“At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Ps. 16:11)
“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; 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” (Rev. 8:10–11).
The seven trumpets are harbingers of a coming judgment upon a wicked and unbelieving city. In the Old Testament, the Canaanite city of Jericho was solemnly sealed in her destruction by seven trumpets blasting. What this indicates is a strong reversal theme in Revelation. Here Jerusalem is in the place of Jericho, the chosen people have now taken the place of the pagan Canaanites. The plagues that rain down on Israel in this book are reminiscent of the plagues that wiped out Egypt—and in Rev. 11:8, this is a reversal that is made explicit—Jerusalem is identified with both Sodom and Egypt. These are the two great places in the Old Testament best known for the judgment that fell upon them from Heaven. What is that place now? It is Jerusalem.
The same thing is found in our passage itself. When Moses brought the children of Israel away from the Red Sea (Ex. 15:22), they came to a place called Marah. It was called that because the water was bitter. The Lord showed Moses a tree there, which he threw into the bitter water in order to make it sweet (Ex. 15:23-25). In this passage, the reversal is plainly shown—the waters are sweet, and God throws a great star, burning like a torch (reminiscent of the tree in Exodus), into the water in such a way as to make them bitter. Why is this significant? Because wormwood means bitter, and because of the warning that was given to them at Marah, with Egypt of recent memory still smoldering.
“And said, If thou wilt diligently hearken to the voice of the Lord thy God, and wilt do that which is right in his sight, and wilt give ear to his commandments, and keep all his statutes, I will put none of these diseases upon thee, which I have brought upon the Egyptians: for I am the Lord that healeth thee” (Ex. 15:26).
If they kept his commandments, they would not be visited with the diseases that had afflicted the Egyptians. They would not take the place of Egypt. But unfortunately they did not keep God’s commandments, and now He was making Marah bitter again. So keep in mind, once again, that this judgment is aimed straight at Israel.
The name of the star is Wormwood, which means bitterness, and the falling star turns the water to wormwood, which still means bitterness. Because of it, men die—either because the water is poisoned, or because they refuse to drink it because it is so bad. And that is what every form of disobedience and idolatry always produces (Dt. 29:18). When they follow after the Baalim, God gives them wormwood to drink (Jer. 9:14-15). Because the prophets are profane, God will feed them with wormwood (Jer. 23:15). This was a signal mark of God’s fierce judgements (Lam. 3:15, 19). And in one instance, it was the sin—turning judgment into wormwood—that invites the further judgment from God (Amos 5:6). This was precisely the great sin on the part of the Sanhedrin—that of condemning the Lord Jesus to a cross of wood, where He would be offered vinegar mixed with gall. What was this but the crime of turning justice into wormwood? This is what invited the cataclysmic destruction of 70 A.D.