SYNOPSIS: The first trumpet unleashes a plague based on the seventh plague of Egypt, but with modifications – Revelation 8:7.
The first four trumpets use imagery from two events out of the history of ancient Israel – The “ten plagues” of Egypt, and the judicial pronouncement by Jeremiah against the Neo-Babylonian Empire. The “plagues” are based on the seventh, first, and ninth plagues of Egypt, the “hail,” “blood,” and “darkness” (Exodus 7:15, Jeremiah 51:25).
However, the book of Revelation does not simply reiterate the original “plagues”; instead, it combines features from three of them. For example, the “blood” from the seventh plague is combined with the “hail” of the first one to produce the “hail and fire mixed with blood” in the first Trumpet.
The cause of the Egyptian plagues was the refusal by Pharaoh to let Israel leave Egypt to sacrifice to Yahweh in the wilderness, and by the “hardening” of Pharaoh’s heart by God. Likewise, the “plagues” of the first six trumpets only serve to harden the hearts of the “inhabitants of the earth” (Revelation 9:20 – “And the rest of mankind, who were not killed with these plagues, repented not of the works of their hands”).
This imagery from the Exodus story helps paint a picture of the new people of God marching from “Egypt” to the new and greater Promised Land, “New Jerusalem.” 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 the earth, tree and grass, the second, a third of the sea, sea creatures and ships, and the third plague harms a third of the rivers and the “springs of waters.” Finally, the fourth “plague” darkens a third of the sun, moon, and the 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 the “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).
- (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 forces represented by the “four winds of the earth” are now unleashed in the first four trumpet blasts. This is demonstrated in the descriptions of the first two trumpets – The first harms a third of the “earth,” “trees,” and all the “green grass.” The second trumpet harms a third part of the “sea.” Not coincidentally, the term “third” (tritos) occurs twelve times (3 x 4) in the description of the first four trumpets.
The first trumpet impacts things but does not kill men, at least, not directly. Its results mirror those of the angel who cast (ballō) the “fire onto the earth” after the prayers of the saints ascended from the altar (eis tén gén). Now, “fire” is mixed with “blood” and cast (ballō) onto the earth (eis tén gén). This is in response to the “prayers of the saints.” What was held back by the four angels is unleashed to “blow” upon the “earth,” the “trees,” and the “grass” (Revelation 7:1-3).
The first trumpet is patterned after the seventh plague of Egypt:
- (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 the trees were “consumed.” The verb used – katakaiō – means, “consume, to burn up completely.” The same word is applied to end-time “Babylon” in Chapter 17 of the book. The verbal link is deliberate – The process that began with the first trumpet will culminate in the complete destruction of “Babylon” (Revelation 17:16 – “She will be consumed by fire”).
Not coincidentally, the first feature of the trumpet “plagues” is “hail.” The series of Seven Seals closed with the angel “casting fire onto the earth,” followed by a display of “thunders, and voices, and lightnings, and an earthquake.” The Seven Trumpets will conclude with the “ark of the covenant” displayed in the sanctuary “in heaven,” followed by a display of “lightnings, and voices, and thunders, and an earthquake, and great hail.” Thus, the occurrence of “hail” at the start and conclusion of this sevenfold series forms an inclusio bracketing the entire literary section.
The areas affected by the first trumpet blast concern the food supply, specifically, agriculture. The plagues of the first four trumpets target the economic system of the “inhabitants of the earth,” a key weapon used by them against the churches of Asia.
The order of the first four trumpets is literary, not, necessarily, chronological. Like the first four seal openings, very probably, the “plagues” represent concurrent processes or realities.
Also, the 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).