What does the word “wormwood” mean in the Book of Revelation and in the Old Testament?
The Book of Revelation
The Book of Revelation is not the Apostle John’s book. He writes that it is “The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants the things that must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John” (Rev 1:1) so it is as if he is dictating what Jesus Christ tells him to write down. John is very familiar with the Author of this book because he “bore witness to the word of God and to the testimony of Jesus Christ, even to all that he saw” (Rev 1:2). The Book of Revelation mentions the word “wormwood” (Rev 8:11) but this word is also used in the Old Testament and, as I hope to show, it is very closely associated with the use of wormwood in the Book of Revelation.
Wormwood in the Old Testament
Solomon use the word wormwood in the very same context as did Jeremiah and Amos the Prophet. Solomon wrote that “the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword” and “Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol” (Prov 5:3-5). Solomon used the word wormwood as something that leads to a bitter ending. The “forbidden” woman is obviously someone who the man is forbidden to have sexual relationships with but he does it anyway and it could well lead to sexually transmitted diseases, divorce, and even death (Sheol). That’s a very bitter ending as a two-edged sword can be fatal. The Hebrew word Solomon uses is “la`anah” which means “bitterness.” Jeremiah uses the same, exact word when he writes “He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood” (Lam 3:15). Jeremiah uses the word bitterness and wormwood interchangeably. The only other author in the Old Testament to use this word is Amos, and speaking for God to Israel, he writes, “Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, O you who turn justice to wormwood and cast down righteousness to the earth” (Amos 5:6-7) and in Amos 6 where God tells Israel, “you have turned justice into poison and the fruit of righteousness into wormwood” (6:12). In every case where it is used, the authors of the Old Testament used wormwood in association with bitterness and this lead to a bitter ending, every time.
Wormwood in Revelation
The Apostle John writes the only verse in the New Testament with the word wormwood in Revelation 8:11 where he writes, “The name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter.” In Revelation chapter 8, John is writing about the time when “the seven angels who had the seven trumpets prepared to blow” their trumpets (Rev 8:6) when two judgments were to be poured out upon all the unrepentant. The occurrence where wormwood is used is in Revelation 8 where John writes that the “The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from heaven, blazing 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 people died from the water, because it had been made bitter” (Rev 8:10-11). John uses the Greek word “apsinthion” which again means bitter, but in this case, it is the name of an actual star (Rev 8:11) however angels are sometimes referred to as stars, especially in the Old Testament. Perhaps this “star” is an angel carrying out God’s judgment. If not, it could well be an actual meteorite that strikes the earth and pollutes 1/3rd of the earth’s fresh water supply. Is John describing a meteorite when he writes that “a great star fell from heaven, blazing like a torch” and “and it fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water” and somehow the “waters became wormwood, and many people died from the water, because it had been made bitter?” This “star” is part of the Third Trumpet or woes of God as these trumpets are also referred to as “woes” which is a word that means judgment, but more than judgment, it’s the giving of the verdict and punishment and there are yet three more to come (Rev 8:13).
Wormwood is the name of a plant and of the bitter-tasting extract derived from it and that is what the judgment of God will taste like to everyone who refuses to repent and trust in Christ. It will be the bitterest of things to swallow and the bitterest of all endings because it is without end as John writes; “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” (Rev 14:11).
Article by Jack Wellman
Jack Wellman is Pastor of the Mulvane Brethren Church in Mulvane Kansas. Jack is also the Senior Writer at What Christians Want To Know whose mission is to equip, encourage, and energize Christians and to address questions about the believer’s daily walk with God and the Bible. You can follow Jack on Google Plus or check out his book Teaching Children the Gospel available on Amazon.