RAMONA LOWE
THE BOOK OF REVELATION ARTIST
   The Book of Revelation with commentary by Dr. Henry M. Morris and paintings by Ramona Lowe
The paintings are a work in progress and the finished pieces are highlighted in red on Page 2


Page 138

The Divine Imprecation

Revelation 18:6.     Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.

     In response to the voice from heaven, which had exhorted the Lord’s people to flee Babylon, there comes a responding prayer of imprecation, exhorting the Lord to punish Babylon.  Whether this prayer comes from the believers in Babylon, now experiencing the persecution which they should have anticipated (but did not) when they elected to reside in Babylon, or directly from John himself, is not stated.

     In any case, the imprecation urges the Lord to repay Babylon in kind, and with double vengeance.  “Render to her what she rendered to you!”  Babylon’s double fall (verse 2) answers to her doubled repayment and the doubled filling of her cup. Further, it is a double reminder of the dual character of Babylon.  Harlot Babylon has been burned with fire, and merchant Babylon is about to be utterly destroyed by fire and then to disappear in the sea (Revelation 17:16; 18:8, 21).

     This is the sixth reference in Revelation to the cup of wickedness with which both Babylon and all the nations of the world have been made drunken (Revelation 14:8; 17:2, 4, 6; 18:3, 6).  It is also the third reference (Revelation 14:10; 16:19; 18:6) to God’s cup of wrath, and it is amazing that God turns the one into the other.  “Babylon hath been a golden cup in the Lord’s hand, that made all the earth drunken: the nations have drunken of her wine; therefore the nations are mad” (Jeremiah 51:7).  “And I will make drunk her princes, and her wise men, her captains, and her rulers, and her mighty men: and they shall sleep a perpetual sleep, and not wake, saith the King, whose name is the Lord of hosts” (Jeremiah 51:57).

Revelation 18:7.     How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.

     The imprecatory prayer concludes with the petition that torment and sorrow be visited upon Babylon in the same proportion as the self-glorifying pride and luxurious life-style which she had flaunted in the past.  The word “deliciously” is essentially the same word as “delicacies” in verse 3, both referring to an ostentatious and offensively luxurious standard of living, supported evidently by the lucrative common market of the world banking and mercantile system centered at Babylon.

     In contrast to pride and luxury, the divinely-inspired prayer invokes pain and mourning.  The word “torment” is one implying physical pain, and could even be translated “torture.”  Similarly the word for “sorrow” is also commonly translated “mourning.”  Thus pride and luxury are to be suddenly changed to pain and mourning.

     The beautiful new buildings and avenues of rebuilt Babylon, perhaps with the famous hanging gardens of Nebuchadnezzar restored, and with finely manicured parks irrigated from the Euphrates, the ornate capital indeed sits like a proud queen in the broad plains of Shinar.  With all the world’s military and economic might as well as its cultural and religious systems centered at Babylon, it does appear to be built for the ages.

     The figure of speech is taken from Isaiah 47.  “Come down, and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon, sit on the ground: there is no throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called tender and delicate…. Sit thou silent, and get thee into darkness, O daughter of the Chaldeans: for thou shalt no more be called, The lady of kingdoms… And thou sadist, I shall be a lady for ever…. Therefore hear now this, thou that art given to pleasures, that dwellest carelessly, that sayest in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children: But these two things shall come to thee in a moment in one day, the loss of children, and widowhood” (Isaiah 47:1, 5, 7-9).  As noted before, the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah against Babylon have both a precursive partial fulfillment in the Babylon of Belshazzar and a final complete fulfillment in the restored Babylon of the Antichrist.

     The principle applies, of course, not only to Babylon as a city, but also to Babylon as a system as well as to anyone imbued with the spirit of Babylon.  “Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18).  “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).

Revelation 18:8.     Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.    

     Here is the divine response to the imprecations of verses 6 and 7.  Like the imprecatory psalms of the Old Testament (such as Psalm 35), this prayer had been divinely inspired, reflecting the judgment and desires of God himself.  Consequently, the prayer is certain to be answered, and so the response begins with the divine “Therefore.”

     Proud Babylon had boasted that she would “be a lady for ever,” that she would “see no sorrow,” and that she had “lived deliciously.”  But then the plagues of the bowls of wrath come, and the very first day they strike (that is, the plague of the terrible sores first, followed by all the others, as recorded in Revelation 16), the wicked residents of Babylon begin to experience death and sorrow and hunger.

     “She shall be utterly burned with fire!”  As the seven last plagues run their course, Babylon suffers under them like all the rest of the world.  Two of them, in fact, seem to affect Babylon especially, the plague of the darkness and the plague of the Euphrates (Revelation 16:10, 12).  The final plague had been the global earthquake, which had overthrown all the cities of the world, except Jerusalem and Babylon.  The latter’s sturdy and costly new construction, situated on the Mesopotamian plain, had somehow enabled her to withstand the awful shaking.  But then, “great Babylon came in remembrance before God” (Revelation 16:19).

     Burned utterly (one word in Greek, hatakaio).  The Scriptures do not describe the source of such a devastating fire, but it surely can be no ordinary fire.  The buildings of Babylon will certainly be of fireproof construction, yet they will be completely incinerated.  Possibly the earthquake belches fire and brimstone from the earth’s mantle. Possibly nuclear missiles stored in Babylon are somehow detonated.  Perhaps it is all strictly supernatural fire from heaven.

     The kings of the earth had burned Mystery Babylon, the harlot religious system, with fire, but these same kings mourn the burning of commercial Babylon (Revelation 17:16; 18:9), so obviously these are not the same burnings.  One is the foreshadowing of the other, but the last is utter destruction by fire.

     The probability that the fire is supernatural – or at least supernaturally triggered and released – is strengthened by the final clause of this verse.  “Strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.”

Revelation 18:9.     And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning.

     The holocaust that consumes Babylon is quickly known throughout the world.  In the rubble of the quake-devastated cities, there was still confidence that somehow the great world leaders at the capital, with their supernatural abilities, would be able to restore order and prosperity in the earth.  But then all hopes are dashed to pieces with the news of Babylon’s burning.

     It seems probable that there will be a brief period between the global earthquake and the subsequent destruction of Babylon, sufficient time to reestablish a semblance of normalcy.  Communications will be critical, so all efforts will be concentrated on their reactivation.  Soon radio and television will begin transmitting news and orders.  The armies that were on their way to Armageddon, temporarily thrown into disarray by the earthquake, soon will be on their way again.

     Then, suddenly, the awful fire strikes great Babylon.  The terrible moment will evidently occur as people all over the world, especially the kings and other leaders of the nations, are watching on television.  Perhaps all have been instructed to watch, as important announcements and instructions are being given concerning the world crisis.  The beast himself, however, along with the false prophet, will already have left Babylon to take charge of the armies as they assemble near Jerusalem.

     As the kings and great men of the earth watch in horror, they see on the video screens a tremendous burst of flame, engulfing the whole city of Babylon in a gigantic fireball.  These kings of the earth all had, only a few short years before, turned over their kingdoms to the beast (Revelation 17:17).  They had enjoyed the luxuries and great prosperity which the Babylonian system had brought, for a brief period, to the world.  They had become increasingly concerned as their kingdoms had felt the impact of the great plagues, but still maintained their confidence in the beast and his master, the old dragon.

     Now, however, they must watch in utter dismay as Babylon burns and as a giant mushroom cloud of smoke ascends high into the sky.  When they begin to realize the enormity of the calamity that has befallen the world, not only destroying its political capital but also its financial and commercial center, a great and bitter lament is heard all over the world.

     The terms “bewail” and “lament” are graphic.  The first describes uncontrollable sobbing and the second beating the breast in anguish.  What an activity for mighty kings of the world!

Revelation 18:10.     Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is they judgment come.

     These great kings of the earth, wailing and shaking, are visibly terrified by what they see.  Knowing that they have placed all their hopes for time and eternity on the beast and the dragon (understanding well the divine condemnation on all who received the beast’s mark), they are fearfully aware that Babylon’s torment may soon be theirs.  It is possible that some of these kings may be with their armies in their trek toward Armageddon and thus may actually see the great pillars of smoke (note Joel 2:30) through their telescopes from a great distance.  Most of them, however, will probably view it via television satellite transmission, standing, indeed, afar off!  However they observe it, anguish and fear in their hearts is the result.

     The English word “alas” only partly conveys the feeling in the Greek ouai, the very sound of which bespeaks grief and terror.  It is the same word translated “woe” elsewhere (as in Revelation 8:13).  Aghast at the sudden fate of the newest and richest and most important city in the world, coming so soon after the fall of other cities in the cataclysmic earthquake, they can only sob and cringe, dreading the awful confrontation they know awaits them in the valley of Jehoshaphat.

     Judgment is coming, and they must face the Judge.  God is long-suffering, but the day of repentance is past, and the hour of His judgment is approaching quickly.  The hour of Babylon’s judgment has already come.  The beast has headed for Armageddon with his false prophet, and the dragon himself will be there with his demonic hordes.  The only remaining hope of these forlorn kings, futile though it be, is to amass their own armies there too, trusting that the infernal trinity of their leaders can somehow save them.    

Revelation 18:11.     And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more.

     Not only do the kings of the earth “bewail and lament” Babylon’s fall, but also the merchants of the earth “weep and mourn” for her.   “Bewail” (v. 9) is the same Greek word as “weep.”  “Mourn” is the verb form of “sorrow” (v. 7) or “mourning” (v. 8).  The reaction of the merchants of the earth is very similar to that of the kings of the earth.

     As a matter of fact, these merchants are also “kings” in a sense.  They are not ordinary shopkeepers, but are kings of banking, shipping, construction, and communications, captains of industry, giants of commerce.  These merchants are “the great men of the earth” (v. 23).  Previously, during the early judgments of the tribulation period, these “kings of the earth, and the great men” had sought to hide from “the face of him that sitteth on the throne” (Revelation 6:15, 16).  Now they know there is no place to hide, and they must meet Him soon.

     The word for “merchants” (Greek emporos) is used only here in Revelation 18 (four times) and refers particularly to wholesalers, those who deal in large quantities of trade items involved especially in international commerce.  It is highly appropriate to list these two categories of world leaders (kings and merchants of the earth) in such close juxtaposition.  Such international magnates and financiers constitute, more often than not, the power behind the throne.  Kings and presidents often attain and keep their authority by sufferance of those who finance their undertakings.  In turn, these great men of the earth receive land grants and trade monopolies and tax loopholes and innumerable other favors from those whom they establish in political power, all to enrich themselves still further.

     This Babylonish system of covetousness (which is idolatry, the worship of Mammon instead of God) has been the source of unspeakable evil through the ages (note vv. 23 and 24).  The Apostle Paul said: “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10).  Not only unbelievers, but countless Christian believers have also been deceived thereby.  To them Paul says: “Having food and raiment let us be therewith content.  But they that will be rich [that is “desire riches”] fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition” (1 Timothy 6:8, 9).

     These great merchants of the earth do not weep over their sins, nor do they mourn the violent death of their colleagues in the city of Babylon.  Their crying and sorrowing is for only their own financial losses.  No one will buy their merchandise any more.  The well of their profits is dry.  Their great industrial empire is collapsing before their eyes, and their one interest in life is being taken away, so they mourn and weep. 

Revelation 18:12.     The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble.

     Here follows a remarkable catalog of the items of merchandise which had enriched the great men of the earth.  A total of twenty-eight categories are listed, fourteen in this verse and fourteen in the next.  The vocabulary is one appropriate to the first century, even though John was actually seeing events of the last century of the age.  The items listed, in fact, are items that have been valuable and costly in every age.

     The fact that twenty-eight commodities are itemized (that is, four sevens) suggests that the list is representative, rather than specific and exhaustive.  Seven as the number of completeness and four as the number of the whole expanse of the earth (north, south, east, and west), thus combine to symbolize all the world’s items of treasure on earth.  All the endless variety of materialistic possessions which men and women have sought through the ages – for which they have labored and schemed and even stolen and killed – are symbolized here as the merchandise of Babylon, the system that has suddenly vanished in a great ball of fire and pillar of smoke.

     First are listed the chief items of timeless value, the precious metals and jewels that have always served as the very measure of value and the basis of monetary systems.  Especially in times of inflation, such as in the years of the tribulation, men seek to protect their savings by investing in items of intrinsic value – gold, silver, gemstones, and pearls – and trade in such commodities as these has always been and will continue to be uppermost in the plans of international merchants.

     Next are listed four kinds of valuable cloth for the apparel of the world.  The two most valuable materials, fine linen and silk, and the two most esteemed colors, purple and scarlet, are listed evidently as representative of the tremendous commerce in clothing around the world.

     There is always a great demand for materials of all kinds, for all kinds of domestic and industrial uses.  Six of the most valuable kinds of materials are enumerated here as of poignant concern to the merchants who can no longer trade in them.  For fine furnishings and ornaments no materials have been more prized than ivory and fine woods.  Thyine wood is a very hard and aromatic coniferous wood that was especially valued for such uses by the Romans.  All other valuable woods are mentioned, as well as the most costly construction material, marble.  “All manner vessels” is a term broad enough to include all types of furniture, housing, construction, ornamentation and other uses.

     The two most important metals for practical uses are also included.  “All manner vessels of brass and iron” is a term sufficiently comprehensive to cover not only metal structures and furnishings, but also musical instruments, appliances, machinery, tools, weapons, and endless other metallic implements.

     All of the items have been prized by men of both ancient times and modern times.  Trade in such commodities has been the focus of human greed and the basis of the wealth of great merchants all through the ages and into the future.

Revelation 18:13.     And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.

     Next are listed representative luxury items, such as spices, perfumes, ointments and incense, all costly and prized items of the export-import trade.

     Of special interest, at least to latter-day readers of the Apocalypse, is the inclusion of wine and oil in the catalog of valuable commodities.  These were noted as specially important during the time of the seal judgments (Revelation 6:6).  As with previous items, it would seem that wine is representative of another broad class of items, namely intoxicating beverages.  Every nation in every age has been contaminated with drunkenness ever since the primeval sin of Noah (Genesis 9:20, 21).  We can be certain that, in the wicked and terrifying days of the tribulation, ungoldly men will turn to intoxicants and drugs far more than ever in history.  That drugs are also a major item is evident from the reference to “sorceries” in verse 23.  As noted before (Revelation 9:21), this term is a translation of the Greek word from which we transliterate the English word “pharmaceutics.”  The great demand for intoxicants and drugs in these coming days will surely be further stimulated by the ungodly and covetous merchants who profit so greatly from them.

     And oil is there in the listing too.  In the apostolic period, a reference to oil would have been understood as olive oil, or some similar natural oil used primarily for anointing and medicinal purposes.  However, “ointments” have already been listed, so it seems possible that some other type of oil is intended here.  Although petroleum was essentially unknown in the ancient world (bitumen was known, but not the substance we now call “oil”), it does seem probable, in the context of the tribulation, that this is a prophetic reference to that kind of oil which would come to dominate the economies of the world in the latter times.  Oil has today become a vital necessity for all the world’s transportation and industrial systems, and the oil-producing nations have become strategically able to wield great influence over other nations by exploiting their need for oil.  The great oil cartels must therefore surely be included among these weeping merchants.  Babylon itself had been strategically located to control the oil production and exports of the most important oil-bearing land of the globe, but now that control has been destroyed.

     Perhaps the only commodity more important than oil today in terms of international trade is that of wheat, so it is not surprising that “fine flour and wheat” are next listed.  The “fine flour” (Greek semidalis) is mentioned only this one time in the New Testament, and is believed to refer to the finest grade of wheaten flour.  The term “wheat” (Greek sitos) is translated “corn” as well as “wheat.”  In the context here, it can best be understood as representing all kinds of agricultural products that are important in world trade.

     Not only agricultural commodities but also livestock trading is of great commercial importance, and this too has been precipitously stopped by the fall of Babylon.  The “beasts” mentioned in the list (Greek ktenos) include any kind of domestic animals, whether beasts of burden or meat animals for slaughter.  “Sheep” are listed separately, as are “horses.”  The first is vital for its wool as well as its meat.  The second is the most prized animal, traditionally as a beast of burden, giving its name to the standard industrial measurement of power – i.e. “horsepower,” but in modern times more valuable as an animal for riding, both for recreational and military uses.

     The inclusion of “chariots” in the list is also intriguing.  This term connoted a certain type of vehicle to the ancient world.  The Greek word (rheda) means a four-wheeled wagon for traveling, not a two-wheeled war chariot, and could very appropriately be interpreted to include modern-day four-wheeled transport vehicles.  Thus this term probably refers here specifically to the great auto industry of the last days.

     Finally there is a sadly climactic reference to “slaves and souls of men” as one of the items of commerce which has been wrested from control of the earth’s “merchants” by Babylon’s destruction.  The slave trade of antiquity was vital to the Romans, as it continued to be even in “Christian” nations into the nineteenth century.  Furthermore slavery has not even yet been really abolished (especially in African and Asian countries) and it may well be that it will be revived in other nations during the tribulation.

     However, the reference more probably refers to the so-called “white-slave trade.”  The Greek word translated “slaves” is soma, meaning “body” and usually so translated.  The international traffic is forced prostitution, both of men and women, is a tragic but financially lucrative business of modern times and will undoubtedly become even bigger in the evil days ahead.  These vice barons are particularly venomous “great men” of the earth, not only amassing great wealth for themselves, but destroying both the “bodies and souls” of the hapless girls and boys who come under their control.  Babylon is the “mother of harlots,” both spiritual and physical, and fornication of all varieties will be rampant in these last days (Revelation 9:21).  But God’s judgment on such abominations will finally and totally and suddenly fall.

Revelation 18:14.     And the fruits that thy soul lusteth after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.

     The dirge continues.  Men and women through the ages have lusted after “dainty and goodly things,” never content, as Paul has exhorted, with “food and raiment.”  Achan so coveted a “goodly Babylonish garment,” when the Israelites conquered Jericho, that it cost his life and the lives of all his family (Joshua 7:21, 25).  Especially the kings and great men of the earth, instead of using their wealth for purposes that would honor God, have squandered fortunes on costly foods and wines, on lavish homes and furnishings, on personal adornment, expensive statuary and paintings, on stables of horses or chariots, cars or yachts or airplanes, and innumerable other perquisites of wealth and luxury.  That which they could not spend on themselves, or their families, or their mistresses, they have reinvested to attain even more wealth.  The “soul” of Babylon, age after age, “lusteth after” things, and is never satisfied.  It “saith not, ‘It is enough.’ ”

     But now Babylon and all her effete luxuries are gone forever.  The great city Babylon, both in ancient times and in future times harboring the world’s greatest accumulation of wealth and power ever assembled in one place, has been weighed in God’s balance and found wanting.  And with her, the entire Babylonian complex of world commerce and idolatrous humanism, wherever it is found all over the world, must soon perish too.

     The conflagration has consumed everything.  In former times, great merchants and kings, great corporations and conglomerates, when suffering financial losses, could always hope to gain them back again.  At least their successors or usurpers could take over their wealth, and the basic system could be perpetuated.  But this time the loss is total and the damage irreparable.  Everything, everything, is “departed from thee” and Babylon “shall find them no more at all.”  Not only the adulterous religious system of Babylon, not only the great capital city of the beast’s kingdom, not only the world’s great empire of trade and finance, but everything connoted to God and men by Babylon is gone, never to be seen again as long as time exists.

     Furthermore, the destruction has come suddenly, before they had tasted the anticipated results of man’s great project.  The “fruits” are actually the “ripe-fruits,” to be plucked at summer’s end, but the judgment fell with the fruit yet on the vine.  The “dainty things” are, literally, the “plump and lusty things,” and the “goodly things” are more precisely the “gorgeous, sumptuous things,” but destruction has come with these sought-for products of the Babylonian system still found only in their covetous souls, never realized in actual experience.

Revelation 18:15.     The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing.

     The enormity of their losses presses more and more upon the merchants of the earth.  The kings of the earth had been quicker to realize the hopelessness of the situation and its ominous implications for their own future.  They are standing afar off for the fear of her torment (v. 10).  Now the merchants are also seen standing afar off.  All over the world the news travels and in every troubled, fallen city of the nations, financiers tremble and cry.

     “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” the Lord had said (Matthew 16:26).  Men accustomed to dealing in profit-and-loss calculations should have spent more care with that calculation.  They had carelessly added wrong, mistakenly thinking they had been made rich, placing far too small a valuation on God and on their own souls.  Now that these are lost forever, the enormous deficit in their accounts confronts them and they know they have entered eternal bankruptcy, never to rise again.

     Wall Street (if it still exists at this time) will panic, and so will Fleet Street, and the Sorbonne, and the bankers of Zurich.  The Rockefellers and the Rothschilds will see their supranational corporate empire collapse before their eyes, and they will weep and wail.

     “Go to now, ye rich men, weep and howl…. Ye have lived in pleasure on the earth, and been wanton; ye have nourished your hearts, as in a day of slaughter.  Ye have condemned and killed the just; and he doth not resist you” (James 5:1, 5, 6).  This prophecy of the Apostle James is set in the context of the last days and, most likely, is anticipating this very event.  His admonition to believers, in contrast, is: “Be patient therefore, brethren, unto the coming of the Lord.  Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth, and hath long patience for it, until he receive the early and latter rain.  Be ye also patient; stablish your hearts: for the coming of the Lord draweth nigh.  Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door” (James 5:7-9).  The impatient Babylonians will perish before the fruit can be plucked.  The believers, in “the patience of the saints” (Revelation 14:12), will one day enjoy all the precious fruit of the earth which was lost by Babylon.  The great Judge is soon to enter the door.

Revelation 18:16.     And saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!

     Like the kings, the merchants also cry, “Ouai, ouai!” (Greek for “woe”).  Yet, with all their agony and mourning, there is not a single note of repentance or of sorrow for sin, or even of acknowledgment that Babylon’s destruction is a divine judgment.  There is no regret for the bodies and souls of the multitudes of men whom they had abused in their insatiable worship of wealth and power.

     All they can think about in their great mourning is the loss of their wealth and luxury.  The beautiful apparel and bejeweled ornamentation, both of Babylon as a whole and her proud residents in particular, are all suddenly lost and this is their only concern.  The genius of sin is such that it becomes its own judgment.

     With consciences seared as by a hot iron (1 Timothy 4:2), men who repeatedly repudiate the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit will one day find He no longer strives with them (Genesis 6:3) and they have no more desire or ability to do righteousness.  “He which is filthy, let him be filthy still!” is the awful declaration of God as men depart into hell (Revelation 22:11).  Ruled solely and entirely by self-interest, and by the things which they can amass to satisfy their own covetous lusts, they are utterly confused and desolate when the things are gone.

     “Thou fool!” said the Lord; “this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be?” (Luke 12:20).  Multitudes of rich men and great men and mighty men will hear such a voice from heaven in that day of gloom and darkness, and loud and bitter will be their cry.  All their cherished gold and jewels are going to another city.  “Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them in the day of the Lord’s wrath; but the whole land shall be devoured by the fire of his jealousy: for he shall make even a speedy riddance of all them that dwell in the land” (Zephaniah 1:18).

     The brilliant apparel and bejeweled adornment of the burning city had also been the trappings of the old harlot of Babylon (Revelation 17:4) and the trade in these same commodities had enriched the merchants of the earth (v. 12), but now it is all in ashes.  One day, however, there will be established another City, with pearly gates, and golden streets and jeweled foundations, whose inhabitants dress in fine linen, and it shall never pass away.  Instead of “Woe, woe!” the echoing cry will be “Alleluia; amen!”

Revelation 18:17.     For in one hour so great riches is come to nought.  And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off.   

     Men had, not many years before, marveled at the rapid rebuilding of great Babylon, resurrecting it from a thousand-year sleep, as it were, and paralleling the seeming resurrection of its proud ruler, the beast, after his professed descent into Hades.  Little did they know how brief would be their glory!  In one hour the one is utterly burned with fire, and shortly the other will be translated into an unending burning in the lake of fire.

     The mourning cries heard thus far have been chiefly from the kings and great merchants of the earth, whose political and international commercial empires had suddenly collapsed with Babylon.  But now multitudes of others join in the great lament, as they also begin to realize the enormous loss they have suffered.  Most obviously affected are those who have their employment in shipping-related industries, since Babylon is the central focus of all trade and the repository of global wealth.

     The captains of ships cry, and the officers of shipping and warehousing firms cry, and then the officers of all the mercantile and longshoremens’ unions begin to cry, and all those who travel by ship cry (probably “ships” here also includes “airships,” since much international travel and trade is now centered in the world’s vast airline industries).  Soon all the sailors and shipping clerks, as well as importers and brokerage houses – all whose profits and wages stem from international commerce – as they watch the awful scene on television screens set up amidst the rubble of their own quake-devastated cities, sob and weep with a great and bitter cry.

Revelation 18:18.     And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!

     These also, like the kings and great men, were filled with amazement and fear as they watched, from all over the world, the awful mushroom of smoke ascending high over burning Babylon into the statosphere.  A few days earlier, their own cities had reeled and crumpled under the mighty global earthquake, but their proud capital had survived, giving its assurance that the beast would yet be victor in the coming cosmic confrontation.

     But now Babylon has not merely fallen in ruins, it is burned to ashes, and all hope is gone.  If Babylon cannot endure, then no city can, because there never was a city like this great city.

     God has spoken clearly.  It has never been His plan that men would congregate in great cities.  They were to spread out and “replenish [fill] the earth” (Genesis 1:28), tilling the ground, enjoying and using God’s great creation for man’s greatest good and for God’s glory.  After the Flood, God again had given commandment to fill the earth (Genesis 9:10).  In both cases, rebellious men had chosen rather to settle in great cities and to make a “name for themselves, rather than calling on the name of the Lord.”  Cain had built the first city (Genesis 4:17) and Nimrod had built Babel (Genesis 10:10), and the great urban centers of the Cainitic and Nimrodian civilizations, before the after the Flood, respectively, had led men away from God.  Finally Babel, the greatest city of all, had fallen completely, along with all the other cities of the nations, and the world is ready at least to receive another city, that “city” which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10).

Revelation 18:19.     And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas, that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.

     The extremity of their despair is indicated by this bizarre expression of agony, gathering up handfuls of dirt from the ground and pouring it on their heads.  This was a practice in ancient times (as in Lamentations 2:10, Job 2:12), but would seem strange today.  Nevertheless it is appropriate, proclaiming symbolically their fear that the earth shall soon cover their own dead bodies, and they will go back to the dust.

     This is the final verse of this final and unique lamentation of Scripture (vv.9-19).  Containing four references to bewailing their awful fate (vv. 9, 11, 15, 19), and three references to the unprecedented destruction in “one hour” (vv. 10, 17, 19), this mournful elegy expresses perhaps better than anything in all literature the hopeless lament of souls who know they are lost and doomed but are unable even to acknowledge or care about the sin of unrepenting unbelief which put them there.  Their only thought is one of lost wealth and power.

     And their last sad comment about the great city Babylon still deals with her opulence and the riches that her centralized world commerce and finance had made possible for the materialistic multitudes.  “Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness” (Psalm 52:7).

     The great system Babylon, seducing multitudes through the ages through her humanistic religion and her promise of wealth and luxury and delicious licentiousness, has finally been brought to utter desolation, suddenly and totally.

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