Revelation 17:15
And he said to me, The waters which you saw, where the whore sits, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)
(15) And he said unto me . . .—Better, And he (i.e., the angel mentioned in Revelation 17:1) saith, &c. The waters on which the harlot sits are explained as “multitudes.” We have thus a key to the imagery employed here and elsewhere (Revelation 13:1). The wild beast and the harlot both draw much of their power from the people. The easily-moved passions or the fickle crowd, its generous, unreasoning impulses, are used by subtle and seductive enemies. “Men never so much need to be theocratic as when they are most democratic,” said De Tocqueville. They need to recognise God as their King, then, most when their new discovered strength is likely to be made the tool of unscrupulous ambition.

Revelation 17:15-18. And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest where the whore sitteth are peoples, &c. — In the former part of this description, (Revelation 17:1,) the whore is represented like ancient Babylon, sitting upon many waters; and these waters are here, Revelation 17:15, said expressly to signify peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. So many words in the plural number fitly denote the great extensiveness of her power and jurisdiction; and it is a remarkable peculiarity of Rome, different from all other governments in the world, that her authority is not limited to her own immediate subjects, and confined within the bounds of her own dominions, but extends over all kingdoms and countries professing the same religion. She herself glories in the title of the catholic church, and exults in the number of her votaries, as a certain proof of the true religion. But notwithstanding the general current in her favour, the tide shall turn against her; and the hands which helped to raise her shall also pull her down; the ten horns shall hate the whore, Revelation 17:16 — That is, by a common figure of the whole for a part, some of the ten kings; for others (Revelation 18:9) shall bewail her and lament for her; and (Revelation 19:19) shall fight and perish in the cause of the beast. Some of the kings, who formerly loved her, grown sensible of her exorbitant exactions and oppressions, shall hate her, shall strip, and expose, and plunder her, and utterly consume her with fire. Rome, therefore, will finally be destroyed by some of the princes who are reformed, or shall be reformed, from Popery; and as the kings of France have contributed greatly to her advancement, it is not impossible nor improbable that some time or other they may also be the principal authors of her destruction. And such a revolution may more reasonably be expected, because (Revelation 17:17) this infatuation of Popish princes is permitted by Divine Providence only for a certain period, until the words of God shall be fulfilled — And particularly the words of the Prophet Daniel, Daniel 7:25-26, They shall be given into his hand until a time, and times, and the dividing of time; but then, as it immediately follows, the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume, and to destroy it unto the end. Little doubt can remain after this, what idolatrous church was meant by the whore of Babylon; but for the greater assuredness it is added by the angel, Revelation 17:18, the woman which thou sawest is that great city, &c. — He hath explained the mystery of the beast, and of his seven heads and ten horns; and his explanation of the mystery of the woman is, that great city, which reigneth over the kings of the earth — And what city, at the time of the vision, reigned over the kings of the earth, but Rome? She hath, too, ever since reigned over the kings of the earth, if not with temporal, yet at least with spiritual authority. Rome, therefore, is evidently and undeniably this great city; and that Christian, and not heathen, Papal, and not imperial Rome was meant, hath appeared in several instances, and will appear in several more. 17:15-18 God so ruled the hearts of these kings, by his power over them, and by his providence, that they did those things, without intending it, which he purposed and foretold. They shall see their folly, and how they have been bewitched and enslaved by the harlot, and be made instruments in her destruction. She was that great city which reigned over the kings of the earth, when John had this vision; and every one knows Rome to be that city. Believers will be received to the glory of the Lord, when wicked men will be destroyed in a most awful manner; their joining together in sin, will be turned to hatred and rage, and they will eagerly assist in tormenting each other. But the Lord's portion is his people; his counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure, to his glory, and the happiness of all his servants.And he saith unto me - The angel, Revelation 17:7. This commences the more "literal" statement of what is meant by these symbols. See the Analysis of the chapter.

The waters which thou sawest - See the notes on Revelation 17:1.

Are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues - For an explanation of these terms, see the notes on Revelation 7:9. The meaning here is:

(a) that these waters represent a multitude of people. This is a common and an obvious symbol - for outspread seas or raging floods would naturally represent such a multitude. See Isaiah 8:7-8; Isaiah 17:12-13; Jeremiah 47:2. Compare Iliad, v. 394. The sense here is, that vast numbers of people would be subject to the power here represented by the woman.

(b) They would be composed of different nations, and would be of different languages, It is unnecessary to show that this, in both respects, is applicable to the papacy. Nations have been, and are subject to its control, and nations speaking a large part of the languages of the world. Perhaps under no one government - not even the Babylonian, the Macedonian, or the ancient Roman - was there so great a diversity of people, speaking so many different languages, and having so different an origin.

15. (Re 17:1; Isa 8:7.) An impious parody of Jehovah who "sitteth upon the flood" [Alford]. Also, contrast the "many waters" Re 19:6, "Alleluia."

peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues—The "peoples," &c., here mark the universality of the spiritual fornication of the Church. The "tongues" remind us of the original Babel, the confusion of tongues, the beginning of Babylon, and the first commencement of idolatrous apostasy after the flood, as the tower was doubtless dedicated to the deified heavens. Thus, Babylon is the appropriate name of the harlot. The Pope, as the chief representative of the harlot, claims a double supremacy over all peoples, typified by the "two swords" according to the interpretation of Boniface VIII in the Bull, "Unam Sanctam," and represented by the two keys: spiritual as the universal bishop, whence he is crowned with the miter; and temporal, whence he is also crowned with the tiara in token of his imperial supremacy. Contrast with the Pope's diadems the "many diadems" of Him who alone has claim to, and shall exercise when He shall come, the twofold dominion (Re 19:12).

John saw the great whore sitting upon seven mountains, Revelation 17:9, and upon many waters, Revelation 17:1; these signified her dominion and jurisdiction over many people. And he saith unto me,.... That is, the angel, who proposed to give John the interpretation of the vision, he went on with it as follows:

the waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth; see Gill on Revelation 17:1,

are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues; denoting the vast multitude of people, of which the several kingdoms, of divers languages, consist, which belong to the jurisdiction of Rome Papal: it is an eastern way of speaking, and is particularly used to express the various kingdoms, and infinite number of people belonging to the Babylonish monarchy, which was an emblem of the antichristian state, Daniel 3:4 and these are compared to waters, to many waters; which phrase sometimes is used for the sea, Psalm 107:23 because of the vast numbers of them; the whole world wondered after the beast, and the kings and inhabitants of the earth have been subject to the see of Rome; and because of their overbearing force, carrying all before them; see Isaiah 8:7 Revelation 13:3 and because, like waters, they are continually upon the flux, one generation succeeding another; and because of their instability, fickleness, and inconstancy, as in religion, so in their constitution, they will hate the whore they love; and as they frequently change and alter in their form, at last they will utterly cease: so the Jews (w) interpret many waters, in Sol 8:7 of all people, and of the kings of the earth, and of the nations of the world; and they say, that many waters never signify any other than all the nations, and those that are appointed over them (x). So, "he drew me out of many waters", Psalm 18:16 is by the Targum on the place explained, he delivered me from many people. And so Psalm 46:4 is paraphrased by the Targumist;

"people, "as rivers", and their streams, shall come, and make glad the city of the Lord;''

see the Targum on Isaiah 8:7 and in Ezekiel 32:2 where it is observed kingdoms are compared to waters (y).

(w) Targum in Cant. viii. 7. Shirhashirim Rabba fol. 26. 1.((x) Zohar in Gen. fol. 51. 3. & Raya Mehimna in ib. & in Numb. fol. 105. 3. Bemidbar Rabba, sect. 2. fol. 179. 4. (y) Yaikut Simeoni, par. 2. fol. 93. 2.

{31} And he saith unto me, The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, {32} are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues.

(31) This is the other part of the narration, as I said in see Geneva Re 17:7 belonging to the harlot, showed in the vision, Re 17:3. In this history of the harlot, these three things are distinctly propounded, what is her magnificence, in this verse, what is her fall, and by whom it shall happen to her, in Re 17:16,17: and lastly, who that harlot is, in Re 17:18. This passage which by order of nature should have been the first, is therefore made the last, because it was more fit to be joined with the next chapter.

(32) That is, as changing and variable as the waters. Upon this foundation sits this harlot as queen, a vain person, on that which is vain.

EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)
Revelation 17:15-18. By a continuation of his discourse (καὶ λεγ. μ.), the angel interprets first of all the waters where John beheld the harlot, and announces then the judgment impending over the harlot, which, according to God’s decree, is to be executed by the ten kings in confederacy with the beast. Then, finally, the chief figure in the vision, ch 17, the harlot herself, is expressly explained.

τὰ ὕδατα, κ.τ.λ. The waters form the sum total of inhabitants of the earth, for they all belong to the dominion of the harlot,[3892] to which also corresponds the accumulation of the four expressions, ΛΑΟΊ, ὌΧΛΟΙ, ἜΘΝΗ, ΓΗῶΣΣΑΙ.[3893]

But in spite of her wide dominion[3894] and all her glory, the harlot is ruined in a manner the least to be expected, but which only the more clearly manifests the judgment of God: the ten kings, together with the beast, shall hate the harlot and annihilate all her glory. The οὖτοι μισ., as to its meaning, belongs to the kings to be understood among the horns (Revelation 17:13-14); these are the decisive chief subject, so that the determination of subject, besides presented in the καὶ τὸ θηρίον, does not come further into consideration with respect to the form of the expression.

ἠρημωμένην ποιήσ. αὐτ. καὶ γυμνὴν. A striking antithesis to Revelation 17:4.[3895]

κ. τὰς σάρκας αὐτῆς φἀγονται. Here the idea of the form of woman is still maintained,[3896] while in the following expression, καὶ αὐτὴν κατακαύσουσιν ἐν πυρί, the fundamental idea of the city is asserted.

Revelation 17:17 explains what is announced in Revelation 17:16, by the reference to God who in this way will destroy the harlot: ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἔδωκεν, κ.τ.λ. The view here presented is very similar to that of Revelation 16:14, Revelation 16 : there the spirits from hell bring the kings of the earth together—for the day of judgment—at Armagedon; in this passage, the purpose and work, on God’s part, are definitely expressed. He it is who has put it into their hearts to execute the will of, to make an alliance with, and to serve the beast. “The thought is blunted when the αὐτοῦ with ποιήσ. τ. γνώμ. is referred to God,[3897] instead of to the beast.[3898] In the connection this determination of subject is not absolutely too remote.[3899]

To the ὁ γὰρ θεὸς ἔδωκεν. κ.τ.λ., corresponds at the conclusion the ἄχρι τελεσθήσονται οἱ λόγοι τοῦ θεοῦ; the work intended by God, for the kings confederated with the beast, has in the fulfillment (cf. Revelation 10:7) of the words, i.e., of the prophecies of God, not only its goal, but also its limits. When those kings have done what they are to do, they are done away with.[3900]

[3892] Revelation 17:18. Cf. Revelation 13:3; Revelation 13:8; Revelation 13:12; Revelation 13:16.

[3893] Cf. Revelation 5:9; Revelation 7:9.

[3894] Cf. Revelation 17:1 : τ. μεγάλης. Revelation 14:8; Revelation 16:19.

[3895] Cf. Revelation 18:16.

[3896] Cf. Psalm 27:2; Micah 3:2 sqq.

[3897] Vulg., Hengstenb., etc.

[3898] Beng., De Wette, Ew. ii., Volkm, Luthardt.

[3899] Against Hengstenb.

[3900] Cf. Revelation 17:12.

Now (Revelation 17:18), upon the basis of all preceding individual statements, the precise meaning of the harlot, which is treated of especially in Revelation 17:1, is given: the woman is “the great city,” which has royal dominion over the kings of the earth, i.e., Rome, the metropolis, lying on seven hills, of the heathen-Roman Empire symbolized by the beast.

This exegetical result so undoubtedly forces itself upon us,[3901] that neither the misunderstanding of Auberlen, who regards the harlot as the woman of ch. 12 degenerated, nor the old Protestant explanation, which, in a more direct way, found here a reference to the Pope and Papal Rome,[3902] nor the singular opinion of Züllig, who regards the city, Revelation 17:18, as Jerusalem,[3903] needs any further refutation than that furnished by the exposition of ch. 17 in connection with ch. 12 sqq. Especially, also, that Revelation 17:12 sqq. cannot refer to the pressure of the Goths or other Germano-Sclavic nations, as Auberlen, in agreement this time with Grot., interprets, results already from the connection with Revelation 17:11. The ten kings,—whom Ebrard regards as identified with the seven heads,—even if our exposition of Revelation 17:10 sqq. and Revelation 13:3 be correct, can be understood neither of “the ten leaders of the Flavians,”[3904] nor of the Parthian confederates of Nero.[3905] But after, in Revelation 17:3; Revelation 17:7, he has mentioned the ten horns, as in chs. 12 and 13, besides the seven heads of the beast, and has also designated thereby the identity of the beast, ch. 17, with that previously described, John now follows Daniel 7:24 in his interpretation of the ten horns as ten “future” kings (καὶ τὰ δέκα κέρατα αὐτοῦ, δέκα βασιλεῖς ἀναστήσονται). But thereby every concrete historical relation is surrendered; just because the reference in ch. 13 to the tenfold number of the horns is actually historical, no other can enter, and, least of all, that which actually occurs in Daniel. What is said, therefore (Revelation 17:12 sqq.), concerning the ten kings, forms a feature in the Apocalyptic picture, derived from the Danielian model, which divests the number ten of definite historical relation, as it makes it appear purely schematical, while the general historical presumption of John’s prophetic view—with respect, on the other side, to the relative fulfilment of his prophecy—lies in the fact that the emperors, usurping authority against and after one another, could gain possession of the government only through conflicts which turned to the ruin of the city: they were with the beast, and yet desolated the licentious city.

But “the rulers of the last time”[3906] are not so certainly the ten kings as the heathen-Roman world-empire and world-city are symbolized in the beast and the harlot; and it is impossible for sound exegesis to put under inspection a fulfilment of the prophecies in ch. 17 still to occur at the end of the world.

If the ten kings be regarded more definitely and in combination with the eight rulers, we may, with Weiss,[3907] refer them to the ten “regents “of the sovereign obtaining the government by the revolution of prefects (Revelation 17:13; Revelation 17:17).

[3901] Cf. also Hengstenb. on Revelation 17:18.

[3902] Coccejus, Calov., Vitr., Beng.

[3903] In ch. 17, Jerusalem is regarded as Babylon; while false Judaism, under the symbol of the beast, is stated to be Edom.

[3904] Wetst.

[3905] Eichh., Bleek, De Wette. Cf. Ewald, who understands the Roman provincial prefects as in alliance with the returned Nero.Revelation 17:15. The woman impiously rivals God (κύριος ἐπὶ ὑδάτων πολλῶν, Psalm 29:3; Psalms cf.10).—ὄχλοι is substituted for the more common φυλαί, perhaps with an allusion (after Ezekiel 16:15; Ezekiel 16:25; Ezekiel 16:31) to Rome’s imperial rapacity.15. The waters &c.] Some compare Isaiah 8:7 for the use of waters as an emblem of multitudes.Verse 15. - And he saith unto me. As in ver. 7, these words form the preface to a particular description. Having explained the mystery of the beast, to whom the woman looks for support, the angel now proceeds to unfold the mystery of the harlot herself. The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth; viz. those mentioned in ver. 1. In ver. 7 we are told that the beast carries the woman. Both statements are correct. The beast is the world power, which is found among the "peoples, multitudes, nations, and tongues." Are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues, The fourfold description of the human race (cf. Revelation 5:9, etc.), which, as a whole, serves the beast (cf. Revelation 13:3, 8, 12, 16), and out of which are selected the redeemed (Revelation 5:9; Revelation 9:9). The waters

The explanation of the symbol given here is in accordance with Isaiah 8:7; Psalm 18:4, Psalm 18:16; Psalm 124:4.

Peoples and multitudes, etc.

See on 1 Peter 2:9; see on Mark 12:37.

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