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Revelation 18:15-17 says,
15 The merchants of these things, who became rich from her, will stand at a distance because of the fear of her torment, weeping and mourning, 16 saying, “Woe, woe, the great city, she who was clothed in the linen and purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, 17 for in one hour such great wealth has been laid waste!” And every shipmaster and every passenger and sailor, and as many as make their living by the sea, stood at a distance…
Although Babylon is oppressive, it also is a place where people can gain much wealth. In fact, the opportunity to make money has been its main attraction. Those afflicted with “the love of money” (1 Timothy 6:10) are largely unconcerned with Babylon’s lack of morality or its slavery. Such things are secondary to most people. In fact, as the people become corrupt, they come to abhor the moral restraints of the God who cares more about personal character and the strength of families than about wealth.
When the Judahites were allowed to leave Babylon, less than 50,000 did so, preferring to remain in Babylon where economic opportunities abounded. For centuries, Babylon remained the religious center of Judaism. The greatest Jewish scholars lived in Babylon. The Babylonian Talmud therefore had greater authority than the Jerusalem Talmud.
Comparing Sodom and Babylon
In earlier times, Lot chose the fertile plain of Sodom and Gomorrah, while Abraham remained in the land of Canaan. Genesis 13:11-13 says,
11 So Lot chose for himself all the valley of the Jordan; and Lot journeyed eastward. Thus, they separated from each other. 12 Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled in the cities of the valley, and moved his tents as far as Sodom. 13 Now the men of Sodom were wicked exceedingly and sinners against the Lord.
The prospect of wealth draws even righteous men, who think that they will not be affected personally by the immorality of their neighbors. Lot himself was able to maintain a righteous life style, for when God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, 2 Peter 2:7-9 says,
7 and if He rescued righteous Lot, oppressed by the sensual conduct of unprincipled men 8 (for by what he saw and heard that righteous man, while living among them, felt his righteous soul tormented day after day with their lawless deeds), 9 then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment.
Nonetheless, Lot still hesitated to leave at the urging of the angels (Genesis 19:15, 16). He begged the angels to let him travel only a short distance to nearby town of Zoar (Genesis 19:19, 20). Of course, once the full impact of the destruction was seen, Lot “was afraid to stay in Zoar,” so he changed his mind and went further to a cave up in the mountains (Genesis 19:30). In the Day of the Lord, “men will go into caves of the rocks” (Isaiah 2:19). It appears that this will include believers as well as unbelievers.
In this story, Lot represents the church, while Abraham represents the overcomers inheriting the Kingdom. God would not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah until Lot had been evacuated, but at the same time, Lot lost nearly everything—all the wealth that he had accumulated in Sodom.
Burning the City
We may learn many lessons from this story, for the overthrow of these cities is much like the overthrow of Babylon. Genesis 19:27, 28 says,
27 Now Abraham arose early in the morning where he had stood before the Lord; 28 and he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the valley, and he saw, and behold, the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace.
Compare this with what the merchants of Babylon see when their city is destroyed in Revelation 18:18,
18 and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, “What city is like the great city?”
These merchants and shipmasters are forced to stand at a distance (Revelation 18:15, 17, 19) as they watch their beloved city burn to the ground. Lot, too, watched from a distance when the valley was on fire. In more recent times, the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City were destroyed in 2001 as a type of the destruction of Babylon. The two towers are suggested in the statement in Revelation 18:2, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon.”
In One Hour
Revelation 18:10 and 17 indicate that Babylon falls “in one hour.” The angel gives no starting point for this, but news stations often stated that the twin towers collapsed “in one hour.” This suggests that the destruction of the twin towers in 2001 was prophetic and may have set the timing for the actual fall of Babylon on a larger scale.
If a prophetic “day” is the same as a “time” of 360 years, then an hour is either 1/12 of this or 1/24 of this, depending on whether we include the night hours with the daytime hours. Hence, a prophetic “hour” is either 30 years or 15 years. It is 15 years from 2001-2016. It is 30 years from 2001-2031. These, then, are the times to watch for signs of Babylon’s fall.
We might also consider a day to be a thousand years (Psalm 90:4; 2 Peter 3:8), but when we try to divide a thousand by either 12 or 24, it does not come out with an even number. In other words, a day of a thousand years cannot be divided evenly into hours, so it is unlikely that this would be the way that we are to measure a prophetic hour.
The Merchants of Tyre
Revelation 18:19 continues,
19 And they [the merchants] threw dust on their heads and were crying out, weeping and mourning, saying, “Woe, woe, the great city, in which all who had ships at sea became rich by her wealth, for in one hour she has been laid waste!”
Throwing dust on one’s head was a sign of mourning, as we see in Joshua 7:6,
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until the evening, both he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.
The prophecies about Babylon are also related to those directed at the city of Tyre. Tyre was another merchant city that had become wealthy due to its merchant ships. Tyre was situated on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, so it is no surprise to read about the fall of Tyre in Ezekiel 27 in terms of merchant ships. It seems strange that Babylon, an inland city, would be described in Revelation 18 as a seaport. But prophetic Tyre and Babylon are not the old cities any more. They are the same end-time prophetic city.
Hence, Ezekiel 27 describes the destruction of Babylon in Revelation 18. Ezekiel 27:27-32 says,
26 Your rowers have brought you into great waters! The east wind has broken you in the heart of the seas. 27 Your wealth, your wares, your merchandise, your sailors, and your pilots, your repairers of seams, your dealers in merchandise, and all your men of war who are in you, with all your company that is in your midst, will fall into the heart of the seas on the day of your overthrow. 28 At the sound of the cry of your pilots the pasture lands will shake. 29 And all who handle the oar, the sailors, and all the pilots of the sea will come down from their ships; they will stand on the land, 30 and they will make their voice heard over you and will cry bitterly. They will cast dust on their heads, they will wallow in ashes. 31 Also they will make themselves bald for you and gird themselves with sackcloth; and they will weep for you in bitterness of soul with bitter mourning. 32 Moreover, in their wailing they will take up a lamentation for you and lament over you: “Who is like Tyre, like her who is silent in the midst of the sea?”
The similarity between the prophecy of Tyre’s destruction and that of Babylon is apparent. “Who is like Tyre?” they say in Ezekiel 27:32. “What city is like the great city?” they say about Babylon in Revelation 18:18. The merchants of both cities “cast dust on their heads” and mourn their financial losses instead of repenting for their immorality and idolatry.
By seeing Tyre and Babylon as the same end-time oppressor-harlot-city ruling the world, it is clear that its main focus is upon accumulating wealth and prosperity by usurping God’s earth unlawfully. Economic success is not a measure of morality, truth, or righteousness. In fact, Babylon’s system tends to create a wealthy class at the expense of the majority. The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer. Hence, the rich tend to enslave the poor.
God’s laws regarding land, inheritance, and even the law of Jubilee are designed to undergird all families with a basic form of wealth that cannot be taken away from them over the long term. Babylon (or Tyre) disregards these laws, allowing the wealth of the earth to flow in the direction of the few until there are only wealthy landowners and their poverty-stricken slaves.
For this reason, the Releasing Captives Angel concludes his revelation by telling John in Revelation 18:20,
20 Rejoice over her, O heaven, and you saints and apostles and prophets, because God has pronounced judgment for you against her.
While the merchants of Babylon weep and mourn over their loss, the righteous are told to “rejoice over her,” that is, to rejoice over the city’s fall. The reason for rejoicing is that “God has pronounced judgment for you against her.” The Emphatic Diaglott clarifies this: “because God judged your judgment on her.”
In other words, the saints, apostles, and prophets had taken Babylon to the divine court, and their case was successful. God decreed in favor of the saints of the Most High, as Daniel 7:22 says. Babylon falls, not only because God executes judgment, but because He has ruled in favor of the saints in their appeal to the great Judge of heaven and earth.