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So far we have discussed the first two trumpets which brought invasions upon the Western Roman Empire from 410-460 A.D. These trumpets were the word of divine judgment embodied by Alaric the Goth and Genseric the Vandal. God’s third judgment upon Rome was Attila the Hun. John speaks of the third trumpet in Rev. 8:10, 11,
10 And the third trumpet sounded, and a great star fell from heaven, burning like a torch, and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters; 11 and the name of the star is called Wormwood; and a third of the waters became wormwood; and many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter.
This is not to be understood as a literal star, comet, or meteor falling from heaven, which pollutes a third of the rivers on earth. Meteors are not known to pollute streams or rivers. Neither do the waters themselves become wormwood, as a literal interpretation of verse 11 appears to say. It is a symbolic way of saying that a destructive army has fallen upon a third of the rivers (or tributaries) of Roman territory (earth), causing hardship and great bitterness.
The bitterness of gall and wormwood is mentioned a number of times in the Old Testament and is associated first with men’s idolatry and secondly with God’s judgment for that idolatry. Wormwood was the bitter water (juice or extract) of gall. Strong’s Concordance tells us that gall (rosh) is a poppy plant. Hence, wormwood is its juice, which is full of bitter-tasting OPIUM.
Deuteronomy 32:31, 32 says,
31 Indeed their rock is not like our Rock, even our enemies themselves judge this. 32 For their vine is from the vine of Sodom, and from the fields of Gomorrah; their grapes are grapes of poison [rosh, “poppy”], their clusters, bitter.
In other words, Sodom and Gomorrah were known for their cultivation of poppies and for their drug trade. Not only was the juice bitter, but it also made life bitter for those who partook of Sodom’s communion. Jer. 9:13-15 likens this opium to the word of the false prophets in Jerusalem and to the judgment of God as well, saying,
13 And the Lord said, “Because they have forsaken My law which I set before them, and have not obeyed My voice nor walked according to it, 14 but have walked after the stubbornness of their heart and after the Baals, as their fathers taught them, 15 Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, “Behold, I will feed them, this people, with wormwood [lahana, “opium”] and give them poisoned water [mayim rosh, “water of poppy”] to drink.
In other words, divine judgment was to come on account of the lawlessness of the people. Further, the prophets of Jerusalem had comforted the people with false hope. They had “fed” the people spiritual opium to make them feel good about themselves, as Jer. 8: 10, 11 says,
10 … From the prophet even to the priest, everyone practices deceit. 11 And they heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, saying, “Peace, peace,” but there is no peace.
The prophet laments further in Jer. 8:22,
22 Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has not the health of the daughter of My people been restored?
Gilead was known for its balm (essential oil from balsam trees) that had power to heal. The prophet likens it to the true word of God, teaching from the law of God, which had the power to heal the underlying problem in Jerusalem. In this case, Jeremiah had told the people that God had decreed judgment upon Jerusalem, and that they should submit to the king of Babylon (Jer. 27:6, 9-11, 14, 15). The false prophets contradicted the true word, telling the people that God would save them from all enemies because they were the chosen people.
Most of the people believed the false prophets, thereby drinking their opium, which gave them a sense of peace and well-being, but it did not restore their spiritual health. So because the people refused to submit to the divine judgment, they acted “presumptuously” (Deut. 17:11, 12). Refusing to submit to God’s judgment results in the death penalty, for it is a treasonous act of open rebellion.
So God says, “I will feed them, this people, with wormwood” (Jer. 9:15). We showed in our book, The Laws of Wormwood and Dung, that when religion becomes full of gall (the “opiate of the people”), God then makes us drink the fruit of our own desires—gall and wormwood. This is the figurative way of depicting judgment that fits the crime.
In the case of Rev. 8:10, 11, Attila the Hun was God’s way of making the Christian Roman Empire drink the bitter waters of gall from wormwood. For this reason, the “great star” is seen falling “from heaven.” It pictures God giving the Empire wormwood to drink, as Jer. 9:15 had said about Jerusalem many years earlier.
The Christian Empire had violated the divine law by allowing a root of bitterness to defile them, even as Esau (Heb.12:15-17) and Simon Magus did (Acts8:23). The Church had become like Esau, who had neither faith nor patience and wanted to take the Kingdom by force and violence, rather than by love and peace. In reading Church history we find that the Church was full of violence against all pagans, Jews, and heretics, attempting to take the Kingdom by force.
The Church had become like Simon Magus, who thought the Holy Spirit’s power and authority (bishoprics) could be purchased with money. The Church fell into the money trap, thinking that if they could just accumulate enough money, they could bring the whole earth into God’s Kingdom. These are the roots of bitterness that defiled them and is the reason for God’s judgment upon the Christian Empire.
Divine judgment fell upon Christian Rome, even as it had fallen upon Israel in earlier centuries. The divine law, commenting upon the idolatry of the Canaanites, warned Israel not to be like them, saying in Deut. 29:18,
18 lest there shall be among you a man or woman or family or tribe, whose heart turns away today from the Lord our God, to go and serve the gods of those nations, lest there shall be among you a root bearing poisonous fruit [“water of gall”] and wormwood.
The law goes on to tell us that idolatry will bring the judgment of God upon a nation—at least upon those nations that claim the God of the Bible as their God. If they have the Bible, then they are accountable to Him to be obedient to the word.
Attila the Hun came from the East, first invading the East as far as Constantinople (446). Then he invaded Western Europe in 450 A.D. We read on page 487 of H. G. Wells’ The Outline of History,
“In 451 Attila declared war on the western empire. He invaded Gaul…. He sacked most of the towns of France as far south as Orleans. Then the Franks and Visigoths and the imperial forces united against him, and a great and obstinate battle at Chalons (451), in which over 150,000 men were killed on both sides, ended in his repulse and saved Europe from a Mongolian overlord.”
While retreating, Attila’s cruelty gave him a reputation as “the scourge of God.” Gibbon tells us in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, p. 487-488,
“. . . it was perhaps in this war that they exercised the cruelties which, about fourscore years afterwards, were revenged by the sons of Clovis. They massacred their hostages, as well as their captives; two hundred young maidens were tortured with exquisite and unrelenting rage; their bodies were torn asunder by wild horses, or their bones were crushed under the weight of rolling wagons; and their unburied limbs were abandoned on the public roads as a prey to dogs and vultures.”
Later, on page 489, Gibbon writes,
“It is a saying worthy of the ferocious pride of Attila that the grass never grew on the spot where his horse had trod.”
The Bible puts it a little differently in Deut. 29:22, 23,
22 Now the generation to come. . . when they see the plagues of the land and the diseases with which the Lord has afflicted it, will say, 23 All its land is brimstone and salt, a burning waste, unsown and unproductive, and no grass grows in it, like the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah. . .
In other words, if God’s people reject the law of God and choose instead to drink the wine of Sodom (lawless teachings, claiming peace but practicing violence), then they will suffer the same judgment that came upon Sodom and Gomorrah. They will become spiritually unproductive, and their spiritual landscape will become barren.
H. G. Wells shows that Attila’s invasions did not end with the battle at Chalons in 451. He says on page 487,
“This disaster by no means exhausted Attila’s resources. He turned his attention southward, and overran North Italy. He burnt Aquileia and Padua, and looted Milan, but he made peace at the entreaty of Pope Leo I. He died in 453….”
Gibbon tells us more details of Leo’s intercession:
“Leo, bishop of Rome, consented to expose his life for the safety of his flock. . . The barbarian monarch listened with favorable, and even respectful, attention; and the deliverance of Italy was purchased by the immense ransom or dowry of the princess Honoria.” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, p. 491)
Honoria, the daughter of the emperor, Valentinian III, was given to Attila, who added her to the innumerable wives in his harem. Such was the price of peace that Rome paid to “the scourge of God.”
Valentinian III himself, after murdering one of his generals, was murdered in turn by the general’s followers. Gibbon described Valentinian,
“. . . though he never deviated into the paths of heresy, he scandalized the pious Christians by his attachment to the profane arts of magic and divination.” (p. 496)
In this one brief statement we catch a glimpse into the state of the Church of that time. If the emperor had believed that Jesus was merely similar to God, rather than actually God, he would have been excommunicated as an Arian heretic. But since he merely murdered his general for no good reason and merely practiced magic and divination, the Church indulged him and tolerated him as an Orthodox Christian. Their creeds were more important than either personal righteousness or human lives. Gibbon concludes his chapter by saying,
“If all the barbarian conquerors had been annihilated in the same hour, their total destruction would not have restored the empire of the West; and if Rome still survived, she survived the loss of freedom, of virtue, and of honour.” (p. 497)
Like Israel of old, the Church forsook the covenant of God. Israel forsook the Old Covenant, while the Church forsook the New Covenant. Thus, we read of the purpose of divine judgment again in Deut. 29:24-26,
24 And all the nations shall say, Why has the Lord done thus to this land? Why this great outburst of anger? 25 Then men shall say, Because they forsook the covenant of the Lord, the God of their fathers, which He made with them when He brought them out of the land of Egypt. 26 And they went and served other gods and worshipped them, gods whom they have not known, and whom He had not allotted to them.
Attila the Hun was only the third trumpet to be blown against the Christian Roman Empire. Each trumpet was another call to repentance, and each time Rome overcame, but became weaker and moved closer to collapse.