The first angel blew his trumpet, and there came hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were hurled upon the earth; and a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up (Revelation 8:7).
Three months ago, while visiting our daughter in California, Ellen and I made our way to Sequoia National Park where we saw the biggest (by volume) tree in the world—275 feet (83m) tall. Consider for a moment that this was a seedling while Isaiah was prophesying in Jerusalem (6th century BCE)!
This week hail and fire, mixed with blood, are bearing down on that wonder of God’s creation. Yesterday the great tree—named “General Sherman”—had its lower portions wrapped in foil to protect it from threatening flames.
Although there may be natural cycles of climate change, fire of this plague comes largely from human malfeasance. Our pollution traps heat, making trees in parts of the world drier and forest fires hotter. The giant sequoias have survived scores of forest fires over millennia. In fact, fire is necessary to crack open sequoia seed cones. But now fires get so hot they destroy the trees.
Blood of this plague comes from the travesty of the tree having been named “General Sherman.” He was the American Civil War general (lived 1820-1891) who implemented the concept of total war—wanton destruction of civilian property as a strategy to demoralize the enemy. After leaving a vast debris field through southeastern regions of the United States, Sherman went on to wage total war against indigenous people of the Great Plains in the American west.
God, forgive us for naming the most splendid of your trees after a man with so much blood on his hands.
Almost daily we get news of unusual and devastating forest fires in Siberia, Canada, Algeria, Italy, Lebanon, Brazil and elsewhere. Climate change is upon us. Do not read Revelation’s description of plagues as a sadistic God assaulting the earth. The last book of the New Testament might be warning rather than prescription. The endless stream of plagues in Revelation starts with human imperial conquest (Rev. 6:2) and culminates with the human greed and consumption of “Babylon”/Rome (chapter 18). God plants the tree of life for the healing of the nations.
While the great sequoia in California was still a seedling, Isaiah (chapter 55) said, “Seek the Lord while he may be found . . . let the wicked forsake their way.” Fires in California and around the globe alert us that it’s time to forsake our ways of over-consumption and environmental carelessness. Do that, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands!