CHAP. 17, 18. BABYLON
These Chapters are related to each other something as 11, 12. Those seem between them to give an account of a judgement on Jerusalem, these seem between them to give an account of the judgement on Babylon. But neither account seems to be strictly continuous; in both the historical background and the standpoint of the Seer seem to change. The Beast makes war against the Witnesses and profanes the holy city; then he disappears as completely as the Witnesses themselves from the conflict between the Woman and the Dragon, which typifies the desolation of the earthly Jerusalem; yet the vision in ch. 11 is obviously not complete in itself; nor is that in ch. 17. The Seer is told that he is to be shewn the judgement upon the great whore, but at the end of the chapter the judgement, though definitely foretold, is still in the future. In the greater part of ch. 18 (Revelation 17:4-8; Rev 17:21–24 are an exception), the judement seems to be already over; and if this could be explained by the analogy of other prophecies it would still be remarkable that the beast and the horns which are so important in ch. 17. disappear completely in ch. 18: for there is no clear ground for identifying the horns, whose dominion is both future and ephemeral, with the kings of the earth, the ancient lovers of Babylon, who bemoan her fall. Nor is there any trace in ch. 18 of any human instrument of the divine vengeance. Again, in Revelation 18:1-3 Babylon has long been desolate, all kinds of foul creatures have made the ruins their home, while in Revelation 18:9-20 the ruins are still smoking, and according to Revelation 19:3 they are to smoke for ever. Such changes of imagery of course are not contradictions, but they suggest that prophecies of different dates upon the same subject have been brought together.
1. ἄλλον. See on Revelation 14:6.
ἐξονσίαν μεγάλην. Apparently for destruction: see on Revelation 9:19 and Revelation 16:9.
καὶ … αὐτοῦ. Ezekiel 43:2, LXX. καὶ ἡ γῆ ἐξέλαμπεν ὡς φέγγος ἀπὸ τῆς δόξης κυκλόθεν. ἐφωτίσθη may be meant to be closer to the Hebrew: later translators seem to have preferred the sense of ἐξέλαμπεν.
Revelation 18:1-3. HER FINAL DESOLATION
2. ἔπεσεν, ἔπεσεν. Revelation 14:8; Isaiah 21:9.
κατοικητήριον, “habitation.” Similar vengeance is denounced on the literal Babylon, Isaiah 13:21-22, and on Edom, id. Isaiah 34:13-15. It is not quite certain which of the words used in those passages are names of demons or goblins, and which of terrestrial birds and beasts: but there is little doubt that Isaiah, like St John, means to describe both as occupying the desolated city.
φυλακή. “Hold” in A. V is probably meant to signify a prison, not a fortress: the same word is translated “prison” Revelation 2:10; Revelation 1 St Peter Revelation 3:19, and again “cage” in this verse.
3. τοῦ οἴνου. See crit. note.
οἱ βασιλεῖς, Revelation 17:2.
οἱ ἔμποροι τῆς γῆς. Merchants are alluded to as frequenting the literal Babylon in Isaiah 47:15; but the prominence given to them suggests the analogy not of Babylon but of Tyre: see on Revelation 17:1. Rome was in St John’s day a wealthy and luxurious city, not a commercial city primarily, in the same sense as ancient Tyre and modern London, but a city with an immense commerce, the commerce really belonging to the city, though the port of Ostia was considerably further from the Capitol than the Docks are from Westminster. What Rome was then it may, and probably will, be again: and there is no need to look elsewhere than at Rome for the literal fulfilment of St John’s description, though some have thought it inappropriate to the geographical position of the city.
τοῦ στρήνους. This word is used 2 Kings 19:28 to translate the Hebrew word translated πικρία in the parallel passage of Isaiah (Isaiah 37:29); A. V translates “tumult,” R. V text “arrogancy” and margin “careless ease” in both places. The compound verb 1 Timothy 5:11 throws no further light on the meaning, which probably includes wanton pride.
4. ἐξέλθατε. Isaiah 48:20; Isaiah 52:11; Jeremiah 50:8; Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:9; Jeremiah 51:45; all referring to the flight of Israel from the literal Babylon. This passage is nearest to the last of those cited: but in the second there is also the suggestion, that the Lord’s people must depart to secure their purity, as well as that they will depart to secure their liberty. They are, however, presumably dwellers at Babylon as captives, not as citizens: it can hardly be meant that any of them really belong to Babylon, or are loth to quit her (like Lot in Sodom) till the very eve of her fall.
ἵνα μὴ συνκ.… ἵνα μὴ λάβητε. The second ἵνα is strangely placed, whether we consider what is usual in ordinary Greek or in the style of this writer, who here aims at and attains a symmetrical chiasmus where the two middle clauses correspond to each other, and the last corresponds with the first.
4–8. HER PRIDE AND SUDDEN FALL
5. ἐκολλήθησαν. Lit. “were compacted,” “clave together,” i.e. mounted up in a solid mass.
6. ἀπόδοτε αὐτῇ ὡς καὶ αὐτὴ ἀπέδωκεν. “Render to her as she herself rendered.” The thought is founded on Psalms 137:8; Jeremiah 50:15; Jeremiah 50:29; and the expression on the former passage.
διπλώσατε. See Jeremiah 16:18; where however the vengeance is on the persecutors of the prophet in Jerusalem.
7. ὅτι … ἴδω. Isaiah 47:7-8 : in Revelation 18:8 we have a reminiscence of the next verse of Isaiah, but less verbally close.
8. θάνατος καὶ πένθος καὶ λιμός. Mourning naturally comes after death, why famine after mourning? Is the order of the plagues first pestilence, with the streets full of mourners, then a siege and famine, then fire more terrible than the sword? There is certainly a succession, for famine is felt by degrees.
ἐν πυρὶ κατακαυθήσεται. So Revelation 17:16. While literally true of the city, the doom may refer to that pronounced by the Law on certain cases of foul fornication, Leviticus 21:9, &c.
ὅτι ἰσχυρός. Jeremiah 50:34.
ὁ κρίνας. The voice is heard before the judgement is executed: the judgement was passed before the voice spoke.
9. οἱ βασιλεῖς τῆς γῆς. Primarily, no doubt, the few vassal kings that were left in Syria and its neighbourhood. See also on Revelation 17:16.
τὸν καπνὸν τῆς πυρώσεως αὐτῆς. Cf. Genesis 19:28.
9–19. THE LAMENTATION OVER HER ON EARTH
10. διὰ τὸν φόβον, i.e. because of their fear. Their regret for her destruction is sincere, but does not make them forget themselves.
11. κλαίουσιν καὶ πενθοῦσιν. See crit. note. The present here between the futures in Revelation 18:9; Revelation 18:15 is more difficult than the past tenses in Revelation 18:18, which can be explained as in Revelation 11:11. Apart from this, Revelation 18:11-13 might seem to interrupt the connexion between Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:14, and Revelation 18:9-10; Revelation 18:14 would be quite naturally continued by Revelation 18:15-17. Revelation 18:11-13 may have once stood before Revelation 18:4.
ὅτι οὐδεὶς ἀγοράζει. Their sorrow is even more purely selfish than that of the kings.
12. γόμον χρυσοῦ, καὶ ἀργύρου, καὶ λίθου τιμίου. CP read γ. χρυσοῦν καὶ ἀργυροῦν καὶ λίθους τιμίους, Primas mercis auri et argenti et lapidum pretiosorum.
μαργαριτῶν with א Primas; Text. Rec μαργαρίτου with B2 vg; A has μαργαρίταις, CP μαργαρίτας. Both are possibly as W. H suggest corruptions of μαργαρίδος.
καὶ βυσσίνου. Primas omits.
καὶ πορφύρας. A omits, Primas inserts after καὶ σιρικοῦ.
ξύλον. A has σκεῦος, Primas omnis ligni citrei.
ἐκ ξύλου. A has ἐκ λίθου, C omits ἐκ.
12, 13. See crit. notes. The various readings are partly due to deliberate attempts to carry either the accusative or the genitive through; partly perhaps to various very early combinations of two lists, one with the names in genitive and one in accusative; compare ἴππων and κτήνη, Lat. jumenta, and σωμάτων and ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων. The whole passage should be compared with Ezekiel 17 where the wealth and trade of Tyre is described in detail.
>12. πᾶν ξύλον θύϊνον. Wood of the thyia or thyion, a kind of cypress or arbor vitae: apparently the same that was called citrus by the Romans and used for the costliest furniture.
σκεῦος. Both ivory and wood were used rather for furniture than “vessels” in our sense; it is not clear that marble was much used for either.
13. κιννάμωμον yielded a scented oil, and was also used for burning.
ἄμωμον. Chiefly used like μύρον for scenting the person.
θυμιάματα. Used for burning like λίβανον: the demand was large, as it was the commonest act of worship to cast incense on public or domestic altars.
ῥεδῶν. It is a little remarkable that travelling carriages, though the name is Gallic, were imported by sea.
σωμάτων. Ezekiel 27:14 ἵπποι καὶ ἱππεῖς (compared with ἴππων … σωμάτων here) suggests that this may mean “drivers,” or “grooms.”
ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων. Ezekiel 27:13 (where E. V translates ‘persons of men’). While we never find in the Bible an Englishman’s horror of slavery as an institution, we are no doubt to understand that St John—perhaps even that Ezekiel—felt it to be cruel and unnatural to regard human beings as mere merchandise.
14. See on Revelation 18:11. If this verse is in its original context, the writer, after the long parenthesis of Revelation 18:11-13, begins to quote without notice the lamentation of the merchants, which is introduced more regularly in Revelation 18:16-17; and τούτων in Revelation 18:15 seems to refer rather to the catalogue of merchandise than to πάντα … λαμπρά.
ἡ ὀπώρα σου … ψυχῆς. σου is generally made to depend upon τῆς ἐπ. τῆς ψυχῆς. In all other passages of the New Testament where σου stands before the substantive on which it depends, the word which comes before it has something of the force of a predicate, e.g. τοῦ αἴροντός σου τὸ ἱμάτιον, St Luke 6:29 : ποῦ σου Θάνατε τὸ κέντρον; 1 Corinthians 15:55 : oftener it is a verb. The Latins, who read σου after ὀπώρα, not after ψυχῆς, like Alford, made it depend on ὀπώρα.
τὰ λιπαρὰ καὶ τὰ λαμπρά. The first of these words is only found three times in the Bible, Nehemiah 9:35 of a fat land; Isaiah 30:23 of bread, and here, where translators are probably right in explaining it of dainty food; both words continue the thought of ὀπώρα, λιπαρὰ for enjoyment, λαμπρὰ for display: otherwise the commoner sense in Greek would be expressed in Latin by omnia nitida (not pinguia) et splendida.
εὑρήσουσιν. This impersonal verb, though quite in the manner of the writer, comes in strangely after the vehement apostrophe.
16. κεχρυσωμένη. See on Revelation 17:4.
17. πᾶς ὁ ἐπὶ τόπον πλέων. Vulg. renders ac omnes qui in locum navigant, which would mean “every one who saileth to the place,” a more natural sense than that of R. V, “who saileth any whither.” There is no known parallel in Biblical or other Greek for the curious phrase ἐπὶ τόπον: the nearest is σεισμοὶ κατὰ τόπους, St Matthew 24:7. The Old Latin, and most probably the Coptic, read πόντον in some form. If the text be right the words probably stand for the merchants travelling in ships with their own goods, which they intend to sell on arriving at their destination—Lat. vectores.
ναῦται. Cf. Ezekiel 27:29 sqq.
ὅσοι τὴν θάλασσαν ἐργάζονται. The sense is general and includes all the three classes named, shipmasters, sailing merchants, and sailors. “Trade” in A. V is defensible, as neither noun nor verb had any exclusive reference to commerce in the seventeenth century.
ἀπὸ μακρόθεν ἔστησαν. At this point, as in Revelation 11:11, vision may be supposed to take the place of prediction, and so the seer narrates what has been shewn him. The pleonasm ἀπὸ μακρόθεν is characteristic of St Mark who has it five times, St Matthew has it twice (Matthew 26:58 = Mark 14:54, Matthew 27:58 = Mark 15:40), St Luke twice (Luke 16:23; Luke 23:49 = Mark 15:40) with an added reminiscence of Psalms 37:12 LXX. Kings, merchants, and shipmen when they land would all naturally go up to the great city, but they see the smoke of her torment and stand afar off.
18. τίς ὁμοία …, Ezekiel 27:32.
19. ἔβαλον χοῦν. Ibid. 30.
20. εὐφραίνου ἐπʼ αὐτῇ. Revelation 12:12. There may be a reminiscence of Jeremiah 51:48. We cannot tell if the words are those of the Angel of Revelation 18:1, of the voice of Revelation 18:4, or of the seer himself: perhaps the second is most likely.
ἔκρινεν ὁ θεὸς τὸ κρίμα ὑμῶν. Lit., “judged your judgement,” condemned her for her condemnation of you. Notice the mention of “apostles” as well as other “saints,” as proving that apostles suffered in Rome; and so confirming the unanimous tradition as to the martyrdom there of SS. Peter and Paul. Notice also (in reference to the theory mentioned on Revelation 2:2) St John’s recognition of the latter as an apostle. Whether he had himself been condemned to death at Rome cannot be determined: the tradition to that effect was ancient, but not demonstrably so ancient, nor so widespread or so confirmed by scriptural evidence (see on St John’s Gospel Revelation 21:18-19).
20–24. THE REJOICING OVER HER IN HEAVEN
21. καὶ ἔβαλεν κ.τ.λ., Jeremiah 51:63-64.
οὕτως ὁρμήματι. Vg Hoc impetu. R. V “with a mighty fall.”
22. φωνὴ κιθαρῳδῶν. Isaiah 14:11, of Babylon, Ezekiel 26:13, of Tyre, are certainly parallels: compare also Isaiah 24:8, which is as similar as the passages of Jeremiah referred to on the following verse, and apparently, like them, spoken of the unfaithful Jerusalem.
φωνὴ μύλου οὐ. Jeremiah 25:10.
23. φωνὴ νυμφίου. Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 16:9. Weiss suggests that Revelation 18:14 originally stood here, having dropped out between ἔτι and ὄτι, and been replaced in the margin: it would certainly interrupt the connexion less here than where it stands.
ὄτι οἱ ἔμποροί σου κ.τ.λ., Isaiah 23:8, of Tyre. See crit. note. The reading of the text though doubtful makes the reference still closer.
ἐν τῇ φαρμακίᾳ σου. Compare especially Nahum 3:14.
24. καὶ ἐν αὐτῇ. As in the beginning of the Angel’s speech Babylon is spoken of in the third person, it is possible that he returns to the third person at the end: possibly also St John passes from recording the Angel’s denunciation to the impression made on his own mind by the judgement he witnessed.
πάντων … τῆς γῆς. Cf. Jeremiah 51:49, where however, if the A. V be right, the sense is rather different. “The slain of all the earth” here seems to mean “the slain of (the spiritual) Israel,” or at any rate the victims of her tyranny, there, the allies of Babylon who share in her fall.
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the Second Week of Lent