First Four Trumpets

SYNOPSIS:  The seventh seal ended with the seven angels prepared to sound their trumpets. A close link between the seals and the trumpets is seen as the first four trumpets sound Revelation 8:7–12

Photo by Dominik QN on Unsplash
By Dominik QN on Unsplash
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, the first four trumpets affect things necessary for society to function - agriculture, the seas that 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 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 afflict the “inhabitants of the earth” that are hostile to the saints.

The first four trumpets borrow imagery primarily from two Old Testament passages linked to ancient Egypt and Babylon (e.g., Exodus 7:15Jeremiah 51:25). In view are the ten plagues of Egypt and the dirge against Babylon announced by Jeremiah.
The first four trumpet “plagues” are based on the plagues of Egypt, the seventh, first and ninth (hail, blood, darkness). The book of 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 of the Egyptian plagues was the refusal by Pharaoh to let Israel leave Egypt to sacrifice to Yahweh, and by 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 helps to paint 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 for 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 the “springs of waters,” and the fourth “plague,” 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 opening of the seventh seal. The four angels were only authorized to unleash the four winds after its opening. That occurrence is now 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 (Revelation 8:7-12).

(Revelation 8:7) – “And the first sounded; and there came to be hail and fire mingled with blood, and it was cast unto the earth; and the third of the earth was burned up, and the third of the trees was burned up, and all green herbage was burned up” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The first trumpet affects things but 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) in the preceding paragraph (Revelation 8:1-6). Now, fire is mixed with blood and cast (ballō) into the earth (eis tén gén). This is in answer to the “prayers of the saints.” What was held back by the four angels until God’s servants were sealed is released to “blow” upon the earth, the trees, and the grass (Revelation 7:1-3).

When the angel hurled fire into the earth there followed “thunders, voices, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.” 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 is applied also 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 the destruction of Babylon.

The areas affected by this trumpet are concerned with food supply and agriculture, as was the case with food shortages in the third seal (Revelation 6:6).

(Revelation 8:8-9) – “And the second messenger sounded; and, as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea; and the third of the sea became blood, and the third of the creatures which were in the sea, which had life, died, the third of the ships was destroyed” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The next trumpet upsets the sea and a third of all the commerce that is 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 plague harms the sea. The “sea” is the location from which the beast ascends and corresponds to the Abyss (Revelation 11:7, 12:12, 13:1, 15:2, 20:1-2).

The sea is vital to the commerce on which Babylon depends, but it is also the source of death and chaos in the book of Revelation. This explains why no sea is seen in the New Creation (Revelation 15:2, 16:3, 18:17-21, 20:13, 21:1). In the symbolical world of Revelation, the sea is connected to the Dragon and is a place in which the dead are held until the final judgment (Revelation 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” [compare, Revelation 11:1814:818:2-418:21-24]).

In the vision of John, Babylon is a “great whore” that sits on “seven mountains.” The mountains represent kingdoms over which Babylon holds sway (Revelation 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.” Hurling “Babylon” out onto the sea results in judgment on the earth. Just as this “great burning mountain was cast into the sea,” so, also, end-time Babylon will be “cast into the sea like a great millstone.” This causes all merchants, shipmasters, and sailors to lament that “in one hour that so great riches came to nothing” (Revelation 8:5, 18:16-21).

The second trumpet causes the “ships to be destroyed (diaphtheiro).” This clause translates a Greek verb borrowed from the Septuagint Greek version of Jeremiah 51:25:

I am against you, destroying mountain that destroyed 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” (Revelation 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): “Alas! alas! the great city! She that was arrayed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stone, and pearl — That in one hour hath been laid waste such great wealth as this! And every pilot and every passenger and mariners and as many as, by the sea carry on traffic, afar off did stand, and they cried out, seeing the smoke of her burning, saying — What city is like unto the great city? And they cast dust upon their heads, and cried out, weeping and grieving, saying — Alas! alas! the great city! Whereby were made rich all that had ships in the sea, by reason of her costliness — that in one hour she hath been laid waste! Be glad over her, thou heaven! And ye saints, and ye apostles, and ye prophets! For that God hath exacted your vindication from her” – (The Emphasized Bible).

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].

Thus, this cosmic enemy of the people of God is used by the Lamb to execute judgment on the unrepentant “inhabitants of the earth.”

(Revelation 8:10-11) – “And the third messenger sounded; and there fell out of heaven a great star, burning as a torch, and it fell upon the third of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third of the waters became wormwood, and many of the men died of the waters, because they were made bitter” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The third trumpet borrows imagery from the first Egyptian plague when Yahweh struck the nation’s freshwater sources. 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” (Exodus 7:17-21).

John sees a “great star fall.” Elsewhere in the book, “stars” represent messengers or “angels”. This “star” is compared to a “burning lamp,” the same term used for the “seven lamps of fire that burnbefore the Throne. This may refer to the same “star” that falls to the earth and has the “key of the Abyss” when the fifth trumpet sounds (Revelation 1:202:14:5, 9:1).

Fall” (piptō) translates a different Greek verb than the one used when judgments “were cast into” the sea and earth. The latter verb is in the passive voice each time, that is, the item was “cast” by something else; yet, here, piptō is in the active voice (“a great star fell”) and uses a different preposition or “upon” (epi). Piptō is the same verb applied later to end-time Babylon, also in the active voice (“Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great” [Revelation 14:818:2]).

This “star” fell upon a third of the “rivers and the springs of waters” and, thereby, made their waters undrinkable. Later, the Great Whore is seen sitting upon “many waters”; they represent “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues,” which parallels the third bowl of wrath that is “poured out upon the rivers and springs of waters; and they became blood” (Revelation 16:4, 17:1, 17:15).

Wormwood” and “bitter water” are allusions to Jeremiah 9:12-1523:13-15 and Deuteronomy 29:16-18. In the last passage, 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.” The same Greek term (pégas) appears in the Septuagint version of Jeremiah 51:36-37 in reference to Babylon, the “destroying mountain” and the “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 messenger sounded; and the third of the sun was smitten, and the third of the moon, and the third of the stars — in order that the third of them might be darkened, and the day might not shine for the third of it, and the night, in like manner” – (The Emphasized Bible).

The image of a third of the light from the 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 was carried out by ancient 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” (compare, 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 from the Exodus story, the judgments of Yahweh against ancient Egypt for refusing to free Israel. But the book of Revelation also weaves in allusions from the books of Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Isaiah, originally, judicial pronouncements against the Neo-Babylonian Empire that, now, anticipate the pronouncements against end-time Babylon recorded in Chapter 18 of Revelation.

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 (compare, Revelation 8:59:20-21).

To this point, it is not men  and women that are destroyed, but a third of the things connected to their economic activity; agriculture, transportation (ships), water and light, the very things that are connected later to the economic dominance of “Mystery Babylon.” Men only die at this point when they choose to drink the “bitter waters” of Babylon.

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