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30 December 2018

The First Four Trumpets (Revelation 8:7–12)

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The first four trumpets parallel the first four seals. Both seals and trumpets afflict within defined limits. The first four seals harm a fourth of the earth, the first four trumpets a third of the earth, sea, rivers and heavenly luminaries. Both series are preceded by the prayers of the saints that ascend as incense.
There are differences. The first four seals cause the fourth part of men to be killed (6:8), the first four trumpets affect things necessary for society to function; agriculture, seas for to carry cargo, fresh water, and light from heavenly bodies. Men are only killed indirectly when they drink the bitter water. The first four seals are opened by the four living creatures as ordered by the Lamb; the seven trumpets are sounded by seven angels.
The change in the agency from living creature to angels may be due to the focus of the seals on saints (the souls under the altar, the sealed company, the innumerable multitude), whereas the trumpets affect the “inhabitants of the earth” hostile to the saints.
The first four trumpets borrow imagery from Old Testament passages linked to Egypt and Babylon (e.g., Exodus 7:15Jeremiah 51:25). In view are the ten plagues of Egypt and Jeremiah’s dirge against ancient Babylon.
The four trumpet “plagues” are Egypt the seventh, first and ninth (hail, blood, darkness). Revelation combines and separates features from these three: “blood” from the seventh plague is combined with hail from the first to produce “hail and fire mixed with blood.”
The cause the Egyptian plagues was Pharaoh’s refusal to let Israel leave Egypt to sacrifice to Yahweh, and the “hardening” of his heart. Imagery from the Egyptian plagues sets the stage for the later identification of end-time Babylon as “the great city, spiritually called Egypt” (Revelation 11:8).
The Egyptian imagery contributes to a picture of the new people of God marching from “Egypt” to the greater Promised Land, the New Creation.  Just as plagues preceded the release of Israel from Egypt, so “plagues” prepare the release of God’s saints from end-time Babylon.
The number three dominates the first four trumpets. Each “plague” damages a third of three things:  the first harms a third of earth, tree and grass, the second a third of the sea, sea creatures and ships, the third a third of the rivers and “springs of waters,” and the fourth trumpet darkens a third of the sun, moon and stars.
This threefold structure is based on the earlier command to the four angels to restrain the “winds of the earth” from harming the earth, sea and trees, “After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth holding the four winds of the earth, that no wind should blow on the earth or on the sea or upon any tree” (Revelation 7:1-3,).
God’s servants were sealed prior to the seventh seal. The four angels are only authorized to unleash the four winds after the opening of the seventh seal. This is confirmed when the first trumpet harms a third of the earth, trees and all the green grass (by the second trumpet a third part of the sea also).
Not coincidentally, the term “third” (tritos) occurs twelve times (3 x 4) in the description of the first four trumpets (8:7-12).
(Revelation 8:7) – “And the first trumpeted, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of the earth was burnt up, and the third part of the trees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.”
The first trumpet affects things and does not kill men, at least not directly. Its results mirror those of the angel who cast (ballō) fire into the earth (eis tén gén). Now fire mixed with blood is cast (ballō) into the earth (eis tén gén). This is in answer to the “prayers of the saints.” What was held back by four angels until God’s servants were sealed (7:1-3) is now released to “blow” upon the earth, trees, and grass.
When the angel hurled fire into the earth there followed “thunders, voices, flashes of lightning and an earthquake” (8:5). This first trumpet is patterned on the seventh plague of Egypt from Exodus 9:24-26: “So there was hail, and fire mingled with the hail, very grievous…And the hail smote every herb of the field, and broke every tree of the field throughout the land of Egypt…Only in the land of Goshen where Israel was no hail fell.”
A third of the earth and trees are “consumed.” The verb katakaiō means, “consume, to burn up completely.” The same word will be applied to end-time “Babylon” in Revelation 17:16 (“she will be consumed by fire”). The verbal link is deliberate; the process that begins with this first trumpet culminates in Babylon’s destruction.
The areas affected by this trumpet are concerned with food supply and agriculture, as was the case with food shortages in the third seal (6:6).
(Revelation 8:8-9) – “And the second angel trumpeted, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea, and the third part of the sea became blood; and there died the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, even they that had life; and the third part of the ships was destroyed.”
The next trumpet upsets the sea and a third of all commerce dependent on it.  John does not see a literal mountain but something “like a great mountain burning with fire.” This is a simile. The first plague impacted the earth and vegetation, the second harms the sea.
The “sea” is the location from which the beast ascends and corresponds to the Abyss (11:7; 12:12; 13:1; 15:2; 20:1-2). The sea is vital to the commerce on which Babylon depends (18:17-21) but is also the source of death and chaos (15:2; 16:3; 20:13). This explains why no sea is seen in the New Creation (21:1).
In Revelation’s symbolical world the sea is connected to the Dragon and is a place in which the dead are held until the final judgment (20:13).
The second trumpet echoes the first Egyptian plague when Yahweh turned the waters of the Nile into blood to curtail Egypt’s economic life (Exodus 7:17-21 - “the fish in the river died and the river became foul, and the Egyptians could not drink water from the river; and the blood was throughout all the land of Egypt.”
The “mountain burning with fire” alludes to Jeremiah 51:25, a judgment dirge on ancient Babylon (“Behold me against you, O destroying mountain that destroys all the earth! Therefore, will I stretch out my hand over you and roll you down from the crags, and make of you a burning mountain” [cp. 11:1814:818:2-418:21-24]).
In John’s vision, Babylon is a “great whore” that sits on “seven mountains.” The mountains represent kingdoms over which Babylon holds sway (17:9-10).
The casting of the mountain into the sea is another echo of the angel who took the censer filled with fire from the golden altar and “cast it into the earth” (8:5). Hurling “Babylon” out onto the sea results in judgment on the earth. Just as this “great burning mountain was cast into the sea,” so end-time Babylon will be “cast into the sea like a great millstone” (18:16-21). This causes all merchants, shipmasters, and sailors to lament that “in one hour that so great riches came to nothing.”
The second trumpet causes “ships to be destroyed (diaphtheiro),” which translates a Greek verb also borrowed from the Septuagint version of Jeremiah 51:25: “I am against you, destroying (diephtharmenon) mountain that destroyed (diaphtheiron) all the earth.”
The verbal connections are deliberate. The same verb occurs again when the seventh trumpet sounds: “and the season came to reward your servants the prophets and the saints, and to destroy them that destroy the earth” (11:18).
The destruction of a third of all ships is detrimental to trade. The destruction will become total with the final overthrow of end-time Babylon:
(Revelation 18:16-20): “for in an hour such great wealth is desolated. And every shipmaster and as many as gain their living by sea, stood afar off, and cried out as they looked upon the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like the great city? And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and mourning, saying, Woe, woe, the great city, wherein all that had their ships in the sea were made rich by reason of her costliness, for in one hour is she made desolate.”
The image of the burning mountain anticipates the fuller judgment against end-time “Babylon” in chapter 18. The stress is on the partial destruction of her economic base, the source of her power and influence. “God uses the ‘blazing mountain’ of Babylon, the ‘destroyer of the whole earth,’ to pollute the sea on which Babylon itself depends for the maintenance of its commercial empire” [G.B. Caird, Revelation, 1999, p. 114].
This cosmic enemy of God’s people is used by the Lamb to execute judgment on the unrepentant.
(Revelation 8:10-11) – “And the third angel sounded, and there fell from heaven a great star, burning as a torch and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains (pégas) of the waters; and the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”
The third trumpet borrows imagery from the first Egyptian plague when Yahweh struck the nation’s freshwater sources (Exodus 7:17-21). Moses warned Pharaoh that God would strike all the Nile and other freshwater sources so that the “Egyptians could not drink of the water of the river,” turning their waters “into blood.” Thus the “fish that are in the river will die and the river shall become foul.”
John sees a “great star fall.” Elsewhere “stars” represent messengers or “angels” (Revelation 1:202:19:1). This “star” is compared to a “burning lamp,” the same term for the “seven lamps of fire that burn” before the throne (4:5). This may refer to the same “star” that falls to the earth having the “key of the Abyss” when the fifth trumpet sounds (9:1).
Fall” (piptō) translates a different Greek verb than the one used when judgments “were cast into” the sea and earth (“cast” - ballō). The latter verb each time is in the passive voice, that is, the item was “cast” by something else. Here piptō is in the active voice (“a great star fell”) and uses a different preposition, “upon” or epi (not “into” or eis). Piptō is the same verb applied later to end-time Babylon, also in the active voice (“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great” [14:818:2]).
The “star” fell upon a third of the “rivers and the springs of waters,” which made their waters undrinkable. Later the Great Whore is seen sitting upon “many waters”; they represent “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” (17:117:15). This parallels the third Bowl of Wrath “poured out upon the rivers and springs of waters; and they became blood” (16:4).
Wormwood” and “bitter water” are allusions to Jeremiah 9:12-1523:13-15 and Deuteronomy 29:16-18. In the last one Yahweh warned Israel that to break His covenant by worshipping idols would become a “root of bitterness” among the people. Note the verbal parallels:
(Deuteronomy 29:16-18). “For you know how we dwelt in the land of Egypt; and how we came through the nations which you passed by; and you have seen their abominations, and their idols, wood and stone, silver and gold, which were among them; Lest there should be among you man, woman, family  tribe whose heart turns away this day from Yahweh to serve the gods of these nations; lest there should be among you a root that bears bitterness and wormwood.”
(Jeremiah 9:12-15) – “Who is the man that is wise that he may discern this? And to whom has the mouth of Yahweh spoken that he may declare it? For what cause has the land perished, has it been burned as a wilderness, that no man passes through? Then said Yahweh, Because they have forsaken my law, which I set before them, and have not hearkened to my voice…Therefore, behold me, feeding this people with wormwood and I will cause them to drink bitter water.”
(Jeremiah 23:13-15) – “Therefore thus declares Yahweh of hosts concerning the prophets: I will feed them with wormwood and make them drink bitter water.”
At the end of the sixth trumpet John will observe that the men not killed by the first six plagues, “repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and the idols of gold, and of silver, and of brass, and of stone, and of wood; which can neither see, nor hear, nor walk,” another allusion to Deuteronomy 29:16-18.
The burning mountain falls upon rivers and “springs of water” (pégas). The same Greek term appears in the Septuagint version of Jeremiah 51:36-37in reference to Babylon, the “destroying mountain” and “burning mountain” (Jeremiah 51:25). “Thus declares Yahweh, So I will execute the avenging of you, and I will dry up her sea, and make dry her spring (pégas).”
(Revelation 8:12) – “And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; that the third part of them should be darkened, and the day should not shine for the third part of it, and the night in like manner.”
The image of a third of the light from sun, moon, and stars being darkened is based on the ninth Egyptian plague. Note well that the darkness in Egypt lasted three days:  “Moses stretched forth his hand toward heaven, and there was a thick darkness in all the land of Egypt three days; but all the children of Israel had light in their dwellings” (Exodus 10:21-23),
The fourth trumpet also draws imagery from a judicial pronouncement against Pharaoh by Ezekiel that would be carried out by Babylon:  “Take up a lamentation over Pharaoh king of Egypt…And when I will extinguish you I will cover the heavens, and make its stars dark; I will cover the sun with a cloud, and the moon will not give its light. All the bright lights of heaven will I make dark over you, and set darkness upon your land, declares Yahweh…For thus declares Yahweh, The sword of the king of Babylon shall come upon you” (Ezekiel 32:7-11).
The fourth trumpet affects the same things as the fourth bowl of wrath, though not as severely. The fourth bowl was “poured out upon the sun to scorch men with fire; and men were scorched with great heat and blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues” (Revelation 16:8).
Strike” translates the Greek verb plésso related to the noun plégé or “plague” (cp: Revelation 9:18 – “By these three plagues was the third part of men killed”). The usage is deliberate to remind the reader of the connection to the plagues of Egypt.
The image of the darkened sun, moon and stars draws on Isaiah, another judgment pronouncement against Babylon:   “The burden of Babylon that Isaiah saw…Wail, for the day of Yahweh is at hand…Behold, the day of Yahweh is coming, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the land a desolation and to destroy its sinners out of it. For the stars of heaven and the constellations will not give their light; the sun will be darkened in its going forth, and the moon will not cause its light to shine” (Isaiah 13:1-13).
The plague imagery draws heavily on the Exodus story, Yahweh’s judgments against Egypt for refusing to let Israel go free. But Revelation weaves in allusions from Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah, judgment pronouncements against Babylon. Some of them anticipate the pronouncements against end-time Babylon in chapter 18.
Revelation’s application of Old Testament pronouncements against Babylon is paradoxical. The “plagues” of the first four trumpets target the unrepentant inhabitants of the earth, but the unexpected agent of this judgment is Babylon, the “burning mountain” cast into the sea, and the “burning star” that falls upon rivers and springs (cp. Revelation 8:59:20-21).
To this point, it is not men per se that are destroyed, but a third of things connected to economic activity, agriculture, transportation (ships), water and light, some of the very things connected later to the economic dominance of “Mystery Babylon.” Men only die when they choose to drink the bitter waters of Babylon.

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