Revelation 18 has hit me in the squarely in the gut.
In Revelation 17 we met a woman riding a beast, dressed opulently and drunk on the blood of those she hated. A woman who declared her own self-reliance and power. A woman who said she would never mourn or be widowed or abandoned. A woman who was then turned on by the beast she rode and the kings she had brought to power, and torn to pieces. This woman is referred to as Babylon.
In chapter 18 we hear, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the great.” Epizeuxis is a rhetorical device where a single word or phrase is repeated immediately for emphasis. Fallen. Fallen.
“Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done, mix her a double portion from her own cup.” Revelation 18:6*
This is not going to turn into an academic exercise. As an admirer of literature, however, I am repeatedly thrilled by how frequently the Bible proves itself to be a work of literary genius.
What truly shook me in this chapter is the mourners who grieve the loss of Babylon. Yes, some people are sad that the epitome of evil has been destroyed. The kings who gained power, and who lived in the indulgent luxury of sin, mourn the loss of their comforts. “Woe! Woe, o great city, O Babylon city of power…” (18:10) The merchants who sold their luxurious goods to her, spices and silks and wine and incense and human slaves, mourn only the loss of commerce and income. “Woe! Woe O great city, dressed in fine linene, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!” (18:16) The mariners and sailors who enslaved foreign peoples and depredated other lands to sell those goods to the opulent rich of Babylon weep for the loss of their living. “Woe! Woe, O great city, where all who had ships on the sea became rich through her wealth!” (18:19) They don’t mourn the city itself or the people therein, only their own economic losses. No longer are these purveyors of the finest luxury goods to be made wealthy by the consumerist lifestyle of this most wicked of cities. (And look at all that epizeuxis; woe!)
In Revelation 18:4, a voice from heaven calls, “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues;” a voice calling those of us who claim to value the Creator above the creation. We are called to avoid the temptation of wealth and ease, of luxury and comfort.
As an American, ease and comfort are my life. I am surrounded by soft couches and warm, fashionable (questionably) clothes, safe cars, good food, beautiful music. The siren song of more things, nicer things, never leaves my ears. Even without television and internet, I am surrounded by the barrage of advertisement and the constant envy of the luxury of others that is so glorified in our culture.
We glory in our own strength and independence. We are not self-centered and rich, we are “self-reliant” and “owe nothing to anybody”. We “worked our way to the top”. We “earned our way in the world”.
But the punishment of Babylon reveals the truth. “The music of harpists and musicans, flute players and trumpets will never be heard in you again. No workman of any trade will ever be found in you again. The sound of the millstone will never be heard in you again. The light of a lamp will never shine in you again. The voice of bridgroom and bride will never be heard in you again.” All the truly beautiful things in the world will be taken away.
Because the truth is:
We have nothing.
We own nothing.
We create nothing.
We deserve nothing.
It is a gift. A glorious, magnificent, gorgeous gift. Every book on my shelves. Every mile I get out of my car. Every note I am privileged to sing. Every smile from my son. Every delicious food in my pantry. These gifts were given to me and can be taken away. And in their presence and in their absence I am to be consumed, not by these goods, but by my God.
When we are consumed by our luxuries, we share in the sins of Babylon. We enslave humans so that we can have cheaper clothes and more convenient service and easier comfort. We neglect and even abuse others in pursuit of our own desire to consume. This is not a one way street. We all do it to each other. We teach it to others and as we continue to use others and they continue to use us, the situation gets worse and worse.
Glory to God, who has granted us freedom from this life in pursuit of self and of luxury! That He has given us the ability to enjoy His provisions and His good gifts while rejecting the pull of Babylon to glorify and indulge only ourselves and the earthly comforts we crave. May we never neglect God and His beautiful and infinitely valuable children in the name of ourselves and our ease.
*all verses are taken from the 1973 New International Version because that’s the Bible I had on me at the time and the Word of God is always good.