Rev. 18:9 – The kings of the earth who have committed sexual immorality and lived luxuriously with her will weep and mourn over her when they see the smoke of her burning. 10 They will stand far off in fear of her torment, saying: Woe, woe, the great city, Babylon, the mighty city! For in a single hour your judgment has come. (HCSB)
The kings of the earth
The declaration of the fall of Babylon the Great is recorded in verses 1-8. The next 11 verses form a litany of lamentation as kings, merchants, shipmasters, seafarers, and business people mourn the destruction of the great city where they have made their fortunes. There is a three-fold pattern to these laments: first, a cry of sorrow; second, a summary of what has been lost; and third, a confirmation of the suddenness of Babylon’s fall. A single verse follows – verse 20 – calling for a different response from heaven. The saints, apostles, and prophets are to rejoice because God has executed judgment on their behalf.
The first to mourn are the kings of the earth who have committed sexual immorality and lived luxuriously with the Mother of Prostitutes. The world system over which Satan is prince has seduced common men and women into becoming uncommon beasts who wield terrifying power over their subjects. While these rulers live in barricaded opulence, the people who look to them with hope live in squalor a stone’s throw away. From the cult of Caesar worship to the killing fields of Cambodia, rulers with a desire to make themselves like the Most High God become madmen who use Christians as human torches or slaughter millions in the name of ethnic or political cleansing. The kings of the earth gladly mix politics, religion and commerce to solidify their power and cement their place in history.
Rev. 11:13 – At that moment a violent earthquake took place, a tenth of the city fell, and 7,000 people were killed in the earthquake. The survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven. 14The second woe has passed. Take note: the third woe is coming quickly! (HCSB)
The survivors gave glory to the God of heaven
John writes that the “survivors” of the earthquake are “terrified” and give “glory to the God of heaven” (v. 13). His use of the word “survivors” implies the death of some – perhaps people, human institutions or world systems. Those still alive see the hand of God in these events and are shaken to the bone with fear. Fear of the Lord can be a good thing, starting us on a journey of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). Or, it can move us further away from God, motivating us to hide from His presence (Rev. 6:15-17). Or, it can inspire awe, leading us to exclaim, “We have seen incredible things today” (Luke 5:26).
Commentators are divided as to whether the survivors’ fear in this passage drives them to repentance or merely elicits a response designed to appease an angry God. Elsewhere in Revelation, the wicked stubbornly refuse to turn to God despite the clear understanding that God is bringing His judgments to bear on the earth. After the sixth trumpet is sounded, “The rest of the people, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands to stop worshipping demons and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone, and wood … And they did not repent of their murders, their sorceries, their sexual immorality, or their thefts” (Rev. 9:20-21). As the fourth bowl judgment is poured out, the wicked who are burned by fire “blasphemed the name of the God who had the power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give God the glory” (Rev. 16:9). And as the fifth bowl judgment follows, plunging people into darkness, they “gnawed their tongues from pain and blasphemed the God of heaven … yet they did not repent of their actions” (Rev. 16:11).
Rev. 8:10-11 – The third angel blew his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from heaven. It fell on a third of the rivers and springs of water. 11The name of the star is Wormwood, and a third of the waters became wormwood. So, many of the people died from the waters, because they had been made bitter (HCSB).
This is the third of the first four trumpet judgments that affect natural objects, in this case fresh water, resulting in the death of many. The final three trumpet judgments, which we will address in later lessons, affect men’s lives with pain, death and hell.
In this judgment, John sees “a great star, blazing like a torch,” falling from heaven and striking a third of the rivers and springs of water. This star is called Wormwood, which means absinthe, a bitter herb, and many die from drinking the water.
Is this “star” an object from outer space – a meteorite, perhaps? Is it an angel or demon? A world leader? When John says it falls from heaven, does He mean from the throne of God or the stellar sphere? Why does it fall on a third of the fresh water? And are these all the waters of the earth, or just in Israel and the surrounding lands? Why does this star have a name? And how can a bitter herb kill so many people? Let’s dig a little deeper and see what we can learn.
The third angel blew his trumpet
As a reminder, the “trumpet” each angel blows in this series of judgments is the shofar, or ram’s horn, and has special significance for Israel (see The first trumpet for more details). In this case, the sound of the shofar announces the commencement of judgment. Following each trumpet blast, we are introduced to the instrument of God’s judgment: hail and fire, mixed with blood (the first judgment); something like a great mountain ablaze with fire (the second judgment); a great star, blazing like a torch (the third judgment); a third of the sun, moon and stars struck (the fourth judgment); a star with the key to the abyss (the fifth judgment); the release of four bound angels at the Euphrates River (the sixth judgment); and loud voices in heaven and an opening of God’s sanctuary (the seventh trumpet).
The sound of the shofar alerts us that God is moving righteously in judgment, extending His mercy a little while longer for those who will repent, destroying the wicked, rewarding His people, and preparing the created order for new heavens and a new earth.
Christians in particular should joyfully anticipate the sounding of the trumpet that heralds our physical resurrection and glorification – the “last trumpet” of 1 Cor. 15:52 and “the trumpet of God” in 1 Thess. 4:16.
Next: A great star fell from heaven (Rev. 8:10-11)
Previously: The kings … hid in caves (Rev. 6:12-17)
Rev. 6:12 – Then I saw Him open the sixth seal. A violent earthquake occurred; the sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair; the entire moon became like blood; 13 the stars of heaven fell to the earth as a fig tree drops its unripe figs when shaken by a high wind; 14 the sky separated like a scroll being rolled up; and every mountain and island was moved from its place. 15 Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the military commanders, the rich, the powerful, and every slave and free person hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 And they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb, 17 because the great day of Their wrath has come! And who is able to stand?” (HCSB)
“Fall on us and hide us …”
The earth’s wicked cry out to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb …” (v. 16). There is an interesting parallel between this verse and other places in scripture where the wicked, who have shunned God in favor of idols made of earthly elements, are left calling upon these elements for help.
One such example may be found in the apostate people of Israel in Jeremiah 2. Take note:
- First, the leaders get comfortable in God’s grace and stop seeking the Lord. “They [the fathers] stopped asking: Where is the Lord … The priests quit asking: Where is the Lord? The experts no longer knew Me, and the rulers rebelled against Me. The prophets prophesied by Baal and followed useless idols” (Jer. 2:6a, 8).
- Next, the people embrace idols. “My people have exchanged their Glory for useless idols….For My people have committed a double evil: They have abandoned Me, the fountain of living water, and dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that cannot hold water” (Jer. 2:11b, 13).
- Then, they insist they have done nothing wrong; in fact, they celebrate their religious diversity. “[Y]ou have said: I have not sinned” (Jer. 2:35b).
- Finally, God’s judgment falls. “Have you not brought this on yourself by abandoning the Lord your God while He was leading you along the way … Your own evil will discipline you; your own apostasies will reprimand you. Think it over and see how evil and bitter it is for you to abandon the Lord your God and to have no fear of Me…. The stain of your guilt is still in front of Me” (Jer. 2: 17, 19, 22b).
- Rather than acknowledge their sin, confess it and repent of it, the people are left invoking their idols for deliverance. “They, their kings, their officials, their priests, and their prophets say to a tree: You are my father, and to a stone: You gave birth to me. For they have turned their back to Me and not their face, but in their time of disaster they beg: Rise up and save us! But where are your gods you made for yourself? Let them rise up and save you in your time of disaster if they can” (Jer. 2:26b-28a).
In Romans 1 the apostle Paul describes a similar spiral of descent for the Gentile world. Having rejected the evidence for God in creation and conscience, the wicked suppress the truth, embrace unrighteousness, celebrate ungodliness and, as a result, are without excuse. In fact, Paul writes that God delivers them over to “sexual impurity … degrading passions … [and] a worthless mind” (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28).
As the sixth seal is opened in Revelation 6 and God’s wrath falls on the wicked – both those who boast “a form of godliness” (2 Tim. 3:5 KJV) and those who openly embraced paganism – there is clear recognition that God is the author of this judgment. Just as it is clear to the apostate Israelites in Jeremiah 2 and the wicked Gentiles in Romans 1 (“they know full well God’s just sentence,” Rom. 1:32), there is no escaping the reality that a day of reckoning with the Lord has come. Yet they would rather be covered by tons of rock and dirt than cleansed by the blood of the Lamb. The utter depths of man’s depravity are echoed in the mountain caves as the wicked respond to God’s wrath the only way they know how – by calling on the mountains and rocks to hide them.
“The contents of chapter 6 should put to rest the false teachings that God, being a God of love, could not judge a wicked world” (J.F. Walvoord, R.B. Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, Rev. 6:15–17).
From whom do the wicked wish to hide? From “the One seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb” (v. 16). Obviously, this a reference to God the Father – the One seated on the throne – and His Son, the Lamb. There is a singular wrath from these two Persons of the triune Godhead. Our sins offend a holy God, who exists as three co-equal, co-eternal persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Yet the Father sent His Son to be the Savior of the world (1 John 4:14) and then sent the Holy Spirit to convince lost sinners of their desperate need for Christ (John 16:7-11).
Those who reject God in spite of His gracious offer of salvation have chosen God’s wrath and preferred to cast their eternal lot with “the ruler of the world” for whom hell was created (John 16:11; Matt. 25:41). God is angry at sin – so angry, in fact, that He judged sin in His own Son on the cross. Should not His wrath be poured out on those who both sin and reject God’s provision for forgiveness?
Next: The great day of Their wrath has come (Rev. 6:12-17)
Where we are:
|Part 1: Judgment||Part 2: Historical Interlude||Part 3: Salvation|
|Chapters 1-35||Chapters 36-39||Chapters 40-66|
When this takes place:
Chapter 47 is part of the second major section of Isaiah and deals less with Judah’s immediate plight than with its future deliverance from Babylonian exile.
Isa. 47:3-4 – “Your nakedness will be uncovered, and your shame will be exposed. I will take vengeance; I will spare no one. The Holy One of Israel is our Redeemer; the Lord of Hosts is His name.”
Babylon’s destruction is foretold. This prophecy is fulfilled in 539 B.C. when Persian King Cyrus captures the city. Babylon’s failure is exposed in verse 6. The Lord has disciplined the Jews, placing them under Babylon’s control, but the captors went beyond reasonable punishment and “showed them no mercy.” Now under God’s judgment, Babylon is challenged to turn to its sorcerers, who must try to do the impossible – to prevent disaster at the hands of the Persians. They will fail because the Lord says, “I will take vengeance; I will spare no one” (v. 3).
Twice, Babylon is called “Daughter Chaldea” (vv. 1, 5) and throughout the chapter she is depicted as a pouting mistress. Once “pampered and spoiled,” she must now grind meal with a millstone, remove her veil and bare her thigh as she wades through rivers. She will sit in silence and go into darkness, no longer a “mistress of the kingdoms” (v. 5). Once a lover of luxury who never considered the consequences of her actions, she now experiences loss of children and widowhood in a single day. In the last days, Babylon is depicted in a similar way, indulging in idolatry, immorality and excessive materialism. Like Babylon in Old Testament times, the kingdom in the last days is utterly destroyed and the world grieves her loss, but the judgment comes from God (Rev. 18).
The Shame of Babylon (Isa. 47:1-4)
Proud Babylon will be conquered and its people will become humbled servants, sitting in the dust as a sign of mourning (see Jonah 3:6). The words “Virgin Daughter” depict the people of the city as young and innocent women, possibly meaning the city’s walls have never been breached, or the people have never been captured. The people no longer will be delicate like virgins. Rather, they will endure hardships, grinding meal with millstones, unconcerned about their clothing or modesty. Some no doubt will be abused and raped. Warren Wiersbe writes, “Babylon, the proud queen, is now a humbled slave. ‘I will continue forever—the eternal queen!’ she boasted (v. 7, NIV). But in a moment, the judgment for her sins caught up with her; and she became a widow” (Be Comforted, S. Is 45:1).
Verse 4 predicts the response of the Jews, who will rejoice at the devastating work of God’s hand on their oppressors. They will praise God, realizing that their redemption comes from His direct and divine intervention in human history. “The Holy One of Israel is our Redeemer,” they proclaim. “The Lord of Hosts is His name.” Matthew Henry reminds us, “God can make those sit silently that used to make the greatest noise in the world, and send those into darkness that used to make the greatest figure. Let him that glories, therefore, glory in a God that changes not, and not in any worldly wealth, pleasure, or honour, which are subject to change” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume, S. Is 47:1).
The Sins of Babylon (Isa. 47:6-8, 10)
Babylon has conquered Judah only because God has allowed it. More to the point, God chose this proud and pagan nation as His rod of discipline against the unrepentant Jews, a fact that should cause the Babylonians to place their victory in proper perspective. But they see things differently. They treat their captives with impunity, utterly destroying Judah’s capital city and place of worship. Although Yahweh places the Jews under the Babylonians’ control, they show no mercy and make life exceptionally difficult even for the elderly (v. 6). The Babylonians never entertain the thought that their rule is temporary. Brashly, the nation boasts, “I will be the mistress forever” (v. 7). Instead of seeing their triumph as an opportunity to serve the true and living God, they “did not take these things to heart or think about their outcome” (v. 7).
What’s more, the Babylonians think they can never be defeated. Enjoying the spoils of victory, sitting in the lap of luxury, resting in the security an undefeated army provides, the women declare they will never be widowed or know the loss of children (v. 8). But they are led astray by their “knowledge” and their “wisdom” (v. 10). “Their policy and craft, which they called their wisdom, were their confidence. They thought they could outwit all mankind, and therefore might set all their enemies at defiance. But their wisdom and knowledge perverted them, and turned them out of the way, made them forget themselves, and the preparation necessary to be made for hereafter” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, S. Is 47:7). Those who trust in their wealth, their wisdom and their wickedness will find these false comforts in the end to be their ruin.
The Suffering of Babylon (Isa. 47:5, 9, 11-15)
Babylon is considered nearly impregnable, yet because of her sins the Lord says she will “sit in silence” (the posture of mourning), “go into darkness” (the state of misery) and “no longer be called mistress (queen) of kingdoms” (v. 5). Disaster and devastation are coming suddenly and unexpectedly. The once-invincible Babylonians will be unable to anticipate, avert or escape the calamity. The Babylonians prided themselves in their sorcerers, who supposedly foretold future events and cast spells to exert influence over others. Such alleged knowledge would be of no value in the coming days, for the sorcerers would not be able to see destruction coming or cast spells to make their conquerors go away.
In verses 12-15 the Lord mockingly urges the Babylonians to continue their sorceries and spells. Like Elijah jeering the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel (1 Kings 18), Yahweh pokes fun at Babylon’s inept spiritual leaders. “Let them stand and save you – the astrologers who observe the stars … they are like stubble; fire burns them up…. They cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame … each wanders his own way; no one can save you.” Matthew Henry remarks: “Witchcraft is a sin in its own nature exceedingly heinous; it is giving that honour to the devil which is due to God only, making God’s enemy our guide and the father of lies our oracle. In Babylon it was a national sin, and had the protection and countenance of the government; conjurors, for aught that appears, were their privy counsellors [sic] and prime ministers of state. And shall not God visit for these things?” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, S. Is 47:7).
Babylon and Chaldea are especially well known for their astrologers. In Chaldea the astrologers form a particular caste, in which knowledge is passed from father to son. They teach that the universe is eternal and that the movements of the celestial bodies are directed by a council of the gods. Their long and careful study of the heavens makes them more able than others to calculate the movements and influence of the stars. To assist them in their calculations, the astrologers divide the heavens into 12 equal parts, our houses – six above the horizon and six below – “and the various subjects that affect the happiness of human beings, such as fortune, marriage, life, death, religion, etc., were distributed among them. From the position of the stars in these houses the calculations were made…. And from the varied appearances of the heavens they foretold events that not only affected lands and nations, but also brought happiness or unhappiness to kings and common people” (James M. Freeman, Manners & Customs of the Bible. [Rev. ed.], S. 364).
No matter. Yahweh is direct and precise in His judgment that all the labors of the astrologers will come to naught, for He has determined that their season of sin is about to come to an end: “Look, they are like stubble; fire burns them up. They cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame” (v. 14).
D.A. Carson comments: “It is Babylon’s proper fate: there can be no mercy, for she has shown none….Yet the description is not without pity. We are watching the triumph of justice, but equally the tragedy of the sinner. Dust and toil, nakedness and shame, silence and darkness – these symbols of damnation have an added bitterness by the glimpse of the arrogant gaiety which they quench for ever. We can enter into her sinking of heart as the trusted expedients fail (the magic spells, sorceries and horoscopes of vs 12–14), and the old associates drift prudently away, ‘each in his own direction’ (15,), like the fair-weather friends that they are” (New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, S. Is 47:1).
Copyright 2010 by Rob Phillips