by Roger McCay
31 July 2022
Sermon Passage: Revelation 8:6-12
Link to Audio Version
Seldom do we hear much on imprecatory prayers. Indeed, “imprecatory prayer” may be a foreign phrase for you. So, what are they? What are imprecatory prayers? Well, to imprecate basically means to invoke a curse, calling down judgment upon one’s enemies and/or the enemies of God. The Bible contains numerous imprecatory prayers, many in the Psalms (around 29 or so), like our OT passage today from Psalm 140. And have you ever come to grips with Psalm 137:9? “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock!”
Now, some folks resist this. Shouldn’t our prayers be all about peace and love? In a sense, yes. Shouldn’t we pray for our enemies? Of course, Jesus said to. Nevertheless, the scriptures contain imprecatory prayers as a model and part of our instruction towards God honoring prayer. So, as believers, we have a responsibility to wrestle with what it means to pray both mercy and justice.
We live in a sinful world where evil brings so much destruction. In this harsh reality, are we praying for God’s righteous justice to prevail? Of course we are. Christians yearn for justice; yearn for righteousness; yearn for peace and love; and yearn for God’s Kingdom to come. Imprecatory prayers are towards those ends. We pray that God will either bring his enemies, evildoers, to repentance in conversion, or destroy them, whichever he wills—and that he will do so for his glory, bringing peace where there is strife, love where there is hate, justice where there is injustice, and righteousness where there is evil. So, as William Ross suggests:
We must always balance “Father, save the lost!” with “Father, pour out your wrath upon evil!” The contingency that holds together these two ideas properly submits to God’s sovereignty—his justice and mercy—without assuming that only one of the two options will bring him glory.
And don’t you know every time we pray the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come” is to pray an imprecatory prayer? It will be a wonderful day for every true Christian. But the enemies of God and his people will be utterly destroyed come that day, cast into eternal hell. That’s what you’re praying for when you pray “Thy Kingdom come.” You’re praying that God will destroy his enemies and establish righteousness and justice upon the earth.
Now, as for our passage today, Rev. 8 contains part of God’s direct answer to the imprecatory prayers of the saints (prayers for vengeance, vindication, and God’s glory), as given in the fifth seal, in ch. 6, and then in Rev. 8:4, which we looked at last week.
So, as we come to our passage today, the saints are sealed; the seventh seal is broken; the seven trumpets have been passed out; the prayers of the saints have been heard; and God has manifested his wrathful presence upon the earth to execute the judgments of the scroll upon the Land of Israel and the apostate Jews.
Verse 6: “Now the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow them.”
Last week, we considered how the seven trumpets, of Rev. 8-11, recall the seven trumpets blown at Jericho in Josh. 6. Milton S. Terry suggests:
“Those trumpets sounded the doom of the first great Cananitish city which stood in the way of the conquest of the promised land; these sound the doom of “the great city [Jerusalem], which spiritually is called Sodom and Egypt” … and which stood in the way of the free progress of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.”
But the symbolism does not only hearken back to Jericho. At the sounding of each trumpet, John uses prophetic, symbolic language rooted in various places in the OT, which are specifically tailored to speak against the apostate Jews and the Land of Israel. Due to their corruption; their rejection of God’s covenant, in Christ (their apostasy); their murder of Christ; and their actions against the God’s covenant people (the Christians), John equates the nation of Israel (centered in Jerusalem) with historical Egypt, Sodom, and Babylon. Indeed John specifically calls Jerusalem Sodom and Egypt (11:8, 13), also Babylon (Rev. 17). The trumpets reinforce this imagery, and we’ll look at these comparisons as we move along.
Now, in structure, like the seals, John divides the trumpets into groups: four, two, then one after an interlude. The first four trumpets picture God’s wrath coming down upon the established order of things (nature and government), and the last three trumpets picture his wrath more specifically coming down upon the people of the Land of Israel.
It is important to keep in mind that the happenings, the plagues John describes, after the blowing of each trumpet, symbolize actual events in history (although they don’t necessarily play out in the “real” in a linear way, as given trumpet by trumpet). Remember, John received Revelation circa. AD 65, and its contents were to take place “soon” as the time was “near” (Rev. 1:1, 3). The events symbolized quickly followed after Jesus gave this Revelation to John, and they took place during the Jewish War, which began in AD 66, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in AD 70 (with the Romans continuing to mop-up until the utter telos of the nation, with the fall of Masada, in AD 73).
So, we come to the first trumpet (v. 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.
Like in other places I’ve noted before, the Greek word translated “earth,” in v. 7, by the ESV, is better translated as “land.” I won’t go into this all now, but the word γῆ, means either “land” or “earth.” Context determines, and I agree with Kenneth Gentry and Young’s Literal Translation, that “land” is a more appropriate translation, in this case. The context is about judgment coming upon the Land of Israel.
Now, as I mentioned before, there is a similarity to the plagues of the trumpets with the plagues against Egypt, in Ex. 7-12. Along these lines, the judgment plague after the first trumpet is similar to the plague in Ex. 9:22-25—with hail and fire intermingled. John further intensifies this imagery with the element of blood, much like “The Day of the Lord” Joel prophesies in Joel 2:30—all symbols of God’s judgment. Then, hearkening to Ezekiel 5:2 & 12, John speaks of “a third” of the land, trees, and grass being “burned up.” In Ezekiel 5, as Keith Mathison observes, “the prophet speaks of the first destruction of Jerusalem.”  Then, with John, in Revelation 8, he uses “similar language to describe the second destruction of Jerusalem.” Notice too, how the fire raining down on Jerusalem also hearkens to the fate of Sodom, in Gen. 19:24-25.
These symbols of judgment also correspond with historical events that took place during the war. We don’t have a complete history of everything that happened, but Josephus, an eyewitness, provides quite a lot for us to go by. He thus describes several events to which the images of the trumpet plagues seem to speak. Concerning the first trumpet, in The Wars of the Jews, Josephus speaks to how, “[Vespasian] also set fire, not only to the city itself, but to all the villas and small cities that were round about it.” Remember, the first horseman (the Conqueror), Vespasian, commanding the Roman armies, was waging war against the Jews, who had rebelled. Here he’s setting fire to all their cities and small villages, as he conquered. Josephus further says that “Galilee was all over filled with blood.” Blood and fire—destruction of the conqueror and war (the second horseman) raining down.
There is also historical correspondence with the trees: “a third of the land, trees, and grass.” Josephus, speaking of Jerusalem, tells how “all the trees that were about the city had been already cut down for the making of the former banks.” These banks were embankments against Jerusalem, built to besiege the city.
Josephus further notes, “they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs round about.” As for the land and the grass, we find that encompassed in his lament:
Truly, the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way …: nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change; for the war had laid all signs of beauty quite waste.”
And so we come to the second trumpet (vv. 8-9):
8 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. 9 A third of the living creatures in the sea died, and a third of the ships were destroyed.
Now, “the great mountain, burning with fire” being “thrown into the sea,” hearkens to some important imagery from the OT. In Ex. 19:16-18, the Lord descended in fire upon Mount Sinai, so that it burned and was wrapped in smoke. This was when he established his covenant with his people—establishing them as a nation. Come Rev. 8, the Sinai imagery is now reversed, where a burning mountain is thrown into the sea, symbolic for God disestablishing Israel as a nation. The image also ties Israel to historic Babylon. When Babylon, in the OT, is judged by God, he makes her into “a burnt mountain” (Jer. 51:24-26). In the Book of Revelation, Israel now is pictured, like Gentry put it, as “a mountain overwhelmed with fire, as Israel is disestablished as a geo-political people of God.” This imagery continues on in Revelation, with Jerusalem (the center of the Jewish culture and religion—symbolic for the nation) identified as Babylon, in Rev. 17-18.
Further, in the OT, the term “God’s holy mountain” is used to refer to Jerusalem (Dan. 9:16) and more specifically, the temple mount (Dan. 11:45). This is particularly poignant, when we consider that Jesus, when he prophesied against the temple mount (having just cursed a fig tree as a symbolic prophecy of judgment against Israel) states in the next breath: “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen (Matt. 21:21). Thus is the imagery of the second trumpet. In answer to the imprecatory prayers of the saints, Israel (a burnt-out mountain), is cast into the sea, in fulfillment of Jesus’ promise.
And there is even a historical correspondence to this judgment. Josephus records, in The Wars of the Jews, that when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, “one would have thought that the hill itself, on which the temple stood, was seething hot, as full of fire on every part of it.”
The second trumpet also hearkens to the first plague upon Egypt, when the waters became blood. The plague now comes upon Israel, continuing the reversal of blessing.
And, like the first trumpet, this finds an historical correspondence, this time in the sea battles engaged in by the Jews. Josephus records, “[The Jews] also built themselves a great many piratical ships, and turned pirates upon the sea near to Syria, and Phoenicia, and Egypt, and made those seas unnavigable to all men.” So, the Jews were fighting battles in the Mediterranean Sea. But it didn’t go well for them, in the end. Josephus tells how “a violent wind [fell] upon them; it is called by those that sail there “the black north wind,” and there dashed their ships one against another.” The destruction of their navy was so bad that “the greatest part of them were carried by the waves, and dashed to pieces against the abrupt parts of the rocks, insomuch that the sea was bloody a long way, and the maritime parts were full of dead bodies.” “The bloody sea” also has another historical correspondence, when a similar thing happened at the Sea of Galilee. Josephus records how it was so bad that “one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies.” In both cases, the Jews were so terribly destroyed on the sea, the water was all bloody, full of dead bodies.
And so, the third trumpet. Verses 10-11:
10 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. 11 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.
Once again, reverse imagery is part of the symbolism of this trumpet plague. It recalls the Marah incident, during the exodus, in Ex. 15:23ff. In that case, the Lord made the bitter waters sweet, in this case the reversal is to make the waters bitter, as Israel has become God’s enemy. It also hearkens back, once again, to the Egyptian plague in Ex. 7:21.
And there seems a possible historical correspondence in Josephus. Where Josephus wrote about the bloody waters of the sea of Galilee, it seems to fit:
… one might then see the lake all bloody, and full of dead bodies, for not one of them escaped. And a terrible stink, and a very sad sight there was on the following days over that country; for as for the shores, they were full of shipwrecks, and of dead bodies all swelled; and as the dead bodies were inflamed by the sun, and putrefied, they corrupted the air.
Kenneth Gentry, in light of the situation, observes, “I would dare say that that water is bitter. It is a bitter judgment upon Israel as she sees this Marah incident again befalling her … in the Jewish War.” And this makes sense.
As for Wormwood, we should eschew the fantastical claims some have laid on this word. David Chilton makes a sound point, in that “wormwood” is “a term used in the Law and the Prophets to warn Israel of its destruction as punishment for apostasy.” David Osborne likewise explains how the symbol of wormwood with “its connection with bitter sorrow and judgment makes it a natural symbol of death.” Wormwood, “a bitter-tasting shrub …, became a symbol of bitter sorrow (Prov. 5:4, ‘bitter as wormwood’), of the ‘bitter poison’ of idolatry (Deut. 29:18), and also of judgment and death (Jer. 9:15; 23:15, ‘I will make them … drink poisoned water’; also Lam. 3:15, 19).” So here in Rev. 8:11, the judgment that fell upon Israel, God’s wrath, was Wormwood, of which they drank, and of which many died.
And finally, for today, trumpet number four (v. 12):
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.
We’ve seen this language before, with the apocalyptic imagery of the sun, moon, and stars being darkened, like we covered at length when we looked at the sixth seal, in Rev. 6:12 and 13. The language also hearkens back to Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, prophesying against Jerusalem, in Matt. 24:29. The prophets likewise used such language to speak to dramatic judgments of God coming upon the nations, such in Joel 2:10 & 31 (prophesying judgment against Jerusalem); also Isa. 13:10 (prophesying judgment against Babylon); and in Ezek. 32:7-8, the prophet speaks to the darkening of the moon, sun, stars in a prophecy against Egypt. Jerusalem, Babylon, Egypt – see the pattern? So, here, John is using familiar prophetic, apocalyptic language of pronouncing doom on a nation, particularly the government and rulers, as the Lord brings them down. The rulers and government of the Land of Israel are going dark. God is snuffing out their light.
And, once again, this symbolism also hearkens to the plagues of Egypt, this time the ninth plague of “thick darkness” from Ex. 10:21ff. And the fraction “one-third” still hearkens to the judgment language of Ezekiel against Jerusalem.
Now, I know that’s a lot to take in. I feel the same way. Regardless, understand that John is painting a picture, using a pallet of images drawn from the OT that are meant to make the point of what these trumpets portray meaningfully clear. His point is that Jerusalem (symbolically encompassing the apostate Jews, the nation of Israel, and apostate Judaism) is now Egypt and Babylon and Sodom, enemies of God and enemies of God’s covenant people. Justly, then, with the scroll being read and the judgments carried out with trumpets sounding, God’s divorce decree against Israel (God’s adulterous, unfaithful wife) is being finalized by action, bringing an absolute end to the Old Covenant, made at Sinai.
In Exodus, God heard the cries of his people, and he freed them from slavery and their harsh Egyptian masters, sending plagues against Egypt. God then covenanted with the Jewish people at Sinai, cared for them in the wilderness, and eventually brought them into the Promised Land. Now, in Revelation, God heard the cries of his people (the Christians, the bride of Christ, New Jerusalem) … God heard the cries of his people against the burden of the yoke of Judaism and the harsh persecution of the Jews against them. In his judgment and wrath, he removed the power of the enemy of his people, symbolized by the plagues we see at the sounding of the trumpets. And this set his people free so that they might experience the fullness of the New Covenant blessings under the gospel, as they moved onward into the future, following Jesus—which would include us in the here and now.
So, my friends, God hears our cries, and he answers them. Don’t keep silent! When we pray, pray for justice and righteousness to prevail; pray that evil will be destroyed. It is not for us to pray down curses on people we don’t like. No. Rather, we pray for the conversion of the lost, that they might receive mercy and be set free from the trap of the devil, to repent their sins before God. We hope for the salvation of even those who might persecute us—our enemies. We pray for them. But we also pray that God’s will be done, whether it means conversion for his enemies or whoever that evil one may be, or whether it means their being cast down; their being brought low; their destruction. “God’s will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” In such a way, we pray for the Lord to be glorified and his Kingdom to come.
As we read of these four trumpets being sounded, we find encouragement and hope, and perhaps our fear of the Lord is renewed. The sovereign Lord over heaven and earth is just and righteous, and he is serious about overcoming evil and caring for the welfare of his people—even removing enemies—all to his glory. The Lord hears our prayers and answers them. So, let us raise our voices before his throne of grace, and know that we are heard. Since God’s righteous wrath glorifies his name, Christians should pray that righteousness prevails.
 William Ross, “Should We Pray The Imprecatory Psalms?” The Gospel Coalition, pub. 17 March 2015, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/should-we-pray-the-imprecatory-psalms/.
 Milton S. Terry, The Apocalypse of John, ed. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. and Jay Rogers (Chesnee, SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2021; originally pub. 1898), 105.
 Keith A. Mathison, From Age to Age (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2014), 672.
 Flavius Josephus, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 645. J.W. 3.7.1.
 Ibid., 642. J.W. 3.4.1.
 Ibid., 724. J.W. 5.12.4.
 Ibid., 727. J.W. 6.1.1.
 Ibid., 741. J.W. 6.5.1.
 Ibid., 658. J.W. 3.9.2-3
 Ibid., 663. J.W. 3.10.9
 Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., Survey of the Book of Revelation, Video Series (Chesnee SC: Victorious Hope Publishing, 2012), DVD 2, lesson 9.
 David Chilton, The Days of Vengeance (Fort Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), 240.
 Grant R. Osborne, Revelation, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2002), 355.