We are back in our study after our mid-summer shrimp boil. This week we will be discussing Revelation 18-19. In these verses, John gives us a celebratory dirge over the Fall of Babylon the Great followed by a heavenly Hallelujah chorus.
The Prophetic Tradition:
Going back to the Songs of Moses and Miriam in Exodus 15, the Hebrew Scriptures celebrate the downfall of the enemies of God. In Revelation 18, John draws from Isaiah 23-24, Jeremiah 50-51, and Ezekiel 26-28 in composing his song of vanquishing evil. If you have time, please read through these other prophetic celebratory dirges and see the commonality between Revelation and the major prophets. The common condemnation is not so much pagan idolatry (although the condemnation of such is present) but rather the prophets and John condemn the actions of kings (political violence) and merchants (exploitive economic systems). It is these brutal and oppressive political and economic systems that have demanded and received the worship and devotion that belongs to God alone and have now received their retribution which must be celebrated.
The other commonality between John and the prophets is that God’s retribution will certainly and swiftly occur. These worldly systems of oppression rival God’s commands to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with him (Micah 6:8). God will simply not allow these systems to last forever.
The Call to Leave:
The second verse of this celebratory dirge begins with the command to “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins.” (v.4, Jer. 51:6). This command to come out assumes that our existence lies, at least in part, within Babylon. For us, John’s audience, this song in Revelation 18 is not only a victory hymn but a means of self-reflection. Babylon, the great political and economic power of this world, is condemned because she gloried in this power. (v.7). Kings, politicians, and citizens became drunk with her power and whored themselves out to share in this power. Merchants and consumers glorified themselves with the riches that Babylon’s economy provided in satisfying every lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16).
John’s command to leave Babylon behind is this call to leave behind earthly political power and command to leave behind an exploitative economy. Today, we live in the most powerful, economically successful nation the world has ever known. The temptation to stay within and enjoy the political and economic fruits of Babylon are most acute with us. John’s condemnation is not simply against the kings and merchants but against all who cooperate with, do business with, or benefit from the political and economic system they have created.
An example of what leaving Babylon looks like is John Newton (1725-1807). Newton was the captain of a slave ship and invested in the slave trade. A few years after his conversion experience, he realized that he not only had to leave the slaving business but to actively work against it. (Newton wrote Amazing Grace about his experience.) Our call to leave is the same. We too must determine what parts of the American political and economic system we must absent ourselves from and actively work against.
There are several great hymns that come from Revelation. However, one of my vices is my affinity for heavy metal bands. One of these bands, Avenged Sevenfold (taken from Cain’s right to take vengeance seven times the harm done to him (Gen. 4:15)), uses Revelation 18 almost exclusively as their lyrics in their song “The Beast and the Harlot.” The video is here (NSFW) and the lyrics are here. Although the song will never be mistaken for a hymn, it does do a good job of conveying the destruction of Babylon and the reasons thereof.
Dinner is at 6:30. The menu is ginger-glazed baked cod. Discussion about 7:15. Hope to see you here.
Behold, this was the guilt of your sister Sodom: she and her daughters had pride, excess of food, and prosperous ease, but did not aid the poor and needy. They were haughty and did an abomination before me. So I removed them, when I saw it.Ezekiel 16:49-50