December 2: Revelation 18:4-8

Revelation 18:1-8, continued

Revelation 18:4-5

“And I heard another voice out of heaven saying: ‘Come out, my people, (come) out of her, (so) that you should not have (anything) in common with her sins, and (so) that you should not (also) receive (any) out of the (thing)s striking her; (for it is) that her sins (have) stuck (one on top of the other), (reaching) as far as heaven, and God (has) remembered her injustices!'”

The voice coming from heaven indicates that the announcement is not so much coming through the intermediary of a specific Messenger (Angel), as it is a message coming from God Himself. This adds to the drama and climactic nature of the scene. In 10:4 the heavenly voice is associated with the sound of thunder, a traditional idiom for the voice of God (loq in Hebrew meaning both “voice” and “thunder”). A similar voice sounding in 16:1 directs the start of the great Judgment in the bowl-vision cycle.

The first part of the message in vv. 4-5 is directed at the people of God, which may seem strange since, within the visionary narrative, this moment occurs at the end (or climax) of the great Judgment, presumably after the faithful ones (believers) have already been rescued. This is to miss the main point of the visions, which are aimed at the people living in the Roman Empire (Asia Minor) at the time of the writing, before the great Judgment strikes. This part of the message is aimed at those believers—and, we may say, all believers—as a warning not to become enmeshed in the wicked worldly power of the “great city”. Those who leave “Babylon” are the faithful ones who will escape the coming Judgment.

The actual wording in vv. 4-5 echoes that of the oracle against Babylon in Jeremiah 50-51, specifically 51:45 (also 50:8; 51:6, 9); a similar message occurs in Isa 52:11, which is taken and applied (in a more general sense) for believers as part of the catena (Scripture chain) in 2 Cor 6:16-18. To “leave” Babylon (or the Roman Empire and its imperial government) is not meant in the literal sense of changing geographic location; rather, it means not participating in the sinfulness of its worldly power and wickedness—including, but not limited to, its pagan ‘idolatry’.

The motif of Babylon’s sins being “stuck together” (vb kolla/w), i.e. so that they are stacked one on top of the other, likely is an allusion to the ancient Babel narrative in Genesis, with its image of a ziggurat-tower that reaches high up into the sky, practically up to heaven (Gen 11:4). Here it is the city’s sins that pile up, figuratively, like a great tower. The imagery also reflects the idea of the pride and arrogance of the nations (and their rulers), with their worldly ambition to ‘reach up to heaven’ and rule like God on earth (Isa 14:13-14; Ezek 28:2; 31:3, 10, etc). This is central to the judgment against the nations in the Prophetic nation-oracles, and plays a key role in traditional Jewish eschatology and Messianism, and throughout the apocalyptic literature.

To say that God “remembers” injustice means specifically that he acts in judgment to punish it—Psalm 109:14; Jer 14:10; cf. Koester, pp. 699-700.

Revelation 18:6-7a

“You must give away to her even as she gave away, and make (it) two-fold for her—the two-fold (punishment)s according to her works!—(and) in the drinking-cup in which she mixed (the wine) you shall mix (it) for her two-fold; as much as she esteemed her(self) and (liv)ed roughly (for pleasure), give this much to her (in the pain of) testing and (its) sorrow!”

Justice requires that the punishment fit the crime and be proportionate to it. This is the ancient principle of lex talionis, and the irony for the wicked is that they will end up experiencing the same sorts of things that they did to others. However, the crimes of the “great city” are such that in the Judgment they will receive double the measure back in the form of punishment. Having done violence to others (esp. believers), “Babylon” will suffer the same kind of violence herself (Jer 50:15, 29; Psalm 137:8); on the motif of double-payment, cf. Isa 40:2; Jer 16:18 (Koester, p. 700).

It is not immediately clear just who the heavenly voice is addressing with the imperatives in verses 6-7. The address in vv. 4-5 was aimed at believers, but it is unlikely that this is the sense here. Heavenly Messengers (Angels) are usually depicted as delivering the Judgment, especially when it involved natural disaster or death. However, according to 17:16, it is clear that the “horns” of the Sea-creature—best understood as vassal kings of the Empire—are the ones who will bring destruction and desolation on the “great city”. While prompted by their own wicked impulses, they act according to the will of God, who ultimately controls the events, using the kings as a means to bring about judgment (v. 17). Frequently in the Prophetic nation-oracles, judgment comes by way of invasion and military attack (by human armies), and so it is here as well.

The measure of “Babylon’s” judgment is also based upon the extent to which this “woman” (prostitute) honored herself. Here I have rendered the verb doca/zw in the more literal sense of “esteem” (i.e., treat or regard with esteem), since it has to do with how the prostitute thinks of herself (cf. below). This self-pride leads to wanton and reckless behavior, as indicated by the verb strhnia/w (related to the noun strh=no$ in v. 3), which basically means “acting rough”, perhaps an allusion to the violence that accompanies her lavishly wicked lifestyle. While the Woman/Babylon may imagine that she is great and esteemed by all the world, the Judgment will result in a harsh and painful testing (basanismo/$) that will reveal her wicked and wretched true nature, and lead to great sorrow (pe/nqo$). This echoes the earlier idea that she will be left desolate and naked (17:16), stripped of all her fine clothing and jewels.

Revelation 18:7b-8

“(For it is) that in her heart she reckons that ‘I sit as a queen! I am not (one) lacking (a husband), and I shall (certainly) not see sorrow!’ Through this (then), in a single day the (thing)s striking her will come—death and sorrow and hunger, and in fire she will be burned down—(for it is) that strong (is) the Lord God, the (One hav)ing judged her!”

Here we see vividly what the woman thinks of herself, how she esteems herself—as a great ruler (queen, basi/lissa). Moreover, as one who has sexual intercourse (figuratively speaking) with many mates—all the “kings of the earth” —she certainly will never be “lacking” a husband. The noun xh/ra properly refers to someone lacking (that is, lacking a husband), often in the specific sense of a widow. The language here echoes that in Isa 47:8-9, a variation on the boast of kings and cities in the nation-oracles (cf. above). Rome was occasionally depicted as a queen or mistress of the world; for the personification of Rome as a woman seated (ruling) on seven hills, as in the chap. 17 vision, cf. the earlier note on 17:9. For similar wording (as in v. 7) applied to Rome as a woman, cf. Sibylline Oracles 5.173 (Koester, p. 701).

Verse 8 is parallel to verse 6, announcing that the punishment meted out to “Babylon” will be even greater and more intense than one might otherwise expect. In verse 6, this was expressed as a two-fold (i.e. double) punishment; here, the idea is that the judgment will come all at once, in a single (mi/a) moment. The use of the adjective mi/a (“one, single”) creates a wordplay allusion to the references in 17:12-13, 17, which also deal with the coming judgment on the city. The things that are to strike (plhgai/, ‘plagues’) are those very things associated with the siege and destruction of a city (cf. the previous note on 17:15-18). The “testing” (basanismo/$) mentioned in verse 7, generally refers to the testing of metal, etc, by fire; here, the woman/city is proven false and wicked in the judgment, and, as a result, is destroyed (burned to the ground) in fire.

The final phrase, declaring the strength of of God and His judgment, may be inspired by Jer 50:34, part of that earlier oracle on the fall of Babylon (the actual city). Here the emphasis is again on the fact that, even if the destruction of the “great city” will come through military attack (by the “horn”-kings), it is God Himself who brings this about—the kings and the armies act through His strength, not their own.

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