Revelation 8:11
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.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(11) And the name of the star . . .—Translate, And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many of mankind died from the waters, because they were embittered. The bitter, nauseous plant known as wormwood (apsinthos) is used to represent troubles and calamities. In Jeremiah 9:15 we have an example of this: “Behold, I will feed them, even this people, with wormwood, and give them water of gall to drink.” It is worth noticing that the Israelites are warned against idolatry as “a root that beareth gall and wormwood” (Deuteronomy 29:18); and we may recall the symbolical act of Moses, who ground the golden calf to powder, cast the powder in the brook, and made the children of Israel drink (Exodus 32:20). Some have thought that this falling star signified some false teacher, whose evil influence poisoned the pure currents of the gospel, and perverted the minds of men of original genius, who are represented here as fountains. The passages cited above favour the thought, and it may be included in the general meaning of the vision; but the main point seems to be to give us hints of those stages which will mark the advance of Christianity. The fall of the great men, the rulers and leaders, will take place, and their fall will bring misery to mankind. Doubtless the appearance of false teachers in the Church is one of the evidences find an unavoidable accompaniment of a progressing faith (Matthew 13:26). But all such false lights shall fall before Him who is the true Light and Morning Star, and who will heal all embittered waters of life. (Comp. Exodus 15:23, and 2Kings 2:19.)

8:7-13 The first angel sounded the first trumpet, and there followed hail and fire mingled with blood. A storm of heresies, a mixture of dreadful errors falling on the church, or a tempest of destruction. The second angel sounded, and a great mountain, burning with fire, was cast into the sea; and the third part of the sea became blood. By this mountain some understand leaders of the persecutions; others, Rome sacked by the Goths and Vandals, with great slaughter and cruelty. The third angel sounded, and there fell a star from heaven. Some take this to be an eminent governor; others take it to be some person in power who corrupted the churches of Christ. The doctrines of the gospel, the springs of spiritual life, comfort, and vigour, to the souls of men, are corrupted and made bitter by the mixture of dangerous errors, so that the souls of men find ruin where they sought refreshment. The fourth angel sounded, and darkness fell upon the great lights of heaven, that give light to the world, the sun, and the moon, and the stars. The guides and governors are placed higher than the people, and are to dispense light, and kind influences to them. Where the gospel comes to a people, and has not proper effects on their hearts and lives, it is followed with dreadful judgments. God gives alarm by the written word, by ministers, by men's own consciences, and by the signs of the times; so that if people are surprised, it is their own fault. The anger of God makes all comforts bitter, and even life itself burdensome. But God, in this world, sets bounds to the most terrible judgments. Corruption of doctrine and worship in the church are great judgments, and also are the usual causes and tokens of other judgments coming on a people. Before the other three trumpets were sounded, there was solemn warning how terrible the calamities would be that should follow. If lesser judgments do not take effect the church and the world must expect greater; and when God comes to punish the world, the inhabitants shall tremble before him. Let sinners take warning to flee from the wrath to come; let believers learn to value and to be thankful for their privileges; and let them patiently continue in well doing.And the name of the star is called Wormwood - Is appropriately so called. The writer does not say that it would be actually so called, but that this name would be properly descriptive of its qualities. Such expressions are common in allegorical writings. The Greek word - ἄψινθος apsinthos - denotes "wormwood," a well-known bitter herb. That word becomes the proper emblem of bitterness. Compare Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Lamentations 3:15, Lamentations 3:19.

And the third part of the waters became wormwood - Became bitter as wormwood. This is doubtless an emblem of the calamity which would occur if the waters should be thus made bitter. Of course they would become useless for the purposes to which they are mostly applied, and the destruction of life would be inevitable. To conceive of the extent of such a calamity we have only to imagine a large portion of the wells, and rivers, and fountains of a country made bitter as wormwood. Compare Exodus 15:23-24.

And many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter - This effect would naturally follow if any considerable portion of the fountains and streams of a land were changed by an infusion of wormwood. It is not necessary to suppose that this is intended to be literally true; for as, by the use of a symbol, it is not to be supposed that literally a part of the waters would be turned into wormwood by the baleful influence of a falling meteor, so it is not necessary to suppose that there is intended to be represented a literal destruction of human life by the use of waters. Great destruction and devastation are undoubtedly intended to be denoted by this - destruction that would be well represented in a land by the natural effects if a considerable part of the waters were, by their bitterness, made unfit to drink.

In the interpretation and application, therefore, of this passage, we may adopt the following principles and rules:

(a) It may be assumed, in this exposition, that the previous symbols, under the first and second trumpet-blasts, referred respectively to Alaric and his Goths, and to Genseric and his Vandals.

(b) That the next great and decisive event in the downfall of the empire is the one that is here referred to.

(c) That there would be some chieftain or warrior who might be compared with a blazing meteor; whose course would be singularly brilliant; who would appear suddenly like a blazing star, and then disappear like a star whose light was quenched in the waters.

(d) That the desolating course of that meteor would be mainly on those portions of the world that abounded with springs of water and running streams.

(e) That an effect would be produced as if those streams and fountains were made bitter; that is, that many persons would perish, and that wide desolations would be caused in the vicinity of those rivers and streams, as if a bitter and baleful star should fall into the waters, and death should spread over the lands adjacent to them, and watered by them.

Whether any events occurred of which this would be the proper emblem is now the question. Among expositors there has been a considerable degree of unanimity in supposing that Attila, the king of the Huns, is referred to; and if the preceding expositions are correct, there can be no doubt on the subject. After Alaric and Genseric, Attila occupies the next place as an important agent in the overthrow of the Roman empire, and the only question is, whether he would be properly symbolized by this baleful star. The following remarks may be made to show the propriety of the symbol:

(1) As already remarked, the place which he occupies in history, as immediately succeeding Alaric and Genseric in the downfall of the empire. This will appear in any chronological table, or in the table of contents of any of the histories of those times. A full detail of the career of Attila may be found in Gibbon, vol. ii. pp. 314-351. His career extended from 433 a.d. to 453 a.d. It is true that he was contemporary with Genseric, king of the Vandals, and that a portion of the operations of Genseric in Africa were subsequent to the death of Attila (455 a.d. to 467 a.d.); but it is also true that Genseric preceded Attila in the career of conquest, and was properly the first in order, being pressed forward in the Roman warfare by the Huns, 428 a.d. See Gibbon, ii.306ff.

(2) In the manner of his appearance he strongly resembled a brilliant meteor flashing in the sky. He came from the east, gathering his Huns, and poured them down, as we shall see, with the rapidity of a flashing meteor, suddenly on the empire. He regarded himself also as devoted to Mars, the god of war, and was accustomed to array himself in a especially brilliant manner, so that his appearance, in the language of his flatterers, was such as to dazzle the eyes of beholders. One of his followers perceived that a heifer that was grazing had wounded her foot, and curiously followed the track of blood, until he found in the long grass the point of an ancient sword, which he dug out of the ground and presented to Attila. "That magnanimous, or rather that artful prince," says Mr. Gibbon, "accepted with pious gratitude this celestial favor; and, as the rightful possessor of the sword of Mars, asserted his divine and indefeasible claim to the dominion of the earth. The favorite of Mars soon acquired a sacred character, which rendered his conquests more easy and more permanent; and the barbarian princes confessed, in the language of devotion or flattery, that they could not presume to gaze, with a steady eye, on the divine majesty of the king of the Huns," ii. 317. How appropriate would it be to represent such a prince by the symbol of a bright and blazing star - or a meteor flashing through the sky!

(3) there may be propriety, as applicable to him, in the expression - "a great star from heaven failing upon the earth." Attila was regarded as an instrument in the divine hand in inflicting punishment. The common appellation by which he has been known is "the scourge of God." This title is supposed by the modern Hungarians to have been first given to Attila by a hermit of Gaul, but it was "inserted by Attila among the titles of his royal dignity" (Gibbon, ii. 321, foot-note). To no one could the title be more applicable than to him.

continued...

11. The symbolizers interpret the star fallen from heaven as a chief minister (Arius, according to Bullinger, Bengel, and others; or some future false teacher, if, as is more likely, the event be still future) falling from his high place in the Church, and instead of shining with heavenly light as a star, becoming a torch lit with earthly fire and smouldering with smoke. And "wormwood," though medicinal in some cases, if used as ordinary water would not only be disagreeable to the taste, but also fatal to life: so "heretical wormwood changes the sweet Siloas of Scripture into deadly Marahs" [Wordsworth]. Contrast the converse change of bitter Marah water into sweet, Ex 15:23. Alford gives as an illustration in a physical point of view, the conversion of water into firewater or ardent spirits, which may yet go on to destroy even as many as a third of the ungodly in the latter days. His doctrine was as bitter as wormwood; and he was the ruin of many souls. But if any do rather choose to understand it of a political star, Mr. Mede’s notion bids as fair for the sense as any, because the western empire determined in Augustulus, and he reigned but a very short time; and he was a prince of many sorrows and afflictions, and many perished with him in those sorrows and afflictions which he underwent. Whether we understand it of some eminent political magistrate, (such was Augustulus), or some eminent light in the church, (such was Pelagius), they both fell about this time, the one from his terrene dignity, the other spiritually from the honour he had in the church; and many fell with them, either in a civil or in a spiritual sense. And the name of the star is called Wormwood,.... Because of the bitter afflictions, sorrows, and distresses which it was the instrument of; just as Naomi called herself Mara, because the Almighty had dealt bitterly with her, Ruth 1:20;

and the third part of the waters became wormwood; that is, the inhabitants of the provinces and cities belonging to the Roman empire were afflicted with grievous and bitter afflictions and calamities; so great distresses are called wormwood, and waters of gall given to drink, Jeremiah 9:15;

and many men died of the waters, because they were bitter; through the barbarities and cruelties of these savage people, who afflicted the empire: there seems to be an allusion to Exodus 15:23.

And the name of the star is called {8} Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.

(8) This is spoken by metaphor of a commonly known bitter herb: unless perhaps a man following those that note the derivation of words would rather explain it as an adjective for that which cannot be drunk because of its bitterness, causing the liquid it is made into to be more bitter than any man can drink.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
11. became wormwood] We are perhaps to be reminded, as before, of the plagues in Egypt, so here of the mercy to Israel, Exodus 15:25 : here, as those are intensified, so that is reversed.

many men died] Of course such water would be unwholesome for ordinary use, though wormwood is not exactly poisonous. But it may be a question whether St John means the name to indicate the herb now known as wormwood, or another more deadly one: poison seems to be meant in Deuteronomy 29:18; Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15. The root of the Hebrew word there rendered “wormwood” seems to mean “noxious.”Revelation 8:11. Καὶ τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ ἀστέρος λέγεται ὁ ἄψινθος, and the name of the star is called Wormwood) Arianism, full of bitterness. Theodoret, book ii. H. E. c. 14, respecting the Arians who drove out the bishops under Georgius of Cappadocia, says, οὕτω ΠΙΚΡΩΣ ἤλασαν αὐτοὺς, κ.τ.λ., with such bitterness they drove them out, etc. Victor, book i., respecting the Vandal persecution, thus expresses pity for Augustine, in the siege of Hippo: The sweetness of delight is changed into the BITTERNESS OF WORMWOOD. Ἄψινθος is formed from α privative, and ψίνθος, which is τέρψις in Hesychius. And the Greek word, ἀψίνθιον, appears to have been changed into a word of three syllables from the Hebrew pronunciation אפסינתין or אפסינתא.Verse 11. - And the name of the star is called Wormwood. The plant known to us under the name of wormwood is doubtless identical with the Αψινθος of this passage. The present English word is a corruption of wer-mod (equivalent to ware-mood), which may be rendered "mind-preserver," a name given to the plant by the Saxons, on account of its fancied virtues; for it was believed to be a protection against madness. Such properties were formerly frequently ascribed to plants possessing bitter and nauseous tastes, such as that of the wormwood. Varieties of the plant are common in Palestine, and are widely distributed in the world. Among the ancients it was typical of bitter sorrow. Thus Lamentations 3:19, "Remembering my misery, the wormwood and the gall;" Jeremiah 9:15, "I will feed them with wormwood." Here, therefore, the name indicates the effect of the star, viz. to cause intense trouble and sorrow. And the third part of the waters became wormwood; that is, became bitter as wormwood, that is, charged with sorrow and disaster. The general effect of the incident is described in the name given to the chief actor, as in the case of the fourth seal (see Revelation 6:8). And many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter; many of the men. Possibly (though not necessarily) of the men dwelling near the waters. For the first time mention is made of the death of men, though, doubtless, it is implied in the preceding judgments. We may notice the contrast in the miracles of Moses, who sweetened the waters of Marah (Exodus 15.), and of Elisha (2 Kings 2:22). Wormwood (ἄψινθος)

Used metaphorically in the Old Testament of the idolatry of Israel (Deuteronomy 29:18); of calamity and sorrow (Jeremiah 9:15; Jeremiah 23:15; Lamentations 3:15, Lamentations 3:19); of false judgment (Amos 5:7).

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