The Fall Of Babylon - Rev. Herman Hoeksema
Behold He Cometh - Chapter 43
1 And after these things I saw another angel come down from heaven, having great power; and the earth was lightened with his glory.
2 And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.
3 For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies.
4 And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
5 For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.
6 Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.
7 How much she Bath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow.
8 Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.
9 And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning,
10 Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come.
l I And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more;
12 The merchandise of gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls and fine linen, and purple, and silk, and scarlet, and all thyine wood, and all manner vessels of ivory, and all manner vessels of most precious wood, and of brass, and iron, and marble,
13 And cinnamon, and odours, and ointments, and frankincense, and wine, and oil, and fine flour, and wheat, and beasts, and sheep, and horses, and chariots, and slaves, and souls of men.
14 And the fruits that thy soul lusted after are departed from thee, and all things which were dainty and goodly are departed from thee, and thou shalt find them no more at all.
15 The merchants of these things, which were made rich by her, shall stand afar off for the fear of her torment, weeping and wailing,
16 And saying, Alas, alas that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls!
17 For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off,
18 And cried when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, What city is like unto this great city!
19 And they cast dust on their heads, and cried, weeping and wailing, saying, Alas, alas that great city, wherein were made rich all that had ships in the sea by reason of her costliness! for in one hour is she made desolate.
20 Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her.
21 And a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone, and cast it into the sea, saying, Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all.
22 And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee;
23 And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee: for thy merchants were the great men of the earth; for by thy sorceries were all nations deceived.
24 And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.
We have devoted considerable time to the discussion of Babylon the Great, the Mystery, the Mother of Harlots and Abominations of the Earth.
First we discussed Babylon as such. We found that she is both a woman-harlot and a city. As woman she is no doubt a symbol of the church on earth as an institution for the building up of the saints and for the propagation of the gospel of the kingdom. As harlot, however, she is the apostate church, who has denied her true character, forsaken her rightful husband, Jesus Christ, and surrendered herself to be employed as an instrument of the world-power and of Antichrist. And as a city her essential character is revealed. For even as the true church of Christ shall ultimately reveal itself as the New Jerusalem, so the counterfeit church shall reveal itself as the counterfeit Jerusalem, that is, Babylon.
Secondly, we also discussed the beast on whom the woman-harlot was found sitting. And we found that in it a picture is presented to our view of the worldpower in its historical development as well as in its ultimate formation. Seven kingdoms shall come before the world-power, as the eighth, shall be able to come to its realization and consummation. With the seventh all the then-existing kings shall combine their power; and they all shall give it to the beast, that is, the kingdom of Antichrist. That beast shall make war with the Christ and His saints, but shall be overthrown by them; and Christ shall have the victory.
In the third place, we discussed the judgment of the great whore, the harlotwoman. We found that her harlotry consisted in an illegal relation in which she, as church, stands to the world-power. She is called to be the manifestation of the body of Christ in the world, and she gives herself to be the body of the beast. She is called to build the saints in the most holy faith, and she makes all the inhabitants of the earth drunk with the wine of her fornications. She is called to be the army of an eternal kingdom, based on the atoning blood of the Savior; and she labors for the establishment of a temporal kingdom of Antichrist which has no part with the blood of Christ Jesus and is doomed to destruction. She is called to employ the spiritual means of the Word and of the sacraments; and instead she abandons the truth of the Word of God and seeks refuge in outward means and external instruments to establish the promised kingdom. She is the harlot, the apostate woman, who labors for the beast instead of for the kingdom of Christ. And we found also that her judgment as harlot is certain: she will ultimately disappear as an institution, because her very lovers shall hate her. The kings who committed fornication with her shall aim at her destruction. The very appearance of the church in this dispensation shall be annoying, nauseating, to them; and therefore they shall obliterate her from the face of the earth. Then the woman as harlot shall exist no more. The instituted church has come to the end of her existence. But she shall reappear as a city whose mystical name is Babylon. For in Babylon, the center and heart of the antichristian kingdom, the spirit of that same woman who once appeared as the apostate church shall reign supreme.
In the chapter we are now approaching, Chapter 18, however, the destruction of that great city is portrayed in highly descriptive and symbolic language. It is not advisable to divide the chapter: for evidently all the material found here belongs together, elaborates upon one and the same theme, concentrates itself around the same central thought. And that central thought of the chapter is the fall of Babylon. And therefore this we must now discuss.
It cannot escape our attention that purposely the text gives us once more a description of Babylon, this time of her existence as a city. Even as in the end we are presented with an elaborate description of the New Jerusalem, its beauty and glory and blessedness, so we are also given a picture of the highest attainment of the world-power and of the apostate church as it is pictured in the city of Babylon. But the difference is that while Jerusalem's description is connected with her final and absolute glory and victory over all enemies, the elaborate description of Babylon is connected with its ultimate destruction. But in order to understand the significance of the downfall of Babylon, it will be necessary that we obtain a glimpse of her real importance, of her greatness and riches, of her influence and control of all the matters of the world. It makes no difference whether we accept the view that Babylon shall be a real city, or whether we are inclined to believe that this element belongs to the symbolism of the picture, certain it remains that in the fall of Babylon we meet with the fall of all human labor and attainment, the fall of the entire structure of the antichristian kingdom.
In the first place, then, Babylon is plainly pictured as the center of the antichristian kingdom from a royal and legislative point of view. In the pride of her heart she exclaims to herself: "I sit a queen, and shall see no sorrow!" She sits, therefore, upon many waters as a queen. Babylon is the royal city. From Babylon goes forth the law over many nations and tongues and tribes and multitudes. There is the judicial wisdom of the kingdom. From there the laws are issued. There resides the executive power. If I may for a moment accept that the head of that kingdom shall be a person, the very culmination of the antichristian principle, he lives in Babylon, and from Babylon he reigns. There is the power which controls all things, which keeps order, which regulates commerce and industry, which regulates science and art and religion, which establishes the form of worship for the beast. This is also plain from the repeated expression that "the kings of the earth committed fornication with her and lived deliciously with her." Babylon was the glory of the kings of the earth, their stronghold and center. In Babylon the ten kings of the earth, of the great alliance with the beast, came together to make their plans for the advancement of their cause and kingdom and for their war against the Christ and against His saints. In a word, Babylon appears as the royal center, as the throne of Antichrist. She is the center of all law and rule for the entire world; and all the world obeys her will. Without Babylon the antichristian kingdom is inconceivable, even as Germany is inconceivable without Berlin, France without Paris, England without London. She is of central significance for all the kingdom.
In the second place, we may also notice that Babylon is pictured in the text as being the heart and center of all the commerce in the world, the home of industry and art. Not merely a city among others is Babylon, but the city, the only city that is a center of business and industry and art and science, from whence these are controlled over the entire world and without which the life of industry and commerce is gone. Such a city is Babylon, according to the chapter we are now discussing. This is plain from the description of the weeping and wailing merchants, who stand afar off and are pictured as beholding her destruction with fear and anguish. Babylon is the merchant of this world. She sells every conceivable article; and if she cannot sell, all the commerce and business of the world is at a standstill. Babylon sells gold and silver and precious stones and pearls. She is the only money-market in the world. Babylon sells fine linen and purple and scarlet, matters of necessity and luxury. Babylon controls the sale of all the products of industry. She it is who sells vessels of thyine wood, of ivory, and most precious wood, of brass and iron, and marble. On her market we find the products of all parts of the world: the spices of tropical zones, the wine and the oil of more moderate climate, cinnamon and incense and ointment and frankincense, - these all must be bought within her walls. Babylon controls all the necessities of life. For they are her merchants who have a monopoly of fine flour and wheat, of cattle and sheep and horses and chariots. Yea, Babylon controls the power of universal labor. For her merchants sell the bodies and souls of men. Babylon controls the luxuries of the world. For she is decked with purple and gold; and the luscious fruits and dainty things are found within her borders. Still more, Babylon also controls every craft. For the angel who symbolizes the fall of Babylon by casting a large stone into the sea announces that no craftsman, of whatsoever craft, shall be found any more in her, and that the sound of the millstone is silenced within her walls forever. She is the mother of music and fine arts, of pipers and trumpeters, of the invention of many a thing of convenience and luxury. She is the center of joy, the mistress of life, in the kingdom of Antichrist. Without her there is no commerce: for the merchants shall wail because no one can buy their merchandise any more after the destruction of Babylon. Without her there is neither art nor science nor industry conceivable. She is, in one word, the heart and center of the business and life of all the world.
In the third place, she is pictured as a luxurious and wicked city. The kings of the earth commit fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth wax rich by the power of her wantonness, vs. 3. Luscious fruits and dainty things, whatever is nice and pleasant to the taste, are found in her, vs. 14. She is arrayed in fine linen and purple and scarlet and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, vs. 16. Within her walls is heard the voice of harpers and minstrels, of flute-players and trumpeters, the joyful voice of the bridegroom and the bride, vss. 22, 23. She is, therefore, a city filled to overflowing with joy and abundance. There is the culmination of all that human ingenuity could possibly invent for the joy and bliss and ease and comfort of man. There is no cry of the suffering. There is no groan of the poor. There is no complaint of the wronged. There is the gathering of all the blessings of science and art and industry. There is equality and justice and brotherhood. There is found the climax of man's attainment, the realization of the number Six hundred sixty-six.
But there is also found the very height of iniquity and godlessness. Of her we read that her sins have reached to heaven, and they have risen mountain high, so that she deceived all the nations of the earth with her sorceries, and that the blood of prophets and saints and of all who have been slain upon the earth is flowing through her streets. Her antitype, therefore, is Sodom and Gomorrah, the wicked center of godlessness and luxury of old. Also there was luxury and splendor and riches and no want. But also there the voice of their iniquity cried to Jehovah Sabaoth, so that He remembered their sins. In the pride of her wantonness and the rottenness of her luxurious living she blasphemes the name of Jehovah. She arose in wanton rebellion against the Almighty, fought against the Lamb and against His saints, and proudly manifests the emblem of the image of the beast. She is also world-controlling in her wicked luxury and godlessness.
As to the fall of this great metropolitan city, we may remark, first of all, that the manner of it is not definitely described in the chapter.
In the first place, we may notice that this is generally the case when pictures concerning the end are held before us in the Word of God. We usually are not told in detail just exactly how the end shall be. We are informed that Christ shall come, and that He shall come with the clouds; but we are not told the details of that coming. We must be content with the facts. We are told that God's people shall be delivered and that they shall have no part with the very final judgment of the world; but exactly how this shall take place is hidden behind the veil of symbolism. We must be satisfied with the facts. The New Jerusalem is to come down from heaven and shall have dominion over the new heaven and the new earth; but also this greatest of all events is clothed in the garb of highest symbolism, and the manner is left in the dark.
The same is true of Babylon. We are told that she shall come to her final destruction. As we have remarked in a former connection, we are also told in general outlines that the devil shall be the cause of his own destruction, - a fact which has repeatedly become plain in history and which lies in the nature of the case. He shall rouse the nations against his own kingdom, not indeed for that purpose, but to war against Jehovah. But in the meantime he shall fulfill God's own counsel, and he shall work for his own destruction. But exactly how the devil shall do this we are not informed. Most natural it is, indeed, to assume that the satanic influence of Antichrist in the world of the nations which live at the four corners of the earth shall ultimately have the result that they rise in enmity against the world of Christendom, which is really the Antichristendom of the beast; and, thinking that they shall strike at the Lamb and His people, they shall destroy the beast. For that same reason I would take the address in verses 6 and 7 as meant not for God's people, but rather for the nations which must execute God's wrath upon Babylon. Outwardly the text would seem to contradict this statement. For we read: "Reward her even as she rewarded you," which evidently would be addressed to the people of God. But in the original this impression is not given. We simply read: "Render unto her even as she rendered, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she mingled mingle unto her double. How much soever she glorified herself and waxed wanton, so much give unto her of torment and mourning." It is true, the nations which execute this wrath of God upon Babylon will have an entirely different purpose in mind. Their purpose will undoubtedly be to strike at the power of the Lamb and His people. And this very purpose becomes their sin and their guilt. But the fact remains that through this God executes His own will and counsel, even as through the pride and self-exaltation of Jehu, for which he was afterward rebuked and punished, God sent His punishment upon the house of Ahab.
However this may be, Babylon shall fall. That is the certainty of our text and of our chapter.
This is pictured twice. In the firsf place, it is announced by the strong and powerful angel with great authority who comes down from heaven and shouts, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great." The certainty of her fall is indicated in the perfect tense. The angel speaks as if the city is fallen already, even though evidently that fall is still anticipated, to indicate that her doom is certain. And again, the certainty of her doom is also expressed in the repetition of the word "fallen." Babylon shall surely fall. The certainty of that fall is so great, and the fall is so imminent, that it is as though it had already taken place. And, in the second place, we are told of this fall of Babylon symbolically in the picture of the angel who comes down from heaven and, taking up a great millstone, casts it into the sea, explaining, "Thus with violence shall that great city Babylon be thrown down, and shall be found no more at all." And therefore we receive the information that the fall of Babylon is certain, as well as that it shall be sudden and complete and that it shall be found no more at all.
The last consideration leads us to the second thought on the fall of Babylon, namely, that it shall evidently be complete and final. It shall be the last of Babylon and her antichristian power. She shall never be rebuilt. Her utter desolation is directly pictured in the words of the mighty angel, vs. 2: "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird." So the prophet Isaiah had pictured the fall of Babylon before, a fall which was partially fulfilled in the destruction of literal Babylon, but which shall reach its complete realization in the fall of the great antichristian power: "And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms, the beauty of the Chaldees' excellency, shall be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. It shall never be inhabited, neither shall it be dwelt in from generation to generation: neither shall the Arabian pitch tent there; neither shall the shepherds make their fold there. But wild beasts of the desert shall lie there; and their houses shall be full of doleful creatures; and owls shall dwell there, and satyrs shall dance there. And the wild beasts of the islands shall cry in their desolate houses, and dragons in their pleasant palaces: and her time is near to come, and her days shall not be prolonged," (Isaiah 13:19-22). The same is indicated in verse 8 of our chapter, where we read: "Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her." And, lastly, this is pictured once again in verses 22 and 23 of our chapter, where the angel announces her future condition: "And the voice of harpers, and musicians, and of pipers, and trumpeters, shall be heard no more at all in thee; and no craftsman, of whatsoever craft he be, shall be found any more in thee; and the sound of a millstone shall be heard no more at all in thee; And the light of a candle shall shine no more at all in thee; and the voice of the bridegroom and of the bride shall be heard no more at all in thee."
In a word, it is a picture of utter desolation that is drawn before our eyes. Instead of the splendor of her appearance, she now shows the appearance of a hole of demons and evil spirits and wild and unclean beasts. Instead of the joyful light and illumination of her festive streets, there is now absolute darkness: for even the light of a candle shall shine no more. Instead of the bustle of machinery, the joyful sound of music, the glad voice of bride and bridegroom, there is now a doleful and gloomy silence. Babylon is turned into a region of death and destruction. All her glory is gone in one hour, and that forever. It is the final and complete judgment upon Babylon. She has committed fornication with the kings and princes of the world. She has made the nations drunk with the wine of her fornication. She has deceived them all with her sorceries. In her was found the blood of all the saints and prophets. She has made war with the Lamb throughout the ages. Her iniquity rises to heaven. Therefore, in one hour is her final and complete destruction come. God judges her rightly: according to what she has done she is rewarded.
This leads us to our third observation on the fall of Babylon as such, namely, the time of her destruction. The chapter itself does not indicate any time. It simply tells us of the destruction. But, in the first place, it may be remarked that the very completeness and finality of her destruction already makes us think that this is one of the scenes of the last days, when all who have exalted themselves against Him shall be destroyed by the appearance of the Mighty One. And from Chapter 16, verse 19, we learned that this destruction of Babylon falls within the events which constitute the realization of the seventh vial. Driven by God's own counsel, the devil shall have bewitched the nations to war against the Lamb. And at the outpouring of the sixth vial, Euphrates shall be dried up and the way of the kings of the east prepared. The thrones of the kings of the beast shall be darkness, indicating that there shall be internal unrest within the kingdom of Antichrist itself before the great day of Armageddon comes. They shall strike at the center of the antichristian dominion first of all, and she shall be overcome. All these things constitute the tremendous events which must take place at the end of time. And it is at that very last that also Babylon shall be destroyed, that she shall fall and her sins shall be remembered in the sight of God.
Babylon's Fall And The World
As to the significance of this fall of Babylon for the world in general, we may be brief. Her fall simply means the fall of the entire antichristian kingdom. This is already clear from the very nature of the case. Babylon is pictured as the very center of antichristian power. She is pictured as the throne and heart of the kingdom. Without her, as we mentioned, there is no commerce and no industry, no business, no science, no art, no philosophy, no riches, and no pleasure and joy. In a word, the entire structure of the kingdom rested on Babylon as its cornerstone. And therefore, when she falls, the kingdom falls. It is all done with her greatness and her joy, her riches and her abundance, her pleasure and luxury. The power of Antichrist is completely broken through the fall of Babylon.
This is also indicated symbolically by the weeping and wailing of the kings of the earth and the merchants and the shipmasters and sailors. First of all, the kings are mentioned. They are pictured as standing afar off and weeping over the fall of Babylon. These princes of the earth had all their power concentrated in Babylon. The fall of that city is their fall. It is the end of all world power. It is the end of kings and princes and of all rulers of the earth. Then the merchants, the great businessmen and corporations of the world, are mentioned. They had all their riches in Babylon, - their gold and their silver and precious stones, and all the articles of their merchandise. They also stand weeping for the reason that no one from now on can buy their merchandise any more. It is the end of materialism, the end of the god of this world, the end of all greed and lust and gain, the end of that power that would buy from and sell to only those who had the mark of the beast. And, finally, the people who work for these merchants, the shipmasters and sailors, who depended on Babylon for a job, are also pictured as bewailing the fall of the great city. And therefore, it is very plain that the fall of Babylon implies the downfall of that entire beautiful structure of the dragon which was pictured in Chapter 13 as having dominion over all things and over all the nations of the world. With Babylon, so Chapter 16, verse 19 tells us, all the cities of the nations fall together. And therefore, whether we take it that Babylon shall be a real center, or whether we look upon her as the symbolic center of Antichristendom, certain it is that her fall is the last of Antichrist.
Babylon's Fall And God's People
Finally, in regard to the relation of the people of God to Babylon and its fall, we must observe, in the first place, that they are admonished to separate from Babylon. No doubt this is first of all meant in the spiritual sense of the word. A voice comes to them, "Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins." Literally they shall not be able to separate themselves from Babylon, for she is everywhere. Even if in her final manifestation she shall reveal herself as a literal city, which is not at all impossible, the fact remains that she will be sitting upon many waters and that her sway and influence is felt all over the world, yea, that she is present in every city, in all business and commerce, and in every shop and store. If she would literally separate from Babylon, the church would have to go out of the world. And therefore, a spiritual separation is meant, in the first place. And this is plainly indicated by the words "that ye may have no fellowship with her sins." The people of God must know Babylon. They must see her true character. They must realize that her hope is outside of Christ, that her hope is altogether in this world, that she is antichristian and serves the devil, that she tramples under foot the blood of Christ. However beautiful and Christian she may appear, they must discern her true nature and refuse to have fellowship with her. And instead, they must with might and main cling to the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus. They must maintain that Christ is King and that His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom in glory.
But although this is true, nevertheless I do not doubt that also a literal separation is implied in these words. I imagine, as we have had occasion to notice before, that before the last judgment shall be inflicted upon wicked Babylon, the voice mentioned here will go forth with power; and the people of God shall be taken away from the world. Not, indeed, as if a long period would intervene between the removal of the last of God's children and the end of the world; but they shall be removed. The voice will become powerful, will become irresistible, and will call powerfully the faithful and chosen from the midst of the arena of strife and tribulation to be with Christ in glory forever. How this is to be performed the text does not tell us; but that it is to be done is very clear. And the purpose of this removal of the children of God is plainly indicated in the words "and that ye receive not of her plagues." They shall not partake of her judgment. Before the final punishment is inflicted on Babylon, the children of God shall be no more in the world.
In the second place, the judgment on Babylon and on the antichristian kingdom in general will be a cause of great joy to all them that love the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the text this is indicated, as also in the next chapter. A voice shouts: "Rejoice over her, thou heaven, and ye holy apostles and prophets; for God hath avenged you on her," (vs. 20). No wonder! It is in Babylon that the blood of all the saints is found: for she is the culmination and highest realization of the power of opposition in the world of all ages. It was in Babylon that these saints were in tribulation, that they were made a laughing-stock because of their antiquated ideas and other-worldly hopes. It was Babylon that laughed at them when they testified of Jesus and of the hope that was in them, when they refused to believe in all the hopes and expectations of the world, refused to help along in the building up of the world. In a word, the apostles and prophets and the saints were always the mockery and laughingstock, looked upon as fools and idiots who knew not how to value things at their right estimation. And therefore, they must be set right; and it must become apparent that they were right and true. Even as for a long time they laughed at Noah and his message and his building of the ark, so also the world for ages laughed at all the people of God and their message and the building of their ark of hope in Christ Jesus. But even as Noah was justified when the world of wickedness was destroyed, so also shall the saints and the apostles and prophets be publicly justified when this world and all the vainglorious harlotries of this world shall be destroyed and its calamity shall come in one day.
Rejoice, therefore, ye saints, even in anticipation! Have no fellowship with the sins of Babylon! For the New Jerusalem alone shall stand and have the victory forever! But Babylon and all its abominations shall fall and be desolate forever!