bible blog 1581

The lectionary today gives a very sective version of this chapter, which avoids most of its detailed description of “Babylon” which has can be seen is disturbingly similar to modern mulitary and commercial empires.


1. I saw another angel come from heaven. This one had great power, and the earth was bright because of his glory. 2 The angel shouted,

“Fallen! Powerful Babylon
has fallen
and is now the home
of demons.
It is the den
of every filthy spirit
and of all unclean birds,
and every dirty
and hated animal.
3 Babylon’s evil and immoral wine
has made all nations drunk.
Every king on earth
has slept with her,
and every merchant on earth
is rich
because of
her evil desires.”
4 Then I heard another voice
from heaven shout,
“My people, you must escape
from Babylon.
Don’t take part in her sins
and share her punishment.
5 Her sins are piled
as high as heaven.
God has remembered the evil
she has done.
6 Treat her as she
has treated others.
Make her pay double
for what she has done.
Make her drink twice as much
of what she mixed
for others.
7 That woman honored herself
with a life of luxury.
Reward her now
with suffering and pain.
“Deep in her heart
Babylon said,
‘I am the queen!
Never will I be a widow
or know what it means
to be sad.’
8 And so, in a single day
she will suffer the pain
of sorrow, hunger, and death.
Fire will destroy
her dead body,
because her judge
is the powerful Lord God.”
9 Every king on earth who slept with her and shared in her luxury will mourn. They will weep, when they see the smoke from that fire. 10 Her sufferings will frighten them, and they will stand at a distance and say,

“Pity that great
and powerful city!
Pity Babylon!
In a single hour
her judgment has come.”
11 Every merchant on earth will mourn, because there is no one to buy their goods. 12 There won’t be anyone to buy their gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, sweet-smelling wood, fancy carvings of ivory and wood, as well as things made of bronze, iron, or marble. 13 No one will buy their cinnamon, spices, incense, myrrh, frankincense,[a] wine, olive oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle, sheep, horses, chariots, slaves, and human lives.

14 Babylon, the things
your heart desired
have all escaped
from you.
Every luxury
and all your glory
will be lost forever.
You will never
get them back.
15 The merchants had become rich because of her. But when they saw her sufferings, they were terrified. They stood at a distance, crying and mourning. 16 Then they shouted,

“Pity the great city
of Babylon!
She dressed in fine linen
and wore purple
and scarlet cloth.
She had jewelry
made of gold
and precious stones
and pearls.
17 Yet in a single hour
her riches disappeared.”
Every ship captain and passenger and sailor stood at a distance, together with everyone who does business by traveling on the sea. 18 When they saw the smoke from her fire, they shouted, “This was the greatest city ever!”

19 They cried loudly, and in their sorrow they threw dust on their heads, as they said,

carvings of ivory, wine, oil....and human lives

carvings of ivory, wine, oil….and human lives

“Pity the great city
of Babylon!
Everyone who sailed the seas
became rich
from her treasures.
But in a single hour
the city was destroyed.
20 The heavens should be happy
with God’s people
and apostles and prophets.
God has punished her
for them.”
21 A powerful angel then picked up a huge stone and threw it into the sea. The angel said,

“This is how the great city
of Babylon
will be thrown down,
never to rise again.
22 The music of harps and singers
and of flutes and trumpets
will no longer be heard.
No workers will ever
set up shop in that city,
and the sound
of grinding grain
will be silenced forever.
23 Lamps will no longer shine
anywhere in Babylon,
and couples will never again
say wedding vows there.
Her merchants ruled
the earth,
and by her witchcraft
she fooled all nations.
24 On the streets of Babylon
is found the blood
of God’s people
and of his prophets,
and everyone else.”

Babylon is a “great whore” with whom all the powerful of the earth have slept. This is a metaphor for the attractiveness of the great empire which has become a desirable idol for those who do business with it. It is a market for any commodity whatsover from the the ordinary, like wine and oil, to therare and  extraordinary like eastern spice and African ivory. Anything can be found, supplied and sold, even human beings. It controls the technologies of trade by land and sea. Its rulers imagined that the great city would last forever. 

This is how the prophet saw the Roman Empire: as a predatory commercual and military network that encouraged an idolatrous worship of power and wealth. It’s a view that Gibbon, the great appreciator of Roman civilisation, found incomprehensible and barbarous, just as the modern idolaters of the market find the criticisms of  “have not” parties like Podemos in Spain and Syryza in Greece and of Green parties everywhere. For the author the demonic aspect of Babylon is its superhuman arrogance which challenges God and which will bring about its downfall.

Kei Miller, Poet

Kei Miller, Poet

Rasta theology still uses the imagery of Babylon and still places the image of Zion, the City of God, as its great oipponent. Kei Miller’s latest book of poetry, “The Cartographer tries to map a way to Zion” is a series of dialogues between the Cartogapher with his technoloogy and the Rastaman with his wisdom. This theology deserves consideration along with other radical refusals of market idolatry, like liberation theology in Christian, Buddhist and Hindu traditions.  Thinkers like these are not barbarians as Gibbon thought, but people who refuse to give the title of civilisation to an empire that depends on conquest, slavery and impoverishment of the common earth.

As the church prepares itself for Advent this vision may arm it against participating at all in the greatest fesitival of modern Babylon: Christmas.

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