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Bible Commentaries

Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation

Revelation 17

Verses 1-17

Lecture 38

(Revelation 17:1-17)

GREAT BABYLON--PROMINENCE AND DIFFICULTY OF THE SUBJECT-THE TWO WOMEN-NOT ROME ALONE--THE NAME CONNECTS WITH THE PRIMAL APOSTASY AFTER THE FLOOD--NIMROD AND HIS INVENTIONS-THE WORLD'S INTOXICATION WITH THEM-THE HARLOT'S OWN DRUNKENNESS WITH THE BLOOD OF SAINTS--THE WATERS ON WHICH SHE SITS--THE BEAST SHE RIDES.

Revelation 17:1-17. (Revised Text.) And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls, and talked with me, saying, Hither, I will show thee the judgment of the great harlot that sitteth upon many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk from the wine of her fornication.

And he bore me away in spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a woman sitting upon a scarlet beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. And the woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, decked with gold and precious stone and pearls, having a cup of gold in her hand full of abominations and the unclean things of her and of the earth's fornication, and upon her forehead a name written, Mystery, Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth.


And I saw the woman drunken from the blood of the saints, and from the blood of martyrs [witnesses] of Jesus: and I wondered great wonder when I saw her.

And the angel said to me, Wherefore wonderest thou? I will tell to thee the mystery of the woman, and of the beast that carrieth her, having the seven heads and ten horns.

The beast which thou sawest, was and is not, and is to ascend out of the abyss, and goeth into perdition: and they shall wonder who dwell upon the earth, whose names are not written upon the book of life from the foundation of the world, when they behold the beast because he was, and is not, and shall once more be here [or come again].


Here [is] the mind that hath wisdom: the seven heads are seven mountains where the woman sitteth upon them, and are seven kings; the five are fallen, the one is, the other is not yet come, and when he shall come, he must continue a little time. And the beast that was and is not, even he is the eighth, and is out of the seven, and goeth into perdition.

And the ten horns which thou sawest are ten kings which have not yet received kingdom; but they receive power as kings one hour with the beast. These have one mind, and give their power and authority to the beast. These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall conquer them, because he is Lord of lords and King of kings, and they who are with him, called and chosen and faithful.

And he saith to me, The waters which thou sawest, where the harlot sitteth, are peoples and multitudes and nations and tongues. And the ten horns which thou sawest, and the beast, these shall hate the harlot, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and shall burn her with fire. For God gave into their hearts to do his mind, and to make one mind, and to give their kingdom to the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.

We have already twice heard of Great Babylon, and calamity to her; once in Revelation 14:8, by anticipation; and once in Revelation 16:19, where her sins were said to have come into remembrance, and the cup of the fierceness of the wrath of God to have been administered to her. The particulars of that visitation, as well as the whole character and relations of this mystic personage, are given in the chapters upon which we now enter. As the first reference was somewhat anticipative, so these further accounts are somewhat retrogressive, and go back to exhibit in all its length and breadth what in the previous chapter was only synoptically stated.


The subject itself is one of great prominence in the Apocalypse, as in all the prophecies; but it has proven about as difficult as it is conspicuous. On none of the current methods of treating this Book is it possible to come to any clear, consistent, and satisfying conclusions with regard to it. The body of preterist expositors have found themselves necessitated to take Great Babylon as meaning the city, the church, or the ecclesiastical system of Rome, not so much because the features of the record call for it, or really admit of it, when fairly dealt with, but because unable on their theory to do any better. That Rome and the Romish system are involved, may readily be admitted; but that this is all, and that the sudden fall of Great Babylon is simply the fall of Romanism, or the utter destruction of the city of Rome, must be emphatically denied, if the inspired portraiture is to stand as it is written. If we cannot find more solid ground than that on which the Rome theory rests we must needs consign the whole subject to the department of doubt and uncertainty, and let all these tremendous foreshowings pass for nothing. Unite with me, then, dear friends, in praying God to open our understandings, that we may not fail to take in what He really intends that His people should see in these sacred visions.

The first thing which strikes me in the study of this subject, is one which I have nowhere seen duly noticed, namely: the evident correlation and contrast between the Woman here pictured and another Woman described in the twelfth chapter. There, "a great sign was seen in the heaven, a Woman;" here, it is remarked, "he bore me away in spirit into a wilderness, and I saw a Woman." Both these Women are mothers; the first "brought forth a son, a male [neuter, embracing either sex], who is to rule all the nations;" the second "is the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth." Both are splendidly dressed; the first is "clothed with the sun." Her raiment is light from heaven. The second is "clothed in purple, and scarlet, decked with gold, and precious stone, and pearls." All her ornaments are from below, made up of things out of the earth and the sea. Both are very influential in their position; the first has "the moon," the empress of night, the powers of darkness, "under her feet;" the second "hath rule, or kingdom, upon the kings of the earth." Both are sufferers; against the first is the Dragon, who stands watching to devour her child, and persecutes and pursues her, and drives her into the wilderness, and sends out a river to overwhelm her, and is at war with all her seed that he can find; against the second are the ten kings, who ultimately hate her, and make her desolate and naked, and eat her flesh, and burn her with fire, whilst God in His strength judgeth her, and visits her with plague, death, and utter destruction. Both are very conspicuous, and fill a large space in the history of the world, and in all the administrations of divine providence and judgment. That they are counterparts of each other there can hardly be. a reasonable doubt. The one is a pure woman, the other is a harlot. The first is hated by the powers on earth, the second is loved, flattered, and caressed by them. Where the one has sway, things are heavenly; where the other lives, it is "wilderness." The one produces masculine nobility, which is ultimately caught away to God and to His throne; the other produces effeminate impurity, which calls down the fierceness of the divine wrath. The one is sustained and helped by celestial wings; the other is supported and carried by the Dragon power,-the Beast with the seven heads and ten horns. The one has a crown of twelve stars, wearing the patriarchs and apostles as her royal diadem; the other has upon her forehead the name of the greatest destroyer and oppressor of the holy people, and is drunken with "the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that have been slain upon the earth." The one finally comes out in a heavenly city, the New Jerusalem, made up of imperishable jewels, and arrayed in all the glory of God and the Lamb; the other finally comes out in a city of this world's superlative admiration, which suddenly goes down forever under the intense wrath of Heaven, and becomes the habitation of demons, and a hold of every unclean spirit.


These two Women, thus related, and set over one against the other as opposites and rivals, must necessarily be interpreted in the same way. As Antichrist corresponds to Christ as a rival and antagonist of Christ, so Great Babylon corresponds to the Woman that bears the Manchild, as her rival and antagonist.


By recalling, therefore, who and what is meant by the first Woman, we will be in position to understand who and what is meant by the second.

Beyond question, the sun-clad Woman is God's great symbol of the visible Church,--the Lamb's Wife,--the bone of His bone, and flesh of His flesh, fashioned out of His rifted side as the Second Adam, who fell into the deep sleep of death for that purpose. As Methodius taught, "The woman seen in heaven, clothed with the sun, and adorned with a crown of twelve stars, is, in the highest and strictest sense, our Mother. The prophets, considering what is spoken of her, call her Jerusalem, at other times The Bride, the Mount Sion, the Temple and Tabernacle of God." She is not the church of any one period or dispensation, but the entire Universal Church of all time, as Victorinus, the earliest commentator on this Book, held and affirmed, saying:

"The Woman clothed with the sun, having the moon under her feet, is the Church of the Patriarchs, and of the Prophets, and of the holy Apostles"--that is, the Church from the days of Adam and Eve on to the last victory over the worship, name, and mark, of the final Antichrist. What then can this rival Woman be but the organized Antichurch, the pseudo-church, the Bride made out of Satan, the universal body and congregation of false-believers and false-worshippers? As Christ has had a visible Church in all time, embodying the wisdom and spirit of heaven, and maintaining the confession of His truth and worship, so has the Devil had a corresponding following in all time, embodying the sensual and devilish wisdom and spirit, and maintaining the profession and teaching of Satan's lies. And as the first Woman denotes the one, so the second Woman denotes the other. The proofs of this will appear as we consider the particulars of the case.

1. One of the most characteristic features of this Woman is her harlotry. The Angel calls her "The Great Harlot," and she wears on her forehead as her name, "The mother of the harlots, and of the abominations of the earth." Harlotry is the standing symbol in the word of God for a debauched worship, idolatry, and false devotion. When people worship for God what is not God, or give their hearts to idols, or institute systems, doctrines, rites, or administrations, to take the place of what God has revealed and appointed, the Scriptures call it whoredom, adultery, fornication. (Jeremiah 3:6; Jeremiah 3:8-9; Ezekiel 16:32; Hosea 1:1-11; Hosea 2:1-23; Revelation 2:22.) The reasons are obvious. The breaking down of the divine laws and ordinances necessarily carries with it the dishonour of the marriage institution, and hence all supports of godly chastity and pureness. Accordingly all false religions are ever attended with lewdness, even in connection with their most honoured rites. The sacredness of marriage has no place in them. Besides, the very essence of the divine law is, that we love God our Lord with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength. This is Jehovah's due and requirement of all that live. Hence the bestowal of worshipful affection on any other object, or the putting of anything whatever in the place of the true God, is, in the very nature of the case, a great spiritual harlotry; for it is the turning of the soul from the only legitimate object of its adoration, to take into its embrace what has no right to such room and place. And as this Woman is a harlot, "the great Harlot," and "the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth," she must needs be the great embodiment, source, and representative of all idolatry, false worship, and perversion of the word and institutes of God. This helps to determine her character as the rival and antagonist of the Woman clothed with the sun, and makes her the symbol of the universal body of the faithless, just as the sun-clad Woman is the symbol of the universal body and congregation of believers. She can by no means be Rome alone, whether Pagan or Papal, any more than the sun-clad Woman is the early Church alone, or Protestants alone. There were believers and saints in the 4,000 years before the Christian era, and so there were idolaters and perverters of the institutes of God in plentiful abundance before there were Popes or Roman emperors. Arid as the pure Woman is made up of the whole congregation of the faithful from the beginning, so must this great Harlot be made up of all the faithless from the beginning.

2. This conclusion is rendered the more necessary by the name which this Woman has written upon her forehead. How could she be "the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth" if her existence does not date back to, and above all include, the great harlotries and abominations which preceded both the Popes and the Roman emperors? Besides, we have here the motherhood of various harlots, or systems and economies of harlotry and abominations of the earth. If Pagan Rome is to be understood, that was but one individual system. If Papal Rome is to be understood, that again is but one individual system. The implication would thus be that the earth had no systems of harlotry or abominations but the one found in Pagan or Papal Rome, and this mother of the harlots would thus have no children to show! The record is that she is herself the great original of all harlotries and abominations of the earth, that many others have sprung from her, and that all the harlotries of time have her for their primal representative and mother. The imagery, therefore, goes back to the beginnings, out of which all false systems, and false worships, and abominations of the earth have come.

3. Accordingly, also, we have in the very front of this Woman's name a designation which carries us back to the commencement of the whole ill-condition of things in this present world. Rome never was "Babylon" in the sense of being "the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth." Her place in the chart of time renders that impossible; just as impossible as that some Sarah of to-day should be the mother of the patriarch Isaac, and so of the Jewish race. Neither was the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar's day "the mother of the harlots and the abominations of the earth," and for the same reason. It comes too late. We must go further back, and much nearer to the landing of the Ark on Ararat, for such a beginning and motherhood. But when we search for it we find it, and find it under the very name which this mother of all harlots and abominations of the earth bears written on her forehead. The tenth and eleventh chapters of Genesis tell the story.


Turning to these chapters of national origins, we learn that the beginning of the kingdom of Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, was Bab-el, or Babylon, in the land of Shinar, whither the then inhabitants of the earth, who were as yet of one language and one speech, journeyed together from the East. This implication is, that they came thither under the leadership of Nimrod, whose name means a rebellious panther, and that under him began that first great work of rebellion against God which brought the confusion of tongues, and inaugurated the original of all the subsequent harlotries and abominations of mankind. Against the command and known intent of the Almighty, it was there undertaken to "build a city and a tower whose top might reach unto heaven," and to make themselves a name that they might not be scattered abroad upon the face of the earth. It appears, also, that from the hunting and slaying of wild beasts, and with the armed forces grouped around him in that business, Nimrod betook himself to the subjugation and enslavement of men, compelling them into his service and daring schemes. Thus he "began to be a mighty one in the earth, the organizer of an arbitrary imperialism over against the patriarchal order and the divine institutes. The Arab records tell us that he was the first king, and thus the beginner of all kingcraft and tyranny which have since so much oppressed the world. It is said of him that he professed to have seen a golden crown in the sky, that he had one made like it, and that he put it on his own head, and thus claimed to rule in the name and as the earthly impersonation of the powers of the sky, either as Orion or the Sun.


The Bible says that it was further arranged for the people to make for themselves "a name,"--a Sem, token, sign, banner, ensign, or mark of confederation, fellowship, and organized unity, as an undivided people, lest they should become dispersed over the earth into separate societies. (Compare Jeremiah 13:11; Jeremiah 33:9; Ezekiel 39:13; Zephaniah 3:20.) Against God they had determined to hold together, and they wished to have a badge, standard, something by which they could be known, and in which they could all glory and rejoice as the centre and crown of their unity. That Sem, or Sema, was to be a mark of consolidated greatness, a loftiness and pride to them; that is, in the language of the time, a Sema-Rama. Thus we have the name of the mythic Semiramis, the Dove-Goddess, which was the ensign of all the Assyrian princes, and which figures so largely as Ashtaroth, Astarte, the heavenly Aphrodite, and Venus. Semiramis is said to have been the wife of Nimrod; so that the Sem, or token, of the Nimrodic confederation was probably the image of his wife, with a dove upon her head, with wings spread like the horns of the new moon. This, in the language of the time, would be called Sema-Rama, because the great Sem, name, or token, of the combination against being scattered abroad. The symbol of such a name or confederation would naturally and almost necessarily take the place of a god, and become the holy mother, the great heavenly protectress, the giver of greatness and prosperity to those rallying under it.


So again, Nimrod called his first and capital city Bab-el, which, in the language of the time, means The Gate of God; of course not the God of Noah and Shem, for the whole proceeding was in known and intended antagonism to the true God and His will and commands. Hebraistically, and by way of accommodation to the judgment which Jehovah there inflicted, Babel is made significant of confusion (Genesis 11:9), but in the original application of the name it means The Gate of God. Thus, in the very name of the place, we have the intimation and proof that these Nimrodic proceedings were not only the organization of a new and oppressive style of government, but with it, as an essential part of it, the inauguration of a new and idolatrous religion, the parent apostasy of the postdiluvian world.


The Bible says that Nimrod was a mighty hunter before the Lord. The Targum of Jonathan interprets this to mean that he was a mighty rebel before the Lord, the mightiest rebel before the Lord that ever was in the earth. The Jerusalem Targum reads it that he was mighty in sin before the Lord, a hunter of the sons of men, exhorting them to leave the judgments of Shem and adhere to the judgments of Nimrod. Hence it was the proverb concerning every notorious adventurer in wickedness and oppression, As the mighty Nimrod in rebellion and sin before God. Jarchi accordingly understands the record to be, that Nimrod was a most brazen offender, who did not fear or hesitate to withstand God to his very face. And every intimation concerning him shows that he was the Heaven-defying founder of a new system of rule and worship, instituting a government by brute force and earthly wisdom and policy, and a religion which quite abolished the true God, and set men to the adoration of the sun, moon, and stars, impersonated in himself, wife, relatives, and chief consociates, and represented in the idol standards of his kingdom.


It is a mistake to suppose that idolatry was the gradual growth of well-disposed but unenlightened human thinking. Its rise was sudden. It was conceived in intentional rebellion. It was the invention of a proud and tyrannous ambition at war with Jehovah's commands. It was brought into being to counteract the will and worship of the true and known God. It was the creature and handmaid of power for the deification of "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life "in the place of the Creator. And it originated with old Babylon, and Babylon's first king, the great rebel Nimrod, that very Bar-Chus (son of Cush), or Bacchus, who figures among the Greek and Roman gods as the great overflowing, enlivening, healing, and directing power. It is also a fact that all the Pagan mythologies and idolatrous devotions the world over, whatever their diversities, show a oneness of character, and an underlying likeness which proves that they are from one original source, and but modifications of one and the same primal invention, traceable to old Babylon and the Nimrodic plan to defeat the purposes of the God of Noah. The original design was thwarted by the confusion of tongues. Contrary to their oaths to the Dove-goddess of their standards, the people were obliged to disperse and leave off the building of their tower. But the charming novelties which Nimrod taught them were not lost. The seeds of the fascinating invention went with the dispersion, planting themselves in every new settlement, and growing ever fresh crops as the streams of humanity ran on amid the centuries, but ever reproducing the likeness of the original mother. Whatever changes or additions came, it still was old Babylon, which ever abides, potent through all the ages, and known to the judgment angels as "Babylon the great, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth."

4. It is further said of this Woman that "the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk from the wine of her fornication." This is not true of Rome, Pagan or Papal; for before and beyond either, the earth had a hundredfold more inhabitants untouched and uninfluenced by one or the other than ever were under the tutorage of both of them together. To talk of "the Roman earth" in such a description is worse than impertinence. "The inhabitants of the earth" are the inhabitants of the earth, and the people of the generations before Rome, and where Rome has never reached, as well as under Rome. The wine of old Babylon's fornication was a debauching system of idol worship and carnal self-exaltation, over against the revelations and institutes of Jehovah. It was already bottled and labelled before the first dispersion. It went with that dispersion into every country and nation under heaven. As a matter of fact, we find it to this day among all the nations of the earth, affecting if not controlling their thinking, their policies, their faith, and their worship. Not less than two-thirds of the population of the earth at this hour are Pagan idolaters, drivelling under the same old intoxication which came forth from Nimrod and Babylon; whilst the great body of the other third is either Mohammedan, Catholic, Jewish, infidel, or adherents of some tainted and antichristian faith and worship. Nor is there a kingdom or government on the face of the whole earth at this hour which does not embody and exhibit more of the spirit and rebellion of Nimrod than of the spirit, commandments, and inculcations of God. All the kings of the earth and all the governments under heaven have more or less joined in the uncleanness and fornication of that same old Babylonian Harlot, who has defiled every spot and nook of the whole inhabited world, notwithstanding that God from the beginning set the seal of His wrath upon it. The Jewish whoredoms, and the Papal whoredoms, and the Mohammedan whoredoms, and the whoredoms of all perverted Christian religionists, though not entirely letting go the confession of the one only God, are still in essence the same old harlotry which first found place and embodiment on the banks of the Euphrates. It is the same old Babylon, and her harlot daughters, bearing rule or kingdom upon the dominions of the earth, and intoxicating the inhabitants thereof out of the wine of her fornication.


The cup held out is golden. To the sensual and carnal heart and imagination the world's religion and progress is something bright and glorious, the glittering fulness of good and blessing. But in that shining cup is only abomination and uncleanness-spiritual prostitution-nothing but spiritual prostitution.


The cup is one; and in all the varied systems of false faith and false worship which taint our world there is held out and received but one and the same essence, and that essence is the harlotry of old Babylon. It is most direct in Paganism; but it is in Mohammedanism, in Papalism, in the degenerate Catholicism of the Eastern churches, and in all the heretical isms, infidelities, and mere goodishnesses which afflict our Protestant Christianity as well. So true is it that Great Babylon, the mother of the harlots and of the abominations of the earth, hath made the inhabitants of the earth drunk with the wine of her fornication.

5. This Women is also herself drunken-"drunken from the blood of the saints, and from the blood of the martyrs or witnesses of Jesus." "In her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and all that have been slain [as martyrs] upon the earth." This is proof positive that the Great Harlot is not Papal Rome only, for all the prophets were dead hundreds of years before the rise of the Papacy; and myriads on myriads of God's true people died as martyrs to the faith ere ever there was a Pope or a Papal hierarchy. The same is proof positive that she is not Pagan Rome alone; for the old prophets were dead or gone before either Caesar lived, or ever Romulus was born; and great hosts of martyrs suffered before Rome was at all. Drunken as the Romish power made itself upon the blood of the witnesses of Jesus, Roman government is not chargeable with the shedding of all the martyr blood that has flowed upon the earth. It is; however, very certain, and beyond dispute, that all the persecution and slaying of saints, and prophets, and witnesses for God that have ever occurred upon earth, past or present; ancient or modern, stand charged against the mystic kingdom of idolaters, false religionists, and such as accepted fellowship with spiritual harlotry. Persecution of God's prophets or people is itself a mark and evidence of spiritual whoredom. It shows alienation from God and His true worship. And wherever such presentation finds place, or saints are sacrificed for their faith, there this great Harlot is in living and visible force and presence, whether among Pagans or Jews, Mohammedans or Christians, Catholics or Protestants. It is the old Nimrod over again, tyrannously enforcing his murderous will against the will and commands of God.

6. Again, this mystic Woman sits upon many waters, which waters the angel says "are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues." There is a vastness and universality in these terms, and in the extent of these symbolic waters, which ill accords with the extent of the Papal dominion. Though extending over many peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues, there are many many more peoples, and far greater multitudes, and numbers of nations, and tongues, over which the hierarchy of Rome has no control, whose interest and sympathy she does not possess, and on whom she cannot lean for support. So with regard to Pagan Rome, there were peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues, never within the territory of the Caesars, and many indeed of whom the Caesars had no knowledge. Giving the words the latitude which properly belongs to such a description as this, the masses of the earth's population, not only of one period, but of all periods since nations came into being, would seem to be the conception. And it is only when we understand this mystic Harlot as the whole body of organized alienation from God, as in heathenism, false religion, and spiritual prostitution, that we find an object coextensive in time and territory with the "peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues," which make up the seat, dependence, and support of this great Harlot. At one period or another she has been found sitting on every people, and nation, and tongue, since the tongues or multitudes of men have been sundered.

7. John further saw this Woman sitting upon a scarlet Beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. This Beast is the same described in Revelation 13:1-18, He is referred to here, not so much to make us better acquainted with him, as to give us a full understanding of the Great Harlot and her relationships. The "wisdom" or inner sense and meaning of the presentation is, that "the seven heads are seven mountains, where the Woman sitteth upon them, and are seven kings." These are the words which are supposed to fix the application of the picture to the city of Rome, as Rome is called a city of seven hills. But a flimsier basis for such a controlling and all-conditioning conclusion is perhaps nowhere to be found. The seven hills of the city of Rome, to begin with, are not mountains, as every one who has been there can testify; and if they were, they are not more characteristic of the situation of Rome than the seven hills are characteristic of Jerusalem. But the taking of them as literal hills or mountains at all is founded upon a total misreading of the angel's words.


A mountain, or prominent elevation on the surface of the earth, is one of the common scriptural images, symbols, or representatives of a kingdom, regal dominion, empire, or established authority. So David, speaking of the vicissitudes which he experienced as the king of Israel, says: "Lord, by Thy favour Thou didst make my mountain to stand strong"-margin, "settled strength for my mountain;" meaning his kingdom and dominion. (Psalms 30:1-12; Psalms 7:1-17.) So the Lord in His threat against the throne and power of Babylon said:


"I am against thee, O destroying mountain, which destroyest all the earth; and I will stretch out mine hand upon thee, and will roll thee down from the rocks, and will make thee a burnt mountain." (Jeremiah 51:25.) So the kingdom of the Messiah is likened to "a stone, which became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth." (Daniel 2:35.) And this is exactly the sense in which the angel uses the word here, as he himself tells us. He does not say "the seven heads are seven mountains, where the Woman sitteth upon them," and there leave off; but he adds immediately, "and they are seven kings," or personified kingdoms. The mountains, then, are not piles of material rocks and earth at all, but royal or imperial powers, declared to be such by the angel himself. The description, therefore, so far from fixing the application to the Papacy, or to the city of Rome, decisively settles that it cannot possibly apply to either, for neither has seven such mountains. The late Albert Barnes has written in his Notes that "all respectable interpreters agree that it refers to Rome; either Pagan, Christian, or Papal." Of course he is one of the "respectable interpreters," but then he should be able to tell which of the objects he names it is, for it cannot be all three. Most people assign Dr. E. W. Hengstenberg, the great Berlin professor, a place among "respectable interpreters," but Hengstenberg says Rome cannot possibly be meant by these seven heads. The angel says they are seven regal mountains, seven kings, seven great ruling powers. Rome Papal cannot be meant, for Rome Papal has no such count of seven regal powers. Rome Christian cannot be meant, for Rome Christian, as distinguished from Rome Papal, never supported and carried the great Harlot in any possible sense, and could not without ceasing to be Christian.


Rome Pagan cannot be meant, for Rome Pagan ceased with the conversion of the throne, and no count of emperors or kings can be found in it to "respectably" fill out the angels' description. The succession of the forms of administration, enumerated as Kings, Consuls, Dictators, Decemvirs, Military Tribunes, and Emperors, were not seven kings or regal mountains. Prior to the empire most of these administrations were less than anthills in the history of the world, and furnished rather slender ponies for the great purple-clad and pearl-decked mother of harlots to ride on in her majesty. Rome surely comes into the count of these seven mountains of empire; but to make Rome the whole seven, including also the eighth, requires a good deal more "respectability" of interpretation in that line than has thus far appeared. Barnes is sure the whole thing applies to Rome because this Woman "hath rule or kingdom upon the kings of the earth, and there was no other empire on the earth to which this could be properly applied." But this assumes that the Woman is an empire, for which there is not a particle of evidence. The Woman is not an empire any more than the Church of Christ is an empire. She rides upon empires, kings, and powers of the world, and inspires, leads, and controls them; but she herself is not one of them, and is above all of them so that they court her, and are bewitched and governed by her-governed, not with the reins of empire, but with the lure of her fornication. This Woman is longer-lived than any one empire. We have seen that she began with Nimrod, bears the name of Babylon, and is not destroyed until the day of judgment. The seven imperial mountains on which she rides must therefore fill up the whole interval; or there was a time, and the most of her history, when she did not ride at all, which is not the fact. Seven is itself the number of fulness, which includes the whole of its kind. The reference here is to kings, to mountains of temporal dominion, to empires. It must therefore take in all of them. And when men once get over their "respectability," and rise to the height and range of the interpreting angel's view of things, they will have no difficulty in identifying the mountains, or the times to which they belong.


Of these seven regal mountains, John was told "the five are fallen," dead, passed away, their day over; "the one is," that is, was standing, at that moment, was then in sway and power; "the other is not yet come, and when he shall come, he must continue a little time." What regal mountain, then, was in power at the time John wrote? There can be no question on that point; it was the Roman empire. Thus, then, we ascertain and identify the sixth in the list, which shows what sort of kings the angel meant. Of the same class with this, and belonging to the same category, there are five others-five which had then already run their course and passed away. But what five imperial mountains like Rome had been and gone, up to that time? Is history so obscure as not to tell us with unmistakable certainty? Preceding Rome the world had but five great names or nationalities answering to imperial Rome, and those scarce a schoolboy ought to miss. They are Greece, Persia, Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt; no more, and no less. And these all were imperial powers like Rome. Here, then, are six of these regal mountains; the seventh is not yet come. When it comes it is to endure but a short time. This implies that each of the others continues a long time; and so, again, could not mean the dictators, decemvirs, and military tribunes of the early history of Rome, for some of them lasted but a year or two. Thus, then, by the clearest, most direct, and most natural signification of the words of the record, we are brought to the identification of these seven mountain kings as the seven great world-powers, which stretch from the beginning of our present world to the end of it. Daniel makes the number less; but he started with his own times, and looked only down the stream. Here the account looks backward as well as forward. That which is first in Daniel is the third here, and that which is the sixth here is the fourth in Daniel. Only in the commencing point is there any difference. The visions of Daniel and the visions of John are from the same Divine Mind, and they perfectly harmonize, only that the latest are the amplest.


By these seven great powers then, filling up the whole interval of this world's history, this great Harlot is said to be carried. On these she rides, according to the vision. It is not upon one alone, nor upon any particular number of them, but upon all of them, the whole seven-headed Beast, that she sits. These seven powers, each and all, support the Woman as their joy and pride; and she accepts and uses them, and sways their administrations, and rides in glory by means of them. They are her devotees, lovers, and most humble servants; and she is their patronizing and most noble lady, with a mutuality of favours and intercommunion belonging to her designation. This is the picture as explained by the angel. But, to say that the Romish Papacy was thus carried, nurtured, and sustained by the ancient empires of Greece, Persia, Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt, would be a great lie on history. It was not so. In the nature of things it could not be so. By no means then can this Harlot be the Papacy alone, as maintained by all "respectable interpreters." Furthermore, it is a matter of fact, that as surely as Rome in John's day, and Greece, Persia, Babylon, Assyria, and Egypt, before Rome, existed and bore sway on earth as regal mountains, so surely and conspicuously were they each and all ridden by this great Harlot. They were each and all the lovers, supporters, and defenders of organized falsehood in religion, the patrons of idolatry, the foster friends of all manner of spiritual harlotry. Nimrod, the hunter of the sons of men and author of despotic government, established his idolatrous inventions as the crown and glory of his empire, and intertwined the worship of idols with the standards of his power. It was the same with Egypt whose colossal remains, unfading paintings, and mummy scrolls confirm the Scripture portraitures of her disgusting devotions, and tell how the priests of these abominations were honoured by the throne, of which they were the chief advisers. It was so with Assyria, as the recent exhumations of Nineveh abundantly attest. It was so with the Babylon of Nebuchadnezzar, as Daniel, who lived amid it all, has written. It was so with Persia, as her various records all declare. It was so with Greece, as her own most cherished poets sung, her mightiest orators proclaimed, and all her venerated artists and historians have set forth. It was so with Rome, as all her widespread monuments still show, and all the Christian testimonies, with her own, render clear and manifest as the sun. And it will be so with the last, which is yet to come, as declared in the apocalyptic foreshowings, and in all the prophecies in the Book of God upon the subject. It requires but a glance at history to see that spiritual harlotry has ever been the particular pet and delight of all the Beast-powers of time. If ever the worship and requirements of the true God won their respect and patronage, they soon corrupted it to their own selfish and ambitious ends, or never were easy until freed from the felt restraint.


True religion and an uncorrupted Church have never suited the representatives of power, or pleased them long. Dragon agencies are ill at ease without some form of Dragon worship. Only what will dignify, if not deify, lust and selfishness, is in accord with their spirit. They simply favour and honour their own when they favour and cherish the base Woman. Her gaudiness and pomp, her gaiety and ready compliances, her ennoblement of "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life," enamour them, and make them glad to bear her on their shoulders. It is a sad commentary on humanity, but it is the truth, that all the great world-powers, from first to last, are the paramours and props of the Harlot Woman. Government is indeed a thing of God, instituted for human good, necessary to man, and invested with rights from the eternal throne; but Satan has ever known too well how to pervert it to his own base ends. And so the mountains of worldly power have ever served him as grand homes for his adulteress Bride.

What else remains of the story must wait for another occasion. God help us all to keep ourselves from idols!

Verse 18

Lecture 39

(Revelation 17:18)

GREAT BABYLON CONTINUED--THE WILDERNESS IN WHICH SHE APPEARS-HER TWOFOLD-NESS, IN MYSTERY AND AS A CITY--SHALL THE CITY OF BABYLON BE RESTORED--PROPHECIES OF HER ABSOLUTE OBLITERATION NOT YET FULFILLED--PROPHECIES WHICH SEEM TO REQUIRE HER RESTORATION--ZECHARIAH'S EPHAH--HER FEATURES AND FALL TOUCHING THIS QUESTION--REASONABLENESS OF THE IDEA.

Revelation 17:18. (Revised Text.) And the Woman whom thou sawest, is the great city which hath rule [kingdom] upon the kings of the earth.


When John was taken to see "the judgment of the Great Harlot," he was borne "into a wilderness." This description of her dwelling-place is very expressive. Where spiritual harlotry occupies the place of the true worship of God, there is desolation. There may be riches and worldly glory, as here. There may be the fulness of power and dominion; there may be purple, and scarlet, and gold, and gems of stone, and pearls, and drink from golden cups; there may be luxuries, sumptuous living, pomp, display, and everything to delight the sensual heart; and yet, where the word, worship, and institutes of God are trampled underfoot, it is wilderness. Some set great store on general education, on the achievements of science, on the progress of man in his material and social interests, on the success of reforms in government and laws, on the universal spread of liberty, equality, and fraternity, wrought out by the diffusion of intelligence and right reason. Those claiming to be leaders in this line of thought are everywhere full of prognostications of a great and glorious condition of humanity to be achieved by the new ideas over against what they consider the old nonsense, superstition, and ignorance, which, as they say, have too long held dominion. And in proportion to the confidence and zeal in, these hopes is the averseness to the Bible and its teachings, or any such way of receiving it as takes it for what it says. Indeed the Church, its doctrines and confessions, are ignored, sneered at, and more and more resisted and set aside, as the particular impediment to the true interests of man, and the worst hindrances to human progress and blessedness. But the Scriptures have anticipated this, and tell us that so things will go on until the world believes itself wiser than its reputed Maker. And when the gospel of the sensual and devilish wisdom has once won its way to victory, as it surely will; when the atheistic materialism to which so many are betaking themselves has attained its bloom; and when the ten thousand goodishnesses for which so large a portion of the professed Church is selling its birthright have brought forth their inevitable fruits, the result will be a universal wilderness, with nothing but a monster Beast from the abyss for government, a hell-inspired self-will for law, and the uncleannesses of a gaudy Harlot for paradise. And this is the world in its final outcome, when Antichrist reigns and Great Babylon reaches its full development. The true people of God will then have been removed to the heavenly pavilion, or killed off by the powers of a blaspheming persecution. According to the prophet's figure, they will have become as scarce on earth as the remaining grapes after the vintage has been gathered. The Living Ones will have reached their places in connection with the celestial throne. The Elders will have obtained their crowns and golden seats. The numberless multitude will have taken its stand before the throne of God. The salt of the earth and the light of the world will have been mostly withdrawn. And whatever of accumulated wealth, gorgeousness, luxury, or perfected human civilization may remain, what can this habitation of mortals be but one great moral wilderness and desolation, where the powers are full of blasphemy, and the accredited worship is abomination? Such, at least, is the pictured scene of things to which the Apostolic Seer was carried to see the Great Harlot and the end that awaits her.

When John beheld the Woman, he was much astonished. He tells us himself that he "wondered great wonder." When the Beast first displayed himself all the world wondered after the Beast. (Revelation 13:3.) But that was a wonder of admiration; this is a wonder of perplexed horror. He had had a view of that Beast before. He had beheld and described his heads and horns. He had seen the wounding to death and the healing from the wound, and how men were carried captive by the marvel. But he experienced no such astonishment as here. But he had seen and described the glorious Woman, whose mystic child was caught up to God and to His throne. Could it be that this was the same Woman,-the Bride of Heaven transformed into such a character, with such names on her forehead, and thus associated with the Son of Perdition? God had once exclaimed over the defections of Jerusalem, "How is the faithful city become an harlot!" (Isaiah 1:21.) Was John to understand a similar transformation here? This was the seat of his amazed horror and bewilderment. But the angel at once interposed to relieve him. The Beast is the same which he saw before, but the Woman is not. And the Beast is here seen in the fulness of his development. No colour was noticed on his first rise; but by this time he has developed his bloody hue by his slaughter of the saints. Then he had names of blasphemy on his heads; by this time he is full of them all over. There his infernal origin did not so fully appear; by this time he has demonstrated that he comes up out of the abyss. His seven heads were there left in mystery; here they are explained, and his true history and relations indicated. There his ten horns were noted; but only here is it told that they are ten contemporaneous kings, who arise contemporaneously with the Beast, and who colleague with him in one mind and policy, and give their power and authority to him, and join with him and each other in desolating and devouring the Woman whom at first they carried in affection, and finally make war against the Lamb in a contest for the sovereignty of the world. The Woman is a new and different object. The first was the mother of saints; this is the mother of harlots and of the abominations of the earth, first organized in the rebellion of Nimrod, and the gaudy but unclean rider upon all the great mountains of world-power from the beginning, for whose special delectation all the martyr blood that ever flowed has been shed, and who is here shown for the purpose of exhibiting her end.

There is a twofoldness of the judgment upon this great Harlot. Not only is her fall mentioned twice, and each time with a double fall; but two sorts of visitation, and seemingly at different times, are here described. At first the Beast carries the Woman; but the angel says that the ten horns, in connection with him, eventually "hate the Harlot, and make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire." In the next chapter, however, there is a different picture, and her final ruin takes the form of a sudden and complete overthrow of a great city, over which these same kings lament and mourn. These two different presentations are owing to the two different aspects in which the Woman is contemplated. In Revelation 17:1-18 we have the picture of Great Babylon in mystery only, in which she has various centres and forms at different times, and presents herself in a variety of ways. The last forms of Babylon in mystery are those which the ten kings with the Beast attack and destroy. How this comes about is plain enough. The two great Beasts, as we have seen, set up an entirely new religion upon earth,-a religion which they insist on making as universal as their own dominion, and so must needs make war on all existing religions, true or false. The record is, that they will not permit anyone to live under them who will not conform to their new worship, nor allow anyone to buy or sell without first accepting their hellish sacrament or mark. Hence every form of existing worship then upon earth, be it Romanism, Mohammedanism, degenerate Protestantism, or any other species of false worship, it will come under the ban of this great infernal confederation. Whatever riches or possessions they may have will be confiscated. Their temples, cathedrals, mosques, institutions, and treasure-depositories, will be rifled, stripped, burned to the ground, and all their owners turned out in perfect nakedness; and any of them daring to resist, or refusing to conform to the new worship of the Beast and his image, will be put to the sword. All this is necessarily implied in what was shown of the doings of the False Prophet, and what occurs under his administrations; but it is here independently stated as part of "the judgment of the Great Harlot." This is the first part of her final calamities.


But Great Babylon in final revelation is also a local city. As a system, its essential principle is alienation of soul from God, and so whatever is developed from the carnal wisdom, either against or in the place of the true worship. But as the sun-clad Woman develops into a heavenly city, the new Jerusalem embodying all the ultimate glories pertaining to the spiritual wisdom and the true devotion, so the Great Harlot also develops into an earthly city, embodying all the completed temporal results of the sensual wisdom and the ultimate bloom of human apostasy. Hence her final overthrow sums up in the fall and destruction of a great, rich, and powerful city. Hence, also, the angel says:


"The Woman whom thou sawest is the great city which hath rule upon the kings of the earth." It is the same Woman which, as a system of false worship, rode all the governments and powers of earth, but which makes its final presentation in the form of a literal city.


Some think only an ideal city is meant, but nearly all interpreters, however diverse their ways of looking at these visions, agree that we must here understand a real city. Most of them say it is the city of Rome; some say it is Jerusalem; and a few say it is the island of England, which they take as the great centre of an unclean system of union between Church and State. My own impressions are that a literal city is contemplated in the vision, but that we must look for it in a different region of the world. However much Rome, Jerusalem, or states having national churches may be involved, they do not, and it is hard to see how they possibly can, fill out the picture of this final Babylon. The realization is yet in the future, and we cannot speak with confidence as to how matters will eventuate; but there seems to be reason for the belief that the literal Babylon will be restored, and that we are to look to the coming up again of that primal city for the fulfilment of what is here foreshown. The mention of such a thing may seem like a wild dream, and appear to clash with some of the prophecies touching the irrecoverable destruction of ancient Babylon. But let us look a little at the subject, and endeavour to construe the Scriptures as they are, and not according to the loose impressions which have found currency as if they were settled truths.

First of all, it seems to be pretty clear that the ancient predictions concerning the utter destruction of Babylon have never yet been entirely fulfilled. Isaiah gives the sentence upon Babylon, in which he says that her destruction shall come suddenly from the hand of the Almighty, that her glory and beauty shall be "as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah," never more to be inhabited, nor dwelt in from generation to generation; and that the Arabian shall never again pitch tent there, nor shepherds make their fold there. (See Isaiah 13:1-22.) So again it was said to Jeremiah, "Babylon shall become heaps, a dwelling-place for dragons, an astonishment, and an hissing, without an inhabitant." At the same time he directed Seraiah to take the manuscript of this prophecy, after reading it, bind a stone to it, cast it into the midst of Euphrates, and say, "Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring upon her." (Jeremiah 51:1-64.) That all this has been in large measure strikingly fulfilled must be admitted. It is part of the evidence of the truth of God's word. And if it all belongs to the past, it is equally certain that Babylon never can be restored. Two facts, however, appear, which go very far to prove that these predictions do not belong exclusively to the past, but await further fulfilment. The one is, that Isaiah locates the destruction of which he speaks in "the day of the Lord." (Isaiah 13:6.) That day, in literal fulness, has not yet come. The world has witnessed many earnests and prelibations of it, but that day proper is still in the future, and only comes when Christ himself shall come again. And if the utter destruction thus suddenly to come upon Babylon belongs to "the day of the Lord," she must again revive in order to become the subject of it. The other fact is that Babylon, in all the deep calamities and desolations which have come upon her, never yet experienced all that has been thus prophesied. When did Babylon ever fall with so complete a fall, or meet with such an utter obliteration from the earth, "as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah?" Sodom and Gomorrah were completely blotted out. But this has never yet been the case with Babylon. Such was not its fate when the Medes and Persians seized it from the hands of the infamous Belshazzar, for they made it one of their royal cities. In the time of Alexander it still stood, and was the chosen capital of the Graeco-Macedonian empire, the second city of Alexander's dominions, where he himself lived and died. It continued to be a populous place under the Syrian kings, who succeeded Alexander in the rule over it. In the time of the apostles it was still a populous place, for both Peter and Bartholomew preached the Gospel there, and there Peter wrote his first Epistle. As late as A.D. 250, there was a Christian church there, and an influential bishopric for many years thereafter. Five hundred years after Christ there were Jewish academies there, who issued the celebrated Babylonian Talmud. Here, then, was a lengthening out of the existence of Babylon as a populated city for more than a thousand years subsequent to the taking of it by Cyrus. And even to this present hour there is a city in the middle of the area occupied by old Babylon containing 10,000 people, and which pays to its governor a revenue of 342,000 Turkish piastres, more than $17,000, a year. Shepherds do make their folds there, as testified by all modern travellers, and the Arabians do pitch their tents there. It is not an utter desolation without inhabitant, and never has been since Nimrod laid its first foundations. The sentence upon Babylon is therefore not yet fulfilled, and cannot be unless that city comes up again into something of its former consequence.


In the next place, there are Scripture prophecies which I am at a loss to understand except upon the theory that Babylon will be restored, become a great commercial centre, and be the last of this world's great centres to go down under the terrific visitations of the day of the Lord.

What is the world's common symbol for commerce, the accepted picture to represent it? I have asked this question, and looked to verify the answer. In general I have found it to be an ornamented coin, weight, measure, or bowl of the scales, bearing a representation of the power that authorizes it, and a figure of a woman on each side,--one surrounded with the implements of navigation looking to the sea, and the other surrounded with the implements of trade, husbandry, and transportation looking toward the land,-the two mutually supporting what is between them, whilst above are the wings of some vigorous bird, to indicate the far-reaching flights of what is thus pictured to the eye and imagination. Nor would it be easy to improve on this. It has been evolved in the course of ages, and the whole modern world, so far as I know, has set the seal of its approval upon it as the accepted emblem of commerce. But it is the same that was shown to the prophet Zechariah 500 years before the commencement of the Christian era. Just at the time when he sees the great flying roll of the curse of God going forth over the face of the whole earth to cut off transgressors, he beholds an ephah, the common bushel measure, and a talent of lead, the flat rounded weight used in the calculation of tonnage, put upon the mouth or top of the bushel measure, whilst on each side of it was a woman, having wings "like the wings of a stork," with the winds in their wings; and they two lifted up the ephah between earth and heaven to bear it away. Besides, in the midst of the united measure and weight was another woman called Wickedness, the Lawless Woman, answering to the Great Harlot of these chapters. The prophet wondered what it all meant, and asked the angel in converse with him what these intended to do with the measure and weight inclosing the Woman of Wickedness. The angel said:


"To build it an house in the land of Shinar; and it shall be established and set there upon her own base." (Zechariah 5:1-11.)


Now this joined measure and weight, with the two winged women bearing them, and the winds in their wings, is unquestionably a symbol of commerce; not so much as it was then, but as it was to become in the period verging on the end, and as it has become in our day. The building of a house for it, and the establishment and settling of it upon its own base, can mean nothing less than the creation for it of a great independent centre, with its own ruler, king, or government. The place of this house is specifically stated to be "the land of Shinar." What that land is we can have no difficulty in ascertaining. When the people in Nimrod's time journeyed from the East they found a plain in the land of Shinar and dwelt there, and there built the city called Babel, or Babylon. (Genesis 11:2-9.) When Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded Palestine, it is said that he took Jehoiakim, and part of the vessels of the house of God, and carried them "into the land of Shinar," that is, Babylon. (Daniel 1:1-2.) "The land of Shinar," then, is Babylon; and in this Shinar the angel said this commerce, borne by the favouring winds on mighty wings, was to be established and settled on its own base.


This prophecy was delivered subsequent to the Babylonish captivity, and at least half a lifetime after Babylon had been conquered by the Medes and Persians. It certainly has never yet been fulfilled according to its terms. By the connection in which it is given, its fulfilment belongs to the time when the great curse of God upon the wicked goes forth over all the face of the earth; that is, in the great judgment period. By the indications thus given as to time, and by the whole contents of the foreshowing, its accomplishment belongs to the future, and necessarily includes the revival of old Babylon as a great commercial centre, standing independent of all other powers, and exercising its own peculiar dominion over the governments of the earth. And this is all the more confirmed in that it exhibits the Woman of Wickedness, the Great Harlot, ensconced in it, as the great spirit which pervades the whole.

It is also distinctly prophesied that Babylon shall be the very last of the powers of the earth compelled to drink of the cup of the divine wrath in the great day of the Lord. That cup is to go around to all the nations and potencies of this world, to "all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another, and all the kingdoms of the world which are upon the face of the earth; and the king of Sheshack shall drink after them." (Jeremiah 25:17-26.) All the Jewish interpreters agree that Sheshack is only another name for Babylon, and so, in another place, Babylon is called "the hindermost of the nations," because thus belated in the judgment which is to make her "a wilderness, a dry land, a desert," so as to be "wholly desolate," and "no more inhabited forever." (Jeremiah 50:12-13; Jeremiah 50:35-40.) Thus far Babylon has been the foremost of the nations in experience of the judgments of God, and cannot possibly to "the hindermost," as thus described, except as rebuilt and become once more a great centre of independent power existing at the time when the final day of vengeance comes.


Furthermore, it seems to me impossible to do justice to the description which John here gives of the features and fall of the Great City which he was called to contemplate, except on the supposition of such a revival of the old Chaldean metropolis.

The name itself is a tower of strength to the idea. There is no great city, Babylon, now; nor has there been for many ages. Nor is there any other great city on the face of the earth that answers to the picture, or that is at all likely ever to answer to it on any possibilities that can be imagined. And yet the name of this great city is Babylon--Babylon living and ruling over the kings and nations of the earth when the day of judgment reaches its consummation. It is not Babylon in mystery, but simply "the great city Babylon, the mighty city;" and there is no intimation whatever that this city of Babylon does not mean the city of Babylon. By what right then are we to think of any other city than that which has been known by this name ever since Nimrod lived?


The city here described is preeminently, if not exclusively, a commercial city,--a great commercial city,--a mart of nations. There is nothing military, nothing ecclesiastical, nothing educational, alluded to in the account; everything is commercial, or merged into the one idea of exchange, trade, and what relates to mercantile aims and accumulations. Ships, merchants, commodities, are the main subjects of the description. And when this city falls, it is "the merchants of the earth" that "mourn and weep over her," and with them such as are most concerned with commerce,--"every shipmaster, and everyone who goeth by sea, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea," for "all who had ships in the sea were made rich from her costliness." The lamentation is of the same character as that over the fall of Tyre (Ezekiel 26:15-18), and we know that Tyre was the great mercantile metropolis of its time; therefore this city must also be a corresponding commercial centre. It cannot, therefore, be Rome, for Rome never was a great centre of commerce. In all the Bible we never read of "a ship of Rome," or of one sailing from or to Rome. It cannot be Paris for similar reasons. It might be London, New York, or San Francisco, but there is nothing whatever in the account to fix the picture on either of them, whilst none of them could become so independent of all government but its own, as indicated in this case. The land of Shinar is named as the locality in the old prophets, and the particular city of that land, in its own proper name, is given by John as the subject of what he describes. And such is the location of that city politically, geographically, and in all the qualities of accessibility, commercial facilities, remoteness from interferences of Church or state, and yet centralness with regard to the general trade of the whole world, as to point it out above any other known as the elect spot for just what is predicted of this great city.


Even apart from the direct Scriptural prophecies and implications on the subject, the prospect is as they represent. The whole world is rapidly developing a system of things which, in the ordinary working of human affairs, must inevitably result in something of the kind. In what, indeed, does the mightiest and furthest reaching power on earth now already centre? A power which looms up in all lands, far above all individual or combined powers of Church, or state, or caste, or creed? What is it that to-day monopolizes nearly all legislation, dictates international treaties, governs the conferences of kings for the regulation of the balance of power, builds railways, cuts ship-canals, sends forth steamer-lines to the ends of the earth, unwinds electric wires across continents, under the seas, and around the world, employs thousands of engineers, subsidizes the press, tells the state of the markets of the world yesterday that everyone may know how to move to-day, and has her living organizations in every land and city, interlinked with each other, and coming daily into closer and closer combination, so that no great government under the sun can any longer move or act against her will, or without her concurrence and consent? Think for a moment, for there is such a power; a power that is everywhere clamouring for a common code, a common currency, common weights and measures; and which is not likely to be silenced or to stop till it has secured a common centre on its own independent basis, whence to dictate to all countries and to exercise its own peculiar rule on all the kings and nations of the earth. That power is commerce; the power of the ephah and the talent-the power borne by the winged women, the one with her hand on the sea and the other with her hand on the land,-the power which even in its present dismemberment is mightier than any pope, any throne, any government, or any other one human power on the face of the globe. Let it go on as it has been going, and will go, in spite of everything that earth can interpose to hinder, dissolving every tie of nationality, every bond of family or kindred, every principle of right and religion which it cannot bend and render subservient to its own ends and interests; and the time must come when it will settle itself down somewhere on its own independent base, and where Judaism and Heathenism, Romanism and Protestantism, Mohammedanism and Boodhism, and every distinction of nationality,-English, German, French, Italian, Greek, Turk, Hindoo, Arab, Chinee, Japanee, or what not,-shall be sunk in one great universal fellowship and kingdom of commerce.


And when it once comes to that, as there is every prospect that it will, for Providence in judgment for the greed and covetousness of men will prosper it, filling the wings of the women with the winds of heaven, where on earth is the spot so suited to the purpose as that where the first city this side the flood was built? There is the great navigable river, emptying out into the open sea, whose waters lave every country and island most filled with the treasures of the far East.[146] From thence there are almost level avenues for railway lines to Egypt, Smyrna, and Constantinople, connecting with Vienna, Paris, and London, for some of which the Turkish Sultan, it is said, has granted Firman, and which Western Europe in its own defence will presently be compelled to construct. There could all the great mercantile combinations unite in one common centre, with no other power on earth to interfere with them. All the considerations which bear on the question speak for old Babylon.

[146] G. Rawlinson, in his notes on Herodotus, says, with General Chesney's Euphrat. Expedition, that the Euphrates "is navigable without any serious interruption from Samosata to the sea, nearly 1,200 miles;" that from Busrah to the sea it is on an average 30 feet deep and 1,200 yards wide, and at Babylon it averages 15 feet in depth and 200 yards in width.


And with a worldwide commercial organization thus established on its own independent base, with the great mercantile houses of England and her colonies, of the Americas, of the other countries lining the Mediterranean, of the maritime and monetary centres everywhere, represented in corresponding houses there; with the ships, and passengers in ships, congregating in and about the Euphrates as the central exchange of the world; and with the gold-kings, money-lords, and merchant princes of the earth, thus combined without regard to creeds or nationalities in the one great interest of regulating and managing the commerce of the globe, it is easy to see how every feature in the Apocalyptic picture of Babylon would be filled out. Her merchants would thus be the great men of the earth. Her chief purchases would necessarily be as here described: (1) the most precious and valuable metals; (2) the costliest articles of clothing, ornaments, and display; (3) the most rare and sumptuous of furniture and materials for it; (4) precious aromatics, spices, and ointments; (5) the finest of eatables; (6) the most luxurious of equipages, chariots, and horses; and (7) slaves and attendants necessary to the maintenance of the style and grandeur going along with such wealth, consequence, and power. The city would thus literally be "clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stone, and pearl," creating a market for the skill and most excellent products of the whole world, enriching artisans, ship-masters, ship-owners, ship-senders, and all the traders in these things in all nations. Kings of the earth would thus naturally find it their interest and their delight to be on good terms and friendliest intimacies with a power so much wider and greater than their own. Governments would have to throw their influence in its favour, legislate out of the way what it wishes away, direct their policies according to its desires, and make war and conclude peace as it dictates, as is even now already largely the case, for commerce is the law-maker of the world. The purse-strings of the nations would thus be in the hands of a universal independent power, whose ban would be worse than the Pope's edicts of excommunication in the Middle Ages; and to make war with it would be to make war against the allied world. All the kings of the earth would thus necessarily become participant in everything belonging to the system, the very organization of which is the utter negation of all distinctive creeds, and the complete abrogation of all religious and moral laws which stand in the way of its purposes.


And thus also the old harlotry would necessarily be the chief spirit of the whole thing. Zealous and earnest worship there would needs be, but a worship concentrated upon the ephah and the talent; a worship which makes temples of banks, and warehouses, and exchanges, and pleasure-parks; a worship not of the sun, or moon, or stars, or emperors, or popes, but of pounds, and francs, and piastres, and dollars; the worship of greed, and epicurean luxury; the worship of Mammon perfected, and overriding and supplanting all other devotions; the perpetuation and crown of the great moral defilement of the ages, only taking to the souls' embrace and into the place of God the meaner object which the divine word stigmatizes as "filthy lucre." Covetousness is idolatry, and a form of it which is the root of all evil; and here will be covetousness, deep-wrapped in the embracing arms of its god, and dazing and defiling the world with the glory and grandeur of its abominations.


Such would Babylon be under the suppositions to which I have alluded, and such is the Great Babylon of these chapters in its final outcome. Is it not reasonable, therefore, to believe that this is the way in which this prophetic description is to be realized?

Besides, it would be a strange thing if Babylon were to be the only exception to the general revival and renewal which is to come to the long desolations of the East in general. Egypt, long the basest of the kingdoms, is rapidly coming up again, and is everywhere presented as prominent in the time when Christ comes to take the sovereignty of the earth. The English occupation of Cyprus must give strong impulse to the rebuilding of the mighty cities which once had place upon and around that island. Tyre and its associated cities, and Antioch, and Damascus, and Tadmor, and Nineveh, and all the ancient localities, are becoming more and more the objects of interest to the Western peoples and powers, and plans for the revival of some of them, including especially old Babylon, have been put forth with eloquence and received with favour.[147]

[147] In 1857 a work was published in London, entitled Memoir of the Euphrates Valley Route to India, with Official Correspondence and Maps, by W. P. Andrew, F.R.G.S., etc. After a large circulation the same was enlarged, and published in a volume, entitled The Scinde Railway and its Relations to the Euphrates Valley and other Routes to India. This enlargement and republication of the work was undertaken, on the considerations stated in the preface, viz., that "it is believed to be essential, not only to the vital interests of this country (England) in the East, and the well-being of Turkey, but to the peace and progress of the world, to establish, with as little delay as possible, steam and telegraphic communication, via the Euphrates, between England and India;" and "to indicate to statesmen the political power, to the philanthropist the enlightenment, and to the merchant the profit that would of necessity accrue from re-establishing this highway of forgotten empires and ancient commerce."

The author of this book recounts the many and glowing histories which cluster around the Euphrates and its tributary, the Tigris; points out the extraordinary capabilities of the country, and adds: "Every way, commercially, historically, and politically, the Euphrates Valley route is a grand scheme, and must affect immediately the commerce, and, in some measure, the destinies of our race; and that depends not on a thorough traffic, but holds within its own confines the elements of a great prosperity.

"Why have the governments and peoples of the West combined to uphold the Sultan in the possession of Constantinople? And why has he who thought fit to menace that position met with the armed opposition of Europe? Because the passage from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea is of so much importance that whatever European power might become master of it would domineer over all the rest, and destroy that balance which the whole world is interested in preserving. Establish then, at another and far more extensive point of the Ottoman Empire, a similar and yet more important position; make the Valley of the Euphrates the highway of the commercial world, and you would restore millions of unproductive acres to the revenue, bring thousands of merely vassal tribes within the pale of order and fair tribute, and create in the East another immovable seat of power for the great powers of Europe."

So, also, an article in Colburn's Monthly, quoted by this author, says: "England and France, and even other nations, appear now called to great works, which throw into the shade the most striking deeds of history. Among these works of the future it appears that the opening of the Euphrates Valley, and the restoration of Syria and Mesopotamia, of Assyria and Babylonia, stands first in rank. Such a proceeding, by multiplying and strengthening the ties by which people of all climates, of all races, of all beliefs, are united to Great Britain and France, would connect forever the general prosperity of nations with the happiness of those countries, their security with their power, and their independence with their liberty."

Mr. Andrew further says: "Amongst the numerous administrations of a wise and merciful design of Providence, it is not unreasonable to believe that the opening of the valleys of the Euphrates and the Tigris, and the resuscitation of the great nations of antiquity, are amongst the events designed to minister to the growing wants and improvements of the human race.... It is not too much to say that there is no existing or projected railroads that can for a moment compare, in point of interest and importance, with that of the Euphrates Valley. It brings two quarters of the globe into juxtaposition, and three continents,--Europe, Asia, and Australia,--into co-relation. It binds the vast population of Hindustan by an iron link with the people of Europe; it inevitably entails the colonization and civilization of the great valleys of the Euphrates and Tigris, the resuscitation in modern shape of Babylon and Nineveh, and the reawakening of Ctesiphon and Bagdad of old."

In the Life of Sir C. Napier, vol. iv, p. 70, there is given an extract from his journal, in which he writes: "Civilization was travelling west in Alexander's time, but now how changed is the drama! More than 2,000 years have passed, and civilization arises on the rear of barbarism; we English have seized the baggage, are following up our blow, and in a few years shall be at Babylon, a revived empire! We shall go slowly, but one hundred years will see us at Babylon!" This was written fifty years ago.

A letter written at Mosul (Nineveh), February 26th, 1854, and published in the New York Tribune, says: "There is but little soil in the world like that of the valleys of the Tigris and the Euphrates.... It is among the possibilities that a railway will ere long be built from Antioch to Seleucia along the Orontes, across Mesopotamia to Mosul, and thence down to Bagdad and Busrah,-the second short route to India. If this part of Turkey should fall into the hands of England, there is no doubt that such a road would be speedily constructed. The line has been surveyed. These barren fields are too rich always to remain idle. Its time has nearly come!"

All these statements are quite apart from what many are too prone to call mere prophetic speculations.


Jerusalem, we know, is to be rebuilt and re-established as a great national and religious centre, of a very numerous, rich, and powerful people. And when Israel with its wealth and commercial energy begins to rally again around its old metropolis, the Euphrates will again be needed as much as Germany needs the Danube, Egypt the Nile, or London the Thames; whilst the prodigious fertility of its great alluvial plains, and the unbounded riches of nature which there spring up almost unbidden to the hand that would gather them, and a ready progress of opulence that would realize the wonderworking power of Aladdin's lamp, cannot fail to arrest and command the sharp-sighted covetousness of the human heart. How, then, are we to suppose it possible that Babylon will not also come up again with the rest of these Eastern schemes and renovations? Already a walled town there exists, taking in both sides of the river, as old Babylon did. It is encircled with villages, and approached through an outspread country dotted with beautiful groves of date-trees, forming a broad and verdant colonnade to a growing city. That city, strangely enough, also bears the name of Rest (Hillah), as if inviting the wide-wandering tribes of an apostate world to come back to the bosom of the old mother, there to plant and erect the final tower of their finished greatness.


I conclude, then, that such a great commercial city, different from all that now exist, will yet be, and that it will be old Babylon rebuilt. When the New Jerusalem, the Lamb's Wife, comes down out of heaven from God, there is every intimation that it will be stationed over the old Jerusalem. And when the wisdom, progress, and harlotries of this world come to their final culmination and embodiment in Great Babylon, there is corresponding reason to believe that it will be centralized upon the very spot where it first started, and meet its ultimate doom in the selfsame locality in which it was born.

But the description of that doom, its character, and its results, must be deferred for another occasion. I can only ask you now to think over what has been presented, and not to be envious at the prosperity of the wicked. Let the gold, and the silver, and the scarlet, and the purple, and the fine linen, be to those who make them their God. We have quite another Saviour, and quite another calling. They that worship these things shall lose them, and perish with them; but they who, for the kingdom of heaven's sake, deny themselves and refuse to be beguiled and swayed by the deceitful glitter and sumptuous allurements of wealth and fortune, shall live to enjoy a far sublimer estate,-one which shall never fade away. Yet a little while, and they shall come forth in a city whose gates are pearl and its streets gold, themselves as pure as the gates through which they pass, and as excellent and glorious as the streets on which they tread; immortal parts of a new and everlasting system of God, when Babylon has gone down into perdition, as a millstone cast into the midst of the sea.


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Bibliographical Information
Seiss, Joseph A. "Commentary on Revelation 17". Seiss' Lectures on Leviticus and Revelation. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/sei/revelation-17.html.