Revelation 8 – The Trumpets and the Plagues of Exodus

Miles DavisThere are a remarkable number of parallels between this series of judgments and the ten plagues in Exodus.  For example, trumpets are associated with the theophany at Sinai (Exod 19:13-19; 20:18).  The first trumpet judgment is similar to Exodus 9:13-25, hail and fire fell upon the Egyptians.  The third trumpet resembles the plague of the freshwater in Exodus 7:20, except that there the waters turned to blood. The locust in Rev 9:3 is an apocalyptic version of the eighth plague (Exod 10:12-20).

Richard Patterson traced Exodus Motif in the Prophets, showing that the Exodus was a significant source of imagery for the rest of the Old Testament. The reason for this is the common “Divine Warrior” and “Divine Redeemer” themes in the Prophets. In the Exodus events, God fought for this people in order to redeem them out of their slavery. The prophets pick up those twin themes and apply them to their current situation. Israel has persisted in their unbelief and is once again under oppression (the Exile). God will once again fight for them and redeem them from the nations in a New Exodus.

While Patterson’s article does not continue to follow his argument into the Second Temple Period, the New Exodus theme is present in this literature. But plague imagery is not as common in Jewish sources as we might have guessed. In his detailed survey of the imagery of the Exodus in later Jewish writings, David Aune only finds the plagues in an eschatological sense in the Apocalypse of Abraham. There are ten plagues, although they do not track with the original ten plagues or the seven trumpets from Revelation.

Apoc. Abr. 30:3-8  And he said to me, “I will explain to you the things you desired in your heart, for you have sought to know the ten plagues which I prepared against the heathen, and I prepared them beforehand in the passing of the twelve hours on earth. Hear what I tell you, it will be thus. The first: sorrow from much need. The second: fiery conflagrations for the cities. The third: destruction by pestilence among the cattle. The fourth: famine of the world, of their generation. The fifth: among the rulers, destruction by earthquake and the sword. The sixth: increase of hail and snow. The seventh: wild beasts will be their grave. The eighth: pestilence and hunger will change their destruction. The ninth: execution by the sword and flight in distress. The tenth: thunder, voices, and destroying earthquakes.” (Rubinkiewicz, OTP 1:704)

Nevertheless, Revelation seems to be re-using imagery from the Ten Plagues.  Since John is standing on the shoulders of the Hebrew Bible. This is not a surprise. But it is important to at least wonder why it is important that the Exodus Events were chosen as the main backdrop for John’s apocalyptic description in Revelation 8-9. The purpose of the original ten plagues was for God to show his power to Israel. The ten plagues were not “evangelistic,” hoping that the Egyptians would see them and somehow “convert” to being Jewish. The plagues prove to the people of God in Egypt that he is a God who acts on their behalf to redeem them out of their slavery. The children of Abraham need to be convinced that the God of their ancestors is active and that he cares for them.

This may also be the function of the judgments in Revelation.  By the time of the eschatological age, Israel will have been in a state of unbelief for a long time. Like the original Exodus, they certainly need a reminded of the righteous character of their God. Revelation is using the language of the Hebrew Bible, how God has worked in the past, to describe how he will work again in the future.

 

Bibliography: Richard D. Patterson, “Wonders in the Heavens and on the Earth: Apocalyptic Imagery in the Old Testament” JETS 43 (2000): 385-403.

 

6 thoughts on “Revelation 8 – The Trumpets and the Plagues of Exodus

  1. I’m surprised no one else commented on this post from our class! I enjoyed it. I particularly appreciated the closing statements. I hadn’t thought about the plagues in Exodus being a sign to the Israelites and not the Egyptians. I had a perspective previously that those plagues were intended to be a message to the Egyptians into scaring them into freeing the Israelites. Although this was a result of the plagues, the intended purpose of them was more so to remind the Israelites that God is on their side and fighting for them. I have Exodus 14:14 on a painting in my room. This verse is particularly fitting for this discussion. Just as God fought for the Israelites, so he will in the days of the end times will he fight for those who proclaim him as savior. I’ve always thought of Revelation of being a dark scary book. Which, it is. But not for us, we have God fighting for us.

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  2. This post gave me a new perspective on the plagues and how Revelations has drawn parallels to them. I always thought that the plagues were used to teach the Egyptians a lesson for keeping slaves and treating people terribly. Never did I think it was to show to the Israelites that God is almighty and powerful. I think my view of this came from the different movies I have seen through in my life about Exodus. They never really focused on a deeper meaning of why God sent these plagues. The movies just explained it was to punish Egypt for what it has done not to show Israel God’s power. It is definitely a different view that I can understand where it comes from. Going back to Exodus 10:12-20, it is apparent the parallel that the author draws for the plague of locusts Also, by looking at the other similarities it is crazy how close they are to each other. The judgments can definitely be seen as the using re-imagery from Exodus as stated in the original post. It really makes me want to look into this topic further because it is something that I never thought of.

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  3. I really enjoy seeing the Bible all connect. It is amazing to see how God can make His presence known. I always saw God sending plagues as a scare tactic to the Egyptians. I have never really thought of it in the light that God was making a statement to the Israelites. It makes sense that He had to do the plagues for the Israelites as well. They were fearful and unsure on following Christ to begin with. I love seeing the parallel between passages in the Bible.

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  4. As someone who spent a year and a half studying the life of Moses (as well as being read the Books of Moses), references to the Exodus have truly been inescapable. To an almost alarming degree.

    It makes total sense to me that John would be using language and references to the Old Testament/Torah to reach his audience, but it also shows a continual way that God is eternal and unchanging, and therefore the beginnings of Israel’s history is bound to return every so often. There is, as shown throughout the Bible, a continual cycle of falling back from God, therefore there is a constant need for such a reminder. The plagues, no less, strike a very strong chord and imagery.

    I think it is truly important to see how everything connects throughout the Bible to understand its continuity today, quite literally from its start to its finish.

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