Image above: The Great Fire of London, depicted by an unknown painter (1675), as it would have appeared from a boat in the vicinity of Tower Wharf on the evening of Tuesday, 4 September 1666; public domain image.
As we saw previously—
Chapter 18 contains lamentation by merchants of trade over the destruction which has already occurred in the seventh bowl of wrath.
Note that the four groups mourn in verses 9-19, but they mourn over their own personal loss and not over the city’s destruction.
Group 1: The Kings of the earth Rev. 18:9-10
Group 2: The merchants of the earth 18:11-15
Group 3: Roman merchants Rev. 18:16-17
Group 4: Those involved in the sea trade Rev. 18-19
If we want to see who’s sad over the fall of Babylon, follow the money!
I. Rulers of nations of the earth profit through trade with Babylon. vs. 9
vs. 9 And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning.
Psalm 2:1-3 pictures the rebellious attitude of the woman and the kings of the earth.
1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”
II. The swiftness of destruction shocks earth-dwellers. vs. 10
vs. 10 They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”
Jonn begins his sentence with an adverb (makrothen) “from far away or from a distance.” The rulers of the end time will stand at a distance and view the destruction of Antichrist’s empire. They enjoyed the luxury Babylon provided, but when she is destroyed, they will be helpless to come to her aid. The NIV takes “The Great City” as a vocative—”O Great City.” John uses the dative of time to show the point in time that the judgment occurred—in one hour’s time. In other words, what took centuries to build is destroyed by God in one hour.
Gustave Boulanger, “The Slave Market” (1882)
Public Domain Image from WikiPedia.
III. Fortunes built on the back of the slave trade (or human trafficking) is ill-gotten gain and will ultimately be destroyed. vss. 11-13
vs. 11-13 11 And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, 12 cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, 13 cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.
As John describes the merchandise, he obviously has Ezekiel 27 in mind and pens the lament in Rev. 18—
Ezek. 27:13 13 “Javan, Tubal, and Meshech traded with you; they exchanged human beings and vessels of bronze for your merchandise.”
Note that part of the trade involves “the bodies and souls of men.” “Bodies” is a Greek idiom for slaves (cf. LXX of Gen. 36:6), while the addition of “souls of men”means “slaves, that is, human beings.” See Johnson, A.F., p. 752, below.)
Illustration of a slave market in Constantinople (now Istanbul),
the capital of the Ottoman Empire. public domain image.
“Slavery was an ever-present feature of the Roman world. Slaves served in households, agriculture, mines, the military, manufacturing workshops, construction and a wide range of services within the city. As many as 1 in 3 of the population in Italy or 1 in 5 across the empire were slaves and upon this foundation of forced labor was built the entire edifice of the Roman state and society.” (see Cartwright, below.)
“The merchants in Revelation find it profitable to traffic in human beings (18:13), but John identifies the slave trade with commercial practices that fall under the judgment of God… . People found the prospect of wealth alluring, but by making the sale of human beings the climactic element in his list of trade goods, John underscores the seamy side of Roman-era commerce.” (See Koester, p. 767, below.)
Our world is no stranger to the slave trade, thought it might be called “human trafficking.”
The modern world is also full of the buying and selling of human beings. “Human trafficking is defined as forcing, fooling, or frightening someone into performing labor or sex for personal profit” (see Elkins, below).
It a common practice for bar codes to be tattooed on a sex worker’s or a commercial slave’s body signifying the person belongs to someone who is using him or her for business. This gives the impression that a person is a commodity just like any other personal property one has—chattel.
The services of women as massage workers is often advertised on Craigslist and Backpage. The ads “promises regularly rotating women” from one massage parlor to another. Police officers in North Carolina watched one “business” for over a month and frequently reported women being picked up or dropped off in cars with New York tags. (see Elkins below).
A secret and underground trade of human beings is similar to the USSR’s Gulag Archipelago. “The word Gulag is a Russian acronym for the Soviet government agency that supervised the vast network of labor camps. Solzhenitsyn used the word archipelago as a metaphor for the camps, which were scattered through the sea of civil society like a chain of islands extending” from sea to sea.” This is what happens with sex or commercial workers are moved often to keep anonymity of the forced laborers and the system itself off the radar of local police. (see Encyclopaedia Britannica, below).
“An estimated 24.9 million victims are trapped in modern-day slavery. Of these, 16 million (64%) were exploited for labor, 4.8 million (19%) were sexually exploited, and 4.1 million (17%) were exploited in state-imposed forced labor.”
Human trafficking earns profits of roughly $150 billion a year for traffickers, according to the ILO report from 2014. The following is a breakdown of profits, by sector:
$99 billion from commercial sexual exploitation
$34 billion in construction, manufacturing, mining and utilities
$9 billion in agriculture, including forestry and fishing
$8 billion dollars is saved annually by private households that employ domestic workers under conditions of forced labor (see Human Rights First, below).
Thomas Jefferson, who was a slave owner, said this about slavery—
“God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” (see, Jefferson Quotation, below.)
What bothers me, as one who has had a complete tour of all floors of Monticello, is that Jefferson did nothing to prevent his guests from preying on the slave women on the grounds. (See Twilight at Monticello: The Final Years of Thomas Jefferson. Random House. November 19, 2008. I commend the book to you, I read biographies about post-presidencies.)
vs. 14 “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!”
In this verse John uses the triple negative—no longer not never (ouketi ou me). In English, negatives cancel each other out. However, in Greek negatives pile up to strengthen each other.
vs. 15 The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud, 16 “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
These verses relay virtually the same information as Rev. 18:10.
vss. 17-19 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.” And all ship masters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off 18 and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” 19 And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste.
With this verse the last of the groups of mourners are introduced—the seafaring traders. This is John’s description of every despotic empire and Antichrist’s end time empire, as ultimate fulfillment. This is the third time that the time frame of the destruction is mentioned—one hour.
We as God’s people should take courage!
Image from Pinterest
Next time we will move to the ones rejoicing over the fall of Babylon.
(Commentaries on which I rely without direct quotation)
Beale, G. K. (2015). Revelation: a Shorter Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Kindle Edition.
Cartwright, M. (2013, November 01). Slavery in the Roman World. World History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/article/629/
Elkins, T. (2017). “Human trafficking: a problem close to home.” Accessed 27 March 2021 from http://campbelllawobserver.com/human-trafficking-a-problem-close-to-home/#prettyPhoto
Encyclopedia Britannica. (2021). “The Gulag Archipelago.” Accessed 27 March 2021 from https://www.britannica.com/topic/The-Gulag-Archipelago
ESV. (2001). Accessed 24 June 2020 from https://www.biblegateway.com
Hendriksen, William. More Than Conquerors: An Interpretation of the Book of Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. (p. 125).
Human Rights First. (2017). “Human Trafficking by the Numbers: Facts Sheet. Accessed 27 March 2021 from https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/sites/default/files/TraffickingbytheNumbers.pdf
Jefferson Quotation. Excerpted from multiple sources: “A Summary View of the Rights of British America,” “Notes on the State of Virginia,” “The Autobiography,” letter to George Wythe (1790), letter to George Washington (1786).
Johnson, A. F. (1982). Revelation in Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Gaebelein. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Johnson, D. E. (2001). Triumph of the Lamb: A Commentary on Revelation. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishers. Kindle Edition.
Kenner, C. (2000). The NIV Application Commentary: Revelation. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Academic.
Koester, C. (2008). “Roman Slave Trade and the Critique of Babylon in Revelation 18.” Accessed 22 March 2021 at https://digitalcommons.luthersem.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1015&context=faculty_articles
Morris, Leon. (1987). Revelation in Tyndale New Testament Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
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