Revelation 18:9-19 – The Kings, the Merchants, and the Seamen

(9)  And the kings of the earth, who committed sexual immorality and lived in luxury with her, will weep and wail over her when they see the smoke of her burning.

    There are three sections of mourners, the kings of the earth (18:9-10), the merchants of the earth (18:11-16), and the seamen (18:17-19). All three mourning sections end with “Alas, alas, for the great city” (18:10, 16, 19).

    The idea of the kings of the earth committing sexual immorality with her is certainly a significant point; for it was stated in 14:8, 17:2, 18:3, and now repeated here. This is one of the great indictments against the people. They proved faithful to foreign nations when they had a covenant with God.

“Will weep and wail over her.” God spoke of how this would happen at the judgment of Tyre,

“Then all the princes of the sea will step down from their thrones and remove their robes and strip off their embroidered garments. They will clothe themselves with trembling; they will sit on the ground and tremble every moment and be appalled at you. (17)  And they will raise a lamentation over you and say to you, “‘How you have perished, you who were inhabited from the seas, O city renowned, who was mighty on the sea; she and her inhabitants imposed their terror on all her inhabitants!” (Ezekiel 26:16-17).

In similar language, Revelation shows the sorrowful effect that the fall of Jerusalem had on the nations of the earth, who had lost a great and wealthy ally and trade partner. The majority of what will come in this chapter will deal with how great a financial loss the fall of Jerusalem was to the world.

 

(10)  They will stand far off, in fear of her torment, and say, “Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come.”

    Like the previous verse, this verse also reflects God’s judgment against Tyre,

“All the inhabitants of the coastlands are appalled at you, and the hair of their kings bristles with horror; their faces are convulsed. (36)  The merchants among the peoples hiss at you; you have come to a dreadful end and shall be no more forever.'” (Ezekiel 27:35-36).

But there is more to it than that. This is common language in judgment contexts. In judgment of Egypt, God said, “I will make many peoples appalled at you” (Ezekiel 32:10). And of old Jerusalem, Jeremiah said, “The kings of the earth did not believe, nor any of the inhabitants of the world, that foe or enemy could enter the gates of Jerusalem.” (Lamentations 4:12).

    This is also significant to the words of the old covenant; for God promised the people that if they rejected his law,
that they “shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 28:25). And God described this scenario, saying,

“all the nations will say, ‘Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?’ (25)  Then people will say, ‘It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, (26)  and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. (27)  Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book” (Deuteronomy 29:24-27).

What God had said in Deuteronomy is coming to pass for the house of Israel in the book of Revelation; the Old Testament is seeing its fulfillment.

 

(11)  And the merchants of the earth weep and mourn for her, since no one buys their cargo anymore, (12)  cargo of gold, silver, jewels, pearls, fine linen, purple cloth, silk, scarlet cloth, all kinds of scented wood, all kinds of articles of ivory, all kinds of articles of costly wood, bronze, iron and marble, (13)  cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and slaves, that is, human souls.

    This begins the second of three sections of mourners, the merchants of the earth (18:11-16). The long list of merchandise recorded here speaks of the greatness and wealth of Jerusalem; a city that Titus Caesar reports, was wealthier than the Romans (Josephus, Wars, 7.6.2). The merchants of the earth weep over the heavy financial loss the destruction of Jerusalem was for them. These verses certainly carry resemblance to the judgment of Tyre (Ezekiel 27). But the overall picture shows how the wealth which they trusted in was entirely unable to deliver them from the fury of God; just as the prophet Zephaniah pointed out,

“Neither their silver nor their gold shall be able to deliver them on the day of the wrath of the LORD. In the fire of his jealousy, all the earth shall be consumed; for a full and sudden end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.” (Zephaniah 1:18).

“And slaves, that is, human souls.” The exchanging of human beings was also listed in the judgment of Tyre (Ezekiel 27:13). More importantly, this was God’s indictment against the house of Israel in Amos’ day, saying,

“Thus says the LORD: “For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not revoke the punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals— (7)  those who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth and turn aside the way of the afflicted; a man and his father go in to the same girl, so that my holy name is profaned” (Amos 2:6-7).

 

(14)  “The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again!”

    The fruit mentioned here, does not suggest something good or spiritual, for that is not what they longed for. The fruit discussed here is that which they longed for, and that which they had obtained, hence the statement that it “has gone from you.” The fruit in which they longed for was not the fruit of the Spirit, but the fruit of the flesh and of wealth. This is the fruit which they even obtained, “all you delicacies and your splendors.” These are the things which do not endure the fires of judgment, and they were left desolate before God.

 

(15)  The merchants of these wares, who gained wealth from her, will stand far off, in fear of her torment, weeping and mourning aloud,

    The reaction of the merchants is identical to that of the kings of the earth (see 18:10). They are pictured as standing far away for “fear of her torment,” just as God promised that the old covenant people “shall be a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 28:25).

 

(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-a)  For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste.”

    This statement “Alas, alas, for the great city” serves as a chorus for the kings (18:10), the merchants (18:16), and the seamen (18:19). The word “alas” is an exclamation of sorrow, grief, and woe. Each in turn, are mourning the loss of the great city Jerusalem, whose beauty and riches will be a great loss to them.

    “For in a single hour.” Although this is found in verse seventeen, the statement belongs to the merchants of verse sixteen, not the seamen of verse seventeen. The single hour is a figurative exclamation of the suddenness of the fall of Jerusalem, as well as the shock over the completeness with which it was made desolate (see comments on 18:10).

 

(17-b) And all shipmasters and seafaring men, sailors and all whose trade is on the sea, stood far off (18)  and cried out as they saw the smoke of her burning, “What city was like the great city?” (19)  And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste.

    This is the third and final section of mourners, the seamen (18:17-19). As already seen, this chapter bears much resemblance to the fall of Tyre in Ezekiel 27, but this section on the mournful seamen is perhaps the closest language comparison. Notice the parallel when Ezekiel says,

“At the sound of the cry of your pilots the countryside shakes, (29)  and down from their ships come all who handle the oar. The mariners and all the pilots of the sea stand on the land (30)  and shout aloud over you and cry out bitterly. They cast dust on their heads and wallow in ashes; (31)  they make themselves bald for you and put sackcloth on their waist, and they weep over you in bitterness of soul, with bitter mourning. (32)  In their wailing they raise a lamentation for you and lament over you: ‘Who is like Tyre, like one destroyed in the midst of the sea?” (Ezekiel 27:28-32).

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