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Revelation 8:11

Wormwood
Ἄψινθος [Apsinthos] : Artemisia Absinthium1 . Derived from absinthe, a bitter, dark green oil made from certain strong-smelling plants with white or yellow flowers, alcoholic in effect; called wormwood from its use as a medicine to kill intestinal worms.”2 The equivalent word (also translated as wormwood) in the OT is לַעֲנָה [laʿănâ] , “a very unpleasant substance to consume, which may make one sick, either a root herb, leafy plant oil, or liver-bile; wormwood, i.e., a dark green bitter oil used in absinthe Artemisia absinthium.”3

[In the Old Testament] it is suggested that it is a poison derived from a root of some kind (Deuteronomy Deu. 29:18), that it is very bitter (Proverbs Pr. 5:4), and that it produces drunkenness (Lamentations Lam. 3:15) and eventual death. It is associated with another poison known as “gall” (Deuteronomy Deu. 29:18; Lamentations Lam. 3:19). This substance was used to produce a stupefying drink for Christ on the cross (Psalm Ps. 69:21; Matthew Mat. 27:34) which, however, He refused to drink.4

Significantly, God describes idolatry as “a root bearing bitterness of wormwood” (Deu. Deu. 29:17). Idolatry is a prevalent sin of the earth dwellers during this time of judgment (Rev. Rev. 9:20+; Rev. Rev. 13:15-16+). So God judges their bitterness of wormwood by giving them wormwood to drink. This is the same judgment which God gave Israel when she rejected Him and pursued false Gods (Jer. Jer. 8:14; Jer. 9:14-16; Jer. 23:15). Wormwood also describes the fruit of unrighteousness, which will be a prevalent characteristic of the Tribulation period (Amos Amos 5:7; Amos 6:12 cf. 2Ti. 2Ti. 3:2-4). At the bitter waters of Marah, Moses cast a tree into the waters and made them sweet (Ex. Ex. 15:25). This pictured Messiah’s work on the cross which provided living water (John John 7:38-39). Here, we have wormwood which turns the earth dwellers’ water bitter. Since they would not avail themselves of the cross of Christ—today’s “tree of life”—to obtain the living waters of Jesus (John John 4:10), God gives them wormwood instead and poisonous waters which bring death rather than life. Like Moses, one of Elisha’s miracles healed bitter waters and made them sweet (2K. 2K. 2:19-22).

many men died
The explicit identification of men—separately from the trees, grass, sea, ships, and living creatures in the sea—is another evidence of the need to interpret these judgments literally. If the latter represent various organizations and systems of man, why are men specifically singled out here? Many men die from drinking the poisoned waters, but many more will also die due to lack of water from the loss of one-third of the earth’s aquifer.

it was made bitter
It was made bitter is ἐπικράνθησαν [epikranthēsan] . The same word describes the effect upon John’s stomach of the book of prophecy which he is given to eat (Rev. Rev. 10:7+). Here, the bitterness is so severe as to cause death. The wormwood is essentially poisonous.

Notes

1 Henry George Liddell, Robert Scott, and Henry Stuart Jones, A Greek-English Lexicon. With a revised supplement, 1996., With a revised supplement, 1996 (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1996), 299.

2 Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 85.

3 James Swanson, Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament), electronic ed. (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, 1997), s.v. “a very unpleasant substance to consume, which may make one sick, either a root herb, leafy plant oil, or liver-bile; wormwood, i.e., a dark green bitter oil used in absinthe .”

4 Henry Morris, The Revelation Record (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1983), Rev. 8:11.

Read Revelation 8:11