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Kings and Merchants in Distress

Revelation 18:9-13
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. 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!" The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves. (NIVUK)

This scene in John's vision anticipates the reaction of world leaders, traders and transporters to the fall of Babylon. Babylon is a metaphor, not just for a city or a seductive prostitute (Revelation 17:4-5), but for a centralised global ideology embraced by international governments which will manipulate the world of politics and commerce towards the end of time. Having abandoned their normal trading relationships and agreed for all trade to be controlled by one marketplace, a global consortium of power will discover themselves trapped in a system which totally controls them. Instead of gaining power, they lose all control. So the world leaders destroy that centre (Revelation 17:16): but then find they are left with nothing.

We do not know the cause of the sudden destruction, it all happens in an hour, but it will be catastrophic. However, it will all be under God's control. He will bring the vanity of leadership and the obscene prosperity of corrupt commerce to an end (Revelation 18:5). Revelation 18:9-24 describe the remorseful anguish of those whose gods were power and wealth. The rulers are torn between hating Babylon which they had once wrongly loved, and hating the demise of the system into which they had invested everything – to find that they were left with no authority and nothing to make them rich. The merchants now have stockpiles of luxury goods, but nobody has any money, nor possessions with which to barter.

The captains of industry and commerce are distraught. The long list of expensive items indicate rich people's obsession with quality material things, when most of the population are more concerned with having enough rice or potatoes. It is a catalogue listed in order of value, with slaves down at the bottom of the list. Gold and silver bullion, personal ornaments, opulent clothing, ornate furniture, expensive spices and perfumes, fine food and drink, the perception of wealth by owning large flocks and herds, splendid transport and slaves to look after them and serve the needs of the merchants. In the world today there is always a market for expensive goods, because there are always people with money who want to make themselves look and feel more important. But when the markets crash, it is all worthless (Jeremiah 50:46).

This is not to say that it is wrong to have and appreciate luxury items, or to have a reserve of money, but when these things control our thinking and decisions, evil has crept in (1 Timothy 6:10). That love of money and power will rise to a crescendo in the Last Days. The noise of greed and power-lust will drown out the voice of the Spirit of God and make His Word irrelevant to the wicked. But God's Word is still true; God will still fulfil His promises to reward the righteous and judge the unrighteous (Revelation 11:18). These verses are both an encouragement to the oppressed, that the Lord will bring justice, and also a warning to believers who want to collaborate with the world, and adopt its values (1 John 2:15). The faithful believer will give thanks for all good gifts and be willing to give up whatever the Lord requires (Psalm 116:17). Christless people will grab whatever they can and never give what the Lord requires.

Righteous Father. Thank You for Your judgement on sin. Forgive me when I feel oppressed by the wicked or choose to join them, because I do not trust in Your Sovereign rule. Please help me to understand what is of real value, and to worship You in the way I live and make my choices - thankful for what You give me and being willing to freely give what You have entrusted to me. In Jesus' Name. Amen.
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© Dr Paul Adams