Read Revelation 8 at Bible Gateway.
Previously: revelation 8, the second trumpet
Then the third angel 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 water. The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many men died from the water, because it was made bitter. Rev 8:10-11
The Church traditionally held that the third trumpet of judgment was fulfilled by the barbarian invasions of the Huns, the people whose westward migration from eastern Asia had pushed the Goths into the Empire. Their leader’s name was Attila, and he was known as the Scourge of God. The Huns were fierce and cruel, and the people of the Empire were terrified of them, with reason. So thorough was their destruction that the land which they had conquered often lay waste for years.
The Romans had been paying a yearly tribute to the Huns, to keep them out of the Empire, but after Attila and the Huns had become master of most of the territory beyond the Danube and the Rhine rivers, they came into Gaul (modern day France) with an army numbering more than seven hundred thousand men. The Roman legions were recalled from Britain and elsewhere, and the combined armies of the Romans, Gauls, Franks (another German tribe which had invaded Gaul but not come into Italy), Goths, and Burgundians (yet another German tribe) met the Huns on the plain of Chalon in 451. Here a great battle was fought, and the Roman allied armies stopped the Huns’ ravage of Gaul. It is said that one hundred and sixty thousand men were slain there, and that such was their hatred that their spirits continued to fight in the air for the next three days.
Attila had been held back but not defeated completely. The following year he turned southward and marched on Italy and Rome. Outside of the city he was met by Leo, the bishop of Rome, and Attila, after being given the emperor’s sister for a bride, turned from the sack of the city. He died shortly after.
Now why is this man and his barbarian army considered the judgment of the third trumpet, in which one third of the rivers had been made bitter by a star falling from heaven, so that the people died from the bitterness of the river?
Gibbon gives us our answer. (The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, chapters 34 and 35.) First, the star: we have seen elsewhere in Revelation that stars symbolize angels, and also false pagan gods. Stars are spiritual powers in the heavens, whether the Lord’s or the enemy’s. Now early on in Attila’s career, his horse bloodied his foot, and Attila, retracing his steps, found the point of a great sword sticking up out of the ground. He unearthed this sword and carried it in battle ever after. He claimed it was the sword of Mars, the Roman god of war, cast down from heaven, and that he was the god’s son, destined to rule the Huns and everyone else. Gibbon was an ardent unbeliever and would not embellish the history to lend credence to the Bible. He reported these sayings and doings of Attila’s because this is what Attila actually said and did.
When Attila turned his attention to the Roman Empire, all of his major battles were fought on rivers. It was the Huns’ favorite tactic to lure the Roman armies into crossing the rivers after feigning a retreat. Then while the pursuing army was in the midst of the river, the Huns would turn and attack. Thus the sword of Attila, which had been cast down from heaven, according to the pagan’s own mouth, made the rivers of one- third of the Empire bitter with death. And as in the first and second trumpet judgments, this trumpet also ends with an attack on the city of Rome itself.
Continued in revelation 8, the fourth trumpet