Revelation 8 – Part Two

We’re continuing in our series through Revelation 4-11.  There’s a quick recap of the story so far at the start of last Friday’s post, which would be helpful if you’re just joining us, or haven’t been following each day. We’re now up to the second scene in chapter 8. Having just paused to hear the prayers (for justice) from God’s people, a fresh round of judgement is about to begin.

This time, instead of the opening of seals (Rev 6), it’s the sounding of trumpets that enacts judgement. (It’s possible to see the seventh seal as containing the seven trumpets. So maybe the silence after the seal wasn’t so much an anticlimax after all. See last Friday.)

The seven judgements are divided into groups of four, two, then one – increasing in intensity each time. And this set of judgements is more intense than the seals: there, a quarter of the earth/land is affected; here, a third is. God is upping the stakes in his bid to get humanity’s attention. But it’s still only a third, rather than total destruction. There’s still time to repent.

Let’s go through the first four trumpet-judgements now:

8:7-8 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

Sound a bit familiar? The seventh plague in Egypt had thunder and hail. Hail is commonly linked with judgement in the Old Testament. And in Joel 2:30-31 we see prophecies about fire and blood as signs of God coming to act in judgement.

8:8-9 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.

Again we have echoes of Egypt: the water turns to blood. There’s also a connection with Jeremiah’s prophecy against Babylon (Jer 51:25) involving a mountain being rolled off a cliff. Some people think it refers to Vesuvius’s eruption of 79AD, or a meteorite falling into the sea. Whatever this image is based on, you’d want to postpone that seaside vacation for a while. We had destruction of the land (trumpet 1) and now destruction of the sea (trumpet 2). The third trumpet now messes with the fresh water:

8:10-11 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

This might also have connections with meteorites and fallen angels. (The Jews at the time believed the stars to be angels.) At any rate, this is a divinely sent natural disaster. Wormwood is a bitter tasting shrub – a small amount can contaminate large quantities of water. What’s going on here seems to be a reversal of the miracle of Marah:

Exodus 15:23, 25 When they came to Marah, they could not drink its water because it was bitter. (That is why the place is called Marah.)… Then Moses cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood. He threw it into the water, and the water became fit to drink.

God is taking back his gift of life-giving water.

The fourth trumpet now deals with not the land, not with salt water, not with fresh water – but with the one remaining source of life and provision: the sun.

8:12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.

Connections with Egypt, anyone? That’s right, the ninth plague: darkness. In a world without fossil fuels and electricity, darkness wasn’t merely an inconvenience – but a threat to life.

This group of four trumpets is bracketed by the final verse of chapter 8, which warns of worse to come. The final three trumpets are also the three “woes” announced by a flying eagle:

8:13 As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!”

You think that’s bad. The worst is yet to come. Tomorrow.

To think about

How does this (partial) revoking of the sources of life (agriculture, sea trade, fresh water, sunlight) make sense as God’s judgement on a rebellious world?

What is the ultimate source of life that hasn’t yet been fully revoked?

What’s the message of these trumpet judgements to the world, and to God’s people?

Post responses and questions

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