Revelation 18
Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary - Alford
And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.
Ch. 18:1-19:10.] The destruction of Babylon. And herein, 18:1-3.] Announcement of the destruction. The Seer does not see the act of destruction: it is prophesied to him in ch. 17, and now announced, as indeed it had been by anticipation before, ch. 14:8, as having taken place. After these things I saw another angel (another besides the one who shewed him the vision in the last chapter: or, perhaps, as it is natural to join the ἄλλον in some measure with the participle following,—another besides the last who came down from heaven, ch. 10:1) coming down out of heaven (the Seer is still on the earth) having great power (possibly, as Elliott suggests, as the executor of the judgment that he announced. If so, the announcement is still anticipatory, see ver. 21), and the earth was lighted up by his glory (ἐκ, as the source of the brightness): and he cried with (or, in) a mighty voice saying, Babylon the great is fallen [is fallen], and is become an habitation of dæmons (see especially LXX, Isaiah 34:14 ff.), and a hold (a place of detention: as it were an appointed prison) of every unclean spirit, and a hold of every unclean and hated bird (see the prophecy respecting Babylon, Jeremiah 50:39): because by (out of, as source: or, according to the other reading, of) the wrath of her fornication all the nations have fallen (or, according to the other reading, drunk: see on ch. 14:8. The use of the θυμός is even more remarkable here: of (or, by) that wine of her fornication which has turned into wrath to herself), and the kings of the earth committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth became rich out of the quantity (δύναμις, copia, as Vitringa, who remarks, “alluditur ad Hebræam vocem חיל, cujus hæc significationis vis est, Job 31:25, Ezekiel 28:4.” We have πλούτου μεγάλου δύναμιν in Jos. Antt. iii. 2. 4) of her luxury (στρῆνος, see reff. and note on 1 Tim., seems properly to mean the exuberance of strength, the flower of pride).

4-20.] Warning to God’s people to leave her, on account of the greatness of her crimes and coming judgments (4-8); lamentations over her on the part of those who were enriched by her (9-20). And I heard another voice out of heaven (not that of the Father nor of Christ, for in such a case, as has been well observed, the long poetical lamentation would be hardly according to prophetic decorum; but that of an angel speaking in the name of God, as we have μου ch. 11:3 also) saying, Come out of her, my people (in reff. Isa., the circumstances differed, in that being a joyful exodus, this a cautionary one: and thus the warning is brought nearer to that one which our Lord commands in Matthew 24:16, and the cognate warnings in the O. T., viz. that of Lot to come out of Sodom, Genesis 19:15-22, when her destruction impended, and that of the people of Israel to get them up from the tents of Dathan and Abiram, Numbers 16:23-26. In reff. Jer., we have the same circumstance of Babylon’s impending destruction combined with the warning: and from those places probably, especially Jeremiah 51:45, the words here are taken. The inference has been justly made from them (Elliott iv. p, 40), that there shall be, even to the last, saints of God in the midst of Rome: and that there will be danger of their being, through a lingering fondness for her, partakers in her coming judgments), that ye partake not in her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues (the fear, in case of God’s servants remaining in her, would be twofold: 1) lest by over-persuasion or guilty conformity they should become accomplices in any of her crimes: 2) lest by being in and of her, they should, though the former may not have been the case (and even more if it have), share in her punishment. It was through lingering fondness that Lot’s wife became a sharer in the destruction of Sodom): because her sins (not as De W. the cry of her sins: but the idea is of a heap: see below) have reached (κολλᾶσθαι is put here after the analogy of the Heb. דָּבַק, which, see Gesen. Lex. p. 312, is used for assecutus est, proxime accessit ad, Genesis 19:19; Jeremiah 42:16, al. Gesenius compares hærere in terga hostium, Liv. 1:14; in tergis, Tacit. hist. iv. 19; Curt. iv. 15. Bengel gives it well, accumulata pervenerunt) as far as heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities. Repay to her (the words are now addressed to the executioners of judgment) as she also repaid (cf. ref. Jer., καθὼς ἐποίησε, ποιήσατε αὐτῇ. The latter ἀπέδωκεν is used, not in its strict propriety, but as corresponding to the other. Hers was a giving, this is a giving back: we have exactly the same construction, which was probably in mind here, used also of Babylon, in ref. Ps., μακάριος ὃς ἀνταποδώσει σοι τὸ ἀνταπόδομά σου, ὃ ἀνταπέδωκας ἡμῖν), and double [the] double according to her works (so in reff. Isa. and Jer.). In the cup (see above, ch. 17:4, also 14:8, and our ver. 3) which she mixed, mix for her double (see ch. 14:10: a double portion of the deadly wine of God’s wrath): in proportion as (lit., in as many things as) she glorified her (self: possibly ruled into this form αὐτήν by the continual recurrence of the various cases of αὐτή in the context), and luxuriated (see above, ver. 3, and ref. 1 Tim. note), so much torment and grief give to her. Because in her heart she saith (that) I sit a queen (see ref. Isa., from which the sense and even the single words come, being there also said of Babylon. Similarly also Ezekiel 27:1 ff., of Tyre), and am not a widow (ref. as above), and shall never see sorrow (= οὐδὲ γνώσομαι ὀρφανίαν, Isa. l. c). For this cause in one day shall come her plagues, death and mourning and famine (from Isaiah 47:9, where however we have ἀτεκνία καὶ χηρεία. The judgments here are more fearful: death, for her scorn of the prospect of widowhood; mourning, for her inordinate revelling; famine, for her abundance): and with fire shall she be burnt (the punishment of the fornicatress; see ch. 17:16 note. Whether this is to be understood of the literal destruction of the city of Rome by fire, Elliott iv. 43, is surely doubtful, considering the mystical character of the whole prophecy): because strong is [the Lord] God who hath judged her (a warrant for the severity of the judgment which shall befall her).

9-20.] The mourning over her: and first, 9, 10, by the kings of the earth. And there shall weep and mourn over her (when the catalogue of mourners has yet to begin, the fact of mourning is thrown forward by the verbs being placed first: but below, ver. 11, when we come to the second member, the persons, as the new feature, are put forward before the verbs. ἐπʼ αὐτήν, as the direction and converging of their lamentation) the kings of the earth, who committed fornication and luxuriated (see above, ver. 7) with her, when they see the smoke of her burning, standing afar off on account of their fear of her torment (this feature in the prophecy is an objection to the literal understanding of its details. It can hardly be imagined that the kings should bodily stand and look as described, seeing that no combination of events contemplated in the prophecy has brought them together as yet), saying, Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon the strong city, because in one hour has come thy judgment.

11-16.] Lamentation of the merchants. And the merchants of the earth weep and lament (the construction passes into the graphic present, but resumes the future again below, ver. 15, in speaking of the same thing) over her, because no one any longer buys their cargo (reff.: so Eustath. in Wetst.: φόρτος νηός, ὃ καὶ γόμος. The description which follows is perhaps drawn, in its poetic and descriptive features, from the relation of Rome to the world which then was, rather than from its relation at the future time depicted in the prophecy. But it must not for a moment be denied, that the character of this lamentation throws a shade of obscurity over the interpretation, otherwise so plain from the explanation given in ch. 17 ult. The difficulty is however not confined to the application of the prophecy to Rome papal, but extends over the application of it to Rome at all, which last is determined for us by the solution given ch. 17 ult. For Rome never has been, and from its very position never could be, a great commercial city. I leave this difficulty unsolved, merely requesting the student to bear in mind its true limits, and not to charge it exclusively on that interpretation which only shares it with any other possible one. The main features of the description are taken from that of the destruction of and lamentation over Tyre in Eze_27, to which city they were strictly applicable. And possibly it may be said that they are also applicable to the church which has wedded herself to the pride of the earth and its luxuries. But certainly, as has been observed, the details of this mercantile lamentation far more nearly suit London, than Rome at any assignable period of her history), a cargo of gold, and of silver, and of precious stone, and of pearls, and of fine linen manufacture (βυσσίνου is the neut. adj. from βύσσος), and of purple, and of silken stuff (in describing Vespasian’s triumph, Jos., B. J. vii. 5. 4, says, κἀκεῖνοι χωρὶς ὅπλων ἦσαν ἐσθήσεσι σηρικαῖς, ἐστεφανωμένοι δάφναις) and of scarlet stuff, and (the accusative is now taken up instead of the genitive governed by γόμον, which latter is however resumed below at ἵππων, and again dropped at ψυχάς) all citron wood (the wood of the θύον, θύα, or θυΐα, the citrus of the Romans (Plin. iii. 29), probably the cupressus thyioides, or the thyia articulata. Theophrastus, Hist. Plant. v. 5, thus describes it: τὸ δὲ θύϊον, οἱ δὲ θυΐαν καλοῦσι, παρʼ Ἀμμωνίδι γίνεται, καὶ ἐν τῇ Κυρηναίᾳ· τὴν μὲν μορφὴν ὅμοιον κυπαρίττῳ καὶ τοῖς κλάδοις καὶ τοῖς φύλλοις καὶ τῷ στελέχει καὶ τῷ καρπῷ.… ἀσαπὶς.… ὅλως τὸ ξύλον, οὐλότατον δὲ τὴν ῥίζαν ἐστί, καὶ ἐκ ταύτης τὰ σπουδαιότατα ποιεῖται τῶν ἔργων. It was used for costly doors, with fittings of ivory, v. 205 b, 207 f, and for tables, Strabo iv. 310 a. It had a sweet smell, Plin. ut supra, “Nota etiam Homero fuit; θύον Græce vocatur, ab aliis thya. Hanc igitur inter odores uri tradit in deliciis Circes … magno errore eorum qui odoramenta in eo vocabulo accipiunt, cum præsertim eodem versu cedrum laricemque una tradat: in quo manifestum est de arboribus tantum locutum.” But Pliny is clearly wrong: for Homer’s words are πῦρ μὲν ἐπʼ ἐσχαρόφιν μέγα καίετο, τηλόθι δʼ ὀδμὴ Κέδρου τʼ εὐκεάτοιο θύου τʼ ἀνὰ νῆσον ὀδώδει Δαιομένων, Od. ε. 60. See Wetst. for more illustrations, and Winer, Realw. art. Thinenholz), and every article of ivory, and every article of most costly wood, and of brass, and of iron, and of marble; and cinnamon (it is not certain, whether the κιννάμωμον or κίνναμον, קִנָּמוֹן, of the ancients was the same as our cinnamon. Various accounts are given of its origin (see Winer, Realw. art. Zimmt, and Theophr. plant. ix. 4; Strabo xvi. p. 778; Diod. Sic. ii. 49, iii. 46), but Herodotus, who (iii. 111) ascribes it to the country where Dionysus was born, i. e. to India, seems to give the right statement, if at least it is the modern cinnamon, which comes from Ceylon. In ref. Exod. it is an ingredient in the holy oil for anointing: in Proverbs 7:17 it is one of the perfumes of the bed of the adulteress: in Song of Solomon 4:14 it is one of the plants growing in the garden of the beloved) and amomum (a precious ointment made from an Asiatic shrub, and used for the hair: see the numerous citations from Ovid, Martial, &c., in Wetst., and Plin. H. N. xii. 13 (28)), and odours (for incense), and ointment, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine meal (σεμίδαλις, the simila or similago of the Latins, the finest wheaten meal: see Wetst. and Palm and Rost sub voce), and wheat, and cattle and sheep, and of horses and of chariots (“Rheda genus vehiculi iv. rotarum,” Isidor. xx. 17 in Wetst., who also quotes Lampridius to the effect that Alexander Severus “rhedas senatoribus omnibus ut argentatas haberent permisit: interesse Romanæ dignitatis putans ut his tantæ urbis senatores versarentur”. Quintilian, i. 5, ascribes to the word a Gallic origin: “plurima Gallica valuerunt, ut rheda et petorritum, quorum altero Cicero tamen, altero Horatius utitur”) and of bodies (i. e. slaves. The expression is blamed by the Atticists as not used by the ancients: so Pollux, iii. 78, σώματα ἁπλῶς οὐκ ἂν εἴποις, ἀλλὰ σώματα δοῦλα. And so Phrynichus, p. 378, σώματα ἐπὶ τῶν ὠνίων ἀνδραπόδων, οἷον σώματα πωλεῖται, οὐ χρῶνται οἱ ἀρχαῖοι. Lobeck, in his note there, shews that Plato and Demosthenes use σώματα for any kind of men indefinitely (Plato, Legg. x. 114: Dem. p. 910), and it is the appropriating it to σώμ. δοῦλα alone which constitutes the later usage),—and (the accus. here comes in after genitives) persons of men (so the E. V. for נֶפֶשׁ אָדָם, ref. Ezek. which the LXX render as here, ψυχαῖς ἀνθρώπων. But in Genesis 36:6, for כָּל־נַפְשׁוֹת בֵּיתוֹ, they have πάντα τὰ σώματα τοῦ οἴκου αὐτοῦ, where also E. V. has persons. It seems vain to attempt to draw a distinction between the σώματα and ψυχὰς ἀνθρώπων. If any is to be sought, the most obvious is that pointed out by Bengel, and adopted by Ewald, Hengstb, and Düsterd., that the σωμάτων expresses such slaves as belong to the horses and chariots, and ψυχὰς ἀνθρ. slaves in general).

14.] This verse takes the form of a direct address, and then in the next the merchants are taken up again. From this some have thought that it is not in its right place: e. g. Beza and Vitringa fancied it should be inserted after ver. 23: others, as Ewald, that it was originally a marginal addition by the Writer. But irregular as is the insertion, it need not occasion any real difficulty. It takes up the κλαίουσιν κ. πενθοῦσιν of ver. 11, as if αὐτῶν after those verbs had been ἡμῶν, which is not unnatural in a rhapsodical passage. And τούτων, ver. 15, refers very naturally back to πάντα τὰ λιπαρὰ κ.τ.λ., in this verse. And thy harvest of the desire of thy soul (i. e. the ingathering of the dainties and luxuries which thy soul lusted after. It seems better on account of the following genitives to take ὀπώρα thus, than to understand it in the concrete of the fruit itself, though it frequently has this latter sense: see Palm and Rost’s Lex. and the reff. here) has departed from thee, and all (thy) fat things and [thy] splendid things have perished from thee, and they (men) shall never more at all find them.

The next two verses describe, in strict analogy with vv. 9, 10, the attitude and the lamentation of these merchants. The merchants of these things (viz. of all those mentioned in vv. 12, 13, which have been just summed up as πάντα τὰ λιπαρὰ κ.τ.λ.) who gained wealth from her, shall stand afar off by reason of their fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, saying, Woe, woe, the great city, which was lothed in stuff of fine linen and of purple and of scarlet, and bedecked (lit. gilded; the zeugmatic construction carrying on the word to the other substantives besides χρυσίῳ, which we cannot do in English) in (or, if ἐν be omitted, with) golden ornament and precious stone and pearl: because (ὅτι gives a reason for the οὐαὶ οὐαί) in one hour hath been desolated all that wealth.

17-19.] The lamentation of the shipmasters, &c. And every pilot and every one who saileth any whither (the same expression, without the preposition, is found in Acts 27:2. The words here import, all sailors from place to place), and sailors and as many as make traffic of the sea (τ. θάλασσαν ἐργάζεσθαι, ‘mare exercere,’ to live by seafaring, is abundantly illustrated by Wetst, from the classics and later writers), stood afar off, and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, Who is like to the great city? And they cast [on] earth upon their heads (see besides ref. Ezekiel 27:30: also 1Samuel 4:12; 2Samuel 1:2, 2Samuel 1:13:19, 2Samuel 1:15:32; Job 2:12; Lamentations 2:10; and the numerous references in Winer, art. Trauer), and cried out weeping and mourning, saying, Woe, woe, the great city, in (ἐν is ambiguous at first appearance: but from what follows it cannot be merely local, as E. V. “wherein,” but must be of the conditional element in which: “whereby” would more nearly give it in our idiom) which all who have their ships in the sea became rich out of her costliness (her costly treasures: concrete meaning for the abstract term): for in one hour she hath been laid waste.

20.] The angel concludes with calling on the heavens and God’s holy ones to rejoice at her fall. Rejoice over her thou heaven, and ye saints and ye apostles and ye prophets, for God hath judged your judgment upon her (hath exacted from her that judgment of vengeance which is due to you: see reff.).

21-23.] Symbolic proclamation by an angel of Babylon’s ruin. And one (or a) strong angel took up a stone great as a millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with a rush shall be thrown down Babylon the great city, and shall never be found any more. And the sound of harpers and musicians and flute-players and trumpeters shall never be heard in thee any more, and every artisan of every art shall never be found in thee any more, and the sound of the millstone (see Jeremiah 25:10, Heb. and E. V., not LXX, where the denunciation regards Jerusalem, and is to be performed by the King of Babylon) shall never be heard in thee any more, and the light of a lamp shall never shine in (or upon) thee any more (still from Jer. l. c.), and the voice of the bridegroom and the bride shall never be heard in thee any more: because thy merchants were the great men of the earth, because in thy sorcery (on the form φαρμακία (= -κεία) see reff.) all the nations were deceived (see Isaiah 47:9-12). And in her (the angel drops the address to the fallen city, and speaks out this last great cause of her overthrow as a fact respecting her) the blood of prophets and of saints was found and of all who have been slain on the earth (i. e. naturally, of all slain for Christ’s sake and His word. Compare the declaration of our Lord respecting Jerusalem, Matthew 23:35).

Henry Alford - Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary

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