The first mention of Babylon as an infernal power in Revelation is, understandably, in a curse spoken by an angel of God: “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! She has made all nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication” (Revelation 14:8).
Her fornication is simply John’s colorful way of expressing her intimacy with the false gods of Olympianity. Babylon became great only in terms of power. She obtained this power only through an intimate knowledge of, trust in, and loyalty to Vulcan.
The wrath is God’s. In pronouncing a curse against her, one of God’s angels reveals God’s opposition to Babylon. The curse also reveals that God has doomed Babylon to destruction. Babylon that great city, and all lesser cities as weaker imitations of her and slaves to her, have no meaningful future.
All nations drink of the wine of the wrath of her fornication. This in contrast to drinking of the wine of communion of her faithfulness to Jesus. No, all nations in the world are Olympian; all devote themselves primarily to the six false Olympian gods. All, then, commune with Babylon: that power of darkness animating each age’s greatest city. All nations, then, will experience her destruction to the degree that they are devoted to her.
Babylon deceives herself and all of us Olympian personalities devoted to her. She believes, and succeeds in convincing us, that she will never die, that she is absolutely self-sufficient, that no meaningful alternative to her is even imaginable, and that no greater power exists in Heaven or on Earth. “[I]n her heart she says, ‘I rule as a queen; I am no widow, and I will never see grief’” (Revelation 18:7).
Only the revelation of Jesus through John teaches us otherwise. By doing so, it strengthens our Christian personalities devoted to him. “Her plagues will come in a single day…and she will be burned with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who judges her” (18:8). Babylon, and the Olympian gods who stand above her, have only illusory power. That power vanishes instantly when God reveals his absolute freedom from it and his steadfast love toward us.
With Babylon’s destruction, the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore (18:11). Isaiah (14:3-23) reveals the intimate connection between the city and perpetual war, gross exploitation, unending imprisonment, and ecological destruction. Here we learn of the same close connection between urban centers and commerce, stock markets, and commodity exchanges.
We learn that most commercial activity concerns trade in luxuries; that is, in products no one actually needs but that Babylon uses to seduce us. Our merchants weep because no one buys their cargo of gold, silver, jewels and pearls, fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet, all kinds of scented wood, all articles of ivory, all articles of costly wood, bronze, iron, and marble, cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense…(18:12-13a). When Babylon goes to her doom, all of our economic systems will go with her. All of us who benefited from them will feel her pain.
John lists the items for sale in Babylon. He begins with the products of greatest Olympian value, like gold, and proceeds to those valued least. And what are these? The bodies and souls of people (18:13b). That's Babylon's attitude toward human beings created in God's image. It's ours too as we devote ourselves to her in rebellion against that god and image.
(Today we continued our reflections on Jacques Ellul's The Meaning of the City [pp. 44-55]. All biblical quotes are from the New Revised Standard Version).
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