Then the third angel sounded a trumpet: and an enormous star fell out of the sky aflame like a torch, and it fell upon the third of the rivers, and upon the springs of the waters.
And the name of the star is called The Wormwood, and the third if the water became wormwood, and a great many of the people died from the waters, because they were made bitter.Revelation 8:10-11
If this third trumpet is to be understood metaphorically, then the bright star would be some glowing personage commanding the stage of history. Somehow, their influence is poisonous, causing the deaths of many.
According to this view, the third star represents Attila the Hun, called “the scourge of God,” the next era in the course of the Roman Empire’s gradual downfall. Far to the east, the Huns arose in the Caucasus of Central Asia, unknown to the Romans until 800,000 men suddenly appeared along the Danube River. Accounts of their battling in the northern Italian Alps spoke of 300,000 men lying dead, polluting the mountain springs, and causing a second wave of deaths from disease and famine.
Or perhaps this blazing star was not a political giant but rather a powerful ecclesiastical leader such as Pelagius or Arius, whose teachings were considered heretical and a corrupting factor in the church.
In the aftermath of the battle at Galilee, many were left dead in the Sea of Tiberius and on its shores, contaminating the water. Preterist scholars draw a parallel to the time of the Exodus.
Then Moses ordered Israel to set out from the Red Sea, and they went into the wilderness of Shur. They went three days in the wilderness and found no water. When they came to Marah, they could not drink the water of Marah because it was bitter. That is why it was called Marah.
And the people complained against Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”
He cried out to the Lord, and the Lord showed him a piece of wood; he threw it into the water, and the water became sweet.
The Lord said, “If you will listen carefully to the voice of the Lord your God, and do what is right in his sight, and give heed to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I am the Lord who heals you.”Exodus 15:22-25, 26 (NRSV)
Symbolically, the bitterness of the water depicted bitterness of the Hebrews’ enslavement in Egypt. But the Lord had warned that should they depart from God’s words and way,
“then the Lord will overwhelm both you and your offspring with severe and lasting afflictions and grievous and lasting maladies. He will bring back upon you all the diseases of Egypt, of which you were in dread, and they shall cling to you.”Deuteronomy 28:59-60 (NRSV)
Now, the Lord was indeed rendering judgment on Judea, as God had warned.
In particular, wormwood was a familiar metaphor among several of the prophets for the corruption of apostacy.
It may be that there is among you a man or woman or a family or tribe whose heart is already turning away from the Lord our God to serve the gods of those nations. It may be that there is among you a root sprouting poisonous and bitter growth.Deuteronomy 29:18 (NRSV)
Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts concerning the prophets:Jeremiah 23:15 (NRSV)
I am going to make them eat wormwood
and give them poisoned water to drink,
for from the prophets of Jerusalem
ungodliness has spread throughout the land.
Ah, you who turn justice to wormwoodAmos 5:7 (NRSV)
and bring righteousness to the ground!
Putting all these passages together, a message emerges through John’s vision. Israel has abandoned God by the rejection of God’s Son, Messiah Jesus. Just as God leveled judgment on Egypt and Babylon of old, so now would judgment fall upon Israel
Many interpreters who look to a future fulfillment also understand the great bright star to be a towering political dignitary such as the Antichrist, or religious celebrity such as the leader of a major world religion. In either case, an important and international leader will become corrupted, laws will become the source of harm, or religious teaching will serve to pervert and subvert those of faith. “Waters,” in this case, would continue to mean the peoples of the earth.
Nevertheless, there is also room to see a literal fulfillment. Like the flaming mountain, the blazing star might be a meteorite or asteroid plummeting to the earth. This time, it is not the fire that harms, but the lethal composition of the mass itself.
The flames might come from the burn happening when an object streaks through the sky and enters earth’s atmosphere. One commentator posited a large object breaking into many smaller pieces as the atmospheric drag causes its disintegration. In this way, the one star would be able to fall into fresh waters and rivers across the globe.
One possible explanation of this star’s toxic substance is some form of radioactive material, or perhaps the star itself will be manmade, such as a nuclear device.
Scholars who read John’s visions as teaching for faith in every era see water as symbolic of the natural resources of earth, vulnerable to humankind’s abuses and pollution. The water serves the same purpose as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, put there to alert the miners if the air were ever to become poisoned by invisible fumes. In the broadest reading, the natural resources of earth are made foul through irresponsible dumping, unwise stripping of the earth through mining and harvesting, filthying the air and befouling the water with the dumping of waste, and so on.
Perhaps this is a judgment against commerce run amok, against the erasure of natural habitats, of manufacture and acres of cement and steel.
Divine Judgment of Earth’s Exploitation
That the star is thrust from heaven to earth expresses divine judgement on humankind’s exploitation of earth in transgression of God’s first and primal command to all human beings.
Just as God had given God’s divine blessing and command to all the other living, breathing things, so now God blessed and commanded this final flourish of life. Human beings were to be God’s representatives on earth, stewards bearing responsibility to manage earth’s resources, to rule with benevolent care in God’s service and to God’s glory.
God designed humanity to prosper and be blessed according to the principles in God’s law, just like our universe prospers and blesses us because it works as it was designed to do, following the laws of physics and nature.
God is the Source
At a deeper and more profound level, God had described God’s own Person as the rejected source of living water.
for my people have committed two evils:Jeremiah 2:13 (NRSV)
they have forsaken me,
the fountain of living water,
and dug out cisterns for themselves,
that can hold no water.
Now, the waters of earth are turned bitter, for humanity has not only lost sight of its mandate, but lost sight of God.
The four perspectives taken from Revelation: Four Views A Parallel Commentary, edited by Steve Gregg