Hidden humans

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When you look at the injustice in the world, how do you pray about it? Do your prayers match what God intends to do?

Bible passage

Revelation 18:11–24

11 ‘The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes any more – 12 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; 13 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.

14 ‘They will say, “The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendour have vanished, never to be recovered.” 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!
17 In one hour such great wealth has been brought to ruin!”

‘Every sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea, will stand far off. 18 When they see the smoke of her burning, they will exclaim, “Was there ever a city like this great city?” 19 They will throw dust on their heads, and with weeping and mourning cry out:

‘“Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    where all who had ships on the sea
    became rich through her wealth!
In one hour she has been brought to ruin!”

20 ‘Rejoice over her, you heavens!
    Rejoice, you people of God!
    Rejoice, apostles and prophets!
For God has judged her
    with the judgment she imposed on you.’

The finality of Babylon’s doom

21 Then a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea, and said:

‘With such violence
    the great city of Babylon will be thrown down,
    never to be found again.
22 The music of harpists and musicians, pipers and trumpeters,
    will never be heard in you again.
No worker of any trade
    will ever be found in you again.
The sound of a millstone
    will never be heard in you again.
23 The light of a lamp
    will never shine in you again.
The voice of bridegroom and bride
    will never be heard in you again.
Your merchants were the world’s important people.
    By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.
24 In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people,
    of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.’

Word Live 136

Explore

What do great cities have? Iconic buildings that celebrate commerce, culture or religion? Or perhaps efficient transport and communication networks, the systems of trade and commerce? Ancient Rome had them all! Rome’s glory was built on the resources drawn from its empire. The cargo list (vs 11–13) is a Roman trade map: wood and wheat from Africa, spices, silks and precious stones from Asia, incense from Arabia, oil and precious metals from Europe. What do you make of the last item of cargo (v 13)?

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote, ‘we have slaves drawn from every corner of the world in our households … and it is only by means of terror that we can hope to coerce such scum.’* When the building of ‘great’ empires comes at the cost of ruined human lives, then surely we are right to rejoice when God acts swiftly and decisively (‘in one hour’, vs 10,17,19) on behalf of the exploited and oppressed (vs 20,24).

Our attitude to God’s judgement reveals what we truly care about. The merchants’ fear and distress (vs 15,19) showed they cared more about accumulation of wealth and reputation (vs 11,23) than the well-being of people. When God’s priorities become our priorities, we rejoice when he sets things straight.

*Tacitus, Annals, 14:44

Author
Penny Boshoff

Respond

Pray for leaders of countries, cities and businesses to lead wisely and compassionately so that all people flourish. 

Deeper Bible study

‘Do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” … or “What shall we wear?” … seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you.’1

John continues to describe the voices he hears – but in a distinctive, structured way. Three groups repeat a double cry of ‘Woe! Woe …’ (vs 10,16,19), the kings of the earth, the merchants and the sea captains, all of whom have enriched themselves by their consorting with Rome. The main focus, however, is on the merchants. The theme of ostentatious wealth is prominent throughout: ‘luxury and splendour’ (v 14); ‘gained their wealth’ (vs 15,19); ‘fine linen, purple and scarlet, and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls’ (v 16).

John spells this out in two ways. First, he is specific about the nature of the wealth and the impact of its accumulation. The list of cargoes in verses 11–13 reads like a tour around a luxury house in first-century Rome; the word for ‘carriage’ (rheda, v 13) refers to a particular four-wheeled carriage used by better-off Romans; pearls (v 12) were so prized that the richest would dissolve them in vinegar and drink them with wine to demonstrate their wealth. ‘Purple’ and ‘scarlet’ refer to the expensive fabrics made from crushed shells that only the elite could wear. 

Second, John expresses the critique of wealth in biblical and theological language. The list of 28 cargoes here is adapted from the list of 40 cargoes cited in the judgement of Tyre in Ezekiel 27; the sins of this empire are the same sins that have always beset people who turn from God to material things for security and fulfilment. The loss of their wealth ‘never to be recovered’ (v 14) echoes Satan’s expulsion from heaven: ‘they lost their place in heaven’.2 The contrast between ‘woe’ and ‘rejoice’ (vs  19,20) echoes the responses to Satan’s fall.3 How we handle wealth and power is a test and reflection of our spiritual state. 

When you came to faith, how did your attitude to wealth and possessions change? How has it developed as your faith has grown and matured?

1 Matt 6:31,33  2Rev 12:8  3Rev 12:12

Author
Ian Paul

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