“Then the third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star fell from the sky, burning like a torch. It fell on one-third of the rivers and on the springs of water. The name of the star was Bitterness. It made one-third of the water bitter, and many people died from drinking the bitter water.” Revelation 8:10-11
It seems preferable, however, to view this with a reasonable literalness, as in the case of the second trumpet. The star seems to be a heavenly body or a mass from outer space, understandably burning as it enters the atmosphere of earth, and falling with contaminating influence upon the rivers and waters. In some translations, the word wormwood is used instead of bitter. The reference to wormwood seems to draw the parallel of the experience of the children of Israel at the waters of Marah (Exodus 15:23-25). There the tree cast into the bitter waters made them sweet. Here the wormwood cast into the sweet water made it bitter. Such also is the contrast between Christ on the cross atoning for sin and making that which is bitter sweet and Christ coming in judgment which turns the vain hopes and ambitions of men into bitterness and despair. The result of this trumpet is to inflict a divine judgment from God upon men themselves. John described it as a great star that fell from heaven. The Greek word here for “star” can refer to any celestial body other than the sun and moon. The massive object that smashed into the ocean remained intact, but this object disintegrated as it reached Earth’s atmosphere. The fact that it is described as burning like a torch supports that it is likely a meteor or comet.
Its fiery debris fell on a third of the rivers and on the springs of waters, polluting the fresh water around the globe. Because of its deadly effects, the star will be called Wormwood. It is a shrub whose leaves are used in the manufacture of absinthe, a liqueur so toxic that its manufacture is banned in many countries. Wormwood is mentioned eight times in the Old Testament, where it is associated with bitterness, poison, and death (Deuteronomy 29:18; Proverbs 5:4; Jeremiah 9:15; 23:15; Lamentations 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7; 6:12). In three of those uses, wormwood is connected with poisoned water. Whatever the poison represented by the name Wormwood is, it destroys a third of the fresh waters. The repeated pattern of one-third destruction demonstrates that these are not natural events, but divine judgments. With the third trumpet judgment, John records that many men died from the waters, because they were made bitter. The rivers will run with deadly poison. The wells will become springs of death. The lakes and reservoirs will be filled with toxic waters. Yet, the worst is yet to come.