The seventh seal – the first four trumpets are sounded (Revelation 8:1 – 8:13)
When the seventh seal was opened, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. John saw seven angels standing before God. Each angel was given a trumpet. Another angel holding a golden censer approached the golden altar. He was given incense with the prayers of God’s people to offer on the altar. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, rose up before God.
Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth. There were rumblings of thunder, flashes of lightning, and the earth shook. Then the seven angels prepared to sound their trumpets.
The first angel sounded his trumpet and there came hail and fire mixed with blood and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth, trees, and green grass was burned up.
The second angel sounded his trumpet and something like a giant mountain all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood, a third of living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the sea’s ships were destroyed.
The third angel sounded his trumpet and a great star blazing like a torch fell from the sky into a third of the rivers and springs of the earth (the name of the star is Wormwood). A third of the waters turned bitter and many people died from the waters.
The fourth angel sounded his trumpet and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light and also a third of the night.
As John watched, he heard an eagle flying overhead call out in a loud voice,
“Woe to the inhabitants of earth because of the trumpet blasts that are about to be sounded by the remaining three angels!”
What the story means to us today
All is not lost – mankind still has an opportunity to seek salvation
But first, prayers to God are offered
As evidenced by their dramatic silence, we can presume there was awe and concern among the members in heaven when the seventh seal reveals the judgements of the seven trumpets and seven bowls. However, judgement is not disseminated until the prayers of “God’s people” are offered (symbolized as incense placed in the golden altar).
Judgement is dispersed
Judgement from the first four trumpets includes a rain of fire, hail, and blood on the earth, a huge burning mass that contaminates the oceans of the world, and a great fiery star that lands in the earth’s freshwaters, and finally, an eerie darkening of the sky.
Punishment grows in severity
Death is mentioned specifically upon sounding of the first three trumpets – the first kills plant life, the second kills sea life, while the third kills human beings who die from the bitter waters. As the flying eagle attests, none of the punishments compare to the woes about to be realized when the last three angels blow their trumpets.
There’s still time to repent
Note that none of the first four trumpets produce total destruction. Prior to the sounding of the fifth trumpet, mankind still has an opportunity to seek salvation. Hope remains that the first attacks will lead humanity to repentance. But how much easier would it be for mankind to seek and accept salvation today – before God imposes judgement upon non-believers?
Additional thoughts and considerations
Can we identify the seven angels by name?
Retribution is dispensed from the bowls held by seven angels. Although John does not name the seven angels, 1 Enoch identifies seven angels who stand before God: Uriel, Raphael, Raquel, Michael, Saragael, Gabriel, and Remiel. Of these, only Michael is specifically mentioned in Revelation.
A “third” and 1/3 differ in ancient Near East
“Thirds” in ancient speak did not necessarily mean a literal third just as a “dozen” in modern-day nomenclature does not always mean a specific quantity of twelve. For instance, the phrase “I must have told him a dozen times already” does not literally mean the person was instructed twelve times but rather, implies a large quantity of some uncertain number. In ancient Israel, a “third” was used to refer to a fractional amount of unprecise quantity. Thus, in all instances where a “third” is specified, we should understand that the measurement is not 1/3 but rather a fraction of the whole (e.g. a portion of the sky turned dark).
The judgements of the first four trumpets
The first trumpet
The first trumpet initiates a siege of hail and fire mixed with blood which consumes a fraction of the earth. A volcano erupting is the first thing most imagine. The event is similar to the fourth Egyptian plague described by Moses during which a huge storm struck the land of Egypt.
The second trumpet
The second trumpet triggers a huge blazing mass thrown into the sea. An asteroid, comet, or meteor crashing into the oceans are possibilities. Another is a manmade weapon capable (purposely or not) of contaminating waters.
John says part of the sea “turned into blood”. He is not necessarily implying the water transformed into organic blood but rather that the water turned red in color. This could be due to a “red tide”, a harmful algal bloom that occurs when an unusual amount of nutrients are loaded into the ocean’s water. The red color could also be discoloration from the blazing mass itself. For example, meteorites are commonly made of iron which indeed could turn water red.
The event is similar to the first plague in Exodus which turned the Nile river blood red and killed marine life.
The third trumpet
When the third trumpet sounds, John sees a fiery star fall into the rivers and springs which contaminates a fraction of the earth’s freshwater supplies. As a result, many people died from drinking or touching the water (or possibly from the limited availability of clean water). The event is similar to the previous judgement except in this instance, freshwater is contaminated rather than oceans and seas.
John tells us that the name of the star is Wormwood. Wormwood is a reference to the bitter herb Artemisia absinthium which today is used in the spirit absinthe. In large quantities, it can cause kidney failure and convulsions.
The fourth trumpet
The sounding of the fourth trumpet causes the heavens to be darkened. Since “third” is a relative measure, it is unclear exactly how dark the skies will become. Since it seems unlikely a portion of the sun, moon, and stars in the sky would be permanently destroyed, the darkening may be due to a large object passing through the heavens and blotting out part of the sky. The event is similar to the ninth plague in Exodus where total darkness covered Egypt for three days.
The eagle that speaks
After the fourth trumpet sounds, John hears a flying eagle call out, “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the remaining three angles!” Whether the eagle is symbolic or literal is of course, impossible to know. An eagle is also referenced in two other parts of Revelation, in one instance to describe the fourth living creature (with a face like a flying eagle) and in the other, when the pregnant woman clothed with the sun is given wings to escape to a place prepared for her in the wilderness. Interestingly, the original Hebrew word, aetos, is translated to “angel” in some manuscripts.
Does woe for “inhabitants of earth” include Christians?
The passage concludes with the eagle reflecting on woe for “inhabitants of earth” because the last three trumpet blasts are about to be sounded. It may not be clear that the phrase “inhabitants of earth” is used in the narrative to separate non-believers from followers of Christ.
The phrasing “inhabitants of earth” is used in other verses in Revelation to refer to non-believers. For instance, Revelation 3:10 says “I will keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the world to test the inhabitants of the earth” and Revelation 13:8 says “All inhabitants of earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life”.
Given this understanding, we can conclude that the first four trumpet blasts are said to impact a fraction of the population (a “third”) and will likely not directly impact Christian believers. The remaining three trumpet blasts, described in later verses, will impact only non-believers (recall that in earlier verses, a seal is placed on the foreheads of believers in order to protect them).
The science and history behind the story
Trumpets in ancient Israel
Trumpets in ancient Israel were made of a ram’s horn. They were used as signaling devices. Called Shofar trumpets, they would be sounded as alarms to signal danger or as signals of peace when a war concluded. They were also used during war to confuse the enemy and in peaceful times to notify the community when an important person died or when the Sabbath began.
Wormwood (Arthemsia absinthium)
Although toxic in large quantities, in ancient times, wormwood was used as an ingredient in wines and spirits. Wormwood was used to create spice mead and a tea called sheeba. In some locations, it was used instead of hops when brewing beer.
The golden censer
A censer is a rounded vessel used to hold burning incense and coals. They were often utilized in religious ceremonies and rituals.
Notes on Biblical translation
In some translations, the word for “eagle” is translated as “angel” rendering the sentence “I heard an angel that was flying in midair cry out in a loud voice, “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of earth because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!”
8 When he opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven for about half an hour.
2 And I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
3 Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. 4 The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. 5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake.
6 Then the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to sound them.
7 The first angel sounded his trumpet, and there came hail and fire mixed with blood, and it was hurled down on the earth. A third of the earth was burned up, a third of the trees were burned up, and all the green grass was burned up.
8 The second angel sounded his trumpet, and something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea. A third of the sea turned into blood, 9 a third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
10 The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water—11 the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.
12 The fourth angel sounded his trumpet, and a third of the sun was struck, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars, so that a third of them turned dark. A third of the day was without light, and also a third of the night.
13 As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in midair call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth, because of the trumpet blasts about to be sounded by the other three angels!”
The New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011. Print.
8 When the Lamb ripped off the seventh seal, Heaven fell quiet—complete silence for about half an hour.
2–4 I saw the Seven Angels who are always in readiness before God handed seven trumpets. Then another Angel, carrying a gold censer, came and stood at the Altar. He was given a great quantity of incense so that he could offer up the prayers of all the holy people of God on the Golden Altar before the Throne. Smoke billowed up from the incense-laced prayers of the holy ones, rose before God from the hand of the Angel.
5 Then the Angel filled the censer with fire from the Altar and heaved it to earth. It set off thunders, voices, lightnings, and an earthquake.
6–7 The Seven Angels with the trumpets got ready to blow them. At the first trumpet blast, hail and fire mixed with blood were dumped on earth. A third of the earth was scorched, a third of the trees, and every blade of green grass—burned to a crisp.
8–9 The second Angel trumpeted. Something like a huge mountain blazing with fire was flung into the sea. A third of the sea turned to blood, a third of the living sea creatures died, and a third of the ships sank.
10–11 The third Angel trumpeted. A huge Star, blazing like a torch, fell from Heaven, wiping out a third of the rivers and a third of the springs. The Star’s name was Wormwood. A third of the water turned bitter, and many people died from the poisoned water.
12 The fourth Angel trumpeted. A third of the sun, a third of the moon, and a third of the stars were hit, blacked out by a third, both day and night in one-third blackout.
13 I looked hard; I heard a lone eagle, flying through Middle-Heaven, crying out ominously, “Doom! Doom! Doom to everyone left on earth! There are three more Angels about to blow their trumpets. Doom is on its way!”
Peterson, Eugene H. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language. Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005. Print.
The NET Bible
8:1 Now when the Lamb opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven for about half an hour. 8:2 Then I saw the seven angels who stand before God, and seven trumpets were given to them. 8:3 Another angel holding a golden censer came and was stationed at the altar. A large amount of incense was given to him to offer up, with the prayers of all the saints, on the golden altar that is before the throne. 8:4 The smoke coming from the incense, along with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand. 8:5 Then the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and threw it on the earth, and there were crashes of thunder, roaring, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.
8:6 Now the seven angels holding the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.
8:7 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.
8:8 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, 8:9 and a third of the creatures living in the sea died, and a third of the ships were completely destroyed.
8:10 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. 8:11 (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.
8:12 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. 8:13 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!”
Biblical Studies Press. The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006. Print.
King James Version
8 And when he had opened the seventh seal, there was silence in heaven about the space of half an hour.
2 And I saw the seven angels which stood before God; and to them were given seven trumpets. 3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. 5 And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast it jinto the earth: and there were voices, and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake. 6 And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
7 The first angel sounded, and there followed ohail and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth: and the third part of rtrees was burnt up, and all green grass was burnt up.
8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast tinto the sea: and the third part of the sea became blood; 9 And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.
10 And the third angel sounded, and there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters; 11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.
12 And the fourth angel sounded, and the third part of the sun was smitten, and the third part of the moon, and the third part of the stars; so as the third part of them was darkened, and the day shone not for a third part of it, and the night likewise. 13 And I beheld, and heard an angel eflying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, woe, woe, to hthe inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels, which are yet to sound!
The Holy Bible: King James Version. Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009. Print.