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Bible Commentaries
Revelation 18

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & PsalmsHengstenberg's Commentary

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Ch. 18. The destruction of the Babylon of the time then present has already been announced in ch. 17. But the bare announcement was not enough in respect to an event, which it was so immensely difficult for the contemporaries of John to believe. It was proper, therefore, to clothe the announcement with flesh and blood, to meet the reality, which lay with an oppressive load upon their minds, with an ideal reality—to make a provisional draught on history. It was the custom of the old prophets, as in Jeremiah 50, 51 to portray the destruction of ancient Babylon in every variety of detail, in more than a hundred verses, at the time that she held the people of God captive under her cruel dominion, and was preparing to inflict upon them the last fatal blow. And Ezekiel, in Ezekiel 40-48 meets the despair, that was produced by the destruction of the temple by an extended delineation of its restoration, which might serve the purpose of an interim-temple to the tried and disconsolate people. In like manner is there given in this chapter a pictorial representation of the overthrow of the new Babylon. The fulness of detail and vividness of colouring with which this is done, proceeds on the supposition, that it is extremely difficult , not to see and yet to believe. We stand in a somewhat different relation to this representation, from the contemporaries of St John, as we have before our eyes the history which was anticipated and drawn upon in the words of the Seer. However, we have something more to do than to throw ourselves back to the case and position of the Christians of that age, in order that we may enter with interest into the consideration of all the particulars. It will go much farther to impart significance to it, if in the room of that now vanquished ungodly power we put all, that in our day is threatening the kingdom of God with destruction. In this course we shall be following the pattern of St John himself, who throughout makes the fulfilled prophecy of the Old Testament the foundation of his announcement, and delineates the downfal of Rome in the words that had already been verified; the words, in which Isaiah had depicted the coming downfall of rich Tyre, and Jeremiah that of the great Babylon of ancient times. There is for us in a sense even more in this chapter than there was for the contemporaries of the Seer, precisely as these found in a certain respect more in those prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah than the persons to whom they were primarily addressed. The inspiring idea remains perpetually living and powerful, and it has received, through the already accomplished overthrow of heathen Rome, a new security for its approaching realization. The comparison of prophecy and history in regard to heathen Rome strongly convinces us, that the fire from heaven, which, according to ch. 20, is to consume Gog and Magog, is no mere fancy.

The chapter falls into three chief divisions. First, the appearance of the angel with great power, who comes down from heaven, and announces the fall of Babylon as accomplished, Revelation 18:1-3. Then, the announcement of the voice from heaven, Revelation 18:4-20. Finally, the appearance of the angel, who throws a great stone into the sea, and then explains the meaning of this symbolical transaction, Revelation 18:21-24. The first and the third parts may be regarded as a kind of introduction and conclusion. The voice from heaven forms the main burden of the prophecy. This voice first addresses the people of Christ, that may be in Babylon, Revelation 18:4-5, and then the instruments of God’s judgment upon her, Revelation 18:6-8. It next describes in Revelation 18:9-10, the mourning of the kings; in Revelation 18:11-16, the mourning of the merchants of the earth; in Revelation 18:17-19, the mourning of the mariners on the sea over the downfal of Babylon; and at the close, in Revelation 18:20, calls upon the heaven with its inhabitants, the members of the church, to rejoice over her. So that the conclusion returns to the beginning; for the whole had begun with an address to the members of the church.

Verse 1

Babylon Fallen

First in Revelation 18:1-3, Christ the conqueror of Babylon proclaims her downfall.

Revelation 18:1. And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, who had great power, and the earth was enlightened with his glory. That the other angel is no other than Christ, we are led to conclude in the first instance from ch. Revelation 10:1, “And I saw another angel come down from heaven, who was clothed with a cloud and the rainbow upon his head, and his countenance as the sun, and his feet as pillars of fire.” The manifestly intentional agreement in expression with that passage points to the identity of the person. Farther, that the angel had great power, and made the earth light with his glory, has no proper connection with the end immediately in view. No application is made here of the power and the glory. The angel does not act, he only speaks; he proclaims the victory already accomplished over Babylon. The great power and glory, therefore, can only be intended to shew, that the announcer of the victory over Home was, at the same time, the author of it. But then any inferior angel could never be regarded as the one, who was to execute this great work. This may at once, however, be understood of Christ. ‘All that the Father does, the Son does likewise. In ch. Revelation 17:17, Revelation 19:1, the downfal of Rome is carried up to God; and as he does every thing for Christ, so he also does it through Christ. It is Christ against whom, in ch. Revelation 17:14, the ten kings war after Rome, and who overcomes them. He, the King of all kings and the Lord of all lords, must also show himself to be such in the destruction of that Babylon, which had risen up against him and his kingdom. Finally, it is to Christ that the words themselves point, “the earth was enlightened with his glory,” to which those in ch. Revelation 10:1, “his countenance was like the sun,” correspond. Glory is a prerogative of God the Father, and of his only begotten Son (comp. John 1:14, John 2:11, John 12:41, John 17:24; Revelation 1:16; Revelation 10:1; Revelation 21:23; where, as here, the illumination is represented as going forth from the glory). He also, by whose glory the whole earth was illuminated, can be no other than the Lord of the earth. But this is only Christ (comp. at ch. Revelation 10:2). All doubt, however, is removed by the fundamental passage, Ezekiel 43:2, where it is said of Jehovah, “the earth was enlightened by his glory” (comp. also Habakkuk 3:3, “and the earth is full of his praise,” Psalms 50:1, Psalms 94:1).

This, therefore, is the result: Christ as Rome’s conqueror proclaims here the victory. In point of fact, that which he proclaims, who has great power and enlightens the earth with his glory, was still future. So much the more then should the express mention of his power and glory have served to comfort believers. It furnished a ground of security to them for believing, that what John as their representative had seen in vision, should at the proper time in the reality be brought in with irresistible power. Before this glory the glory of Rome must grow pale. In regard to the great power of Christ, see Matthew 28:18.

Verse 2

Revelation 18:2. And he cried in strength and said, She is fallen, she is fallen, Babylon the great, and has become an habitation of demons, and a hold of all unclean spirits, and a hold of all unclean and hateful birds. The expression, in strength, alludes to Psalms 29:4, “The voice of the Lord is in strength.” What is declared there of the yoke of Jehovah, is here transferred to the voice of Christ, exactly as in Revelation 18:1 that is affirmed of Christ, which in the fundamental passage of Ezekiel is spoken of Jehovah. [Note: The LXX. render Psalms 29:4, φωην̀? κυριου ἐ?ν ἰ?σχύ?ι . The significant allusion to this verse is in favour of what is here certainly the reading, that has least external support, ἐ?ν ἰ?σχύ?ι ; the more ao, as also in what immediately precedes that is transferred to the angel, Christ, which in the Old Testament is declared of Jehovah. The Hebraistic ἐ?ν ἰ?σχύ?ι was an occasion of offence to the copyists. They therefore substituted for it the plain ἐ?ν ισχυρᾶ?ͅ? φωνῃ?͂? . We cannot understand how any should have thought of the heterogeneous ἐ?ν ἰ?σχύ?ι . The thoughtful allusion to Psalms 29:4 can neither be conceived of as a matter of accident, nor as the design of a copyist. The variations in respect to the placing and omitting of the ἐ?ν as connected with ισχυρᾶ?ͅ? φωνῃ?͂? ; also seem to bespeak the fabrication of this reading, as does the combined reading followed by Luther ἐ?ν ἰ?σχύ?ι , φωνῃ?͂? μέ?γαλη .] The power in the calling afforded a pledge for power in the doing, and was, therefore, full of consolation for those who were oppressed by the city that then had the name of power.

In regard to the words, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great,” comp. on ch. Revelation 14:8, Revelation 16:19. The preterite there is a prophetical one; it denotes a fact, which even as a part of the vision was still future. But here it is used of a fact which, viewed in respect to the vision, had now entered—comp. ch. Revelation 17:3. For the vision the victory was even in the preceding chapter a completed fact; the judgment of the great whore was already put in force; the woman was already placed in the wilderness; only the exposition of the symbol there makes use of the futures. If we give due attention to this, and to the continuous use of the preterites in the discourse of the angel, we shall not doubt that proclamation is here made of what has already been done.

In regard to the demons, evil spirits, see at ch. Revelation 9:20, Revelation 16:14. The fundamental passages are Isaiah 13:21, where it is said of ancient Babylon as fallen, “And bucks dance there,” in connection with owls and ostriches; and Isaiah 34:14, “And one buck calls to another, there also reposes the night-spectre and finds rest to itself.” From the sojourn of the Israelites in Egypt, with its idolatrous worship of buck or he-goats, the heathen gods were primarily called among them bucks (comp. Leviticus 17:7; 2 Chronicles 11:15; and Egypt and the Books of Moses, p. 213, also Beitr. II. p. 118, ss)., and then evil spirits, which constituted the back-ground of idolatry. The LXX. in Isaiah 13:21 have, “and demons shall dance there;” and in Bar_4:35 it is said, “and has been inhabited by demons for a very long time.” Now, if the passage before us and the fundamental passages of Isaiah were all, then with some justice we might speak, with Vitringa, of rhetorical descriptions of desolation, with Bossuet of the manner of speech drawn from popular discourse, although this is certainly not, as regards the usage of the prophets, what most readily occurs. But there are indications in other parts of Scripture, which place evil spirits in connection with the wilderness and desolation, and in which we cannot avail ourselves of such a resource. Satan bears, in Leviticus 16, the name of Azazel, the separated (see Egypt and Books of Moses, p. 166), and the he-goat is sent to him into the wilderness, as to his proper place of abode. In the declaration of the Lord, in Matthew 12:43, the waste and dry places appear pre-eminently as the seat of evil spirits, and the manifest allusion there to Isaiah 34:14 seems to withdraw this passage from the sphere of a simply poetical representation. In Luke 8:27 it is said of a man who had demons, “he abode not in the house, but was in the tombs.” In accordance with these indications of Scripture is the disagreeable horror which comes over us in such places. Analogous representations fetched from beyond the region of Scripture cannot properly be brought to invalidate its intimations, but rather tend to strengthen them, as a kind of consensus gentium.

The unclean or impure spirits are personal spirits. Bengel remarks, “Between these two kinds (demons and unclean birds) stand impure spirits, which may consequently be human spirits, that in the bodily life had hardened themselves in impurity. In waste places, where men cease to dwell, such spirits rush in and take possession of them.

Unclean spirits, as distinguished from devils and fallen angels, are departed souls of unholy men. This is a very clear passage for such spirits, which are called spectres when they appear to the living. That which during the bodily life had continued in impurity, in uncleanness, and other sins, remains impure in death and after death. Therefore should we prize purification through the blood of Jesus.” But in ch. Revelation 16:13-14, unclean spirits are first mentioned, and then the spirits of demons. Hence, and likewise from the common designation of demons as impure spirits, we cannot suppose that any essential distinction is meant to be introduced here between demons and impure spirits. Otherwise, countenance would be given to the manifestly false imagination that ruins are a dwelling for demons, a place of custody for all impure spirits. We ought rather to suppose that demons are spoken of under another name, for the purpose of placing them along with unclean birds, and to bring out the new and additional element, that their dwelling is there, where such birds are obliged to make their resort. At the most, we might suppose that the designation of unclean spirits is a comprehensive one, so that it may also comprise the spirits of dead men. It may, however, be asked if these also are not comprehended in the class of demons. But in any case we must not put the unclean spirits as contradistinguished from the demons in a separate class.

A hold or place of custody is mentioned in connection with the unclean spirits. Bengel says, “ Habitation—hold, two different words. The first denotes a much freer place of sojourn, while the second means a prison or guard-house, and in the Greek occurs also in ch. Revelation 2:10, Revelation 20:7.” The unclean spirits are banished to a place which is a true image of their state. As in the case of the unclean birds, so in theirs it is the law of their nature that banishes them thither. A ruined existence is at home among ruins. They leave them only to make others partakers of their misery.

The unclean birds (comp. Psalms 102:6, “ I am like the pelican of the wilderness, I am as an owl of ruins,” Isaiah 13:21-22, Isaiah 34:14; Jeremiah 50:39; Zephaniah 2:14), on account of the natural impulses implanted in them by God, are in a manner banished to the haunts of desolation, from which all living creatures, it might seem, would shrink with horror.

Verse 3

Revelation 18:3. For all heathen have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have been made rich by her luxury. We have here only one reason for the downfall of Rome, viz. her oppression of the nations. In ch. Revelation 14:8, Revelation 17:2, also one cause only is assigned. According to Revelation 18:23 the luxury is brought into notice only in so far as by reason of extortions it was the means of contributing to that oppression. On the wine of the wrath of fornication, the canning, love-feigning policy whereby Rome compassed the destruction of the nations, see at ch. Revelation 14:8. On the committing of fornication with Babylon by the kings, which is considered as pressed on them, see on ch. Revelation 17:2. The power of her luxury, her powerful luxury.

Verse 4

We have now in Revelation 18:4-20 the voice from heaven.

Revelation 18:4. And I heard another voice from heave , which said, Go out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and receive not of her plagues. It is not said, another angel, but another voice. The voice must be the voice of Christ. For, in Revelation 18:5, God is spoken of in the third person, and the speaker calls the people of God his people. The identity of the person speaking in both cases is also indicated by the close manner in which the word here joins to the preceding verse: out of her, not out of Babylon. It is not against the reference to Christ that the voice is said to be from heaven—comp. with Revelation 18:1. For, the vision of Christ coming down from heaven is now to be considered as past. Its aim is accomplished in proclaiming the victory over Rome.

The stand-point here is a somewhat different one from that in Revelation 18:1-3. There the storm has already discharged itself, here it hangs lowering from the heavens. Perhaps it is in unison with the difference of the stand-point, that here the voice is heard resounding from heaven. The coming down of the angel from heaven, in Revelation 18:1, presupposes that the storm of divine wrath has already discharged itself.

The call to the people of God rests upon the two fundamental passages, Jeremiah 51:6, “Flee out of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul; be not cut off in her iniquity; for this is a time of vengeance for the Lord, he recompenses to her the gift;” and Jeremiah 51:45, “Go out of her, my people, and deliver every man his soul from the fierce anger of the Lord.” These fundamental passages (on which also Zechariah 2:10 rests) again point back to the type of Lot, to whom the angel in Genesis 19:15 said, “Arise, lest thou be consumed in the iniquity of the city;” and in Genesis 19:17, “deliver thy soul.” In the words, “that ye be not partakers in her sins, and receive not her plagues,” the second clause serves for an explanation of the first; it has respect to that, in which a participation in the sins consists. The mere “be partakers in her sins,” having a double import, could not properly stand alone. Sins are as little here, as any where else, punishments of sins. But that a participation in sins consists in a participation of the punishment inflicted on account of sins, is plain from the fundamental passages.

The call here, as in the fundamental passages, is not meant to be taken in the strictly literal sense, as is evident alone from this, that Rome is not mentioned here as a particular city, but as the representative of the Roman empire. The object is more immediately to point to the certainty and greatness of the destruction that threatened Babylon, to give a powerful blow to that fear for Babylon, by which the minds of men were then so much moved. Why should they be afraid of that, which itself had to fear the worst! Still, this call leaves no room to doubt, that the care of the Lord to preserve and deliver his people in the midst of his judgments on the world, as was manifested of old in the case of Lot, and as was represented and pledged in ch. Revelation 7:1-8 of this book, should also unfold itself in the time of his judgment on Rome. And history has preserved to us many proofs, that this actually was the case. The quotations given by Bossuet, for example, shew how at the taking of Rome by Alarich, which was a particular act of the great drama of vengeance, the Lord manifested his watchful care and faithfulness.

Verse 5

Revelation 18:5. For her sins reach to heaven, and God remembers her iniquities. It marks the highest degree of sin, when it is spoken of as reaching to heaven, pressing in before God’s throne and calling down his vengeance—comp. 2 Chronicles 28:9, where the prophet Obed says of a heinous transgression, that “it reaches to the heavens,” Ezra 9:6, “our guilt is great unto the heavens,” Genesis 4:10, Genesis 18:21, Genesis 19:13; Jonah 1:2. The fundamental passage is Jeremiah 51:9, “for her judgment reaches unto heaven, and extends even to the clouds.” It has been in vain tried to explain away the difference between this passage and the verse before us. By sins here punishments can as little be denoted, as the judgment in Jeremiah can denote sins. In Jeremiah himself, however, the foundation is laid for substituting sins here in the place of judgment. For the otherwise somewhat anomalous reaching up of judgment to heaven, presupposes the reaching up of sins thither, precisely as in the fundamental passage, Psalms 36:6 (comp. Psalms 57:10), the goodness and faithfulness of God reaching to the clouds and to heaven, forms the contrast to the arrogance of the wicked, which strives to scale the very heavens. Where sins are found piercing through even to heaven, there infallibly the judgment of God presses down to the earth, and thence again rises up giant-like to the heaven. It is said here literally, her sins have adhered even to heaven. This is a pregnant construction for: they reach to the heaven and adhere to it. [Note: A quite similar abbreviation with the same verb occurs in Lamentations 2:2: τὰ? ὀ?χυρώματα ἐ?κόλλησεν εἰ?ς τὴ?ν γῆ?ν , Psalms 43:25: ἐ?κολλήθη εἰ?ς τὴ?ν γῆ?ν ἡ? γαστὴ?ρ ἡ?μῶ?ν ; comp Psalms 118:25, Ἐ?κολλήθη τῷ? ἐ?δάφει ἡ? ψυχή μου . Then in Bar_1:20 , ἐ?κολλήθη εἰ?ς ἡ?μᾶ?ς τὰ? κακὰ? , the evils that have come upon us and cleave to us. Also Zechariah 14:5, καὶ? ἐ?γκολληθήσεται φάραγξ ὀ?ρέων ἕ?ως ἀ?ζαή?λ , is only to be explained as an abbreviation, if we would not force on the verb the sense of reaching: it will join itself, reaching even to it.

The harshness of the construction has occasioned the reading ἠ?κολού?θησαν .] The sticking fast of guilt to heaven is an aggravating mark of its greatness.

The second clause serves as an explanation of the first. Even in ch. Revelation 16:9 it is said, “and Babylon the great was remembered before God, to give to her the cup,” etc.

Verse 6

Revelation 18:6. Render to her as she also has rendered, and double double according to her works; [Note: Read διπλώ?σατε διπλᾶ? κατὰ? τὰ? ἐ?́?ργα αὐ?τῆ?ς , not with Stephanus: διπλώ?σατε αὐ?τῃ?͂? διπλᾶ?; still less with Tischendorf, διπλψώ?σατε τὰ? διπλᾶ? . The variation has arisen from a misunderstanding. The double can only be the double of her works.] in the cup, which she has mixed, mix to her double. The voice from heaven, which in Revelation 18:4-5, has addressed the people of God, turns now to the instruments of vengeance, which, we learn from ch. Revelation 17:16, to be the ten kings. That the servants of the divine judgment are addressed cannot be doubted from the fundamental passage, Jeremiah 50:29, “Recompense to her after her deeds, after all that she has done, do to her.”

Luther has: as she has rendered to you. But the to you is neither sufficiently confirmed, nor is it suitable. They are the instruments of divine recompense, not for what they had themselves specially suffered, but for what mankind had suffered from Rome. As she also has rendered, or recompensed, namely, responding love, or, at least, harmless, innocent behaviour with cunning, blood-shed, servitude.

By the double is often denoted in the Old Testament abundance. The measure of the divine recompense corresponds both under the Old and under the New Testament, to the measure of guilt—comp. Exodus 21:24; Matthew 7:2. Scripture knows nothing of a double measure of punishment to a single one of guilt. In the expression also, according to her works, and in what immediately precedes, the recompense is placed in exact correspondence to the guilt. We must therefore suppose, that it is doubled to her, because she had doubled, because her works bore the character of aggravated wickedness, as in Jeremiah 50:21, ancient Babylon is called the land of double revolt (Merathaim), and Kushan of .Mesopotamia has the surname of Rishathaim, the double wickedness—comp. also Matthew 23:15. She has likewise mixed double in her cup. The fundamental passage is Jeremiah 16:18, “and I recompense double their iniquity and their sin;” comp. Jeremiah 17:18, “and with double destruction destroy them,” where also we are not to think of a double recompense for a single sin, but of a double recompense for a double sin.

On the mixing, see on ch. Revelation 14:10, the only other passage in the Apocalypse where it occurs. In regard to the image of the cup with the wine of wrath, see ch. Revelation 14:8, Revelation 18:3.

Verse 7

Revelation 18:7. How much she has made herself glorious, and has been luxurious, so much torment and sorrow give her. For she says in her heart, I sit as queen, and am no widow, and I shall not see mourning. At the words, how much, etc., we are to supply, at the expense of others. The words, “for she says,” &c., contain the reason for the heavy sentence against Babylon which was pronounced in the preceding verse. The reason is, the presumptuous security in which she trod beneath her feet all divine and human rights. All these words are still addressed to the ministers of the divine righteousness. But the address to them is only formally of moment. In substance the call, that they should render to her, is all one with, let it be rendered to her. The fundamental passage is Isaiah 47:8, where it is said of ancient Babylon, “who says in her heart, I am, and none else beside me; I shall not sit as a widow, neither shall I know the loss of children.” By the widowhood is denoted not the loss of empire, but the state of desertion, helplessness, humiliation—comp. Lamentations 1:20; Bar_4:12 . Widows appear even in the law as representatives of personae miserabiles.

Verse 8

Revelation 18:8 Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and hunger, and with fire shall she be burned; for strong is God the Lord, who judges her. The four plagues are mentioned with respect to her glory upon the earth, being one, as it were, from every corner of the earth. Death—which carries off a great part of her people (the pestilence would here be out of place, since from what precedes it is death by the hand of enemies that is more especially referred to)— mourning, and hunger, which overtakes the survivors, and by which, therefore, she is smitten as the mother of all. In regard to the burning, comp. on ch. Revelation 17:16. God the Lord (comp. on ch. Revelation 1:8) is here very suitably mentioned as the author of the judgment. This name confronts the imagined goddess of the earth, whose name also was derived from strength, with the eternal possessor of Godhead as the rock on which her little bark must dash to pieces. Bengel: “Rome means strong, but her strength is nothing. Strong is the Lord God, who judges her.” [Note: The Old Testament character of the designation “Lord the God” is opposed to those who leave out the ὁ? κύ?ριος , as also to those who omit the ὁ? θεό?ς . It is perfectly in keeping with the Apocalypse, and has in its favour the mark of originality; the copyists however, could not understand it.]

It has been improperly supposed, that Revelation 18:9, ss. do not suit the voice from heaven. Yet the whole book is “the Revelation of Jesus Christ!” The difference between what is said here and in the preceding verses is only that, in place of a direct address, we have here a simple description; a difference of a merely formal kind, as under the address also a description was concealed. Besides, in the middle of Revelation 18:14 an address is once more suddenly introduced, and in it the whole discourse of the voice from heaven runs out in Revelation 18:20.

Verses 9-10

Revelation 18:9. And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication, and have lived luxuriously with her, shall weep and lament over her, when they see the smoke of her burning. Revelation 18:10. And they shall stand afar off, for the fear of her torment, and shall say, Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon the strong city. For in one hour is thy judgment come.

In Revelation 18:11 the kings of the earth have placed by their side the merchants of the earth, as contradistinguished from those who traffic on the seas; and the common contrast to both is formed at the close in Revelation 18:20 by the heaven and its inhabitants. Earth and sea lament, heaven rejoices. The kings of the earth, as contrasted with the inhabitants of heaven, are, at the same time, to be thought of as earthly minded—comp. on ch. Revelation 13:11-12.

The lamentation of the kings is not that of love; the opposite appears from the expression, “who have committed fornication with her;” it is the grief that arises from self-interest. They bewail the downfal of the mistress, because of the advantages which they, as faithful vassals, had derived from their connection with her.

With all the three, kings, merchants, mariners, it is mentioned that they stood afar off; with all the three the lamentation begins with the words, Woe, woe, the great city; and concludes with the words, because in one hour. So much belonging to the parts in common prevents the several representations from falling asunder, and marks them as so many pieces in one whole. Then, the particular features of each part are rendered more prominent by reason of the contrast they present to this common ground.

The fundamental passages are Ezekiel 26:15-16, “Shall not the isles shake at the sound of thy fall, at the sighing of the pierced through, when they are slain within thee? And all the princes of the sea come down from their thrones, and lay aside their robes, and put off their broidered garments; they clothe themselves with terrors, they sit upon the ground, and tremble continually, and are astonished at thee;” and Ezekiel 27:35, “All the inhabitants of the earth are astonished at thee, and their kings are frightened, they are troubled at the thunder.” As in former times Tyre, so in the times of St John Rome was the centre of the world’s commerce. The joining of the word here to that which was of old uttered respecting Tyre, was more significant, as the fulfilment of this afforded a pledge of the certainty of the other.

They see the smoke of her burning, as Abraham, according to Genesis 19:28, saw from afar the smoke of Sodom and Gomorrah. In the superscription of Jeremiah’s prophecy against ancient Babylon in Jeremiah 50:1, “The word, which the Lord spake of Babylon, the land of the Chaldeans” (not: and the land), the land of the Chaldeans is mentioned along with Babylon; whence it is clear, that the city was referred to merely as the representative and centre of the kingdom. So here Babylon comprehends in itself the whole kingdom—comp. ch. Revelation 17:18. On this ground alone, therefore, we cannot take the burning literally, but must regard it as the emblem of the whole destruction.

They stand afar off, because they are afraid that they shall partake of her sins and receive of her plagues ( Revelation 18:4). It is not so properly their regard to self that is marked, disposing them to forget the sufferer, as the greatness of her punishment and suffering, which makes all shudder. It was impossible to think of rendering help, as the kings themselves perceive ( thy judgment), that it is the Almighty himself who now contends with Rome. The double woe corresponds to the call, “double her double,” in Revelation 18:6. In regard to the great city, see on ch. Revelation 16:19, the expression, the strong city, still more plainly alludes to the name of Rome. The strong is here, as in Revelation 18:8, to be regarded as written large.

Verse 11

Revelation 18:11. And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn over her, ‘because no one any more buys their cargo. The fundamental passages for this and the following verses are the prophecies of Isaiah in Isaiah 23, and of Ezekiel in Ezekiel 27 against Tyre, especially the latter. As preparation is made for Revelation 18:9-10, by the declaration in Revelation 18:3, “And the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her,” so is it also made for Revelation 18:11, ss. by the immediately following declaration, “and the merchants of the earth have become rich by the power of her luxury.” Vitringa perceived quite well, that the features described here did not suit papal Rome, which was never at any period the centre of merchandize.

He found refuge in the allegorical exposition. Rome appears as the storehouse of spiritual wares. But the one consideration, that the merchandize of Rome, different from that of Tyre, appears here as entirely of a one-sided passive kind, is decisive against this view: She does not sell the wares, but they merely serve for her use and consumption. The cargo (Luther translates, not quite exactly, wares, see Acts 21:3) is that of the ships freighted by the merchants.

In the following enumeration the wares are divided into different classes, making in all seven. The transition from one to another where it is not in itself quite plain, is rendered manifest by the construction: the cargo of gold, etc., and all wood, etc., and (the cargo) of horses, etc., and souls of men.

Verse 12

Revelation 18:12. The cargo of gold and silver and precious stones and pearls; and of linen-stuff, and purple and silk and scarlet; and all thyine wood, and every kind of vessel of most precious wood, and of brass, and of iron, and of marble. First come hard materials for show and ornament; then the soft (comp. Revelation 17:4)—both placed at the head on this account., because Babylon was not, like Tyre, a common commercial city, but merely, as the mistress of the world, drew toward herself the merchandize of the world. In her love for these materials her character as mistress of the world especially discovers itself.

The hard materials of display are four—as indeed the number four, the signature of the earth, plays an important part in this chapter, which is occupied with the fate of the mistress of the world—gold and silver and precious stones and pearls. So also the soft. Purple and scarlet are the chief stuffs, according to ch. Revelation 17:4, as being the proper apparel of the dominant people. Silk and linen (byssus) appear only as accompaniments. Bengel: “The finest flax is called byssus, and is very fine, strong, and beautifully white, and beside it the purple, with its dark red, looks admirably, as the rich man in the parable well knew, who clothed himself with purple and fine linen (byssus).”

Then follow the materials for expensive furniture, and furniture made from expensive materials. First we have, formed into a pair, the costly material itself, and the articles made from it; then four kinds of the articles or vessels. By the thyine wood we are not to understand things made of this kind of wood; for, in that case, it would have been superfluous to mention all vessels of precious wood.

Thyine wood, wood of the tree Thyia or Thya, (which is mentioned even in Homer in connection with cedars, Od. IV. 59) according to Pliny and Theophrastus was a fine-cented, ever-green tree from the coast of Africa, like the cypress, of the wood of which the costliest pieces of furniture were made. Schneider regards it as an unknown kind of juniper; according to Sprengel it is Thyia articulata, Linnaei.

In Athenaens 5:p. 207, thyine wood and ivory are connected together, as they are here: raτὰ?ς δὲ? θύ?ρας (εἰ?́?χε ) ἐ?λέ?φαντος καὶ? θυρί?ου .

Verse 13

Revelation 18:13. And cinnamon (and amomum) and perfumes and ointment and frankincense, and wine and oil, and fine flour and wheat, and cattle and sheep; and of horses and of chariots and of bodies; and souls of men. We have here first articles of perfumery. Whether amomum, an Indian aromatic shrub, stood originally in the text or not, is doubtful. It is omitted by Luther. If it is not genuine, then there are four aromatic substances. After these we have articles of food in three pairs.

Then come articles of conveyance. Chariots—of which Bengel says, “here is the Latin rheda in the midst of the Greek words.” Bodies as contradistinguished from horses, can only mean bodies of men. And being named in connection with horses and chariots, they can only be thought of in their capacity for bearing, and more especially for bearing men, as equipages of this sort are mentioned immediately before.

The bodies are by the construction united with the horses and chariots, and separated from the souls of men. However, they naturally lead on to this latter class. Slaves were brought into notice when mention was made emphatically of the body, in the special respect of sedan bearers, and now they are referred to in a more general respect, and under an appellation, which indicates their fitness for higher employments. Men’s souls appear in Ezekiel 27:13 among the goods in which Tyre trafficked.

Verse 14

Revelation 18:14. And the harvest of the desire of thy soul is departed from thee; and all that was full and glorious, has perished from thee, and thou shall no longer find such things. After the wares, which were brought from without, mention is made of domestic goods; then every thing in the preceding enumeration is collected into the expression: all that was fat and glorious. The description of the mourning of the merchants is interrupted for a moment, to be again resumed in Revelation 18:15. This interruption may seem the less strange, as the description also of the mourning on the part of the merchants is given for no other purpose than to shew, how completely all the glory of Rome had departed. This object comes still more prominently out through the interruption; which serves to point to the design and kernel of the whole representation. The address is directed by the voice from heaven to Babylon, which is also spoken to in Revelation 18:22 by the angel, after he had previously spoken of her. The address can then only appear strange, when it is overlooked, that the whole uttered from Revelation 18:4 to Revelation 18:20 inclusive belongs to the voice from heaven.

By the harvest are here denoted the fruits, which ripen in harvest. Among these the first place belongs to the grapes, which were gathered with the greatest rejoicing (“the harvest of the desire of thy soul”), and which in the Old Testament representations occupy a distinguished place in accounts of ravages and desolations—comp. Isaiah 16:9, “in thy reaping and thy harvest falls the enemy’s cry,” in contrast to the joy of the vine-dresser and reaper, Jeremiah 48:32, “the spoiler falls upon thy harvest and thy vintage.”

The full, properly fat, used of the produce of the land, Isaiah 30:23, comprehends the immediately preceding, and besides a part of the things enumerated in Revelation 18:12-13; the rest is comprised in the term glorious.

Bengel: “But so may it he said also in respect to all worldly people. What they have enjoyed before, is taken away in death, and perhaps even sooner, and they are left, it may be, without a drop of water. He, who has before doted upon such things with the whole desire of his heart, and now has in prospect only an eternal starvation, what courage any more can remain to him! It is better for one, by denying himself and the world, to wean himself from such things, and stand aloof; so that there may be no pain when the separation takes place. For such an one it may then be said, All that was distasteful to thy soul is past, all that was grievous and troublesome is gone; henceforth thou shalt no more have to do with such things.”

Verses 15-16

Revelation 18:15. The merchants of such wares, who have been enriched by her, shall stand afar off for fear of her torment, weeping and mourning. Revelation 18:16. (And) saying. Woe, woe, the great city, that was clothed with fine linen and purple and scarlet, and gilt with gold and precious stones and pearls; for in one hour is so great wealth laid desolate. Revelation 18:15 would possess the character of a needless repetition, if Revelation 18:14, as several have supposed, stood in the wrong place. The expression, such wares, refers more immediately to the full and glorious in Revelation 18:14.

Verses 17-18

Revelation 18:17. And every shipmaster, and all who sail for one place, and sailors, and whosoever work the sea, stood afar off. Revelation 18:18. And cried, when they saw the smoke of her burning, and said, Who is like the great city! The classes named are four. Those who sail for one place, are such as pursue a determinate course. Luther’s translation: and the multitude, who do business in ships, rests on a false reading, πᾶ?ς ὁ? ἐ?πὶ? τῶ?ν πλοί?ων ὁ? ὁ?́?μιλος , comprehend all that are here under consideration. The figurative expression: work the sea, has its analogies in Isaiah 23:3, where the many waters appear as the harvest-field, which bears for Tyre the corn of Egypt, and Ezekiel 27:33, “when thy wares came forth out of the sea, thou didst satisfy many nations,” Hitzig, “like the increase, the productions of the ground.” The fundamental passage for the lamentation of the mariners is Ezekiel 27:32.

The exclamation: Who is like the great city! (comp. Isaiah 47:8, where Babylon says, “I am and none besides”) explains itself on the ground, that it is of the nature of pain for lost greatness and glory, to call to mind the previous existence of the greatness and glory. Some explain: Who is like her in her destruction! But the destruction would require to be more definitely expressed. The likeness, therefore, can only be understood of that, which is affirmed of the city, its greatness. In the fundamental passage also of Ezekiel 27:32, “Who is like Tyre, like the destroyed in the midst of the sea,” the reference is simply to the earlier glory. Who, it is asked, is like her in this?

Verse 19

Revelation 18:19. And they threw dust upon their heads, and cried, weeping and mourning, and said, Woe, woe, the great city, by which all were made rich, who have ships in the sea, from her costliness; for in one hour she is laid desolate. In Ezekiel 27:30, it is said of the mariners, “And they cry aloud over thee, they lament bitterly, and throw dust upon their heads, and wallow in ashes.” Dust and ashes, and whatever else lies on the dirty ground, is the symbol of a low and humbled condition. Any one that throws dust upon his head, denotes thereby, that a low and prostrate condition has overtaken him (comp. Psalms 102:9). On the words, “by which were made rich,” see Ezekiel 27:33, Thou didst enrich the kings of the earth with the multitude of thy riches and of thy merchandise.” The costliness is her pomp and glory, her luxurious mode of life.

Verse 20

Revelation 18:20. Rejoice over her, Heaven, and ye saints, and ye apostles, and ye prophets, for God has judged your judgment on her. This verse forms the close of what is said by the voice from heaven, to which all between this and Revelation 18:4 belongs, without any interruption. That John himself in part appears as the speaker, is the less to be supposed, as in vision—understood in the closer sense—according to the rule, all is merely seen and heard; the Seer himself does not come forth as a speaker, no otherwise than in converse with his heavenly guide, and generally within the sphere of the vision—comp. at ch. Revelation 20:7.

The joy forms the contrast to the mourning of the earthly-minded over the downfal of Rome.

Upon heaven as the dwelling-place of the militant and triumphant church, see on ch. Revelation 12:12, Revelation 13:6. Heaven was first named, in contrast to the earth, Revelation 18:9; Revelation 18:11, and the sea, Revelation 18:17; and now those inhabitants of heaven are specified, to whom the joy more especially belongs.

The saints are the genus, the apostles and prophets the most eminent species included in it—comp. on ch. Revelation 11:18. The apostles and prophets are personally identical, or in the possessors of the apostleship prophecy also culminates—comp. on ch. Revelation 1:1. If the apostles were diverse from the prophets, the order would have stood thus: saints, prophets, apostles. For, that the order corresponds to the rank, appears by the transition from saints to apostles. But it is contrary to the essential nature of the apostleship, that other persons should stand higher in the kingdom of God than the apostles. Besides, this passage shews, that the prophetical dignity is highest in the apostles.

The apostles can only mean the twelve—comp. ch. Revelation 21:14. It has been urged, that since the apostles appear here as already in heaven, the author seems to have thought of himself as different from the apostles, and hence could not be the apostle John (Lücke, p. 389). But in this the proper import of heaven is misapprehended. By ch. Revelation 4:1, John was even in heaven when he saw the Revelation. Nay, if heaven were to be regarded only as the abode of the just made perfect, the conclusion would be an overhasty one. For by the time that the revenge should be executed, the still living saints, apostles, and prophets, must long since have gone to their rest.

Your judgment (comp. ch. Revelation 17:1, Revelation 20:4), the doom which she pronounced upon you, the judgment which she held over you, your condemnation. To the judgment here corresponds in ch. Revelation 6:10, “How long dost thou not judge our blood?”—the blood which the unrighteous persecutor had shed. Ch. Revelation 13:10 is parallel, “He that leadeth into captivity, shall go into captivity; he that killeth with the sword, must be killed with the sword.” The doom or judgment of Rome was spoken of in ch. Revelation 13:7, where it is said of the beast in its Roman phase, “And it was given to him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them.” According to Revelation 18:10 there, it has carried the saints away into captivity, as also, from ch. Revelation 1:9, John himself, the saints, apostles, prophets, and killed them with the sword.

The saints respond to the call which is here addressed to them, and express their joy in ch. Revelation 19:1-4. Those also rejoice among the saints, etc., who were not personally affected by the judgment of Babylon. For, when one member suffers, the other members suffer with it. There is besides an allusion to Jeremiah 51:48, “and heaven and earth rejoice over Babylon.”

Verse 21

Revelation 18:21. And a strong angel lifted up a stone as a great mill-stone, and threw it into the sea, and said, Thus with violence shall Babylon the great city be thrown, and be no more found. The symbolical action of the angel here is typified in Jeremiah 51 Jeremiah gives to Seraiah, who was going to Babylon, the commission to read his prophecy there. Jeremiah 51:63-64, “And when thou hast made an end of reading this book, thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the Euphrates. And say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her, but shall vanish away.” An allusion is made here also to Matthew 18:6, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones, which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea;” and to the parallel passage in Mark 9:42. [Note: Mark has λί?θος μυλικὸ?ς instead of μύ?λος , which in the New Testament occurs only in these two passages in the rare signification of a millstone. He also omits the somewhat difficult ὀ?νικὸ?ς , to which the μέ?γας here corresponds, which from the fundamental passages must be coupled with μύ?λον , and not with λί?θον . But the ἔ?βαλεν εἰ?ς τὴ?ν θάλασσαν here comes nearer to Mark’s βέβληται εἰ?ς τὴ?ν θάλασσαν , than to the words of Matthew.] The allusion to these passages admits of less doubt, as here in Revelation 18:20 it is mentioned immediately before, how Rome offends against the little ones that believe in Christ, and by its persecutions had tried to seduce them into apostacy. That word of our Lord, in which the doom of Rome was already announced, points back to the passage quoted from Jeremiah: it shall fare with him, as it once fared with Babylon, which so well understood how to offend against the little ones. In ch. Revelation 1:7 we have a quite similar reference to a declaration of our Lord preserved by St Matthew, and at the same time to its fundamental passage in the Old Testament. The declaration of Jeremiah, again, has reference to Exodus 15:4-5, comp. Nehemiah 9:11. In this last fundamental passage it is said of Pharaoh and his host, “he threw them into the sea, they sank down in the floods as a stone.” In the place of the sea there Jeremiah substitutes the Euphrates. But in the declaration of our Lord the sea returns again; and on account of the immediate reference to his declaration, the sea is also found in the passage before us—although here Euphrates would have been quite suitable. The strength of the angel here has its pre-requisite in the greatness of the stone—comp. ch. Revelation 5:2. A great stone is taken, because such an one makes a great fall. With violence, with a heavy force, so that it may remain firmly settled at the bottom, and may no more be found.

Bengel: “This no more occurs here six times in rapid succession. Great glory before, great desolation afterwards.” According to ch. Revelation 17:18, Rome is brought into view here only as “the great city,” which has dominion over the kings of the earth—as the heathen mistress of the world. As such, it has completely, and without a trace, perished.

Verses 22-23

Revelation 18:22. And the voices of the harp-singers, and musicians, and pipers, and trumpeters, shall no more be heard in thee; and no craftsman of any craft shall any more be found in thee; and the sound of a mill-stone shall no more be heard in thee. Revelation 18:23. a. And the light of a candle shall no more shine in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall no more be heard in thee. In Revelation 18:22-24 we have the speech of the strong angel continued, which serves as an explanation of his symbolical action. The fundamental passage here is Jeremiah 25:10, “And I destroy from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the mill-stones and the light of the candle;” comp. Jeremiah 7:34; Isaiah 24:8; Ezekiel 26:13. The vanishing of all joy forms here the beginning and the end, the joy of marriage as the highest ( Jeremiah 33:11), and in the middle there is the cessation of all commerce and life. The individuals chosen at the beginning as representatives of joy form two pairs, first the harp-singers (ch. Revelation 14:2) and the musicians, vocal and instrumental music; and again, of the latter, two related kinds are specified.

Revelation 18:23. b. For thy merchants were the great of the earth. For by thy sorcery all the heathen have been deceived. On the first words comp. Isaiah 23:8, where it is said of Tyre, “whose merchants princes, whose traffickers the honourable of the earth.” The merchants of Rome are here not the master-merchants in Rome itself, but the commercial people who deal with her. This is shown by the corresponding words in Revelation 18:15, “the merchants of these things that have been made rich by her;” and still more those in Revelation 18:3, “the merchants of the earth have become rich by the power of her luxury.” The second for is not co-ordinate with the first, but carries back the immediately preceding declaration to what constitutes its ground. The proper guilt is first contained in this ground. That the merchandize with Rome produces so rich gain has its foundation in this, that she has drawn all nations into her net, and so all the world’s treasures flow into her lap. What was said at Revelation 18:3 against those who consider the luxury as the sole and sufficient cause of judgment upon Rome, may here be compared. Only such things are to be understood here as are characteristic of Rome, as “the great city which has dominion over the kings of the earth,” characteristic of a particular phase of the beast. That three quite different causes are given is in itself not probable. According to our view only two causes remain, and these have an internal connection with each other, as is already required by the parallel passages of Revelation 18:3, and ch. Revelation 14:8, in which mention is made only of one crime of Babylon. From the same selfish ambition planting itself in the centre of the world, out of which proceeds the guilt spoken of in our verse, the second also in Revelation 18:24 proceeds. She persecutes the church of Christ because this will not yield to her pretensions. The sorcery here, as in ch. Revelation 9:21, comes into consideration, as the means by which injury is secretly done to a neighbour. It is the bewitching guile (as in Galatians 3:1) by which Babylon drew the nations into her grasp, and compassed their destruction. Agreeing substantially as to the chief matter is the fornication, the deceitful and cunning policy of Babylon, which is mentioned in ch. Revelation 14:8, Revelation 18:3. Besides this, however, other sorcerous arts were also called into operation—comp. Revelation 13:12-15.

Have been deceived, for her deification and for their subjugation to her dominion—comp. ch. Revelation 13:14.

Verse 24

Revelation 18:24. And in her was found the Hood of prophets and saints, and of all those who had been slain on the earth. We are to compare Jeremiah 51:35, “My violence and my flesh comes upon Babylon, saith the inhabitant of Zion, and my blood upon the inhabitants of Chaldea, saith Jerusalem;” and especially Jeremiah 51:49, “Also Babylon shall fall slain, ye slain of Israel, also Babylon fall slain, ye slain of the whole earth.” As there beside the slain of the whole earth, the slain of Israel are mentioned, so here we are to explain the “all who had been slain” as all the rest, in unison with Revelation 18:23, according to which the evils inflicted by Babylon on the church stand connected with her ambitious striving to oppress all nations, or generally all, so that the prophets and saints are to be ranged as a part under the whole. In the prophets time Rome was the great destroyer of men. In regard to the prophets and saints, see on Revelation 18:20. The saints and witnesses of Jesus are mentioned in ch. Revelation 17:6. The blood is in her, because it has been shed by her.

Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Revelation 18". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/revelation-18.html.
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