Text: Rev 18:9-24
OT Text: Ezekiel 27:1-36 ("A Lament over Tyre")
Featured Verse: Rev 18:15-17a The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,16 “Alas, alas, for the great city
that was clothed in fine linen,
in purple and scarlet,
adorned with gold,
with jewels, and with pearls!
17 For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”
Main Idea: The fall of Babylon brings grief to those who were complicit in her sinful prosperity.
[The text from yesterday's passage depicted the fall of Babylon. Now we see two different responses in the form of two different songs. The first (today) is a lament from those who shared in her wealth and sin. The second (tomorrow) is a victory song from those who suffered at her hand.]
A "lament" is a common Biblical expression of grief for something that is lost. Often it is given in the form of a song. Some of the most famous laments in the Bible take place after the destruction of Jerusalem. In fact, the entire book of Lamentations is one long song of sorrow remembering the Babylonian conquest of the city in 586 BC. In this sense a lament serves to help grieving people process by remembering the significance of their loss. At the risk of trivializing this phenomenon, a modern song like The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, serves a similar purpose in regard to a tragic loss of a ship hauling iron ore on Lake Superior during a storm in 1975.* To risk trivializing this even further, a "break up song" is another modern phenomenon in which a person might listen to a sad song to cope with their feelings of loss after a romantic relationship ends. Because modern people don't have very good processes of dealing with grief, other, more serious forms of lament are harder to come by.
However, the Bible also uses lament in a different way. Sometimes a lament song for a fallen enemy helps to highlight the significance of a victory. The best OT example is found in the book of Ezekiel. In terms strikingly parallel to Revelation 18, the downfall of Tyre, an ancient enemy of Israel, is lamented by the merchants who had benefitted from her prosperity. (Ezekiel 27) In this sense, the song of lament becomes something of a "taunt." A modern example would be the simple chorus, "Na na na-na na na, Hey Hey Hey, Good Bye", sung at opposing teams in the waning moments of a sports victory. We know that this is the case in Revelation 18, because the very next chapter presents a contrasting song from heaven. While the earthly kings and merchants, who were complicit in the oppressive luxury of Babylon grieve her downfall - the heavenly chorus sings, "Hallelujah... he has avenged on her the blood of her servants."
Conclusion and Application
Is it wrong to celebrate the downfall of your enemies?
It can be dangerous to celebrate the downfall of your personal enemies. After all, we are not particularly good judges and our hearts are easily biased. But it is a different thing to celebrate the downfall of God's enemies and the enemies of the church, who have been defeated by God's power. After all, God is perfectly just and his verdicts are not tainted by human selfishness or sin.
One of the things that Revelation reveals to us, is the reality of opposition. There is spiritual opposition (the dragon) that is driving our spiritual war. But we also face oppression at the hands of our fellow humans and their worldly institutions. Babylon is the face of worldly and oppressive power. Her downfall removes the boot from the neck of God's people throughout the world and throughout history. When the gospel brings conversion and our enemies repent and turn to God, there is a type of victory there. For those who do not repent, the end of history and the final judgment will bring their defeat. One way or another God will remove the enemies of the church.
In history, particular manifestations of Babylon, the City of Man, did fall into ruin. The literal city of Babylon fell to the Medes and Persians in 539 BC. The oppressive Roman Emperor Domitian was assassinated in 96 AD, not long after he opened his reign of terror on the churches. By that time, he had made enemies for himself far beyond the church. The first century Roman Pliny the Younger described the response to the death of Domitian and the way people attacked the many statues that had been set up throughout the Empire as signs of his imperial power.
"It was our delight to dash those proud faces to the ground, to smite them with the sword and to smash them with the axe, as if blood and agony could follow from every blow... All sought a form of vengeance in beholding those [statues] mutilated, limbs hacked to pieces, and finally that baleful, fearsome visage cast into the fire to be melted down."***
The response to Babylon's fall brings a song of lament from those complicit, and a song of rejoicing from those who resisted her influence. When Babylon falls, which song will you sing?
* This is one of my all-time favorite songs. The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald
** Here is another musical selection. Kiss Him Goodbye
*** Quote from Tim Chester, Revelation for You", p131, and references fellow author Nelson Kraybill.