Several years ago, while watching a tv show based on “real life” emergency room experiences, I heard a phrase used by a doctor that’s worth remembering and applying to the study of the Bible’s prophetic language and imagery:
“When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras.”
The point being, in relation to the medical field, when someone is experiencing something strange, think about the obvious before you begin to think about the extreme.
In relation to studying prophetic language and imagery, the point would be about placing an emphasis on remembering to first look at the plain language to help you understand the difficult words and imagery.
For example, when it comes to studying the book of Revleation, remember that the Old Testament uses many of the phrases and pictures that John records in Revelation and it does so, in numerous cases, with an accompanying plain description of who the prophetic language and picture is being directed toward. Take the spirit of the olden prophets’ words and apply that same spirit to the first century world and the picture(s) of Revelation will become much clearer.
In other words, when you hear hoofbeats, think 1st century horses and not 21st century left or right field crazy zebra like based interpretations.
“Then the second angel sounded: And something like a great mountain burning with fire was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood. And a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.” (Revelation 8:8-9)
““And I will repay Babylon and all the inhabitants of Chaldea for all the evil they have done in Zion in your sight,” says the Lord. “Behold, I am against you, O destroying mountain, who destroys all the earth,” says the Lord. “And I will stretch out My hand against you, roll you down from the rocks, and make you a burnt mountain.” (Jeremiah 51:24-25)