Wednesday, 23 June 2021
“They threw dust on their heads and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying, ‘Alas, alas, that great city, in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth! For in one hour she is made desolate.’ Revelation 18:19
John continues with the words concerning those who mourn over the destruction of Babylon the great, saying, “They threw dust on their heads.” The word “They” is referring to “Every shipmaster, all who travel by ship, sailors, and as many as trade on the sea,” as is found in verse 18:17.
The idea of throwing dust on one’s head signifies great mourning and lamentation. In Joshua 7, after being defeated by an army of insignificant size, Joshua and Israel’s elders mourned at the loss –
“Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads.” Joshua 7:6
This type of mourning is recorded elsewhere in Scripture such as in the comparable verses about Tyre in Ezekiel 27:30. It is an outward display that is not without meaning. The idea goes back to the very creation of man where the Bible says in Genesis 2:7, “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.”
The idea conveyed is that the distress or sadness is so great that returning to the dust would be preferable to what is being felt. All one can think of, in such a state of distress, is about the time when he didn’t exist. He mourns as if he could return to that state. In this terrible mourning, it next says, “and cried out, weeping and wailing, and saying ‘Alas, alas, that great city.’”
This is the same terminology, found in verses 15 and 16 of this chapter, that was uttered by the merchants of the earth. Just as the merchants were distressed over the loss of revenue in the selling of their goods, so these people are equally affected in the same manner and for the same reason. As it next says, “in which all who had ships on the sea became rich by her wealth!”
To them, there is personal loss over the city’s destruction. They had financially benefited from trade in her, and that has ended. The goods they send upon the seas will arrive at a port, and when they do, there will be no trucks heading in that direction any longer. There was once bustling trade coming in and going out of her, but that has ceased forever. Babylon the great has fallen, “For in one hour she is made desolate.”
This is similar in thought to verse 17, which said, “For in one hour such great riches came to nothing.” The world’s system of trade and commerce has been violently upheaved at the destruction of this great harlot, and the people who are a part of it will mourn greatly at the loss they have suffered.
Life application: In the book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon says – “If a man begets a hundred children and lives many years, so that the days of his years are many, but his soul is not satisfied with goodness, or indeed he has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better than he” (Ecclesiastes 6:3).
This reflects the state of those who see the destruction of Babylon. They cry out, they weep, and they wail at the loss. But it is a sadness that is actually directed inward, at their personal loss. The city’s fall means that they will no longer be able to conduct trade and commerce. Their sadness has less to do with the city or the people than it does for their own sad situation.
The shock of this enormous empire falling in such a short time has them beside themselves with grief. But this is exactly what Jesus warned about when speaking to Israel in Matthew 6:19-21 –
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
The love of money and the things of the world will only bring sadness in the end. It has caused once-wealthy businessmen to dive out of high rises, sports figures to point a gun back at themselves, and lovers to devise ways of disposing of each other in hopes of obtaining what they desire. When our eyes, affections, and lusts look to the creation for satisfaction, they will only consume us in misery. But when we direct our eyes to the Creator, we will find the Source of every good blessing we could ever desire.
This is one main premise of the Bible that goes from its very first pages to its very last. Only in the Creator is found true joy and contentment. In order to help us more fully understand this, He sent Christ into the world to lead us back to Himself. It is through Him alone that this state of peace and everlasting joy can be found. Redirect your eyes away from this world and to the Christ of God, our Lord JESUS.
O God, forgive us for placing idols in our hearts and before our eyes. Help us always to direct our attention and affections to You alone, and help us to be strong in the conviction that only You can truly satisfy our deepest needs and desires. Thank You, O God, for looking out for us and filling us with blessings from Your open hand of grace. Amen.