Part 8. The fall of Babylon (17:1—19:5)
8.2. Babylon destroyed (18:1-24)
† PICTURE: John hears the songs of lamentation describing the fall of Babylon the Great and then witnesses the complete destruction of the city by a supernatural act of God.
18:1 This chapter is a poetic funeral song (dirge) on the fall of the Babylon the Great. It is divided into 3 passages:  vv.1-8: an angel in splendour declares that Babylon is fallen and then another angel proclaims judgment against her many crimes and sins.  vv.9-20: 3 groups of people lament the destruction of Babylon.  vv.21-24: a mighty angel uses a demonstration to declare the actual fall of Babylon. This is the ultimate collapse of a monstrous antichristian world order or world system (which is the political, social, economic, and cultural institutions of the entire world).
A major poetic feature in this chapter is the repeated sets of triplets:  Babylon has become a home for demons, a haunt for evil spirits, and a haunt for unclean birds (v.2).  Nations drink her adulterous wine, kings commit adultery with her, and merchants grow rich from her excessive luxuries (v.3).  The voice from heaven issues the order to give back to her what she has given, to pay her back double, and to mix her a double portion (v.6).  The plagues that overtake her are death, mourning, and famine (v.8).  The death of Babylon is described in a double triplet: all the things Babylon boasts of will never be found/heard of again (vv.21-23). These triplets reinforce the various ideas to an extreme in the poetic form of “bad, worse, worst” and echo the three “woes” in 8:13.
An angel descends from heaven announcing the fate of Babylon. He has great authority and reflects the radiance and glory of God.
18:2 The declaration of the destruction of Babylon is similar to Isa 21:9. Babylon has always been symbolic of opposition to the advance of the kingdom of God. As the actual city fell in the past, so will the world system which it represents be totally destroyed in the future. The aorist tense is used here to denote the certainty of future fulfilment. In God’s eyes, it is already completed.
In a reinforcing triplet, the angel in splendour declares that Babylon once fallen will never again be inhabited except by demons, evil spirits, and all kinds of unclean creatures. Detestable birds may include night hag, hawk, porcupine, owl, raven, (Isa 34) ostrich, owl (Dt 14:12-18). It is a prophetic picture of absolute desolation where the proud achievements of the human race become the demonic haunts of everything that is the worst and the lowest.
18:3 The reason for the fall of Babylon the Great is recounted in a reinforcing triplet to be: the sins of all the nations, kings of the earth, and the merchants. It points to corruption in 3 areas: the society, the politics, and the economy.
In the OT, adultery is a well-known figure for apostasy from God (Hos 4:10; Jer 3:2). It is used here to denote the unclean and illicit relationships between the capital of the empire and all the nations of the earth. The worst apostasy is the worship of the beast. At the same time, the economy is corrupted by excessive luxury. Here, it contains the idea of luxury and self-indulgence with arrogance and immoral exercise of power.
18:4 The voice from heaven is probably an angel who speaks on behalf of God. It first calls on God’s people in vv.4-5 and then calls on those angels who execute God’s wrath in vv.6-7.
God’s people are called to separate themselves from Babylon. The persecuted church has always faced the temptation to compromise with worldliness in order to ease the tension of living in a hostile environment. God’s message is: have nothing to do with both the evil deeds and evil philosophy. In other words, separation is sometimes physical but always ideological.
Two reasons are given for the separation:  not to share in her sins,  so as not to receive any of her judgment in the form of plagues. In the NT, “saint” means to be set apart to God for a holy purpose. In these difficult times, saints are called to separate.
18:5 Plagues are to come upon Babylon because her sins join one to another until the pile reaches to heaven where God will not forget them.
18:6 In a reinforcing triplet, the agents of divine vengeance are told to repay her evil deeds in kind. Babylon will be judged according to what she has done. She has shed the blood of prophets and saints (v.24). The martyrs in ch.6 asked God “how long?” They need to wait no longer. God’s judgment has arrived. Notice that God’s judgment is not divine revenge out of anger, but divine retribution out of justice.
The Greek for “pay her back double” is “double unto her the double”. In idiomatic use, it can mean simply full payment. But here, it likely means that she is paid back a double portion, possibly including the interest payment.
18:7 Babylon is to receive misery in exact proportion to the self-glorification and luxurious lifestyle she has chosen. In her pride, she boasts of 3 things (a triplet): her wealth and power as a queen, her promiscuity as a lover of many nations (therefore not a widow), and her continuous victory on battlefields (therefore never mourn). More than mere arrogance, this is an unquestioning dependence in her own inexhaustible resources.
18:8 Yet the judgment of her boasting and evil deeds will come suddenly, just in one day, leaving her no time to prepare. Three plagues will chase after her and overtake her. These are death, mourning, and famine. There will be no more wealth and power. There will be no more victories. These judgments come from the mighty God. The ultimate judgment is Babylon’s consumption by fire, meaning complete destruction.
18:9 The second passage of this chapter includes vv.9-20. It is the continuation of the declaration from heaven. It describes 3 songs of lamentation sung by 3 groups (again a triplet) of people: the kings (vv.9-10) , the merchants (vv.11-17a), and the seamen (vv.17b-19). It is ended with a call for saints to rejoice because of the arrival of God’s final judgment. The passage contains similarities with Ezekiel’s lamentation over Tyre (Eze 27). The 3 groups of mourners are all referred to in Ezekiel’s passage; further, 15 of the 29 commodities listed here in vv.12-13 are found in Eze 27:12-22.
The first lament is that of the kings of the earth. These are not the 10 kings who destroy Babylon in 17:16 but the governing heads of all nations who have entered into immoral alliances and activities with Babylon and have shared her luxury, have lived sensually, and have abused power. Witnessing the fire burning down the great city, the kings weep (silently) and wail (loudly) from pain and sorrow because their own sinful pleasures have come to the end.
18:10 They are astounded that judgment could fall so suddenly (in one hour). Yet they do not rush to the rescue of their ally but only stand at a distance. Being terrified at Babylon’s torment, they don’t want to get close. The Greek word for “woe” is ouai, with a mournful sound.
In this first lamentation, the city is described as one of power after the call for “Woe! Woe!”. Babylon’s loss of power affects the kings who abuse power in their alliance with Babylon. In the second lamentation, Babylon is described as one with luxury. The end of luxury affects the merchants who provided the luxury items for Babylon. In the third lamentation, it is described as one with wealth. The loss of wealth affects the seamen or the traders who gain wealth by trading with Babylon.
18:11 The second lament is that of the merchants of the earth. They weep and wail because their commodities cannot be sold again in Babylon.
18:12 The 29 commodities fall into 6 groups, each with 4 to 6 items. The first 3 groups include:
 4 items of precious metals and gems: gold, silver, precious stones and pearls,
 4 items of fabrics for expensive clothing: fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth,
 6 items of ornamental pieces: every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble.
18:13 The last 3 groups include:
 5 items of aromatic substances: cinnamon and spice, incense, myrrh and frankincense,
 6 items of foodstuffs: wine and olive oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep,
 4 items of animals and people: horses and carriages; and bodies (meaning slaves) and souls of men (meaning human livestock, referring to the slaves destined for entertainment in the amphitheatre or for prostitution). The last “and” is sometimes translated “even” or “that is”.
The long list is to impress the reader with the tremendous flow of trade that enables the city to live in luxury.
18:14 The merchants, somewhat in irony, lament the fact that all the rich luxuries that Babylon longed for have vanished forever. The statement is a refrain from “no one buys any more” in v.11. Here, a reinforcing triplet describes the finality of Babylon’s fall: gone, vanished, never recovered. The riches probably refer to the intrinsic value of the items, particularly the exotic foods; and the splendour refer to the external appearance of the items, particularly the expensive clothing and decorative objects.
18:15 Like the kings of the earth, these merchants take their stand at a safe distance from the destruction. Being terrified at her torment, they don’t want to get close.
18:16 The city is chacterized by its past luxury in two triplets: dressed in fine linen, purple, scarlet; glittered in gold, precious stones, pearls.
18:17 While the kings see Babylon losing its power, the merchants see Babylon losing its luxury. In the next lamentation, the traders see Babylon losing its wealth. Each group sees her fall in terms of its own interests. This reveals how self-centred and opportunistic their concerns are.
The third lament is that of the seamen or traders who “earn their living from the sea.” The sea captains are the steersmen or pilots of ships, not the owners of the ships. The sailors are the rank-and-file seamen. “All who travel by ship” probably refer to the passengers which may include traders or owners of ships. They too stand at a safe distance.
18:18 They are amazed that a city as large as Babylon can be totally burnt and destroyed.
18:19 Throwing dust on their heads is an act of sorrow. They weep and wail for the destruction of Babylon’s wealth which bring also the loss of their own wealth.
18:20 After the angel describes the lamentation of the 3 groups, he calls the saints to rejoice over the judgment and destruction of the unrighteous city. God has imposed on Babylon the sentence she passed on you. It is a recapitulation of the declaration in v.6.
The call to rejoice is for the “heaven” or “you who dwell in the heavens”, in other words, the triumphant and glorified church is already in heaven.
18:21 The third passage of this chapter describes the actual fall of Babylon. The finality of the fall is reinforced by a double triplet of “never…again”.
A mighty angel appears. He is possibly the same gigantic angel in ch.5 with the great scroll and in ch.10 with the small scroll. He throws a large boulder (with the size of the stone inside a mill) into the sea with a violent action. It is used to demonstrate the sudden and spectacular judgment of God executing on Babylon, the representation of the antichristian world system.
 The city: The first of the double triplet is the overarching premise that Babylon the Great will be destroyed and will never appear again.
18:22 The next 5 descriptions are the consequence of the destruction of Babylon: there will be no more culture, no more economy, no more livelihood, no more activities, no more social relationships.
 Culture: The streets will never again be filled with music. Harps were used in social drinking occasions. Flutes were used at festivals. Trumpets were used for games and in theatres. These were all used in happy occasions but there is no more happiness.
 Economy: Workmen will never again be found. The entire economy has abruptly ceased. There is no more production.
 Livelihood: There will never again be the production of food. Without food, no one can stay alive; life is not possible. The absence of food production actively points to the impossibility of human life.
18:23  Activities: Lights will never again shine. Lights indicate human activities. The absence of lights passively points to the absence of human life.
 Society, community: There will never again be any weddings. Human relationships are totally disrupted. There are no more families, no more communities.
The chapter ends with a summary of why Babylon is judged and destroyed by God. There are 3 reasons (triplet):  The merchants of Babylon have become arrogant and claimed as “great men” of the world. The wealth they gained from providing the luxuries to the city has made them look down on other people, perhaps even God.
 Babylon deceived the nations by her magic spell. It is unlikely that this refers to the actual practice of magic but rather her art of deception bewitching the nations into a false sense of security and into worshipping the beast.
18:24  Most of all, Babylon shed the blood of Christian martyrs as well as all other innocent victims. This last phrase can be appropriately used to describe babies killed in millions of abortions every year.
With the world system destroyed, the antichrist becomes the supreme dictator in the world. His next and indeed last act will be to lead a large army to a final confrontation with God’s army at Armageddon.
† Many theologians believe that we are now near to the end time. They point to the apparent fulfilment of many signs of Jesus’ second coming described in the Bible. The similarity of today’s world to Babylon the Great is another such sign. In this chapter, the 3 groups of people correctly summarize the characteristics of Babylon: wealth, luxury, and power. Today, people of the world admire and worship those who accumulate large wealth. These people then use their wealth to obtain power and to spend in luxury. We need to ask ourselves: Have we lived in luxury? Have we put all our efforts in accumulating wealth? Have we abuse the power we possess? If we do, we must repent because these are the reasons why Babylon will reap God’s judgment.