Wednesday, 16 June 2021
merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; Revelation 18:12
A description of the cargoes of the merchants of the earth is now provided. As noted in the previous commentary, the listing now is similar to that provided in Ezekiel 27. The list begins by saying, “merchandise of gold and silver.” As in the previous verse, the word “merchandise” is more precisely “lading” or “cargo.” It is that which is stored in a ship for transport.
The precious metals are named first. Gold is the royal metal, and it is a symbol of wealth and purchasing power. In the Bible, it is used as a symbol of royalty and divinity. Silver is more specifically emblematic of currency. In Scripture, it is used as a symbol of redemption because of this.
It next says, “precious stones and pearls.” The word precious is an adjective used to describe the stone. The word “stone” is singular, but it is speaking of any stone. It signifies that of great price, precious, honored, and so forth. Thus, these would be those stones that have value for jewelry and other important uses.
The pearl is something emblematic of extreme value. Jesus equates the precious teachings of the gospel to a pearl. As can be seen, there is a categorical listing that can be followed. The things considered as treasures have been listed. Next, the list turns to soft goods with the words, “fine linen and purple.”
Fine linen is that which is the purest of its kind and which is then used for various purposes. In Revelation, this word is equated to the garments of righteousness (the righteous acts of the saints in Revelation 19:8).
The purple can be a deep purple, deep scarlet (or crimson), and deep blue. It signifies power and/or wealth, even royal status. Proverbs 31:22 links this color with godliness in a woman.
Next, it says, “silk and scarlet.” The word translated as silk, Ser, is a tribe of India (or possibly modern China) from whom silk was obtained. This is the only use of the word in Scripture.
The scarlet is a crimson color obtained from the Kermes (coccum), which is the female coccus of the Kermes oak. In the Bible, the scarlet is used at times to indicate substitutionary atonement. From the soft goods, the list next goes to that made of wood and objects obtained from such woody material, beginning with “every kind of citron wood.”
This is a word only found in Scripture. It signifies an aromatic wood of North African origin. Because of its fragrance, it would be highly valuable. The term “every kind” is probably referring to its various uses rather than different kinds of this particular tree. There would be plates, furniture, chests, or whatever – all made with this wood.
Next, it refers to “every kind of object of ivory.” The Greek word, elephantinos, found only here, makes it obvious what is being referred to. The tusks of the elephant are highly desired for carving various things, or for being inserted as highlights into furniture and the like. The ivory throne Solomon made is referred to in 2 Chronicles –
“Moreover the king made a great throne of ivory, and overlaid it with pure gold. 18 The throne had six steps, with a footstool of gold, which were fastened to the throne; there were armrests on either side of the place of the seat, and two lions stood beside the armrests. 19 Twelve lions stood there, one on each side of the six steps; nothing like this had been made for any other kingdom.” 2 Chronicles 9:17-19
The description next turns to objects that are fashioned. It is a general statement, saying, “every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble.”
The same adjective used earlier to describe the “precious stones” is used again here. Whatever wood is highly valued for making articles is what is being referred to. Also, articles of bronze (a symbol of judgment in Scripture), iron (a symbol of unyielding strength), and marble are all mentioned. The word translated as “marble” is found only here in the Bible.
Life application: As noted earlier, the list of goods mentioned here is reminiscent of the list of the wealth of Tyre in Ezekiel 27. She also had large stockpiles of such things amassed, but she was destroyed, and her abundant wealth couldn’t help her. The destruction of Tyre, and many of the things recorded surrounding that destruction, mirror what is said of Babylon the great.
There is nothing wrong with owning any of the objects mentioned here. Gold and silver are used throughout the Bible as units of currency and for other reasons. They were owned by God’s people and used for the building of the tabernacle and the furniture in it. They were also used to make purchases in Jerusalem during feast days.
Likewise, stones and pearls are recorded in the Bible as being possessed by God’s people. Linens, of course, were used to adorn the people and also their living quarters. Precious woods and ivory are noted many times. And of course, there are innumerable references to the use of metals such as bronze and iron and also stone for construction.
The problem isn’t in owning or using any of these things. The problem is in trusting in them for security or for safety in times of trouble. When the woeful times come, these things lose all of their value. Only a faithful reliance on the Lord can save. Great nations have seen the futility of trusting in amassed wealth. In only minutes, trillions of dollars can vanish.
Unfortunately, seeing the futility in something and learning the necessary lessons are two different things. Unless we repent of our trust in the creation and turn it towards the Creator, we are only increasing our guilt. Let us trust in Christ alone for our ultimate hope. When the world is reaching for gold at the same time as it is perishing, let us reach for eternal life and a return to the paradise God intended for man to reside in. Let us reach out for JESUS.
Heavenly Father, You have given us such a wonderful variety of things to adorn our lives with. And You have given them in just the right measure so that they have varying degrees of value to us and so that we can set up systems of exchange and barter through them. But these are useful only for our earthly lives. Help us to keep their value in proper perspective and to trust only in You for the fulfillment of our eternal needs. Amen.