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Bible Commentaries

Joseph Benson's Commentary of the Old and New Testaments
Revelation 18

 

 

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Verse 1

Revelation 18:1. And after these things — After the angel-interpreter had so far explained the meaning of the vision, and mystery of the woman, and of the beast with seven heads and ten horns which carried her; I saw another angel — Termed another, with respect to him mentioned Revelation 10:1; come down from heaven — To show the sure downfall of this antichristian power, which is here described in the same sublime figurative style as that in which Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel have foretold the fall of ancient Babylon and Tyre, the types and emblems of the spiritual Babylon; and, together with her punishment, the crimes which deserved it, her idolatry and wickedness; having great power, and the earth was lightened with his glory — In this description of the angel there seems to be an allusion to the vision of Ezekiel, (Ezekiel 43:2,) when he beheld the glory of the God of Israel, and the earth, it is said, shined with his glory. A bright and shining light, it seems, usually attended the appearance of angels; and it is likely the splendour of the appearance used to be greater in proportion as the angel appearing was more honourable. The sending an angel of superior rank alludes to the custom of courts in employing persons of dignity, according to the weight and importance of the commissions they were to execute. We may observe here, if such be the lustre of the servant, in lightening the earth with his glory, what images can display the majesty of the Lord, who has thousands of thousands of those glorious attendants ministering to him, and ten thousand times ten thousand standing before him!


Verse 2-3

Revelation 18:2-3. And he cried mightily with a strong voice — Proclaimed aloud with triumphant joy, in the words of Isaiah 21:9, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen — As if he had said, What was prophesied formerly concerning the celebrated seat of the Chaldean empire, shall presently be verified in this mystical Babylon. Her fall was announced before, chap. Revelation 14:8, but is now declared at large; and is become a habitation of devils, &c. — Here it is foretold, that after her fall she should be made a scene of desolation, as the ancient Babylon was, according to the predictions of the prophet respecting ancient Babylon, Isaiah 13:19, Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah; it shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation. Neither shall the Arabian pitch his tent there, neither shall the shepherds make their fold there; but wild beasts of the desert shall lie there, and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures, and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there; where the word שׂעורים, which we translate satyrs, the LXX. render διαμονια, demons, or devils, who were supposed sometimes to take the shape of goats, or satyrs: and to haunt forlorn and desolate places; and it is from the translation of the LXX. that the apostle hath borrowed his images and expressions. According to this prediction, how horrid were the inhabitants of desolate Babylon to be as long as the world shall stand! Of invisible beings, devils and unclean spirits; of visible beings, every unclean beast, every filthy and hateful bird. Suppose then Babylon to mean here heathen Rome, and the fall predicted in this chapter to have been effected by Totilas, king of the Ostrogoths, as Grotius would persuade us, or by Alaric, king of the Visigoths, as the bishop of Meaux contends, how can Rome be said ever since to have been the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird, unless they will allow the popes and cardinals to merit these appellations? For all nations have drunk of the wine of her fornication, &c. — She hath not only been guilty of idolatry herself, and with great wrath persecuted the true Christian faith, worship, and practice, but hath also corrupted the princes and nations of the earth, as if she had given them a cup of poisonous composition, to disorder their reason and inflame them into rage and fury, having prevailed upon them to commit the same sins of which she was guilty, and to propagate her corruptions by ambitious views, incitements to luxury, and prospects of gain. And the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies — “The Romish clergy,” says Daubuz, “by trading in spiritual matters, have gotten vast wealth; these are the merchants of the earth, who by their Popish tricks and trinkets have gotten a good part of the wealth of the world into their hands. In short, Rome is a great mart; the Romish clergy are the merchants and factors; the secular, inferior clergy, the monks and friars, are the pedlers and hawkers which retail the merchandise. As for the luxury of Rome, procured by this trade, it needs no proof.


Verses 4-6

Revelation 18:4-6. And I heard another voice from heaven — Probably the voice of Christ, graciously warning his people of their danger of being infected by the prevailing corruptions of the mystical Babylon, and, in consequence thereof, of being involved in her ruin; saying, Come out of her, my people — Immediately forsake the communion of so corrupt a church; that ye be not partakers of her sins — Which you surely will be if you do not separate yourselves from her; and that ye receive not of her plagues — That ye share not in that guilt which would render you liable to all the plagues and judgments with which she shall assuredly be punished. But, as Bishop Newton observes, “was there any such necessity of forsaking the Church of Rome in the days of Alaric or Totilas, before she had degenerated again into idolatry? Or, what were then her notorious crimes, deserving of such exemplary punishment, unless Rome Christian was to suffer for the sins of Rome pagan?” What a remarkable providence it was that this book of the Revelation was printed in the midst of Spain, in the Great Polyglot Bible, before the Reformation! Else how much easier had it been for the Papists to reject the whole book, than it is to evade these striking parts of it! For her sins have reached unto heaven — When sins are ripe for judgment, they are said to reach unto heaven, or to come up before the face of Jehovah. So the angels speak who were sent to punish the sins of Sodom, Genesis 19:13, We will destroy this place, because the cry of them is waxed great before the face of the Lord. Thus God said to Jonah, Cry against Nineveh, for their wickedness is come up before me: and St. James uses a like expression concerning oppressors, The cries of them which have reaped have entered into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. It seems to be an elegant allusion to the methods of justice in human courts, when criminals are actually prosecuted, and their crimes are brought to light before the court of judgment. Reward her — God speaks to the executioners of his vengeance; even as she hath rewarded — Others, in particular the saints of God; and double unto her double — This, according to the Hebrew idiom, implies only a full retaliation; according to her works — The injuries and evils with which she has oppressed the faithful servants of God. In the cup which she hath filled, fill to her double — Let her suffer whatever the laws of justice have made the punishment of such great offences. By the laws of the Jewish government some offences were punished by retaliation, or by inflicting on the offender that evil which he had injuriously done to his neighbour. It was therefore enacted by the Jewish law, that life should be given for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, Exodus 21:23, &c. In other cases of damage it was enacted that the offender should pay double damages. Thus, in the case of theft, the law required the thief to restore double, (Exodus 22:4,) it being just that the thief should suffer for his offence, as well as make full restitution for the damage he had done. In allusion to these laws of the Jewish government, divine justice is represented as punishing Rome for her idolatry and persecution, by inflicting upon her, as an offender, such pains and penalties as the laws of equity direct, where injuries are so highly criminal.


Verse 7-8

Revelation 18:7-8. How much she hath glorified herself — By pride, and pomp, and arrogant boasting; and lived deliciously — In all kinds of elegance, luxury, and wantonness; so much torment and sorrow give her — Proportioning the punishment to the sin; for, or because, she saith in her heart — As did ancient Babylon, Isaiah 47:8-9; I sit — Her usual style. Hence those expressions, the chair, the see of Rome. She sat so many years as a queen, over many kings, “mistress of all churches; the supreme, the infallible, the only spouse of Christ; a church out of which there is no salvation:” and am no widow — But the spouse of Christ; and shall see no sorrow — From the death of my children, or any other calamity, for God himself will defend “the church.” Therefore — As both the natural and judicial consequence of this proud security; shall her plagues come in one day — All at once, in full extremity; death — The death of her children, with an incapacity of bearing more; mourning πενθος, sorrow, or lamentation, instead of carnal pleasure and delights; and famine — In the room of luxurious plenty; the very things from which she imagined herself to be most safe; and she shall be utterly burned with fire — Even ancient Rome, which gloried in the name of the eternal city; for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her — Expressions these which, as Bishop Newton observes, “can imply no less than a total destruction by fire; but Rome hath never yet been totally destroyed by fire. The most that Alaric and Totilas did was burning some parts of the city: but if only some parts of the city were burned, it was not an event important enough to be ascribed to the Lord God particularly, and to be considered as a strong exertion of his judgment.”


Verses 9-11

Revelation 18:9-11. And the kings of the earth, &c. — Even the chief rulers and great powers of the world, who were formerly in league with her, and supported her in her corruptions, practised her idolatries, and lived deliciously with her — Shared in the pomp and luxury of her prosperous state; shall bewail her, &c. — Shall not be able to afford her any support or defence, or to do any more than fruitlessly condole with her, and lament her sad condition, when they shall behold all these calamities come suddenly upon her. Saying, Alas, alas! — Only expressing their astonishment at so great and wonderful a revolution, so little expected, so little thought of; that great city, that mighty city — Rome was anciently termed by its inhabitants, Valentia, that is, strong; and the word Rome itself, in Greek, signifies strength. This name was given to it by the Greek strangers. For in one hour is thy judgment come — How strange, how awful, that so great and mighty a city should be so suddenly, so utterly destroyed! And the merchants of the earth — Her men of business, and those skilled in the affairs of life, who gained so much by her preferments, and by employments under her; the men of riches and credit in the several nations which she had corrupted, and who were supported in their pride and luxury by her means, shall not be able to help in this hour of her distress, any more than the kings of the earth; they can only weep and mourn for her misery, and for their own loss in her destruction. Now all commerce with her shall be utterly cut off; and no man by her means shall obtain wealth, credit, or power, any more.


Verses 12-14

Revelation 18:12-14. The merchandise, &c. — There is an end of all traffic or commerce with her, whether spiritual or temporal; of gold and silver, &c. — Almost all the things here named are still in use at Rome, both in their idolatrous service and in common life; fine linen — The sort of which here mentioned, βυσσος, is exceedingly costly; thyine-wood — A sweet- smelling wood, not unlike citron, used in adorning magnificent palaces. Vessels of most precious wood — Ebony in particular, which is often, as here, mentioned with ivory, the one excelling in whiteness, the other in blackness, and both in uncommon smoothness. And cinnamon — Bengelius adds, και αμωμον, and amomum, a shrub whose wood is a fine perfume; and ointments. ΄υρον, liquid and fragrant ointment; and beasts — Cows and oxen; and chariots ρεδων, a word purely Latin, but here inserted in the Greek, doubtless, on purpose to show more fully the luxury of Rome; and slaves σωματων, bodies; a common term for slaves; and souls of men — For these also have been and are continually bought and sold at Rome. And this, of all others, is the most gainful merchandise to the Roman traffickers. And the fruits that thy soul lusted after — And for which alone thy degenerate nature had any remaining relish. From what was imported, the narrative proceeds to the domestic delicacies of Rome; none of which is in greater request there than the particular sort of fruits here mentioned. The word οπωρα properly signifies such fruit as pears, peaches, nectarines, and all the apple and plum kinds; and all things λιπαρα και τα λαμπρα dainty — Or delightful to the taste; and splendid — To the sight; as clothes, buildings, furniture. “It is plain,” says Lowman, “this is designed to be a figurative, and not a literal description; therefore readers seem to be at liberty to apply the figurative expressions to such literal meanings as will agree to the general and certain intention of them. But whether each of these wares is designed to point out some particular gainful corruption of Popery, may very well be questioned. It is sufficient, to answer the general intention of the prophecy, to observe, that Rome shall be deprived of all her wealth, which she procured by her management and intrigues, in the several places where her agents resided, who continually made her returns of great riches, and plentifully supplied her excessive pride and luxury. It is a pretty observation of Daubuz, “Rome receives all the luxurious wares mentioned, but she has so infatuated the world that she pays nothing for them but trumpery; her money is her enchantments and sorceries. Her merchants, her superior clergy, engross the real wealth of the world to bring it to her; and her returns and exportations are paper and bills drawn upon heaven and hell, never to be accepted; however, they pass among the common people for payment, as if they were of real value. The merchant who finds means to get shut of them takes no care about their intrinsic value, finding gulls who take them off his hands for real wealth.” Whether these wares were designed to signify pardons, indulgences, dispensations, and the like trifles, with which Rome purchases gold, silver, and whatever ministers to pride and luxury, this is a plain and manifest meaning, that she shall be deprived of all her wealth and luxury at once, and of all the means by which she used to procure them.


Verses 15-21

Revelation 18:15-21. The merchants, ship-masters, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, weep and wail — For they can no longer import or export commodities for her, or convey strangers to and fro, for there is an end of all her gains, wealth, and glory. These lamentations are copied from the like lamentations over Tyre, (Ezekiel 26. and 27.,) and are equal to the most mournful strains of the Greek tragedians over Thebes or Troy. In all, they stand afar off — In a mixture of terror and grief, but absolutely incapable of giving her any relief, Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:15; Revelation 18:17. In all, they cry, Alas! alas! ουαι, ουαι, wo, wo, (Revelation 18:10; Revelation 18:16; Revelation 18:19,) for this is the third wo before mentioned, Revelation 8:13; Revelation 11:14. For, as the fall of the Othman empire is the end of the second wo, so the fall of Rome is the completion of the third wo. In all they lament the suddenness of her fall; for in one hour is her judgment come. At the same time, her destruction is matter of joy and triumph to the saints, apostles, and prophets; for it is added, Revelation 18:20, Rejoice over her, thou heaven — That is, all the inhabitants of heaven; και οι αγιοι, and ye saints; and among the saints, still more eminently, the apostles and prophets, for God hath avenged you on her — For it is to avenge the cause of his church and faithful servants, that God so severely punishes this persecuting city. And a mighty angel, &c. — And further, to confirm the irrecoverable ruin of this persecuting place, another mighty angel appeared in my vision, and took up a stone, like a great mill-stone, and cast it into the sea — Using the same emblem by which Jeremiah foreshowed the fall of the Chaldean Babylon; saying, Thus with violence shall that great city, this mystical Babylon, be thrown down — Shall sink never to rise again. Her utter desolation is further described in the two next verses, in phrases and expressions borrowed from the ancient prophets.


Verses 22-24

Revelation 18:22-24. The voice of harpers — Players on stringed instruments; and musicians — Skilful singers in particular; and pipers — Who played on flutes, chiefly on mournful, whereas trumpeters played on joyful occasions; shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman — Greek, τεχνιτης ωασης τεχνης, no artificer, of whatever art. Arts of every kind, particularly music, sculpture, painting, and statuary, were there carried to their greatest height. No, nor even the sound of a mill-stone shall be heard any more in thee — Not only the arts that adorn life, but even those employments without which it cannot subsist, will cease from thee for ever: all which expressions denote absolute and eternal desolation. There shall be no more musicians for the entertainment of the rich and great; no more tradesmen or artificers to employ those of the middle ranks, and to furnish the conveniences of life; no more servants or slaves to grind at the mill, prepare bread, and supply the necessaries of life. Nay, there shall be no more lights, no more bridal songs: that is, no more marriages, in which lamps and songs were known ceremonies; and therefore the city shall never be peopled again, but shall remain depopulated and desolate for ever. The desolation of Rome is therefore described in such a manner as to show that neither rich nor poor, neither persons of middle rank nor those of the lowest condition, should be able to live there any more. For thy merchants were the great men of the earth — A circumstance which was in itself indifferent, and yet led them into pride, luxury and numberless other sins. For by thy sorceries were all nations deceived — That is, poisoned by thy pernicious practices. So that the reasons assigned for her utter desolation are her pride and luxury, her superstition and idolatry, with various other vices; and especially her cruel persecutions of God’s saints and servants: for it is added, In her was found the blood of prophets, &c. — These seem to be the words of St. John: and of all that were slain upon the earth — As if he had said, Her punishment shall be as severe and exemplary as if she had been guilty of all the persecutions that ever were upon account of religion; for by her conduct she hath approved, and imitated, and surpassed them all. Certainly there is no city under the sun which has so clear a title to general blood-guiltiness as Rome. The guilt of the blood shed under the heathen emperors was not removed under the popes, but hugely multiplied. Nor is Rome accountable only for what hath been shed in the city, but for that shed in all the earth. For at Rome, under the popes, as well as under the heathen emperors, were the bloody orders and edicts given: and wherever the blood of holy men was shed, there were the grand rejoicings for it. And what immense quantities of blood have been shed by her agents! Charles IX. of France, in his letter to Gregory XIII., boasts that in, and not long after, the massacre of Paris, he had destroyed seventy thousand Huguenots. Some have computed that, from the year 1518 to 1548, fifteen millions of Protestants perished by war and the inquisition. This may be overcharged; but certainly the number of them in those thirty years, as well as since, is almost incredible. To these we may add innumerable martyrs in ancient, middle, and late ages, — in Bohemia, Germany, Holland, France, England, Ireland, and many other parts of Europe, Africa, and Asia.

Now this tyrannical cruelty exercised against God’s saints, apostles, and prophets being considered, we cannot wonder that the sentence of so terrible a desolation and destruction should be passed on this persecuting city. But the reader must observe, Rome hath never yet been depopulated and desolated in this manner. She hath been taken indeed and plundered by Alaric, king of the Visigoths, in the year 410; by Genseric, king of the Vandals, in the year 455; by Totilas, king of the Ostrogoths, in the year 546; and by others since that time: but yet she is still standing and flourishing, and is honoured by many nations as the metropolis of the Christian world; she still resounds with singers and musicians; she still excels in arts, which serve to pomp and luxury; she still abounds with candles, and lamps, and torches, burning even by day as well as by night: and consequently this prophecy hath not yet been, but remaineth still to be, fulfilled.

 


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Bibliography Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Revelation 18:4". Joseph Benson's Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/rbc/revelation-18.html. 1857.

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Friday, December 13th, 2019
the Second Week of Advent
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