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Bible Commentaries

The Expositor's Greek Testament
Revelation 18

 

 

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Verses 1-3

Revelation 18:1-3 : an angelic proclamation of Babylon’s fate (cf. Revelation 14:8) in terms of Isaiah 13:19-22; Isaiah 34:14 (demons of the desert, the Mazzikin of Jewish demonology, familiar to Babylonian magic), Jeremiah 50:30; Jeremiah 51:37, Zephaniah 2:15, etc. “Be of good cheer, O Jerusalem … Miserable are the cities which thy children served, miserable is she who received thy sons. For as she rejoiced at thy fall and was glad at thy ruin, so shall she grieve at her own desolation. Yea I will take away her delight in her great crowds, and her vaunting shall turn to mourning. For fire from the Everlasting shall come upon her for a length of days, and for long shall she be inhabited by demons” (Baruch 4:30-35). ἐκ κ. τ. λ. “by (cf. Revelation 18:19) the wealth of her wantonness” traders profited; i.e., by the enormous supplies which the capital required to satisfy her demands ( στρῆνος, - ιάω from the New comedy and colloquial usage).— δόξα in Revelation 18:1 denotes the flashing brilliance which, according to the primitive collocation of life and light, accompanied the heavenly visitants to earth or the manifestation of a divine presence (Revelation 21:11; Revelation 21:23, Revelation 22:5); see the valuable paragraphs in Grill, pp. 259–271.


Verse 4

Revelation 18:4. ἐξέλθατε (cf. Apoc. Baruch 2:1), which in the source referred to the Jewish community at Rome, is an artistic detail, retained like several in ch. 21, although the historical meaning and application was lost in the new situation. Cf. the opening of Newman’s essay on The Benedictine Centuries.


Verses 4-8

Revelation 18:4-8. A song of exulting in heaven, addressed first to the faithful (Revelation 18:4) and then (Revelation 18:6) to the enemies who execute God’s vengeance.


Verse 5

Revelation 18:5. Plutarch (de sera uindict. 15) is strong upon the solidarity of a city, which is liable to be punished at any time for past offences.— κολλᾶσθαι (“Heaped up to the sky are her sins”) in the familiar sense of haerere = to follow close upon, or to cleave, the idea being that the mass of sins actually presses on the roof of heaven. The figure would be different if, as Holtzm. conjectures, κολλ. referred to the gluing together of the leaves composing a roll; the record of Rome’s sins would form so immense a volume that when unrolled it would reach the very heavens. “Etascendit contumelia tua ad altissimum, et superbia tua ad fortem” (4 Esd. 11:43).


Verse 6

Revelation 18:6. The foes of Rome (unless ἀπόδοτε κ. τ. λ., is a rhetorical apostrophe) are invited to serve her with the retribution promised to the first Babylon (see reff.).— διπλώσατε, cf. Oxyrh. Pap. iii. 5206. ἐν τῷ ποτηρίῳ, κ. τ. λ. Cf. Apoc. Bar. xiii. 8 (to Romans), “Ye who have drunk the strained wine, drink ye also of its dregs, the judgment of the Lofty One who has no respect of persons”.


Verse 7

Revelation 18:7. It is probably at this point that the passage drifts over from the conception of a voice heard (Revelation 18:4) to that of direct utterance on the part of the prophet; unless we are to suppose that the voice speaks till the close of Revelation 18:20 (a similar instance in ch. 11). Imperial Rome is imperious and insolent; haughty self-confidence is the sin of the second Babylon as of the first (see Isaiah 47:5; Isaiah 47:7-8, imitated in this passage). Cf. (bef. 80 A.D.) Sibyll. ver. 173, where the impious and doomed city is upbraided for vaunting “I am by myself, and none shall overthrow me”. A similar charge of arrogance was brought by Ezekiel against the prince of Tyre (Ezekiel 28:2 f., cf. Eze 28:26, 27 throughout with the present passage), and by the Jewish author of Apoc. Bar. xii. 3 against Rome. To the Semitic as to the Hellenic conscience, the fall of a haughty spirit always afforded moral relief. Nothing so shocked the ancient conscience as overweening presumption in a state or an individual, which was certain ultimately to draw down upon itself the crashing anger of heaven.


Verse 8

Revelation 18:8. This drastic, ample punishment, though executed by subordinates in Revelation 17:16-17, is here (as in 5, 20) regarded on its divine side. God is strong, as well as guilty, glorious Rome (Revelation 18:10, cf. on Revelation 6:15); and his strength is manifested in the huge shocks of history, as well as in creation (Revelation 4:11, Revelation 5:13). Rome’s proud disregard of all that was mutable in human conditions is visited with condign retribution. The prophet sees not a decline and fall but a sudden collapse (Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:19).


Verses 9-20

Revelation 18:9-20 : the wailing on earth, by kings (Revelation 18:9-10), merchants (at length, 11–16), and seafaring men (Revelation 18:17-20), imitated from the finer and more elaborate passages in Ezekiel 26-28, where kings (Ezekiel 26:15-18), traders (very briefly and indirectly, Ezekiel 27:36), and mariners (Ezekiel 27:29-36) are all introduced in the lament over Tyre’s downfall. Contrast the joy of the three classes in Revelation 18:20. A triple rhythm pervades (cf. Revelation 18:2-3; Revelation 18:6; Revelation 18:8; Revelation 18:14; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:19) but does not dominate this grim doom-song, somewhat after the well-known structure of the Semitic elegy. But the three laments are all characteristic. The kings are saddened by the swift overthrow of power (10), and the reverse of fortune; the merchants (Revelation 18:11; Revelation 18:16) by the loss of a profitable market, the mariners by the sudden blow inflicted on the shipping trade (Revelation 18:19).


Verse 12

Revelation 18:12. βυσσίνου (sc. ἱματίου) = “of fine linen”; from βύσσος the delicate and expensive linen (or cotton) made out of Egypt an flax (Luke 16:19); σιρικοῦ = “silk,” muslin, or gauze, chiefly used for women’s attire (Paus. iv. 110 f.); πᾶν ξύλον θύϊνον = “all citron (citrus)-wood,” a fragrant, hard, dark brown, expensive material for furniture, exported from N. Africa. Note the extensive range of Roman commerce to supply the needs of luxury (interea gustus elementa per omnia quaerunt, Juv. xi. 14; pearls, e.g., from Britain as well as Red Sea), also the various demands in order: ornaments, wearing apparel, furniture, perfumes (for personal and religious use), food, and social requirements. Wets, cites a rabbinic saying: decem partes diuitiarum sunt in mundo, nouem Romae et una in mundo uniuerso.


Verse 13

Revelation 18:13. “Cinnamon,” an aromatic spice (the inner bark of the tree) exported from E. Asia and S. China; ἄμωμον, aromatic balsam for the hair, made from the seeds of some Fastern shrub (Verg. Ecl. iv. 25, “assyrium uolgo nascetur amomum; from Harran, Jos. Ant. xx. 2, 2)—for the form, cf. Levy’s die Semit. Fremdwörter im Griech. (1895), p. 37; θυμιάματα, “incense,” in its ingredients of aromatic spices; λίβανον = “frankincense,” a fragrant gum-resin exported from S. Arabia (Isaiah 60:6, Jeremiah 6:20); enormous quantities of perfume were employed by the Romans, chiefly in the care of the body, but also to mix with wine at their banquets (e.g., Juv. vi. 303, etc.; E. Bi. 5320); σεμίδαλιν = “fine flour,” wheaten meal (LXX for סלת, cf. Deuteronomy 32:14; Psalms 81:16) of the choicest kind; wine, flour, and incense were all used in sacrifices. ῥεδῶν, a Gallic word = four-wheeled “carriages” used by the well-to-do (cf. Jerome on Isaiah 66). σωμάτων = “slaves” (later Greek, dropping the qualifying adj. δούλων or οἰκετικῶν, cf. Deissm. 160, Dittenberger’s Sylloge,2 845, etc.). καὶ ψυχὰς (reverting awkwardly to accus.) ἀνθρώπων = “and souls of men” (from Ezekiel 27:13, “they traded the persons of men for thy merchandise”: ἐνεπορεύοντό σοι ἐν ψυχαῖς ἀνθρώπων, LXX, cf. 1 Chronicles 5:21). The double expression is strange. If καὶ is not to be taken as “even,” identifying both, we must suppose that some distinction is intended, and that of the two σωμάτων is the more specific. Prostitutes, or female slaves, or gladiators, or even grooms and drivers ( ἵπποι καὶ ἱππεῖς, Ezekiel 27:14) have been more or less convincingly suggested as its meaning. Slave-dealing (Friedländer, iii. 87 f.; Dobschütz, 266–269) was a lucrative trade under the empire, with Delos as its centre, and Asiatic youths especially were in large demand as pages, musicians, and court-attendants. Thousands of captives, after the siege of Jerusalem, were sent into slavery by the Roman government; and early Christians at this period (Clem. Rom. lv.) voluntarily went into slavery either as substitutes for others or “that with the price got for themselves they might furnish others with food”.


Verse 17

Revelation 18:17. ἐργάζονται κ. τ. λ. = “whose business is on the sea”. The passage reflects the importance of Rome especially for the trade of the Levant. Pliny (H. N. vi. 101, xii. 84) gives the large figures of Oriental imports and their cost, adding sarcastically tanti nobis deliciae et feminae constant (Friedländer, iii. 48–51). The regret of the mariners for the grandeur that was Rome passes rapidly into a sense of commercial loss.


Verse 20

Revelation 18:20. This verse interrupts the sequence of 19 and 21 in which the ruin of Rome is illustrated by the dramatic action of the angel. The awkward shift from description to an apostrophe, and the evidently Christian tone of the cry, betray an editor’s hand. His object is to render explicit the moral reasons why Christians should delight in the downfall of the city. He writes in the same triple rhythm as the source, and his hand is to be seen in the whole verse not simply in καὶ οἱ ἀπόστολοι. The voice from heaven is thus made to pass into a closing apostrophe to heaven and its inhabitants (cf. Revelation 11:18), imitated from Jeremiah 51:48 (Heb.). John seems to assume that all had a case against Rome as victims of her cruelty, probably in the main as martyrs and confessors. “Apostles,” omitted in Revelation 18:24, has here (as in Revelation 2:2) its wider sense (otherwise Revelation 21:14), but it must include Peter and Paul (Zahn, Einleit. § 39, n. 4).— ὅτι κ. τ. λ. = “for God has judged her with your judgment,” i.e., vindicated you (done you justice, given you your due) by lexacting vengeance upon her. She who once doomed you is now doomed herself (cf. Revelation 16:6).— εὐφραίνου. Cf. En. lxii., where the kings and rulers condemned by messiah to eternal torment are to be “a spectacle for the righteous and his elect; they will rejoice over them because the wrath of the Lord of spirits resteth upon them, and his sword is drunk with their blood”; also Isaiah 30:29, for the call to exult over a fallen oppressor. A Parisian workman, who was looking down at the corpse of Robespierre, was overheard to mutter, with relief, “Oui, il y a un Dieu”.


Verse 21

Revelation 18:21. Rome’s fall will be irrevocable and sudden and violent, as a powerful angel shows dramatically by seizing a huge boulder and flinging it into the sea. Cf. the analogous description of Babylon’s collapse in Sib. Or. ver. 158, 163, 174. The reiterated emphasis on Roman luxury is notable. Later literature, as Friedländer observes (Revelation 3:9-17), tended to a conventional exaggeration of the luxurious civilisation under the Empire; judged by modern standards, at any rate, it was not particularly extravagant. This denunciation of wealth and ease, however, is apposite in a source which reflects the age of Nero, since it was under Nero, rather than under Vespasian or Domitian, that Roman luxury during the first century of our era reached its zenith. The oracle breathes the scorn felt by simple provincials for the capital’s wanton splendour, and indeed for the sins of a pleasure-loving civilisation. But it is religious poetry, not a prose transcript of the contemporary commercial situation. Cf. Dill’s Roman Society, pp. 32 f., 66 f.


Verses 21-24

Revelation 18:21-24 : a rhythmic song of doom, introduced by a symbolic action partly imitated from Jeremiah 51:63-64.


Verse 22

Revelation 18:22. μουσικῶν “minstrels or musicians” (1 Maccabees 9:41); the occurrence of the generic term among the specific is certainly awkward and would favour the rendering “singers” (Bengel, Holtzm.) in almost any other book than this. On these musical epithets see Friedländer, iii. 238 f.; the impulses to instrumental music at Rome during this period came mainly from Alexandria. For coins stamped with Nero as harpist see Suet. Nero, xxv. φωνὴ μύλου, the daily accompaniment of Oriental life. The sound of the mill meant habitation, but in the desolation of Rome no more pleasant stir of mirth or business would be heard (Isaiah 47:5). The fanatic Jesus, son of Ananus, who howled during the siege of Jerusalem and for four years previously (Jos. Bell. vi. 5, 3) “woe to Jerusalem,” denounced upon her “a voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the temple a voice against bridegrooms and brides, and a voice against the whole people”.


Verse 23

Revelation 18:23. Contrast the εὑρέθη of 24 with the εὑρήσουσιν of Revelation 18:14 which in its canonical position is an erratic boulder. φαρμακίᾳ, primarily in the figurative O.T. sense already noticed (harlotry and magic spells, as in Yasna ix. 32). But a literal allusion is not to be excluded, in view of the antipathy felt by pious Jews and early Christians to magic and sorcery. As Rome represented the existing authorities under whose aegis these black arts managed to flourish, and as they were generally bound up with religion, it would not be unnatural to charge the Empire with promoting sorcery (Weinel 10).— ἐπλαν. “Commerce, as having regard to purely worldly interests, is called harlotry” [Cheyne on Isaiah 23:17]. Sorcery, witchcraft, “fornication,” and the persecution of the righteous, are all manifestations of the lawlessness practised by Beliar working in men and kings (Asc. Isa. ii. 4, 5).


Verse 24

Revelation 18:24. Again, as at Revelation 18:20, the change of style (here from an apostrophe to a description) and spirit (Revelation 17:6) marks an insertion by the final editor, unless the verse originally lay after Revelation 18:3. The triple rhythm corresponds to that of Revelation 18:20. Rome has now succeeded Jerusalem (Matthew 23:35, etc.) as the arch-enemy of the faithful. The climax of her iniquities is couched in terms of the primitive Semitic idea (Genesis 4:10) that exposed and discovered blood is a cry for vengeance [2 Maccabees 8:3 f.]; blood violently shed wails till it is appeased by the punishment of the murderers. By a natural hyperbole, Rome is held responsible for the murders, judicial and otherwise, of saints and prophets and the slain of Israel in general—substituted here for the “apostles” of Revelation 18:20, probably to include the Jews killed in the recent war as well as pre-Christian martyrs like the Maccabees of whom Augustine finely says: nondum quidem erat mortuus Christus, sed martyres eos fecit moriturus Christus (Hebrews 1:11 to Hebrews 12:1). Rome here is the last and worst exponent of persecution. Her collapse is attributed to their blood drawing down God’s utter retribution. “My blood be on the inhabitants of Chaldea, shall Jerusalem say” (Jeremiah 51:35, imprecating successfully the divine revenge, Jeremiah 51:36; Jeremiah 51:49). As Chrysostom called Psalms 109. a prophecy in the shape of a curse, this vehement, sensitive oracle against Rome’s insolence and cruelty may be termed a curse in the form of a prophecy. A similar idea underlay the view of certain pious people who, according to Josephus (cf. Eus. H. E. ii. 23. 20–21), considered the fall of Jerusalem a retribution for the foul murder of James the Just nearly ten years before.

The doom-song is followed by an outburst of celestial triumph (Revelation 19:1-8) in answer to Revelation 18:20. The conclusion as well as the commencement of the victory (Revelation 12:12 f.) is hymned in heaven. The stern, exultant anthem, which is morally superior to the delight voiced by En. xlvii. 4, forms an overture to the final movement of the Apocalypse, as well as (like Revelation 7:9 f., Revelation 14:1-5) a relief to the sombre context. 8 b is a prosaic editorial gloss, probably due to the liturgical use of the book, and the last clause of 10 ( γὰρπροφητείας) might be the same (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:56), as many editors think, were it not for the genuinely Johannine ring of the words. In any case it is an after-thought, probably (so Baljon, Barth, etc.) added by the author himself, in order to bring out here what is brought out in Revelation 22:9 by the explicit mention of the prophets, since ἐχ. τ. μ. ἰησοῦ alone would mean Christians in general. The presence of 9b–10 here, however, is not motived as at Revelation 22:8-9, where it comes in naturally at the finalê of the revelations and after a distinct allusion (Revelation 22:1) to the revealing angel. Here the angel of the second λέγει (at least) has not been mentioned since Revelation 17:1; Revelation 17:7; Revelation 17:15, and no reason at all is given for the superstitious impulse to worship. The passage is certainly Johannine, but probably misplaced (like Revelation 18:14, etc.). Can it have originally lain at the end of 17., where the hierophant angel is speaking (cf. also Revelation 17:17, words of God and Revelation 19:9 b)? Such technical dislocations and derangements are common enough in primitive literature (cf. my Historical New Testament, pp. xxxix. 676, 690). The passage must have been shifted to its present site either by accident or more probably by a scribe who saw that the similar assurance in Revelation 21:5, Revelation 22:6 related primarily to future bliss rather than to judgment; perhaps he also took the first λέγει not as a divine saying (cf. Revelation 21:5) but as angelic (Revelation 22:6, cf. Revelation 1:10-11; Revelation 1:19, and note on Revelation 22:10), and sought to harmonise the same order as in Revelation 14:13 (command to write, beatitude, asseverance). Otherwise 1–10 is a unity as it stands. The change of situation in 1–3, 4–10 does not prove any combination of sources; it is simply another of the inconsequences and transitions characteristic of the whole book. The marriage-idea of 7, 8 is a proleptic hint which is not developed till later (21), while the supper (9) is only mentioned to be dropped—unless the grim vision of 17–21 (for which cf. Gressmann’s Ursprung d. Isr.-jüd. Eschatologie, 136 f.) is meant to be a foil to it (so Sabatier and Schön).

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicol, W. Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Revelation 18:4". The Expositor's Greek Testament. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/egt/revelation-18.html. 1897-1910.

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