The Seven Trumpets (the first four covered below)
8:6 Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
Introduction – More Answers to Saint’s Prayers
By way of introduction to this transition between the seals and the trumpets, we would do well to remember that earlier we read a tease of this section in verse two, which stated:
Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. (Revelation 8:2)
Beale believes that having teased the trumpet judgments before finishing up the seals indicates that the trumpets, like the seals, are also a response to what we read in chapter 6:
When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne.  They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?”  Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been. (Revelation 6:9-11)
The Outline and OT Pattern
These trumpets are another picture of what God is doing from the time of Christ’s ascension until His second coming, and therefore form a recapitulation of what we just read in the seven seals.[i]
The trumpets are broken up into sections – the first four trumpets are God’s judgment on the natural world, whereas the last three are His judgment on the men who live here and the spiritual realities that result from both God’s salvation and His judgment/justice.
Beale says, “The first five trumpets are patterned after the give of the plagues of Exodus. The first trumpet (hail, fire, and blood) corresponds to the plague of hail and fire (Exodus 9:22-25); the second and third (poisoning of the sea and waters) to the plague on the Bile (Exodus 7:20-25); the fourth (darkness) to the plague of darkness (Exodus 10:21-25); and the fifth (locusts) to the plague of locusts (Exodus 10:12-15).”[ii]
The Reformation Study Bible says this:
The seven seals began with announcements of riders commissioned to bring calamities. The seven trumpets, by contrast, contain descriptions of the calamities themselves. The intensity of judgment has increased. Yet still some things are spared: most of the trumpet plagues fall on a third of the people or the land, not all; the locust plague of 9:1-12 is over after five months; some people survive the collapse of the city in 11:13; by contrast, the later judgments with the bowls (15:1-16:21) are thoroughly devastating.[iii]
Beale agrees, and adds that, “The exodus plagues are probably understood by John as typological foreshadowings of punishments on the ungodly during the eschatological church age, which precedes the final exodus of God’s people from this world to the new creation. The result and goal of all seven trumpet judgments is not only to demonstrate God’s incomparability and the just judgment of sinners, but above all to highlight God’s glory (so 11:13, 15-16; cf. 15:4; 19:1-7).”[iv]
OT background also includes the trumpets that sounded before the battle of Jericho. Like at Jericho, trumpets sounded the alarm for battle and signaled the imminent demise of the enemies of Israel. In that instance, seven priests blew on trumpets – the parallel is pretty clear to verse 2.
Furthermore, Beale remarks that the placement of these trumpets after chapter seven’s description of the saints as a faithful army (7:3-8) is fitting (the tribal listing being that of a war time list of soldiers called up for battle). In the OT, the faithful were always called to battle by trumpets (so Numbers 10:2-9 et all).
The Reason for Judgment: God’s Glory
As to the reason for the trumpet judgments, while there is some emphasis on the partial nature of these judgments, and the opportunity for people to repent of their sins, the main focus is on judgment for those who rebel against God.[v] Furthermore, as we shall see, judgments do not necessarily successfully bring people to repentance. Like Pharaoh, the plagues in Egypt only caused him to harden his heart more. That is not to say he was not responsible for his actions, but that the judgments actually led to further hardening.
Hamilton sums up:
God judged Egypt in order to deliver Israel, and in doing so God was responding to the prayers of his people…So the fact that God brings on the world these judgments, which so closely correspond to the plagues on Egypt, points us to the significance of the deliverance that God is accomplishing through these judgments. As at the exodus, when Pharaoh and Egypt refused to repent, so here the earth dwellers will refuse to repent (9:20, 21). But as with Pharaoh and Egypt, God is crushing the strong by worldly standards in order to deliver the weak by worldly standards.[vi]
We see the same thing in our own day – people persist in their sins despite every indication that they ought to turn from their wickedness.
Mounce agrees, and writes very well on the subject:
The trumpet-plagues are directed against a world adamant in its hostility toward God. As the intensity of the judgments increases, so also does the vehemence with which man refuses to repent (9:20-21; 16:9, 11, 21). But the trumpet judgments are not final. They affect a significant proportion but not all of the earth (one-third occurs twelve times in vss. 7-12). Their purpose is not so much retribution as to lead men to repentance. Like the watchman and his trumpet in Ezekiel 33, they warn the people of impending danger.[vii]
Therefore the judgments of God executed upon the ungodly display the justice of God, and bring Him glory.
Amazingly, this is how God works throughout the Scripture. For Hamilton rightly says elsewhere regarding the Torah (but applying equally here):
He (God) will save his people by judging their enemies, and he will judge the sin of his people, saving them through the purifying judgment of exile. When he triumphs over the enemies of his people, he will be glorified for his matchless might. When he saves his people from their own wicked hearts, he will be glorified because he is might to save. No force in the wicked hearts of people, no power in heaven or earth, will keep him from winning for himself a people for his name.[viii]
And this is exactly what we see here. God is jealous for his glory,[ix] and will not be denied the glory due Him and no other.[x] For he has stated:
I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. (Isaiah 42:8)
8:7 The first angel blew his trumpet, and there followed hail and fire, mixed with blood, and these were thrown upon the earth. And a third of the earth was burned up, and a third of the trees were burned up, and all green grass was burned up.
William Hendriksen provides a good overview of the first trumpet:
In all probability this first trumpet indicates that throughout the period extending from the first to the second coming, our Lord, who now reigns in heaven, will afflict the persecutors of the church with various disasters that will take place on earth, that is, on the land. That these calamities, of whatever nature they be, are controlled in heaven, and in a certain organic sense are sent by our governing Lord is clearly indicated by the clause ‘they were cast upon the earth.’[xi]
As to the nature of these calamities, commentators also seem to think that the main focus of the first trumpet is on the food supply.[xii] Dennis Johnson sees this connection and also the parallels with the four riders from chapter six:
As the trumpets sound, we begin to see the effects of the riders released with the breaking of the first four seals. The devastation of the earth by burning is an ancient strategy of war. God forbade the Israelites from destroying the fruit trees in the countryside surrounding a city they were besieging (Deut. 20:19-20), but other ancient armies felt no such compunction. The association of this judgment with warfare is shown by the fact that, mingled with the hail and fire mentioned in Exodus, John sees blood, which is symbolic of violence and reminiscent of the red horse on which War rides (Rev. 6:4).[xiii]
In the parallel Exodus passage is the 7th plague on Egypt, and much is devastated, including some of the food supply:
The hail struck down everything that was in the field in all the land of Egypt, both man and beast. And the hail struck down every plant of the field and broke every tree of the field.  Only in the land of Goshen, where the people of Israel were, was there no hail. (Exodus 9:25-26)
Beale is right to note that John modifies[xiv] the exodus plague and actually adds blood and fire to it – in this case, it seems like the emphasis is on the fire, which is very devastating.
Ezekiel 5 also serves as some literary background to getting at the idea of famine here. In 5:1-12 we see similar judgment: “A third part of you shall burn in the fire in the midst of the city” and then this fire is interpreted in verse 12 as famine. Similarly, in Revelation 18:8 “fire as a figure for famine is also implied.” This is specifically Beale’s case, and I think that while I defer to His exegetical brilliance, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that fire represents part of several images that seem to coalesce to create famine. For instance, in Ezekiel 5, you see verse 12 talk about the “sword” and also “pestilence.” Now, the end result is obviously famine, but also in Ezekiel it is being “scatter(ed) to all the winds” (Ezekiel 5:12b).[xv]
These symbols of fire, and hail are meant to remind us that during this age we will have many struggles in a fallen world – God’s judgment against the world for its rebellion started with Adam (Genesis 3:17-19) and the toil he was made to endure in brining forth fruit from the ground.
In all of this we have to remember that the earth is the Lords:
The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein,  for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. (Psalm 24:1-2)
He can do what He pleases with it. And it pleases Him to send judgment upon it to illuminate His righteousness and justice.
8:8-9 The second angel blew his trumpet, and something like a great mountain, burning with fire, was thrown into the sea, and a third of the sea became blood.  A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
Dennis Johnson aptly reminds us that because of the volcanic activity on Pompeii and around the Mediterranean basin, these images, “would have magnified the horrifying vividness of this vision in the minds of Revelation’s first listeners.”[xvi]
The exodus parallel with the first plague on Egypt:
Moses and Aaron did as the LORD commanded. In the sight of Pharaoh and in the sight of his servants he lifted up the staff and struck the water in the Nile, and all the water in the Nile turned into blood.  And the fish in the Nile died, and the Nile stank, so that the Egyptians could not drink water from the Nile. There was blood throughout all the land of Egypt. (Exodus 7:20-21)
Hamilton vividly says, “A burning mountain would definitely affect water temperature, and it is easy to imagine sea life dying and ships being destroyed. In addition, one third of the sea waters become blood. Stench. Filth. Disease. Nasty!”[xvii]
This mountain is seen by some as representative of the “great city” of “Babylon”, which becomes a symbol of focus in later chapters. Jeremiah 51 informs some of our background on how God viewed the ancient city of Babylon, which in Revelation forms the symbolic idea of the kingdom of the earthdwellers, who are enemies of God.
“Set up a standard on the earth; blow the trumpet among the nations; prepare the nations for war against her; summon against her the kingdoms, Ararat, Minni, and Ashkenaz; appoint a marshal against her; bring up horses like bristling locusts. (Jeremiah 51:27)
And Jeremiah said to Seraiah: “When you come to Babylon, see that you read all these words,  and say, ‘O LORD, you have said concerning this place that you will cut it off, so that nothing shall dwell in it, neither man nor beast, and it shall be desolate forever.’  When you finish reading this book, tie a stone to it and cast it into the midst of the Euphrates,  and say, ‘Thus shall Babylon sink, to rise no more, because of the disaster that I am bringing upon her, and they shall become exhausted.’” Thus far are the words of Jeremiah. (Jeremiah 51:61-64)
Beale explains, “That the burning mountain is the object of God’s judgment and not the agent of judgment is clear from Jeremiah 51 and from the fact that elsewhere in the OT that mountains representing nations are always portrayed as objects of God’s judgment (e.g. Is. 41:15; 42:!5; Ez. 35:2-7; Zech. 4:7).”[xviii]
The world of commerce is also alluded to here as a “third of the ships” have been affected. Men of the world feel as though they have control over their economic conditions. Men who control and manipulate world currency, who profit from the calamity of others, often think of themselves as invincible. But here we learn they are not. The devastation that belies the world and its commerce ought to humble unbelievers, but instead it does not, they become more and more arrogant. As believers, we ought not to have this kind of mind. For as James warns us:
Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.”  As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. (James 4:13-16)
In John’s day, the sea was a huge source of economic activity for the Roman Empire. Many ships are destroyed because of God’s judgment in this scene, and it reminded me of the puffed up nature of the titans of industry, many of whom to this very day live only for themselves and are puffed up against God. They exploit the people, and feel as though everything is under their thumb – the forces of industry are at their command. But they do not realize that it is God who controls all things.
God’s judgment comes swiftly upon those who lift up their souls against Him.
8:10-11 The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water.  The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.
The Third Trumpet
“Like the second trumpet, the effects of the third trumpet correspond to that first plague on Egypt, which affected the Nile and its rivers and canals (Exodus 7:19).”[xix]
As to the star that has fallen from heaven, this may simply denote a judgment from God that simply implies the grand method of which God acts to make life bitter for all the inhabitents herein. However, I think G.K. Beale and Michael Caird are on to something when they see an association with the “star of Babylon” which fell from the heavens in Isaiah 14:
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn! How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!  You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;  I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’  But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. (Isaiah 14:12-15)
In this passage, “the judgment of the king of Babylon and his nation is said to occur because its guardian angel, ‘the star of the morning’, has ‘fallen from heaven…”[xx]
It is possible that this fallen angel represents Satan, or another evil angel. Many people see Satan as the focus of Isaiah 14. This needs more work, but the associations seem natural.
Finally, the word “wormwood” corresponds to a kind of bitter plant that also corresponds in a literary way to the concept of “bitterness” or “calamitous.”[xxi] Beale says, “’Wormwood’ is a bitter herb, and water contaminated by it can be poisonous if drunk over a long period. The occurrences of the word in Jeremiah are metaphors for the bitterness of suffering resulting from judgment.”[xxii]
8:12-13 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 their light might be darkened, and a third of the day might be kept from shining, and likewise a third of the night.  Then I looked, and I heard an eagle crying with a loud voice as it flew directly overhead, “Woe, woe, woe to those who dwell on the earth, at the blasts of the other trumpets that the three angels are about to blow!”
The Fourth Trumpet
Here we have reached the fourth trumpet, and the exodus parallel is found in the 9th plague upon Egypt:
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward heaven, that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness to be felt.”  So Moses stretched out his hand toward heaven, and there was pitch darkness in all the land of Egypt three days.  They did not see one another, nor did anyone rise from his place for three days, but all the people of Israel had light where they lived. (Exodus 10:21-23)
“Most of the exodus plagues were designed to be judgments on the false Egyptian gods (cf. Exodus 12:12). This was true with the plague of darkness, which was partly a polemic against the sun god Ra, of whom Pharaoh was considered an incarnation. This lends further force to the idea that the partial darkness of the fourth trumpet is sent against idolaters.”[xxiii]
It is the Lord who is able to light the entire earth, and it is the Lord who holds the planets and stars in His hands. He is able to create light, and He is able to take that light away.
Although in this case, what we read seems to be symbolic, like so many other passages here in Revelation. Beale sees a parallel with 12:1-4, and I can see why due to the parallel between Isaiah 14 and the third trumpet. Here are the most pertinent verses:
And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems.  His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it. (Revelation 12:3-4)
Beale notes that this judgment of darkness is figurative, and connotes judgment for the idolatry of the earthdwellers, and also the angels (one of which is described in the third trumpet as having been cast down to heaven).
It seems then, that the plague of darkness is probably a theological metaphor with idea of spiritual darkness in the present age being thought of.[xxiv] This seems to fit with what we read elsewhere about God’s judgment upon the world in these days:
Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds.  They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. (Ephesians 4:17-18)
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)
In the context of these passages, God is said to have given over the earthdwellers (to use John’s terminology) to their own depravity, and darkness envelopes them. Beale rightly points out that the “vast majority of such imagery in the OT is clearly not literal but metaphorical.” He gives many examples, but the ones that hold the most weight in my mind are from Jeremiah 15:9, Amos 8:9, and Joel 2:1-10 because they use similar descriptors, but refer to actual events in Israel’s history.
Therefore, it seems that we can say the reference is most likely figurative of the theological outworking of God’s judgment, Satan’s being cast out of heaven (Beale infers but does not conclude[xxv]), and the minds of man during the church era being turned over to their own desires and passions (cf. Romans 1). Jesus is seen as the only hope during this time, as He is the light of the world. As Hamilton concludes, “If you trust in Jesus, no matter how dark this world becomes, you will know the light of the world.”[xxvi]
Woe to the “Earthdwellers”
Before the start of the final three trumpets, three “woes” are pronounced by a great eagle – this eagle could be one of the four living creatures from 4:7 who is before the throne of God sending out judgment at His instruction upon the earth and mankind.
Hamilton solemnly warns:
These judgments are not the outworking of impersonal forces. They come from God himself. The angel pronounces one woe for each of the three trumpets, and notice that the woes are directed at “those who dwell on the earth,” the earth-dwellers. These are people who live for this world. These are people who are not concerned with God and his purposes. God will judge them for their refusal to honor him as God and give thanks to him.
If you’re a non-Christian, these woes are directed at you.[xxvii]
The importance of realizing the woeful state of those whose lives are not lived for the Author of Life is paramount. God will not be mocked forever. Those who raise up their voice in opposition to His laws and flaunt their sins at heaven, will one day be judged. Yet even now, they will encounter judgment from God for their sins. For as Paul writes:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.  They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips,  slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,  foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.  Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them. (Romans 1:28-32)
Make no mistake, those who revel in their sins are not experiencing joy in this life. They may have some amount of fleeting happiness from time to time. But the majority report from those whose God is their own flesh, is that they are miserable, unfulfilled human beings. This is why there is real truth to what Christ said:
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:9-10)
Not only will their be eternal life and salvation from judgment, but even now there are hints at the joy we have as a result of being united to Christ.
Let us be thankful for this gift, and readily share it with a dying world. As Paul says:
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing,  to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)
[i] Contra Mounce who says, “They neither recapitulate the seal judgments nor do they follow in a strictly chronological sense” (Pg. 183). And his reasoning is that, “While the first four seals depicted judgments which are the inevitable consequences of human sinfulness, the trumpets reveal the active involvement of God in bringing punishment upon a wicked world.” (Pg. 184). I always find it interesting to read things like this from men who are thoroughly accomplished in their fields, because it is so obviously incorrect that it keeps one humble. We are all of us prone to missing the obvious at times if we are not prayerful and careful in our exegetical study. In this instance, we know from our study of the Four Horseman (the first four seals) that they are sent from God and by God. This is also seen in Zechariah 1 as well. Furthermore, it is unwise to assume that anything coming from the throne of God is not decreed/ordained by Him. Therefore it is much better to say (as Beale, and the Reformation Study Bible say) that the 7 trumpets fill in some of the specific content that the seals did not explicitly state.
[ii] Beale, Shorter Commentary, Pg. 171.
[iii] Reformation Study Bible, Pg. 1856-1867, this is the first edition, not the revised edition.
[iv] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 467.
[v] Beale agrees with my assessment. In his longer commentary he says, “The exodus plagues are both a literary and a theological model for the trumpets. Therefore, the trumpet plagues are better viewed primarily as actual judgments on the majority of earth’s inhabitants, though secondarily they are warnings for only a remnant.” Pg. 466-467.
[vi] Hamilton, Pg. 202.
[vii] Mounce, Pg. 184.
[viii] Hamilton, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, Pg. 133.
[ix] Beale also says, “The ultimate purpose of the plague signs (in Egypt) was to glorify Yahweh.” Pg. 466 in the longer commentary.
[x] John Piper has written a great deal about this, heavily influenced by Jonathan Edwards. One such post on God’s desire for His own glory can be found here: http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/biblical-texts-to-show-gods-zeal-for-his-own-glory
[xi] Hendriksen, Pg. 118.
[xii] Many say this – Beale, Hendriksen etc.
[xiii] Johnson, Pg. 143.
[xiv] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 473.
[xv] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 476-477. This is where he discusses the idea of Ezekiel 5 serving as a backdrop (literarily) for the idea of fire being associated with famine. I think he’s generally correct, there are too many parallels to avoid the conclusion, though as I mention above, I think he could have stated a little more about the other symbols also involved in this – for instance the sword. Perhaps it wasn’t necessary to do so though. The fact that Ezekiel refers to “a third part” several times in that chapter, really makes the correlation come to life.
[xvi] Johnson, Pg. 144.
[xvii] Hamilton, Pg.’s 203-204.
[xviii] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 476.
[xix] Hamilton, Pg. 204.
[xx] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 479. There is some background from Jewish writing going on here, and other OT passages which indicate that angels can be representative of groups of people (pg. 478). I don’t disagree here – one sees this territorial assignment in Daniel, and very intriguingly, the Jewish writers see it in Exodus 23 where the angel of Egypt is said to be judged. I don’t see that in the text, but perhaps I’m missing something here. Interestingly, many people associate this angel from Isaiah 14 with Satan. Therefore, with all the context from Revelation, I don’t think it would be too much of a stretch to say that Satan represented the evil kingdom of Babylon and its earthly king. Indeed, Satan is representative of all of his seed (Gen. 3). This needs fleshed out some more, and Beale doesn’t take too long to go over it, but in his footnotes says that Caird agrees with him on this (Revelation, pg. 115).
[xxi] Vines says, “(Eng., “absinth”), a plant both bitter and deleterious, and growing in desolate places, figuratively suggestive of “calamity” (Lam 3:15) and injustice (Amos 5:7), is used in Rev 8:11 (twice; in the 1st part as a proper name).”
[xxii] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 479.
[xxiii] Beale, Longer Commentary, Pg. 481.
[xxiv] I read commentary after commentary and no one really wanted to take a firm stab at this. Beale sets it up to basically conclude that Satan, having been cast out of heaven along with his evil angels, is pictured in trumpets three and four, and therefore a parallel idea with 12:1-4. But he doesn’t come to that specific conclusion. Hamilton emphasizes the spiritual darkness, not explicitly, but again implicitly by calling on men to turn to the light of the world, Jesus. That the scene is likely a theological picture seems reasonable. For Ladd points out, “The independence of the picturesque apocalyptic way of thinking is shown by the nature of this plague, which is logically impossible. If a third of the sun, moon and stars were darkened, then their light would be diminished throughout the entire period of their shining by proportionate amount” (Pg. 127). Theological darkness seems to fit other NT teaching (e.g. Eph. 4:17-18; Rom. 1:21; 2 Cor. 3:14).
[xxv] Again, I think this is a wise conclusion because even Beale sees these events as inaugurated by the resurrection and ascension of Christ – chapters 4 &5.
[xxvi] Hamilton, Pg. 205.
[xxvii] Hamilton, Pg. 207.