Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
Analysis Of The Chapter
This chapter Rev. 18 may be regarded as a still further "explanatory episode" (compare analysis to chapter 17), designed to show the effect of pouring out the seventh vial Rev 16:17-21 on the formidable anti-Christian power so often referred to. The description in this chapter is that of a rich merchant-city reduced to desolation, and is but carrying out the general idea under a different form. The chapter comprises the following points:
(1) Another angel is seen descending from heaven, having great power, and making proclamation that Babylon the great is fallen, and is become utterly desolate, Rev 18:1-3.
(2) a warning voice is heard from heaven, calling on the people of God to come out of her, and to be partakers neither of her sins nor her plagues. Her torment and sorrow would be proportionate to her pride and luxury; and her plagues would come upon her suddenly; death, and mourning, and famine, and consumption by fire, Rev 18:4-8.
(3) lamentation over her fall - by those especially who had been connected with her; who had been corrupted by her; who had been profited by her, Rev 18:9-19;
(a) By kings, Rev 18:9-10. They had lived deliciously with her, and they would lament her.
(b) By merchants, Rev 18:11-17. They had trafficked with her, but now that traffic was to cease, and no man would buy of her. Their business, so far as she was concerned, was at an end. All that she had accumulated was now to be destroyed; all her gathered riches were to be consumed; all the traffic in those things by which she had been enriched was to be ended; and the city that was more than all others enriched by these things, as if clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls, was to be destroyed forever.
(c) By ship-masters and seamen, Rev 18:17-19. They had been made rich by this traffic, but now all was ended; the smoke of her burning is seen to ascend, and they stand afar off and weep.
(4) rejoicing over her fall, Rev 18:20. Heaven is called upon to rejoice, and the holy apostles and prophets, for their blood is avenged, and persecution ceases in the earth.
(5) the final destruction of the city, Rev 18:21-24. A mighty angel takes up a stone and casts it into the sea as an emblem of the destruction that is to come upon it. The voice of harpers, and musicians, and pipers would be heard no more in it; and no craftsmen would lye there, and the sound of the millstone would be heard no more, and the light of a candle would shine no more there, and the voice of the bridegroom and bride would be heard no more.
And after these things - After the vision referred to in the previous chapter.
I saw another angel come down from heaven - Different from the one that had last appeared, and therefore coming to make a new communication to him. It is not unusual in this book that different communications should be entrusted to different angels. Compare Rev 14:6, Rev 14:8-9, Rev 14:15, Rev 14:17-18.
Having great power - That is, he was one of the higher rank or order of angels.
And the earth was lightened with his glory - The usual representation respecting the heavenly beings. Compare Exo 24:16; Mat 17:2; Luk 2:9; Act 9:3. This would, of course, add greatly to the magnificence of the scene.
And he cried mightily - Literally, "he cried with a strong great voice." See Rev 10:3.
Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen - See the notes on Rev 14:8. The proclamation here is substantially the same as in that place, and no doubt the same thing is referred to.
And is become the habitation of devils - Of demons - in allusion to the common opinion that the demons inhabited abandoned cities, old ruins, and deserts. See the notes on Mat 12:43-45. The language here is taken from the description of Babylon in Isa 13:20-22; and for a full illustration of the meaning, see the notes on that passage.
And the hold of every foul spirit - φυλακὴ phulakē. A watch-post, station, haunt of such spirits - That is, they, as it were, kept guard there; were stationed there; haunted the place.
And a cage of every unclean and hateful bird - That is, they would resort there, and abide there as in a cage. The word translated "cage" is the same which is rendered "hold" - φυλακὴ phulakē. In Isa 13:21, it is said, "and owls shall dwell there"; and in Isa 14:23, it is said that it would be a "possession for the bittern." The idea is that of utter desolation; and the meaning here is, that spiritual Babylon - papal Rome Rev 14:8 - will be reduced to a state of utter desolation resembling that of the real Babylon. It is not necessary to suppose this of the city of Rome itself - for that is not the object of the representation. It is the papacy, represented under the image of the city, and having its seat there. That is to be destroyed as utterly as was Babylon of old; that will become as odious, and loathsome, and detestable as the literal Babylon, the abode of monsters is.
For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication - See the notes on Rev 14:8. This is given as a reason why this utter ruin had come upon her. She had beguiled and corrupted the nations of the earth, leading them into estrangement from God, and into pollution and sin. See the notes on Rev 9:20-21.
And the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her - Spiritual adultery; that is, she has been the means of seducing them from God and leading them into sinful practices.
And the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies - The word rendered "abundance" here, means commonly "power." It might here denote influence, though it may also mean number, quantity, wealth. Compare Rev 3:8, where the same word is used. The word rendered "delicacies" - στρῆνους strēnous - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It properly means rudeness, insolence, pride; and hence "revel, riot, luxury." It may be rendered here properly as "luxury," or "proud voluptuousness"; and the reference is to such luxuries as are found commonly in a great, a frivolous, and a splendid city. These, of course, give rise to much traffic, and furnish employment to many merchants and sailors, who thus procure a livelihood, or become wealthy as the result of such traffic. Babylon - or papal Rome - is here represented under the image of such a luxurious city; and of course, when she falls, they who have thus been dependent on her, and who have been enriched by her, have occasion for mourning and lamentation. It is not necessary to expect to find a literal fulfillment of this, for it is emblematic and symbolical. The image of a great, rich, splendid, proud and luxurious city having been employed to denote that anti-Christian power, all that is said in this chapter follows, of course, on its fall. The general idea is, that she was doomed to utter desolation, and that all who were connected with her, far and near, would be involved in her ruin.
And I heard another voice from heaven - He does not say whether this was the voice of an angel, but the idea seems rather to be that it is the voice of God.
Come out of her, my people - The reasons for this, as immediately stated, are two:
(a) that they might not participate in her sins; and,
(b) that they might not be involved in the ruin that would come upon her.
The language seems to be derived from such passages in the Old Testament as the following: "Go ye forth of Babylon, flee ye from the Chaldeans, with a voice of singing," Isa 48:20. "Flee out of the midst of Babylon, and deliver every man his soul; be not cut off in her iniquity," Jer 51:6. "My people, go ye out of the midst of her, and deliver ye every man his soul from the fierce anger of the Lord," Jer 51:45. Compare Jer 50:8.
That ye be not partakers of her sins - For the meaning of this expression, see the notes on Ti1 5:22. It is implied here that by remaining in Babylon they would lend their sanction to its sins by their presence, and would, in all probability, become contaminated by the influence around them. This is an universal truth in regard to iniquity, and hence it is the duty of those who would be pure to come out from the world, and to separate themselves from all the associations of evil.
And that ye receive not of her plagues - Of the punishment that was to come upon her - as they must certainly do if they remained in her. The judgment of God that was to come upon the guilty city would make no discrimination among those who were found there; and if they would escape these woes they must make their escape from her. As applicable to papal Rome, in view of her impending ruin, this means:
(a) that there might be found in her some who were the true people of God;
(b) that it was their duty to separate wholly from her - a command that will not only justify the Reformation, but which would have made a longer continuance in communion with the papacy, when her wickedness was fully seen, an act of guilt before God;
(c) that they who remain in such a communion cannot but be regarded as partaking of her sin; and,
(d) that if they remain, they must expect to be involved in the calamities that will come upon her. There never was any duty plainer than that of withdrawing from papal Rome; there never has been any act attended with more happy consequences than that by which the Protestant world separated itself forever from the sins and the plagues of the papacy.
For her sins have reached unto heaven - So in Jer 51:9, speaking of Babylon, it is said, "For her judgment reacheth unto heaven, and is lifted up even to the skies." The meaning is not that the sins of this mystical Babylon were like a mass or pile so high as to reach to heaven, but that it had become so prominent as to attract the attention of God. Compare Gen 4:10, "The voice of thy brother's blood crieth unto me from the ground." See also Gen 18:20.
And God hath remembered her iniquities - He had seemed to forget them, or not to notice them, but now he acted as if they had come to his recollection. See the notes on Rev 16:19.
Reward her even as she rewarded you - It is not said to whom this command is addressed, but it would seem to be to those who had been persecuted and wronged. Applied to mystical Babylon - papal Rome - it would seem to be a call on the nations that had been so long under her sway, and among whom, from time to time, so much blood had been shed by her, to arise now in their might, and to inflict deserved vengeance. See the notes on Rev 17:16-17.
And double unto her double according to her works - That is, bring upon her double the amount of calamity which she has brought upon others; take ample vengeance upon her. Compare for similar language, Isa 40:2, "She hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins." "For your shame ye shall have double," Isa 61:7.
In the cup which she hath filled - To bring wrath on others. See the notes at Rev 14:8.
Fill to her double - Let her drink abundantly of the wine of the wrath of God - double what she has dealt out to others. That is, either let the quantity administered to her be doubled, or let the ingredients in the cup be doubled in intensity.
How much she hath glorified herself - Been proud, boastful, arrogant. This was true of ancient Babylon, that she was proud and haughty; and it has been no less true of mystical Babylon - papal Rome.
And lived deliciously - By as much as she has lived in luxury and dissoluteness, so let her suffer now. The word used here and rendered "lived deliciously" - ἐστρηνίασεν estrēniasen - is derived from the noun - στρῆνος strēnos - which is used in Rev 18:3, and rendered "delicacies." See the notes on that verse. It means properly, "to live strenuously, rudely," as in English, "to live hard"; and then to revel, to live in luxury, riot, dissoluteness. No one can doubt the propriety of this as descriptive of ancient Babylon, and as little can its propriety be doubted as applied to papal Rome.
So much torment and sorrow give her - Let her punishment correspond with her sins. This is expressing substantially the same idea which occurs in the previous verse.
For she saith in her heart - This is the estimate which she forms of herself.
I sit a queen - Indicative of pride, and of an asserted claim to rule.
And am no widow - Am not in the condition of a widow - a state of depression, sorrow, and mourning. All this indicates security and self-confidence, a description in every way applicable to papal Rome.
And shall see no sorrow - This is indicative of a state where there was nothing feared, notwithstanding all the indications which existed of approaching calamity. In this state we may expect to find papal Rome, even when its last judgments are about to come upon it; in this state it has usually been; in this state it is now, notwithstanding all the indications that are abroad in the world that its power is waning, and that the period of its fall approaches.
Therefore - In consequence of her pride, arrogance, and luxury, and of the calamities that she has brought upon others.
Shall her plagues come in one day - They shall come in a time when she is living in ease and security; and they shall come at the same time - so that all these terrible judgments shall seem to be poured upon her at once.
Death - This expression, and those which follow, are designed to denote the same thing under different images. The general meaning is, that there would be utter and final destruction. It would be as if death should come and cut off the inhabitants.
And mourning - As there would be where many were cut off by death.
And famine - As if famine raged within the walls of a besieged city, or spread over a land,
And she shall be utterly burned with fire - As completely destroyed as if she were entirely burned up. The certain and complete destruction of that formidable anti-Christian power is predicted under a great variety of emphatic images. See Rev 14:10-11; Rev 16:17-21; Rev 17:9, Rev 17:16. Perhaps in this so frequent reference to a final destruction of that formidable anti-Christian power by fire, there may be more intended than merely a figurative representation of its final ruin. There is some degree of probability, at least, that Rome itself will be literally destroyed in this manner, and that it is in this way that God intends to put an end to the papal power, by destroying what has been so long the seat and the center of this authority. The extended prevalence of this belief, and the grounds for it, may be seen from the following remarks:
(1) It was an early opinion among the Jewish rabbies that Rome would be thus destroyed. Vitringa, on the Apocalypse, cites some opinions of this kind; the Jewish expectation being founded, as he says, on the passage in Isa 34:9, as Edom was supposed to mean Rome. "This chapter," says Kimchi, "points out the future destruction of Rome, here called Bozra, for Bozra was a great city of the Edomites." This is, indeed, worthless as a proof or an interpretation of Scripture, for it is a wholly unfounded interpretation; it is of value only as showing that somehow the Jews entertained this opinion.
(2) the same expectation was entertained among the early Christians. Thus Mr. Gibbon (vol. i. p. 263, ch. xv.), referring to the expectations of the glorious reign of the Messiah on the earth (compare the notes on Rev 14:8), says, speaking of Rome as the mystic Babylon, and of its anticipated destruction: "A regular series was prepared (in the minds of Christians) of all the moral and physical evils which can afflict a flourishing nation; intestine discord, and the invasion of the fiercest barbarians from the unknown regions of the north; pestilence and famine, comets and eclipses, earthquakes and inundations. All these were only so many preparatory and alarming signs of the great catastrophe of Rome, when the country of the Scipios and Caesars should be consumed by a flame from heaven, and the city of the seven hills, with her palaces, her temples, and her triumphal arches, should be buried in a vast lake of fire and brimstone." So even Gregory the Great, one of the most illustrious of the Roman pontiffs, himself says, acknowledging his belief in the truth of the tradition: Roma a Gentilibus non exterminabitur; sed tempestatibus, coruscis turbinibus, ac terrae motu, in se marcescet (Dial. Isa 2:15).
(3) whatever may be thought of these opinions and expectations, there is "some" foundation for the opinion in the nature of the case:
(a) The region is adapted to this. "It is not Aetna, the Lipari volcanic islands, Vesuvius, that alone offer visible indications of the physical adaptedness of Italy for such a catastrophe. The great Apennine mountain-chain is mainly volcanic in its character, and the country of Rome more especially is as strikingly so almost as that of Sodom itself." Thus the mineralogist Ferber, in his "Tour in Italy," says: "The road from Rome to Ostia is all volcanic ashes until within two miles of Ostia." "From Rome to Tivoli I went on fields and hills of volcanic ashes or tufa." "A volcanic hill in an amphitheatrical form includes a part of the plain over Albano, and a flat country of volcanic ashes and hills to Rome. The ground about Rome is generally of that nature," pp. 189, 191, 200, 234.
(b) Mr. Gibbon, with his usual accuracy, as if commenting on the Apocalypse, has referred to the physical adaptedness of the soil of Rome for such an overthrow. Speaking of the anticipation of the end of the world among the early Christians, he says: "In the opinion of a general conflagration, the faith of the Christian very happily coincided with the tradition of the East, the philosophy of the Stoics, and the analogy of nature; 'and even the country, which, from religious motives, had been chosen for the origin and principal scene of the conflagration, was the best adapted for that purpose by natural and physical causes;' by its deep caverns, beds of sulphur, and numerous volcanoes, of which those of Aetna, of Vesuvius, and of Lipari, exhibit a very imperfect representation," vol. i. p. 263, ch. xv. As to the general state of Italy, in reference to volcanoes, the reader may consult, with advantage, Lyell's Geology, book ii. ch. 9-12. See also Murray's Encyclopaedia of Geography, book ii. ch. 2. Of the country around Rome it is said in that work, among other things: "The country around Rome, and also the hills on which it is built, is composed of tertiary marls, clays, and sandstones, and intermixed with a preponderating quantity of granular and lithoidal volcanic tufas. The many lakes around Rome are formed by craters of ancient volcanoes." "On the road to Rome is the Lake of Vico, formerly the Lacus Cimini, which has all the appearance of a crater."
The following extract from a recent traveler will still further confirm this representation: "I behold everywhere - in Rome, near Rome, and through the whole region from Rome to Naples - most astounding proof, not merely of the possibility, but the probability, that the whole region of central Italy will one day be destroyed by such a catastrophe (by earthquakes or volcanoes). The soil of Rome is tufa, with a volcanic subterranean action going on. At Naples the boiling sulphur is to be seen bubbling near the surface of the earth. When I drew a stick along the ground, the sulphurous smoke followed the indentation; and it would never surprise me to hear of the utter destruction of the southern peninsula of Italy. The entire country and district is volcanic. It is saturated with beds of sulphur and the substrata of destruction. It seems as certainly prepared for the flames, as the wood and coal on the hearth are prepared for the taper which shall kindle the fire to consume them. The divine hand alone seems to me to hold the element of fire in check by a miracle as great as what protected the cities of the plain, until the righteous Lot had made his escape to the mountains" (Townsend's Tour in Italy in 1850).
For strong is the Lord God who judgeth her - That is, God has ample power to bring all these calamities upon her.
And the kings of the earth - This verse commences the description of the lamentation over the fall of the mystical Babylon (see the Analysis of the chapter).
Who have committed fornication - That is, who have been seduced by her from the true God, and have been led into practical idolatry. See the notes on Rev 14:8. The kings of the earth seem to be represented as among the chief mourners, because they had derived important aid from the power which was now to be reduced to ruin. As a matter of fact, the kings of Europe have owed much of their influence and power to the support which has been derived from the papacy, and when that power shall fall, there will fall much that has contributed to sustain oppressive and arbitrary governments, and that has prevented the extension of popular liberty. In fact, Europe might have been long since free, if it had not been for the support which despotic governments have derived from the papacy.
And lived deliciously with her - In the same kind of luxury and dissoluteness of manners. See Rev 18:3, Rev 18:7. The courts of Europe, under the papacy, have had the same general character for dissoluteness and licentiousness as Rome itself. The same views of religion produce the same effects everywhere.
Shall bewail her, and lament for her - Because their ally is destroyed, and the source of their power is taken away. The fall of the papacy will be the signal for a general overturning of the thrones of Europe.
When they shall see the smoke of her burning - When they shall see her on fire, and her smoke ascending toward heaven. See the notes on Rev 14:11.
Standing afar off for the fear of her torment - Not daring to approach, to attempt to rescue and save her. They who had so long contributed to the support of the papal power, and who had, in turn, been upheld by that, would not now even attempt to rescue her, but would stand by and see her destroyed, unable to render relief.
Alas, alas, that great city Babylon - The language of lamentation that so great and so mighty a city should fall.
For in one hour is thy judgment come - See the notes on Rev 18:8. The general sentiment here is, that, in the final ruin of papal Rome, the kings and governments that had sustained her, and had been sustained by her, would see the source of their power taken away, but that they would not, or could not attempt her rescue. There have been not a few indications already that this will ultimately occur, and that the papal power will be left to fall, without any attempt, on the part of those governments which have been so long in alliance with it, to sustain or restore it.
And the merchants of the earth - Who have been accustomed to traffic with her, and who have been enriched by the traffic. The image is that of a rich and splendid city. Of course, such a city depends much on its merchandise; and when it declines and falls, many who had been accustomed to deal with it, as merchants or traffickers, are affected by it, and have occasion to lament its fall.
Shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise anymore - The merchandise which they were accustomed to take to the city, and by the sale of which they lived. The enumeration of the articles of merchandise which follows, seems to have been inserted for the purpose of filling out the representation of what is usually found in such a city, and to show the desolation which would occur when this traffic was suspended.
The merchandise of gold, and silver - Of course, these constitute an important article of commerce in a great city.
And precious stones - Diamonds, emeralds, rubies, etc. These have always been important articles of traffic in the world, and, of course, most of the traffic in them would find its way to great commercial cities.
And pearls - See the notes on Mat 7:6; Mat 13:46. These, too, have been always, and were, particularly in early times, valuable articles of commerce. Mr. Gibbon mentions them as among the articles that contributed to the luxury of Rome in the age of the Antonines: "precious stones, among which the pearl claimed the first rank after the diamond," vol. i. p. 34.
And fine linen - This was also a valuable article of commerce. It was obtained chiefly from Egypt. See the notes on Isa 19:9. Linen, among the ancients, was an article of luxury, for it was worn chiefly by the rich, Exo 28:42; Lev 6:10; Luk 16:19. The original word here is βύσσος bussos, "byssus," and it is found in the New Testament only in this place, and in Luk 16:19. It was a "species of fine cotton, highly prized by the ancients." Various kinds are mentioned - as that of Egypt, the cloth which is still found wrapped around mummies; that of Syria, and that of India, which grew on a tree similar to the poplar; and that of Achaia, which grew in the vicinity of Elis. See Robinson, Lexicon.
And purple - See the notes on Luk 16:19. Cloth of this color was a valuable article of commerce, as it was worn by rich men and princes.
And silk - Silk was a very valuable article of commerce, as it was costly, and could be worn only by the rich. It is mentioned by Mr. Gibbon as such an article in Rome in the age of the Antonines: "Silk, a pound of which was esteemed not inferior in value to a pound of gold," vol. i. p. 34. On the cultivation and manufacture of silk by the ancients, see the work entitled, "The History of Silk, Cotton, Linen, and Wool, etc.," published by Harper Brothers, New York, 1845, pp. 1-21.
And scarlet - See the notes on Rev 17:3.
And all thyine wood - The word used here - θύΐνον thuinon - occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. It denotes an evergreen African tree, from which statues and costly vessels were made. It is not agreed, however, whether it was a species of cedar, savin, or lignum-vitae, which latter constitutes the modern genus Thuja, or Thyia. See Rees' Cyclo., art. "Thuja."
And all manner vessels of ivory - Everything that is made of ivory. Ivory, or the tusk of the elephant, has always been among the precious articles of commerce.
And all manner vessels of most precious wood - Furniture of costly wood - cedar, the citron tree, lignum-vitae, etc.
And of brass, and iron, and marble - Brass or copper would, of course, be a valuable article of commerce. The same would be the case with iron; and so marble, for building, for statuary, etc., would likewise be.
And cinnamon - Cinnamon is the aromatic bark of the Laurus Cinnamomam, which grows in Arabia, India, and especially in the island of Ceylon. It was formerly, as it is now, a valuable article in the Oriental trade.
And odours - Aromatics employed in religious worship, and for making perfumes. Mr. Gibbon (vol. i. p. 34) mentions, among the articles of commerce and luxury, in the age of the Antonines, "a variety of aromatics that were consumed in religious worship and the pomp of funerals." It is unnecessary to say that the use of such odors has been always common at Rome.
And ointments - Unguents - as spikenard, etc. These were in common use among the ancients. See the Mat 14:7 note; Mar 14:3 note.
And frankincense - See the notes on Mat 2:11. It is unnecessary to say that incense has been always much used in public worship in Rome, and that it has been, therefore, a valuable article of commerce there.
And wine - An article of commerce and luxury in all ages.
And oil - That is, olive oil. This, in ancient times, and in Oriental countries particularly, was an important article of commerce.
And fine flour - The word here means the best and finest kind of flour.
And beasts, and sheep, and horses - Also important articles of merchandise.
And chariots - The word used here - ῥεδῶν redōn - means, properly a carriage with four wheels, or a carriage drawn by mules (Prof. Stuart). It was properly a traveling carriage. The word is of Gallic origin (Quinctil. 1:9; Cic. Mil. 10; Att. v. 17; 6:1. See Adam's Rom. Ant. p. 525). It was an article of luxury.
And slaves - The Greek here is σωμάτων sōmatōn - "of bodies." Prof. Stuart renders it "grooms," and supposes that it refers to a particular kind of slaves who were employed in taking care of horses and carriages. The word properly denotes body - an animal body - whether of the human body, living or dead, or the body of a beast; and then the external man - the person, the individual. In later usage, it comes to denote a slave (see Robinson, Lexicon), and in this sense it is used here. The traffic in slaves was common in ancient times, as it is now. We know that this traffic was carried on to a large extent in ancient Rome, the city which John probably had in his eye in this description. See Gibbon, Dec. and Fall, vol. 1, pp. 25, 26. Athenaeus, as quoted by Mr. Gibbon (p. 26), says that "he knew very many Romans who possessed, not for use, but for ostentation, ten, and even twenty thousand slaves." It should be said here, however, that although this refers evidently to traffic in slaves, it is not necessary to suppose that it would be literally characteristic of papal Rome. All this is symbolical, designed to exhibit the papacy under the image of a great city, with what was customary in such a city, or with what most naturally presented itself to the imagination of John as found in such a city; and it is no more necessary to suppose that the papacy would be engaged in the traffic of slaves, than in the traffic of cinnamon, or fine flour, or sheep and horses.
And souls of men - The word used and rendered "souls" - ψυχὰς psuchas - though commonly denoting the "soul" (properly the "breath" or "vital principle"), is also employed to denote the living thing - the animal - in which the soul or vital principle resides; and hence may denote a person or a man. Under this form it is used to denote a "servant" or "slave." See Robinson, Lexicon. Prof. Robinson supposes that the word here means "female slaves," in distinction from those designated by the previous word. Prof. Stuart (in loco) supposes that the previous word denotes a particular kind of slaves - those who had the care of horses - and that the word here is used in a generic sense, denoting slaves in general. This kind of traffic in the "persons" or souls of people is mentioned as characterizing ancient Tyre, in Eze 27:13; "Javan, Tubal, and Meshech, they were thy merchants; they traded in the persons of men." It is not quite clear why, in the passage before us, this traffic is mentioned in two forms, as that of the bodies and the souls of people but it would seem most probable that the writer meant to designate all that would properly come under this traffic, whether male or female slaves were bought and sold; whether they were for servitude, or for the gladiatorial sports (see Wetstein, in loco); whatever might be the kind of servitude that they might be employed in, and whatever might be their condition in life. The use of the two words would include all that is implied in the traffic, for, in most important senses, it extends to the body and the soul. In slavery both are purchased; both are supposed, so far as he can avail himself of them, to become the property of the master.
And the fruits that thy soul lusted after - Literally, "the fruits of the desire of thy soul." The word rendered "fruits" - ὀπώρα opōra - properly means, "late summer; dog-days," the time when Sirius, or the Dog-star, is predominant. In the East this is the season when the fruits ripen, and hence the word comes to denote fruit. The reference is to any kind of fruit that would be brought for traffic into a great city, and that would be regarded as an article of luxury.
Are departed from thee - That is, they are no more brought for sale into the city.
And all things which were dainty and goodly - These words "characterize all kinds of furniture and clothing which were gilt, or plated, or embroidered, and therefore were bright or splendid" (Prof. Stuart).
And thou shalt find them no more at all - The address here is decidedly to the city itself. The meaning is, that they would no more be found there.
The merchants of these things - Who trafficked in these things, and who supplied the city with them, Rev 18:11.
Which were made rich by her - By traffic with her.
Shall stand afar off - Rev 18:10.
For fear of her torment - Struck with terror by her torment, so that they did not dare to approach her, Rev 18:10.
And saying, Alas, alas ... - notes on Rev 18:10.
That was clothed in fine linen - In the previous description Rev 18:12-13, these are mentioned as articles of traffic; here the city, under the image of a female, is represented as clothed in the most rich and frivolous of these articles.
And purple, and scarlet - See the notes on Rev 17:3-4. Compare Rev 18:12 of this chapter.
And decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls - notes on Rev 17:4.
For in one hour - In a very brief period - so short, that it seemed to them to be but one hour. In the prediction Rev 18:8, it is said that it would be "in one day" (see the notes on that place); here it is said that, to the on-lookers, it seemed to be but an hour. There is no inconsistency, therefore, between the two statements.
So great riches is come to nought - All the accumulated wealth of so great and rich a city. This should have been united with Rev 18:16, as it is a part of the lamentation of the merchants, and as the lamentation of the mariners commences in the other part of the verse. It is so divided in the Greek Testaments.
And every ship-master - This introduces the lamentation of the mariners, who would, of course, be deeply interested in the destruction of a city with which they had been accustomed to trade, and by carrying merchandise to which they had been enriched. The word "ship-master" - κυβερνήτης kubernētēs - means, properly, a "governor"; then a governor of a ship - the "steersman" or "pilot," Act 27:11.
And all the company in ships - Prof. Stuart renders this "coasters." There is here, however, an important difference in the reading of the text. The commonly received text is, πᾶς ἐπὶ τῶν πλοίων ὁ ὅμιλος pas epi tōn ploiōn ho homilos - "the whole company in ships," as in our common version; the reading which is now commonly adopted, and which is found in Griesbach, Hahn, and Tittmann, is ὁ ἐπὶ τόπον πλέων ho epi topon pleōn - "he who sails to a place"; that is, he who sails from one place to another along the coast, or who does not venture out far to sea; and thus the phrase would denote a secondary class of sea-captains or officers - those less venturesome, or experienced, or bold than others. There can be little doubt that this is the correct reading (compare Wetatein, in loco); and hence the class of seamen here referred to is "coasters." Such seamen would naturally be employed where there was a great and luxurious maritime city, and would have a deep interest in its fall.
And sailors - Common seamen.
And as many as trade by sea - In any kind of craft, whether employed in a near or a remote trade.
Stood afar off - notes on Rev 18:10.
And cried ... - That is, as they had a deep interest in it, they would, on their own account, as well as hers, lift up the voice of lamentation.What city is like unto this great city? - In her destruction. What calamity has ever come upon a city like this?
And they cast dust on their heads - A common sign of lamentation and mourning among the Orientals. See the notes on Job 2:12.
By reason of her costliness - The word rendered "costliness" - τιμιότητος timiotētos - means, properly, "preciousness, costliness"; their magnificence, costly merchandise. The luxury of a great city enriches many individuals, however much it may impoverish itself.
For in one hour is she made desolate - So it seemed to them. See the notes on Rev 18:17.
Rejoice over her - Over her ruin. There is a strong contrast between this language and what precedes. Kings, merchants, and seamen, who had been countenanced and sustained by her in the indulgence of corrupt passions, or who had been enriched by traffic with her, would have occasion to mourn. But not so they who had been persecuted by her. Not so the church of the redeemed. Not so heaven itself. The great oppressor of the church, and the corrupter of the world, was now destroyed; the grand hindrance to the spread of the gospel was now removed, and all the holy in heaven and on earth would have occasion to rejoice. This is not the language of vengeance, but it is the language of exultation and rejoicing in view of the fact, that the cause of truth might now spread, without hindrance, through the earth.
Thou heaven - The inhabitants of heaven. Compare the notes on Isa 1:2. The meaning here is, that the dwellers in heaven - the holy angels and the redeemed - had occasion to rejoice over the downfall of the great enemy of the church.
And ye holy apostles - Prof. Stuart renders this, "Ye saints, and apostles, and prophets." In the common Greek text, it is, as in our version, "holy apostles and prophets." In the text of Griesbach, Hahn, and Tittmann, the word καὶ kai (and) is interposed between the word "holy" and "apostle." This is, doubtless, the true reading. The meaning, then, is that the "saints" in heaven are called on to rejoice over the fall of the mystical Babylon.
Apostles - The twelve who were chosen by the Saviour to be his witnesses on earth. See the notes on Co1 9:1. The word is commonly limited to the twelve, but, in a larger sense, it is applied to other distinguished teachers and preachers of the gospel. See the notes on Act 14:14. There is no impropriety, however, in supposing that the apostles are referred to here as such, since they would have occasion to rejoice that the great obstacle to the reign of the Redeemer was now taken away, and that that cause in which they had suffered and died was now to he triumphant.
And prophets - Prophets of the Old Testament and distinguished teachers of the New. See the notes on Rom 12:6. All these would have occasion to rejoice in the prospect of the final triumph of the true religion.
For God hath avenged you on her - Has taken vengeance on her for her treatment of you. That is, as she had persecuted the church as such, they all might be regarded as interested in it and affected by it. All the redeemed, therefore, in earth and in heaven, are interested in whatever tends to retard or to promote the cause of truth. All have occasion to mourn when the enemies of the truth triumph; to rejoice when they fall.
And a mighty angel - See the notes on Rev 18:1. This seems, however, to have been a different angel from the one mentioned in Rev 18:1, though, like that, he is described as having great power.
Took up a stone like a great millstone - On the structure of mills among the ancients see the notes on Mat 24:41.
And cast it into the sea - As an emblem of the utter ruin of the city; an indication that the city would be as completely destroyed as that stone was covered by the waters.
Saying, Thus with violence - With force, as the stone was thrown into the sea. The idea is, that it would not be by a gentle and natural decline, but by the application of foreign power. This accords with all the representations in this book, that violence will be employed to overthrow the papal power. See Rev 17:16-17. The origin of this image is probably Jer 51:63-64; "And it shall be, when thou hast made an end of reading this book, that thou shalt bind a stone to it, and cast it into the midst of Euphrates; and thou shalt say, Thus shall Babylon sink, and shall not rise from the evil that I will bring on her."
And the voice of harpers - Those who play on the harp. This was usually accompanied with singing. The idea, in this verse and the following, is substantially the same as in the previous parts of the chapter, that the mystical Babylon - papal Rome - would be brought to utter desolation. This thought is here exhibited under another form - that all which constituted festivity, joy, and amusement, and all that indicated thrift and prosperity, would disappear. Of course, in a great and "fun" city, there would be all kinds of music; and when it is said that this would be heard there no more it is a most striking image of utter desolation.
And musicians - Musicians in general; but perhaps here singers, as distinguished from those who played on instruments.
And of pipers - Those who played on pipes or flutes. See the Co1 14:7 note; Mat 11:17 note.
And trumpeters - Trumpets were common instruments of music, employed on festival occasions, in war, and in worship. Only the principal instruments of music are mentioned here, as representatives of the rest. The general idea is, that the sound of music, as an indication of festivity and joy, would cease.
Shall be heard no more at all in thee - It would become utterly and permanently desolate.
And no craftsman, of whatsoever craft - That is, artificers of all kinds would cease to ply their trades there. The word used here - τεχνίτης technitēs - would include all artisans or mechanics, all who were engaged in any kind of trade or craft. The meaning here is, that all these would disappear, an image, of course, of utter decay.
And the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more - Taylor (Frag. to Calmet, Dictionary vol. iv. p. 346) supposes that this may refer not so much to the rattle of the mill as to the voice of singing, which usually accompanied grinding. The sound of a mill is cheerful, and indicates prosperity; its ceasing is an image of decline.
And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee - Another image of desolation, as if every light were put out, and there were total darkness.
And the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee - The merry and cheerful voice of the marriage procession in the streets (notes on Mat 25:1-7), or the cheerful, glad voice of the newly-married couple in their own dwelling (notes on Joh 3:29).
For thy merchants were the great men of the earth - Those who dealt with thee were the rich, and among them were even nobles and princes; and now that they trade with thee no more there is occasion for lamentation and sorrow. The contrast is great between the time when distinguished foreigners crowded thy marts, and now, when none of any kind come to traffic with thee. The origin of this representation is probably the description of Tyre in Ezek. 27.
For by thy sorceries were all nations deceived - This is stated as a reason for the ruin that had come upon her. It is a common representation of papal Rome that she has deceived or deluded the nations of the earth (see the notes on Rev 13:14), and no representation ever made accords more with facts as they have occurred. The word "sorceries" here refers to the various arts the tricks impostures, and false pretences by which this has been done. See the notes on Rev 9:21.
And in her - When she came to be destroyed, and her real character was seen.
Was found the blood of prophets - Of the public teachers of the true religion. On the word "prophets" see the notes on Rev 18:20.
And of saints - Of the holy. See the notes on Rev 18:20.
And of all that were slain upon the earth - So numerous have been the slain, so constant and bloody have been the persecutions there, that it may be said that all the blood ever shed has been poured out there. Compare the notes on Mat 23:35. No one can doubt the propriety of this representation with respect to pagan and papal Rome.
In regard to the general meaning and application of this chapter the following remarks may be made:
(1) It refers to papal Rome, and is designed to describe the final overthrow of that formidable anti-Christian power. The whole course of the interpretation of the previous chapters demands such an application, and the chapter itself naturally suggests it.
(2) if it be asked why so much of this imagery is derived from the condition of a maritime power, or pertains to commerce, since both Babylon and Rome were at some distance from the sea, and neither could with propriety be regarded as seaport towns, it may be replied:
(a) that the main idea in the mind of John was that of a rich and magnificent city;
(b) that all the things enumerated were doubtless found, in fact, in both Babylon and Rome;
(c) that though not properly seaport towns, they were situated on rivers that opened into seas, and were therefore not unfavorably situated for commerce; and,
(d) that, in fact, they traded with all parts of the earth.
The leading idea is that of a great and luxurious city, and this is filled up and decorated with images of what is commonly found in large commercial towns. We are not, therefore, to look for a literal application of this, and it is not necessary to attempt to find all these things, in fact, in the city referred to. Much of the description may be for the mere sake of keeping, or ornament.
(3) if this refers to Rome, as is supposed, then, in accordance with the previous representations, it shows that the destruction of the papal power is to be complete and final. The image which John had in his eye as illustrating that was undoubtedly ancient Babylon as prophetically described in Isa. 13-14, and the destruction of the power here referred to is to be as complete as was the destruction described there. It would not be absolutely necessary in the fulfillment of this to suppose that Rome itself is to become a heap of ruins like Babylon, whatever may be true on that point, but that the papal power, as such, is to be so utterly destroyed that the ruins of desolate Babylon would properly represent it.
(4) if this interpretation is correct, then the Reformation was in entire accordance with what God would have his people do, and was demanded by solemn duty to him. Thus, in Rev 18:4, his people are expressly commanded to "come out of her, that they might not be partakers of her sins, nor of her plagues." If it had been the design of the Reformers to perform a work that should be in all respects a fulfilling of the command of God, they could have done nothing that would have more literally met the divine requirement. Indeed, the church has never performed a duty more manifestly in accordance with the divine will, and more indispensable for its own purity, prosperity, and safety, than the act of separating entirely and forever from papal Rome.
(5) the Reformation was a great movement in human affairs. It was the index of great progress already reached, and the pledge of still greater. The affairs of the world were at that period placed on a new footing, and from the period of the Reformation, and just in proportion as the principles of the Reformation are acted on, the destiny of mankind is onward.
(6) the fall of papal Rome, as described in this chapter, will remove one of the last obstructions to the final triumph of the gospel. In the notes on Rev 16:10-16, we saw that one great hindrance to the spread of the true religion would be taken away by the decline and fall of the Turkish power. A still more formidable hindrance will be taken away by the decline and fall of the papal power; for that power holds more million of the race under its subjection, and with a more consummate art, and a more powerful spell. The papal influence has been felt, and still is felt, in a considerable part of the world. It has churches, and schools, and colleges, in almost all lands. It exercises a vast influence over governments. It has powerful societies organized for the purpose of propagating its opinions; and it so panders to some of the most powerful passions of our nature, and so converts to its own purposes all the resources of superstition, as still to retain a mighty, though a waning hold on the human mind. When this power shall finally cease, anyone can see that perhaps the most mighty obstruction which has ever been on the earth for a thousand years to the spread of the gospel will have been removed, and the way will be prepared for the introduction of the long-hoped-for millennium.