The Third Trumpet

SYNOPSIS – The third trumpet produces a “great star” that falls onto the sources of freshwater, embittering them – Revelation 8:10-11.

crashing waves
Photo by Ray Bilcliff on

The description of the third trumpet includes imagery from the first plague of Egypt when Yahweh struck its sources of freshwater. As Moses warned, God struck all the freshwater sources so 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).

  • (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).

John saw 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 burn” before the throne.

Most likely, because of the verbal parallels, the “great star burning like a torch” is the same “star” or messenger that will fall to the earth when the fifth trumpet sounds. He will have the “key of the Abyss” with which to release a demonic horde to torment the “inhabitants of the earth.” Since Jesus has the “keys of Death and Hades,” these “messengers” serve him (Revelation 1:20, 2:1, 4:5, 9:1).

Fall” (piptō) is a different Greek verb than the one used previously for judgments being “cast into” the sea and onto the earth (ballô). Each time, the latter verb or ballô is in the passive voice – the item was “cast” by something else. In Verse 9, piptō or “fall” is in the active voice and used with a different preposition – “upon” (epi). In other words, this “star” is actively involved in whatever he inflicts upon the freshwaters.

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

If the book of Revelation is consistent in its symbolism, the “rivers and fountains of waters” represent the “peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues” on which end-time Babylon sits. If so, it is the peoples over which she rules that are embittered, not literal bodies of freshwater.

Wormwood” and “bitter water” allude to passages from the books of Jeremiah and Deuteronomy. In the passage from the latter, Yahweh warned Israel that if the nation violated His covenant by worshipping idols, it 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.” Idolatry is the root of the other sins to which the “inhabitants of the earth” are addicted and, in Revelation, its ultimate form is the “mark of the beast” and “rendering homage to its image.”

  • (Revelation 9:20) – “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, Neither repented they of their murders, nor of their sorceries, nor of their fornication, nor of their thefts.

The “burning star” falls upon “rivers and springs of water.” The same Greek term for “spring” or pégas appears in the Septuagint version of the book of Jeremiah in his dirge against ancient Babylon:

  • (Jeremiah 51:25, 36-37) – “Behold me! against thee, O destroying mountain Declareth Yahweh, That destroyest all the earth,—Therefore will I stretch out my hand over thee, And roll thee down from the crags, And make of thee a burning mountain…Thus, saith Yahweh, Behold me! pleading thy cause, So then I will execute the avenging of thee; And will dry up her sea, And make dry her spring (pégas): Thus shall Babylon become—Heaps A habitation of jackals An astonishment, and A hissing, Without inhabitant.”

Like the preceding second trumpet, the third trumpet pronounces judgment upon end-time Babylon, the contemporary counterpart to ancient Egypt. The second trumpet caused great damage to the commerce of the “great city.” The third trumpet targets the rivers and other sources of freshwater of Babylon, making them “bitter” to drink. A society cannot function without a reliable and adequate source of freshwater. It is not clear precisely what “embittering” the peoples Babylon rules accomplish. Unrest? Civil war? Impoverishment? On some level, it must mean the population becomes restless and difficult to govern, if not ungovernable.

The same Old Testament image will be employed again in the “sixth bowl of wrath” when the Euphrates River is “dried up” to make way for the “kings of the east” to be gathered to the “battle of that great day of God Almighty,” Armageddon (Revelation 16:12-16).

Two images are used to paint this picture, both from the history of Israel. The first is the Exodus story, the “plague” inflicted by Moses that turned the freshwaters of Egypt into “blood,” making them undrinkable. The second is the conquest of Babylon by an army of the “Medes and the Persians.” It entered the walled city of Babylon by damming the Euphrates River, causing its riverbed to “dry up” to provide a point of entry into the “great city.” And the city fell in one night to the “Medes and the Persians.”

Whether the descriptions of the “plagues” are literal or symbolical, the target of the first few trumpet blasts is end-time “Babylon,” especially her economic might and control over populations. The significance and purpose of “wormwood” are not clear, other than to embitter the “freshwaters.” The term is not taken up elsewhere in the book.

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