The First Four Trumpets – Barbarian Storms
8:1 And when he had opened the seventh seal there was silence in heaven for about the space of half an hour.
Silence: probably then onlookers were struck with awe because of the content of the seventh seal.
8:2 And I saw the seven angels which stood before God, and seven trumpets were given to them.
The seven angels with the seven trumpets constitute the seventh seal, making plain the sequential design of the unfolding of the symbols.
8:3 And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer, and there was given to him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
Another angel: to distinguish and to mark him as being no part of the seven. Since they stand by until this angel performs his acts, before they begin to sound, it is indicated that what is prefigured is related to the beginning of the sounding, but not a part of the trumpets.
8:4 And the smoke of the incense [which came] with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand. 8:5 And the angel took the censer and filled it with fire of the altar, and cast [it] into the earth; and there were voices. and thunderings, and lightnings, and an earthquake.
These verses indicate that a great deal of prayer is offered concerning imminent events as the time approaches toward the beginning of the sounding of the trumpets. The cause of the prayers may be the secular commotions indicated by voices, thunder, and earthquake.
The latter indicates that at the end of the last period of the unprecedented growth of the number of the saved, there would be violent secular upheavals which will alter the world. We call attention to the preface of chapter seven.
7:1 And after these things I saw four angels standing on the four corners of the earth, holding the four winds of the earth, that the wind should not blow on the earth, nor on the sea, nor on any tree.
7:2 And I saw another angel ascending from the east having the seal of the living God; and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, 7:3 Saying, Hurt not the earth nor the sea, nor the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God in their foreheads.
Since the sealing is now over, it must mean that the winds are now going to blow and the earth, sea and trees are now going to be hurt by the winds or angels who have been held back until now. The first four trumpets seem to be loosed here, as though one would say, Loose the four winds.
8:6 And the seven angels which had the seven trumpets prepared themselves to sound.
Thus showing the events that prepare these trumpets, the prayers, commotion and earthquake, precede the sounding of the trumpets.
8:7 The first angel sounded and there followed hail, and fire mingled with blood, and they were cast upon the earth; and the third part of trees was burned up and all the green grass was burned up.
This and each of the first four trumpets deliver blows that fall on one third of the world. This will set the stage; the first four affect the first one third of the world, the fifth trumpet will affect one third and the sixth trumpet will complete this part of the scheme, affecting the final third.
This is understood for the fifth trumpet but clearly stated under the sixth trumpet, as in: Rev. 9:15; And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, to slay the third part of men.
Historical interpreters, with whom I concur, ascribe the first four trumpets to the successive barbarian invasions beginning with the Goths under Alaric, followed by the Vandals, the Huns and finally the Ostrogoth, Odoacer, from whom all historians date the beginning of the dark ages and at which the first third of the Roman Empire fell. This is explained further below.
8:8 And the second angel sounded, and as it were a great mountain burning with fire was cast into the sea; and the third part of the sea became blood; 8:9 And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea and had life, died; and the third part of ships were destroyed. 8:10 And the third angel sounded and there fell a great star from heaven, burning like a lamp, and it fell on the third part of the rivers, and on the fountains of waters; 8:11 And the name of the star is called Wormwood; and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many died of the waters because they were made bitter.
Star from heaven: as in other places this figure refers to a person to whom is ascribed divine powers, or to one of the pagan gods.
8:12 And the fourth angel sounded and the third part of the sun was struck, 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 shined not for a third part of it and the night likewise.
Land, Sea, Rivers, Light: These figures will be repeated under the vials in chapter 16 where earth, sea, rivers, and source of light are plagued in the same order under the first four vials. Not that the same locations are necessarily depicted, but that there is design in the book. One of those things designed is that the first four events in each of the predicted series, seals, trumpets, and vials, are interrelated.
The first four horses are all related in some way as has been shown. These first four trumpets are related to events that affect one third of the earth, and that is the progressive attacks which brought about the fall of the Roman Empire in the West.
The first four vials also are poured on earth, sea, rivers, and sun. They too, therefore, should be related to some series of four, related to one historic event in the fulfillment, as these former are.
The fourth trumpet, which darkens one third of the sun, moon and stars, could not be a better picture of the beginning of the dark ages.
8:13 And I beheld and heard an angel flying through the midst of heaven, saying with a loud voice, Woe, Woe, Woe, to the inhabiters of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet of the three angels that are yet to sound!
Woe, Woe, Woe: This is a very plain clue to the design of the book. Trumpets five, six, and seven are “Woe” trumpets. Rev. 9:12 says, “The first woe is past, behold, There are two woes yet to come.” Thus making plain that the sixth and the seventh trumpets are woe trumpets.
Then in Rev. 11:14, just before the sounding of the seventh trumpet it says: “The second woe is past; behold, the third woe comes quickly,” which plainly shows the seventh trumpet is after the sixth trumpet. The woes of the seventh trumpet can not therefore be concurrent with any of the events of the first six trumpets.
As stated in that place, too, the “Woe” of the seventh trumpet is not outlined in chapter eleven, but is comprised in the seven vials, or bowls, which are all woes.
These are clues as to the design of the book. As the seven trumpets are contained in the seventh seal, so the seven vials, or bowls, are contained in the seventh trumpet. The design of this book is so intricate as to be difficult to discover, but once discovered its precision is so perfect that it is evidence that divine inspiration has produced the design.
The First Four Trumpets
We have arrived at the end of the fifth century in our paralleling history with the symbols. The triumph of Christianity and its unprecedented growth in the Empire is pictured under the sixth seal and the interlude of the seventh chapter.
The eighth chapter opens with the church offering much prayer just before the sounding of the trumpets and an event that causes much commotion in the earth. It must be these events for which the prayers are offered.
Then the trumpets begin to sound and successive blows hit the earth, sea, rivers, and then the lights go out. All of this affects one third of the locations. The events in history that begin just after the great growth of believers in Christ of course lead to the fall of the Roman Empire in the West and the beginning of the dark ages.
There could hardly be a more fitting set of symbols to show these events.
The earthquake, as no part of the seven trumpets but related to them, no doubt marks the battle of Hadrianople in 378 A. D. which itself is like a trumpet. At least it gave a clarion call to those awake that the world was changing. Rome had existed many centuries and many wars had been fought; mostly but not always victoriously.
However the Battle of Hadrianople in 378 A.D. marks the first time that a Roman Army was decisively and completely defeated by an invader inside the boundaries of the Roman Empire! Compounding this, the Roman Emperor Valens was killed in the battle.
Consequently the Battle of Hadrianople is one of those pivotal battles that altered the course of the history for all of us on this planet. Besides the death of the Roman emperor, Valens, killed in the battle, the nations comprising present Hungary, Rumania and much of Yugoslavia fell to the Goths and the Arian heresy of Christianity.
Gratian succeeded Valens who died at Hadrianople. He gathered an army and was traveling to meet the Goths and rescue what was left of Valens’ army. A long treatise on the Christian faith was written by Ambrose, Bishop of Milan, at the invitation of Gratian. Gratian wanted a clear statement and proofs of the trinitarian doctrine so that he could convince the Goths and people dwelling in the areas they now controlled of the truth of the orthodox faith!
The tumult in the Empire and the church caused by these developments is clearly seen in Ambrose’s writings which are contemporary with Hadrianople.*
* Ambrose: Christian Faith; Book III, 2.
There was much commotion that preceded and followed Hadrianople.* The movement of the Barbarian nations had already begun. The Huns had left their home north of China and had migrated with no small stir across central Asia into the former home of the Scythians — at that time occupied by the Goths.
These semi-civilized Gothic barbarians were forced from their homeland north of the Black Sea through Dacia into the Roman Empire. The disturbances symbolized by the voices, thunder, lightning, and earthquake would coincide with these events brought on by the defeat at Hadrianople, and the consequent roaming at will of the nation of the Goths within the confines of the Empire with no one to stop them.
How the Christians must have prayed as they saw these events disturb the tranquility of the Roman world! These events preceded and led up to the four blows against Rome that would end the Empire in the West in 476. Wells says as much:
*Gibbon, Edward, Barbarism and the Fall of Rome Vol. II Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, abridged and edited by Jacob Sloan, Pub. Collier 1962 pgs 19 – 57 Gibbon describes this period from the year 365 to 395, which he styles: First barbarian invasions, progress of the Huns from China, flight of the Goths, their crossing the Danube, the war, death of Valens to the peace settlement with the Goths, which latter, of course, was immediately breached.
“Before we go on to tell of the blows that now began to fall on the Roman Empire… we may say a few words about… these westward drifting barbaric Mongolian peoples… who were spreading toward the Black and Baltic Seas… and fell at last like an avalanche upon the weak-backed Roman Empire.”*
* Wells, H.G. The Outline of History; Pub. first 1920, Garden City Publishing Company. pg. 636 This is a popular history and has enjoyed scores of reprinted editions.
In the following pages Wells does as good a job as any historian giving the facts which coincided marvelously with the prophecy. There were four groups of barbarians who in the years following 400 A.D. made assaults on Rome attacking land, sea, rivers, and “lights out” in that order, all of them entering the city of Rome itself.
The first blow on the earth and vegetation is fulfilled in the invasion and sack of Rome in 410 by the Goths led by Alaric. It was his policy to burn the orchards and vineyards, fill cultivated fields with stones and generally destroy agriculture.
The second blow was made by the Vandals who had crossed the Mediterranean, reached and rebuilt Carthage by 429 and attacked Roman commerce from the sea, first the islands and the coast of Spain and finally sacked Rome in 455, loading their pillaged goods into their boats and carrying them off.
Attila rose as leader of the Huns and began his depredations of the Empire after the Vandals.* According to Gibbon’s lengthy account all his major battles were ought on rivers. His strategy was to lure the Roman armies into crossing the rivers after he has feigned a retreat. While the armies were crossing the rivers he ordered his troops to attack. Attila claimed to be the son of Mars. Gibbon describes the time when Attila’s horse bloodied his foot and upon retracing his steps he found the point of a sword sticking out of the ground.
Digging the sword out he declared it the sword of Mars having been cast down from heaven. He then claimed to be the son of Mars. This incredibly fits the symbol of a star falling from heaven and bloodying and making the rivers bitter, with many dying in the rivers! Attila also made a direct assault on Rome and not only entered the city, but also came away with the princess and took her to his mountain palace where he hoped to wed her.
But Oh! The ironies of history! He died on his wedding night — before the consummation of the marriage! The Huns disappeared from history after the death of Attila.
* Ibid. pg. 484.
Conditions Described by a Contemporary
The conditions which disrupted all of Italy and daily life are adequately described by Rufinus who lived through the Barbarian experiences. Rufinus translated most of the important portions of the Greek Ante Nicean Fathers into Latin. He had been assigned these labors by various Christian leaders.
His task was assigned during the first of the Barbarian invasions. In his introduction to his translation of Eusebius Church History he eloquently shows the irony of the timing of the invitation to make this translation. He likens it to a doctor who prescribes medicine as a defense when a disease is endemic. He wrote to Chromatis, whom he calls a venerable father,
“At the moment when the gates of Italy were broken through (400 A.D.) by Alaric, the commander of the Goths, and thus a disease and a plague poured in upon us, which made havoc of the fields and cattle and men throughout the land. You then sought a remedy [for the minds of the afflicted nation by translating from Greek to Latin the Eccleastical History of Eusebius.]”*
* Rufinus; Vol iii pg. 565
In his preface to the translation of Origen’s commentary on the book of Numbers in the year 410 when Rome fell to the Goths and Italy was torn up completely from north to south, Rufinus who had fled Italy complained that the times were not conducive to translating. To Donatas he wrote,
“How can the pen move freely when a man is in fear of the missiles of the enemy, when he has before his eyes the devastation of cities and country, when he has to fly from dangers of the sea, and there is no safety even in exile? As you yourself saw, the Barbarian was in sight of us; he had set fire to the city of Rhegium, and our only protection against him was the very narrow sea that separates the soil of Italy from Sicily. In such a position what leisure could there be for writing, and especially for translating.”*
* Ibid pg. 568
What amazing coincidence this has been so far. Blows on earth, sea, and rivers. The fourth trumpet was then marvelously paralleled and fulfilled when Odoacer the Ostrogoth entered Rome and in 476 sat on the Imperial throne. An unlettered barbarian was now king of Rome. From that event in history most historians date the beginning of the dark ages.
It was the end of civilization in the West, and the amenities accompanying it. There would no longer be an education system — no schools, no roads, no centralized commerce. The light of culture had surely gone out and the progress of systematic learning would not be rediscovered again in the West until the Renaissance of the 1500’s.