because they don’t like them, or they want you all for themselves, that’s not someone you want to be friends with. Steven Moffat may disagree, and if so, just don’t be his friend. :)

Speaking of Clara the Dalek, that had to be a piece of deliberate irony. The first season we met Clara, she was a Dalek (Season 7a’s “Asylum of the Daleks”). Now, in her last season, she’s a Dalek again.

Finally, did you notice how the story came back to that “Genesis of the Daleks” dilemma: “Have I the right?”–should the Doctor destroy the Daleks at the point of their inception, and change the course of history? This story ends where it began, and where the cliff-hanger left us: the Doctor and young Davros. The Doctor could have shot Davros before he had the chance to become an evil genius. In “Genesis”, the Doctor’s dilemma was resolved by circumstances outside his control. The battle was already won, so he didn’t need to worry about destroying the Dalek mutations. Here, the Doctor makes the conscious choice to show mercy on Davros and help him survive the hand mines, even though he knows what will become of him.

Once again, a great episode of Who, a good conclusion to the opening two-parter, superb performances by all involved, and the appetite is appropriately whetted for what’s to come!

What did you think?

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 8:6-9

6 And the seven angels holding [the] seven trumpets prepared to blow them. 7 And the first blew, and there was hail and fire mixed with blood, and it fell to the earth, and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up and all the green grass was burned up. 8 And the second angel blew, and something like a large mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. 9 And one third of the creatures, of those in the sea, those having life, died, and a third of the boats were destroyed.

The seven angels before the throne of God prepare to blow their trumpets, ready to proclaim the Lord’s judgment. The verb I’ve translated “blow” is actually the verb form of the noun meaning “trumpet” (salpizô is the verb, salpigx is the noun), so you could say “they trumpeted their trumpets.” But they don’t blow them all at the same time; each blows sequentially in turn. This doesn’t mean each of the visions is supposed to follow a chronological order. This is simply the order in which John has the visions. As we begin looking at each trumpet vision, it’s interesting to note how different they are to the seal visions. With each seal, John sees some kind of “earthly” calamity–wars, conquests, famine, pestilence, death, and so on. The trumpets, however, depict calamities of a more supernatural nature: stars falling, mountains being thrown, the moon and stars going dark, etc. That’s not to say there aren’t supernatural aspects to the seal visions and “earthly” aspects to the trumpet visions, but generally speaking the hand of God behind the trumpet calamities is far more obvious. These are things that couldn’t easily be ascribed to “natural” phenomena (though I’m sure people will try to).

In the first trumpet vision, John sees hail and fire mixed with blood falling to the earth. As a result, one third of the earth is burned up along with one third of the trees and all the grass. We recalled a couple of the Exodus plagues, in particular Exodus 9:22-25, in which Moses called down hail and fire, which affected the land, plants, and trees. There is no mention of blood in the Exodus plague, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t a parallel. The first trumpet may also be referencing the first Exodus plague, turning the water to blood, though the mention of blood and fire may simply be calling attention to the supernatural nature of this occurrence, lest anyone think this is just another hail and thunder storm.

Why one third? This fraction occurs frequently, so it must have some meaning. In Ezekiel 5, the Lord passes judgment on Jerusalem instructing Ezekiel to shave his hair and cut it into thirds. In verse 12 He explains the meaning of this: a third will die in pestilence, a third will die by the sword, and a third will be scattered. Perhaps the “third” is simply to draw attention to the fact that this, along with the other trumpets, is a fulfillment of such prophecies. Zechariah 13:8-9 also speaks of two-thirds of the land being cut off, and one third left alive to be refined by fire. Since these things only happen to a select portion, we are again assured that this is an act of God. He has chosen the third portions that will suffer. It might suggest that God’s people and their land and property might be spared, but the text doesn’t tell us this. God’s people would certainly experience the fall out from this disaster, but maybe we are being told that this is not their judgment. These things are not happening on account of God’s people.

This judgment appears to affect mainly agriculture, a vital part of both their society and ours. With trees and fields being burned up, a major part of the economy would be affected. There would be food shortages, which links to the third seal, and the horseman bringing famine, though this is a more severe punishment since the food source is being destroyed at its root. In the Egyptian plague, the crop supply was also affected. So this judgment strikes at the land.

The second trumpet brings a vision of something like a burning mountain being thrown into the sea, turning a third of the sea to blood and killing a third of all the sea creatures and destroying a third of the boats. Some suggest this is a reference to a volcano, perhaps a volcanic eruption contemporary with John–Vesuvius, perhaps, which erupted in 79 AD. Notice, however, John says it was like a mountain, so it’s not necessarily a literal mountain. And also this “mountain” was cast into the sea, whereas a volcano spews lava into the seas and onto land. So it’s unlikely this is a reference to any kind of volcanic activity.

There is an interesting connection between this trumpet vision, and Jeremiah 51 and Revelation 18. Jeremiah 51 (particularly verses 25-27 and 63-64) speak of God’s judgment against Babylon. We’ve discussed before how names in Revelation (e.g., “Jezebel”) might be code names for actual people and places. Using such codes would protect the churches as they pass this letter around in the event it should fall into hostile hands. Jeremiah may well have meant literal Babylon, but that name has come to epitomize a city that is prosperous but morally bankrupt. It would certainly apply to Rome in John’s day, and I’m sure we can think of countless other places that would fit the description today. Reading those passages and seeing references to Babylon being hurled into the sea, and her boats being broken, it’s hard to miss the parallels to the second trumpet vision. We’ll talk more about “Babylon” when we get to Revelation 18, but for now we can understand such judgments as indicating that cities like it shall not stand. God’s judgment of them shall be final and devastating. All those who shunned the Lord and refused to repent, choosing instead to rely upon their wealth and resources will find their security stripped away.

This second trumpet vision shows God’s judgment targeting commerce and the fishing industry, again a very important part of the first century economy. Not only are the fish killed, but ships are destroyed. In the first Egyptian plague, the water became undrinkable, which would also have affected the lives and livelihoods of those who use it. Once again, we see God’s sovereign hand striking out against those who deny the Lord and instead trust in their own labors for their prosperity.

We’ll continue with the trumpets next time!

Book Review: A PRISONER IN MALTA by Phillip DePoy

The year is 1583, and someone’s plotting to kill Queen Elizabeth I. Details of the plot are sketchy at best, and the Queen has sufficient enemies to make the list of likely conspirators long. What is known is there is a prisoner languishing in a Maltese cell who has vital information that could unravel the plot. Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s spymaster, employs the services of a young Cambridge student, Christopher Marlowe, to rescue the prisoner and discover the identity of those who wish to murder the Queen and change the course of history. A big task for young shoulders to bear, but Walsingham knows of Marlowe’s sharp wits and skill with a rapier. Marlowe also has a reputation with words and women, something that also may help in his task. But when his investigation must navigate through Catholic sympathizers, the Spanish government, Basque separatists, and countless double-crossers and double-agents, has even the talented Marlowe bitten off more than he can chew?

First a disclaimer: This review is of an ARC (Advance Reader Copy) of the novel sent to my by Phillip DePoy’s agent. She didn’t ask me to review the novel, so if I didn’t like it, I wasn’t under any obligation to review it.  In fact, I wasn’t under any obligation to review it if I did like it. It just so happens I did, which is good since I don’t like posting negative reviews. :)

The hardest part of writing this review is knowing the novel won’t be released until January 2016, so I’m going to be raving about a book you won’t be able to get for another three or four months. Put it on your TBR list. Mark your calendar for January 2016. Pre-order. Whatever you need to do. And here’s why.

The first thing that struck me about Phillip’s book is the way he dealt with the historical setting. I’ve said this before about Gary Corby’s Athenian Mysteries: when you research a time period thoroughly for a novel, there is an overwhelming temptation to pack the story with all that research. Both Corby and DePoy manage to avoid this, and give you the feel of the period without becoming bogged down in details and losing the plot. His research forms the backdrop, but the characters and the story take center stage (ha ha… center stage… Christopher Marlowe…)

This period in time is particularly rich for a mystery. Having studied Reformation England, I know a little of what was happening. It’s a time of great political and religious turbulence. Relations between England and Spain–bastion of Catholicism, second only, perhaps, to Italy–are tumultuous. Elizabeth’s father, Henry VIII, had thrown off papal leadership of the church, placing himself at the head of the newly-founded Church of England. On her father’s death, her brother Edward was set to deepen religious reformation when his early demise brought sister Mary to the throne. A devout Catholic, Mary tried, and ultimately failed, to undo her father and brother’s work, leaving it up to the youngest of Henry’s girls, Elizabeth, to form some kind of settlement. She needed to establish her father’s church, and also deal with the Catholics who thought Henry’s reformation went too far, and the Puritans who thought it didn’t go far enough. On top of all this, you have various factional in-fighting between the Portuguese and the Spanish.

Christopher Marlowe is an interesting protagonist. Historically, he was a playwright and poet, and, it is said, an inspiration to Shakespeare. There are even theories that Shakespeare’s plays were actually Marlowe’s, purloined by the Bard after Marlowe’s death. That’s all I’ve ever known about Marlowe, but it seems there are those who thought he might have been a secret agent working for the Queen. DePoy runs with that theory, and has launched what promises to be a great series.

Aside from Phillip’s masterful use of his research and knowledge of the period, I liked the way he wrote the characters. Marlowe is clearly very intelligent, but he’s not flawless. Up to the very end he can’t be completely sure who he can trust, and the reader is kept guessing too. Even his closest allies are not all they appear to be. Then there’s Walsingham, stately, aloof, a little impatient with Marlowe’s youthful arrogance, but also respectful of his gifts. There’s Lopez, physician to the Queen, and a master swordsman who aids Marlowe on his quest. He’s a man of many layers… and that’s the sound of me biting my tongue! Then there are the Basques Marlowe encounters, people with mixed motives and changing loyalties. Some are more trustworthy than others.

The plot is intricate, and there are sub-plots to solve on the way to solving the bigger mystery. Marlowe is framed for murder, but by whom? Who actually committed the murder? Is the murder a distraction, or part of the larger plot against the Queen? Some might find the plot threads and twists a bit overwhelming, but I didn’t have too much difficulty keeping up. Marlowe frequently reviews the facts which is a help to the reader as well as to Marlowe.

To sum up, I highly recommend this book, especially to lovers of mysteries, historical fiction, Gary Corby, Elizabethan England, Christopher Marlowe, and The Princess Bride (there were a couple of lines that reminded me of “Bride” humor). I don’t recall any profanity, though there are some Third Commandment violations, and mild sexual references. Nothing that would put this beyond a PG-15, at least in my estimation.

The only huge negative is you have to wait until January 2016 to buy it. However, you can pre-order it from Amazon and B&N, and you can add it to your Goodreads TBR list.

Any questions?

Who Review: The Magician’s Apprentice

DoctorWho_TheMagiciansApprenticeThe mysterious Colony Sarff is looking for the Doctor, but he is nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, across the world, the planes have stopped. They hang in the sky, suspended, as if time has stopped for them. Everyone stares in wonder–everyone, that is, except Clara who expects the call she gets from UNIT and makes her way to the Tower where she is greeted by Kate Stewart and her team of special soldiers. It doesn’t take long to figure out someone is trying to get their attention, someone who should have died at the end of last season! Missy contacts Clara and arranges a meeting. It seems the Doctor has left her his will. Not only is this a clue as to his whereabouts, but it indicates his intentions. The Doctor is preparing to die. But there’s an old foe waiting to see him, and he is prepared to use the Doctor’s friends to get to him…

SPOILER ALERT!! My comments may (and likely will) contain spoilers for those that haven’t seen the episode. If you want to stay spoiler-free, please watch the story before you continue reading!

Peter Capaldi returned this past Saturday as the Twelfth Doctor for what promises to be an exciting season full of cliffhangers, foes old and new, and plenty of surprises. The pre-season leaks and spoilers have been relatively few, so either the BBC has done a better job keeping the lid on things, or the fans have been better behaved. Either way, I like it like that. Yes, I have seen a few rumors of things to come, but I’m not taking anything seriously until it’s been aired.

“The Magician’s Apprentice” is the first of a multi-part (presumably two-part) story which sets us up for a Dalek rematch. The opening sequence with the young Davros was possibly the strongest episode opener I’ve seen for a while, probably since “The Name of the Doctor” (remember that pre-title sequence set on Gallifrey, where Clara recommends a TARDIS to the First Doctor and Susan?). Steven Moffat then plays to the strength of multi-part stories, which is the opportunity to develop characters, build tension, and slow things down a bit so you can enjoy the performances. I seem to say this a lot with Who these days, but the performances really are top-notch, regardless of whether the stories are any good. The UK is blessed with some fine acting talent, and it’s cool that so many of them want to be on Doctor Who! Despite my misgivings over the Missy-Master, Michelle Gomez plays her with just the right level of insanity where she’s wobbling on the edge of stark raving bonkers enough to be dangerous.

The storyline with Colony Sarff searching for the Doctor on behalf of Davros has a lot of merit, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only Whovian that appreciated this exploration into Classic Who territory. We see the battleground of Skaro, recalling the opening of 1975’s “Genesis of the Daleks.” The replay of the Doctor’s dilemma in that same story, where he deliberates over whether he has the right to destroy the Daleks, is made relevant once more, as Doctor number 12 confronts the young Davros with a Dalek gun. In “Genesis,” the Doctor considers the good that has come about in the universe as a result of planets and people joining together to defeat the Daleks. Will that same thought prevail? We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

I liked the overall story, the pace, the acting, and the surprises, though it seems a little odd to kill off Missy and Clara in the first episode. If they stay dead for the rest of the season, that really will be a huge upset, but somehow I doubt it will happen. Clara is supposed to make her exit sometime this season, however this seems a little too early. Besides, Jenna Coleman has been talking about Clara and the Doctor’s relationship in season nine, which suggests she has a few more stories left. Unless she’s deceiving us, which is entirely possible.

What didn’t I like? The Doctor with the “ax”–i.e., the guitar–was fun, but was overplayed. The guitar should have been set aside sooner. The one thing that really made me roll my eyes, however, was the whole “the Master is the Doctor’s best friend” bit. Yes, best friends squabble, but even on Gallifrey, I’m sure they don’t try to kill each other every time they meet. If you consider all the good and bad Time Lords we’ve met throughout the show’s history, I think there’s a pretty clear distinction between the ones the Doctor can trust–the ones he calls his “friends”–and the ones he can’t. The Master has NEVER been a friend to the Doctor. Not by any sane definition of friendship does the Master consider the Doctor a friend. The Doctor has tried to save the Master’s life on a few occasions, but the Master has never repaid the favor. It has always been the Master’s intention to be rid of the Doctor, and any alliance he made with the Doctor was always contingent on the Master getting the upper hand in the end. If the Master is Steven Moffat’s idea of a best friend, I’d hate to meet his enemies.

If you live in the US and haven’t seen this episode, BBC America has made it available on YouTube to watch free of charge:

If you’re in the UK, you can watch it on the BBC iPlayer. Fans in Australia can catch it on iView.

What did you think of this episode? Share in the comments!

Sunday School Notes: An Introduction to the Seven Trumpets

Last week’s Revelation study found us finishing up the seven seals (8:1-5), and what appears to be “the End” or “the beginning of the the End.” In that passage, seven angels standing around God’s throne are given seven trumpets. This reminds us that everything about to happen comes directly from the throne of God. This is not a mistake, or a surprise, or something outside God’s control. He is sovereign, and has ordained all that is about to take place.

We began by reading Revelation 8:6-9:21, which covers the first six trumpets. There’s a break at the end of the sixth trumpet while John has a vision of a little scroll (chapter 10), and the two witnesses (most of chapter 11). The seventh trumpet comes at the end of chapter 11 (vv. 15-19). The seven seals followed a similar pattern, where John told us about six of the seals, then broke for the vision of the multitude and the 144,000, and then came back to the seventh seal. This might be significant–in fact, I think it is. More about that later.

The angels each blast their trumpets in succession, and after each trumpet blast there is some kind of calamity:

  • Trumpet 1 (8:7): Hail, fire, and blood burning 1/3 of the earth, trees, and grass.
  • Trumpet 2 (8:8-9): 1/3 of the sea turned to blood, 1/3 of the sea creatures killed, 1/3 of the ships destroyed.
  • Trumpet 3 (8:10-11): A star falls on 1/3 of the waters and springs making them bitter; people die as a result of drinking from them.
  • Trumpet 4 (8:12-13): 1/3 of the sun, 1/3 of the moon, and 1/3 of the stars are darkened; 1/3 of the day kept from shining as well as 1/3 of the night.
  • Trumpet 5 (9:1-12), the first Woe: The abyss, and the sun darkened by smoke; ferocious locusts harming all those without the seal.
  • Trumpet 6 (9:13-21), the second Woe: Four angels with mounted troops kill 1/3 of mankind by fire, smoke, and sulphur.
  • Trumpet 7 (11:15-19), the third Woe: The reign of God begins–whatever that means… :)

We discussed last week how we need to pay attention to frequently repeated numbers since they often carry some kind of significance. Here, not only do we have seven trumpets, but we also have one-third recurring frequently. We’ll discuss the importance of “one-third” later. Another point of interest is the fact that more space is given to the last three trumpets, also called three “Woes.” There’s a lot more going on in these three than in the previous four, something else we’ll have to explore.

Why trumpets? What is the significance of blowing trumpets? To answer this, we considered the Old Testament use of trumpets to see if that gave us any clues. Trumpets were used for a variety of reasons, but among the most popular were:

  • A call to worship, or a call for the people to gather (e.g., Exodus 19:13-19; Leviticus 23:24; Numbers 10:2)
  • Judgment (e.g., Joshua 6; Isaiah 58:1; Hosea 8:1)
  • A call to arms, or a battle announcement (e.g., Numbers 31:6; Judges 7:18)
  • Within the context of worship (e.g., 1 Chronicles 15; 2 Chronicles 5)
  • The enthronement of kings (e.g., Solomon in 1 Kings 1:34)

Of these, the one that appears most applicable to our context in Revelation 8 is judgment. Could they also be a call to repentance? Does the blowing of the trumpet signal an opportunity for the world to turn to Christ and avert disaster, or does it signal the inescapable judgment of God?

The first Old Testament account that sprung to mind was the fall of Jericho in Joshua 6. We read that passage and noted a number of similarities. First, there were seven priests who were blowing seven trumpets–there’s that number seven again, just like our seven trumpets in Revelation 8! Then, God instructed Joshua to have the people march around the city one time for six days, then seven times on the seventh day. On that last day, they were to blow the trumpets and shout, causing the wall to collapse. This seems to follow the six-then-seventh pattern of the trumpets in Revelation 8-9, then 11:15-19. Also, those that God had chosen (Rahab and her household) were rescued, just as those sealed will find protection in the Lord (Revelation 9:4).

We also observed that at no stage in the Jericho account did anyone make a call to the city for repentance. God’s people were making their way to Canaan, the Promised Land, and Jericho stood in the way. This was not a city full of God-fearing people who didn’t deserve the wrath of God. Like all of us, apart from Christ, they were sinful people at enmity with God. They didn’t deserve His mercy, and so any judgment God poured out upon them was completely just. As it happened, He did show mercy to Rahab and her household, but that was on account of the fact she did, by God’s grace, turn to the Lord and help those sent by Joshua to spy out the city. And if we take Romans 1 as our inspired insight into the human condition, these were people who were suppressing the knowledge of God, refusing to see His handiwork in creation, and not looking to His chosen people, to whom special revelation had been given, in order that they might know the one true God better. So when the trumpets blasted around Jericho, they sounded a warning that the judgment of God was about to fall. Clearly none of them were too concerned since there is no account of anyone surrendering.

This seems to be the same case with the trumpets in Revelation. There is no call to repentance given, only the blast of the angels’ trumpets, and the disasters that follow. What happens on the earth is as sure to happen as the destruction of Jericho’s walls, and no-one will do anything to prevent it.

Another Old Testament passage to consider in comparison with the seven trumpets is the account in Exodus of the ten plagues that fell upon Egypt. These plagues came from the hand of God via Moses in response to Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel go. Each plague represents a judgment against one of the Egyptian gods, so both Egypt and all that the Egyptians held sacred were targeted by the Lord. Four plagues in particular seem to be paralleled in the seven trumpets:

  • In the first plague, the Lord turned the water to blood, killing the fish in the Nile (Exodus 7:20-25); this is echoed in the second trumpet.
  • In the seventh plague, the Lord sent hail which destroyed all trees and plants (Exodus 9:22-25), echoing the first trumpet.
  • In the eighth plague, the Lord sent locusts to destroy everything, fruit, plants, and all that was left after the hail (Exodus 10:12-18); this is echoed in the fifth trumpet.
  • In the ninth plague, the Lord sent a darkness that prevented anyone from going anywhere (Exodus 10:21-28); this is echoed in the fourth trumpet.

Again, we note that the plagues didn’t affect Israel, so there is some kind of protection for God’s people going on. I made the claim that the protection offered the saints in Revelation is spiritual, not physical, so we’ll have to look at this more closely as we consider each trumpet.

So I think we can say that the primary function of the trumpets in Revelation 8-11 is to pronounce God’s judgment. They may also be issuing a warning, but this is not a call to repentance. Rather, it is to warn the recipients of judgment that their time has come.

We’ll start looking at the individual trumpets next time, Lord willing.

Sunday School Notes: Revelation 8:2-5

2 And I saw the seven angels who were standing before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar having a golden censer, and many incenses were given to him, so that he might offer [them] with the prayers of the saints upon the golden altar [that was] before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incenses with the prayers of the saints went up from the hand of the angel before God. 5 And the angel had taken the censer and filled it from the fire of the altar, and he threw [it] to the earth, and there were thunders and rumbles, and lightnings, and an earthquake.

We opened chapter 8 last time discussing the half-hour silence in heaven, and what that meant. It’s important to remember that these visions are set outside of time, so assigning any chronological sequence to the events they depict is always a dicey venture. However, where we’re given an indication of time (silence for about half-an-hour), it’s not unreasonable to assume the things that John sees afterwards are chronologically subsequent to that half-hour. This is significant if we understand that silence to be the silence that settles in the heavenly courtroom before the Judge suddenly (“about half-an-hour”) renders His verdict, and pronounces the sentence. Judgment is about to fall, and it won’t be pleasant.

Verse 2 introduces the seven trumpets that will occupy our attention for most of chapter 8, and chapters 9-11. But it’s done in a way that appears to be like a teaser trailer. The angels before God are handed seven trumpets, but that’s all that’s said about them at this time. These angels are spoken of as if they are not just random angels, but a specific, designated group of angels who are standing before God. Could these be the same angels as the ones who represent the seven churches (chapters 2 and 3)? That’s certainly possible. Remember, seven is the number of fullness, so as with the seven churches, these seven angels represent a completion or a fullness–maybe a fulfilling. As we will see, these seven trumpets proclaim the Lord’s judgment. As the sixth seal presented us with the beginning of The End, so with the trumpets comes the fullness of God’s judgment upon the earth. The fact that those trumpets are being blasted from before God reminds us of the source of the calamities that will come. More about this later.

Does verse 2 stand alone, intruding into the context of 1 and 3-5? Some see it that way, but as we look at verses 3-5, we see these are a preliminary to the judgment of the trumpets, so the presence of the angels with the trumpets in verse 2 reminds us of the context.

In verse 3 we have an angel with a golden censer standing at the altar. His censer is filled with “many incenses” to offer along with the prayers of the saints. Here we are reminded of the the fifth seal back in chapter 6, where the saints under the altar cry out to God, “How long?” and the Lord tells them to wait. He gives them white robes and says they are to wait until their number is complete. We should also recall the heavenly worship of chapter 5, where, in verse 8, the elders have bowls of incense which are the prayers of the saints. So this angel is offering up the prayers of the saints, along with “many incenses”–the plural is used here to indicate a large quantity. The prayers of the saints are added to with many, many more prayers. Perhaps the implication of this is that the full number of the saints in chapter 6 has been reached by the time the trumpets are about to blow.

Why are the prayers of the saints being offered up by an angel? Why don’t they go directly to the Lord from the saints? We talked for a little while about angels, and the supernatural as a whole. Those of us coming from a Reformed perspective are often hesitant to talk too much about angels and miracles, mostly because of the way these things are abused and misconstrued by the world, and by the more extreme charismatic elements of the church. However, to be a Christian is to believe in the supernatural. Indeed, we understand that the supernatural is around us all the time. We are sustained by a supernatural God, and all things work together to fulfill His purposes. People who don’t accept the existence of God and the supernatural realm filter out these things–they refuse to see them or acknowledge them. To us, however, angels, demons, and the working of the Holy Spirit in the world and especially in the church is real life. Now, our understanding of these things needs to be informed by Scripture, and not experience, but to deny such things is to undermine biblical reality.

So we shouldn’t have a problem with the idea of angels ministering, fulfilling duties and functions both in heaven and on earth (see Hebrews 1:14). And one of these functions could well be presenting the prayers of the saints before God. However, we need to bear two things in mind. First, this is a vision, so the picture of the angel presenting the prayers of the saints before the throne of God could just be a picture of a heavenly reality, not literally what happens. Second, we need to focus in on what’s important here. The angel offering the prayers is not the point; it’s the fact that our prayers don’t just drift off into the ether, but they are presented to the Lord. They reach His very throne, and He hears each and every one. When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, one of our pastors administers the elements. But the important thing about the Supper is not the pastor administering the elements, it’s the elements, and the fact they represent Christ’s presence with us, and our participation by grace in His death. The pastor is just fulfilling his job by presenting them to us, just as the angel is just fulfilling his ministry by presenting the prayers of the saints to the Lord.

Why incense? Its fragrance is symbolic of a pleasing offering, a beautiful aroma before God’s throne. God isn’t disgusted or disappointed by our prayers. Indeed, our prayers come via the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26), so He is always pleased with them. An interesting point about the “many incenses” is how this seems to indicate particularity. Much of Revelation speaks of people as groups–churches, numbers of people–and not as individuals. Here, though, we get a sense of individuality. It’s not the prayers of churches, but the prayers of many, many individual saints that are presented. Yes, we as churches should pray, and the Lord is pleased with those prayers, but He cares just as much about the prayers of each believer.

In verse 5, the business of judgment begins. Indeed, this may be a general encapsulation of all that is about to happen. In other words, the seven trumpets unpack what verse 5 describes. There’s a parallel to this in Ezekiel 10:1-2, where burning coals are taken and cast down upon “the city.” This is after angels had destroyed all the unfaithful in Jerusalem. The passage is symbolic for the coming of the Babylonians to bring God’s judgment against the nation of Judah. This gives us an idea, perhaps, of what’s going on in Revelation. The fire that the angel throws down on the earth is an encapsulation of the judgments that are to come upon the earth. These judgments are aimed at the ungodly, though insofar as they affect the environment, believers will no doubt be caught up in these things. But the Lord has sealed them, so however they may be afflicted physically, they will not receive the eternal torment awaiting those for whom these judgments are intended. We’ll get more into this over the coming weeks as we examine the seven trumpets.

Thunder, lightning, rumblings (the Greek is literally “noises”–phônai–but this word  takes its meaning from the context, so here, “rumblings”), and earthquakes usually indicate the presence of God (e.g., Exodus 19:16, 17). Let us not forget, all that is about to happen is from God’s hand.

The seventh seal, therefore, is the judgment of God coming upon the world. This is the answer to the prayers of the saints who have been waiting a long time for God to bring about the fullness of their redemption, and to vindicate His name in judgment. When the seal is opened, silence descends in anticipation of what God will do. The seven angels before God’s throne receive their trumpets. An angel presents the prayers of the saints, their fullness noted, and then the burning censer is cast down to the earth. The Lord is on His throne, and He is about to declare His judgment.

Lord willing, we’ll start looking at the seven trumpets next time!

Music Monday: While You Wait

The music bug caught me seriously in 1979. I was interested before then, but it was in 1979 that I started listening to the radio for myself, and expressing an interest in actually owning some top forty singles. And while there were many bands I would listen to, and some I liked more than others, the bands that captured my attention most were those that used synthesizers. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (later simply “OMD”), Depeche Mode, The Human League, and others. Of these bands Buggles was my favorite (more about them in a future Music Monday), but not far behind was New Musik.New Musik

New Musik formed in the late 70s, and released their first single, “Straight Lines” in 1979. It managed to chart, but wasn’t hugely successful. Their next single, “Living by Numbers” was their shining moment, making the Top 20, being featured in commercials, and getting a lot of radio play. The next two singles, “This World of Water” and “Sanctuary” cracked the Top 20 and Top 40 respectively, but their moment in the sun had come and gone. After a handful more singles and three albums, the band called it quits. Tony Mansfield, the lead singer, producer, and overall mastermind, went on to produce other artists (his name is associated with groups such as A-ha, The B-52s, Aztec Camera, and Naked Eyes).

You might think I would pick one of the more popular songs as my Music Monday selection. But no, I’ve chosen a single that didn’t chart called “While You Wait”, from their second album “Anywhere.” Lyrically, there’s not much to it, and, frankly, I’m not 100% sure what the song is about. Maybe it’s about life passing you by, and there’s nothing you can do to stop it (“We’ve gone too far, we can’t turn back… while you wait”)? I don’t know. It’s art, so whatever it means to you!

The main reason I like the song is the musical arrangement, with its synthesizer counter-melodies, the tuneful sequencer bass, and the guitar solo finale–possibly my favorite part of the whole song. During that solo, there’s an ascending bass that adds drama and tension. In fact, you could almost put an orchestral score to it and it would sound like it belonged in a movie. All in all, I think this is a great example of Tony Mansfield’s creative arrangement and production skills.

I’ve attempted to score the introduction and first verse for you. Bear in mind, this is just to give you an idea what’s going on–it’s by no means complete and definitive. Click on the picture below for a 2-page pdf:


You can also click HERE for a lyric/chord lead sheet of the whole song.

There isn’t a music video for “While You Wait,” so I put the song on YouTube with an appropriate picture. Enjoy: