WORSHIP AND WEALTH
Blessed Lord, my life is enriched, fulfilled, and illuminated by your marvelous grace to me. I praise and bless your name.
Read REVELATION 18:1-10
Lament Over Fallen Babylon
18 After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. 2 With a mighty voice he shouted:
“‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’[a]
She has become a dwelling for demons
and a haunt for every impure spirit,
a haunt for every unclean bird,
a haunt for every unclean and detestable animal.
3 For all the nations have drunk
the maddening wine of her adulteries.
The kings of the earth committed adultery with her,
and the merchants of the earth grew rich from her excessive luxuries.”
Warning to Escape Babylon’s Judgment
4 Then I heard another voice from heaven say:
“‘Come out of her, my people,’[b]
so that you will not share in her sins,
so that you will not receive any of her plagues;
5 for her sins are piled up to heaven,
and God has remembered her crimes.
6 Give back to her as she has given;
pay her back double for what she has done.
Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
7 Give her as much torment and grief
as the glory and luxury she gave herself.
In her heart she boasts,
‘I sit enthroned as queen.
I am not a widow;[c]
I will never mourn.’
8 Therefore in one day her plagues will overtake her:
death, mourning and famine.
She will be consumed by fire,
for mighty is the Lord God who judges her.
Threefold Woe Over Babylon’s Fall
9 “When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:
“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!’
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me … grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.’1
Throughout this chapter, John continues mostly to hear rather than see things. The opening proclamation is remarkable – it sees the judgment of God over the empire as so certain that it declares it as having already happened, in the past tense. Equally striking is the description of the angel who makes this announcement – ‘He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor’ (v 1). The judgment of exploitative imperial power is depicted as good news for the whole world.
What is rather surprising, though, is the nature of the sin for which Rome is denounced. We might have thought that idolatry – giving to the emperor the praise and loyalty that is due to God alone – would be the main issue. That is the focus of earlier chapters, where the language of worship in heaven borrows from the imperial cult and gives to God the honors of the emperor. We might also think that sexual immorality is a concern, as in other parts of the New Testament, not least because the Judeo-Christian ethic of relationships was so at odds with the pagan world. When we read the three accusations in verse 3 in parallel, however, we can see that the main focus is the seductive temptation of wealth and power.
The immorality of the kings of the earth involved ‘luxury’ (v 9); kings across the empire saw their own power enhanced by the relationship with Rome, and that often allowed the accrual of great wealth. The ‘merchants of the earth grew rich’ (v 3), reflecting the importance of trade to keep the empire running. John, borrowing language from Jeremiah 51:45 calling God’s exiled people from the literal Babylon, urges his readers to separate themselves from this way of life and live by a different set of values.
In a consumer culture, where we are told that buying things is the answer to our problems, how easy is it to live differently and distinctively?
Lord, I live in a world of endless advertising, tempting me to keep up with others. Please help me to make you, and you alone, my heart’s desire.
1 Ps 51:10,12
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