Commentary on Revelation 8:6-13

Notes (NET Translation)

6 Now the seven angels holding the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.

The appearance of the angels ready to blow their trumpets indicates impending judgment.

Revelation contains three sets of seven: the seven seals, the seven trumpets, and the seven bowls. Scholars differ as to the relationship between these three sets of seven. One approach is to view them as being in chronological order: the fulfillment of the first trumpet will follow the fulfillment of the seventh seal, and so on. Another approach is to view one set of seven recapitulating events from the other groups of seven. This is the approach I shall take. But it should be kept in mind that, for example, the seven trumpets do not systematically recapitulate the seven seals. In other words, we can’t simply equate, say, the first trumpet with the first seal. As we move forward I hope this approach will seem sensible to you as you note both similarities and differences between the three sets of seven. Robert H. Mounce explains:

All three series cover the same period of travail with which human history is brought to its consummation. In that sense they cover the same period of time. Yet the individual plagues in each series are not intended to correspond with those in the other two. While the first four units in the trumpets and bowls affect earth, sea, land waters, and the heavens (8:7-12 and 16:2-8) in the same order, there are a number of differences. The major point is that the intensity of the plagues increases in each series. The seals affect “a fourth of the earth” (6:8), and the trumpets “a third of the earth” (8:7, 8, 11, 12), while the bowls complete the wrath of God (16:17). The relationship of the three series is best understood as a spiral of increasing severity. Each series deals with the tumultuous time just before the end, but as we move from seals to trumpets to bowls we are aware of the ever increasing tempo and severity of the plagues. The literary structure is not difficult to discern (the trumpets are an expansion of the seventh seal and the bowls an expansion of the seventh trumpet), but the interpretive relationship calls for an imagination freed from the prosaic mentality of the Western world and more open to the possibility of understanding that comes from insight rather than logic. All attempts to press the material into well-defined patterns leave the impression that John was more interested in producing a work of literary subtlety than sharing with his fellow believers the awe-inspiring visions that God had dramatically revealed to him.

One of the more helpful suggestions is to view John as a guide in an art gallery who has his students stand back to absorb a general impression (the sevenfold visions) and then move up to study the details (the unnumbered visions). Upon entering the Sistine Chapel one is staggered by its immensity and glory. Only after some time has passed is the viewer ready for a more detailed analysis of some of the specific items. An abstract painting resists all attempts to explain systematically why certain colors and lines appear as they do. The Apocalypse is the work of a creative artist and must not be pressed into a clearly defined plan. (Mounce loc. 3327-3343)

7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there was hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was thrown at the earth so that a third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.

The first trumpet blast is patterned on the plague of hail and fire in Exodus 9:13-35 and the defeat of Gog in Ezekiel 38:22. In Exodus the plague brings famine and thus the “fire” (=lightning?) in this verse may be a symbol of famine (perhaps that depicted by the third horseman in Rev 6:5-6). The limitation of the plague to a third of the earth alludes to Ezekiel 5:2, 12. Ezekiel warns that a third of Israel will be burned with fire (5:2), where the fire is interpreted as plague and famine (5:12). “An empire founded on bloodshed, whether that of Christ (12:11; possibly also 14:20; 19:13), his followers (16:6; 17:6; 18:24; 19:2) or other unnamed victims (18:24), can only reap blood in return (6:12; 8:7-8; 11:6; 16:3, 4, 6)” (Boxall 137).

8 Then the second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain of burning fire was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea became blood, 9 and a third of the creatures living in the sea died, and a third of the ships were completely destroyed.

In Jewish apocalyptic writings a mountain often symbolized a kingom (Jer 51:25; 1 En 18:13; Sib Or 5.512-31; Rev 14:1; 17:9; 18:20-21; 21:10). The symbol of a mountain of burning fire being thrown into the sea refers to the judgment of the “Babylon” of Rev 11-18, the city that holds sway over the evil world system. A third of the sea becoming blood alludes to the plague in Exodus 7:14-24 where Moses turns the water of the Nile into blood. The fish of the Nile died and here a third of sea creatures die. The destruction of ships may symbolize a reduction in maritime commerce (18:17-19).

10 Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a huge star burning like a torch fell from the sky; it landed on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water. 11 (Now the name of the star is Wormwood.) So a third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from these waters because they were poisoned.

The third trumpet blast still seems to allude to the plague in Exodus 7:14-24 (esp. Ex 7:19; Ps 78:44). In Jewish writing stars often represented angels and angels often represented earthly kingdoms (Isa 14:12-15; 24:21; 1 En 18:13; 21:3; 86-88; 108:3-6). This trumpet blast can also be seen as judgment on a human kingdom, Babylon the Great, and does not need to be taken as a reference to a meteor or some other kind of celestial phenomenon. The reference to Wormwood (a bitter herb) alludes to Jeremiah 9:15 and 23:15.

The occurrences of the word in Jeremiah are metaphors for the bitterness of suffering resulting from judgment. The metaphor was chosen to show that judgment was well-suited to the crime: because the prophets figuratively “polluted” Israel with idolatry, so God is pictured as polluting them with bad water, that is, with the bitterness of suffering. This figurative meaning is confirmed from the indisputable metaphorical uses of the word everywhere else in the OT, where it also represents severe affliction resulting from divine wrath (Deut. 29:17-18, again in connection with idolatry; Prov. 5:4; Lam. 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7; 6:12; cf. Hos. 10:4). The Targum to Jer. 9:15 and 23:15 places “wormwood” in a simile (“I am bringing distress … bitterness like wormwood”) and changes the “poisoned water” of the MT into “the cup of cursing.” So likewise in Rev. 8:11 Babylon, the prevailing world system, has influenced the earth-dwellers and some in the covenant community to become idolatrous. And the consequence of such idolatrous pollution is judgment on both Babylon and those held under its sway.

Against the OT background, the third trumpet does not unleash a woe in which water becomes literally poisoned. Rather, the tone is one of judgment that brings bitter suffering, including death, not only on “outsiders” to the covenant but also on purported members of the community of faith. The judgment could be identified specifically as famine, but this itself could represent even broader affliction. The obviously symbolic reference to “bitterness” in 10:9-10 (again using the verb “make bitter”) also signifies judgment and points to the conclusion we have come to here (see on 10:9-10). (Beale 479-480)

12 Then the fourth angel blew his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, and a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them were darkened. And there was no light for a third of the day and for a third of the night likewise.

The fourth trumpet blast partly borrows from Exodus 10:21-29 where darkness covers Egypt for three days. In 6:12-13 John speaks of the whole of the sun, moon, and stars being affected but in 8:12 only a third of the sun, moon, and stars are affected. Verse 12 figuratively refers to a diminishment of light usually given off by these celestial bodies. Wisdom 15-17 understood the Exodus plague as a punishment for Egypt’s idolatry and persecution of Israel. Therefore, John may view this darkness as punishment for idolatry and oppression of the saints (16:2, 5-7). The judgment in Revelation is partial. “The darkness is probably not literal but refers to all those divinely ordained events intended to remind the idolatrous persecutors that their idolatry is folly and that they are separated from the living God” (Beale 482).

The figurative nature of all of the first four trumpets is pointed to by at least four observations: (1) The use of ?? (“like”), ?????? (“like”), and such expressions (8:8, 10; 9:2, 3, 5, 7-10, 17, 19) indicates a lack of precision in these descriptions of what was seen in a vision and, in particular, suggests that the portrayal is metaphorical. This is underscored by the use of s??a??? (“communicate by symbols”) in 1:1 and its background in Daniel, where it connoted a figurative depiction (see on 1:1 and also pp. 50-69 above). (2) The exegesis of various images throughout the four trumpets has shown a probable figurative bent (e.g., the “mountain” and the “star”; see likewise the speaking “eagle” in 8:13 and see on 9:1-19). For example, it is hard to imagine a literal situation in which one meteor could fall on a third of the world’s fresh water at the same time. (3) The use of the Egyptian plague narratives in Jewish writings provides precedents for a figurative understanding, as is clear from Wisdom 15-17. (4) In a similar manner Apoc. Abr. 29:15-16 and 30:1-8 universalize the exodus plagues and apply them to the judgment of “all earthly creation,” which is associated with the sounding of a trumpet (31:1). Furthermore, the first four plagues mentioned there also emphasize famine conditions together with fire (Apoc. Abr. 30:4-5: “sorrow from much need … fiery conflagrations for the cities … destruction by pestilence … famine of the world”). Such sufferings would indicate one’s separation from God and the beginning of judgment. (Beale 488)

The purpose of the first four trumpet judgments is primarily to disprove the earthly gods and to show that Yahweh alone is on the throne. By recapitulating the Egyptian plagues, God wants to make his omnipotence known to the world and to show the futility of turning against him. Each of these judgments addresses a different aspect of life in the ancient world and in the modern world as well. The first shows that the material world is no answer, the second and third address the sea trade, including food supplies, and the fourth focuses on life itself in the heat and light of the celestial bodies. The four together prove that those who live only for this world have chosen foolishly, for only in God is there true life. Earthly things turn on us, and we dare not depend on them. (Osborne 357)

13 Then I looked, and I heard an eagle flying directly overhead, proclaiming with a loud voice, “Woe! Woe! Woe to those who live on the earth because of the remaining sounds of the trumpets of the three angels who are about to blow them!”

The purpose of verse 13 is to highlight the greater harshness of the final three trumpets. This eagle/vulture may or may not be the eagle-like creature from 4:7. “In 19:17-18 the birds of prey (those ‘flying in midair’; cf. 8:13) are gathered to eat the flesh of kings and all people” (Mounce loc. 3549). The Greek translated “Woe! Woe! Woe” “is onomatopoeic, reflecting the sound made by the eagle” (Boxall 140)

Bibliography

Beale, G. K. The Book of Revelation. New International Greek Testament Commentary. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998.

Boxall, Ian. Revelation of Saint John, The. Black’s New Testament Commentary. Baker Academic, 2009.

Fee, Gordon D. Revelation. Kindle ed. New Covenant Commentary Series. Cascade Books, 2010.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Revised. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

Osborne, G. R. Revelation. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002.

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  1. Pingback: Commentary on Revelation 17 | Biblical Scholarship

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