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The destruction of spiritual Babylon hath in this prophecy been several times predicted and already foretold: now here an angel from heaven is employed to declare it shall certainly be performed.
This angel is variously here described, 1. By the place from whence he came, namely, from heaven; signifying, that the destruction of Babylon was there surely decreed, and should most certainly be accomplished.
2. By the authority and power with which he came, in the name of, and by commission from, the great God, and having great power. A mighty angel is employed in this great and mighty work, to destroy Babylon, the mighty throne of antichrist.
3. By the effect of his appearance, the earth was lightened with his glory; denoting, that Babylon's destruction should be open and manifest, and matter of joy and glorious rejoicing both to heaven and earth.
Learn hence, That as the destruction of Babylon is the work and office of an angel, under God, so is it unto the angels matter of joy and triumph; especially to such of them as are employed as officers therein. I saw an angel come down from heaven, having great power, and the earth was lightened with his glory.
Observe, 2. The place against which the mighty angel doth denounce the vengeance of God, and that with an ingemination, or repetition of the threatening: Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen; where, by Babylon, all, both papists and protestants, do understand the city of Rome, though in different respects.
This is called mystical Babylon, in allusion to ancient Babylon, because of their resemblance,
1. In sin; namely, in pride and sedf-exaltation, in cruelty and oppression, in sorcery and witchcraft. Isaiah 51:7.
2. In punishment: the destruction of old Babylon was a sudden destruction, Isaiah 17:9 and a perpetual destruction. See Isaiah 13:20 compared with Revelation 11:10 and Revelation 18:8.
It is called Babylon the great, 1. Because of the greatness of its strength and glory; it was the strongest and most fortified place in the world. Cyrus besieged it thirteen years before he took it, and then by cutting channels, and drawing dry the river Erphrates.
2. In regard of her great power and dominion: literal Babylon said, and Are not my princes altogether kings? and mystical Babylon ruleth over all the kings of the earth.
Farther, it is here said, that Babylon the great is fallen, nay, it is ingeminated and repeated, is fallen, is fallen; implying,
1. The certainty of her ruin; it is a speech of faith, speaking of things to come as already past; God's punishments when threatened are as certain as if already inflicted.
2. It denotes the suddenness of her destruction, She is fallen, that is subito ruitura, she shall soon fall; as when Christ said of his suffering work, It is finished, he meant that it was very near finishing.
3. It denotes her utter ruin and destruction, is fallen, is fallen, never to rise more: the church shall never more be tormented by her, or troubled with her.
4. It denotes the joy and rejoicing which will be found in Sion, at Babylon's downfall and destruction: she is fallen, she is fallen; it is not only a speech of faith and trust, but of joy and triumph.
Learn hence, 1. That Rome or mystical Babylon, shall certainly fall, shall utterly fall, shall irrecoverably fall.
2. That the downfall of Babylon will be matter of great joy and triumph to the inhabitants of Sion, because she has been to the church of Christ an old and inveterate enemy, a cruel and bloody enemy, and shall be the last enemy. When Babylon is fallen, then shall all persecutions cease, Satan shall be bound, and the kingdoms of the world shall become the kingdoms of the Lord and his Christ. Let all that have an interest in God, be instant in prayer with him to hasten its time, that it may be in the history as it is here in the prophecy, that Babylon is fallen.
Observe lastly, what an heap of multiplied expressions the Holy Ghost is pleased to make use of, to set forth the utter ruin and final desolation of Babylon,--She is become the habitation of devils, the hold of every foul spirit, a cage of every unclean and hateful bird; that is, as devils and evil spirits are supposed to haunt desolate places, and birds which make hideous and dismal noises, do dwell in ruinous and ruined places: in like manner these expressions denote how entirely and absolutely God will bring about the destruction of Babylon, insomuch that the place which hath known her, shall know her no more, and her habitation shall be an eternal desolation, so that none that pass by shall say, This is Babylon.
The Spirit of God is placed here to assign the reason and cause of Babylon's fatal ruin and final desolation; namely,
1. Because all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornications.
All nations, that is, very many; the generality of the Roman empire have been allured to, and intoxicated by, her idolatries, which have brought all this wrath upon her and them.
Where note, 1. How idolatry is compared to wine, because very pleasing to corrupt nature, and also very enticing and ensnaring, overtaking, like wine, a person unawares; and it is called wine of wrath, because it exciteth and provoketh God's wrath against a person or people guilty of it.
2. Because the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, that is, joined with her in her idolatrous worship.
Where note, The policy of Babylon in drawing kings and princes to the bed of her fornications, well knowing how fast their example would be followed by inferiors. The example of superiors in doing evil is strangely powerful; Jeroboam made Israel to sin, not by commanding them to worship the golden calves, but commending that idolatrous worship to them in his own person.
3. Because the merchants of the earth were waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. By the merchants, understand all such as trade in Babylon's wares, her pleasing and costly wares of pardons, as masses and indulgences, by which so many were enriched. All things are vendible at Rome, any sin may be forgiven for silver, and a license for any thing that is unlawful for money. These are the reasons here assigned for Babylon's ruin. The nations were made drunk by her, kings committed fornication with her, and the merchants enriched through the abundance of her delicacies.
Observe here, An admonition given, and a double reason assigned for that admonition.
1. The admonition itself; Come out of her my people, that is, come out of mystical Babylon, have no communion with that idolatrous church; abstain from all communicating with her in her sins, as ever you would approve yourselves to be my faithful people.
Here note, it is not so much a local departure, as a moral separation, that is here intended; not so much from Babylon's local bounds, as from her abominable errors, superstitions, and idolatries.
Learn hence, 1. That God has, and ever had, a people, even in Babylon.
Learn, 2. That it is a special duty which God requires of his people, to depart from mystical Babylon, especially when her downfall is approaching.
3. That such a departure from Babylon is no schismatical separation; it is not a departure from the true church, but the true church's separation from an idolatrous communion; and that by the express and positive command of God himself, Come out of her my people an allusion to the charge given with respect to Babylon of old, We would have healed Babylon, but she would not be healed; forsake her. Jeremiah 51:6; Jeremiah 51:9.
Observe, 2. A double reason assigned for this admonition.
1. Because we are in danger of being partakers of her sins, namely, by incurring the guilt of her sins, and by contracting the spot and filth of her sins.
2. There is a danger also of being made partakers of her plagues: there is no safety in being near those who are under the curse of God; participation in sin will certainly cause a participation in judgment.
How dreadful is this text to such as continue in, or apostatize unto, Babylon's idolatry and communion!
Observe here, 1. The reason assigned why Almighty God inflicted such severe punishments upon Babylon, because her sins, that is, the cry and clamour of her sins, had reached up to heaven, the measure of her sins was filled up, and God had remembered her iniquities, that is, manifested his rememberance of them, by inflicting on her so great, so just, a punishment for them, viz. for her idolatry and persecution.
Learn hence, That although sins be transient actions, yet they have a permanent pleading before the Lord's tribunal, to bring down judgments upon incorrigible sinners.
And, 2. That although the justice of God may be thought to be asleep, and he may seem to be forgetful of sin and sinners, yet he will take his own time to manifest that he remembers them, by inflicting the heaviest of his judgments upon obdurate sinners: Her sins reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.
Observe, 2. The injunction and command given by God unto his people, to every one of them in their place and station, to contribute regularly all they can towards Babylon's downfall and destruction, Reward her as she rewarded you, yea, double; this is required, not from a private spirit of revenge, which Christianity expressly forbids, but as a public work, in an authoritative way and manner, out of an ardent zeal for the glory of God, and from a just indignation against her tyranny and idolatry; and the command to double unto her double, implies that a double punishment is due unto her, yea, a just one, according to her works.
Behold here! what bloody persecutors may at length expect, namely, to receive at the Lord's hand double for all their sins. Babylon's punishment shall be double, respecting what she has acted, but not double in respect of what she has deserved; if possible, let her have as much blood again to drink as ever she spilt, for one drop of the blood of Sion is more worth than an ocean of the blood of Babylon: give her therefore double, for though it be more in quantity, it is nothing so much in value.
Observe, 3. How suitable and unanswerable Babylon's punishment inflicted will be to her sin committed; her sins were pride and insolence, luxury and voluptuousness.
Note, 1. Her pride; she said in her heart, I sit as a queen.
Mark, she did not barely say, I am a queen, but I sit as a queen; as if she had said, "I am not only in a high place, but in a sure place: I have a warm and a firm seat, I am well settled, I have a great command, yea, an uncontrollable command, I am no widow; no desolate widow, no disconsolate widow, for I have many children to comfort me, many sons and daughters to support me; I shall see no sorrow, I neither feel nor fear any." Behold how worldly men fancy to themselves an everlastingness in worldly things; they fancy themselves sitting as upon down pillows for ease and softness, and as upon rocks of adamant for sureness and unmovableness, I sit as a queen, and shall see no sorrow.
Note, 2. Her luxury and voluptuousness, she lived deliciously, in pompous palaces, pleasantly situated, plentifully furnished, and her judgment bears a strict proportion to her sin, How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her; the justice of God will exact all the arrears of abused mercy. Sinners that now fare deliciously every day, shall pass from their good things here, to the flames which live by the breath of God's revenging wrath. Ah! doleful exchange! one hour's feeling of that fire will be more tormenting than an age's enjoyment of this world's delight can be pleasing.
Observe, 4. The equity, the celerity, and multiplicity of Babylon's punishments; their equity is intimated in the illative particle therefore, that is, because of her former sins her plagues shall come; the celerity and swiftness of her punishment is intimated, they shall come upon her in one day, as did Sodom's plagues, suddenly and unexpectedly; and the multiplicity and variety of her plagues is particularly here expressed; death, for putting the saints to death; mourning, for her former rejoicing; famine, for famishing God's people; and burning, for having burnt so many of the bodies of the holy martyrs to a coal. Righteous art thou, O Lord, and just are thy judgments.
Observe lastly, The reason here assigned for the unavoidableness of all these plagues coming upon Babylon-- for strong is the Lord who judgeth her. True, Babylon has all natural power and all civil strength on her side; but the strong God is against her, it is his controversy with her, and he is able to effect what he pleaseth, how incredible soever the thing may seem to us: sooner may the ark and Dagon be reconciled, and cease to be adverse, than God can be at peace with Babylon; Strong is the Lord who judgeth her.
The Spirit of God having in the former part of the chapter set forth the certainty and severity of those judgments which should come upon mystical Babylon, he next declares what wailings and bitter lamentations her downfall would occasion to her votaries and admirers, to her friends and followers; more particularly he acquaints us with three sorts of persons that shall bewail Babylon's destruction, kings, merchants, and seamen; the former we have here before us in these two verses: The kings of the earth, who have adhered to the whore, committed spiritual fornication with her, and delighted themselves in her carnal and pompous idol-worship, when they see the smoke of her burning, and understand the certainty of her destruction, they shall stand afar off, like persons astonished, and like persons afraid, amazed at the dreadfulness of the judgment, and afraid to come near, they be involved in it; and the words of their lamentation are here set down, Alas, alas! that great city Babylon; in one hour is her judgment come! As if they had said, "Notwithstanding all Babylon's grandeur, which we so admired and magnified, and which she herself put so much trust and confidence in, to our astonishment we behold, in one hour, her judgment come upon her; a great and mighty city destroyed, a gay and splendid church, politically founded, powerfully strengthened, on a sudden broken in pieces, and brought to desolation: Alas, alas! that great city Babylon!
Learn hence, That when God begins to enter into judgment with his church's enemies, the strongest arm of flesh cannot avail, but kings with their armies will flee and be discomfited, the stoutest hearts will be afraid and terrified, not daring to approach the presence of an angry God: the kings of the earth shall stand afar off for fear of her torment.
The second sort of persons who passionately lament and bitterly bewail Babylon's downfall and destruction, are the merchants who traded in and with Babylon.
Here we have an allusion to the merchants and merchandise of Tyre spoken of, Ezekiel 17 As Tyre was the mart of the earth for temporal things, so was Babylon for spiritual things, making merchandise even of the souls of men, persuading people that they could purchase the redemption of souls out of purgatory by masses.
Here note, That Pagan Rome, though she did traffic for slaves, yet not for souls: but Papal Rome deals for both. She sells also the souls of men, by selling her ecclesiastical benefices, and cure of souls. And I would to God that this piece of spiritual merchandise were only found amongst them, and not heard of elsewhere.
Observe next, The Holy Ghost is pleased to enumerate at last several sorts of wares, and the kinds of merchandise, which Babylon, dealt and trafficked in, namely, gold, silver, precious stones, fine linen, purple, silk, and scarlet; all things for ornament, necessity, and delight; the pride and sensuality of Rome prompted her to buy up all sorts of commodities, and took off all that the countries round about could bring in; partly to gratify her pride, and partly to serve her idolatry.
Observe farther, What a bitter lamentation is here taken up; but for what? not for their sins, their luxury, or idolatry, but for the loss of their market and merchandise only. Behold in these Babylonians, the spirit and temper of all natural men, they weep not for sin, but for sufferings: for any temporal cross they have tears enough, they refuse to be comforted: but for their sins, which are not their cross, but their curse, their plague, yea, the greatest of all plagues, because spiritual, these they can speak of with dry eyes and unaffected hearts.
Observe lastly, How these merchants here, as the kings before, stand afar off for fear of her torment, weeping and wailing; pitying and condoling one another, greatly affected and sorely afflicted to see the ruin of that polity that sustained them, but not able to help one another.
Behold! how fruitless and helpless the wicked's friendship is to one another in the day of visitation; they stand afar off for fear of torments, but can afford no succour to each other: they durst not come near to help Babylon or them.
The last sort of mourners for Babylon's ruin are sailors and seamen; all spiritual seamen that have an oar in St. Peter's boat shall lament greatly, whose life and livelihood did depend upon the merchant trade of that great city; these, though they stuck close to her, and trafficked with her in the day of her prosperity, yet now with the rest they stand afar off from her, lamenting her ruin, and their own loss, in the day when her desolation cometh.
And, as an evidence of the greatness of their sorrow and mourning, they are here said to cast dust on their heads; which amongst the ancients was used as a special token of extraordinary grief and sorrow, Job 2:13. In a time of deep affliction we may express our outward sorrows by our outward gestures: those mourners for Babylon express their sorrow for her and themselves, by casting dust upon their heads.
Note here, 1. That as Babylon's ruin was matter of great grief and sorrow to the fore-mentioned mourners who merchandised and traded with her; so it is matter of great joy and rejoicing to all spiritual and heavenly-minded persons, which are the true church, who are commanded to rejoice at it. Rejoice over her, O heaven; that is, ye angels in heaven, or ye saints, that are of an heavenly disposition. And all ye holy apostles and prophets; that is, all faithful ministers who succeed them, who are endued with the same spirit, and teach the same pure and holy doctrine with them.
Note, 2. The cause of this rejoicing declared: For God hath avenged them upon her. The church does not, the saints of God dare not, rejoice at Babylon's calamity as such, but as an act of divine vengeance God will be avenged on Babylon for the doctrine of the gospel corrupted by her, and for the rules of worship violated by her, and for all the barbarities and indignities which his church and people have suffered from her: God will revenge the wrongs of his people, when through want of power they cannot, and through his prohibition they may not, avenge themselves.
Observe here, 1. Babylon's utter desolation represented by the type and sign of a millstone cast into the sea; like a millstone she had ground and oppressed the church of God, and now, like a millstone thrown into the sea, she sinks into the pit of destruction.
Almighty God, by this sign or symbol, signified to St. John that Babylon's ruin should be violent, irrecoverable, and irreparable; she falls never to rise more. The casting of a stone into the sea was anciently the emblem of everlasting forgetfulness.
Observe, 2. The amplification of Babylon's ruin particularized in several instances.
1. That nothing should evermore be found in her that belonged to pleasure or delight: no voice of harpers, musicians, or trumpeters.
2. Nothing which belonged to profit or trading, no artificers or craftsmen.
3. Nothing belonging to food, no noise of a millstone for grinding corn and making provision for bread.
4. Nothing to relieve against the darkness and terror of the night; as the light of a candle.
5. No means for the propagation of mankind by marriage; The voice of the bride and the bridegroom shall be heard no more.
All which expressions do imply extreme destruction and utter desolation: intimating, that Babylon shall be a place utterly abandoned and forsaken.
Observe, 3. A three-fold cause assigned for all this, to wit,
1. Damnable covetousness: Her merchants were the great ones of the earth. Her sinful way of merchandising, by dealing in spiritual commodities peculiar to Rome, seems to be here pointed at; her making merchandise of the souls of men, as we have it, Revelation 18:13.
2. Her bewitching idolatry, called here sorceries, whereby she enticed people to join with her in her superstitious worship.
3. Her cruelty and bloodshed: In her was found the blood of prophets and of saints, and of all that were slain upon earth.
Quest. But how can the blood shed by others be laid to her charge?
Ans. 1. Because the doctrines which caused their blood to be shed were with her.
2. Because her jurisdiction gave commission to slay the saints which were slain in other kingdoms.
3. Because by the influence of her example at home, much blood had been shed abroad.
God will charge upon others, as he did upon Babylon, not only the sin which they have acted, but all the sin which they have been accessary to.
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Burkitt, William. "Commentary on Revelation 18". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany