The First Four Trumpets in Revelation 8:7-12

The first trumpet judgment is similar to Exodus 9:13-25, hail and fire fell upon the Egyptians. Joel 2:31 indicates that in the time of the end the moon and sun will be turned to blood. The Jews had a tradition that at the time of the crossing of the Red Sea the angels hurled “arrows, great hailstones, fire, and brimstone” one the Egyptians (Aune, 2:519 cites Mek. de-Rabbi Ishmael, Beshallah 7). Fire and blood from heaven was included in Roman lists of “evil signs” (Cicero De div. 1.43.98; 2.27.58; Pliny Hist. Nat. 2.57.147).

The image of a great red storm sweeping across the earth destroying plants and trees may allude to Zechariah 13:8-9. In that apocalyptic text, only one-third of the land survives a “refining fire.” Why a third? This may be loosely based on Ezekiel 5:2, 12. Jerusalem will be destroyed one-third by fire, one-third by sword.

When the Second Trumpet is sounded, a huge mountain is thrown into the sea (8:8-9). The first judgement burned one third of the land, this judgement damages one third of the seas.  Sea life and shipping are all one third destroyed. “Something like a huge mountain” in the sea is reminiscent of a volcanic island being formed.  Mount Vesuvius erupted within John’s lifetime and destroyed Pompeii, many of the Jews believed that this was a judgement of God in the Romans for having destroyed Jerusalem. Volcanic debris blocked the Bay of Naples making it impossible to land boats (Tacitus Annals 4.67; Ant. 20.144).  The only eyewitness account is from Pliny the Younger (Ep. 6.16, 20). Pliny reports the sea level dropped and sea creatures were stranded on dry land.

Pliny, Epistles, 6.20 For although the ground was perfectly level, the vehicles which we had ordered to be brought with us began to sway to and fro, and though they were wedged with stones, we could not keep them still in their places. Moreover, we saw the sea drawn back upon itself, and, as it were, repelled by the quaking of the earth. The shore certainly was greatly widened, and many marine creatures were stranded on the dry sands. On the other side, the black, fearsome cloud of fiery vapour burst into long, twisting, zigzag flames and gaped asunder, the flames resembling lightning flashes, only they were of greater size.

The imagery is common in apocalyptic, see for example:

Sib. Or. 4.130-34  But when a firebrand, turned away from a cleft in the earth, in the land of Italy, reaches to broad heaven, it will burn many cities and destroy men. Much smoking ashes will fill the great sky, and showers will fall from heaven like red earth.

But the Revelation likely alludes to the first plague on Egypt in Exodus 7:14-23. In the original plague, all the water turned to blood, even water stored in jars. In addition, all the fish in the water died, as in the plague in Revelation.

When the third trumpet is sounded Wormwood falls into the fresh water (8:10-11). The third trumpet resembles the plague of the freshwater in Exodus 7:20, except that there the waters turned to blood. A great star, like a torch falls from the sky effecting freshwater.  Unlike western folklore, shooting stars were considered bad luck, thus this star would have struck the readers as a bad sign (Aune 2:520, citing  Artemidorus, Oneirocritica 2.36; 5.23, a falling star means the death of a person) If a falling star is bad, a comet is the worst cosmic sign possible.  “…comets were considered prodigies that signaled the imminence of death and disaster (Manilius Astron. 1.892-926).

The star was named Wormwood (ὁ Ἄψινθος, ho Apsinthos). Wormwood is an herb which is not poisonous but has a very bitter taste that would render water undrinkable. Wormwood is mentioned in Jeremiah 8:14, 9:15, 23:15, as a symbol of God’s punishment of the people. How could a single disaster poison freshwater?  Although some writers try to make this a literal meteor or comet, it is a plague like the Egyptian plagues. God is destroying the water supply.

When the fourth trumpet sounds, fire mixed with blood falls from the sky (Rev 8:12). This trumpet effects the sun, moon, and stars, reducing their light by one third.  Darkness is a common symbol of terror and the end of the world, the reduction of light will increase terror, and make food production less effective. This darkness is unnatural, “not the way it is supposed to be”, and generally associated with “covenantal judgment” in the Old Testament (Beale, Revelation, 483). Two examples from the Old Testament:

Amos 5:18  Woe to you who long for the day of the LORD!  Why do you long for the day of the LORD?  That day will be darkness, not light.

Isaiah 13:10  The stars of heaven and their constellations will not show their light.  The rising sun will be darkened and the moon will not give its light. (Cf Mark 13:24)

What is it that reduces the light?  It is possible that this is the combined effect of all the fire that has been started in the first three trumpets, all of the smoke and pollution have created a cloud cover that reduces light by one third. But it is more consistent with Revelation to see this as another allusion to Exodus 10:21-29, the ninth plague on the Egyptians.

In a previous post I suggested the 144,000 were in many ways similar to the send of the twelve in Matthew 10. Jesus sent his witnesses to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and in order to proclaim the presence of the messiah and to gather them into his messianic community. The plagues had a similar function in Exodus. For the children of Abraham, the plagues proved their God was defeating the gods of Egypt in order to rescue his people. As he has done before, God is calling his people out of the nations in anticipation of the coming of the Messiah.

7 thoughts on “The First Four Trumpets in Revelation 8:7-12

  1. I find the use of trumpets in Revelations very interesting. Beyond having a very triumphant and loud sound, trumpets were used a decent number of times in the Bible. The first notable time is during the march of Jericho, where the blasting of trumpets along with shouting is the final part of the attack plan God commands Joshua to perform (Joshua 6: 1-27). Trumpets are also used in the battle of Gideon, when his men break pots and blow trumpets that resulted in the Lord making all of the opposition kill each other (Judges 7: 19-21). I personally do not know why it is God seems to utilize trumpets in a very symbolic and powerful way, my only guess is that it has to with it’s loud yet powerful sound, which symbolizes the Lord’s power.

  2. I imagine you are on the right track connecting many predictions here with Exodus or earlier Hebrew lit. This was the basis of much of the OT itself, and of the Qumran sectarian documents, and later Midrash, as you know.

    What all readers, to be decent interpreters, should do is consider Revelation in its context of at least 200 years of similar apocalyptic thought and writing, including the very purity-focused and messiah-focused Dead Sea “Scrolls”.

    I see no reason to assign Revelation to either John or any direct disciple of Jesus. Its main value is as one additional window into the early development of specifically Christian faith alongside and out of Jewish apocalypticism and Messiah expectation, and related Jewish-Gentile worship. Trying to tie it to current or future events is, frankly, a “fool’s errand”.

  3. A few of the trumpets seem to parallel in the stories of Exodus with the plagues. This includes the first trumpet with the hail and fire which is one of the plagues that came down in Exodus by Moses. It also talks about blood which was one of the signs in Exodus when Moses touched the river and all of the water turned to blood. I think it is hard to imagine a huge mountain falling into the sea because mountains are huge and weigh so much. How can it be lifted off the ground and thrown into the Sea? Well, God is all-powerful and anything is possible through him. He has so much power that is so hard to imagine, but he can do it. This was the sign of the second trumpet. A mountain was thrown into the sea and a ⅓ of land and sea was destroyed. It is interesting why each sign only takes away ⅓ of what it is supposed to take, why is that? What is so significant about that number? The fourth trumpet makes the world ⅓ darker because ⅓ of the sun, moon, and stars disappear. This is super scary and will cause chaos in the land when this happens because darkness is something that many people fear. This will all happen when the first angel sounds his trumpet and the rest will follow. God is always there and he cares for us and he hopes each one of us will come to him. He brought the people out of slavery in Egypt when he sent the plagues. We need to prepare to be ready for when the day comes that there will be destruction in the land when the first trumpet sounds.

  4. I’m surprised the show, The Good Place did not have more trumpets playing. It makes a little sense because everything else was so theologically incorrect. Nevertheless, we get a picture of end times through the trumpets playing specifically in Revelation 8. The first trumpet will affect the moon and sun turning into blood. The second trumpet sound will change the dynamics of the earth. In thinking about it in our own minds it could be like a volcanic island forming in the sea. The third trumpet sound will plague the freshwaters. It is interesting to see the change of perspective in stars and comets. People tend to put belief and hope in falling stars because of the rarity. The fourth trumpet will turn the universe dark affecting the stars, moon, and sun. Darkness is a common symbol of evil and terror. As Easter has just passed I think about the commonality when Jesus died, although this will be fully different, the idea remains. All of these trumpet sounds have commonalities with the plagues in Exodus. With these changes come the hope and anticipation for Jesus coming back. It is hard to imagine and picture something like this as it is out of our comprehension. It is important to think about and be encouraged by it. We do not know when this is happening, but we do know God calls us to serve Him now by sharing the gospel with everyone. Not out of fear and panic, like we find ourselves in, but out of love and grace are given to everyone.

  5. I think it is very interesting that the things destroyed here in Revelation are very similar to what happens in Egypt in Exodus and the plagues. All of the things mentioned are natural things needed for survival, especially the water. My question then is it less about connecting to the Old Testament or just simply that what will be destroyed are things essential for human survival? In Exodus, the plagues effected their way of life. They impacted everyone in the country and by the time the last plague happened, Pharaoh was more than ready to be done with the people of Israel. One could say there was a choice for Pharaoh, but there doesn’t seem to be a choice here anymore. This is the consequences of the choice already made. If there is supposed to be a correlation than is there a “Moses”, that doesn’t seem like the case. The next question I have about this passage is the significance of thirds. Is thirds significant to the Romans at the time or the Christians? We see the number 3 used in scripture, specifically in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, but does that correlate here? Why can’t things happen in fourths, like in conjunction with the first four trumpets? The other three trumpets don’t have anything to do with thirds so why just the first four?

  6. It is clear that these first four trumpets in Revelation 8 release plagues that resemble the plagues on Egypt. This is probably what John wants in his depiction of his visions. He is putting what he sees in a context that the reader would recognize and know full well. Preceded with the last seal opened with the half an hour of silence which “indicates the solemn nature of the situation. Whereas God had previously delayed acting, now he will delay no longer” (Reading Revelation, 85). The martyrs asked for vengeance (6:10-11) and God is now providing this vengeance with these trumpets; first with hail and fire mixed with blood thrown upon the earth burning up a third of the earth (v. 7), second with a burning mountain being thrown into the sea making a third of the sea become blood (v. 8), third with wormwood to contaminate a third of the freshwater (v. 10-11), and fourth a third of the light was taken away (v. 12). While not all of these phenomena can be easily explained this type of plaguing would have cut to the hearts of the readers. This type of judgment also quite possibly excited the Jewish Christians. They are hearing that their God is finally going to bring judgment on their oppressors. It does not matter how God will put these plagues into place. The important thing, especially for the Jews, is that they will actually happen. Would the Jews have been particular in arguing how these would take place?

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