Revelation 18: Requiem Over Babylon
“That G-d that you’ve been praying to is gonna give you back what you’ve been wishing on someone else.” –Rav Robert Zimmerman
An examination of Revelation 18.
I’m amazed at the number commentaries on the Revelation of Yeshua (Jesus) that go beyond the relevant contextual qualification concerning the time of Yochanan’s writing to express the idea that it is in fact Yochanan who has conceived of this prophecy of his own fruition. He has not! Yochanan, as previously stated, is the scribe. The prophecy itself is the work of Yeshua, born of the mind of G-d. We are foolish to invest in interpretation that relies on the premise that it is Yochanan’s own agenda that is driving this prophetic work. This is after all the Unveiling of Yeshua and not the Revelation of Yochanan.
The destruction of Babylon has been alluded to already in chapter 14:8, a quotation of Isaiah 21:9. This judgement is against pride, wicked violence, greed and materialism and ultimately, relates to her rebellion against G-d. This judgement is praised by G-d’s people (15:3; 16:5, 7; 18:10, 20; 19:2) but mourned by those of the world who have adopted her evil consciousness.
This chapter’s lament (Doom song) echoes Ezekiel 27-28, which refers to Tyre (an allegory for the seat of Satan’s power: Ezekiel 28:11-19). This hymn of destruction also replicates the previous prophetic writings concerning Babylon (Isaiah 13; 14; 21; Jeremiah 50; 51). It is in fact impossible to fully grasp the weight of Yochanan’s record of this new doom song without familiarizing ourselves with the doom songs of Israel’s prophets.
As an analogy, Babylon reflects the seat of Satanic power: its destruction, which is ironically carried out by Satan himself via the kings of the previous chapter (17:16-18), all of whom are given authority by G-d, is the prequel to Satan’s destruction in chapter 20.
18:1 After these things I saw another messenger coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illumined with his glory.
“After these things” means, “After seeing the chronology of events explaining the coming punishment of the prostitute (Babylon).”
“Another messenger” means, “A messenger other than the seven who poured out the plagues.”
The fact that the messenger comes down from the heavens tells us that this messenger is entering the domain of the earth and that Yochanan is now viewing events from an earthly location.
The messenger is said to have, “great authority.” It’s interesting to note that while other messengers of G-d and in turn, the forces of evil are, “given authority”, this messenger, “has great authority”. The Hebrew words, “Rabah (Great)” and, “Gibor (Mighty)” are often paired, it is therefore possible that this messenger who holds great authority may be Gavriel (Mighty One of G-d). Or, given the fact that the earth is illuminated with his glory, he may be the Angel of the presence or even Yeshua Himself (Ezekiel 43:2).
2 And he cried out with a mighty (Gibor) voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has become a dwelling place of demons and a prison of every unclean spirit, and a cage of every unclean and detestable bird.
Revelation 18:2 – 19:6, is a multi-voiced doom song over Babylon (the city representing the head of rebellion against G-d). It is inspired by the Biblical doom songs of old, and juxtaposes the temporary greatness of G-d’s enemies against the greatness of their destruction (Isaiah 14; 47; Jeremiah 30-31 on Babylon, and Isaiah 23; Ezekiel 26-27 on Tyre, a metaphor for Satan’s seat of power).
Although these are future events, Yochanan records them in the past tense because they’ve been firmly decided by G-d.
The mighty cry of the messenger indicates that all of creation hears what he says. He speaks the words of Revelation 14:8, which echo the words of Isaiah 21:9. “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!”
The messenger speaks of Babylon’s desolation under three headings:
3 For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the passion of her immorality, and the Rulers of the earth have committed acts of immorality with her, and the businessmen of the earth have become rich by the wealth of her sensuality.”
The nations (not believers in Yeshua) had consumed Babylon’s immoral life style and emulated it, in turn the Rulers had engaged her directly and brought her ideologies and sinful practices to their own lands: finally the businessmen who had trafficked in her wealth and sensuality had become rich from using both Babylon and those they marketed her riches to.
In any given generation there is a city of Babylon and an empire that thrives on her leadership. However there will be one last manifestation of this city and empire at the end of the age that will be unmistakable due to its reach across the entire globe, something that no kingdom or empire has ever achieved.
4 I heard another voice from heaven, saying, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues;
The new voice here comes from the heavens and identifies with the people of G-d saying, “My people”, therefore it is probably the voice of Yeshua, for no messenger nor any other being has the right to call the people of G-d, “My people” unless they are quoting G-d prophetically, which is the other possibility here. Verse 5 suggests that the speaker is someone other than G-d the Father.
The instruction of G-d to His people, “come out” is a common refrain throughout the Tanakh (OT): Genesis 12:1; 19:12; Numbers 16:23; Isaiah 48:20; 52:11; Jeremiah 50:8; 51:6, 45; Zechariah 2:6-7.
“Ho, Zion! Escape, you who are living with the daughter of Babylon.” –Zechariah 2:7
It’s a theme that is also significantly represented in the New Testament: 2 Corinthians 6:14-15; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Timothy 5:22.
“Come out of her” means, not only physically escaping the city of Babylon but more importantly having nothing to do with her immoral practices (“So that you will not participate in her sins”). By keeping themselves separate from the immoral lifestyle of Babylon the people of G-d avoid the plagues that will come upon her.
5 for her sins (offenses) have been glued together and piled up as high as heaven, and G-d has remembered her iniquities (perverse distortions).
The phrase, “piled up as high as heaven” is an ironic allusion to the corporate sin of Babel (Genesis 11) and a quotation from Jeremiah 51:9.
“G-d has remembered her iniquities”. G-d is just and will not allow the crimes committed against His called out ones to go unpunished (16:19). We must remember that Babylon, the rulers who lusted after her, the people of the earth (Not Messiah followers) and the businessmen who profited by her are all unrepentant. Contrary to the teaching of some modern Christian scholars, there can be no forgiveness without repentance. The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31, the unforgiveable sin) is understood to be the unrelenting refusal to admit that we are at fault and in need of G-d’s redemption through Yeshua. In other words, those whose end is eternal punishment have chosen their own fate through their consistent refusal of G-d’s mercy.
6 Pay her back even as she has paid, and double to her double according to her deeds; in the cup which she has mixed, mix twice as much for her.
Where verses 4-5 were addressed to G-d’s people, the following verses are directed toward those who are carrying out G-d’s judgements.
“Summon many against Babylon,
All those who bend the bow:
Encamp against her on every side,
Let there be no escape.
Repay her according to her work;
According to all that she has done, so do to her;
For she has become arrogant against Hashem,
Against the Holy One of Israel.” –Jeremiah 50:29
“And double to her double again, according to her deeds”. This is an unusual phrase, which is why it is usually rendered as, “pay her back double according to her deeds”, however the Greek text uses diploo followed by diplous, literally reading, “Double to her and double again”, making a total of four times the pay back.
The premise for the double payment is found in Exodus 22:4, 7 & 9, and refers to goods stolen either directly or from a guardian. Here however we are dealing with more than just stolen material possessions, to the contrary, we’re seeing repayment for stolen life, in this case the lives of the set apart ones of G-d. Therefore the twofold repayment is doubled, making it fourfold.
This punishment comes in the cup that Babylon had mixed for her victims. Her own sin gives back to her what she has intended for others. The principle of sowing and reaping is clearly at work. She is receiving her just punishment.
I’m reminded of the words of Rav Robert Zimmerman:
“That G-d that you’ve been praying to is gonna give you back what you’ve been wishing on someone else.”
7 To the degree that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in turn give her torment and sorrow;
This verse uses a Jewish poetry formula, coupling Babylon’s primary sins and then following them by coupling her forms of punishment in a rhythm that emulates the Psalmist formulas. Babylon has glorified herself (idolatry: sin against G-d) and indulged in luxury (at the expense of others: sin against others). This is a intentional affront to the Instruction of Yeshua to, “Love The L-rd your G-d with all your heart, mind and strength and… love your neighbour as yourself”. Therefore her actions are a type of anti-Torah. In turn she receives a coupling of torment and sorrow. Where she has tormented others she will receive four times the torment and where she has caused others sorrow she will receive four times the sorrow. This corresponds to her failure to observe the two commands that sum up the Torah. In place of friendship with G-d she has received just torment and in place of friendship with others she has received loneliness and sorrow.
For she says in her heart (core being), ‘I sit as a queen and I am not a widow (Is. 47:7-9), and will never see mourning.’
““Yet you said, ‘I will be a queen forever.’
These things you did not consider
Nor remember the outcome of them.
“Now, then, hear this, you sensual one,
Who dwells securely,
Who says in your heart,
‘I am, and there is no one besides me.
I will not sit as a widow,
Nor know loss of children.’
“But these two things will come on you suddenly in one day:
Loss of children and widowhood.
They will come on you in full measure” –Yishaiyahu/Isaiah 47:7-9
The sin of Babylon is not merely immorality, it is ultimately the sin of idolatry, the root of all evil.
8 For this reason in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the YHVH G-d (Merciful Judge) Who judges her is strong.
The punishment of burning by fire is commanded in the Torah for the wayward daughter of a Cohen (Priest) who profanes her father (Gen. 38:24; Lev. 21:9).
The phrase, “for the YHVH G-d (Merciful Judge)” is a formula from the Tanakh and rests on the wider meaning attached to the Names of G-d. The phrase that follows, “Who judges her is strong.” conveys a sense of the certainty, power and means of right judgement. This is not some arbitrary act but a merited judgement carried out by G-d Himself.
9 “And the Rulers of the earth, who committed acts of immorality and lived sensuously with her, will weep and lament over her when they see the smoke of her burning, 10 standing at a distance because of the fear of her torment, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the strong city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’
Verses 9-19 present three primary lamenting entities in succession:
Not wanting to be caught in her destruction, the rulers of the earth who had willingly adopted her immorality stand at a distance terrified of the torment they see and lamenting the fact that it all came about so quickly. What might this mean for them?
11 “And the businessmen of the earth weep and mourn over her, because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls and fine linen and purple and silk and scarlet, and every kind of citron wood and every article of ivory and every article made from very costly wood and bronze and iron and marble, 13 and cinnamon and spice and incense and perfume and frankincense and wine and olive oil and fine flour and wheat and cattle and sheep, and cargoes of horses and chariots and slaves and human souls.
The businessmen in turn lament the fact that they can’t prophet from Babylon’s immorality any longer. Their cargoes had included every perceivable product and service including human trafficking. The trading in human souls is an allusion to treating human beings like the beasts of the earth, which is an abomination against the created order.
14 The fruit you long for has gone from you, and all things that were luxurious and splendid have passed away from you and men will no longer find them.
Babylon is likened here to a rejected woman, devoid of all luxury, abandoned by her lovers and left desolate. All her beauty has passed away and men no longer find her attractive. As King Solomon once wrote, “Beauty is fleeting and charm is deceptive but a woman who fears HaShem is to be praised”.
15 The businessmen trading in these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, 16 saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in fine linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls; 17 for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!’
Like the rulers before them the businessmen stand aloof for fear of receiving like punishment. They mourn the loss of her wealth but do not mourn her.
And every shipmaster (Pilot) and every passenger (Traveller) and sailor (steward), and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance, 18 and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city?’ 19 And they threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, ‘Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!’
Finally the cargo companies, pilots, travel agents and passengers weep as they watch her burn. They take their mourning a step further, throwing dust on their heads like the mourners of ancient Israel. However, they’re not mourning for Babylon, their great mourning is for themselves because they’re no longer able to profit from the cargo and travel industries that relied on Babylon’s (the city) existence.
20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you set apart ones and apostles and prophets, because G-d has pronounced judgment for you against her.”
The text now turns from the voice of the shipmasters to the voice of the writer. While the enemies of G-d mourn, the angelic host, the people of G-d and their leaders rejoice. This is not a vindictive rejoicing over the suffering of others, rather it’s an affirmation of justice spoken in the performance idiom of the prophets of ancient Israel (Jeremiah 27-28; 51:63-64).
21 Then a strong messenger took up a stone like a great millstone (donkey drawn) and threw it into the sea, saying, “So will Babylon, the great city, be thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer.
This strong messenger may be Michael (Who is like G-d), although it is impossible to know for sure.
The milestone mentioned here is an extremely weighty one that required a donkey or steer to pull it in order to grind wheat.
The prophet Jeremiah’s last words of prophecy spoke of this very thing:
“And as soon as you finish reading this scroll, you will tie a stone to it and throw it into the middle of the Euphrates, and say, ‘Just so shall Babylon sink down and not rise again because of the calamity that I am going to bring upon her; and they will become exhausted.’” Thus far are the words of Jeremiah.” –Jeremiah 51:63-64
Jeremiah’s name literally means, “My high place is Hashem”. We could say that the Scroll of Jeremiah receives its final fulfilment in the action of this messenger.
Yeshua also alludes to this picture of damnation:
“But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” –Matthew 18:6
The millstone is a metaphor for G-d’s judgement and the sea is a metaphor for Sheol (here, specifically Gehinom) and subsequently, eternal punishment.
22 And the sound of harpists and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters will not be heard in you any longer; and no craftsman of any craft will be found in you any longer; and the sound of a mill will not be heard in you any longer;
Up to this point the lament has been concerned with external relationships, politics, trade etc., now the doom song turns to the inner workings of the city.
The cities losses are listed from the height of civilized society to the very necessities of life. Beginning with entertainment and the arts the lament then turns to the loss of craftsmanship and the simple processes of daily life once heard in the operation of the mill.
23 and the light of a lamp will not shine in you any longer; and the voice of the bridegroom and bride will not be heard in you any longer; for your businessmen were the great men of the earth, because all the nations were deceived by your sorcery.
Not only will the city be devoid of physical light, it will also be devoid of all spiritual light. Whereas in the past there may have been believers still living within its borders, now they have left completely. The reference to bride and groom is a Hebraism relating to prosperity and wellbeing. Never again will either of these things be known in Babylon.
Jeremiah uses this same phrase in the message of Hashem’s judgement against Judah:
“Then I will make to cease from the cities of Judah and from the streets of Jerusalem the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride; for the land will become a ruin.” –Jeremiah 7:34
This is of course the antithesis to the coming wedding of the Lamb and His bride (Revelation 19:7-9).
The reason for these losses is the wicked trade that has been perpetuated by Babylon’s businessmen and the satanic witchcraft practiced by her populace.
The sorcery alluded to here is intended literally and relates to a resurgence of Babylon’s ancient witchcraft practices which G-d overrides:
“But these two things will come on you suddenly in one day:
Loss of children and widowhood.
They will come on you in full measure
In spite of your many sorceries,
In spite of the great power of your spells.” –Yishaiyahu/Isaiah 47:9
It is likely that Yochanan (being a Jew) would also see the sorcery as a representation of the impure practices introduced to the world by demons through sexual immorality, which is often paired with sorcery (1 Enoch 8-9; 2 Kings 9:22; Revelation 21:8; 22:15) :
“When Joram saw Jehu, he said, “Is it peace, Jehu?” And he answered, “What peace, so long as the harlotries of your mother Jezebel and her witchcrafts are so many?” –2 Kings 9:22
24 And upon her was found the blood of prophets and of the set apart ones and of all who have been murdered on the earth.”
This is an allusion to Jeremiah 51:49 which reflects the fact that Babylon is an icon representing the evil practice of the shedding of innocent blood (Murder). Babylon does not literally have all the blood of the innocent lying in her streets, however the very nature of her rebellion is the soil in which all murder and idolatry grows, having been seeded by Satan himself.
“Indeed Babylon is to fall for the slain of Israel,
As also for Babylon the slain of all the earth have fallen.” –Jeremiah 51:49
This judgement is similar in terms of meaning to the words of Yeshua spoken against the hypocrisy of the generation of Israel that lived at the time of His earthly ministry:
“But He said, ‘Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. So you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs. For this reason also the wisdom of G-d said, ‘I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, so that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the house of G-d; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.’” –Luke 11:46-51 (Matthew 23:29-36)
Notice that it is a hypocritical generation that is held to account for the shedding of innocent blood.
In the present text the judgement is spoken against the enemies of redeemed Israel and of the servants of Messiah from the nations. It does not, as some foolishly suggest, apply to Israel as a metaphorical Babylon. We know this because at this point in the Revelation’s chronology all of the House of ethnic Israel has now been redeemed (Revelation 11:13).
The phrase, “And of all who have been slain upon the earth”, uses the Greek Sphazo, meaning to butcher, murder, slay. Therefore the better reading is, “And of all who have been murdered upon the earth”. This is a judgement against the one who brought murder to the earth in the beginning, Satan. It will be upon Him and his servants that this judgement will come to bear.
© 2015 Yaakov Brown
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Founder of the Beth Melekh International Messiah Following Jewish Community,