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TRUMPETS AND TRUMPETERS

Many attempts have been made and approaches suggested in studying the structural pattern of the Book of Revelation. Among all these, the consensus of the majority of exegetes is that the entire book apart from the introduction and the epilogue is modelled along a septet pattern. There are for example, the seven letters to the seven Churches of Asia, the seven seals, the seven trumpets, the seven bowels, as well as two sets of seven unnumbered visions. This septet pattern is really interesting even though many have been obsessed with it that they read seven into any theme or motif of the book.

Our interest today is to look at one of the septets namely the seven trumpets. The introduction of the seven angels with the seven trumpets comes immediately after the seventh seal was opened (8:1). However, they do not start immediately to blow the trumpet because after their appearance on the stage, another vision serving as an interlude occurs namely another angel offering incense together with the prayer of the saints on the golden altar before God´s throne. After this they start blowing their trumpets one after the other. However, this sequence is also interrupted after the blowing of the fourth trumpet with the vision of a woe crying eagle (8:13). It cries of woe in relation to the three remaining trumpet blasts. However, quite disappointing it is that it is only the fifth trumpet blast that is associated with a woe (9:12).

After the sixth trumpet is blown, instead of an announcement of the second woe, we see the insertion of two visions namely; the angel with the little scroll (10:1-11) and then the martyrdom and resurrection of the two witnesses (11:1-14). It is after this that the second woe is announced and the seventh trumpet immediately introduced. Finally, the third woe is not mentioned anywhere at all in the book leaving the reader in suspense. This literary technique of inserting interlude pericopes between the septets is called interlocking or sandwich.

The first trumpet is blown and there are hail and fire mixed with blood destroying the third of the earth and of the trees and all green grasses. This imagery probably comes from the seventh Egyptian plague and the blood from Joel´s prophecy of the end time. Even the Sibylline Oracles speak of rain and fire and blood as signs of the end.

With the blowing of the second trumpet by the second angel, a burning mountain plunges into the sea, turning the sea into blood, destroying a third of the sea creatures and of the ships. While the first trumpet focuses on harming the land, the second trumpet focuses on the sea. This could be an allusion to the first plaque in Egypt where the water of the Nile turned into blood. The idea of a burning mountain might be drawn from the earthquake of 61AD. The inclusion of ship here is better explained when one reads the economic critique of Rome in chapter 18. Rome had grown in affluence that merchants from all over the known ancient world were entering into business partnership with her.  But this is considered as a form of adultery or idolatry and therefore offensive to God.

The third trumpet sounds and a star called wormwood falls down from the sky and pollutes a third of the river causing the death of many because of contamination. Striking here is the distinction between the sea and the river. The sea is usually considered by the ancients to be the abode of evil and to have died in the sea is not to have died properly since there are no graves for those who die  in the sea. However, the river and spring denote fresh water for living. Worm wood is not poisonous, but its bitterness is a symbolism of death and suffering in the Old Testament. Like the second trumpet blast, this could also be influenced by the Nile River. Better it is a reversal of the event at Marah where Moses cast a tree into a bitter water making it sweet (cf. Exodus 15:25).

The fourth trumpet targets the luminous bodies; third of the sun, moon and stars causing a partial eclipse. This could be a reference to the ninth plague in Egypt only that that of Egypt is a total eclipse. Also references abound where darkness is a symbolism of evil, judgement and the day of the Lord.

With the blowing of the fifth trumpet, the attention focuses on the underworld from where locust soldiers emerge to attack the inhabitants of the earth without the seal of the living God. The pestilence could be a reference to the eighth plague in Egypt where locusts ate up every vegetation. The locust soldiers emerging from the abyss points that they are demons. It is then strange that they are attacking not the Christians but enemies of God unlike what we have in 20:1-3. The possible explanation is that while the two pericopes are related, the intents differ. Sometimes God can use pagan nations to punish the Israelites and the intention is actually to bring them to repentance. I think that is the motif here.

The blowing of the sixth trumpet targets a third of mankind. They are killed with fire, smoke and sulphur emerging from the mouth of the horses. The writer describes these as three plagues. It could be a reminiscent of God´s punishment upon Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19:24 with sulphur. The repentance motif is explicitly mentioned here. However, this is not achieved even after the torture thereby revealing the delusion of sin. In all these torments and plagues, the people of God though passing through tribulation are protected from the divine wrath.

The seventh and the final trumpet blast heralds the kingdom of God. One notices immediately the twofold hymn of praise rendered by a heavenly host and the twenty-four elders before God´s throne respectively. The last trumpet blast culminates the whole project. It is all about the dawn of God´s kingdom on earth.

The torments and tumults model the creation and the Egyptian plague with the tone of Joel´s prophecy but underneath lies the saving mercy of God and all his efforts to gear men towards repentance that they might be found worthy to dwell in his new creation. At last, the wrath of God has come and it is a saving wrath; a wrath that abhors sin in all its forms and colours. The day of the Lord is pictured by the prophets as a day of anger when the wicked will be judged and the righteous rewarded – hence it is the dawn of a new creation which really begins with the birth of the messiah in chapter 12. The cosmic upheaval of 11:19 is a sign of the dawn of a new era. Because of this, exegetes have not agreed whether this verse concluded the pericope of the seventh trumpet or it begins the pericope of the birth of   messiah and the battle between the woman and the dragon. Like David Aune and some others, I see this verse playing a pivotal role between the previous and the subsequent pericopes.  Hence, what follows after chapter 11 is an explanation of the effect of the seventh trumpet namely, the reign of God and the dethronement of demonic powers, the establishment of the kingdom of God and his people. We can simply say that the seven trumpet blasts are a symbolic way of announcing the jubilee. The angels as the trumpeters play only the role of sounding the trumpets, except the fifth angel who opened the shaft of the abyss and the sixth angel who released the angels of destruction. Both angels play a similar role of kicking off the punishment of the wicked. As we can see, the destruction is not total but only for a third of the victims, that means a portion of creation and the aim is that all others might repent. The inability to repent also mirrors the refrain in the Egyptian plagues that Pharaoh hardened his heart until the last plague which saw the liberation of the Israelites. In the vision of the seven trumpets, one could also find parallels with the visions of the seven seals and of the seven bowels of God´s anger. However, this falls outside the scope of our reflection. Next week we will reflect on the star of the third trumpet called wormwood. Stay tuned with Vox Vivens.

 


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